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             Michael Agelasto

Published by Michael Agelasto at Smashwords

      Copyright 2011 Michael Agelasto
Chapter 1
     If you Google-map “tar heel state,” then click on “terrain,” and finally zoom in three times,
you’ll find three cities – Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh – more or less placed centerstate North
Carolina. All Carolina (forget the southern one!), like Caesar’s Gaul, is divided into three parts. In this
Dixie state’s case the sections are, west to east, sloping down to the sea: Appalachian, Piedmont and
coastal plain. The flat, lush rural expanse to the east is agricultural and consequently relatively poor; it
is protected from the Atlantic Ocean by a chain of islands known as the Outer Banks. At the state’s
other end the mountainous west is a geological component of southern Appalachia, leaving the middle
section the Piedmont or “foot of the mountain.” This is where Googling lands you – an urbanized
plateau, characterized by rolling hills, smallish sized cities and suburbs, much of its land formerly
devoted to tobacco. This terrain was occupied for millennia by its aboriginal natives (their arrow heads
can still be found in them thar hills), who co-existed with their hardwood forests, even grasslands and
savannas that allowed for settlements and extensive agriculture. Five centuries of mostly European and
African occupation, however, have resulted in today’s numerous central business districts, interstate
highways, shopping malls, power lines and other vestiges of advanced, some would say failing,
       The center of the Piedmont is a triangle formed by the cities of Raleigh, the state capital, Chapel
Hill, the seat of the University of North Carolina, and Durham. This last city is famous for several
things, not the least of which is that it contains Bennett Place, where General Joseph E. Johnson of the
Confederate States surrendered to General Tecumseh Sherman on April 26th 1865, thus in fact ending
the conflict (Lee had surrendered to Grant two weeks earlier; Lincoln having been assassinated in the
meantime). Older Durhamites still refer to that forgettable period as the War Between the States, never
as the Civil War. Four years after the conflict had ended Durham, with a population of 200, was
incorporated into a city. By 1895 it had become a bustling town of over 8,000 souls, thanks principally
to one commodity: tobacco. Northern soldiers who had fought in the Piedmont during the war had
been introduced to the local sweet leaf and afterwards as decommissioned warriors they helped spread
the word; habit and addiction followed; Durham prospered. By 1920 the city was home to more than
20,000 inhabitants. Today, Durham claims a population of nearly one-quarter million people, and the
tri-city area itself is seven times that. King Tobacco is less regal today than information technology
and the overall service sector.
       The tri-city area is nicknamed The Triangle (as opposed to the Greensboro/Winston-Salem/High
Point “Piedmont Triad” a bit further west). It owes this nickname to Research Triangle Park, four miles
south of downtown Durham, or approximately at the circumcenter of the triangle formed by the three
cities. Created in 1959, months after Sputnik had scarred (and scared) the nation into believing that our
way of life was doomed if we couldn’t better the Soviets in science and technology, RTP now
accommodates 39,000 employees working at 130 R&D units: the largest technology park in the USA.
The Raleigh-Chapel Hill-Durham conglomeration, with its research and academic communities, is an
intellectual happening place, in this regard like Cambridge (Massachusetts or England). Some say that
kids in these types of places grow up quicker and wiser, or at least quicker. That is, of course, arguable;
but most inhabitants would like to think of their locale as a hive of free thinking and creativity and that
their children do seem to be brighter than those elsewhere. At least, that’s what some locals say.
       Downtown Durham has a plethora of government buildings and businesses and parking
structures. It bustles during the day. At closing time the entire central business district, however, shuts
down. At night there's almost no one to be seen. Very few restaurants cater to the dinner trade and
there's almost no entertainment. The town's numerous parking structures remain vacant until
commuters return in the morning. It wasn't always this way although tobacco warehouses have always
outnumbered apartment buildings or hotels. Historic buildings do still exist, if only a small percent
from the pre-Depression era. The Sterling Arms is one of 65 historically preserved sites in Durham
County, all listed on The National Register of Historic Places. But except for good luck and obstinate
Durhamites, this building also – and consequently its eponymous occupant – might not be alive today.
      The Sterling was saved in 1979 by citizens concerned that yet another distinguished structure
would face the wrecking ball. Union Station and the Washington Duke Hotel had both recently met
this fate. Today throughout downtown Durham vacant lots disguised as public parks sit waiting for a
Godotish utopia, some grand urban renewal schema that envisions a revitalized central city with
hundreds of condominiums and low rent apartments for the poor, theaters, university extensions,
monorails and Babelic business towers. Modernists deemed and politicians concurred that the
destruction of these dead and dormant buildings be in the public interest, a requisite stage toward
elevating Durham, a stand-in for San Jose CA, into a Silicon Valley East (a misnomer as The Triangle
doesn’t have rivers worth mentioning, but then neither does its South Bay counterpart). Opponents to
these types of grandiose plans don’t want to see their fair city condominized.
      The Sterling is the sole survivor among Durham’s grand hotels. It no longer functions as a hotel,
however, having been remodeled into a mixed-use building, with a boxing gym on the first floor, a
residence on the second, and offices on the top five stories. Located in the former tobacco warehouse
district, at the corner of Pedigrew and Blackwell, along the rail tracks, it’s an elderly brick structure –
completed 1920 – whose immediate neighbors are a few weed-strewn vacant lots and a multi-story
parking garage. Three hundred yards to the south lies the squattishly regal American Tobacco
Company Manufacturing Plant, another registered structure; the Downtown Durham Historic District is
directly to the south and the Bright Leaf Historic District is to the southeast.
      Over the past century and a half, Durham has seen many hotels come and go. The 1884 Branson
business guide lists but two: the Grand Central and Durham House, along with three boarding houses.
The city’s 1891 “bird’s-eye” map pictures a single hotel, the Claiborne (which the Wisconsin map-
makers spell Claiborn) at the northeast corner of Corcoran and Peabody streets. It gave way to the
Carrolina, erected in 1893 for $85,000, which initially contained 70 rooms. By 1906 this pun-name
hotel could accommodate 350 guests, with rates of $2.50 and upward. The Carrolina, whose rooms
were “handsomely frescoed by well known artists” displayed furnishings described as “elegant and
expensive.” The main hall and office were in “French Rococo” in shades of salmon and blue. The
gentlemen’s reading-room was decorated in Louis XV and the ladies’ reception room was in Empire
style, in light blue and ivory. The main parlor, in Louis XVI style, ivory and gold, sported a ceiling in
relief and fresco. Also in 1895 you could stay in Hotel Freemont or Hopkins House and in numerous
boarding houses. In addition, the Biltmore could accommodate 50 “at table.” Durham’s score of
tobacco warehouses were made of brick, but like most other structures at the time The Carrolina was
wooden and when it burned in 1907, the city fathers mandated that future construction would be of
brick. At that moment, however, the city found itself without what in today’s terminology might be
considered a five-star hotel (Carolina stars if not international).
      The Sterling was conceived and executed at the end of Durham’s next hotel building boom (1908-
1920), during which time hotels continued to appear and disappear. The Corcoran, on the corner of
Corcoran and Chapel Hill streets, had been expanded and modernized, but in 1912 a group of investors
bought it and remodeled it as Mercy Hospital for contagious diseases. Following the 1918 flu
pandemic it transmuted into the Durham School of Business, suggesting where the city set its priorities.
Around the same time the Saint Helen Hotel became Hotel Murray, named after its investor E.H.
Murray. Tobacconist E. J. Parrish, president of the local Chamber of Commerce, opened The Arcade
Hotel in 1911, initially a modest operation that he tinkered with until it boasted 62 rooms and two
dozen bathrooms. The following year rival tobacco tycoon Benjamin Newton Duke constructed The
Malbourne (local matrons had objected to Taurus, its original name) whose 125 rooms with steam heat,
telephones and hot and cold water, as well as 50 private bathrooms. With all its splendor, including
ornamental iron balconies, it put the Arcade first to shame and then into new ownership and name
change (The Lochmoor) and finally into bankruptcy. That was 1914. The Sterling arrived in 1920,
completed by a supply of laborers fresh from the First World War. All the local celebrities, including
the tobacco barons, attended The Sterling’s inauguration ball on May Day. The crowd was duly
impressed, even more so when they surreptitiously learned (for money was too crass a subject for open
discussion among the city elite) that construction and decoration costs had approached $100,000 (about
$1.1 million today). By 1924 The Sterling suffered but two rivals: The Malbourne, at Roxboro &
Main, and The Savoy Hotel, 108 S. Church St. As it aged The Sterling lost some of its splendor but
remained a contender, as the years slowly discolored the paint and made bare the carpets. By the late
nineteen seventies, although outlasting both the Savoy and the Malbourne, the Sterl (as it had
affectionately become known) had morphed into a welfare hotel with a few rooms set aside for the
needs of randy youth. When its surviving occupants were dumped into a public housing project, the
Sterling was boarded up. The good citizens of Durham didn’t want it torn down, however, so a group
of local businessmen, led by several Dukes, bought the structure for a dollar (the city agreed to forego
real estate taxes for 25 years) and invested the several millions needed to bring the grande dame up to
code. Its reduced rents attracted tenants.
     The Sterling is the neighborhood’s last-man-standing and commands its street corner, perhaps
not such a difficult task: parking garage and vacant lots are the competition. Today, Saturday morning,
it’s a hubbub of activity of the pre-teen sort. In this normally quiet, dormant zone – this part of
downtown is quiet even on weekdays – The Sterling now generates sufficient decibels so that if there
were any residents still alive none would still be asleep. The noise emanates from the mouths of a
dozen boys and girls who are enrolled in “Entry Level Boxing – Course 1,” better known as pee-wee
box, a community service provided by Vegas Gym. The whining, unordered refrain is a high-pitched
“Coach U…Coach U…Coach U”, as the children nag and vie for the trainer’s attention. This is a
youthful activity and the coach who is teaching them the “Noble Art of Self-Defence” (British term,
British spelling) is a mere youth himself. Almost twice as high as his smallest protégé – the youngest
of the three Hernández siblings – this boy/coach is tall for a high school junior, a few hairs over six
feet, and weighs in at 160. These stats put him above average for his age, in both weight (55th
percentile) and height (77th percentile), and because he’s lean, most people would describe him as thin,
perhaps borderline skinny. He considers himself fat. He escapes to the back room on an errand.
       In general the boxing business has two shapes of people on offer: the short and dumpy – they’re
called coaches – and the short and muscular – those who box. Look at the heights of some of the
sport’s greatest: Roberto Duran 5’7”, Benny Leonard 5’5”, Sam Langford 5’6 ½”, Mickey Walker 5’7”,
Joe Gans 5’6”, Henry Armstrong 5’5 ½”, Stanley Ketchel 5’9”, and Manny Pacquiao 5’ 6½”.
Occasionally, tall champions have sprouted, like Jack Dempsey, 6’ ¾”, or Muhammad Ali, 6’ 3.” Most,
but not all, of boxing’s giraffes were in the heavyweight divisions: For example, Sugar Ray Robinson
(born Walker Smith, his nom-de-ring stolen from another kid’s amateur registration card), is the fighter
many still believe, Pacquiao not aside, to be pound-for-pound the greatest ever. He stood just shy of
six-foot. He had started, as all boxers do, at the lowest weight possible. In Ray’s case this was 126
pounds, as an amateur, when he won the New York Golden Gloves, at 18, a year older than The
Sterling’s boy/coach. The following year Robinson won the title at 135 lbs, and then he turned pro. He
was champion six times at welterweight (147 lbs) and eleven times at middleweight (160 lbs). Near the
end of his extraordinary 25-year career Ray tipped the scales at 165, surely where the Sterling boy
would be if he weren’t dieting.
       Sterling – for that is also young Coach U’s given name – is taking a five-minute respite from the
rascals, crammed in the office-cum-storeroom, finishing off a protein drink in a final gulp. Fuck, I’m
starved, rumbles among his thoughts as he jots down some notes for an essay he’s writing on Napoleon
I for AP European History, the final hurdle before becoming a high school senior. These notes are not
on paper. For some time Sterling has not deigned to touch pencil or pen (‘une technologie démodée’ he
tells his friends, who have come to accept without criticism the arrogance that accompanies his
spewing forth occasioned French). Rather he puts his notes into his personal digital assistant, the latest
in a line whose ancestry stretches back to when he was six, the age of the littlest Hernández.
       The term PDA came into America’s vocabulary while Sterling was still in the womb, when the
Apple Newton was born to the awe of the crowds of techno geeks at their annual convention in Las
Vegas. Sterling himself had to wait until he was seven before he wangled a PDA out of his parents.
His argument was rational and simple: that by withholding technology from their only son his parents
were stunting his intellectual growth; they were in denial that, as his school counselors had said, he was
a genius; and they knew he was smarter than they (he had overheard them joke about this once and,
unprompted, would occasionally repeat back to them their regrettable conversation word-for-word) and
they were jealous. He had been lectured on the evils of jealousy and he quoted their own words again
against them. They had power over him, that he conceded, but he wanted them to agree that they were
abusing this power, that their decision was grossly unfair. Sterling was prepared to go off on a tangent
about unfairness (another memorizable, unforgettable, and consequently repeatable lecture), about
Negroes in the Old South, but mom and dad cut him short and said (this was his mother’s bright idea)
that they would get him the PDA (“Just stop your nonsense”). But if he couldn’t figure out how to use
it within a week, they would keep it for themselves. Sterling successfully called her bluff, figuring out
the contraption during the car ride home, before he even had time to attack the directions – at six he
could read some techno-babble but the completely confusing syntax, run-on sentences and
incomprehensible instructions always baffled him. (With time he learned this was not really his fault;
hence instructions – at least those in multiple languages in little booklets – became optional for most of
his life.)
       The device that claimed Sterling’s techno virginity was Apple’s MessagePad 2100, which the boy
had wanted since he had learned about its release on the web in November 1997. Rumor has it – a
rumor at daycare – that the first “apple” Sterling vocalized referred not to a piece of fruit but rather to
the center’s Mac. In any case, Sterling loved his current PDA, an Apple iPhone 3G. He and iPhone
had a history. Having waited impatiently since its unveiling in January 2007, he had fought the crowds
to buy its debut edition when it finally came on sale June 29th 2007. A year later he had traded up to a
3G; he was now waiting for a 3GS, due out this summer. Given all his hints, it would certainly arrive
as a birthday present from his folks or grandfolks. The thought of a new iPhone was arousing. In fact
Sterling had a theory – he had a theory about a lot of things – that holding the iPhone was a very good
substitute for holding one’s other thing; granted the former was shorter (4.5 in, but small is good for
hand-helds) and heavier (4.8 oz), but it had a lot more useful functions and time-wise (5 hours of
continuous activity, a whopping 300 hours on standby); there was simply no comparison. The iPhone
wins over sex hands down.
       Life is good for Sterling. He lives a life of freedom: independent from parents, teachers, shrinks,
priests and any others who might try to exert some control. Colleges want him; girls want him; many
parents would want to trade in their own sons for him. And right now little tykes want him, so he grabs
a carton and returns to what has degenerated into little more than a free-for-all. All the children wear
mandatory headgear; they are not supposed to be fighting one another except under Sterling’s
supervision. Now was supposed to be the time for drills and training exercises; but kids, no less than
adults, don’t like drills and exercises and the hard stuff. They’d much prefer jumping into the real
thing, in this case knocking the shit out of somebody. To prevent that from happening is Sterling’s
major task for the morning. Handing over bleeding-nosed tots to their parents is not on his agenda.
       He blows his whistle. “Listen up. Listen up.” No response. He inhales deeply, blows again and
continues until the last child has been silenced.
       “Discipline and focus. That’s our lesson for today. Now, last week, what did we talk about?”
       Blank stares. Like he speaks an alien tongue. He repeats himself in Spanish. Still no response.
As a last resort he turns to the oldest girl – he knows that girls are so much better pupils than boys.
She’s attractive, ebony, with long pig tails. “Goal” she responds, not having to dig deep for the answer.
This girl is not timid; but she’s not about to be a first responder like the show-off boys. No, she’d
rather force Sterling to acknowledge her directly. In twenty years’ time she’ll be making men’s lives
living hells.
      “Excellent, Latisha. What’s your goal?”
      But before she can offer a response, one that Latisha’s prepared all week for, the little Hernández
blurts out: “To beat up my big brother.”
      “Hey, remember, boxing is not about anger. It’s about skill, strategy, doing your best…bla…
bla…bla. We talked about that crap,” Sterling chides.
      “To defend against the bully,” another suggests.
      Sterling nods approvingly. “Defense is good. Bullies are bad.” He turns back to Latisha:
      She rattles off her statement: “You gonna finish grade school, then middle school, then high
school and not get pregnant along the way and then go to community college and transfer to a four-year
program on a scholarship.”
      Sterling nods his approval as the others fidget. “Can’t we box?” “Where are the gloves” “This is
boring fuck” are among the few disapproving comments he ignores.
      Sterling heads over to the carton marked in stencil: “GIFT FROM PIEDMONT P.A.L.” He grabs
a handful of cloth strips, of various colors, that resemble elastic ACE bandages. These are boxing
      “First thing, you’re big boys and girls. You gotta learn to dress yourselves. Like a boxer. You’re
no street punks. Look and pay close attention. I’m gonna put on this handwrap,” repeating the word
very slowly and spelling it several times: h-a-n-d-w-r-a-p. “First thing you do when you get to the
gym. Every time, no exceptions. There will be no broken fingers in Vegas gym. Do you understand?
If you break a finger you will never be allowed into this gym. And I will make sure no other gym,
anywhere, will ever let you in. Do you understand?” Sterling, voice raised and serious, has made his
      He turns to a blond boy; northern Europe’s sole representative. “What do you do the minute you
step into a gym?”
      “Hanvap.” Some sort of Russian accent, parents academic mafia, Sterling figures.
      He goes around until each pupil has said the holy word. He passes out the strips:
      “Now, wrap you hands.”
      Not paying attention to the kids, he wraps his own hands, one by one, with his personal wraps,
which are twice as long as the ones given the children. It takes about seven seconds apiece. He picks
up a jump rope and starts jumping. A show-off skill, to be sure. A minute later, he turns back to the
      “You’ll finished and ready to box?”
      Not exactly. The room looks more like trees, toilet paper and Halloween eve. He grabs the
closest kid.
      “I will teach you your first boxing skill.” He explains how to wrap, step by step:
      “You’ll catch on in a few weeks. Tight but not too tight. Don’t cut off circulation. Start by
putting your thumb through the loop. Then down to the wrist, two times around, then up to the fingers
– protect the knuckles – twice around, then the wrist again, then under and around the thumb, between
the fingers, then back to the wrist and around until you run out of wrap and Velcro it secure. Anyone
who can do it, show me. Otherwise, I’ll do you each.”
      One by one Sterling wraps their tiny hands, rapidly, not impatiently but not so patiently either.
The middle Hernández approaches self-wrapped, which Sterling inspects. Clearly he’s the brightest kid
in the group, and thus Sterling’s favorite.
       “Wiggle your fingers. OK the right’s OK. The left is too loose. You’re a southpaw, right?” The
kid nods and rewraps the left. Sterling continues:
       “Listen a second. You’re the only left-hander and all the rest are right-handers. When I give
instructions, I’m talking to them. You do just the opposite. When I say right foot, you hear me say left
foot. Right hand, left hand. You’ll be the mirror image. Sometimes if you get confused, just look in
the mirror.” One entire wall of the gym is mirrors. “Oh, and tell your partner, too,” he adds.
       The kids are impatient: “We ready to box yet?”
       “No, you’re almost ready to train. You just don’t jump in the ring and start sparring. We got
exercises, we got foreplay. It’s just like…you’re too young for that.”
       He notices he’s loosing their enthusiasm. “And we’ll learn all those exercises and training
techniques, one by one. And when you’re a few years older, maybe you can walk in and go directly
into the ring.” Great disappointment. Their goal, the ring, which occupies a full half of the facility is
so close but so far away.
       “This time, we’ll pair off and use the mitts. Half of you with gloves, half with mitts.” Dumping
the rest of the carton onto the floor, there’s a scramble. No one wants mitts.
       “To start, those with even numbers, get the mitts. We’ll trade off half way. Help each other put
on the gloves.” The numbers, unfortunately, are on the back of the jerseys (“Police are our P.A.L.s”),
but the kids soon figure out who gets mitts and who gets gloves, and manage to get them on, thanks to
       “Pair off by height. Tall with tall. Short with short. Boys with girls, that’s OK.”
       They pair off except for the tallest boy and the tallest girl, Latisha. The boy has on the gloves;
they hang like lead weights along his sides.
       “Problem?” asks Sterling.
       The boy doesn’t budge. “He won’t fight me,” Latisha explains.
       “We don’t fight. We box. Anyway, we’re doing drills.”
       “His momma won’t let him hit girls,” Latisha explains.
       “Thank you, Latisha. I’ll take it from here. Bobby Joe, is that what your momma says?”
       “Man not supposed to strike a woman; boy not supposed to beat up on a girl. She says she knows
first hand. And if I ever strike a girl, momma’s gonna whoop my littl’ hillbilly ass ’til it’s the color of a
cock’s comb.”
       “And your mother is one-hundred percent correct. And I will not have you boxing in the ring
with any girl. Maybe you can get your momma on the phone and I’ll talk with her to see if training
with a girl is OK” He hands the boy his 3G, which produces just a blank expression. “Can you call
       “No, sir. She ain’t got one of them.”
       “Where is she now? Must be downtown. She picks you up.”
       “At the Wash ’n Dry.”
       With a few clicks, Sterling finds the number, but has to turn his attention back to the pupils.
       “Practice getting arm’s length away from your partner, and standing dead still, making no noise.
This is very important drill to teach discipline and focus.”
       He hands the phone to Bobby Joe who, though treating the 3G reverentially as an alien device,
has seen enough TV to know how to work it. He connects with his mother and hands the phone back to
Sterling, who has a 30 second talk with her after which he turns back to the tall pair.
       “It’s OK. She won’t whoop you.”
       He blows his whistle.
       “Now, we have rules here. If you with the gloves touch any part of your opponent EXCEPT the
mitts, you will be disqualified and have sit in the corner and watch. There is to be no body contact:
glove to mitt, glove to mitt. This requires DISCIPLINE. This requires FOCUS.”
       He gets down on his knees (protected by pads) and kneels erect. He places Bobby Joe in front of
him, left leg forward.
      “Find the right distance between the two of you. Then the boxer is to throw a jab, the most
important punch in boxing. Throw straight forward, straight back. It’s a simple punch: one…back,
two…back, three…back. I want rhythm.”
      He repositions Bobby Joe and says:
      “Left leg forward.”
      Bobby Jo throws a left jab into the mitt. “Good. Now rotate your hip when you throw the punch;
don’t just use your triceps. Use the shoulder.”
      Sterling works the room, correcting stances, disqualifying those who land punches outside the
mitt. He breaks up one fight that erupts after one boy’s punch lands on another boy’s chest. Both are
sent to the wall. All the pairs exchange mitts and gloves. And by the time all this is done, ninety
minutes are up. The final chore is to write each kid’s name on the wrist-wrap. For some of the tots it
might be the first time a non-family member has ever given them something they can call their own.
Sterling feels that it’s important for each child to be a stakeholder in this enterprise (he read an article
once on the importance of stakeholding); that’s why each kid must pay $1 per session. Sterling writes
the names of the youngest on their wraps; the older are allowed to write their own names, but Sterling
cautions them:
      “This is indelible ink. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT get it on your skin.” The boy knows what he’s
talking about.
      “These are yours to keep. You better leave your wrap with me if you have brothers and sisters
who are going to steal them. For those of you who want to take it home, don’t forget to bring it next
time. If you forget, you’ll sit and watch all the others have fun.” Some of the children follow the
Hernández brothers, who have knotted their wraps into a single string, which they deposit in the carton.
Latisha prances out the door, her wrap an improvised prayer shawl.
      His job done, Sterling leaves as some not so desperate housewives enter, all broad smiles aimed at
the teenager, as if they were closely acquainted with him. Sterling would rather spend the rest of the
morning here, with or without these cougars, but the gym must be turned over to the day’s renters:
Junior League aerobics club, the under-16 kick-boxers, capoeira, taekwondo classes, etc. Thus the
young coach is through for the moment; he’ll return in the evening for his own training. For now, it’s
another dollar in the bank. Except that Sterling earns no salary. The accumulated entry fees – a
whopping twelve bucks today – inevitably return to the students in the form of gifts (handwraps don’t
grow on trees). Moreover, he has been told by his father that he is the gym’s co-owner. The concept of
stakeholder works both ways, it seems. He puts in equity, sweat equity, he’s been told. Sterling
questions the economics of this proposition, but to argue would likely produce a fight he cares not to
pick with his ol’ man, for his dad, Pandely Eumorfopoulos – Pan U for short – carries the strap in the
family. You don’t argue with the strap.
     Later upstairs Sterling Eumorfopoulos palm wipes the steamy mirror so he can examine himself.
His hair is a mess; it’s always a mess. With his webbed fingers he combs it from the sideburns to the
top, into a Hoxton Fin or fauxhawk, where the hair down the center of the head is longer than the hair
on the sides – the modernized TinTin style that twenty-somethings in soap operas have taken a fancy to
(he knows this from the blogs of his girl classmates who track the soaps, or rather the soapy actors). It
can dry by itself. He studies the rest of his stature. Sure, tall, dark and handsome. Topped by a face
that could sell men’s perfume (because women buy for it for men; he prefers not to believe men might
buy it based on his face). Sure, a body chiseled in all the right places. Sure, sufficiently junk-endowed
below the belt to be a great land in any woman’s sack, he’s certain of that. And just as surely he knows
that he lugs around an undesirable, but perfectly hidden, 10 pounds. A massive 10 pounds. He just
can’t figure out where the fuckin’ pounds hide themselves. He peruses his backside. Surely not in the
ass, one of his best assets. Sterl doesn’t care to look too closely, though. So it’s just as well that the
bathroom is so dark. He opens the blinds only slightly, peeks out to see if the coast is clear and then
opens them full. Once, after class, drying from a shower, without much thought about being
hormonally agitated – “it happens when it happens,” a teenage fate generally agreed by his boyhood
mates to occur almost at random – he had looked out the unshaded window to find the entire aerobics
club gawking back, a sort of ocular rape. Not really embarrassed, being admired not really an
unpleasant feeling, but apparently quite improper by somebody’s social code and not a visual that
needed to drift back to the folks. He was more perturbed than angry. Couldn’t the horny mothers just
stream a video, he thought. From that day forward the blinds are drawn.
      Except for the occasional moan and groan from the ladies downstairs, home is quiet. His mom is
sleeping off the night shift and his dad has taken the cruiser down to Fort Bragg for the day. All is well
in Sterling-land. So it is now or never to get some work done.
      A beep indicates incoming text. Without bothering to look Sterling reaches over, fumbles and
switches over to mute and voice-mail. Networking can wait. The pee-wee coach-turned-academic is
hard at work, sprawled out on his queen bed, propped up by pillows with his Dell laptop supported by
his knees. He wears baby blue UNC sweats, the type of gift you wouldn’t leave home in (if you did
you’d better go straight to the local tubs to feel at ease). Sterl is in editing mode, scrolling through,
making sure his Napoleon Premier paper is all it can be. He likes the Dell for scrolling. His desk,
cluttered with various electronics, is dominated by his main unit, a 24-inch LCD, 1TB, iMac, with 10.5
OS X, and about due for upgrade. This is where he usually works, except when he is in editing mode.
      As always Sterling is tied to a schedule. Whether training, eating, studying, everything – well,
not sex, that would certainly be unscheduled – his life is very ordered with a calendar app as exhibit
one. His plate is especially full for the rest of the day. He wants to bike over to school to toss with the
ultimate crowd. And he’ll take his stick in case the lacrosse team is working out. But first he
absolutely has to finish Napoleon. He has promised to email it to the junior so he could turn it in
Monday. An hour on-line has proven sufficient to get all the footnotes together. He must have it
finished before Sara returns. Ever since she has moved in – actually, down the hall in his apartment
over the gym shared by his parents, that is – his quality of life has raised discernibly. But these days
are also producing fewer hours, what with her pilfering his time, a few minutes here, a few minutes
there, her forever wanting to get his head of hair in order. Not that he greatly objects. He likes the
attention. He likes Sara. He likes her a lot. He has nagging suspicions that the l-word is involved.
Love or lust, either applies. Obviously she feels the same, for she has convinced her parents to let her
move to town – in his home – during the entire summer. His own parents have no objection. They
miss the female touch (the extent of his mother’s cooking is the frozen-to-microwave routine). Sara is
an independent, intelligent woman who has all her mom’s and grandmom’s homemaking skills. Sara
can cook like a pro. Just what his own mother lacks. In exchange for chores, Sara will live with them
all summer, with escapes home on Sundays for 11 o’clock service. But that is the future; for now
Sterling is concentrating on the paper’s conclusion. That’s where he’s directs his hormones. He
doesn’t think he is finishing strong enough. Better to be strong and wrong than weak and right,
Sterling figures. He has never heard that said. He Googles. A quote from Bill Clinton two years
earlier. He loves the quote, doesn’t think much of its source. Especially he hates having to quote a
Democrat; why can’t the Republicans say smart things. Sterling’s original idea has been stolen,
granted, even if thieved before he had it. Sterling is not pleased that he cannot be credited with
inventing the quote. But, still, he has some new footnote material and a god-for-fuckin’ strong and
right conclusion. Just brilliant. Sterling’s intelligence never ceases to amaze him. He quickly word-
processes this into Napoleon, arguing that the French followed Bonaparte (like the left blindly follows
Bono, something he decides against including, the reader most likely being a knee-jerk) not because he
was right but because he was strong (read rich and powerful). Whether the rest of Europe liked him or
not was irrelevant; they were weak, that’s all that counted. The argument sort of falls apart when it
applies to Hitler, “Hitler exceptionalism,” to coin a phrase. Sterling wonders; an almost original
expression; Googling comes back with only two hits; definitely worth a follow-up paper, Sterling
reasons. For now leave the reader wanting more. Nothing wrong with cop-outs.
      That, however, forces the young (time-pressed) scholar into more thinking and he realizes the
inevitable: that he needs to work this some more. In the best of all worlds – one at the moment in
which the teenager had nothing to do but write this fuckin’ paper – he’d spend a few days working out
this argument, accumulating flashes of insight on his PDA throughout the day and then massaging them
into place during the evening. Over time he’d subconsciously process the data and, voilà, the paper
would have written itself. But this requires time. No time for in-depth research, however, on today’s
full plate. Even so, Sterling commits the next two hours to hunting down on-line academic studies
(thanks to his school he has free remote access to ProQuest and LexisNexis) that empower his thesis
with some theoretical punch. It helps that his broadband speed of 4Mb is sufficient; that he can read
about as fast as he can scroll; and that note-taking is unnecessary because of his glitch-free memory.
Never mind he doesn’t have the time to go to original sources; finding academic tomes requires a trip
to the library, that god-forsaken smelly building, the entirety of which should be digitized. In fact
Google was now working toward that effort, yet not quickly enough for Sterling. Academic abstracts
and the few passages he can glean from Amazon and Google text searches would have to suffice.
Reading five or ten pages in a text search or abstract isn’t the same as reading the entire book, granted,
but it’s better than nothing, right? Anyway, this is a history paper and Sterling suspects the
reader/historian won’t be all that informed in the field of political theory where most of his quotes seem
to come from. Besides, he is just a high school junior (almost senior) so expectations should be
appropriately lowered. He isn’t working on a fuckin’ Ph.D. It was his choice not to enter UNC at 15.
No one forced him not to.
      Despite what television suggests it’s not just valley or gossip girls that have BFFs. American
boys do also. Sterling hears the doorbell; he is busy typing so he doesn’t move. BFFs know whether
their friend’s doors are unlocked and when it’s appropriate to enter. Ringing the doorbell is a mere
courtesy, a warning in case Sterling would be doing something in private that he should immediately
stop doing before Billy W. N. (for Washington Newton) Duke appears at the threshold of the bedroom
door. Sterling continues to type to the end of the paragraph without looking up.
      “Good timing. Finished.”
      Billy is Sterling’s age but a few inches shorter, preppily attired in a weekend mode, that shows as
much style as it does wealth. He is slender but his most noticeable feature is a set of golden curls,
center parted, well behaved atop a head that is a bit too big for his thin neck. The hair, however, some
girls would sell their souls for. Billy swishes into the room and flops on the bed.
      “Your blog’s been dark. You’re still on Napoleon?”
      “Not any more. Finished. This is an A for sure, an A+ if the professor is in a good mood and a
B+ only if by mistake he shoved his marking pen up his ass.”
      Billy knows exactly when to take Sterling seriously and pay attention and when to just ignore him
because, well, he is just being Sterling, which would be refreshing if he were, like, a 12-year-old.
Sometimes Sterling is mature and other times he isn’t. With Billy he almost always seems like a 12-
year-old, although often a mature 12-year-old.
      “For Harvard and you?”
      “Yeah, a two-in-one,” Sterling replies.
      Billy gives a disapproving grunt.
      “It’s for a good cause. Redistribution of wealth. So don’t lecture me, Billy. Not fuckin’ today.”
      “Not a word,” Billy replies, zippers his lips, locks them and tosses away the key.
      His disapproval, however, needs not be spoken. Billy’s lecture is well-prepared, and Sterling
knows it is. Billy understands why Sterling is taking his AP History term paper more seriously than
usual. Most school chores that don’t require creativity he calls “pissant Harry high school make-work
shit.” He understands also that pee-wee boxing needs cash. He understands that the Harvard junior
who Sterling has bargained with on-line is going to receive an electronic copy of Napoleon Premier.
He understands that the junior will undoubtedly remit some money into Sterling’s Pay Pal account. He
understands that the funds will go to kiddy boxing and that this “redistribution of wealth” will benefit
his friend not one iota. And finally he understands that Sterling knows this is wrong – not a sin in the
lynching category but then not just a speeding ticket either, more like drunken driving where you kill
someone’s dog, make that an old, blind and lame dog – but he is doing it anyway. Ends justify means;
they’ve had this discussion. There is something Billy does not understand: why take the risk? Billy,
himself, has solved Sterling’s problem. That’s what he is about to tell him so he won’t go and do
something stupid.
      “Hey, before you go and do something stupid, I talked to William Sr. about your insurance
      “Mother’s insurance worries.”
      “So my father called his broker – you know all told Senior’s annual premiums are in the hundreds
of thousands. So the broker is willing to give you, as a special friend of my father’s third-in-line son’s
best friend forever, a special deal. One-hundred-and-twenty-five dollars.”
      Sterling smiles, “Not bad. I’ll have money left over from Harvard.”
      “That’s $125 per pee-wee,” Billy explains. “They especially don’t like the fact you, yourself, are
a minor.”
      Sterling sighs. The world’s one screwed-up place. At 17, which he’ll be in a matter of hours, he
can enlist in the Army, get married, be executed for a crime he didn’t commit and do just about
anything but coach the pee-wees. And vote, which doesn’t interest him because the whole system is
too corrupt to take part in. His face says it: he’s lost his coaching job.
      “I can’t afford that, Billy. You know that. Even you don’t have $1,500 in pocket change. And
don’t offer to give it to me.”
      Ignoring him, Billy continues:
      “So William Sr. says to me,” as he lowers his voice an octave:
      ‘Son, I have a better idea. Why does he need insurance? If something catastrophic happens, The
Sterling is well insured. I’m an investor, I made sure of that. You need insurance because, what if the
welfare mom of one of these children envisions a big payout for some minor annoyance like a broken
arm. She gets herself lawyered-up, that’s what you don’t want to see happen. You prevent that, not by
insurance, but by subtle persuasion.’”
      Billy holds out a key ring, a finger banana, about 2 ½ inches long. If it weren’t Dayglow pink, it
might seem edible. Sterling takes it, jerks it apart and inserts one end into a USB port on his Dell. He
examines what appears on the screen.
      “A release form. Sure. Why didn’t I think of that!” Sterling admonishes himself.
      “Because you’re not enough of a cunning bastard. If you were more of a skunk you’d know that
subtle persuasion means intimidation. You, Sterl, don’t have a legacy of six generations of slave-
beating ancestors who hardly noticed the Civil War – so busy profiteering, selling cotton to both sides –
and the next six generations peddle coffin sticks to kids like your pee-wees. It’s not you who should
have thought of it. It’s me. Senior is ashamed of my morality. I’m the thirteenth generation. I should
inherit duplicity, deception…”
      “…deceit, dishonesty, treachery, fraudulence,” Sterling mutters as he works on the iMac. He
merges the parents’ names into the release form template and prints out the individualized release
      “My dad really likes you Sterling. I think the only reason he accepts me for who I am is that he
sees you in the picture.”
      As the HP continues printing, Sterling walks over to Billy, who gets off the bed. The boys face
each other, the entire verticality of their bodies less than an inch apart. Sterling runs his hands through
Billy’s curls, then lays his hands gently on his shoulders and says, seriously: “I owe you big, buddy.”
Then he kisses him on the middle of the forehead, a gesture more satirical than affectionate. “You tell
Senior: if he wants to fork over ten million as a dowry, I’m all yours. Make it fifteen and I’ll even go
      Billy shakes his head. “You’re are so cruel, Sterl. So, so, very, very cruel.” When they stop
laughing, he adds: “So you can forget about Harvard? You don’t need the money now.”
      Sterling, rather than responding, preoccupies himself with his text messages, and talks
simultaneously with Billy, who by habit checks his email, too.
      “So when’s my party? People are texting me for a time. Didn’t you give them a time?
      “Early evening. Your mother told me to get you out of here for the afternoon. Hey, it’s supposed
to be a surprise. You’re not in the loop.”
      Sterling grabs Billy’s Blackberry to examine the guest list. He mutters approvals until he comes
to an email address.
      “Billy, you are not inviting the Trips! They’re not even in my fuckin’ address book. I thought
you defriended them.” He deletes them from Billy’s facebook as Billy grabs back his phone to undo
the erase.
      “Don’t go postal, bro. I’m just the messenger. You got issues; take ’em up with your mother.
She specifically told me to email Jake-Connor-Zack.”
      “Sometimes that woman tries her fuckin’ best to make my life miserable. Anyway, they won’t
come,” Sterling shrugs. “Our dislikes are mutual.”
      “And don’t you go tell your mother you know about the surprise party, Sterl, or she’ll blame me.
It’s good to have me on her good side.”
      “Yeah, yeah, yeah. What kind of car do you think I’ll get?”
      “Let’s see. If it’s up to your dad, something new, very hot, maybe in red, probably convertible.
Stick shift. With sex written all over it, maybe he’ll throw in a hooker from lock-up. Something he’d
like to rev up so he can live your life for you. On the other hand, if it’s your mother’s decision,
something old, boxy and busted up, tea party matrons with oxygen tanks in the back seat. 1984 Honda
Civic, on its fourth odometer and fifth transmission.”
      “Something even Craig won’t list.”
      “They’ll probably let you decide yourself. That’s what they usually do. You got the best parent
gig I know, bro. Two opposites who never argue but let their little prince populate his kingdom with all
the toys he wants.”
      Billy refers to the electronics that clutter Sterling’s desk. All the usual suspects plus much more.
Always the fastest, smallest, latest. This criticism rolls off Sterling’s back like water off a Mallard. He
knows it’s all true and he couldn’t care less.
      Billy continues to whine: “If I want a simple upgrade, fifty bucks or something, I have to go
through at least two secretaries to talk with Senior or his wife to get their consent; I need their both.
And she’s no pushover, like the last one, trying to keep every last dime in his estate, and he’s not even
      “What’s her name? It’s hard to keep them straight. She’s the twenty-something with big boobs,
      “And I don’t call her Mommy, cause that would imply she had me when she was like thirteen.
Even illegal in this state.”
      They chat awhile about which of their friends have the most imperfect parents. Most anyone
would agree Sterling has a great set-up, parents wrapped around his baby finger.

Chapter 2
     The hockey stick is belted across Sterling’s backpack much like Olympic skiers carry their rifles
in the winter biathlon. He cycles toward the ball fields. He, of course, dons his Giro helmet. When
biking Sterling is never without the Giro. One time he had left it home; never again. The state had
passed a mandatory helmet law in 2001 for under 16s, but enforcement was lax and lots of kids
flaunted it, knowing they could outrun the police, especially those on their ‘coppercycles’. Sterling had
been told: obey the law, wear the helmet or face the consequences. He had forgotten; one careless
mistake. His mother had lectured him: one careless mistake is all it takes to kill you. His dad had
given him DOT’s Highway Statistics, 2005, with its tabular reporting of deaths (786 cyclists in 2005,
the highest in eight years). His ol’ man knew full well that stats more impressed their son than parental
advice, which he seemed to consider optional, like stop signs and red lights. True, the kid didn’t think
much of signs and lights that caused nothing but delay; an excuse for the government to spread the pork
among campaign contributors and for cops to harass kids. As for the stats book, who would pay $31.50
for information that’s mostly free on-line? Still, his father, a man of few words, had given Sterling one
sound piece of advice, which Sterling would never forget, not that he ever forgot anything. “When
they write your obituary, son, you don’t want them to say: ‘He died of stupidity.’”
      Big deal, he had explained; so what, he had forgotten to put on a helmet. It was not the end of the
world. That’s what he had said, and that’s what brought on the trouble. His big mouth. For he and his
parents both knew that Sterling did not forget things. Never. Thus, his not wearing the Giro could be
interpreted only one way: he had purposely decided not to wear it. The boy had sworn to his parents
this was not true. He then wanted to engage them in a discussion of free will – because ironically, if
perhaps not coincidentally, that same morning he had been contemplating free will and was still unable
to reason out whether he was more Hobbsian than Dennettian, or vice-versa, a compatibilist in any case
– but his parents were having none of it. Philosophy, at this moment especially, did not interest them,
despite its being the one subject that suggested to their son that he might not know everything, or at
least realize that just by memorizing everything, he couldn’t know everything. Philosophy was not the
issue; misbehavior was the issue. Sterling wondered if maybe he was lying to them; helmet wearing
was considered sissy by his friends. Sterling didn’t like being taunted. Maybe subconsciously he had
indeed refused the helmet, or maybe he had just plain forgot it. As perfect as Sterling would like to
think his memory was, perhaps it wasn’t. In any case he had been observed (he never learned by
whom, but no doubt his mother or one of her neighborhood spies) and he had been made to pay the
price, downstairs in the Vegas Gym, after he had sparred a few rounds with his dad, something he
usually did several nights a week. Out came the strap, three times across the back (the boy preferred
the buttocks, where marks were concealed) administered in place of a lecture, almost ritualistically as
Sterling leaned across the pommel horse, that most detestable apparatus, whose sole raison d’être at
Vegas was to offer support during whippings. Before the whap-whap-whap his father had said: “I love
you son.” And the son had reciprocated: “I love you dad.” That was their ritual.
      Corporal punishment may be out of fashion now in these post-modern times, and it may be
ineffective, but in Sterling’s case it works. He never again left home without a helmet, and he had had
at least one stop-sign ignoring head-over-handlebars spill after which he thanked god, actually he
thanked himself, that he had had protection: the strap had been worth it. Then, after a fellow student,
bareheaded, had been struck and killed by a Toyota while riding near campus (one of the nation’s 772
bike deaths that year), it swiftly became ‘cool’ to helmetize. Before that Sterling had merely fought
back against the taunts, but now he veritably badgered his friends with gusto, not letting them forget
their departed classmate, the very boy who had indeed taunted Sterling for being a “cop-ass-kissing
helmet-wearing sissy;” no more taunts, no appreciation of irony, no sadness over the death of a kid he
had never liked, only regret (indeed shame) that he hadn’t been able to serve as a better role model thus
maybe to have saved the asshole’s life.
      Sterling’s own bike is a Cannondale “Law Enforcement.” Black, cool, not flashy. Like police
dogs, coppercycles endure a relatively short working life. This particular bike had not seen much
patrol duty – under a thousand miles – and during a Cary Police Department spring cleaning it had been
given the pink slip, to be sold as police surplus at a generous discount to officers. For the past few
years it had ended up being Sterling’s chief form of transport, used even now – he had been driving
legally for almost two years – if neither of his parents had their cars at home, for which he has made
duplicate keys.
       As he approaches the sports fields he is thinking about his friend Billy, specifically the request
Billy had made just as Sterling was mounting his bike to leave. It is really unfair of Billy to ask so
much, he thinks. But it is Sterling’s own damn fault. No, he is now of the mind that he had even given
Billy an opening to ask for such a favor. He had encouraged Billy when he had blurted out: “I owe you
big, buddy” in thanks for his friend’s father’s solving the pee-wee insurance matter (which he still
regretted not having thought of himself). A demand to repay the favor had come a few minutes later, a
delay required so Billy could connive how to ask, how to lay a guilt trip on Sterling, if need be. Why
had Sterling used the word “big”? Why did he have to be so serious? Why hadn’t he just sluffed off
something like “Hey, I owe you,” something you might say to anyone anytime. Like to a bus driver
who keeps the door open a second longer so you can board. “Thanks, I owe you.” That works. The
bus driver is not going to ask for a favor which he, the one who must grant the favor, finds a bit
disgusting. Fuck the bus driver; Sterling hasn’t taken a bus in years.
       It’s not that sex bothers him. Sterling, for all his active inexperience, is still what one might call
“liberated” in those regards. Born into the internet revolution, he’s seen it all, thanks to the wonderful
wide and wild world of the web, and he really doesn’t find much of it all that disgusting. Hey, if it’s
your thing to pierce your junk, that’s your business. Hey, the body has plenty of orifices; they don’t
come with “dos and don’ts” labels. Sex is about consent, not much else. Sterling gets such
“enlightenment” from his parents, who share the European values of mother’s own parents, commies
that they were. His folks are not hung-up, except about spreading STDs, which is an almighty
obsession with them. His mother’s not called “Mrs. Condom” for nothing. Indeed, he and Billy have
been open about sexual matters since, well, forever. It’s more or less a one-way street. Billy confides
in Sterling; Sterling listens. Whether it’s about nocturnal emissions, or coarseness of pubic hair, or
worries about testicular cancer, or what kind of foreign objects can damage the prostate, Sterling
listens. It was Billy who, when they were hardly nine years old, announced that he was “queerish”. At
first Sterling thought it was a joke, a test of some sort. Sterling loves tests; so he played along. But as
thick-headed as this155-IQ adolescent can sometimes be (“For being so smart, you can really be dumb”
is not something he enjoys hearing from friends and folks alike.), he quickly realized this was no joke.
Immediately, for both of them, Billy’s sexual orientation was fixed; the subject was never debated.
Sterling accepted it; it was not his problem, and he had no choice. He accepted it much more so than
Billy himself did. That was the fuckin’ problem. It wasn’t just that Billy had locked himself in a closet
that he didn’t want to quit (only Sterling was allowed knowledge of the closet); rather, Billy had
constructed his closet in a dungeon underneath a fortress in a remote evil empire on a planet in another
galaxy. It took several light-years of effort for Sterling to lead Billy back into the reality of their own
solar system and eventually into the closet in his parents’ home. Which was where the problem lay.
How to break the news to the living representatives of twelve generations of Dukes and their
duchesses, how to tell them that their hope for the future was a boy of…here Sterling had to grope for
the precise words to be used in Billy’s announcement to his parents. He settled on: “a boy of another
persuasion, different from you and me.” Billy wholeheartedly agreed. He nagged Sterling into
accompanying him when he came out to his parents. First, however, they tried such an announcement
on his – Sterling’s – parents who, being misty-eyed liberals, were all praise and glory for Billy’s
courage, honesty, integrity…so many laudatory nouns which Sterling could not recall – and he racked
his brains – ever having heard applied to he himself, their only begotten son, who was straight to boot,
a fact that seemed not to interest them in the least. Now, armed with a successful trial-run experience,
Sterling went as moral support with Billy to deliver to the Dukes their son’s news. Only seconds
before they had moved through the parlor to the sitting room on to the den and past the living room, did
Billy break the news to Sterling that he – not Billy – was to be their spokesman. As if it were now
“their” problem. Billy, no less a chicken-shit than usual, had no intention of breaking the news himself.
Sterling was not happy with his elevation to leadership but he was even less happy with the prospect of
continuing the current situation: three year’s of Billy’s constant whining about “my orientation” and
how he couldn’t budge the closet door ajar, and how he wouldn’t know where to find men to date, and
he wouldn’t know the type of sex he should have with men… Three years were quite enough. For
god, Billy, it’s only fuckin’ sex, Sterling had told him. So when they sat down to dinner in the pomp
and circumstance of the grand Duke’s formal dining room – Billy had prepared the family for a big
announcement and had insisted on a good meal with a kid’s portion of claret for him and Sterling – no
sooner had grace been said that Sterling blurted out: “Your son is a homosexual. In other words, gay.
That means he likes boys or men, not girls or women. We’ve been over this for three years. His
orientation isn’t going to change, I assure you. Now he needs your full support.” After a bit of silence,
he added: “Boy this is good steak. Maybe we can borrow Thelma to cook for the pee-wees.”
      Except for his father’s wife (number two) who commented that in North Carolina same-sex
couples could adopt an heir, just that it best be done out-of-state and imported as an immigrant, Billy’s
family took the news in silence. Silence throughout dinner and silence over brandy and cigars, neither
of which the boys were allowed, not even in kiddy portions. Billy was subsequently sent to a child
psychologist and now, five years on, the family had accepted what was never called anything but “his
current orientation,” more comfortable with it than Billy himself. It was like their exceedingly
uncomfortable Louis XIV chairs, always there, nothing to get depressed about, but something that
wasn’t going to get more comfy with time, either.
      Sterling shifts gears, focusing on which of the two sports to grace: lacrosse or ultimate. Usually
there’s no conflict but for some reason he received a text that ultimate practice has moved to Saturday.
The lacrosse scrimmage looks like it had just started, the players showing no signs of fatigue. Better
Sterling give them an hour and he can join them when one of the middies needed a break. The
ultimates, on the other hand, look tired; a frisbee wobbles ever so slightly and slices away from its
target. Maybe one of the team needs a rest. They are playing a city league match. Usually, in just
about any sport, the entire team attends each and every game. But ultimate being a sport with a large
degree of flexibility, Sterling had been given reserve status on this, a local club, the Faux Dukes, a
dispensation granted due to the fact he can never find sufficient time away from boxing to make many
work-outs. He is, however, considered a very good player, even if he rarely practices. Maybe he is
good because he never practices, never gets hung up on set plays and such nonsense. He was born with
good hand-eye coordination which means he excels in most all sports. Given just about any activity,
over the years Sterling has time and again proved that he can quickly become better than average
almost off the bat.
      He sits down on the bench with three others, two girls and a boy. One jumps up to substitute for
another who limps off with a leg cramp.
      “Hey U, you finally get here?” asks another teammate, who at the moment serves as de facto
captain and coach. Ultimate for these boys and girls (and men and women since the politically correct
team has an anti-age discrimination policy) is a coachless sport, but someone has to make decisions
during a match. The “coach” is a rotating reward to whoever has been on the bench the longest. You
couldn’t ask for a more democratic, and often confusing, process.
      “Yeah, sorry. I was coaching the little tykes. Took longer than I thought.”
      “Well, you’re here. Take over for Sally. Her head’s somewhere else.”
      Wearing a team jersey that he’s fetched from his backpack, he darts onto the field to take his place
on the seven-person squad.
      Ultimate has been around since the late sixties and remains somewhat of a counterculture sport. It
has a reported five million American players – so Wikipedia says; the US census doesn’t yet track the
sport – more than lacrosse (1.2 million) but far fewer than baseball (13m), basketball (24m), soccer
(13m), or even football (9m). Some team sports in the Olympics certainly draw fewer adherents in the
US. One cannot imagine five million Americans joining weekend league teams, often but not always
coed, in volleyball, team handball, field hockey, rugby union or cricket, some of which sound blatantly
       Although not sanctioned by the NCAA, ultimate has generated great interest on college campuses
where it puts some minor sports to shame. Why is it so popular? Is it because it’s democratic: can’t
anyone throw a frisbee? Actually, its popularity would seem to stem from the two main features that
distinguish the game, which is sometimes called ultimate frisbee (frisbee is a trademarked term and
thus politically incorrect for collegians to say without considering some sort of licensing fee), from
other field sports such as hockey, soccer or lacrosse. First, the player who holds the circular disc must
keep one leg planted on the ground. It’s hard to imagine the NBA or NFL adopting that rule without a
bit of hassle from the major networks, not to mention the bored fans. Second, it is self-officiating.
Again, what would world cup soccer be without atrocious refereeing? Officiating is actually often
much more interesting than actual play. Self-refereeing? Can one envision 300-pound testosterone-
pumped boys on the gridiron rationally debating the pros and cons of whether a particular incident,
whose interpretation can lead to either glorious victory or utter humiliation, should be considered a
foul? Why should Americans expect their sportsmen and women to behave like anything other than
spoiled brats; their politicians aren’t civil to one another.
       Self-confessed libertarians like Sterling are fond of ultimate, in part, because it leaves decisions to
the individual, even though it is notionally a team sport. The individual, not some god-official, is the
ultimate authority. Sterling thinks little of government, despite the fact he lives off the incomes of two
public civil servants. He thinks even less of government’s telling you what you can and cannot do.
Sterling doesn’t consider himself an anarchist but if he had to choose between anarchy or communism,
such a decision would not cost him much sleep.
       Fouls in ultimate are defined as actions “sufficient to arouse the ire of the player fouled.” Sterling
has never once complained about a thrown elbow or a knee to the groin or a foot that somehow gets in
the way and lands him flat on his face. Physicality is part of the game; no complaints, he won’t be seen
as a whinger. In any case Sterling can give back as good as he gets. Consequently, his game is played
in response to his opponents, eye for eye, elbow for elbow. Teams who are familiar with “Elbow U”
before usually afford him a wide berth.
       Once he gets the disc, Sterling is formidable. For shorter opponents (the defensive player directly
challenging you is called a mark) it’s hard to defend against his arachnid body. He is not fully
ambidextrous, but marks who ignore his weaker arm do so at their own peril. He pulls his shares of
bricks, but generally he’s among the most accurate throwers in the league. Sterling can play anywhere
on the field. He can be a handler (designated thrower) or a cutter (a receiver in American football
parlance). Wherever he is, his marks seem unable to keep him from finding a trajectory either around
or through them. Having someone throw a frisbee through your legs is downright humiliating! Some
say the game is won or lost on set plays. But like in basketball, it’s just as much about spontaneity,
creativity and accuracy. Those are Sterling’s strengths. Still, he has memorized the playbook (15
minutes to commit it to full understanding) and follows the set plays when absolutely unavoidable.
       Sterling is substituting for a defense player who was positioned close to their own goal. Play
continues; eventually he receives the disc. Immediately a mark arrives within ten feet, yells “force
forehand” and begins the stall 10-count: “One, two, three, four…”
       “Hey, you missed ‘two’, beautiful.”
       By yelling “force forehand” the mark has alerted her teammates that she is guarding Sterling’s
left, forcing him to throw right, supposedly the weaker throw for most players, who prefer the
backhand (think Federer or Sampras). As a result the players rearrange themselves on the field while
the count continues. Sterling’s comment, however, has rattled the player for a nanosecond, for she
wasn’t prewarned about Sterling’s tactics, which include flirtatious and disarming eye-to-eye contact as
if they were lovers over wine. This ever so slight loss of concentration by the mark (subconsciously
thinking “I didn’t skip two, did I?”) has allowed Sterling to change hands, find an opening and throw a
huck to a teammate who’s undefended at the goal. He lunges, catches the Hail Mary, a deep-deep in
ultimate jargon, and flips it into the goal. Sterling gets the assist and turns to the mark, who is totally
baffled. “They should have told you I was a southpaw.” He doesn’t apologize by the “you missed two,
beautiful” remark, which he would admit was a bit childish and something he should not have been
doing for the past five or so years he’s played the sport. “Beautiful” is warranted in her case; no
apologies necessary.
      Score is 6-11; this is an abbreviated 13 point match so it won’t be long, Sterling figures, before he
can finish up and head over to lacrosse, which is more physical and definitely not coed (it attracts a few
girly groupies). Play continues and the disc is passed again to Sterling. His teammates have stacked
themselves vertically; someone calls out “blind monkey” which refers to a set play and the team
disperse in a pattern. As designated handler Sterling tosses the disc seemingly to nowhere and he heads
along a diagonal. The designated cutter has caught the frisbee, passes off to another as the pattern
continues, fully out-foxing the opposing team, which has broken from person-to-person to zone and is
now back to person-to-person, confused enough to leave some of Sterling’s teammates double-teamed
while others are completely open. Sterling is double-teamed and his teammates quickly score again. In
the process he is elbowed hard in the gut by the beautiful one who had earlier allowed him to throw the
huck round her. The elbow does not appear to be unintentional; he stares at the girl and says nothing.
For the moment. The treat of retaliation is enough to make the elbow beauty take to the side of the
field opposite Sterling.
      The game continues toward the end. Sterling receives the disc only once more: he fakes a little
flick to get the mark off balance, pivots and plants his right foot out of bounds to break the mark, and
lets a backhand go down the sideline. The defense is caught out of position yet again and action
eventually results in the game-ending score. The team assembles at the bench. They congratulate each
other; there’s a good chance they will win city league, sponsored by Triangle Flying Disc Association.
The main opposition for the Fauxs will be an unofficial university team, the Dukes (as opposed to
Duke’s official teams, Brimstone and Chakra). Someone mentions that they might advance to the
Youth Club Championships in August in Minneapolis. Another adds they may have to adjust the roster
to accommodate age limits and gender distribution requirements. Being a sport without a long history
and, more importantly, without a commanding top-down management structure, ultimate has yet to
work out some operational kinks; an enthusiast finds a bizarre collection of clubs and leagues with
differing age and gender requirements, and a veritable potpourri of local, regional and national
tournaments. Some communities have rival leagues; chaos can rule. A couple of female teammates
comment they could use more of Sterling. They worry he may want to go to a rival club or league.
Talent filching is not unheard of. The subject of discussion, however, is already cycling over to
     As he’s cycling across the park to the far field, Sterling wonders if he isn’t allocating too much
time to sports. He has a lot on his plate (which reminds him that the three PB&J sandwiches and the
leftover lasagna he had for lunch are wearing off, but that’s another diversion), may be too much. The
app says he spends two hours on average for sports; apps don’t lie.
      A few weeks back he downloaded a time management app that allows him to figure out exactly
how he spends his days. Studies from back in the 1950s have consistently shown that people are fairly
clueless as to how they allocate their time. The $0.99 app facilitated the keeping of a self-report time
log and did all the necessary arithmetic; when Sterling began a task, say when he went to Vegas to
train, he touched the sports icon on entering then again on leaving the gym; when he took time to eat he
touched the food icon, or went into the bathroom, the hygiene icon. If the smartware thought you had
forgotten to log out of a task you had begun (more than five minutes on the toilet as a rule) it would ask
you to reconfirm. After a day or so, logging in and out had become second nature. His parents were
amused that he couldn’t defecate without first informing his iPhone, but other than them, no one
seemed to notice. He was just communing with his PDA like any normal kid. After a week he received
an interim report and the results were mildly disconcerting: The day’s biggest accomplishment was
sleeping (8.6 hours), followed by intellectual stuff (6.6 h) such as reading, in class, on the iMac for
coursework or general knowledge investigation, i.e., surfing the web for educational purposes;
transportation (1.5 h); physicality – i.e., sports & recreation (2 h); food, including preparation – i.e.,
making sandwiches, reheating leftovers or ripping open packages (2 h); friendship (2 h) including
networking, shooting the breeze, etc., subdivided by person: 80% of his social intercourse was with
Sara or Billy; family (10 m); misc. recreation (10 m); shopping (5 m, all-on line); household chores (10
m); and sex (5 m) most of it on-line, regrettably; and unspecified (57 m). It reported that Sterling was
time-structured, that he had few unplanned tasks but also that he generally underestimated, by usually
15%, how much time he would spend on any given chore. It reprimanded him for spending too much
time on-line (obviously the programmers were middle-aged, probably thirty-somethings), for spending
not enough time with his family and for having too few recreational activities. In completing the start-
up questionnaire, Sterling realized just what he didn’t do: he didn’t fish, he didn’t hunt, though he had
guns; he didn’t bowl, he didn’t watch reality TV; he didn’t paint; he didn’t sing in the school choir. He
spent more time rearranging his room than thinking about sex, which is perhaps where the lost 57
minutes should be placed.
      That Sterling was over organized had not been flagged; thus the smartware seemed to confirm
that he wasn’t the only teenager who liked order. In fact he is no less a disorderly teenager than most,
who are forever trying to find order in their disorder. Sterling doesn’t realize that the reason he is
organized is because he is constantly having to deal with his disorder. The app was similarly unaware.
For its part the app reflected non-judgmentally that Sterling was active on his PDA for three hours per
day, across almost all categories save for sports. This is only about half the national average for
American youth, who are plugged in to something almost non-stop, except when in class or asleep.
Like his peers Sterling multi-tasks all day long, but the app (version 1.4) wasn’t sufficiently sensitive to
appreciate just how much multitasking is taking place: changing iTunes, while on Facebook, for
example, while streaming a movie in a pop-up window on-line, while texting your mother you’ll do
your chores during the next break. Sterling, himself, usually texts while he takes in or lets out food
except if his parents also happen to be at the table AND are in a bad mood AND want quality time with
him, three conditions almost never met simultaneously. Even when he is extremely focused, as on
Napoleon recently, he is listening to music, without lyrics so it is just background noise to keep out
other noise. In any case Sterling does not consider himself to be an exceptional multitasker. He has
friends who can pack 11 hours of media content into seven and a half hours of clock time. Sterling is
more into focus. And right now he had to start focusing on his next sport.
      Sterling has always liked lacrosse, and he is looking forward to a good scrimmage as the team
prepares for Tuesday’s game with its cross-town rival, Durham Academy, the final match of the season.
He’d prefer to be put in at the attack position in scrimmage, but playing midfield is OK, at least for the
moment. Beggars can’t be choosers, he knows. If he could afford the time, he’d love to play on the
school squad; but it’s just as well he can’t make the time, for he’s never found coaches he likes, who
know much about the sport, or at least as much as he does. The school teams never win and, blame the
players if you want, but it’s not really their fault. Yet, he likes this new guy, Coach Mac; or more
accurately Coach Mac likes Sterling and has been wooing him to join the team. That’s why he’s been
allowed to mosey in and out of practice at will. One of these days, the coach figures, Sterling will
forsake boxing for lacrosse, will choose a sport of today, not one whose glory rests in the past. One of
these days, Sterling figures, the Coach will loose patience and tell Sterling to put up or shut up. At that
time he’ll have to decide between box and lacrosse. The time for decision probably won’t come until
the fall, with the new school year; by then maybe Coach Mac will have gone on to greener pastures;
and Sterling can play cat and mouse with his replacement.
      Boxing vs. lacrosse vs. ultimate. A forced decision is grossly unfair: sports are individual;
comparing them is stupid, reasons Sterling. You can’t compare apples with oranges or pears. Well, you
can compare them but it’s an absurd exercise, because they are so individualized, and certainly not
mutually exclusive or fungible. Sterling feels a philosophy paper rearing its ugly head, so he switches
his thoughts to the more practical matter of how to beam in without causing the coach to notice. It’s
too late for that.
      “Eumorfopoulos, are you warmed up?” Coach Mac asks Sterling.
      “Yes, Coach.” Coach Mac is about the only one at school who uses any more than the first
syllable of his surname. The principal just calls him Sterling and the other teachers Mr. U, when they
want to sound formal, or Sterl when informal.
      He has changed helmets, put on a chest protector, elbow pads and gloves – the rib pads just take
too much of an effort – and is almost ready to play. Both hands are in his shorts as he inserts the cup
into his jock.
      “Good, then sit down and cool off. And when you can force your hands out of your crotch, you
can help with some drills.”
      The Coach whistles the team to quit scrimmage and assemble.
      Coach Mac would be considered by almost any measure to be overqualified for what he’s doing:
teaching at a private day school and coaching its forever losing lacrosse team. He has an AB (cum
laude) from Duke doubling in Economics and Psychology. Certain events disrupted his post graduation
plans; notably he failed to secure the Rhodes Scholarship that was anticipated. This lacuna in his future
thus allows him to teach economics at Durham Prep, where Sterling is enrolled. Mac also acts part-
time as a school counselor, a position that seems always to be looking for a permanent staff. Durham
Prep is a K-12 school for the gifted, and the gifted have ways of driving guidance counselors past their
wits’ end. Sterling, himself, was partly responsible for one’s early retirement. “Good riddance to bad
rubbish,” is the way he explained the woman’s departure to his parents.
      But Coach Mac’s placement at Durham Prep has little to do with his personal career pursuits. It’s
really about location. His fiancée (a Southern term for live-in girlfriend) is getting her masters at
Chapel Hill and he wants to stay close by (they house in Durham, that’s about as close as they could
affordably get). Mac was a Duke senior in 2006 and a midfielder on the lacrosse team, an adequate
college lacrosse player on a perpetual national powerhouse. That’s the year the team was “nifonged”
and the lacrosse program terminated in mid-season. “To be nifonged” refers to the eponymous former
district attorney, Michael Byron Nifong, who used trumped up criminal charges – an alleged March
rape by some of Mac’s teammates – for personal political objectives, in this case to win the Democratic
primary for DA that May. Sterling well remembers the case, was skeptical from the start – “Democrats
do what it takes to get elected” he told his parents, themselves card-carrying Democrats – and he shed
no tears when Mike Nifong was fired, disbarred, jailed and declared bankrupt. This Schadenfreude he
certainly shares with Coach Mac who blames Nifong for his losing the Rhodes. Along with his
teammates, he was awarded as paltry compensation another year of NCAA eligibility. Thus Mac found
it convenient, a no-brainer actually, to remain a Blue Devil in the Gothic Wonderland for another year
of lacrosse and to gather the credits needed for a double major. Now he’s waiting for his girlfriend to
finish her education, and together they will decide their futures based on who gets what kind of job
where. If they can’t accommodate each other, they’ll just pursue their lives separately with new lovers.
      Sterling’s a more than adequate player, as far as Coach Mac can tell, for he’s an adept passer,
using either hand, and he can create off the dodge both behind and in front of the goal. Naturally he is
left-hand dominant, but only slightly so, and for this reason Sterling will be the focus of the next drills.
In general Mac’s players need practice with their weak hand; right-handers who are forced by game
action to hold the stick with their left must change hand positions in order to place their left on top,
below the stick’s head, which is an uncomfortable position for the beginner. To become good at
lacrosse there are stages one goes through and about half the squad is still not comfortable except with
their dominant hand. They need to advance to the next stage. As the only lefty, Sterling will be tossed
into various two-on-ones, which should require at least one of the twosome opposing him to go non-
dominant. In a man-ball drill, the first player within five yards of the ball calls “man” and takes on
Sterling with his body while his teammate, the second offensive player, scoops the ball. Sterling plays
to win, of course, and can win if the regular twosomes aren’t connecting with each other. The drill also
instructs Coach Mac about future pairings, for it’s his job to place the players in the best positions, to
maximize the team’s strength. That’s often what separates a good coach from a mediocre one. It’s
frequently not the player’s talent per se; it’s getting the most out of the talent.
      Sterling is not aware of the coach’s practice strategy; he knows only that Coach Mac is making
him work like a dog, constantly hounded by members of the pack. If Sterling outmaneuvers one pair of
strays, they’re forced to repeat the drill until they eventually get the ball from Sterling. It took one pair
six attempts. Sterling is not used to this coach’s methods, and he is certainly a bit fed up with his
madness. No sooner has he finished with the rotating pairs in the man-ball drill, than the Coach
initiates a cross-checking drill at the goal, positioning Sterling so his opponents again have to go to
their non-dominant stance. Standing about ten yards in front of the defending goal, Sterling is never
allowed to go on the offensive, rather he is perpetual fodder in a two-on-one. He wins in only about a
third of the encounters; and he’s starting to get tired and consequently is winning less often. But he
knows there’s no way he can quit before quitting time. It’s one thing to show up late; leaving early
would not be acceptable. As the afternoon shadow lengthens, eventually Coach calls the practice. As
much as the other players, Sterling is exhausted and is happy to gobble up a couple of the brownies
from a tray that’s passed around by one of the team’s mothers, a woman he used to pool-boy for. They
do not look each other in the eyes. None of the team really has anything to say to Sterling. He’s an
outsider. Neither Sara nor Billy, in fact, none of his band of Twitter followers, goes to this school,
which is at best a loose collection of unconnected nerds. Sterling does as he likes at Durham Prep.
Many students there take independent study, but Sterling has made an art of not having to attend
classes. He has sixteen APs under his belt (seventeen if you include the repeat). They wanted to shoo
him off to university some years back; Sterling refused. Who wants to have classmates five years more
experienced? The only thing he’d get from girls would be pity. Sterling has no regrets he stayed put.
This term he has no more than four hours of in-class activity – four hours a week! As a senior he’s
hoping he won’t have to go to class at all, concocting various independent studies with the local
universities. No way college will be this good. Now Sterling can work from the iMac in the comfort
of his room, comfortably in his jammies or stark naked if he wants. So continued participation in the
athletic program seems highly doubtful. Coach Mac approaches, probably to ask Sterling to join the
team. Sterling is doggie-style on the turf, preoccupied with removing his cup, as discretely as possible.
      “Good work out there,” he tells Sterling.
      “Thanks, Coach.”
      That was surely the coach’s way of asking Sterling to play for him next year. He nods to the
coach, meaning he’ll continue to take it under advisement.
     Only an hour later, sprawled out across the bed Sterling sleeps off his afternoon of sports, never
having bothered to shower or change togs. He is content and peaceful in his slumber and only slowly
does he stir to life and then only because Sara’s hand gently strokes his shoulder in a neighborly sort of
way. “Pan wants you downstairs,” she says, as way of explaining this intimacy. Sterling wraps a hand
across her shoulder and pulls her close.
      “Give me five minutes,” he requests as he pulls her face to his for a kiss briefer than he would
      “Let’s do something tonight. Catherine wants us all for dinner; then we’re free.” She gets herself
released and heads out.
      Sterling stretches, turns off the phone alarm. He thinks about Sara, that she could be the one.
Most definitely, the one. She knew she didn’t have to wake him up; that was a conscious decision. She
just couldn’t resist the chance to see him asleep. How long had she been watching, he wonders.
Maybe tonight, most definitely, maybe tonight is the night.
       It’s not that Sara has the best of anything. Certainly other girls are better lookers; others are more
intelligent; in all of Durham there is certainly at least one other young female who is as accomplished
at home chores as Sara. She has a great personality, is very kind, and is liked by everybody,
compliments that suggest she is a dog. Not true; she is very cute with fashionably golden shoulder-
length waves that are often tied back in a bun or an animal tale. She’s tall, for a girl, so Sterling doesn’t
constantly have to crane his neck when they converse. She has soft features, nothing much to offer a
caricaturist. It’s not just her size and shapes that interest Sterling. Sara exudes plenty of empathy and
compassion which, when added to Sterling’s meager offering in these regards, allows the couple to be a
whole unit. In many ways she’s what Sterling is not: forethoughtful, non-judgmental and tolerant.
Like his own parents who bring very different qualities to their couplehood, he and Sara complement
each other and help fill in the other’s missing pieces.
       He and Sara have known each other since, it seems, forever. He can’t fix an exact date to when
she came into his life (only later did he begin irrevocably to affix events to the calendar), but it was
likely either in kindergarten or first grade. That was when she lived in town, long before her father got
the more prestigious position in Greensboro. Her father, always referred to as “The Reverend,” is a
Bible-toting and sometimes thumping pastor. His daughter is not a fanatic, fortunately, but is certainly
much more religious than Sterling, who is least comfortable around those who cannot resist the more
irrational elements of faith. On more than one occasion he has been know to rile born-agains with
provoked attacks on the very existence of God. These rants have increased of late, but Sterling keeps
his agnostic cravings in check when he is around Sara; he even enjoys sharing her church activities:
youth picnics, pilgrimages, Christian ultimate, Easter sunrise services and the like. His parents are way
too liberal to pay much heed to a Divine Being and about the only time he is able to go to vespers or
high liturgy – he likes the rituals – is with his grandfolks who live about two hours away as crows fly,
about a century away as modernization travels and on another planet in terms of family relations.
These are his mother’s parents, whom his own folks feel obliged to visit several weekends a month. It
is nice for them to leave Sterling to his own devices. His only complaint is that he can’t prepare in
advance for what type of mood they’ll be in when they return. Her parents are the one thing that can
drive his type-B father crazy. Sterling doesn’t know why; he sees only the result. It isn’t politics, for
the four of them are to the left of left, at least in terms of Carolina, which is liberal for Sterling’s tastes.
They may be constantly arguing over Sterling himself, but that’s something he feels he doesn’t really
need to know.
       Sterling and Sara’s father get on well enough. They enjoy philosophical discussions, which
Sterling almost always lets the ol’ man win. They are both quite well read on the ancient Greeks. Of
course, the father has no idea that Sterling might entertain carnal desires on his daughter, and vice-
versa; that will have to be sorted out when the time comes. Sterling hopes that events will force that
sorting sooner rather than later. Life has taught him, however, that relationships are things over which
he has limited control, unlike at most times in his life in which he feels in full charge. No question, he
prefers dealing with himself; but that’s just not an option, not at his age, in this age. As much as he
would like, he can’t stay in a cave shadow boxing through life. Relationships must be negotiated;
sometimes they work out spontaneously, but mostly it’s a bit of a plod. Sterling is trying his best to
figure all this out.
       Friends who know Sterling and Sara, either individually or collectively, are convinced they’ve
been having sex since at least the age sixteen. Sterling’s male friends from boyhood know that he’s not
shy over sex. Sara’s girlfriends always prod her for details; her caginess is seen not as denial, but
rather as the modesty expected of The Reverend’s driven-snow pure daughter. When either of them
had proffered their virginity, they were laughed off. Now they have since given up on denials, which
exactly confirms all the rumors. In fact Sterling and Sara’s relationship is not strictly platonic. There is
sex, if not intercourse, per se. They have had many bouts of heavy necking. From his point of view,
which is nothing if not malish, chauvinist Sterling-oriented, he always tries to get to second base.
Watching American Pie some years ago, before they really knew what they were doing, he hit a
surprise triple, only to surprise Sara with a damp hand. Neither cares to remember that night. In the
intervening years, they’ve been friends, never boy nor girl friend, per se. And they live their own lives.
It didn’t bother Sterling that Sara once went out with some chess geek, who Sterling could beat if he
had really tried (he didn’t want to upset Sara by doing so); eventually the geek moved away; Sterling
was left to console Sara over her loss. Over the years she’s always been there for Sterling when some
social function, like a school dance, requires accompaniment by someone of the opposite sex. To avoid
having a girl ask Sterling out, which is both humiliating and flattering, he always pops the question first
to Sara, giving her the right of first refusal. After that he feels free to play the field. He can always
find some girl who wants to try him for a homerun. Sterling is weighed down with the reputation
among schoolgirls of being a model heterosexual adolescent, and if gigolos came this young, he would
probably be a good one.
      Given the constant media attention about teenage pregnancies, abortion clinic bombing, stem cell
research and the like, sex is all over the bandwith. It has become the area of adolescent children’s lives
which adults love to discuss, in general terms, on Oprah and the like. Ironically, when it comes down
to giving personal advice or even interfering with their kid’s life choices, parents stay away in droves.
Sex handling by both Sara and Sterling’s folks is perhaps distinctive, but not atypical in its evasionary
tactics. Sara’s mother instructed her on puberty’s changes, as mothers always do (except for poor
Carrie’s) and The Reverend offered the Christian approach: abstinence, marriage and procreation,
necessary and not optional, and always in that order. Sex education in the Eumorfopoulos household is
Catherine’s private reserve, for Sterling’s mother is a professional sex educator, hence her prophylactic
nickname. Neither the theological nor technical approach was adequate for the children; fortunately for
Sterling and Sara, the WWW filled the informational void. That’s where they both turned when they
had (and still have) questions or when they are just interested in the flow of the forums. And at least
for Sterling there’s always pornography, of course.
      Sara and Sterling have had five or six years to ponder the consequences of going all the way. In
what one might view as romance’s training sessions, just before things get complicated, Sterling has
been known to bunt just off the bat. Obviously he can’t help himself. It’s his second at bat that he
would like to concentrate on; yet in his experience there are never enough innings. Sometimes efforts
at restraint begin to fail; inadvertently, this seems to happen at the specific moment Sara needs to head
off on the hour drive back home. In those cases they apply the ten-run rule, and Sterling finishes up on
his own (not for the first time). So tonight is important, the first night that Sara will sleep-over with his
family. He hopes it will be the first night of the rest of his sex life. But first, he must box.

Chapter 3
      Sterling’s third and final change of gears for the day of sport lands him back in Vegas Gym. He’s
finishing up another three-minute round of shadow boxing in front of the mirror, working on correcting
a technical flaw his coach had pointed out. (In several combinations he has acquired the nasty habit of
leaving his head open for an upper cut from the left.) Sterling shadows with an invisible, but not
unknown, opponent. His eyes, his entire body language suggests he is mentally into a real bout. It’s
what an accomplished actor might do in front of a green screen which will then be chroma keyed into
digital animation. His opponent is named Sam White who he has not seen recently except on YouTube;
he knows that particular video better than the back of his hand. Over the years he’s watched this boxer
advance his career; he actually met him twice in the ring when they were advancing in the Silvers, in
2003 and 2004. That first year they were evenly matched, statistically. Both were 5 foot, 105 pounds,
identical reaches. Sterling took their debut bout, three strong rounds by unanimous decision; Sam
White didn’t have much on offer, didn’t seem to know what he was doing in the ring. Blame
inexperience; blame bad coaching; blame lack of talent, at least that’s what Sterling figured at the time.
Today, this boxer has advanced from that humiliating loss to Sterling to be the talk of the town, or at
least the talk of Washington, DC, where the press touts him as a future golden gloves contender or even
as “the next Sugar Ray Leonard,” a boxer who was also light-middleweight before he moved up. It
was during his second encounter with Sam White that Sterling learned about arrogance and cockiness.
When they revived him from the first-round knock-out (the only such disgrace so far in his brief
career), the thing that came to mind was not that he was out-boxed. That was too evident to even think
about. What came into Sterling’s head was that he had got just what he deserved: cockiness, although
not one of the seven cardinal sins, is surely as great a vice. In his quasi-hallucination now in front of
the mirror, Sterling never KOs Sam White, but he does outbox him in technique. And at the amateur
level that’s what the sport’s all about.
      Sterling towels off some sweat and takes a swig of water. He looks around his gym, which has
survived another day of renters. A few more scuff marks on the walls and someone’s left a window
open (it’s too early in the year for AC unless you want to break the bank). As alleged partner, he closes
the window. Sterling doesn’t believe that he’s partners in the gym in the implied 50 : 50 sense of the
word. It’s more like 99 : 01. Even that’s being too generous, according to Sterling. It’s more like 100-
x : x when x→0. Technically he’s not now alone in the gym; his putative co-owner is there, along with
his coach and his father: the three-in-one Pandely, who’s at work on the heavy bag.
      Sterling bides his time at the double end bag, a lumpy basketball-sized sparring partner that seems
to be speared through the center by a vertical cord/spring that attaches it to a platform, above and
below. It’s the apparatus that comes closest to punching back; and its purpose is to improve one’s
rhythm and timing, helping develop better hand-target coordination. For beginners – and the boy is no
beginner – the DEB comes back at you after you hit it and it quickly teaches you how to dodge punches
and shift sides. When you shift to the left side, your right hand should rise, because that’s the side
exposed to your opponent, and vice-versa. After Sterling’s rhythm is built, he intermixes hooks and
upper cuts, followed by jabs. When he sees his father leave the heavy bag for the ring, Sterling pops in
the mouth guard and puts on his gloves. He follows the elder Eumorfopoulos through the ropes.
      Sterling is not exactly a fractal off the old block; they resemble each other no more than a beetle
does a spider. They share olive coloring (sun-tanned the year round) and weight. And both have dark
hair and eyes; that’s about it for similarities. The son’s a good half head taller, has four inches’
additional reach, is built stringy rather than compact and lacks the solidity and gravitas of his father,
who smacks of the size, height and reach of a champion. For a middle-aged man (middle-aged being
their compromise between “old” which is how Sterling sees him and “young” which is how he sees
himself) Pandely Eumorfopoulos is in good shape, only five pounds over his fighting weight (160 lbs)
some years back. In the showcase is the Golden Gloves light-middleweight belt which US Army
Sergeant Pandely A. Eumorfopoulos won in 1984. Next to it is a pint-sized Silver Gloves belt to
acknowledge Sterling P. Eumorfopoulos’ victory in the 10/11 year old division at 105 pounds. The
smaller belt was actually purchased by mail-order, but next to it is a certificate, which is legitimate.
      They start with various routines, mostly exercises for defense and counter punching. Pandely,
with mitts, comes across with a simulated right hook, Sterling slips it, putting himself in a good
position to lay into his father with a left hook. They repeat a dozen straight left hands and right hook
follow-ups. After about ten minutes of this, Pandely exchanges the mitts for gloves and they begin a
series of 3-minute rounds. Several times the father stops action to point out something the son has just
done wrong. It’s the closest the two get to a real conversation. After about 30 minutes neither will
admit to their exhaustion; they agree to quit.
      As they towel off and his father starts to get out of the ring, Sterling approaches and basically
blocks him from moving forward. Pandely starts to step around but his son puts his hand on his
      “We’re in Vegas, right?”
      The father stares straight in the intense eyes of his son. “Yes,” he replies.
      The significance of this exchange is that it marks yet another ritual between father and son, this
one intended to avoid the strap. One might think the gym’s name refers to Las Vegas, a renown venue
for big prize fights as well as for all sorts of conventions, conferences and trade shows. It does, sort of.
The Nevada city is especially known as the place where electronic gadgets make their debut and thus
close to Sterling’s heart. Through history the city has acquired a reputation for quickies: divorces,
marriages, affairs. Though not actually set in motion as a mafia laundry, Las Vegas became one in the
years after WWII, eventually morphing into a place for legitimate adult entertainment; more recently it
has segued into being a family tourist destination.
      Sterling’s generation probably doesn’t realize that once upon a time gamblers, whether high
stakes or bush league, were attracted to Vegas to gamble. Additional perks to visiting the Silver state
included low-priced buffets, free drinks, cheap hotels and prostitutes who came in different shapes,
sizes and prices. Now, you can do all that in the comfort of your own home or hometown; indeed one
of Sterling friends gets his spending money from on-line poker; another’s losses are always causing
him to max out his mother’s Master Card. In almost no way, therefore, does Vegas Gym resemble its
eponymous city that goes by so many monikers: Sin City, Entertainment Capital of the World, City of
Lights, Glitter Gulch, and The Strip. The city sitting high in Nevada’s Mojave is geographically,
esthetically and morally at a remove from the here and now. The gym, for its users, is the here and
now; for the tight family who lives above it, it provides a moral and physical foundation of their lives.
      In promoting its city as an adult playground, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority
adopted as official trademark “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” In other words, you can be
naughty here and get away with it. It’s also the name of a file-share movie that Sterling has recently
downloaded that stars the Twitterer extraordinaire Ashton Kutcher (aplusk) a Twitterholic who since
the end of the previous year has posted about eight times a day, more updates than even CNN. Sterling
likes Ashton, not just because he sleeps and tweets with a foxy older lady, but because the actor is adept
at playing the loveable doofus, like the rookie cop in “The 70s Show,” who’s so blatantly incompetent
that he actually gets fired. Sterling is convinced such could never happen in the real world. He
suspects that police departments scour the earth for doofi (preferred spelling to the more conventional
doofuses, according to Sterling and some on Answers at Yahoo). Despite the fact the Twitter mode of
communicating largely serves older women, Sterling (SterlingU) tweets, but of course only with a
select group he’s hung out with since his pre-teen years (The Friday Night boys) and the girls who have
tagged along over time.
      Pandely sits down with his son at the ropes. It is clear (this is not the first time the son has pulled
the Vegas card) that Sterling will do most all the talking.
      “You know, dad, sometimes I sort of do things without fully thinking about the consequences.
Well, it’s happened again and I just want to tell you so I won’t get into trouble.”
      Silence from Pandely.
      “You know, dad, Billy has always looked to me for guidance in matters of a…uh, a sexual, nature.
I don’t know why. Maybe he can’t talk with his parents like I can talk with you and mother. Anyway,
he just turns to me when he’s confused and, you know, he gets confused a lot. You know it’s not easy
being gay in a straight world.”
      Pandely’s silent look suggests: Get on with it, son.
      “So some time back, Billy asked me if I’d take him to a certain place that we knew about.
Actually, it’s a place I found on the internet forums for him that’s about his, you know, his orientation.
I don’t check those sites myself but Billy can’t look at them on his laptop because his parents put on
this really hard-to-crack filter. Anyway, so he comes and looks at them on my computer.”
      “That’s Vegas, using your computer for porn?” his father asks.
      “No, that’s just part of it. I won’t let Billy use my computer anymore for sex; I agree to that. But
that’s not what I don’t want to get punished for. I mean, that’s not the only thing I don’t want to get
punished for. Anyway, so we found a store to go to. First, I want to say that the store is not in your
jurisdiction. I’d never put you in a compromising position. That, I swear to you, dad. So we go to
Chapel Hill. To where all the horny frat gays hang out and of course the bears who want to meet
twinks. The hairy old men are called “bears” and the young kids like Billy are called “twinks.” Dad,
I’m telling you, there’s a whole subculture out there that you don’t want to know about. Anyway, we
go to the bookstore.”
      He pauses. Pandely waits for more. Sterling doesn’t think he has more.
      “That’s what I don’t want to be punished for, dad. I’ve lived up to my half of the bargain. I have
told you the truth. Vegas rules.”
      In fact, what Sterling had said is all well and true, as far as it goes. He and Billy had indeed gone
to an XXX adult book store. It was that event some weeks back that now motivates Sterling’s
confession. He offers repentance, in pursuit of immunity from the strap. Those are Vegas rules.
Confess before the parents can find out and you’re off scot-free.
       What he has failed to mention is everything that happened once they entered the store. Sterling
had waited downstairs, first looking over some porn that was not even as good as what he could stream
for free; second, studying the various sexual aids for sale, all of which also could be bought for less on-
line. Actually, in Sterling’s opinion thinking as an economist – he had aced micro and macro at Duke
and an exam for eventual AP credit saved up for whatever college wins the bidding war for him – this
bookstore could and should really be replaced by internet commerce. It was a relic of a bygone era.
That was downstairs. Billy, however, immediately ventured upstairs. First, he had bought a ten-dollar
token and been directed to a turnstile before a closed curtain, which he vanished behind. He had then
gone upstairs, which as he later explained to Sterling, was quite different from downstairs. Things that
happen upstairs don’t happen on the internet. Yes, they happen perhaps in videos shown on the internet
or they happen to your avatar in an internet game, but it’s not on the internet where a man goes to enjoy
anonymous sex with another man.
      It had taken some moments before Billy’s eyes adjusted to the darkness. He had groped his way
along the handrail and arrived upstairs to a space the size of the ground floor. The major source of light
came from two televisions, mounted in opposite corners near the ceiling. One showed a twink alone in
bed slowly arousing himself; the other presented a well-worn video of a bear and twink barebacking
(the twink was bottom). The sex between these males was rough, coarse, and violent. Not the type of
movie Billy enjoyed. It resembled none of the touch-feely stuff of Billy’s favorite film, Brokeback
Mountain, which had been refused Best Picture because, despite the fact Hollywood, especially West
Hollywood, is American’s gay wonder-world, enough voting members of the Academy of Motion
Picture Arts and Sciences were apparently sufficiently homophobic to deny it the top award. That went
to ungay-themed Crash, not a film in Brokeback’s league, according to Billy. Brokeback had come
away with three Oscars but it should have fetched all eight, Billy had fumed. These thoughts were
suddenly interrupted by a tap on the shoulder. He could make out a man, a rather tall and straight man,
a rather oldish, distinguished man, dressed in a three-piece suit of the sort his father’s colleagues wear,
who was motioning Billy to follow him into a booth. A tiny bulb lit a sign on the door that read:
“Occupancy: 1; No sex in video closets.” Billy’s curiosity had peaked so he approached the room. He
halted at the door; the businessman/banker/lawyer type was enthusiastically hanging out of his zipper,
waiting for Billy. Billy just stared until the sight of the other man’s excitement caused just the opposite
effect on him. He almost rolled down the stairs in his haste to beat a retreat, hyperventilating as he
tumbled into Sterling’s arms. Billy, the chicken-shit, had performed to expectations; Sterling
unfortunately could expect a blow-by-blow whine on the drive back to Durham. All this he did not
think was necessary to share with his father.
      Pandely looked over at the strap.
       “Hey, that’s unfair. Vegas rules,” Sterling complains.
       “How did you get in? They check ID.”
       “OK, OK. I have a fake ID,” he says.
       He finds his wallet and extracts a fake North Carolina driver’s license from a hidden
compartment. It’s an exact duplicate of his real license except that the birth date reads May 29th 1990.
He hands it to his father, who’s waiting for more of an explanation before the strap fades away.
       “We buy these mail-order, pay with PayPal, from a PO box in Hong Kong. They must print them
in China. Two-week turn-around. You have to send your original and they return it along with one
with the fake date. Pretty impressive quality and with ten you get a good discount. Normally, they run
a hundred bucks each. You remember when I said I lost my license for a few weeks and you said “wait,
it’ll turn up,” and it did two weeks later. Now I’ve told you everything, are you satisfied?”
       Pandely looks at the strap as well as the fake ID. He compares the photo to his son. With a
couple day’s beard and a UNC sweatshirt, Sterling could easily pass for 18, even 21. A reasonable
employee in a pornstore wouldn’t question the ID.
       “I won’t get one that says I’m 21, I swear. And I’ve had been thinking about it, too.”
       There is still no decision from Pandely. Sterling is a bit perturbed. He doesn’t want Sara to see
strap marks, that’s for sure. Not tonight.
       “Fuck, dad, it’s my birthday. No fuckin’ strap. Shit, sorry, my language.”
       Pandely returns the strap to its nail. He’ll stick to the bargain. He knows the relevant section by
heart: NCGS §14-100, Possession or Manufacture of Certain Fraudulent Forms of Identification. A
Class 1 misdemeanor. Just a boyhood prank, minor crime worthy of a minor punishment. Let
Catherine come up with an additional chore for the kid. He’s going through a difficult time, Pandely
concludes. But getting the whole truth out of this boy takes a lot of patience, even for Pandely.
Sterling embraces his father, as boxers embrace after a match.
       “Thanks, dad.”
     Punishment avoided and no longer exhibiting even an impalpable sense of regret on his part,
Sterling is in an expansive mood, even expansive by his standards. He dines with his parents and Sara,
before a spread that Sara has prepared. Okra and tomatoes, cornbread, fried chicken, potato salad,
blackberry cobbler (he can smell it cooling off), a veritable feast with leftovers for the whole week.
Everyone is digging in. Sterling’s plate is full, but then it’s not actually a regular dinner plate, but
rather a dessert plate with about half the surface area of a grown-up’s plate. The contents, which if
spread out on a real plate, would look meager: a 1.5 inch square of cornbread, half a chicken breast,
five chunks of potato salad, 6 pieces of okra in a sauce made by a Cherokee Purple heirloom tomato.
Sterling rearranges the meal with gusto, savoring it with as many small mouthfuls as possible. The
food may grow penicillin before it’s completely devoured.
      “It’s really good. It’s really, really good. And a great birthday present.”
      “Not too much garlic in the potatoes? Greeks are supposed to like garlic.”
      “You’ll have to go to Greece to find Greeks,” he replies.
      Sara, who had worked three hours on dinner, offers a less than bursting smile. If he really liked it,
he’d stopping picking and just friggin’ eat, she thinks. Sterling continues with his story:
      “So what really impressed the little dudes was when I was showing them how to use the speed
bag. It’s all about rhythm, timing, concentration and focus. Now, true, the speed bag is the most
impressive apparatus in the gym and if you’re really good at it, you can do it with your eyes closed.
Right dad?”
      “How can you focus if you have your eyes closed?” Sara asks.
      Sara and Catherine exchange smiles. Women can be just worthless, Sterling notes. He addresses
Sara as if she were one of the little dudes. If you don’t know Sterling it’s difficult to tell whether he’s
aware of the exaggerated condescension in his voice, which may or may not be intentional. In any case
it’s evident that Sara is not a boxing aficionado, nor would it seem she has much interest in becoming
       “Yes, that’s the point of my story. If I may continue, madam, or rather Messieur-Dames. For
those of you unfamiliar with the tools of the trade, the speed bag is the teardrop-shaped leather bag that
hangs down from a platform, at face level. You hit it with the knuckles or the side of the fist, like
you’re using an ice pick. There’s a rhythm: one-two-three, one-two-three. Not too close to the bag, not
too far away. One-two-three…one-two-three.”
       He stands up to demonstrate for Sara’s benefit, moving his hands in a circular motion, punching
on an invisible bag at head level.
       “As I’m doing this, of course, I am talking to them and not paying much attention,” which is what
he’s doing now as he addresses Sara while still punching an invisible bag over to his right.
       “And I’m telling them how important concentration and focus are and that they should always pay
attention when they box or when they do anything in life. Focus is the key. They’re all keeping
rhythm: one-two-three, one-two-three. And I’ve added ‘focus’ so it’s now: one-two-three, fo-oh-cus,
one-two-three fo-oh-cus.”
       He turns to his parents:
       “Can you give me some parental support for once? One-two-three, fo-oh-cus, one-two-three fo-
       They indulge him and now all four join in chanting: “One-two-three, fo-oh-cus, one-two-three fo-
oh-cus…” He continues:
       “When somehow I get a bit close to the bag and the next think I know I’m spread-eagled down on
the floor.”
       He demonstrates, falling to the supine position in the shape of an X, feigning unconsciousness.
He continues from the floor:
       “So the little dudes all rush around, smothering me in a circle, concerned I’ve self-inflicted
grievous bodily harm. ‘Coach U, Coach U, get up, please get up;’ they are tugging at various
appendages trying to revive me. ‘¿Está muerto?’ one of them asks. Another who’s from a tough part of
town and has been through this before apparently, knows the drill and takes my phone to dial 911.
They are all very concerned. And then one of them, a little black girl named Latisha, who will have the
world by the short hairs one day, says to the rest of them: ‘Well, serves him right. He ain’t got a clue
how to focus.’”
       Sterling rises and says proudly: “Now that’s what I call a lesson well taught.”
       Meanwhile his parents bring out their gifts. Both in boxes, his mother’s in a Costco shopping
       Sterling peeks in and does not share its contents with the others.
       “I can exchange them if you want.”
       “I really wanted the others. You can exchange?”
       “No problem. Don’t open it.”
       He now sounds more sincere. He kisses his mother dutifully on the cheek, repeating “thanks.”
       His father gives him a UPS parcel, which hasn’t yet been opened. Sterling cuts the box open. It
contains a quite small pistol, sort of a lady’s pistol, one that fits entirely in Sterling’s palm.
       “Wow. It’s the .380 Stainless. I’ve only seen pictures.”
       “It’s a gun,” Sara says without showing that she is sufficiently impressed.
       “Not just a gun. It’s a Sterling. From Sterling Engineering Company, Ltd, Lockport, New York,
which went out of business in 1988. On a gun forum someone called it a ‘jam-o-matic piece of junk’
but apparently the guy didn’t assemble it right. If you don’t know how to strip and reassemble, or you
reverse the firing spring pin and the action spring, or you put too much pressure on the trigger, or you
use aluminum cases, well, sometimes it can stovepipe. A Sterling requires some intelligence to
      Both Sara and Catherine are thinking: just like you, Sterling. He continues to no one in particular:
      “There are sub-machine Sterlings made by a British Sterling and there’s even a Philippines
Sterling that produces a 14mm bolt action. All the Sterlings demand care. One feeds fine but has
ejection problems with the ejector location and ejection port size due to the increased length of the
cartridge. There’s a web video and you can see the empties bouncing off the front of the ejection port
and the last round falling back into the receiver creating a stoppage. Sara, you probably don’t know
this but Durham County is the only Carolina county that requires handgun registration. I know I can’t
get a license for it so dad will have to register it. I don’t want you to be doing anything illegal,” he say
to his father, who nods.
      “It’s mine until you’re 21. That’s the law,” he tells his son.
      “And thanks, dad,” Sterling says as an afterthought.
      What with all the boxing talk and now the gun, the testosterone level has become too elevated for
the women. Sara turns to Catherine:
      “Is he always like this? I mean, does he never eat?”
      They look at Sterling who finishes the small plate in a few quick bites. He looks around at the
beckoning seconds. He lifts his plate slightly to go for refills, and then puts it back on the table.
      “Well, that was good.”
      Sara is disappointed. Catherine explains:
      “He does like to eat, Sara. He has very adult tastes, always had, in that respect he was born an
adult. He loves your cooking. But now he’s trying to maintain weight.”
      Sterling corrects her:
      “Not, maintain, mother. I’m between welterweight and middleweight. There’s no way I can fight
middleweight, right dad?”
      Pandely nods.
      “How much do you have to lose?” she asks.
      “Eight pounds, more after tonight.”
      Turning to his father, Sara asks:
      “That sounds like a lot. Can he do it, Pan?”
      Pandely ponders a response which is avoided by Sterling’s answering for him:
      “No, he doesn’t think so. But he knows if I can’t, there’s no way I can continue to box, at least in
the Golden advancements. Silvers stop at sixteen and the JOs are real competitive. I am way out
classed at middleweight.”
      “You’re lucky you don't have a girl, or she’d be polite and eat all my fine cooking and then toss it
out in the toilet,” she says to Catherine.
      Sara then realizes she’s said some terribly wrong. She doesn’t want to apologize; that will just
bring attention to her faux pas.
      Catherine steps in:
      “Sometimes he may do stupid things, but that would be really stupid, wouldn’t it, Sterling?”
      “Hey, it was once. You know I’ll always remember it, but you still don’t want me forget it.”
      Sara’s a bit uncomfortable with various skeletons rattling to get out of the closet. “A little sliver
of cobbler?,” she asks.
      “I’ve not saved room for it,” Sterling adds, in a somewhat foul temper.
     Sterling’s additional punishment, meted out for the fake ID episode, is to clean up some age-old
construction waste in the adjacent vacant lot, hauling various sized pieces of concrete and tossing them
into a dumpster on the street. He can string this task over several weeks, an excuse for whenever he
wants some alone-time away from his parents. He decides to start the job tonight, immediately after
dinner under the early evening sky. This degree of repentance (his own putative guilt) and self-
sacrifice (leaving Sara alone) are not exactly intended to make his mother feel guilty – a Herculean task
even if he were innocent – but this by itself would be an acceptable consequence, of course, if it could
happen: that is unlikely since Catherine is not the most emotionally attached of mothers. Sterling is the
one who is supposed to have the inhuman memory, but it is his mother who never lets him forget any of
his misbehaviors. Once, as a punishment following the vomiting episode (his one and only time) he
had been forced to read up on bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa and then regurgitate everything to
his mother until he had convinced her that he had an understanding of the diseases rather than just his
usual rote awareness. He would have preferred the fuckin’ strap. What riled Sterling then, and still
infuriates him today (as if it happened yesterday), is that the vomiting was a freak occurrence, not an
indication of an illness. Just as Sara had conjecturably wisecracked, he had in fact eaten (over-eaten in
that he was maintaining weight for the Silvers) to show his grandparents how much he enjoyed the
food. And he had really enjoyed the food: one of his favorites, little shoes, Melitzanes Papoutsakia
from the old country and a demi-glass of an Assyrtiko dry white. At age thirteen he should have known
better and certainly his mother’s folks indulged their only grandson. But then his mother caught him
with his finger down his throat, the act for which he got punished. And he hadn’t even puked. It was
like someone thinking about robbing a bank, but not robbing the bank and then getting jail time for
their non-action. No crime, no punishment. And even if he had puked, he could have Vegased his way
out of reprimand with a pre-emptive confession to his push-over father. He had never fuckin’ even
puked! He doesn’t mind being punished when he’s guilty; he’ll plea as such if the facts warrant it. But
that time he was innocent, he recalls, as if the event was several minutes ago. He picks up a slab of
concrete and hurls it to the dumpster, which does not come close to being dented, despite Sterling’s
       “Wow, you take this job seriously.”
       “I take everything seriously,” he says way too seriously, as Sara approaches. Sterling realizes he
needs to lift his spirits. He smiles at her current offering: a sliver of cobbler in a napkin and a glass of
ice tea. Sterling indicates the workgloves, which he doesn’t want to remove, and opens up his mouth to
be fed: baby bird by momma bird.
       Sara, herself, is in a confessional mood and they sit down on the curb.
       “I’m sorry about what I said. Do forgive me?”
       “What did you say?”
       “You know, about if you were a girl you’d...the anorexia thing. I didn’t think until just after I said
       “That’s OK. I’m sure no one was offended. You saw how little time it took before my mother
blindsided me.”
       “You’re too tough on her.”
       “Are they already in bed? Nine o’clock on a Saturday night. Must be tough to get old and be
bored with life. What if I shower and then we grab a Netflix? They come out great on the iMac.”
       “Sounds good to me.”
     It’s past midnight.    The lights are off, the bedroom lit by the iMac monitor which shows a bunch
of birds on icebergs. Sara and Sterling pay it no heed. She is supine and Sterling is on top, spread-
eagled for the third time in two hours. This is a most enjoyable experience for both of them, an
inevitability that they had somehow put off since that first encounter which they care not to recall.
      Earlier, after Sterling had showered (very cold water), making sure to extra clean the hairy parts
and crevices and janglers, and then dolled himself up, which is to say little more than brushing his teeth
and a squirt of underarm, he had put on clean sweats, the habitual substitute for pajamas bottoms, and a
novelty Tee-shirt, one with a silkscreen of a younger version of himself with a shit-eating grin. The
shirt had been a gift a few years back, one he no longer wore because it was too tight, making him look
more muscular that he would normally. He sprayed his hair with an aerosol and Tintinned it into shape.
He then joined Sara on the bed to watch a film of her choice.
      He had expected a chick flick but instead she has chosen March of the Penguins and muted the
sound. They both understood they were not sharing the bed for a cinematic experience.
      Now he’s asleep at the edge of the bed, ensconced with the sole pillow, away from Sara, who is
not asleep, still enjoying the moment while she looks at her boyfriend sleep. It’s not that Sterling
doesn’t care to cuddle, Sara would like to think. For after their third connection, Sterling had yawned
once, twice and then collapsed for the count. And now, an hour later, he had in his sleep repositioned
himself with most of the top sheet at the edge of the bed, which is to say, as far as he could get from his
alleged girlfriend. It’s a habit that can be broken, she thinks. She’d prefer some quality awake time,
but she’ll have all summer for that. And the two hours they had just had, very awake, needs to be
      On the floor at her side of the bed, which had been his side before lovemaking, she sees the
Costco shopping bag and its hastily opened contents: a case of Trojan lubricated 40 pack, Catherine’s
birthday present to her son. To the outsider a mother’s gift of 480 prophylactics on the son’s
seventeenth birthday may sound a tad bit weird, but the outsider, unlike Sara, would have no way of
knowing the circumstantial facts of the case.
      First, rubbers are Catherine’s life. She goes around administering sex education to regional
schools. That is, in schools to pupils whose parents have signed a consent form, a compromise that
keeps right and left from commencing battle using their own kids as fodder in the culture wars. Each
year, with sexually transmitted diseases on the rise, the number of consenting parents has risen. Also,
the seriousness and educational quality of Catherine’s presentation have earned her a good reputation; it
is not without respect that she is referred to as Mrs. Condom.
      Second, the members of the Eumorfopoulos household have never been shy about sex. Before
Sterling had moved into his current bedroom, at the opposite end of the hall from his parents, he had
lived in a smaller room sharing a common wall with them. It was a thin wall, the type which the noise
of heavy lovemaking pierces, and the little boy had excellent hearing and an even better imagination.
As an eight year old, and after constant importunateness, he had eventually exacted from them a
general accounting of love and sex. The vanquished parents had ended the discussion with the gentle
admonition: “It’s a lot of fun. You’ll figure it out when you’re older. So stop asking so many damn
questions until you have some experience.” Sterling, who had always believed that his parents played
the “you’re too young” card just to silence him, now – tonight – had realized their wisdom: it is a hell
of a lot of fun.
      Third, Sterling has, in fact, asked for the condoms as a birthday present. He had claimed that they
were not for his personal use – although his parents figured some surely were, but rather for his friends
who had asked him to get them through his mother. It is widely believed, by Sterling and his friends,
that Mrs. Condom has free access to various brands through her workplace. Either the manufacturers
give the regional health authority free “samples” like the tobacco companies used to give cigarettes to
high school students (or even worse candy cigarettes to primary pupils), or she could just take a few
cases home. Like taking home paperclips from the office. Who would know, who would care?
Digging deeper, however, one finds an ever stronger basis for the boys’ expecting free condoms from
Sterling’s mother. Before the internet took over as primary sex educator, Catherine was the go-to
person for not only Sterling but also his boyhood friends when they had questions about sex (“Will we
really go blind?” was inevitably the initial query). In fact, at one of his gatherings of the Friday Night
Boys, Sterling’s little friends had demanded that his mother run through her human sexuality show-
and-tell on the spot, despite the fact the instruction was intended for children a few years older.
Sterling’s pertinacious friends were not to be denied. Catherine acceded to their pleading despite
having her feet up and working through her second glass of pinot gris. It was a presentation she could
give in her sleep, most of the work done by the PowerPoints: photos of what syphilis does to the brain
and what warts can do to the genitals. They used an entire bag of carrots for visual aids. She was a
great hit. And she had obviously been effective, for the Friday Night Boys, who had now matured into
randy teenagers, never forgot her prime directive: always condomize. Unfortunately – unfortunately
for Catherine, that is – they also had not forgotten her response to one of Vaney triplets – who knows
which one since the Trips are identical and are usually referred to as a unit, Jake-Connor-Zack, or JCZ
for short – who complained that his born-again parents would never permit condoms in the house; they
had even promised their parents they would never buy them before discussing it with mom and dad
beforehand. In fact, Catherine and Pandely were good friends with the triplet’s parents, and had she not
had two glasses of pinot gris, she might have reflected before she said: “JCZ, I’m not telling you to go
against your parents. But if you need a condom, you can always get one from a boy who will have an
everlasting supply,” she had said, looking directly to her son. “And that goes for the rest of you,” she
added, not knowing that this fatal mistake would be costing her in the years to come. Specifically, for
the just opened 40-packs she had paid $95.88 + tax; on exchange she would have to fork over an
additional $24 because the One brand Sterling demanded were not on discount. It was her own fault
for ignoring Sterling when he had insisted that his friends only wanted the One brand, which came in
novelty wraps, different levels of sensitivity, with some that even glowed in the dark. What had sex
come to, she wondered, when your penis has to glow in the dark.
      Sara was just contemplating the fourth reason that the condom birthday gift was not astonishing
when Sterling stirred. She couldn’t believe it: he was still aroused, as he slept. But he wasn’t asleep.
He looked at her but didn’t say anything. She was playing possum but was able to watch Sterling as he
rose to put on the sweats and Tee-shirt, without acknowledging her further. He then went out. Strange,
the bathroom is en suite, but he was heading down the hall. She waited and let her thoughts drift back
to the strange relationship between mother and son. It wouldn’t seem all that strange to the outsider
and Pandely seemed oblivious to any tension. Sara, however, was more observant. She was not caught
in the middle of their arguments because mother and son never much argued out loud. In any case the
tension, so well repressed, never outlived more than a few phrases. In any case, it seems, tonight’s
strain had nothing to do with the condom gift. It was the other exchange, the allusion to anorexia.
There are a lot of skeletons in the Eumorfopoulos closet and Sara senses the summer will find not a few
bones strewn around the home. What Sara regretted about her inadvertent comment was not the
anorexia reference but when she had said “You’re lucky he’s not a girl.” Her own father had warned
her, when he had given his permission for her to move in with the family over the summer: “Sara,
never mention Susan. If they want to bring her up, they will.” She had come way too close to
mentioning Sterling’s sister. She needed to be more on guard.
      Sterling returns. He snuggles up to her, pulling off his Tee-shirt, stained with blackberry and
tomatoes, which looks like it had just been in a food war. Together they jerk down his sweats. He sits
facing her with his legs spread. He moves in to kiss him; his breath reeking of garlic. But before she
can suggest a brushing and flossing, she finds her own tongue delightfully exploring various bits
chicken. Before things get too heated, she breaks away and quickly wrapped him in protection –
actually almost a minute to get everything in place. He remains seated and with a modicum of effort
they work out a comfortable position for her also.
      Sunday breakfast usually requires all sorts of micro waving, with Catherine processing frozen
waffles, frozen links, instant coffee, frozen orange juice et cetera; fortunately Sara who has taken
command of the kitchen as part of her quid pro quo, is preparing real eggs and bacon. She has already
cleaned up the mess that resulted from Sterling’s early morning raid.
      The assembled family is repositioned at the table. Sara and Sterling no longer sit across from
each other, but are cattycornered and holding hands. When Catherine arrives, she takes the available
seat. After a bit of small talk, Catherine tells her son:
      “I’ll go to Costco and make the exchange.”
      “It won’t be necessary,” he replies.
      “No, it was my mistake. You told me what you wanted and I just ignored you.”
       She gets up and heads towards Sterling’s part of the roost.
       “I’ll get them now, or I’ll forget.”
       “I said no. Stop.”
       Pandely raises an eye.
       “Some respect, son. Don’t take out your foul mood on us.”
       “I’m not in a bad mood. I just don’t want her to be snooping in my room. And I told her she
doesn’t need to make an exchange. The boys can do with what she got.”
       Catherine returns, a bit chastened.
       “Unless you’ve opened them, they can be exchanged. Really, it’s no trouble.”
       “See, that’s just want I mean,” he says to his father. “She just interfering. She knows the box has
already been opened. We’re three short now. Satisfied?”
       Sara is a bit uncomfortable. It’s not that a blow-up is unexpected; a blow-up’s always around the
corner with mother and son. What is more discomforting is that Sterling has had a memory loss. He
does not remember, apparently, anything he did after getting up. Not going to the kitchen, not the
additional lovemaking. Anyway, that’s her suspicion. Meanwhile, Sterling has become instantly
       “I know. I am in a bad mood. I have to go out with Billy and his family is more dysfunctional
than ours.”
       He smiles broadly. “That’s a joke, mother. I know you’re just trying to be helpful. The two of
you don’t object to me and Sara?”
       Catherine takes Sara’s hand. “I’m delighted.”
       “No problem,” Pandely adds.
       “You know it’s not just sex,” Sterling adds. Everyone seems to understand that. On more
reflection, he addresses his mother again:
       “If you want to, you can get me another box. That would be very kind, mother. The boys were
really quite insistent on the brand. You can dock my pay in the gym,” he adds for his father’s benefit.
       On that more cheerful note, breakfast breaks up. Sara goes to pack a daypack and has a few
minutes alone with Sterling. He is changing the sheets and picking up the soiled clothes. This is the
first time she has noted the extent to which he is a neatness freak (not that she objects), but his always
lining up flash drives, Post-it pads, and whatever has found itself squirreled away in drawers borders on
the obsessive, she figures. He is in a sharing mood, a rarity:
       “I don’t know why I get that way with my mother. We’re like oil and water. Always have been,
always will be.”
       “Maybe you should count to ten before you say something to her. Sounds silly but it might
work,” she suggests.
       “Give her the ten count? OK. What a mess! What happened to my shirt?”
       He is holding up the backberry stained Tee-shirt.
       “You don’t remember last night?” she asks.
       “You never forget your first time. I remember every second. What about the Tee-shirt?” he asks.
       “You went for a midnight snack. You don’t remember?”
       “You’re kidding. I’m keeping weight.”
       “You didn’t feel a little boated this morning? I mean, you ate half the cobbler and three pieces of
chicken, a hunk of potato salad. From the damage you did, it looks like you just pawed your way
through the icebox. No knife or fork in sight.”
       Sterling is very surprised. He’s been confronted with a very reliable witness who would
otherwise be his alibi. He realizes it has to have been him. That’s explains why he was indeed in a bad
mood. It’s instantly clear to him that he must indeed have been sleepwalking. He’s already at the
iMac, Googling “somnambulism”.
       “Did I do anything else stupid?” he asks.
     “I’ll tell you next time,” she replies with a grin.

Chapter 4
     While Sara heads off to the 11 o’clock service, Sterling tinkers with the Cannondale, which can
be mothballed after his new car arrives. Billy pulls up in his BMW X5, a car in which Sterling no
longer feels embarrassed to be seen in, that is, as long as he’s allowed to drive, which is the deal he’s
struck with Billy. Sterling refuses to be seen being chauffeured around by slow-poke Billy; he’ll do the
chauffeuring for the two of them, suggesting he himself is the owner of this outrageously priced boy
      Sterling’s telling his parents that he was going to Billy’s home was a little white lie. Less of a lie,
perhaps, than his own parents’ not telling him that they had asked Billy to get Sterling out of the house
so they could prepare for the surprise party. Billy is very upbeat as he gets out and moves around to the
shotgun seat.
      “Today’s the day, Sterl. I just know it.”
      “Don’t get your hopes up. It’s just a date.”
      They drive off, Sterling reflecting on how difficult it had been to nudge his friend to go out on this
“date.” Dating is so much work, Billy often whines. After all, it is Sterling who had done all that
work. It is Sterling who has made the arrangements. He, himself, had found the gay dating website,
located some potential candidates in the Triangle and started a correspondence with the one who Billy
is going to meet. It is Sterling who convinced Billy that meeting privately would be better than
meeting in a restaurant or a bar, where Billy’s NC-via-PRC license saying he is 22 could only prove
embarrassing when found out and scissored in front of him and his date. Without a night’s sleep the
boy could only pass for 15.
      Most everyone exaggerates when they display themselves with on-line dating services, so Sterling
had airbrushed a zit, given Billy a few more years, and made him a sophomore at UNC, majoring in
graphic arts with an interest in ballet and opera (Sterling is nothing if not a strict adherent of the law of
stereotypes.) He wrote a splendid “who am I?” essay. After Sterling had already spent more than
sufficient time, Billy in true form introduced a major obstruction concerning the posting of photos.
Everyone on the site posts photos (still or video); it is obligatory – cartoons and other graphics
prohibited. Some offer headshots but most give a body photo that indicates size and shape. Some
potentials are seen dancing, some are playing sports. Sterling thought he recognized a macho lacrosse
player he knew, but he wasn’t certain. Most also provide revealing photos, anything from a bare chest,
often oiled, to a dripping Speedo shot, to a statuesque nude à la David, to a tight shot of the private
parts, to a shot of the private parts in agitation, to a barebacking or masturbation video. Nipple
piercing, penis rings, you name it, there’s little left off this site, which by its own admission conducts
due diligence to keep out minors, requiring all viewers and participants to avow by mouse-click two
sequential pledges: first, that the viewer is at least 18 years old and, second, that he is willing to be
exposed to scenes of male nudity and sexual situations. It’s a pretty safe bet that websites requiring
viewers to be major are the very ones that minors most likely frequent. This, however, did not concern
Sterling or Billy who, both being over sixteen, are deemed legal adults in the state of North Carolina.
As Sterling frequently argued: adult bookstores and the like had no legal right to exclude 16-17 year
olds; but while this blatant age discrimination is permitted on Carolina soil, cyberspace is permissively
      Sterling had found one young man in the region who was twenty-five and very attractive,
according to Billy’s tastes. Sterling said he didn’t know what “attractive” in men meant; his only
comment was that the young man didn’t seem to have much muscular definition. Neither does Billy.
What convinced both Billy and Sterling that this guy was dating material was his serious statement,
how although he was an inexperienced twink, a “newbie” on the site, he was really looking for
romance. But he wasn’t afraid of the sex. He enjoyed tender sex – preference: “bottom” – he said. It
was as if the statement were written by Billy himself; Sterling clicked Billy’s preference as “top” to
ensure maximum compatibility. In fact, after reading this guy’s statement Sterling had to slightly alter
his – that is, Billy’s – so as not to look plagiarized.
       They had argued for some time about what photo Billy should upload. He had this year’s
yearbook photo with a cute smile, but he needed something that better revealed himself. In the privacy
of his – Sterling’s – own bedroom (Billy being scared to death to have a photo shoot in the Duke
mansion) Sterling with supreme effort managed to get Billy to be photographed in a pair of Speedos.
When Billy was removing the Speedos to get back into his preppy togs (nudity in front of his friend
posed no problem, they had a prepubescent history), Sterling had snapped a full nude, with a stooped
Billy slightly turned away like a Greek discus thrower. Billy was incensed that Sterling had captured
him in naked ones and zeros and demanded the shot be deleted from the Canon on the spot. “Erased,
no big deal,” Sterling had said when he showed Billy the blank viewing screen. Erasure is a state of
art; too good a photo to toss out, thought Sterling. Naked photos of men are little different from those
of women in that the sexes share the three targets that appeal to voyeurs: boobs/pecs, butt and bush, the
last of which leads most to the imagination, and is thus the most titillating. And fortunately the
photographed boy was showing enough bush maybe to arouse some interest in the viewer, almost
certainly encouraging prospects to zoom in for a better look. Sterling decided it was just not worth the
hassle to argue with Billy over the merits of the photo. And he wasn’t about to tell him he had
uploaded it. Since Billy never accessed the website himself, there was no harm done. All was done for
his own good; Sterling could be thanked later.
       Sterling was convinced that it was the photo that did the trick. Billy had 184 hits on his photo in
just the first three days. He couldn’t keep up with all the male mail squeezing into his inbox. There
was “fellatio Fred” who didn’t need to explain himself; truckers and traveling salesmen wanted to
swing through North Carolina just for “a night of hot sex,” university professors who wanted discretion
from their wives, a she-male who acknowledged that s/he wanted some S&M with this “well hung”
twink (obviously s/he had blown up someone’s photo, if not Billy’s, and devoured every last pixel), and
a lot of bears. One didn’t know the forest was so full of bears, all wanting to romance Billy, the
adorable twink. Sterling ordered Billy to ignore the mails; they reeked of predation. He would go out
on this date and that was step one. Well, step two if the adult bookstore fiasco had counted as the first.
       As they drive toward the rendezvous site, which is set out of town, in the rural expanse that
climbs toward the mountains, Billy is getting nervously excited about the thrills that lay before him this
crisp, Sunday mid-day. To keep Billy’s mind off the approaching main event, they have engaged in the
usual chit-chat. Billy asks him how Sara is and whether her moving into his parent’s poses a problem.
Sterling replies simply, “No, same ol’, same ol’.”
       Billy does not find that a very satisfying answer, so Sterling embellishes:
       “We’re all happy she’s moved in. She’s a great cook. No surprises really. It’s nice having her
       Then, his friend turns very serious:
       “You know, Sterl, you two are made for each other,” he says. “I hope you don’t do something
characteristically idiotic and ruin a good thing. And, by the way, I want to tell you how much I
appreciate you coming here with me. I know it’s not your cup of tea, but for you to support me, really,
it makes me almost want to cry.”
       Tears are something that Sterling absolutely wants to avoid. Harvey – Harvey is Billy’s intended
target in this endeavor – says, according to Billy, “this is a very exclusive club, that he’s put our name
on the guest list. Just bring ID. I told him I was almost 21 but he says 18 is OK. You know, Sterl, all
of us appreciate what you did with the Chinese IDs. At a hundred and a quarter, cheap at twice the
price. Are you taking more orders?” he asks.
       “About that, Billy, there’s a little snag. Last night my dad found my Chinese permit. He read me
the riot act: “North Carolina General Statutes, Criminal Sec.14, subsection 100, possession or
manufacture of certain fraudulent forms of identification. A Class 1 misdemeanor…,” he says before
being cut off.
       “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Billy counters. Sterling continues, sincerely:
        “On pain of the strap, I had to promise to get out of the business. I’ll give you all the particulars.
The Chinese don’t care who they deal with. Money is money to them,” he adds, trying to bring a
humorous side to the conversation.
       For Billy it is beginning to sink in. “Wait a second,” he says. “You mean you don’t have your
license with you? Your dad took it.”
       “Sure I have it. I wouldn’t drive your Beemer without a license,” he continues, imitating his
father’s clipped voice, “That’s the law, son.”
       “Hey, if you don’t have the fake ID, they won’t let you in the club,” Billy says, realizing he is
approaching white water without a paddle.
       “No problem. I’ll wait outside. I brought the Dell,” Sterling confirms.
       “But you promised to go in with me. I don’t want to do this by myself. You promised, Sterl,” he
       “Hey, bro, I wish I could. I had no way of knowing dad would find and confiscate my ID. It’s
not like I volunteered: ‘Here dad. I’ve been a bad boy. Take my fuckin’ fake ID, just don’t whip me.’
Better than anyone, you know that my folks mostly don’t care what I do. But on the few occasions
when they catch me, they go viral. I’d never seen him so mad. I thought he’d use the strap, for sure.”
       “Sterling, you shouldn’t let him beat you. I’m sure that’s against the law,” Billy offers, having
been successfully manipulated away from the main thread of thought.
       “Not in Carolina. Are you sure they won’t let me in? We can try.”
       “Harv said ‘absolutely’ bring ID.”
       “It’s not a problem, I promise you, Billy. Anyway, three’s a crowd on a date, you know that.
Especially, if you want to fuck.”
       Billy is offended.
       “Sorry. You know what I mean.”
       Billy sulks. Sterling realizes that his friend’s options have just narrowed considerably: either he
must (1) throw away this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or (2) enter the future without a
chaperone/bodyguard/moral supporter and, yes he realizes, crutch: Milhouse without Bart, the
Scarecrow without Dorothy, Barney without Fred.
       A sensual female voice announces they are approaching their destination in 500 feet. Sterling had
earlier changed the GPS voice from the lisping Roberto to the sensuous Monique. They arrive at a
parking lot accommodating a couple of dozen vehicles, running the gamut from chic to hillbilly. The
lot is up against a chain-link fence posted with a few instructional signs: “no trespassing” “no hunting,”
“private property,” “beware of Rottweiler,” and “police must show warrants” kindly providing an
ACLU hotline number. A person-sized gate is cut into the fence, below a closed-circuit TV camera.
       Billy approaches, presses the intercom. Sterling sees that when Billy is asked, he’s not sure what
name to offer. Should he give the name that his date, Harvey, knows? This is his nom de chat, i.e., the
name he goes by in internet chat rooms and in internet space he wishes to use a pseudonym. His nom
de chat: Dutchess William (DutchSWm, if the eight-character limit is imposed), which he thinks is
pretty clever, although the original idea was Sterling’s, whose nom de chat is cleverer still: Floatin’£
(if symbols are allowed, otherwise PoundS).
       A male voice of authority demands: “ID to the camera.” Billy holds up the ID as close to the
camera lens as he can reach. The camera refocuses for a better view. Pause. Finally a buzzer opens
the first gate, which empties into a space where there is another gate, like the entry into a prison. The
first gate must be closed before the next gate will be buzzed open. Billy is buzzed through again. He
looks back at Sterling, standing by the car, appearing, if not especially feeling, somewhat sad and
guilty, but not regretting that he himself will not be venturing god knows where. Sterling checks his
phone; there’s a signal. He phones Billy.
       “Put me on panic. If there’s any problem, any problem at all, I’ll take care of it,” he says,
meaning he’ll call 911 for help once Billy presses the panic button and alerts him of danger.
       “I’m OK. I gotta lose my cherry somewhere,” the boy says, resigned to his fate.
       Beyond the fence lays a long walk that leads to what appears to be a rural retreat of some sort, a
cross between a complex of hunting lodges or a compound for a religious cult. There is not much
activity given all the vehicles. Although it’s a fine late spring day, obviously the participants are not
into outdoor activities. Then a door opens and a group of middle-aged men, in toga-shaped white
towels, heads from the main lodge to an out building, whose chimney emits smoke. This must be a
sauna or steam room, Sterling figures. Billy’s arrival stops the men dead in their tracks. They abruptly
change course to head back to the building they had just exited and which Billy now enters. Sterling
watches this with a bit of trepidation, but what can he do? Billy’s made his bed, now he has to sleep in
it. Of course, it was Sterling who has provided all the bedding and has been encouraging his friend for
some years to rumple the sheets, so to speak, and it seems also that it’s Sterling who always has to
remake the bed every time Billy fouls it up. Now, however, he’s here on one side of the fence – why so
much security, he wonders; it’s 2009, no one, even in Carolina, cares what homosexuals do among
themselves – and Billy’s over there, about to do or have done to him whatever it is that Sterling is not
supposed to care about.
       He opens up the Dell for some automotive surfing: he’s narrowed down his choice of vehicles.
He has a lot of friends whose parents are not pro-choice when it comes to cars and children, and the
teenagers get stuck, inevitably, with a Honda Civic, an embarrassment on four wheels, for sure.
Actually, the choice is really what car to get for his mother and he will get the hand-me-down. That’s
OK, for when he wants to borrow hers, he can. So the choice for mother is at the moment between a
2.0 Kia Soul, with its boxy elegance and lowest-common-denominator appeal, and the Mitsubishi
Lancer in the DE or SE models, with their modest 2-liter engines. Going the latter route, Sterling
would then suggest that the salesman move up a few models into the Lancer Ralliart or Evolution,
turbocharged and high-performance bitches. There’s some risk mother might select the DE/ES but
Sterling is confident he can remuster his sufficient power of persuasion (some might call it nagging
persistence) for her to see the wisdom in adding some power under the hood. So many decisions, so
little time. He continues surfing.
     Guilt is not an emotion that Sterling is on frequent terms with.    So the first hour passes. No Billy
yet; no concern on Sterling’s part. Car surfing has run its course and the young man now engages with
his iPod. What would the world have been like before the mp3 player? Sterling prefers the iPod
because he is heavily into Apple esthetics, but truth be told just about any mp3 brand would do. The
importance is the technology, which is only slightly older than the boy himself. And of course it is
German, and what’s not to like about the Germans? That’s a rhetorical question; his grandfolks hate
the Germans but that’s because their own grandfolks had been murdered by them. Sterling prefers not
to live in the past, like the Japanese. The Japanese with their Sony male line – Walkman, Pressman,
Watchman, Scoopman, Discman, and Talkman – had become so convinced they had the world (at least
its male technology-enthused half) by their balls that the conglomerate had fallen asleep on its laurels.
Overconfidence and its cousin arrogance are killers, Sterling reasons. The lapse by the Japanese had let
the Germans establish the world standard for audio compression, making music files smaller with little
or no loss of sound quality. Mp3 is part of MPEG, an acronym for Motion Pictures Expert Group, a
family of standards for displaying video and audio. Sterling is in love with the whole compressed
family. He shares a birth year with the MPEG-1 standard, for video compression with low bandwidth.
He is an elder brother to MPEG-2, the high bandwidth audio and video compression for DVDs. And
MPEG-3 is now taking over his body, providing digitally something akin to what he had shared with
Sara last night. He loved these one and zero processors as much as he could love any sibling or,
indeed, any lover. Yes, wheel and fire were both necessary discoveries and the internal-combustion
engine or the latex condom are inventions without which his life would be difficult to live; but quite
frankly Sterling would rather be deprived of them all than to have his phones wrenched from his ears.
Digital encoding process, as enshrined in US Patent 5579430, that’s the globe’s real ball buster.
      Sterling listens to all sorts of music. Rather than describing his tastes as eclectic, it would be
more accurate to label them non-discriminatory. Unlike most people he doesn’t pay much attention to
the music; it’s the words that he follows. He doesn’t even listen to symphonic pieces, unless they have
a chorus. Music for him is just words’ vehicle. This way of listening is not exactly of Sterling’s own
choosing. It’s how his extraordinary brain works. He was born with a disorder in music processing.
He’s known about this disorder, which falls under the rubric amusia, from an early age, about the same
time he realized that the rest of the world, unlike himself, was not able to read or hear something once
and then never forget it. No wonder he thought teachers fools. Right from kindergarten he couldn’t
believe that the teachers would drill him on information he’d already been given. “You only have to
tell me once,” he would say, to no avail, being forced to repeat knowledge over and over (He has never
forgiven the multiplication tables for wasting hours of his life). It took him a while to figure out that
the rest of humanity cannot instantly memorize everything it comes across. Obviously, his brain works
differently. All this was subsequently confirmed in the second grade when he submitted to a
hodgepodge of tests and scans with several neurosurgeons and academic physicians. They found out
what they found out, and when more tests were needed, he said simply, “No thank you.” He wasn’t
sick; no more tests. Very true, good memory and inability to carry a tune are hardly life’s biggest
restraints. Yet the technicians in lab coats absolutely needed to know scientifically how this boy’s
extraordinary brain functioned, in order to advance science, in order to publish in peer reviews, and for
some in order to get tenure on the boy’s coattails. The boffins made it sound like the earth would stop
rotating on its axis if the boy continued his obstinacy. They agreed to pay, first five hundred dollars,
until they had depleted their NIH grant with an offer of five thousand dollars (the auditors would have
had a field day over this!). His parents were certainly interested (“like finding money in the street”);
what harm could possibly happen? But ownership rights to Sterling’s brain rested with the kid; they
weren’t for sale. “Find some other mind to fuck with,” he told the white coats, startling the scientists
(but not his parents) that he knew such a four-letter word. And it was clear best not to press the kid to
find out if he knew what the word actually meant.
      All zebras look alike except perhaps to other zebras. Humans, too, might seem fungible to an
alien, but the more intelligent of our species know that we are all unique individuals. We have more or
less the same wiring diagram for our brains. The devil is in the details. And the more science learns,
the more we realize how differently wired we can be. It’s probably correct to say, therefore, that at the
nanolevel, each of us is indeed unique. Why do some of us like okra and others don’t? Why do some
of us feel a certain pain when others wouldn’t? We know so little about how our electrical impulses
control our thoughts, actions or emotions; still we develop a template that’s taught in textbooks, and
updated to correct the myths we have been perpetrating after they are found out to be wrong. It is clear
that Sterling’s brain would not work well as a text-book illustration. And we don’t know why because
“the selfish little snot” (one of the scientist’s phrase) won’t share it with us. No one knows exactly how
different “brain Sterling” is, not without a lot more tests as well as advances in knowledge, theory and
imaging. Sterling made it quite clear at an early age, however, that he does not care to be “brain-
fucked,” a term when used in front of other scientists later earned the boy three straps across the back
of the legs.
      As he listens to the “She’s Crafty” track of the Beasties Boys’ Licensed to Ill, which he
subsequently knows by heart, he lets his mind wander to his birthday. Like the Queen of England he
has two birthdays: the actual date and the date it is celebrated. Sterling was a Caesarian, due on the
Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. His doctor, however, had a golf date for Saturday – at an
exclusive country club he was trying to join. Since birth was to be Caesarian, he had scheduled
delivery for the Friday, May 29th. Sterling was dutifully cut out and spent his first two days on earth
umbilicalled to machines. Thus, though his legal birth date is the 29th, he prefers to celebrate the earth-
shaking event on the 31st, his intended day of independence, today’s date, which coincidentally is also
a Sunday. Sterling now searches to see who was born or died on these days. His certified birthday
produced JFK and Bob Hope, his intended birthday mostly actors and non-entities. More interesting is
who died on May 29th. He comes across the Soviet composer Vissarion Shebalin who had died,
ironically, on the last birthday John Kennedy ever celebrated. Sterling has always been fascinated with
Shebalin, who had stroked out in his left hemisphere at age 57. He didn’t die then, however. He
became speechless and deaf to the spoken word and he never again talked. But he could still compose;
some say he did some of his best work in the four additional years he lived. Sterling sighs. The brain
is really a gift; is he being selfish not to share his with the lab coats? This is definitely something to get
Sara’s advice on.
       Sterling loves music (read lyrics), but he doesn’t care particularly for musicians. There are in fact
certain musicians he abhors, on a quite personal level, to wit the Trips who he has known since they
tumbled out of their mother’s bloated belly, one after the other after the other, in the same hospital and
on the very same day he, himself, graced humanity. Dissimilar from Sterling in most every way, the
Trips, first, are not noted for their individuality. They indeed do their utmost to appear as one: same
clothes, same hair styles, same annoying body language, facial gestures, stunted vocabulary, etc. Not
even Sterling’s parents give them any name other than the collective name JCZ. Sterling doesn’t think
even their own parents can tell them apart. There’s nothing to distinguish them; one personality (or
lack thereof) in three bodies. Or, as Sterling once joked: “A species unto itself, called trianalsapiens, a
simple creature with three anuses.” For that comment, the Trips jumped him, three-on-one, and the
match ended more-or-less in a draw with everyone licking his wounds. It was not their first fistfight,
nor the first for which Sterling received the strap. Being a boxer, his fist-fighting anyone was
considered unfair and inappropriate, a strappable offence.
       That the Trips were a highly successful boy band, a Christian alternative rock group, did not
irritate Sterling one iota. He had not gone out of his way to hear their chirpings, but in Durham where
they had a home-town following, it was hard to blot them out. It was the locally ordained Muzak, in
elevators, busses, government corridors and mall washrooms, places he preferred not to frequent.
Certainly, out of the three there was perhaps one he could like, but since he could not tell them apart,
that was of no importance.
       According to Sterling’s folks the Trips were adorable, clever and talented, adjectives that they
rarely used proximate to his own name. Adorable? Three pieces of dung shaped in identical stars
would be adorable, too. For ugly objects there is definitely safety in numbers. And the Trips, except
when placed side-by-side, were neither cute nor attractive. They were scrawny with over-sized tow-
heads with legs too short for their arms, giving them a Cro-Magnon look. If they had been cats, they
would have been drowned. Talented? Just listen to their lyrics. Sterling could do better with his head
in the toilet. Clever? It’s hardly clever to be monozygotic, a rarity that happens once in a half-million
births. Cleverness suggests action on the clever person’s behalf, and in the Trips case the only thing
clever was the first single fertilized egg which decided to split not once, but twice; thus a single zygote
resulting in three pinpricks of identical genetic material. And no one has made more out of this
anomaly than the Trips themselves. From birth they were everyone’s darlings, receiving everything
from years’ supplies of free formula and diapers to bank accounts for college. They were placed front
and center in the maternity nursery while Sterling was discarded to a far corner with the children of
migrant workers. He had been born dark so the nurses threw him into his own lot, the Mexicans. In
any other species the Trips would just be called a litter that commanded appropriate disrespect.
       What galls Sterling most is that the Trips get away with all sorts of shit. When all his friends
started experimenting with cigarettes around the age of ten, Sterling remained the lone holdout. He had
promised his parents he would never indulge. His father’s mother died at age 55 from lung cancer.
And to this day Sterling has never broken that promise. But once, the Trips were puffing away in
Vegas during one of the Friday Nights, despite Sterling’s admonition that his father would blow a
gasket if he found out. Sterling had confiscated the pack of cigarettes and just yanked away the current
cigarette that the trio were sharing, when none other than his father walked through the door, catching
his son in flagrante delicto, literally with a lit fag in his fingers and a pack of Marlboro in his free hand.
      “Boys, will you excuse us?” the ol’ man had asked the triplets, while he took the strap and
motioned Sterling toward the pommel horse. The Trips were not even out the door before there was a
whap-whap-whap-whap across the bottom; out of the corner of his eye Sterling could see the Trips
standing at the door, showing no emotion other than contentment at seeing Sterling get what they
      And now they might show up at his party, which they would of course consider their own event
since they did more or less share a birthday. And they would no doubt have the nerve to demand that
Sterling give them some of his mother’s Costco stash so the cherry fairies could be jerk-offs in the
single bedroom they had shared for all their lives. There was no way they were getting glow-in-the-
darks. He might give them some Trojans, only after pricking them a few times with safety pins. Come
on, you’re not that bad a person, Sterling chided himself. But he did dislike these three sacks of shit.
      Another hour passes. Still no Billy. Several men have emerged and gone to their cars, ogling
Sterling who pretends to be preoccupied with the laptop. He thought about asking if any of the
departing men has seen his friend, making them fully aware of the fact that he is there as Billy’s
supporter and chauffeur, not to pick up elderly men. He has also thought about going to the hidden
voice and attempting to bluff his way in, with his real license, for Harvey has surely put his name on
the guest list as per Billy’s instructions. But he figures he can wait just a bit longer. What if Billy is
just having a good time and doesn’t want to be disturbed. They had not agreed on a time to meet up,
for Sterling had figured that Billy would last for no more than ten minutes before the coward in him
took over and he hightailed it back to the safe side of the fence. If he had known Billy would have had
a longer stay, he would have imposed a two-hour limit, which would now be up. He is tired of waiting.
Sterling knows that if something horrible happens to Billy that it is he who will never be forgiven. It
was his big idea to bring Billy here, then not to accompany him, and thus leave him to the wolves or
bears or whatever.
      There are still a good number of vehicles in the lot. One, in particular, catches Sterling’s eye. It
is some model of old Mustang, sort of a collector’s piece; he recognizes it from lacrosse practice; the
owner is a schoolmate, who he doesn’t know any better than the rest of his schoolmates. The kid’s
name is Brandon Buffeau and he is called Buffy, not because he is a vampire killer but because he is
buff. Very buff. Sterling, himself, has never noticed. He knows this tidbit not directly from his
classmates but from some gossip blogs he occasionally monitors, mostly to see what is being said about
him. With help from his friend Jeremiah he had hacked his way into a girls chat forum, rummaged
through the archive and run across some juicy stuff on “the Buffer,” who, gossiping girls advised, you
can see in the semi-buff when he changes jerseys at lacrosse practice. There are numerous pictures of
shirtless Buffeau on the site and one of the doctored photos has someone else’s bottom attached so as to
present the full Monty, Buffy edition. The girls, who in his grandparent’s time would have been called
teeny boppers and among the rural poor folk would be still referred to as jailbait, have a large,
collective crush on the Buffer, and fantasize about him in the buff, with several swearing they would
lose their virginity to none other. This is information that the normal person may or may not choose to
retain amidst all the facts and figures life confronts us with. Sterling, however, is not the normal person
and retaining information is not a matter of choice. His memory is a Roach Motel: data can enter but
never leave. Sterling, if forced to think about it, would find Buffeau’s buffness a bit exasperating
because he, Sterling, considers his own torso to be no less buff, but nonetheless, he is not the target of
girlish libido, for reasons he cannot actually fathom. Nevertheless, in Sterling’s brain the French-
Canadian young man’s physique is no less important data than the names of the presidents or the list of
state capitals or the 64 types of sexual acts of the Kama Sutra, diagrams for which he has most recently
downloaded, two of which he had tried last night (one of which he has no recollection of). Roach
Motel is non-discriminatory and allows all data entry. A great memory makes for great parlor tricks. If
Sterling outlives Methuselah, he’ll never run out of parlor tricks. He has so much trivia packed into his
head, he wonders why the circuit boards don’t overload.
       Extraordinary memory comes with its downside, however. The first disadvantage is that everyone
expects Sterling to have all the answers, facts and numbers, at his fingertips for all who want them. He
is the go-to person for worthless information. If you can’t Google, you can always Sterling. This is a
pretty heavy responsibility and he is constantly receiving texts from parties who want a dispute
resolved, for example; the losing party usually blames Sterling. During exam periods he has had to
turn off his phone entirely for he receives non-stop requests for answers needed at the very moment
friends are sitting tests. Second, he can never forget anything. He knows that Buffeau’s buffness is
going to be with him until the day he (Sterling) dies (it would certainly outlast the unfortunate Brandon
if he meets with a premature departure). Information like this inevitably reappears after some time in
the form of a comment out of Sterling’s mouth that would probably go better unsaid. One can’t count –
Sterling can, it’s 528 – the number of times he has dug up some bit of trivia from the bowels of his
mind and offered it as evidence to make a point. Rather than being appreciated by the parties who
receive it, it has instead greatly upset or embarrassed them. Using people’s own words against them
(134/528) almost never proves a good idea. Yet Sterling is not much aware of a third downside of a
sterling memory. It served as a crutch. No more than Sterling himself serves as Billy’s crutch,
information often serves as his own crutch. He doesn’t need to reason or think; he can remember
someone else’s having done the job for him; he can cite or reference the work. This is one reason
Sterling produces papers described as “brilliant” by his teachers and Harvard clients. He includes in
his essays brilliant thinking provided mostly by others; as for critical and creative thinking, it
sometimes appears, but most often he gets away with a sort of intellectual cut and paste. No one can
match Sterling in cut and paste. All this means that Sterling goes through life with a brilliant reputation
for being brilliant, wherefore his real brilliance often lies in his ability to convince others how brilliant
he is by rattling off facts and figures, merely using his extraordinary memory.
       Sterling doesn’t know why Buffeau’s car is in the lot, and he dreads what may happen if he runs
into his classmate. Sure, perhaps he is just a waiter or gardener. Or the pool boy perhaps. First hand
experience had taught Sterling that being a pool boy is a dangerous occupation to have if one wants to
keep virginal. Why else would Buffeau be at a gay spa? He has a lady’s man reputation; he has a
steady girlfriend and everyone knows they are having sex. Well, everyone thought that about him and
Sara before it became true. Sterling’s bit of newly acquired knowledge on Buffeau is going to haunt
him until either his curiosity somehow gets appeased or, in striving for a rational explanation, he does
something stupid, like share the information with someone, no doubt making the Canuck’s life
miserable and serving further proof that Sterling is a snobby jerk.
       Over his short life Sterling had acquired the deserved reputation of being a bit of a snob, not
going out of his way to meet new people. He knows that some of the gossiping girls think this; he
knows they are not altogether wrong. When you keep so many secrets – in fact, unforgettable old facts
rather than secrets per se – you are dangerous, and it is best to make yourself scarce. Sterling often
tries to be scarce. Long ago he recognized his mouth to be his most uncontrollable organ. So that’s
why he isn’t chums with Buffeau or his other classmates, that and the fact that this gifted kid is
considered in line to be valedictorian, as is Sterling. He wonders if his mother has invited the Buffer to
the birthday party. He isn’t among Billy’s Facebook friends, but he doesn’t put it past mother to ask the
principal to invite the whole damn class. If that is the case there is no way Sterling can be able to
restrain himself from mentioning the Mustang sighting to its owner or to another classmate. Another
man is now leaving the lodge. Fortunately not Buffeau; it’s only Billy.
      Sterling studies Billy as he leaves the lodge. Something is different about him. The youth
walking down the path is not the timid soul who had entered a few hours earlier. The young man who
approaches has a confidence to his stride, a bounce to his step. It is difficult for Sterling to imagine that
he may have actually succeeded in getting Billy laid. This is a dramatic event, one surely to end the
present type of relationship between the two boys, which of late has involved Sterling’s pimping for
Billy, attempting to arrange dates and serving as protector/confessor when those dates turn sour. If this
date has been disastrous, Billy is certainly concealing his disappointment. Sterling preoccupies himself
with casing the Dell and placing it on the backseat. Billy strides over to the driver’s seat.
      “I’ll drive,” he informs Sterling, extending a palm-up for the keys.
      Sterling obliges and hands over the keys.
      “Well, how was it?” he asks. “Don’t keep me in suspense. Was it what you wanted?”
      “Same ol’, same ol’,” he replies.
      Sterling stares at Billy, who pays him no heed, preoccupied as he is with pre-flight checks. He
adjusts the car, which is done by activating pre-programmed settings, automatically switching from
Sterling’s settings back to his own: the seat raises and moves forward and the mirrors adjust
accordingly. He dumps Monique in favor of Roberto. He puts Haydn’s Lobkowitz quartets on the CD.
      Billy looks over at Sterling who hasn’t taken his eyes from his friend, still assessing the
afternoon’s changes. Billy retains a certain glow, his cheeks have reddened and he looks much less
pale, almost like he’s been under a tanning lamp. Could it be that this “men’s spa” is just what its name
implies and not some San Franciscan bathhouse, the image Sterling has conjured up in both of their
minds? Billy has definitely had a haircut and shave and he is less perfumed than usual, more subtle.
Obviously, he has had a make-over. Just how made over he got is the question that interests Sterling.
      “Seat belt,” he says.
      Sterling obeys, remedying his oversight.
      “Your mother told me to get you back at four on the nose. So we have time to swing by
Winchester, if you want.”
      Winchester is one of the Duke estates that’s in the area. Once an antebellum tobacco plantation, it
has now been converted to a more profitable and much more politically correct crop, corn, for the
ethanol industry. With all the government subsidies it’s the most profitable crop the Dukes have grown
for generations.
      “Senior will be shooting trap, if you want to join him. And you can hit him up for some money.
You might tell him I’m broke.”
      Sterling needs to know about Billy’s recent experience; his friend is not providing details. He
      “I wonder if you saw one of my classmates. He’s blond, very good physique. I saw his car in the
parking lot.”
      “I didn’t pay much attention,” Billy responds.
      “Well, what did you do?”
      “I told you ‘Same ol’, same ol’,” Billy responds.
      “Cut the shit, Billy. What was this Harvey guy like? Did you’ll have sex?”
      Billy slams on breaks and slides off the rural road onto to the gravel shoulder, unnerving Sterling
a bit and causing Roberto to issue a warning about sudden braking and the need to pay attention to
traffic flow. Roberto sounds perturbed; of all Sterling’s acquaintances Billy is certainly the slowest,
most cautious, most boring kid behind the wheel. His car only breaks the law when Sterling is behind
the wheel (Monique has been programmed to mind her own business). Clearly Billy is angry. He does
something he does only when becomes livid. He grabs his blond curls and pulls them in desperation.
      “Goddamn it. That is a rude question, U. You will not ask it again. It is none of your fucking
business. Do you understand me?”
      Sterling is taken aback. Firstly, it was he who set up Billy’s date. That makes him a legitimate
stakeholder in the affair. He has the right to know. If for no other reason, he deserves to know, as a
form of compensation for all the whining he’s had to tolerate from Billy for most of their lives.
Second, Billy never, never uses the f-word and “goddamn” is also not part of his Southern lad’s
vocabulary. For Sterling, in contrast, the f-word rolls off his tongue usually before he’s realized it’s
left. It’s a full-time job for Sterling to keep those little fuckers corralled in his mouth for as long as he
can. His parents have over time begun to tolerate an occasional profane outburst; they have known him
long enough to accept his minor deficiencies as long as they remain at home and are followed by an
immediate apology. Billy and Sterling have known each other for fifteen years and occasionally over
this period they’ve been angry at each other, as loving siblings get angry at one another, but this is the
first time Billy has ever been so assertive and certainly the first time he’s cussed at Sterling for
behavior that is, well, only Sterlingesque. If Sterling had done something uncharacteristic he wouldn’t
mind the criticism. Right now he himself is offended that he’s being blamed for being himself. Yet, in
his shock of the barrage from Billy, he realizes this is one sleeping dog that is best left unpoked. Now,
for one of the few times in his life, Sterling manifests a trait that accompanies maturity: knowing when
to shut up.
       “I understand,” Sterling replies.
       “And from now on I’m called William,” he adds.
       The BMW heads off in silence except for Haydn accompanied by William’s on-key humming.
Sterling is trying to figure out what’s just happened. The more he ponders, the more clueless he feels.
       As for William, he meant exactly what he said: it’s none of Sterling’s business. He is not aware
he used profanity. Sometimes we come to realizations, epiphanies even, without knowing how or why
they happen. We blurt out something with no forethought and we realize only later, if ever, what we
have said. These types of outbursts are like free associations, something which psychoanalysts make a
living on. William’s outburst, deserved or not given his history with Sterling, was completely
unplanned. Pulling off the highway was unplanned; fortunately for both of them no one was tailgating.
William acted without thought and without a glance even in the rear-view mirror. He was off the road
in a heartbeat; William’s heart rhythm never budged; Sterling’s is still racing. In another place or
another time, they could have easily been killed. At the best of times Billy is a pretty bad driver in
Sterling’s book; and this latest maneuver almost added a final chapter.
       William’s flare-up was a spontaneous combustion; it just happened, and now as he drives down
the road, as calmly as ever, it’s like the explosion never happened. The incident is out of his mind. His
full attention is given to the Haydn, which he is trying to memorize for a recital with his group, the
Four Dukes. Memorization for William is work; he can do it, but it takes a lot of effort; he’s not like
brainy Sterling, the Roach Motel. Except in this case it is William not Sterling who can memorize. He
is fully aware of Sterling’s tin ear; he knows that his friend – yes, for they will always be friends – can
have no appreciation of classical or any other music. He’s one of the few people who are aware of the
extent of Sterling’s amusia. Billy considers it a shame, for his friend is missing one of the great
pleasures in life, the joy of music. Of course, the Creator overcompensated Sterling for this loss,
according to William, and that serves to lessen most of the regret, sadness or pity he feels about his
friend’s illness. And, as far as William is concerned, amusia is an illness. He’s always admired
Sterling, who he knows is more accomplished in almost every other aspect of life. At one point he
even envied him for his many endowments – mental, physique, sporting, automotive, parent-
manipulation, sexual – and wished he had been born Sterling rather than Billy, now William. Sterling
is correct to be confused over the new William Duke Jr.; whatever transpired in the lodge cum spa cum
gay retreat has transformed Billy into William. Sterling will have to accept this change, whatever it is.
      “Pull.” As he shoots trap with William Sr., Sterling tries not to think about the old man’s son
and tries to focus instead on hitting the clay pigeons. As competitive as Sterling usually is, he is not
even keeping score, which he usually does mentally. That’s his default job, delegated by the old man
who prefers to mutter to himself as he misses target after target and sends his grounds men to hunt for
fallen targets in the hopes that some of the whole ones will turn up with a shot-sized hole, which by
Duke Rules, counts as a hit. “Fuckin’ Jesus, anyone can break one of the goddamn fuckers, Sterling.
You know how hard it is to hit one and NOT break it. I should get double points for that,” he has told
Sterling on various occasions.
       Sterling, without much focus, gets about half his shots to produce a charcoal cloud, to Senior’s
perpetual fascination. This is so effortless for Sterling. If only his own son, who just announced that
he’s now calling himself William, had such a good eye. Senior’s not all that worried that Junior – that’s
what he’s always called this son, hating Billy in all its forms: Billy goat, silly Billy, Billy with a willy,
etc. from his own childhood – will get his act together. Life has taught him that brilliant kids usually
don’t make brilliant adults. He has always expected Junior, who is mediocre in most everything except
music where he excels, to outstrip Sterling in the game of life. For years Senior has been expecting
Sterling to land on his butt and not be able to get up, and he’s still expecting that. One of these days
will he be proven right? In this regard Sterling has to date disappointed, which is to say he’s never
much fallen on his butt. In fact he keeps excelling. Sterling is forever telling Senior which electronic
devices will sell well, and Mr. Duke figures that he’s lost millions by not following the kid’s advice.
He’s never wrong; he’s so plugged into young people’s tastes. It is not financial acumen, however, that
will do Sterling in. It’s something else that Senior cannot exactly put his finger on. In any case
Sterling’s failure won’t give Senior much satisfaction, of course; he likes Sterling a lot, he’s always
been an amusing, bright, interesting, out-going child. He even funds Sterling’s boxing for the poor
kids. But just as sure that he knows Junior will succeed, he knows in his gut that Sterling will fail.
That gives him no pleasure.

Chapter 5
     As they are leading him away, Zombie like, in handcuffs, there is no way for any of the hundred
or so friendly spectators to know exactly what is going through Sterling’s mind. He appears to be in a
daze, in shock actually, as if he has just witnessed something terrible happen, something like a car
accident, or a child’s suicide, or the unraveling of the life of a young, on-top-of-the-world 17 year old,
who at this very moment is being whisked away, hands behind his back, toward the uninviting rear
door of a Durham County Sheriff’s patrol car. The vehicle, save for its unique license plate, is identical
to one habitually parked by the curb in front of the Sterling Arms. In this deserted part of downtown,
especially deserted on an early Sunday evening, there is quite a crowd of spectators, in fact it’s fair to
call them “rubber-neckers” for there is not much frontage around the side entrance leading into Vegas
Gym and the curious pouring out of the entrance are forcibly clumped together so that they have to
crane their necks for a clear view of the stunned teenager and his professionally relaxed, recomposed
after a minor skirmish, police escort.
       Sterling is familiar with the car he is getting into, or ones like it, because he has ridden in them
since he was a tot in car-seat restraint, belted in the back seat, while his father did errands. At one time
the County had encouraged police to use official vehicles for trips around town, hoping that a police
presence, even an off-duty one, would lower the crime rate. The only rule was that police had to be in
uniform and carry their weapons. This practice, which was later understood to be some newly elected
politician’s stupid idea – the Mayberry model – had been abruptly terminated after one citizen – it only
takes one – had complained in a letter to the Durham Herald-Sun about private use of public funds.
Still, cops were allowed to park overnight in front of their residences, as a parked patrol car also has a
talent for cost-effective crime prevention.
       Sterling is also acquainted with the officers – Ben, Betty and Suhail – who have been assigned to
this merciless mission which Sterling figures could be titled: Operation Birthday in Hell. It is like he is
living the second act of a teen comedy (when the unraveling intensifies), except there isn’t much funny
about being arrested. At first he thought it was truly a joke, a prank set up by his father and his
brainless colleagues. Seeing Sterling hauled away would amuse the crowd and provide a great photo
opportunity for his friends. They could shoot him with their cell phones and immediately upload to
Facebook or one of the blogs before the squad car had even departed. Indeed, Sterling’s phone, deep in
his front jean pocket, is vibrating non-stop, with inquiries and photos, no doubt, yet Sterling’s hands are
not in a position to verify, much less respond, to what is happening.
       Just like in the movies, once Sterling is seated in the back seat, the patrol car stands stationary for
what seems like an excessively long time, which is for necessary exposition. In TV this moment of no
action usually follows an exhausting chase, followed by the arrival of coroners and CSI types who
confirm the body-count and explain to each other what just happened, for viewers’ benefit. This is
usually followed by a cute, character-driven tag (which has to do with our good guys, not perps, in a
family or lover subplot) and the final credits. At this moment Sterling would much appreciate someone
coming up and explaining the entire recent episode to him rather than treating him as some sort of
McGuffin or writer’s device. It’s his life; he’d like to know what happens before the credits, after
which he could finish celebrating his birthday in style, with an evening spent with the girl he loves.
       The other plot, the real one unfolding before his eyes, however, is verily his actual life and he
needs to know what the fuck is happening. He can see his parents having a quiet conversation with the
uniforms. Sterling is not within earshot, and he is starting to worry about the tone of the parental
conversation as picked up by body language. Neither of his parents looks distraught. There is no
wailing and gnashing of teeth from Catherine or a threatened fist from Pandely aimed at one of his
duplicitous colleagues. “You should have come to me, Suhail. I could have taken care of this,” he
should be saying. But he and his buddy seem to be involved in nothing more than friendly chit-chat.
An Ashton-type rookie, Ben, is biding his time through a cigarette (a departmental infraction). There
are smiles all around as if someone has just cracked a joke. This scene, with implied laugh track, is not
right, thinks Sterling. Pandely should be making his case with his fellow officers or at least trying to
evoke some sympathy. This is not happening. His parents are so cool, in fact, he still wonders whether
this so-called arrest is not indeed a joke, whether his first hunch has been correct all along. Someone is
going to come and for the final surprise, present the key to undo the cuffs which is paired with a key to
his new Lancer Evo that is surely parked somewhere on the block. He looks; nothing new he doesn’t
recognize. Mostly SUVs, a Shelby Mustang (circa 1968, he’d been reading up on them earlier) and
Honda Civics. At this moment, Sterling would have been pleased as punch to settle for a Civ, but only
if it were new, not pre-owned. Who wants a used car; you don’t know where the back seat’s been.
       Sterling waits for such a pleasant dénouement. Two officers arrive; it must be affirmative action
night: the force’s lone Indian, actually Bangladeshi, who prefers to be know as a Subcontinental, and
half its gun-toting females. They sit up front, caged in by Sterling’s view; they buckle up.
       “Don’t worry, Sterl. This won’t take long. You’ll be OK,” Betty tells him as the squad car
considers pulling away.
       Sterling looks back at the crowd, which has timidly crept out and spread itself along the curb. If
this is a gesture of sympathy, it’s a bit late. Sterling would have preferred his friends to have joined
him at the car, offering their condolences then and there, when it might have done some good, rather
than now, when it’s totally ineffective. His cell phone keeps buzzing.
       “My hands aren’t free. I can’t turn it off,” Sterling wants to explain. The officers wouldn’t care.
       In the crowd, just before it will fade out of his view, he searches for who’s making a call. He sees
three calls being made, which may or may not be to him. The Vaney Trips, standing phone-in-hands,
playing with their identical BlackBerrys, then tapping them off, and each placing his in its belt case on
his right side. A perfectly choreographed movement, no doubt for Sterling’s benefit, comes to an end,
just as three text messages, certainly identical, arrive in Sterling’s pocket.
       “Fuck, they set me up,” Sterling figures out.
     About an hour into the party the Trips had taken a break.       They had been sequestered in a corner
of the Vegas playing some tracks from their new album, Three with Love. They were, as usual, the
center of most people’s attention. Sterling’s girl classmates especially had gathered around to watch
the Christian Rock starlets perform: one Trip on the drums, another Trip on guitar and the third Trip on
bass guitar. Each could play all three instruments and they would sometimes trade places in the middle
of a set, or even in the middle of a song, sort of their signature idiocy; Sterling suspected, however,
there was some degree of specialization. One seemed to have the louder, more sappy voice, another
seemed more accomplished beating drums and another might be the lyricist. They had just finished
their set that included some wisdom that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to
bad people, but that sometimes good things happen to bad…They were such bad lyrics, Sterling
thought. How could they enchant such a large teen entourage? They made their way over to Sterling,
who they boxed in.
      “We have…something…for you, Sterly..Sterl…Sterling,” they said, with each Trip taking one of
the sequential phrases and all joining in for the mix-up of names.” That was at least not as irritating as
when they sung his name: Eu-mor-fo-pou-lis, each taking a syllable and then singing it in a round like
Frère Jacques. That was very annoying, especially as it persuaded more and more people to join in.
One time, to Sterling’s utter embarrassment, they had managed to abduct a score of singers (singers
who would not sing outside the privacy of their showers, for good reason) and the round went on for
several minutes, with the Trips improvising (well, probably rehearsed as Sterling figured the Trips were
incapable of spontaneity) the verse:
            Bro-ther Ster-ling
            Bro-ther Ster-ling
            We were born before you
            We were born before you
            Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.
      “You brought me something, boys. How nice of you,” says Sterling flatly.
      One of them discretely shows Sterling a 4x4 inch ziplock bag of something that look’s like course
oregano, while another says:
      “You gotta relax, bro. You’re always so wound up.”
      “Yeah, unwind, bro,” the other chimes in.
      “Put that away, you idiots. I should report you to my father,” Sterling says through clenched
teeth. They’ve had this discussion before. The Trips’ response is that nothing in the Bible prohibits
      “If bro won’t take our gift, let’s ask who wants it,” one says to another, as the third, who holds the
bag, starts to wave it publicly.
      Sterling quickly grabs it and sticks it down his jeans. He is as angry as he gets, only constrained
by being in a semi-public place.
      “I’m going to fuckin’ murder you guys,” he says.
      The trips response is a rendition of Eu-mor-fó-pou-lis, in the style of Frère Jacques.
      As this plays out in Sterling’s memory, he realizes that the pot must still be in his pocket, which is
to say in the police car. At one point he’ll be searched, and another item will be added to his list of
crimes or misdemeanors, whatever they are. Despite the cuffs, he is able to twist his long arms around
and reach into his pocket and rummage down into his pants. The non-phone pocket is empty. “What?”
he wonders, as he recalls another episode.
      Just as the party was heating up, the Trips had finished their second set and gone out for a smoke.
Their parents, who were safely upstairs with the rest of the adults, were oblivious to the fact that their
little cherubs went through collectively at least one pack a day, more if they were on the road where
they had acquired a number of other delinquent habits including a taste for particular beverages, mixed
cocktails that came in soda-sized cans. These they could also drink in the comfort of their home, in
their studio where their parents were not permitted to disturb them. The Trips were the breadwinners of
the Vaney household (their dad supervised their management team and their mom was their most avid
fan and publicist); consequently they were on long leashes, even by Sterling’s standards; this allowed
them to be in cahoots with their “tutors” who chaperoned them during gigs. Their so-called bouts of
creativity in the home studio more resembled liquid binges or smoky highs. They had once tried to get
Sterling drunk by spiking his Coke, but for several years he had been wise to their tricks. That they
smoked pot really didn’t matter much to Sterling; that the Trips had probably already acquired far
worse drug habits didn’t bother him much either. People get what they deserve, he thought from the
comfort of the backseat of the patrol car.
       What did bother him at the moment was what happened just as he was being arrested. Ben, the
doofus policeman, his father’s protégé, had asked Sterling to turn around so he could be cuffed,
offering only: “Sorry, Sterl, I have to do protocol.” At that very moment, the Trips had intervened,
making a racket, issuing overlapping complaints that made no sense even if they could have been
untangled. Something about due process, First Amendment, Jesus, redemption, God will be the judge,
and almost anything that could pour forth from their feeble minds. They were encircling Sterling,
protecting him from the policeman, who was temporarily outmaneuvered until Suhail and Betty arrived
as back-up. There had been pushing and shoving, and Sterling had found himself being groped. He
had never before in his life been groped; some of his friends like Billy had, but Sterling’s size and
implied muscles seemed to keep the curious perverts at bay. Someone was now playing with Sterling’s
junk but before he could reach and grab if not break the offending paw, the Trips immediately
disengaged, segueing into ensemble weeping and consoling each other in a sobby hug, as a way of
expressing their solidarity with their soul- and birth-mate Sterling. He was quickly cuffed and led
away. It was only now, on reflection, that he realized that the Trips had intervened to retrieve their
dime bag of weed. Sterling didn’t know whether they did this to keep him out of more trouble or
because they feared he would rat them out, or because they just wanted their dope back for personal
use. In any case, it was clear that the Trips, for all their bad qualities, were not entrappers. The son of
a cop, Sterling had never been able to suffer informers, entrappers, plants or snitches well. He would
never rat on anyone, even scum. The Trips could not be branded as scum. They had not set him up;
and on the face of it, they had done him a great favor, that is, they had extricated him from a problem
they themselves had created for him. For that he was grateful, sort of.
     Overall the party had begun so well.      Several of his teachers, as well as Coach Mac, were
segregated up with the parents upstairs. Sterling was able to reacquaint himself with his gifted
classmates, who he rarely saw (“Their gift to me,” he’d tell Sara); his mother had as expected issued a
blanket invitation and several dozen boys and girls from Durham Prep had shown up, including
Brandon Buffeau. They had exchanged nods; Brandon took a studied tour of the gym, feeling and
testing the ring, its canvas, ropes and the various apparatuses. He was solo, without a plus one. He
played around with the speed bag with sufficient dexterity to impress not just the teenage girls but also
Sterling, who had a hunch that the Buffer had a lot more to him than met the eye. No one unacquainted
with a speed bag can instantly acquire such professionalism. Then Brandon socialized and worked the
crowd, all the time apparently oblivious to the thrills he was giving to some of their girl classmates,
who ignored Brandon when he was looking directly at them but undressed and devoured him when his
eyes went elsewhere. At one time Brandon and Billy were conversing privately, suggesting perhaps
they had indeed met at the spa.
      Most of the Friday Night Boys were there also. Besides Bil…William, who had been a constant
in the pre-teen soirees, the Davis brothers were also present. Whenever he visited Sterling the elder
Davis was almost always accompanied by the younger. The pattern had been established since the
dawn of their relationship with Sterling, which is to say since they were five, six and seven years old.
Their mothers had met at day care and the children had often had pre-school play dates in the name of
diversity. Normally, baby/infant Sterling was content playing with himself but he didn’t mind these
interlopers. Sterling’s birth fell in between theirs, placing him in a middle child position, which he
quite enjoyed. He had a special bond with the younger Davis, John Dewey. From the back of the
squad car, he could see John Dewey in the crowd, the only person not connecting with the drama that
was unfolding. He seemed preoccupied with a mathematical puzzle on his new tablet computer.
       John Dewey was forever bringing new electronic toys to Sterling’s; he was part of a beta-test
group and over the years he had acquired on a temporary basis a lot of weird devices, and this was not
the first tablet computer he had tested. The others had not survived the John Dewey experience. John
Dewey found comfort in playing with the beta-devices, which were still in test stage with bugs that had
to be first discovered before they could be fixed. It seemed that John Dewey had a knack for pushing
software to its limit, so he was perfect for beta-testing. Also, he never got angry or frustrated when a
device failed to work. If, after he gave it his best shot, it still didn’t function, it got UPSed immediately
to its R&D team, inevitably located in Triangle Research Park. In such a case John Dewey would lose
a toy, but the kid never got attached to toys, or people for that matter. The devices were always
anonymous, without logos or other markings. Thus neither John Dewey’s parents nor Sterling knew a
device’s origins, or who would eventually end up marketing it, if it ever hit the market. Except for
some knock-off mp3s most devices John Dewey tested ended up in their designer’s trash bins. The
device John Dewey was now testing, however, was very impressive. It was not just another tablet
computer: only 1 ½ pounds, with a multi-touch touch screen, headset controls, proximity and ambient
light control and a myriad other features. When Sterling had first seen it the previous week he had
measured it (9.6 x 7.5 and only an incredible half-inch thick) and immediately gone onto the forums to
see if any one knew what it was. It was very hush-hush but he suspected it was the new tablet eagerly
awaited from Apple – Sterling figured it would be sold as a tApple or a TabApple or an iTab – still
nameless but rumored to be released sometime next spring. The buzz on the forums went viral;
everyone wanted Sterling to upload a photo, and some even suggested breaking into it to look at the
components. Both of these suggestions Sterling very much wanted to pursue, but he couldn’t. John
Dewey’s parents had signed some sort of confidentiality agreement and even taking a photo was
verboten. Sterling could have taken a picture indiscreetly, of course; John Dewey would not have
objected, for he never seemed to care what Sterling did. Most of the time for John Dewey, Sterling did
not exist; even when they were together John Dewey regarded this entity, which he acknowledged as
‘Sterl,’ as no more than a physical presence, just as a tree or a rock or any other inanimate object.
Sterling did not exist relationally when he was present, nor metaphysically when he was absent.
Sterling seemed to exist for John Dewey to a fashion only in the here-and-now, Sterling at his side.
John Dewey was self-contained, and whatever Sterling said or did to John Dewey remained
unacknowledged at the very least. But taking and showing off a bootleg photo would have violated the
trust Sterling had with the Davis family and no doubt do irreparable damage to this trust, nothing near
compensatory for the kudos he’d received on the electronic forums for exposing Apple’s next wonder.
Sterling was sufficiently tempted, however, that he took a photo of John Dewey using his new device at
the party and one day, if the device ever became public, he could then show the photo, praising John
Dewey for being instrumental in Apple’s success. Mrs. Davis already had a list of tweekings that the
device needed (more reliable WiFi, for example). Sterling was not, however, averse to telling everyone
he knew that they should immediately buy Apple stock, as the stock was certain to rise in the
springtime. If they failed to take his advice, he could one day give them an I-told-you-so, which would
be rewarding in itself. He had had this conversation with numerous adults and no one seemed to listen.
At the party he had earlier repeated his predictions and shared his insider information, John Dewey,
with William Duke Sr, before he and the other adults were prodded to move upstairs.
      “Just ten days ago Apple topped the Q2 estimates, with iPhone sales up 123%. Stock is at $136.
It could easily double within a year and pay for my entire college education if I could borrow some
money to invest,” he told Senior, who took this all in over his second bourbon.
      Sterling had pulled over John Dewey to show off the device. He put his arm over John Dewey’s
shoulder, a gesture that was totally ignored because of John Dewey’s preoccupation with the tablet.
When he realized that Sterling was touching him, however, he quickly shook him off.
      “I’m telling you, sir, this is a life changer. If you lend me 500k for a year, I’ll pay you back with
50k in interest.”
      William Sr. studied John Dewey, still engrossed on the tablet, and he looked around at all the kids
talking on their iPhones.
      “And if you’re wrong, Sterling, and you can’t pay me back on time, you will work for Duke
Enterprises to pay off the debt. You start the day after graduation, before college. We have a deal?” he
      Sterling reflected on this “put up or shut up” proposition, seconded by his 151 barrel proof corn
      “We have a fuckin’ big deal, sir” he said as they shook on it. They had done this ritual many
times, usually when the old man smelt like one of his distilleries; Sterling had usually won (and never
lost) millions for the hypothetical Duke fortune. It was just a game they played, less dangerous for
pigeons than trap, given Senior’s aim.
      As he headed upstairs, Senior thought he should speed-dial his broker at home. “A million on
Apple to win,” he wanted to say. He’d lose more money because of that kid.
      Sterling enjoys being with John Dewey because he understands John Dewey, as much as anyone
can. John Dewey never feels any emotion; he is afunctional, some would say a highly functional boy
with Asperger’s. He is also enrolled in Sterling’s school for the gifted where for the most part the
autistics are integrated into the program. Though mainstreamed they also receive special instruction,
mostly on how to make truce with society and its expectations about their behavior. They are taught
how to pretend to look people in the eyes, how to repeat silently to self rather than out loud to others,
etc. A half dozen intelligent, fairly high functioning autistics in the same classroom has also provided a
golden opportunity for researchers. These boys and girls’ educational costs are largely covered by
various research foundations; and of course they earn pocket change for beta-testing some R&D team’s
soggy dream.
      The older Davis brother, James, is not autistic, thus deemed normal, which is to say
indistinguishable from most any other teenagers who attends Hillside High School, the oldest
traditionally all-black high school in Durham. You could hardly call this institution a learning
institution; children there mostly underlearn; the school’s purpose seems merely to baby-sit them, to
keep them off the streets, until society moves them on to meaningless jobs or into prison cells. James
has done quite well by not just the school’s standards; he has just graduated as salutatorian. He could
likely, however, be from one the school’s last graduating classes, for HHS could soon be shut down. Its
composite testing scores are below 55% of state average, so it could be closed by judicial degree along
with other poor performing North Carolina high schools under the Leandro ruling, which states that
North Carolina must provide a sound, basic education for all citizens. In any case James heads off to
Morehouse College in the fall, on a National Achievement Scholarship from the National Merit
Scholarship Corporation.
      The Davis parents are at the party also, upstairs in the adult sequestration. Over the years they
have learned to cope with having a child once described as handicapped, now described as gifted.
Sometimes they have resorted to medication, but behavioral therapy seems to work best; mostly they
rely on patience and perseverance, their own and their children’s. John Dewey is a mathematical
savant and this talent will no doubt somehow by harnessed. They are optimistic about their children;
they don’t know what the future will bring but it’s already brought them an African-American
president; they are looking forward to whatever the good Lord cares to bestow. It is with 21st Century
irony that the William Dukes Senior and the Davises are not only drinking bourbon together, but that in
fact Mr. Duke is serving the Davises. No one but Senior touches his $300 bottle of 16 year old Hirsch
Reserve. The Davises, who don’t drink much and never to excess, relish this depravity, as they enjoy
addressing the millionaire as Mr. William, something he fails to notice odd (what the long-suffering
help have called him). In previous centuries Mrs. Davis’s side of the family worked for the Dukes
several generations after they arrived in the US from Africa’s Gold Coast. In Reconstruction they
continued to work for their masters, now called employers. Mr. Davis’s people were from freed slave
stock; they were Yankees. His great- great- great- great- great- great- great- great-grandfather had
bedded at Winchester with the rest of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment as it
marched through the Piedmont on the way to Charleston. He had fought bravely under Robert Gould
Shaw in the Fort Wagner debacle; he had survived, only to be temporarily enslaved until the end of the
war. He remained in the South after the war; many generations later Mr. Davis met the future Mrs.
Davis, both sets of whose grandparents worked for Dukes.
      The Davises are boasting about their daughter, who attends Columbia on a full scholarship, and
are also offering kind words for James, who will work for Duke Enterprises in community outreach
over the summer. From an early age both older children accepted their role as John Dewey’s
caretakers. James’ own personality, with such empathy and kindness, is in part largely formed by his
necessary handling of his little brother. Just about anyone who meets James instantly acknowledges
that he is one of the sweetest kids they’ve ever met. He has no enemies and he can especially be
friendly with people who can’t stand each other, to wit, Sterling and the Trips. Because Sterling gets
along so well with John Dewey, James always brings along his little brother when he visits The
Sterling. This was even the case for the Friday Nights, that dry-cold winter of ’04-’05 when a group of
pre-teenage boys hung at Sterling’s. Boys being boys, sex was inevitably one of the topics occupying
their four hours together. During those particular discussions Sterling was careful that John Dewey be
excluded. Together, James and Sterling were not sure how John Dewey would traverse puberty; it was
difficult for they themselves to navigate these years during which so much is informed by hormones.
So if the discussions or the videos got too graphic, too physical, too sexual, one of the boys would
volunteer to take John Dewey aside and to keep him company, less he be exposed to a Pandora’s box.
Now, a half decade later, John Dewey in his own manner has become obsessively aware and interested
in the human body, particular in the bodies of girls. At Durham Prep sex education, relabeled the more
politically correct “family life education,” is a specially designed course for the auties. From even
before they reached puberty the course accounted for much of their behavior therapy. In earlier years
their teachers inculcated in them particular behavior patterns, which they practiced over and over on
field trips. The female teachers worked with the girls on menstruation; the male teachers worked on
privacy issues, especially instructing the boys not to parade their erections in public. The teens were
instructed about when and where it was okay to touch themselves, and about the absolute need for
privacy when they did so. Sterling’s mother was called in to present, not once but three times to the
same group (which meant four times for John Dewey who had also experienced her pinot gris-infused
presentation, which he had not understood at the time). Durham Prep ensures that for autistics both
sexes rote-learn the iron rule: close and lock the bathroom door; close and lock the bathroom stall.
These words are repeated like an Army drill. Instruction also focused on circles of comfort, i.e., who
may touch you or ask you to undress, what involves good touch/bad touch, and the necessity to report
past events such an inappropriate touch. John Dewey, it seems, has not had any bad touches, as his
family keeps him on a tight dependable, fraternal leash.
      The most difficult instruction at Durham Prep fell to those teaching the 16 and overs. John
Dewey and his classmates, autism aside, were just as interested in human reproduction as any other
teenager; but when they had an interest, any interest, in their craw, it remained stuck there until it could
be fully engorged. External forces could not dislodge it. At the same time, ironically, their brains were
wired so that they went through life mostly unaware of social cues and peer expectations. In other
words, they didn’t have the wherewithal to unstick what they sought to swallow. To go on dates and to
enjoy consensual sex, consensual safe-sex, would not be a simple accomplishment. Durham Prep’s
best psychologists talked to the autistics, individually and in groups, about love and accompanying
feelings – guilt, mistrust, shame, revenge – the exact emotions the autistics could not easily experience,
if indeed they could ever experience them at all.
      What teachers can’t figure out, peers sometimes can. The Friday Night boys once discussed how
John Dewey should solve the sex dilemma. John Dewey was present, but it was not clear to the boys
whether he was listening or what he understood. In any case a consensus quickly emerged: John
Dewey’s first experience should be professional. If it didn’t work out, they reasoned, then the problem
is solved. If, however, a professional liaison proved satisfactory, then they could figure out dating in
Phase Two. No one disagreed with this solution. It became clear over the next few years John Dewey
had indeed understood. He was awaiting a professional experience. He had been repeating the mantra
– professional, professional, professional – ad nauseam to his brother for some months; then suddenly
he stopped. The Friday Nights had long disbanded but Sterling, as ringleader, kept up with all the
participants, first through email, then through Facebook and now through Twitter. John Dewey who
communicated best when on-line, had tweeted his mantra to the Friday Nights on a weekly basis.
When the texts all of a sudden disappeared, Sterling suspected, and James later confirmed, that John
Dewey had successfully completed Phase One of the program. The details, which were not all that
juicy, were shared on Twitter. It seems that John Dewey in matters below the belt was proficient; more
importantly he had quite enjoyed the experience (at least that was Sterling’s interpretation); and he was
eager to move on to Phase Two.
      Physically John Dewey was average enough and, take away his ticks, repetitions, and relational
deprivation, he seemed normal enough. Many girls might find him cute, at the very least, harmlessly
interesting. He had a wicked sense of humor, Sterling noted, knowing instinctively when someone was
lying and often repeating back to them their own words from the past as evidence of the lie. Girls
would have to surmount John Dewey’s overall bizarreness, but then most teenagers are bizarre in one
fashion or another. At least John Dewey’s was all upfront; once you got to know him, he didn’t offer
many surprises. The Friday Nights were clueless, however, when it came to wondering how to find
John Dewey a girlfriend. John Dewey, moreover, voiced no particular requirements in terms of likes
and dislikes although the professionals had reported back to James that his younger brother was most
certainly a breast man. The Friday Nights had long recognized that pimping for John Dewey – that is,
finding a willing amateur – would be an impossible task. Mostly, the difficulty can be attributed to
race, which the Friday Nights did not mention, but which they certainly could not themselves ignore.
For his part James mostly went out with black girls, with an occasional Asian, and most of his and his
family’s friends were African-American. Save for the Friday Night boys, which he knew through
Sterling and their parents who were friends, James and John Dewey lived in the South’s pretty black
demi-universe, a world unfamiliar to the lily whites of the Friday nights. For now, Phase Two was a
major attention grabber in the Davis household; James realizes that a monthly repeat of Phase One
could be an easy temporary fix. John Dewey, who seemed to rival Sterling in the area of formidable
memory, got it into his mind that the first Saturday of each month would be sex day. No other day of
the month was acceptable. He would entertain no discussion. James was nonetheless relieved, fully
accepting the once a month requirement; as arrangements fell to him, he would not mind returning
home from Atlanta once a month, for laundry, eating some home cooking, getting some spending
money, etc. Yet he realized as a new freshman he may have some conflicts as college schedules might
not jive with John Dewey’s monthly needs. James had his own life to lead, he explained to Sterling.
One of the promises he had extracted from Sterling during the party was that he would keep an eye on
John Dewey while James was at Morehouse, at least until Sterling himself went away to college. That
promise was one of the last things Sterling had agreed to before his present life had suddenly become
severed, leaving him in the current lacuna, between past and future. Surviving the present was his
immediate goal.
     While Sterling was receiving well-wishers (in between his bouts with the Trips) Sara had been
reconnecting with friends she didn’t see all that often. She missed her friends and looked forward to
staying full-time in Durham over the summer. She had found a volunteer job helping infants with their
finger-painting, which Sterling had instantly labeled pee-wee art, immediately redefined as p-wart. P-
wart was now what the family called her summer job.
       Sara’s parents lived an hour away in Greensboro. One of the conditions made on The Reverend
by his family when he took the new job was that his daughter could finish her last years of high school
in Durham. She was given a Ford Focus S sedan for the commute. One of The Reverend’s
parishioners ran a local dealership and for the past academic year the car had been on some sort of
extended test drive. Sara was fuzzy on the details, but her father had made clear that God help her if
she got even a minor ding on the car. The Reverend would deliver it back to the dealer Monday
morning. Newly carless Sara would have to borrow Catherine’s car or perhaps she could drive
Sterling’s much rumored, but as yet invisible, automobile.
       Durham School of the Arts had been an exceedingly competitive school to get into; by test score it
usually rates as the best of Durham’s public high schools. Granted, the school was academic in only an
off-handed sort of way; its Advanced Placement offerings were scant; Sara was planning to take AP
psychology, which was the least science-oriented among them. DSA had a lively, creative, diversified
student body. Like the city’s three other fully integrated high schools, blacks and whites were evenly
split, in contrast with the school James attended, which was 92% black. Sara was studying the visual
arts, which included a lot of installation work, which she enjoyed although she found it to be more
about decorating than art. She also studied art history and continued to improve on the fundamentals,
media and technique: painting, watercolor, drawing, figure, still-life, landscape, composition,
perspective…anything as long as it didn’t involve computers. Avoiding graphic design software,
however, was nearly impossible, as it had stealthily crept into the darkest corners of the curriculum; it
had now become a major part of almost any course. Computer art continued to be all the rage, for all
but Sara. The school could not spend money quick enough on software and hardware, while telling the
band they could provide and repair their own instruments or telling the stage crew to reuse lumber and
nails. Sara considered “computer art” to be at best a contradiction in terms, a nifty phrase she had
recently picked up from Sterling. In her opinion computers often did more harm than good. A lot of
her classmates who were uncomfortable with pen or brush, could mouse off a large portfolio, much of
which seemed mediocre to her. For computer art, however, the bar had been lowered so much that
today almost any work qualified as art. Computers were becoming crutches for artists. At best they
should be tools, but now even the art-challenged could draw, thanks to programs and templates that did
most of the creative work. This, in Sara’s view, was a supreme cop-out, a cheat. Sterling had one of
these programs and he was always showing off his so-called art work, which didn’t stand up to Sara’s
more rigorous eye. Sterling, she thought, should stick with what he did best, which was mostly
anything but art. He was a sort of dodo when it came to music, too, having never more than a 50-50
chance at being able to differentiate between major chords and minor cords. Sara, however, would
never criticize Sterling’s computer generated so-called art, for she lived by another pet Sterlingism: De
gustibus non est disputandum. Although Sterling disputed the Latin word order per se, he agreed they
you shouldn’t quarrel over tastes; this would likely prove a handy way to end any argument the teen
lovers might get into this summer. Art, music, food, sports, sex…isn’t everything about tastes?
       Sara wondered, especially on the contemplative drives to and from Greensboro, whether she and
Sterl had jumped the gun last night. Should they have taken the big leap? Sterling, true to form, was
halfway down the track before she had even settled in at the starting blocks, but they had expected that.
They had discussed at some length, over the preceding year especially, that men and women reference
different schedules, different clocks, different hardware and software (Sterling’s metaphors). They had
discussed that their first time should be important, should not be rushed, and should encompass more
than a few minutes in the backseat or in a hotel that charged by the hour (as ironically The Sterling had
once done). No, they wanted the first time to be a full night together. As they grew closer and closer
during junior year, they tacitly agreed that their first “all the way” might be disappointing. Both of
them were becoming a bit impatient, however, what with their friends’ virginities being lost on an
almost weekendly basis. John Dewey’s defeat (defeat for virginity, victory for him) was a last straw.
The previous night when it became clear that Sterling’s parents could care less if their son and
girlfriend were having sex down the hall, provided they protected themselves, and when these spatial or
geographic constraints evaporated, the big event happened, spontaneity coating years’ of preparation.
The carnal pleasures were not unexpected and when last night had turned out to be NOT disappointing
at all, they were as equally relieved as they were happy. Now, the sexual nature that everyone,
including his own parents, had attributed to their relationship was something they no longer could
impugn. Yet she now had to deal with her own parents, who are upstairs at the party sipping ice tea.
They would certainly need something stronger to survive the news that she and Sterling would not be
able to hide from them for much longer. She herself could obfuscate her private life as well as any
teenager, but Sterling had this knack for letting facts escape his tongue despite their consequences.
While he may be secretive in his own way, he didn’t seem capable of keeping others’ secrets, even if
the other turned out to be his own girlfriend. In other words if only Sterling could have a relationship
without involving another party, he could keep that relationship secret. Sara could not figure out if
Sterling was just too honest a person, or had no control over the use of information. Maybe this was a
flaw; in any case it was part of the boy she had over the years aimed to bind to. Maybe she had caught
him many years ago, as early as second grade. Last night she had him roped and tied, that’s for sure.
For good or for bad she expected she would keep him; if the day came they separated, the undoing
would not be hers.
       Rationally, it’s often hard to shape out why two lovers are in love. For most teenagers it’s a
matter of hormones and instinct; most children are just not well enough developed to have the
proverbial shared chemistry. That was the take by Sterling’s parents on his relationship with Sara.
They have nothing against this union, be it a brief fling or something that lasts until he goes off to
college in a year. It will keep him off the streets, they joke to each other, maybe help with the maturity
issue. In fact they really like Sara, sometimes much more than they like their son, especially on those
not-too-rare occasions he’s being a smart-alec pain in the ass. Sterling’s parents feel they have always
supported him as he continues to learn more about himself and about life and how the two go together.
Certainly, it’s better that the children have sex in the comfort of their home than in some seedy motel.
Furthermore, the kids are right at the tip of the bell of the bell curve: seventeen is the precise average
age Americans of their race, religion and family situation lose their virginity. Nevertheless, the parents
hold no illusions that this is a serious relationship. It’s serious to the children, of course, but children
don’t often know what seriousness is.
       Seriousness and sharing a chemistry is what Catherine and Pandely are all about. Their
relationship has had its ups and downs, maybe more so than the average couple that has happily
remained together. From the very start his obsession with boxing was a relationship tester, that’s for
sure. His being MIA somewhere around Iraq or Iran, a week of uncertainly and state-secrecy and the
subsequent year of physical and mental rehabilitation built up in both of them in mere months a
lifetime of stress. She had held a full-time job, had some courses to complete for a degree and, of
course, their two toddlers to manage. After her husband’s discharge from the VA hospital she had an
adult who required even more attention than the children. It was tough; they survived. Later, the death
of a child was painful, but they survived that, too. Their life was nowhere near as tough as what their
parents faced as immigrants and political refugees. In almost twenty years together Catherine and
Pandely have produced a proven track record: they can take anything dished their way. Sterling’s arrest
is thus not the end of their world. It will be dealt with in time, each parent taking an individual
approach, conferring occasionally to coordinate strategy. Not to discount the seriousness of the arrest –
Pandely’s occupation is primarily about arrest – the couple see it as an opportunity for Sterling to
correct some of his short-comings and work on the maturity issue. Of course, if asked, Sterling could
not for the life of him produce a list of his own flaws, whereas his parents could rattle off a few dozen,
if asked. Granted, only a thin line separates personality trait from personality flaw. Still, they know
they understand their son a lot better than he thinks he understands himself – self-reflection being a
task Sterling figures is at best utterly self-absorbing and wasteful, at worst mental masturbation or self-
rape. Sterling would vehemently disagree with this parents’ assessment of himself. First, they don’t
have all the facts at hand, in that much of Sterling’s life is withheld from their scrutiny. They have a
“don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude when it comes to his spending money. Chinese drivers’ permits,
Napoleon papers, on-line stock trading…just the tip of his parent’s unimagined iceberg. Furthermore,
he subscribes to the general belief among kids that parents are not only clueless about their children,
but worse, they don’t even realize that they are clueless. Too clueless to be clueless. Moreover, few
children, Sterling included, believe that their parents act in their – the children’s – best interest. The
parents do what’s in their own best interests. At the moment no one in Vegas Gym, average age
seventeen, would disagree with that statement. Few of the boozing elders upstairs, average age 43.7,
would support it.
      Sterling, on his way to the station, is eager to get this show on the road. He wants to confront his
accusers. The had cops produced some paperwork for his parents to peruse, but he was not given an
opportunity to question whatever warrant they may or may not have had. Whatever happened to being
an adult at sixteen in Carolina? He has constitutional rights. Here, the police, his father’s colleagues,
had said nothing of substance to him. This was most annoying. Which of his misbehaviors are they
going after? And why do they choose a Sunday, right dab in the middle of his birthday party? Don’t
they take weekends off? His father only has the weekend shift every other couple of months; maybe
the diversification hires are assigned weekends and at the moment don’t know what they are doing.
Did they have to swoop in so abruptly and snatch him away? Did he pose a flight risk? Was this for
maximum effect? Without answers Sterling is getting more and more annoyed. He had not seen his
parents’ getting into his mother’s car to follow. They could not very well take the police cruiser to
follow two police cruisers, one containing their detained son and the other the doofus cop. Sterling
does not think “detained innocent son,” for it has crossed his mind, he was probably guilty of
something ever so slightly illegal – writing papers for hire, the faux permits, some occasional hacking,
nothing really serious enough to merit such well-policed overkill. How was he going to explain all this
to Sara? He didn’t even know what it was he’d need to explain. If Sterling were the crying type, he
would have begun. He hasn’t cried since his sister’s death, six months back, and he isn’t about to start
again. In any case, he is way too angry to cry.

Chapter 6
      On that crisp late May evening the well-wishers at The Sterling who had gathered to celebrate
the four boys’ births came away with particular, mostly unique, perspectives on why Sterling had run
afoul of the law. Various versions of the events indicate different speculative approaches, if not biases;
even the mere facts are in dispute. Several of the young girls, who had arrived in twos and threes
without plus ones, could have sworn, and would certainly willingly do so if required in court, that
Sterling was mistreated, indeed manhandled. His very human rights had been trod upon no worse than
if he had lived in a communist dictatorship, the People’s Republic of Carolina. Had the young cop Ben
been serially watching too much TV? Had Fox or the CW written his instruction manual? These girls
had captured the events on their phones and were forwarding the videos to their friends via the usual
channels, evidence of the alleged police brutality. Others in the crowd had viewed the proceedings
from a slightly different angle. Why had the boy acted like he was on the FBI’s most wanted list or in
one of COPS’ staged encounters? They would contend that he had provoked the scuffle with the young
policeman who, inexperienced with perps of Sterling’s statue – a tough, disrespectful son of a cop who
knew the tricks of the trade – had been baited by a word or a flick of the elbow into overacting, rather
than being able to bate his response, something a more seasoned policeman would have done. Same
event; different takes. Mutually exclusive or potentially inclusive? However the truth unfolded – if
indeed truth ever exists – it was nevertheless certain that various narratives were being explored and
transmitted digitally. This was far from unusual as Sterling’s life itself was little more than a collection
of often conflicting narratives. Tweets from downstairs:
       @SlimSally 8:32 p.m.: Arrogant U resists cop. Decks him. Blood. Vaney3 defend. Soooooooo cute. Need
@ 4 Vaney.
       @MaryJoYutt 8:32 p.m.: Indian and lady cop rescue whitey cop. Baton Sterl in head. Unconscious.
Dragged to car. Vaney 3 heros.
       @EllenGGirl 8:32 p.m.: hunk cop decks U. Like totally unprovoked!!!! bloody nose. U to ground. 3vaney
rescu triplet heros bffs lol
       @BBuffeau 8:33 p.m.: Anyone know a good lawyer for U? 3 blond singers got in the way.
       @DutchSWm 8:34 p.m.: Give to Sterling’s legal defense fund. Via PayPal #SmileyBoy
       @SlimSally 8:34 p.m.: DM DutchSWm Is no contribution 2 small? Can U share Vaney contact detail?
They into female?
       @JCZVaney1 8:34 p.m.: Illegal music downloads get you arrested. Video of Sterly U arrest at
http://www.TheVaneys.com/promotion. Lord bless Sterly U.
       @JCZVaney2 8:34 p.m.: Buy our album. http://www.apple.com/itunes/Vaney3 God loves all sinners,
even music pirates. We tried to save him.
       @ JCZVaney3 8:34 p.m.: hot flash: Sterling U memorial fundraising concert. Follow our blog:
       @JCZVaney2 8:34 p.m.: DM @JakeConnorZackVaney1 Dude. Slimsally chick hot 4 u. u want to fk it or
should I? Lord bless.
       @JCZVaney3 8:35 p.m.: DM @JakeConnorZackVaney2 Dude. My turn but go4it. Lord bless.
      The Trips were pretty certain why Sterling had been arrested. He was a music pirate, little
different from a common thief who, when invited to dinner, steals bread off your very own table when
your backs are turned. Sterling deserved to be smote down. On the matter of copyright law and earned
royalties, the brothers were adamant. The thief U now had to pay the consequences.
      The dynamic trio knew that Sterling was a formidable hacker. File sharing was his second nature.
They also knew that Sterling was familiar with their repertoire, too familiar not to have copies. He was
forever quoting their very words back to them, poking fun at their syntax, grammar, rhymes, and
alleging the existence of a hypocrisy between their lyrics and their lifestyle. Sterling had admitted that
he knew by heart the lyrics to every track they had recorded. Yet he boasted he had never bought their
CDs, nor would he ever buy their CDs. On his last visit, for Christmas dinner, he had ranted:
      “Let your god send locusts, scare the bejeezus out of me with thunder and hail, turn the great
Mississippi into blood. Bring on the boils, frogs, lice, mosquitoes, cockroaches. Cut out the lights.
Murder my firstborn. Still, I’ll not buy your fuckin’ CDs.”
      They had often warned the blasphemer not to curse God even in his heart. All that their
admonition produced now was a characteristic “Fuck you, from my heart.” And then he had beaten
them up, a well-trained boxer, for no apparent reason, taking full advantage of the three muscle-
challenged look-alikes. For that abuse alone he deserved to be smote down. Tonight, with Sterling’s
arrest, God had spoken. They had been revenged. And the ingrate hadn’t even thanked them for saving
him from a drug bust.
      The boy’s aged parents were upstairs sipping tea in a sub-group that included Sterling’s
grandparents and Sara’s parents at 8:32 P.M. when the arrest had gone down. Mr. and Mrs. Vaney had
not personally witnessed the involvement of their sons in this sordid affair, but everyone confirmed that
their boys had played the heroes, which is nothing less than the parents expected. Every night they
thanked God for His gift of such a Son. Over the years they had begun to consider the triplets as a
single unit and although they followed convention and used the plural pronouns they-them-their, the
singular counterparts would have sufficed. Even after seventeen years there was no differentiating
between sons; that had made them as easy as pie to raise. As the mother explained, you just have to
think of a single son with a large appetite, who uses a lot of toothpaste and toilet paper and keeps the
washer-dryer busy 24/7 and you have Jake-Connor-Zack Vaney. Especially at this very moment they
thanked the Lord that their son had decided to pay back his Maker by sacrificing his entire life to
Christian rock rather than getting arrested as a criminal of some sort. They loved Catherine and
Pandely; they had known them and her parents since they had first arrived in Durham. As for their
little Sterling – tarnished sterling, they would joke to each other – he was always such a trouble maker.
Kate and Pan deserved better, but the Vaneys would never say that to their faces. You never share with
friends anything critical of their children, not if you want to remain friends for long. The
Eumorfopouloses had planted little Sterling on a wet cement pedestal right from the gitgo. All the
king’s horses and all the king’s men would not be able to dislodge the pint-sized egghead. Yes, they
had a lot to thank God for. Some people (agnostics and atheists) attributed miraculous birth to
techniques such as in vitro fertilization, but the Vaneys knew that not to be the case. Ovulation
induction, ejaculation into a cup (most embarrassing for Mr. Vaney), and multiple embryo transfer in
the treatment of subfertility are just techniques. They may move things along when there seems to be
so little hope, but one cannot forget that God acts in mysterious ways. It was Vaney Faith, not the petri
dish, that produced their bundle of joys. Their friends Catherine and Pandely have never thought much
of organized religion, but in their heart of hearts they do share with the Vaneys a belief in a Supreme
Being, responsible for each and every one of us. Sterly, according to their own sons, seems to lack
even that tad of Faith. They pity their friends, while at the same time they are relieved that the four
babies didn’t get mixed up in the newborn nursery room. It’s not for nothing that there’s safety in
numbers and different colored bracelets.
       The parent Vaneys had cell phones, a business necessity. But neither they nor the other parents
were Twittering. Some of the mothers had discovered Twitter and text-messaging in the past several
years, but almost everybody upstairs preferred email, the former straight-forward technology remained
their telegraph of choice. That the parents had picked up the discarded habits of their children should
come as no surprise. It was not by happenstance that the children below had nudged their parents into
this 21st Century technology. The children had anticipated a phenomenon that it would take
researchers yet another year to confirm: that parents who occupied themselves with handheld devices
pay less attention to their own children. A study that would come out in autumn 2010 was presented in
a dramatic bar graph in the New York Times. Researches had studied Chicago parents including
Sharmila Rao Thakkar, a mother who described herself as a “good multi-tasker.” Over the course of
the research Ms. Thakkar had spoken 3,088 words to her child when her smartphone was switched off,
but only 1,454 words when it was on. The same phenomenon held true for most other Chicago parents
in the study. Often children spot trends much sooner that these trends are verified by academics. Thus,
it was not surprising that some of Sterling’s friends had convinced their mothers to buy a BlackBerry or
iPhone as a gift for their husbands, or had convinced their fathers to give their wives such a present. In
several cases a couple had exchanged identical boxes from the local Apple Store last Christmas
morning, to their children’s delight. Not only did smartphone enablement lower parent-child verbal
exchange rates, as the study showed, but there was an added benefit: less communication between
parents, which the study did not pick up on, although the children knew this also to be true. And, as all
children know, when parents don’t communicate with each other, it’s the children who benefit the most.
Children can either play one adult off the other (as with separated parents or those in the pre-divorce
stage looking to score points with their children) or as in a mildly dysfunctional household the parents
merely disengage from their children, leaving the latter to their own handheld devices. Fortunately, the
US has not yet begun to imitate Japan, where many parents and children prefer to communicate
primarily through their PDAs, texting each other frequently throughout the day. Japanese adults and
children alike utilize, rather than avoid, the technology. For now, however, American parents had not
explored the potential of these devices for controlling their offspring (save for the GPS monitoring
capability put in the phones of smaller children). At the moment children have the upper hand in this
war; it is a rare case where the kid shares his or her Facebook or MySpace page with a parent, and rarer
still when the parent asks to be friended.
     The observer might have thought that John Dewey Davis was oblivious to Sterling’s arrest.          He
seemed so enthralled with his tablet computer, tapping his foot in three-beat sequences and bending
from the waist in a slight bobbing motion. On the surface he was preoccupied with solving his
mathematical puzzle, and thus he appeared to be unaware of what was happening a few yards away.
“Not the case; not the case; not the case,” would have been John Dewey’s reply if it had wished to
verbalize a response to the insult suggesting he was clueless. Behavior therapy had broken JD and his
classmates of most of their echolalic responses; now verbal repetition usually accompanied something
new – a new question to answer, a new situation to comment on, etc. – or it was used for emphasis and
was thus just a characteristic of the way he communicates. Tonight’s arrest of Sterling is the type of
event that could trigger his echolalia.
      As his family and friends know best, JD is anything but clueless. Quite the opposite; he is quite
perceptive, so much so that his siblings and parents have long accepted the reality that he is without
rival the most perceptive member of the family. It was he, wasn’t it, who was the first family member
to notice that his siblings had lost their virginities, on separate occasions, of course. Using whatever
clues he had assembled, JD commented to both siblings on the occasion of this life event. In fact he
had waited up past his normal bedtime each time to inform them “You got laid; you got laid; you got
laid.” The siblings’ responses were identical: immediate denial, followed first by wrath, then
admission, and finally an apology. His sister had complained: “What type of autistic are you?” In the
end both James and his sister had accepted that their little brother had merely stated a fact, had meant
no harm and had simply told the truth, in his own fashion. He should not be held accountable for being
socially graceless; tackless was what JD was; unfortunately he seemed always to be within their
parents’ earshot when he announced to the world his siblings’ adventures and misadventures.
      Granted, his non-verbal repetitive motions, clinically diagnosed as stereotypic movement
disorder, makes him appear feeble-minded to people who know little about autism, which is to say the
public at large, including sadly some families with autistic children. As with echolalia the so-called
stereotypies do not relate to intelligence either; bright autistics can evidence repetitive behaviors as
well as stupid autistics. As he had aged, JD has dispensed with his earlier habits such as hand waving,
teeth grinding and nail biting, but the rocking movements remain, especially at times of stress. JD’s
doctors were of two minds on why he manifested this stimming (for self-stimulation), which in his case
are fortunately never self-injurious. On the one hand, for children with an understimulated nervous
system, repetition may provide needed nervous system arousal, releasing beta-endorphins. For
hypersensitive people, in contrast, it may provide a “norming” effect, allowing the person to control a
specific part of the world that they perceive through their senses; it is thus a soothing behavior.
      As Sterling was being driven off, JD’s bobbing had increased in intensity, and this had prompted
James to get his parents. Obviously the boy was stressed out and maybe needed meds; it was only his
parents who gave him medication. James took JD aside and tried to soothe him. James put his hands
on his brother’s shoulder, taking advantage of the fact he is among the handful of people allowed to
touch the boy.
      “It’s OK, John Dewey. It’s not like TV. They don’t beat you up on the way to the station house.
Whatever this is is going to blow over. Sterl will be back home tonight or tomorrow.”
     The boy, nevertheless, continued to bob and tap his foot. He was working on the puzzle more and
more furiously, tapping violently, giving the tablet screen a run for its money. The tablet buzzed
indicating he had solved the puzzle.
     “Send me a message, JD. Send Sterling a message. He’d like that.”
     The parents arrived, but James motioned he has things under control. JD switched the tablet into
email mode and tapped out a message, more calmly. When that was finished, James led him to the
family car.
      JD had sent the message without showing it to James. His email was private, even as this very
private person defines privacy. The mail had been directed to Sterling:
     blame me. tell the cops it was my idea. they wont dare touch me.
     blame me. tell the cops it was my idea. they wont dare touch me.
     blame me. tell the cops it was my idea. they wont dare touch me.
       Whether the repetition was involuntary or part of JD’s sharp humor that Sterling so appreciates is
something known only to JD. His message, however, does give us a clue why the boy was stressed out.
For him the crime Sterl committed – correction, had been alleged to commit – was not music piracy, as
the Trips thought. JD shared most of Sterling’s opinion of the blond threesome, trianalsapiens indeed.
They patted JD on the head and offered “Lord Bless” as a way of condolence, their condescending way
of treating morons, a strata of God’s less fortunate creations. JD had once involuntarily kicked one of
them in the shins after one too many hair mussing episodes. From then on they had kept their distance.
Music piracy wasn’t the issue; otherwise, every teen in the world would be in chains. No, Sterling had
been caught for a white collar crime, one for which John Dewey had participated. He was quite right to
offer to take the blame for Sterling because the stock trading episode had indeed been JD’s idea.
       When he had first enrolled in the beta-testing project, one of the first toys he received had been a
smartphone. That was in December 2006. He showed it to Sterling who on the spot had fallen in love
with the handheld. In a matter of minutes, John Dewey showed off all the functions. Sterling
suspected it was the new Apple product, a phone long rumored to be in the design phase, but he had no
way of knowing for sure. John Dewey, however, had burrowed his way into some help files and come
up with some lines of code that had accidentally made their way into the file. One of the lines of that
code (which was temporarily erased from the view of the testing public but included in the file that
would be activated when the phone went public) read “Copyright 2007 Apple Inc. All rights reserved.”
       JD had told Sterl: “Buy now, buy low, sell high, make a bundle.”
       He wasn’t sure Sterling understood so he began to repeat: “Buy now…”
       “I got it the first time, John Dewey. Can I have the phone for a second?” he asked. You took
something from JD without first asking at your own peril. He surrendered his phone.
       Right then and there, Tuesday Dec 26th 2006, Sterling used the iPhone twice. First he accessed
his Charles Schwab account. He liquidated everything and immediately bought Apple at $83 and
change. Secondly he used the phone to make a phone call to William Duke Senior, advising him to buy
AAPL, “all you can swallow.” Asked why, he replied simply: “A little birdie told me to.” Senior
thanked him for the advice. A year and a day later APPL reached its highest price to that date, $202.96.
Sterling took the capital gains, on which he had to pay little tax (Duke Senior’s bookkeeper saw to
that.). He reinvested in APPL again at the beginning of December 2008, when it again had fallen to a
low in the $80-$90 range. For the moment he was holding on to what he had, selling only if advised to
do so for tax reasons; he wanted to buy more, if only Duke Senior would finance him. Together they
would make a bundle.
       Although guilt was an emotion mostly alien to John Dewey, he felt a tinge of something in his gut
when Sterling was hauled away on account of the investment opportunity the former had opened the
latter up to. A behavior therapist would say that was progress; Dewey would say it was just sad, though
not fully understanding the meaning of the word.
     Brandon Buffeau had a much different take on why his classmate (schoolmate actually since
Sterling rarely attended classes) had been arrested. Brandon did not know Sterling well. The former
had been at Durham Prep for only a year, arriving with his family when his mother had taken up a
university position created just for her, one “which the family could not refuse.” As a junior transfer,
thus, he did not have a history with Sterling. His sources of information were almost exclusively his
(and Sterling’s) classmates, all of whom initially said they really liked and admired Sterling and all of
whom over time dissed “The Sterling” as a reaction to the lack of respect he showed them. Almost
from the first day he touched the campus, Brandon had been exposed to the myth of Sterling U. At first
he thought it was only a myth which would be expected to have only the skimpiest factual basis.
Gradually he understood that such a phenomenon actually existed. The classmates especially didn’t
like the special treatment Sterl was always accorded, just because he helped raise the class average on
test scores. Sterling was a test-taking phenomenon and that also helped produce a jealous response
among his classmates. He was a real showboat, they argued, but he just did what he wanted to, only
reluctantly joining required school activities, not participating in extracurricular or sports.
      That Sterling was the smartest student in the school was not in dispute; that he would certainly be
next year’s valedictorian was taken as a given, that he was universally envied also needed no
discussion. With his straight A average Brandon, himself, thought he was slated for those accolades; he
would certainly be top scholar in this, his junior, year; and he would surely win the coveted Harvard
Book Award for outstanding junior. So he thought. These were certainties until you factored in The
Sterling, who at end of term merely emailed the principal with the As and A+s he had obtained in his
coursework at local universities. This included credit from classes he audited at Duke or the scores he
obtained when he sat for AP exams (he was running out of AP exams to take); but in some cases it
involved courses he created for himself, so-called independent study, in which he churned out a paper
for a sponsoring teacher who, knowing less on the subject than Sterling, had little choice but to give
him an A.
      Sterling, both myth and reality, in Brandon’s opinion, was a total scam. He knew how to game
whatever system he found himself unfortunately to be part of. Not unfortunate for Sterling but
unfortunate for those who cohabited the system, a Sterling-controlled system. Brandon, himself, was
not about to be so easily manipulated. He had recently had a nice chat with Sterling’s best friend, a
slender gay kid named William, who seemed to be Sterling’s self-appointed PR director. William
included in his laudatory babble an aside that confirmed rumors Brandon had heard at school: that
Sterling was a paper hustler, specifically a term-paper ghost writer. Brandon did not have all the facts
but he suspected that Sterling operated a paper-writing ring, an income producing sideline, where he
would sell term papers to lazy college students – some of the best colleges have the laziest students.
There are no reliable estimates of how much cheating like this occurs on American university
campuses, but if someone told Brandon that thirty percent of all submitted papers were authored by
someone other than the professed author, he would not be surprised. Professors, of course, could
discover only cases of blatant plagiarism, by checking data bases to determine if a submitted paper was
actually a resubmit, but if you actually paid someone to write an original paper on a specific subject (on
a theme you had even discussed with a professor), that would indeed be difficult to detect. Brandon
suspected that Sterling had not been as clever as he thought; that he had not completely covered his
tracks (email exchanges, bank accounts, internet searches) or that a client had given over his name to
save his own skin. Or that he had underestimated the foxiness of academics. A number of urban
academic myths, likely involving some truth, abound: One professor on reading the electronic copy of
a submitted paper went to the Word “properties” menu to discover the identity of the real author, not
the student claiming to have written the paper. Another turned on the “track changes” function to
discover such heavy editing by the author’s girlfriend that the professor apportioned half credit to each,
resulting in the boy’s failure. (The faculty senate said the professor had invaded the student’s privacy –
going through support files in Microsoft Word is like rummaging through one’s trash – and overturned
the grade, awarding the boy a marginal pass). It is generally acknowledged among the cognoscenti:
clean the file before submitting, or in the vernacular: wipe after shitting. Brandon has no idea how
many laws Sterling has been breaking: trafficking in stolen property, violations of interstate commerce
rules, tax evasion, corruption of a minor (Sterling himself), abetting a theft (in that the college student
who had put his name on Sterling’s paper had in that very deed stolen intellectual property). As
Brandon watched the squad car remove Sterling from his less-than-adoring public, he thought about
two quotes he had learned in Chinese and Latin classes:
      “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer” – Don Vito Corleone, The Godfather, often
misattributed to Sun-tzu (544-496 BC), The Art of War
      “Verbum sapienti satis est [A word to the wise is sufficient] ” – Publius Terentius Afer aka
Terence (195-159 B.C.), Phormio (III, 3, 8)
     Sara had been busy replenishing canapés and serving refreshments minutes before she was
alerted to the squad cars’ arrival. She had just had a run in with the Trips who she had caught pouring
something from a hip flask into their cups of punch. They said it was medicinal; she suspected
medicated Vodka. She likes the Trips even if they qualify as the world’s biggest hypocrites. The
distance between the image they give their fans and how they live their increasingly dissolute lives
grows year by year with their degeneration. On that matter Sara believes that Sterling is right on. The
“wholesome threesome,” as they are often self-promoted, had gone outside for a smoke; moments later,
events started unraveling. She had no idea what first to make of the commotion; Sterling’s parents
were in a private conference with the arresting officers; she did not feel comfortable interfering.
      The more Sara thought about it, however, the arrest was not too much of a surprise. Sterling lives
on the edge. He can be pretty sneaky, artfully withholding the truth, if in a naïve sort of way, and Sara
imagined that something stupid he had done had finally caught up with him. Sterling lives his life
fairly simply. He is in control, period. When he is not in control, he abdicates. He disengages.
Whatever is happening, even if it directly involves him, when he is not in control, he is consequently
not involved. Obviously his arrest pointed out to his not having been in control in some sort of
previous situation he had wrongly ignored. Like parking tickets that just pile up until one day a big fat
summons falls in your lap. That, of course, is not the specific case with Sterling. First, he is a careful
driver and has not gotten a ticket (except on his bicycle). And second, one of the advantages of having
a cop as a father is that the son will not be ticketed by his father’s colleagues, unless first advised to do
so by his father (as with the bicycle). If there is an incident, short of vehicular homicide, fellow cops
would first go to the father and he would be expected to take care of it. Sara does not approve of the
strap, but it serves a purpose. It helps Pandely sort things out with Sterling. Now, however, Sara is
confused. Why had the police not gone first to Catherine and Pandely? Surely, this was not such a
serious matter – Sterling as a sleeper terrorist, for example – that the parents had been kept out of the
      On one matter Sara is not confused. She knows for certain that whatever Sterling’s misbehavior,
it surely involves computers. They will be the death of him, she thinks. She had had a long
conversation about this with Catherine saying that the best thing that could ever happen to Sterling
would be for some thief to sneak in and steal all his electronics. He needs to de-digitize, to humanize,
the women concurred. Catherine blames herself for that first major blunder in child-rearing: giving her
son a poisoned apple, that first wretched PDA, which instantly became the go-to parent, answering all
his questions, offering him parental advice which he accepted without argument, becoming a third,
preferred, nipple to suck on. From that day on Sterling became an obsessed plug-in. Like it or not, this
was a character trait; and you take Sterling, the good with the bad. Sara accepts that she has to live
with this quality, for trying to change Sterling – being a full time job – was not going to be her life’s
agenda. She had other plans. Still, she gets annoyed from time to time. She has learned that subtlety
is not a good weapon against someone of Sterling’s mettle. You go in with all guns blazing, steal his
control but prevent him from disengaging. This had been her policy last night: she had set the romantic
mood and the cute, sensual penguins were frolicking on the ice cubes. Sterling arrived in that sexy
shirt with his hair all amiss, smelling of the manly perfume she had bought him, with his sweats hardly
able to contain his enthusiasm. Then she got more than a bit pissed off when the only thing on his
mind was his friggin’ iPhone. He became a bit ruffled when the iPhone was not where he always left it,
on the bedside table. When it didn’t respond after he had sent himself a text from the iMac he was
really confused, unable mentally to sort out the problem. Then, noticing Sara, he asked incredulously:
       “Do you have my phone?”
       Sara started to rise, saying: “It’s me or the phone. Your choice.” In other words, to put it
coarsely, whom do you want to fuck, Sterling, me or your phone?
       Sterling, to his everlasting lack of regret, fortunately, made the manly decision and put his handly
out of his mind until he woke up (for real) in the morning. As for the phone Sara had actually shut it
down, removed the battery so it couldn’t self activate (if it had such a feature, she was not aware) and
then hidden it in the back of a bottom drawer behind a compulsive row of paperclips. That’s how she
deals with the competition.
       Sara’s best guess is that the incident that was causing Sterling the current grief involves hacking
of one sort or another. He has a group of friends, originally from the Friday night gatherings, and
several of them were very computer savvy. One in particular, Jeremiah, seems to be able to go
anywhere and do anything, as long as there are “Do not Enter” signs along the way. They have used a
variety of proxies for cover, routed themselves through East European servers, and stole Wi-Fi from
unsuspecting downtown businesses. Passwords were only a minor roadblock; Jeremiah was forever
showing some neat trapdoor or sidedoor or backdoor where he could get into the most secure system.
Left alone Sterling would not take the criminal initiative; but with Jeremiah at his side, they would
abandon any risk-aversion that Sterling brought to the dynamic duo. Most of this was hush-hush; Sara
did not know details but she had overheard that Jeremiah had been able to program one ATM to empty
itself almost on whim. She didn’t think Sterling actually participated in the crime, but he knew about
it, in fact probably personally witnessed its commission. It was likely something like this that had
gotten her boyfriend in trouble. Better he learn his lesson now and reform than get into really big
trouble when he matured. Sara indeed loved Sterling; his immaturity was an issue both she and he
needed to confront. That, she feared, could be the summer’s agenda.
       Sara’s concerns were echoed in the immediate actions taken by another guest, the very Jeremiah
who life’s goal is a place in the hackers’ Hall of Fame. Jerry was at the party, as a former Friday
Nighter, rather than as a classmate. He hadn’t been anyone’s classmate from the day of his sixteenth
birthday, also the occasion when he had sent an anonymous email to the principal’s private email
account (known only to his mistress) and told him to resign (take early retirement) within 24 hours or
have his affair exposed. Jerry had never bothered to follow up, to see what actually had happened. It
was just as well Jerry was no longer part of the educational establishment; his stringy hair and
unwashed appearance certainly kept him from adhering to the dress and minimal hygiene codes of the
local schools. At sixteen Jerry had gotten himself legally emancipated, so his parents could not touch
his income, which is now in the six figures. His day jobs (actually afternoon jobs since he sleeps in
mornings away) include serving as a consultant to various listed corporations, which he has more or
less blackmailed into hiring him. He has hacked into their systems and then turned himself in for the
reward: employment and a guarantee he would make them hacker-resistant (hacker proof, being a
fantasy). At the moment Sterling was arrested Jerry was worried about his own skin, fearful that if
Sterl went down, he would quickly follow. Before Sterling had even squeezed into the squad car, Jerry
was doing all he could remotely do to save his own hide. First, he phoned his desktop and told it to
self-wipe and then freeze up. It could not be rebooted without a 187 digit password which Jerry
himself could, of course, not remember. He had duct-taped the password to the bottom of a brick
which he had mortared into the back wall of the garage. Then he had called Sterling’s cell phone and
erased any trace of his existence in his friend’s email trail and address book. Then he shot upstairs and
activated a sleeper bug in Sterling’s iMac that mopped away any remaining connection with Jerry.
Finally he took a deep sigh and went downstairs for some more of Sara’s snacks.
       At the time of the arrest William Jr. had immediately pulled William Sr. aside for a serious word.
He had explained to his father the reasons Sterling needed a lawyer, a Constitutional expert, Junior
emphasized. His father, who never much conversed with his son – Sterling was a good substitute in
that regard – needed to figure out if the matter was as serious as his son made it out to be. Junior
tended toward hyperbole in mannerisms, dress, speech, just about everything.
       “Are you sure, Junior?”
       “I am one-hundred percent certain, sir.”
       “What do you want me to do?”
       “See if I am right. Ask his parents.”
       “Then you’re not ‘one-hundred percent,’” he said, explaining the basic logic to his son.
       “Oh, I am. It’s only you who need confirmation. When you get it, I have the name of the lawyer
to call. This could be very expensive, sir. My trust fund’s never been touched.”
       Senior takes that last statement under advisement, for further ignoring. There’s no way he’ll let
Junior break into his trust fund which, since Senior is at the moment its sole Trustee, affords Duke
Enterprises with countless investment opportunities, arrangements and details far too complex for
Junior to burden himself over. Yes, lawyers are expensive, add a few more zeros for Constitutional
ones and their research staff. Something can be arranged, but the kid will keep his gay snout out of his
trust fund, which he’ll inhale only over Senior’s dead body.
       “Don’t make me look like a fool, son,” he warns as he goes over to talk with Sterling’s parents.
       William Jr. was taken aback. It was not that his father didn’t want to be made a fool by something
foolishly done by the son. That was understandable. And Junior had done his share of foolish things in
life, not the least of which, his father undoubtedly felt, involved his current orientation. What shocked
William Jr., however, was that Senior had called him “son.” He could never remember being called
anything but Junior. His mother called him Billy, Senior’s second wife had called him Will, and the
current one calls him Will Junior. Senior has always stuck with Junior. Junior didn’t know what to
make of this salutational platonic shift. But he suspected some of his father’s previous affection for
Sterling might now be redirected to himself. Respect is not a zero sum game, but in this case what
Sterling looses, William Jr. seems to gain. Something good can come of something bad, Junior
       One might wonder whether, by his action of support for Sterling, William Jr. has not crossed over
the boundary set for BFFs. Spouses and family members are expected to make sacrifices for one
another: giving kidneys and the like. Relationships between “significant others” are also like those
between life-partners, regardless of whether there’s a piece of paper to hold them hostage. Sterling and
Billy, however, did not fit in these classes: not spouses, not family members, not lovers, although
Junior did seem to have some left-over puppy love for his childhood friend. Thus, one must ask if
William’s proffered beneficence is appropriate and justified. Is it not more than what friends should do
for each other?
       The threat to tap into the trust fund was just that, a threat. William Jr. might not have the sly
business acumen of his ol’ man, but he has a fine nose for smelling the stench of that acumen. He had
been aware for some years that this high-falooting trust fund was nothing more than some sort of tax
dodge set up by Senior to keep money away from the government. In inheritance matters Senior shows
off the trust fund as he would a bauble. Hiding assets in plain sight is always best. You can gasp and
gape, but not touch. Junior figures the fund hides assets from his father’s three wives, none of whom
could be seen as opposing such a kind set-up for the son who is perceived of as especially deprived in
financial matters. Short of hiring himself an emancipation lawyer (Jerry’s had charged $2,500), there is
no way Junior can find out what the trust fund actually contains, whether its original three hundred
thousand has been stripped naked or whether it is now the bulging repository of all the paper millions
that Sterling’s investments can fabricate. The answer to the earlier question, therefore, is: Yes, most
best-friendships would not normally include an offer to pay what could amount to thousands of dollars
in legal fees. Constitutional issues tend to become drawn out as they rise through different levels of
justice, with appeals. But, the answer is also no, for it’s like saying: “Best friend, I’d walk to the ends
of the earth for you.” This is not to be taken literally (the earth has ends only in the Bible). It’s just a
nice gesture for showing support. Junior’s promise of accessing the mysterious trust fund is an empty
one. Junior is just playing hardball. Both father and son know it would take a court order, at the
minimum, before the bookkeeper would open up for Junior. That’s one reason why Junior wants to set
up a legal defense fund. He knows he can’t squeeze much blood from the Duke turnips.
       Whether Sterling deserves such support from his friend is an entirely different matter, but one
producing the same mixed response: yes and no. Perhaps one can question the quality of Sterling’s
advice, but that’s not at issue in regards to friendship. If you only had friends who gave you sound
advice, you would probably have no friends at all. Over the years Billy has demanded a lot from
Sterling, whereas Sterling ostensibly asks little from his friend, other than the right to drive his X5. He
feels privileged to be chosen as the one who must listen to Billy’s whining, and he appreciates Billy’s
being his own main booster and principle liaison with his mother. And Billy manifests hardly any
jealousy over the fact that Sterling has such a good father-son relationship with Senior. If Billy took
more of an interest – any interest at all – in the things Senior likes, such as hunting, financial
investment – he’d be closer to his father. Sterling takes up the slack. Finally, he doesn’t mind that
Billy has a crush on him; that’s nothing new. Maybe he should let him touch him once (but just once),
if it would give him so much goddamn pleasure. It’s only sex, Sterling thinks. There are a lot more
important, less ethereal, things to life. Sterling doesn’t get hot and bothered over his friend’s
repressions. All in all, no question, their relationship is strong, even if they are occasionally using one
another. It’s consensual after all.
       Arresting the hosts’ son can be a real party-pooper. The remaining parents of the downstairs mob
figure it is time to get home. Most are departing.
       Senior is winding up a long and apparently involved chat with Catherine and Pandely. They have
given him an obviously complicated explanation of the events surrounding their son, which Senior has
taken in without comment and which has sobered him up. He put down his bourbon and branch water
a while back and hasn’t given libation additional thought. To most people Senior comes across as a
stereotype of the old South. He promotes this image, with his drawl, his Mark Twain moustache, his
suspenders and bow tie and linen suit. No doubt he is a shrew businessman, or perhaps he is just well
leveraged; like commodity speculators and has seen his share of good times and bad times; he hardly
recalls the latter. Thanks to inheritance he is landed gentry, but successes of his own doing follow a
simple pattern: he is instinctive; he doesn’t mull things over. He is a decider. In this regard he is very
much like Sterling, which is why he takes such a keen interest in the young man and has been closely
following the parents’ analysis. But instinct has an associated negative: impulsivity. What some
people call rashness, Senior calls impulsivity. Over his career he’s come to believe that the quality of
his decisions (based on their eventual outcomes) bears no relationship to the length of time it took him
to reach them. He does not consider impulsiveness to be a negative quality; quite the opposite.
Wanton impulsiveness is not desirable, of course, but to be a risk-taker, a successful risk-taker, is a true
achievement. The mold from which Senior was cast, he feels, is the same that produced Sterling, but
not his own son, who is now getting impatient as he tries to decide whether he should interrupt his
conversation with the Eumorfopouloses. Junior is too well bred and indecisive to interrupt, so Senior
offers his condolences and heads back over to his son. What a contrast with young Sterling, he thinks:
one incisive and impulsive and the other so wishy-washy that it took him three full years to announce
he’s queer. You either know or you don’t, don’t you? If you have to think about something for a long
time, then it’s just not worth thinking about.
      He reaches William Jr. who is holding a piece of paper with the name of a lawyer. For a moment
they exchange no words. Junior looked anticipatory, fearing a bad decision from his father, who said:
      “We’re gonna sit this one out, Junior. That means we are not personally involved, you
understand? Your friend has to get out of his own mess. Now you set up a meeting between this
Constitutional lawyer and Sterling. Just them. He can send me the first bill, you understand. Make
that perfectly clear to everyone, FIRST bill. Now get your car and drive us home.”
      Junior looks at his father; he wants to hug him, but that would be a first and it could give the ol’
man a stroke or worse.
      “Thanks, dad,” he says.
      If that didn’t give Senior a stroke, nothing could. In his seventeen years on this planet, during
most of which he’s been quite verbal, William Junior has never, not once as far as Senior can recall,
called the elder Duke “dad.” It’s always “sir.” It would have been less of a shock if his son had called
him “you son of a fuckin’ bitch” and maybe more appropriate, but to be called “dad,” well, that just
calls for another bourbon.

Chapter 7
      Sterling is angry. He is not especially angry at the man who had him brought here, the man
sitting behind the expansive wooden desk. A very impressive desk, perhaps antebellum. The man is
less impressive today, though; he is dressed like it is a Friday dress down. Maybe with a Zegna and a
shave, he’d look more impressive. But now he doesn’t look like he’d be capable of selling a free lunch
to a starving jury. He had seemed much more impressive on his campaign posters when he had been an
unsuccessful candidate a few years back. It is clear, seeing him in person, that he had definitely been
Photoshopped for political purposes. The billboards had him with a youthful head of hair, substituting
for the depressing reality: he is apparently loosing combfuls on an almost daily basis. A comb-over
will be less than a year away. Nor is Sterling angry at the young cops – Ben, Suhail and Betty – who
have deposited him as instructed and then gone to their respective homes to do whatever young off-
duty cops do when they’re not keeping the peace by intimidating the public. They were just following
orders, like the proverbial death camp guards. That Ben’s eye had already begun to smart from
Sterling’s instinctive elbow was a matter for only delayed concern. He cannot be charged with
resisting arrest since he hasn’t been formally arrested. At least he hasn’t been Mirandized, which
amounts to the same thing. In any case he’d ask his father to give Ben a bottle of Agiorghitiko from
Nemea (his grandfolks had given them a case) as compensatory damages for the totally instinctive
elbow. That is, once he is able to speak to his father. Nor is Sterling angry at the dressed-down man’s
secretary who sports a rather perturbed face, perhaps because as a salaried county employee she does
not qualify for overtime. Having to spend Sunday evening of Memorial Day weekend in the otherwise
empty, and thus colder and danker than usual, county courthouse deprives her of the single spot on her
weekly calendar earmarked for spending time with her grandchildren. Sterling is an infringement.
That would not endear him to her. He sort of recognizes this woman’s face; maybe this lady has
attended some school function, he isn’t sure (his perfect memory doesn’t extend to faces). Nine
o’clock on a Sunday night is no time for anyone to be in an office, certainly not in a public office. Not
even the janitors need to work Sunday evenings. None of that, however, makes him angry. What
upsets him is all the production value that had been assigned to this little drama: handcuffs, three
policemen, crowd of photo-phone snapping friends, etc. Couldn’t he have just been asked to come
over here; it’s only a few minutes’ walk from The Sterling. Obviously the miserably mantled man is
sending him a message; Sterling doesn’t like unsolicited messages.
      Save for the lone security guard downstairs, the Durham County Judicial Building is devoid of
most humanity this evening except for three people: Sterling whose actions have convoked this
meeting; county District Attorney “Smilin’ Jack” John Miles, who is actually convoking the meeting;
and his assistant, the older woman whom Sterling has mistakenly assumed to be his secretary. She is in
fact the lead attorney on the case, which is represented by the legal-sized manila folder that lies in front
of her on her boss’s desk. The folder is crisp, almost virginal; at this point it has only the beginnings of
a docket number, printed in bold: GJ-05-05-07-. Miles is the interim district attorney for the state’s
14th prosecutorial district, usually an elected office, but in the wake of the scandal involving an earlier
occupant, the infamous Mike Nifong, it has gone fallow from time to time and has had to be reseeded
from the state’s pool of available prosecutorial types, sort of a temp agency for ambitious politicos.
Miles was appointed to the job a few months back.
      Let no one deny that Mr. Miles has a wandering eye on politics. Whenever he can, he stands in
front of the cameras to announce to his potential constituents that he is doing his utmost to keep bad
guys off the street and behind bars. It is for that very reason that Sterling sits in front of him. He sees
in the boy not just a lanky teenager, no better or worse than the average punk he has to deal with.
Given his impressive school record and solid middle class background, one would suppose that this boy
has a clean record. One would figure that the background check by his assistant would have produced
no history of run-ins with the law. The thick file in front of him begs to differ. Miles is now reviewing
the last few pages of that vast file. It seems strange to Miles that a kid this young can have
accumulated such a record, without actually having a record. Did the Durham police force stick a
target sign on his back and enjoy harassing him? “Traffic Court Comedy;” “Father Arrests Son;”
“Youth Gang Charged – Could Lose Licenses Before Old Enough To Drive” read a few of the
newspaper clippings – the file folder brims over with such indications that this teen has a mischievous
streak about him that differs from that of the common hoodlum. Now that he has read the file, Miles
wished it had been prepared for him before he had interviewed Sterling the previous meeting. The
historical record does not augur well for what might happen in the grand jury session. This boy is
extremely difficult to read, and perhaps he will not be the reliable the witness Miles had once expected.
More like a loose cannon, which is why this meeting is so important. Still, on paper, Sterling has had
no convictions; he should be credible; he’s handsome in a Southern European kind of way; he could
well be a sterling witness for the grand jury. Smilin’ Jack smiles at his own pun. And if Sterling
continued his obstinacy, he’d just elevate him from witness to subject. Let him plead the Fifth; he’ll
get him either way.
      Three types of people appear before grand juries: witness, subject and target. A witness has
information related to the investigation but is not under any suspicion. A target is someone who will
probably be charged. A subject lies somewhere in between: a person who has engaged in suspicious
conduct but, since the DA is not yet sure if a crime can be established, the prosecutor is looking for
more information before the target nomenclature can be used. In local as well as federal grand jury
proceedings witnesses are subpoenaed and do not have a constitutional right to have counsel present
during the proceedings. Refusing to testify by invoking the Fifth Amendment against self-
incrimination red flags the prosecutor and the witness is then often considered a target.
      This is the second time that Sterling and Mr. Miles have met. It has been the District Attorney’s
pleasure and honor to have conferred with the lad two weeks earlier. It was agreed then that Sterling
would return a few days later to receive some papers and sign some documents. Just a formality; no
appointment necessary. The papers rest in the folder in front of Mrs. Abernathy, and they still have not
been signed. In fact, it appears to Mr. Miles that Sterling has been avoiding him. The boy had not
responded to numerous emails, texts, faxes and phone calls placed by Mrs. Abernathy. It is as if he has
removed himself from all communicative media. Mrs. Abernathy is particularly perturbed that she had
not even been transferred to voice-mail; rather she had received a curt message that the cell was not
receiving a signal. How, she wondered could she get the message that it was not receiving a signal
unless it was receiving her signal in the first place. Nevertheless, she suspected the boy used caller ID
and had blacklisted her number, or rather any number dialed from the court house. She has a sly
granddaughter who does the same sort of thing whenever her parents want her to do a chore. “Out of
cell range,” she always explains. Also Mrs. Abernathy became most annoyed when a registered letter
to Sterling was returned: “refused by recipient.”
       The grand jury is to convene Tuesday morning with only two operating days before its term runs
out. The term, which had been extended to its maximum length of 24 months, will expire and not even
an act of God can prolong its life; any unresolved business will necessarily be lost. If a DA wishes, the
next impaneled grand jury can begin from scratch any work unfinished by its predecessor. It cannot,
however, have access to testimony or deliberation done by the former. A new grand jury is scheduled
to be empowered the following week, but Miles wants to get the ball rolling so the court case can begin
in October. (The election is November.) In addition Mr. Miles prides himself in being a closer; DAs
who leave their grand juries with opened files subject their management abilities and very competence
to attack by political rivals. Yes, the squad car and handcuffs were a bit of overkill. Yet the kid needed
to realize the serious nature of this matter. Anyway, Miles had the parents’ permission; and who knows
a child better than its parents. Obviously, this kid is quiet stubborn. Miles had sent him a muscular
message; he knew it had been received.
       Certainly, if he were honest to himself, Sterling would plead guilty to the charge of avoiding the
DA. Of course he knew the courthouse was trying to get in touch with him. He had received and
faithfully ignored all texts and faxes, and he had refused to allow them onto his voice-mail. It was his
phone; he has the right to refuse access. He had also told the postman not to deliver the registered
letter – “Uncle Sterling went back to Greece, deported I think; this is the American address he gave
immigration” – figuring that the letter would be marked as “undeliverable;” he had not realized that the
postman would tick the box for “refused” not believing that such an uncle even existed. Sterling does
not know much about the workings of the Post Office; he avoids pieces of paper. All in all he figured
he could just sluff off this matter, this minor nuisance. He had also told a process server that Sterling
didn’t live there anymore, a story apparently accepted. At the moment he was still in the clear. He had
never formally received the subpoena; that’s what they wanted his signature for, to acknowledge receipt
of the subpoena. Thus, he had not yet been served. Once the grand jury’s term expires in a few days,
he will be home free. Of course, another grand jury could be convened, but Sterling figures this to be
unlikely as it would little benefit the political career of the DA. A new grand jury would not have
sufficient time to deal with this case; there are surely witnesses other than Sterling; and the jury has
other matters on its plate, homicides and the like, that are more urgent. The matter involving Sterling
is, in his humble opinion, not anywhere on the main road of justice, merely an unimportant detour that
this particularly obsessed jury and this particularly ambitious DA are enjoying.
       District Attorneys handle or manage grand juries, but since the jury meets only one or two days a
month, it takes some time for the members to get a working rapport with their de facto supervisor. The
jurors’ job is to produce indictments based on “probable cause” – a reasonable ground to believe a
crime occurred. They don’t have to deliberate as seriously as a petit (or trial) jury, the body that must
ultimately produce an actual verdict of guilt or innocence. The grand jury issues an indictment, not a
conviction, and although they can cause people a lot of grief, they cannot do much irreparable damage
(like a wrongful conviction). Anyway, most of their indictments are based on the DA’s evidence which
seems pretty straight forward (the DA does not obfuscate, which is a job for the attorneys for the
defense!), for felonies such as homicide, rape, child abuse and the like. Grand jury indictments earn a
high conviction rate, which of course varies district to district, DA to DA. At the federal level it’s
somewhere between 95%-98%. Even when grand juries fail to indict, a DA can pursue a case. North
Carolina is one of 23 states that require grand jury indictments for serious crimes. No way Sterling is
involved in a serious crime, he believes. But there is a stronger case, psychologically at least, if there’s
a grand jury indictment. And that’s probably the logic behind the investigation Sterling is party to.
       Grand jury operations are about dynamics: the working relationship between prosecutor and
jurors. This relationship is usually good, as evidenced by the fact that local grand juries indict in more
than 90 percent of cases presented to them. In a few instances juries can be obstinate and not want to
pursue particular types of cases, for example when they think the DA is over-reaching or has a political
axe to grind; on the other hand, juries can be stubborn in wanting to pursue a certain line that interests
them more than it interests the DA. In either instance you would have a bad rapport between juror and
prosecutor or even conflict. This is not, however, the case with DA Miles and the current grand jury,
who are all on the same wavelength. The forewoman even brings him her favorite (and now his
favorite) baked good: hot blueberry muffins. There’s no law against food flirting, not in North Carolina
at least. Miles and “his” jurors are unanimous in wanting Sterling to testify and they need him to
testify Tuesday, Wednesday at the absolute latest, so they can issue their indictment before retiring from
public service. Without him the case evaporates. That’s why he was generously offered immunity for
his minor, if fundamental, role in this matter.
      For one of the few times in his life, Sterling does not know exactly what to do. He faces what’s
called a moral dilemma, a situation he has heretofore only read about. The two week interval from his
previous visit to the DA was supposed to produce a quick fix to this problem, an idea that would have
arrived to Sterling by its own accord. He waited for this burning bush but found none. He suffered no
epiphany, no brainstorm, not even a mild clue. The problem, on its surface, is pretty straight forward:
whether or not to testify as witness. It gets a bit more complex. If he refuses witnesshood, perhaps
they will charge him with some sort of misdemeanor, certainly nothing more than a misdemeanor. This
would be just a nuisance. It would most likely be a Class 2 misdemeanor under North Carolina
General Statues §14-190.9, which would be the ultimate in silliness. He could plead out. Or he’d
welcome his day in court as the matter involves freedom of speech issues worth defending. But this
issue is now at the Mayberry, NC, level of justice and no decision is likely to climb up the legal
pyramid to a more serious jurisprudence. Still, in the worse case scenario he could receive a $500 fine,
mandatory counseling or community service. Nothing to be sneezed about.
      Mrs. Abernathy opens the folder and hands the subpoena to Mr. Miles, who hands it to Sterling,
saying he has now been served.
      “I don’t want to testify,” Sterling says.
      “That’s your right. 10 A.M. Tuesday,” Miles adds as he opens the door for Sterling.
      “I know I said I’d testify. I didn’t exactly lie. I’ve had second thoughts,”
      Sterling looks back at Mrs. Abernathy.
      “I’m sorry, mam, for being rude, not answering your calls and messages. I just haven’t been able
to make up my mind. I don’t want to testify. I should have confronted this in a more mature way. I’m
      “You know your options.” she replies. “Not showing up is not an option.”
      “And not telling the truth, under oath, is not an option,” Miles adds.
      “I know, this is not a game,” he says, candidly behind not the thinnest veneer of protection.
      The short walk home hardly gives Sterling sufficient time to put the evening’s events into
perspective. He briefly examines the subpoena and the related materials as he walks down the six
flights of stairs. The stairwell is motion sensitive and the lights buzz alive each time he approaches the
next landing. He has walked not because he needs exercise, although he had missed today’s training
(Maybe he has time to go to the gym for an hour; he isn’t very tired; but he needs Sara and he doesn’t
know if he can fit in boxing as well). He has to walk the stairs because the DA refused to command the
elevator, which like everything else in the building has taken the holiday weekend off. If he had agreed
to the DA’s demand, the prosecutor would have surely used his key to fetch the elevator.
      The subpoena is straight forward. The accompanying materials are largely boiler plate. A copy of
the relevant statute is also included:
     North Carolina General Statutes § 15A-623 Grand jury proceedings and operation in general
       (a) The finding of an indictment, the return of a presentment, and every other affirmative official action or
decision of the grand jury requires the concurrence of at least 12 members of the grand jury.
       (b) The foreman presides over all hearings and has the power to administer oaths or affirmations to all
       (c) The foreman must indicate on each bill of indictment or presentment the witness or witnesses sworn
and examined before the grand jury. Failure to comply with this provision does not vitiate a bill of indictment or
       (d) During the deliberations and voting of a grand jury, only the grand jurors may be present in the grand
jury room. During its other proceedings, the following persons, in addition to a witness being examined, may, as
the occasion requires, also be present:
       (1) An interpreter, if needed.
       (2) A law-enforcement officer holding a witness in custody.
       Any person other than a witness who is permitted in the grand jury room must first take an oath before the
grand jury that he will keep secret all matters before it within his knowledge.
       (e) Grand jury proceedings are secret and, except as expressly provided in this Article, members of the
grand jury and all persons present during its sessions shall keep its secrets and refrain from disclosing anything
which transpires during any of its sessions.
       (f) The presiding judge may direct that a bill of indictment be kept secret until the defendant is arrested or
appears before the court. The clerk must seal the bill of indictment and no person including a witness may
disclose the finding of the bill of indictment, or the proceedings leading to the finding, except when necessary
for the issuance and execution of an order of arrest.
       (g) Any grand juror or other person authorized to attend sessions of the grand jury and bound to keep its
secrets who discloses, other than to his attorney, matters occurring before the grand jury other than in accordance
with the provisions of this section is in contempt of court and subject to proceedings in accordance with law.
       (h) If a grand jury is convened pursuant to G.S. 15A-622(h), notwithstanding subsection (d) of this section,
a prosecutor shall be present to examine witnesses, and a court reporter shall be present and record the
examination of witnesses. The record shall be transcribed. If the prosecutor determines that it is necessary to
compel testimony from the witness, he may grant use immunity to the witness. The grant of use immunity shall
be given to the witness in writing by the prosecutor and shall be signed by the prosecutor. The written grant of
use immunity shall also be read into the record by the prosecutor and shall include an explanation of use
immunity as provided in G.S. 15A-1051. A witness shall have the right to leave the grand jury room to consult
with his counsel at reasonable intervals and for a reasonable period of time upon the request of the witness.
Notwithstanding subsection (e) of this section, the record of the examination of witnesses shall be made
available to the examining prosecutor, and he may disclose contents of the record to other investigative or law-
enforcement officers, the witness or his attorney to the extent that the disclosure is appropriate to the proper
performance of his official duties. The record of the examination of a witness may be used in a trial to the extent
that it is relevant and otherwise admissible. Further disclosure of grand jury proceedings convened pursuant to
this act may be made upon written order of a superior court judge if the judge determines disclosure is essential:
       (1) To prosecute a witness who appeared before the grand jury for contempt or perjury; or
       (2) To protect a defendant’s constitutional rights or statutory rights to discovery pursuant to G.S. 15A-903.
       Upon the convening of the investigative grand jury pursuant to approval by the three-judge panel, the
district attorney shall subpoena the witnesses. The subpoena shall be served by the investigative grand jury
officer, who shall be appointed by the court. The name of the person subpoenaed and the issuance and service of
the subpoena shall not be disclosed, except that a witness so subpoenaed may divulge that information. The
presiding superior court judge shall hear any matter concerning the investigative grand jury in camera to the
extent necessary to prevent disclosure of its existence. The court reporter for the investigative grand jury shall be
present and record and transcribe the in camera proceeding. The transcription of any in camera proceeding and a
copy of all subpoenas and other process shall be returned to the Chief Justice or to such member of the three-
judge panel as the Chief Justice may designate, to be filed with the Clerk of the North Carolina Supreme Court.
The subpoena shall otherwise be subject to the provisions of G.S. 15A-801 and Article 43 of Chapter 15A. When
an investigative grand jury has completed its investigation of the crimes alleged in the petition, the investigative
functions of the grand jury shall be dissolved and such investigation shall cease. The District Attorney shall file a
notice of dissolution of the investigative functions of the grand jury with the Clerk of the North Carolina
Supreme Court. (1973, c. 1286, s. 1; 1985 (Reg. Sess., 1986), c. 843, ss. 3, 6; 1987 (Reg. Sess., 1988), c. 1040,
ss. 1, 4; 1989 (Reg. Sess., 1990), c. 1039, s. 4; 1991, c. 686, ss. 2, 3.)
       Sterling glances over NCGS §15A-623 but does not activate his deep retention skills. If needed
he will study the document later and at that time most certainly commit it to memory, an unintended-
unintentional result that is part of how he learns. When he was a youngster, Sterling’s brain, especially
his remarkable memory, had been studied by neurologists at local universities a second time. He had
been forced to visit the lab coats again, this time by the school psychologist. The scientists had
concurred that Sterling possessed extraordinary memory skill, which accounts for his ability to score
high on standardized tests, including the so-called IQ tests. That was when they had diagnosed his
amusia; it was the connection between extraordinary memory and amusia that most interested these
scientists (different from those he had visited five years before). Sterling was told, via his parents, that
he does not possess a photographic memory, just a good memory. This verdict arrived, in part, because
these neurologists share a mainstream belief with their colleagues around the world that eidetic
memory – extraordinarily detailed and vivid recall of visual or auditory images – is extremely rare, if it
exists at all. Thus, the conclusion that Sterling could not possess something that doesn’t exist. The
literature is replete with cases of individuals who have memories equal to or even superior to Sterling’s.
Some people with autism spectrum disorders, especially savants, show a kind of eidetic memory, but it
is limited, often to art or music. But there are no undisputed cases of people with a memory for a
sensory event that is as accurate as if the person were still viewing, or hearing, the original event. “No-
one claiming to have long-term eidetic memory has been able to prove this in scientific tests,”
according to Wikipedia, one of Sterling’s constant digital companions, which he accepts as only an
approximation for truth; (he is always careful in handling Wiki’s interpretative facts that rise out of
group consensus. “Facts are not facts just because there’s a common belief,” he has explained.)
       The statute reiterated that a witness does not have a constitutional right to have counsel present
during the grand jury proceedings. This is one reason Sterling had not consulted a lawyer; internet web
sites, mostly by lawyers whose firms are guns for hire, suggested he rent a lawyer, but the description
they gave of the grand jury process was so clear-cut as to vitiate the need to pay for legal counsel.
Sterling, who has good business sense, would have advised them to make the process more mysterious;
that would bring in customers, rather than drive them away, as Sterling had been driven away. The
internet didn’t say too much about Carolina procedure but the state apparently conforms to the ways of
federal grand juries, whose subpoenas are issued pursuant to Rule 17 of the Federal Rules of Criminal
Procedure; there was plenty of information on federal grand juries which are forever going after
mobsters and crooked politicians in a nation with an ample supply of both.
       Billy/William had been hassling Sterling to bring a lawyer on board from day one. He never
seriously considered this kind, if somewhat misinformed, advice from his friend. When he checked his
iPhone, he noted that one of the 162 texts was from Billy, who Sterling was still having difficulty
referring to as William. William was, and will always be, the father. Maybe he should call them Junior
and Senior, but that seemed so silly for the younger and insufficiently respectful for the elder. Calling
the son Willy, not a particularly attractive name for a gay man but enough of a Billy homonym with
sufficient Southern drawl, would make for an easier transition but certainly his friend would see this as
a mere downgrade. At the moment perhaps he would go with Will; maybe that would be acceptable. If
he couldn’t break himself of the habit, he’d recommend that Will buy him a collar, one like dogs wear
that shocks them when they bark. They could program the collar to give a shock anytime Sterling said
Billy. Sterling figures if it worked on dogs, it might work on him, also. In any case, Will’s text is the
only one Sterling plans to read this evening. He opens it, reads it once, and then read sit word-for-word
to access tone. Sometimes you receive shocking messages; this is one of those. Usually these types of
electronic shocks result when the sender is in a wretched mood and lets the subconscious do his talking.
It’s often soon followed up with a clarification cum apology and the entire abject thread is something
best to forget (which of course is not one of Sterling’s modi operandi). The text reads:
      Sterl - I have talked with Senior & your parents. You will meet tomorrow, Monday, with Professor Hunter
O’Connor, Institute of Constitutional Law, Van Hecke-Wettach, UNC at 3 pm. This is not optional Sterling.
This is a friendship braker if you do not meet with Prof O’Connor who can help you - William
      Sterling peruses the messages again. This is no clarification cum apology. Mr. O’Connor will
come into his office on a holiday to meet with him? Why? William did who-knows-what to
accomplish such a feat. Besides sometimes being a tease William has one important four-letter word in
his favor: Duke.
      He speed dials William and gets his voice-mail: not generic voice-mail but one with a specific
target in mind. He hears William’s voice, somewhere between distraught and angry, certainly backed
up by sobs before or after the recording:
      “You are my best friend. If you miss that appointment I will never speak to you again. I am so
fuckin’ serious.”
      Sterling taps off the phone. Such a drama queen; two profane outbursts in a single day, something
Sterling can hardly believe. Enough already, he thinks. I’ll see the fuckin’ professor, Billy, Bill,
William, Will, Willy, whatever you want to call yourself. It’s bad enough to have Senior and his own
parents involved. Sterling wants his life back but will accept advice from others if there’s no other
      He glances over the subpoena again. It gives time, date and place. Additionally, he is to bring
with him “a digital copy, on CD, DVD, or USB flash drive in standard format a copy of the adult video
known as Smiley Boy.” It describes the video in sufficient detail so it will not be possible for a
reasonable person to mistakenly bring the wrong video. Smiley Boy as far as Sterling knows is a
unique presentation. Apparently the DA is wise to Sterling’s tricks. He figures that the grand jury
doesn’t really need a copy of the video, of course. It undoubtedly already has one, or has been shown a
copy, or at least knows where to find it on the Web. Receiving a copy from witness Sterling is what is
      Sterling doesn’t know how to assess the District Attorney. Mr. Miles had seemed friendly enough
when they had struck their earlier deal, the one Sterling wants now to renege on. But in the office
tonight, Sterling was kept waiting at the desk as the prosecutor leafed through his dossier. Sterling had
noted one newspaper clipping and he is pretty certain what the folder contained: mostly clippings about
the bikegate.
      When Sterling was twelve, he and his fellow pre-teens in the Friday Nights – they called their
confederacy “The B Club” but only among themselves – had sometimes stayed in The Sterling, a sort
of roughing-it sleep-over. For the suburban kids, like Jeremiah or the Trips, who never got downtown
except to visit Sterling, just spending the night in the ghetto was an enriching experience. The Sterling
was hardly located in the ghetto, which was across town if anywhere. Their neighbors were mostly
office and government buildings, such as the court house. Saturday morning Sterling and the gang
would get on their bicycles and Sterling would give them a tour of downtown Durham, boldly ignoring
as many traffic lights and traffic signs as possible. Being helmeted – as Pandely required – merely
encouraged them to be more reckless than usual. They had received some fist raising by local
merchants, Chinese laundries and the like, and apparently at least one merchant had called the police.
Several warnings from his father to obey the rules of the road had fallen on deaf ears. Back in those
days Sterling was on more civil terms with the socially awkward Trips, who attended B Club functions.
They had a special bicycle, one built for three, and they dared Sterling to see how many red lights they
could run without (or before) killing themselves. Sterling didn’t like the idea and would not have taken
the dare except for their harmonizing an impromptu verse…
     Daddy is a cop
     Daddy is a cop
     He’s so chicken-shitty
     He’s so chicken-shitty
     Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.
      …and Sterling had to immediately surrender to the dare before the other club members joined in
the round.
      They biked up and down Main Street and then West Pettigrew several times, after which Sterling
was ready to head home. The Trips, however, had a different idea and got out in front and veered into
West Chapel Hill Street, heading toward Duke University. The gang followed while Sterling was in the
rear frantically yelling “No, no, wrong street.” They ran the customary red light, as there was no
opposing traffic and went past the Amtrak Station into the 500 block, right past the main police station.
Arriving at Duke they turned around to return back to the Sterling, riding several abreast, behaving as
pre-teens are expected to behave. This time they were met with force at the police station. About a
dozen officers approached. Each assigned himself to an individual bicyclist and wrote each boy a
personalized ticket. After some discussion they decided to give the Trips three individual tickets, so
their fines amounted to $150 plus estimated court costs of $393. The Trips were all in tears, which
didn’t phase any of the police who were reading their assigned juveniles the riot act for various
violations which had been recorded on traffic control cameras. These included: failure to obey traffic
signal or stop; following too closely; illegal passing; driving in the wrong lane; reckless driving; failure
to yield to right-of-way, and in the cases of the boys who did not carry identification or money (this
was in the years before the Chinese licenses), vagrancy. The fact that North Carolina had abandoned
vagrancy laws, a catch-all category that had been used primary to entrap blacks, did not deter the
police. Sterling put up a verbal fight and was giving the police officers, all of whom he knew and
liked, a lot of lip. Part of it was show, part of it was his disapproval that his rights were being violated.
He didn’t know all the small print, but he was pretty sure the police could not fine 12 year olds. He
calculated the total would be over $1500.
      The Police Chief, himself, his father’s superior and boss’s boss’s boss, approached after the racket
had interfered with a staff meeting.
      “Sterling, if you say another word, I swear I’ll throw the lot of you in a cell with nothing but a pot
to piss in.”
      Sterling was quiet for only a moment before he started, “Chief, you have no right…”
      And with that, the Friday Night boys became Saturday afternoon juvenile delinquents, packed
into a single cell and given a toilet bucket.
      The bicycles were confiscated as evidence. The boys had expected their parents to arrive but
none did. Sterling had feared that locking John Dewey up would be problematic but he proved a loyal
trooper. At shift change, the new officers turned them out of their cell, with no explanation. They
knew nothing about the bicycles which, if they had been logged in as evidence, had no right to be
returned. The boys walked the mile or so back to The Sterling, where various parents were arriving to
take the bikeless boys home. Pandely informed the parents they could pick up the bicycles at the
station whenever convenient. Sterling promised his friends he would sort this out; he collected all the
tickets which he told them they would not have to pay.
      That night his father had nothing to say about the day’s incident. Sterling rightly suspected his
father was behind the whole matter, as a way to teach him and his friends, but especially to teach
Sterling himself, to obey traffic laws. But for Sterling the matter was nowhere near settled.
      First, he sought the internet for advice. He acquainted himself with his rights and the relevant
state statutes. Kids, he learned, were important enough to rate their own set of laws and courts and
social workers, all covered in legalese in NCGS Chapter 7B: Juvenile Code. In most situations North
Carolina juveniles (under 16) cannot be charged with a crime or fined for one. There is a separate
system set up for them. But what Sterling and the gang had done was not criminal. They were not
even misdemeanors, merely infractions. Bad bicycling, at the most, is an infraction of the DMV code
except Sterling could find no provision in that code for punishing bad bicycling committed by
juveniles. Their incarceration was, therefore, blatantly illegal; he would like to say it was inhumane.
One pot to piss in verges on torture in his opinion, especially when the Trips must urinate ensemble,
enveloping the cell in a Niagara Falls quality mist. But the fact they were given an excellent lunch of
hamburgers, chicken and pizza from the local fast food outlets sort of demolished the violation of
human rights argument. Nevertheless, the Durham police had tried to imitate Andy Griffith and ended
up looking more like Don Knotts.
      The first thing Monday afternoon, which was conveniently a school holiday, Sterling went to
court. He had studied up on traffic tickets. The most important point everyone made: never admit
guilt. The system is built on laziness. For most people it’s easiest just to pay a fine rather than to spend
the countless hours of emotional energy needed to fight the system with its obstinate rules and
procedures. Emotional energy, however, was something Sterling had in spades. He arrived with a
twelve page document, with graphics and Google-street-views of the routes they had cycled, with
photos of the traffic cameras that were alleged to have caught their crimes. He disputed each and every
ticket, mostly on details, lack of eyewitness accounts, etc. It was not possible that the police had a
video to contest Sterling’s factual account. Even his father had once admitted that most of the cameras
were on the blink and served more of a public relations ploy. Sterling in his brief argued that as a class
the juveniles – all with perfect records with not a single shoplifting offense among them – were being
harassed and hounded because they were a powerless minority. He said he welcomed his day in court.
He had faxed the document, under the title “Local Police Abuse Bicycling Tots” to all the newspapers
in the Triangle, as well as to the local chapter of the ACLU and various liberal-minded churches.
      The internet had advised Sterling how to navigate around the courthouse. A member of the
blogosphere said he had called the court and “a very nice woman” had told him “to come down to the
courthouse between 2 and 4 and talk to them.” He then gave readers specific directions:
      “When you go into the lobby of the courthouse, through the checkpoint, go to the LEFT. There
will be two officers standing there. On their left, go through the door and keep going straight. Then
take a right. If you go left, that is the courtroom. Don’t go in there. When you do take that right, there
will be a bunch of people snaking around in a long line up to a U-shaped desk. At the U-shaped desk
are two magistrates. The entire place seemed filled with people who had done this a million times.”
      The author himself admitted to his readers that he had rolled thru a stop sign, which had been
obscured by high bushes. “Officer was there just waiting for me” he admitted, confessing his infraction
to readers.
      The blogger continued his explanation: “The other people’s infractions were a lot worse than
mine, too. Many seemed to know each other. The guy standing behind me seemed to be very familiar
with the decisions of the male judge and was afraid of getting him; he did end up getting him. The
other judge, was new, female and young.”
      The essayist talked his way out of the fine, although he still had to pay court costs. Most
important he was given a PJC, so he would receive no points against his driving record, he would not
have to go to defensive driving school and his insurance rates would not rise. Bless North Carolina for
being one of two states (with its neighbor to the south) which have PJCs. It took a few clicks before
Sterling understood what a PJC was. The initials stand for Prayer for Judgment Continued. No wonder
North Carolina has such a solid reputation for being a speed trap, Sterling reasoned. PJCs are
something that allow the money-empowered to get away with their offenses. After you accept
responsibility for the infraction (in effect pleading guilty to a misdemeanor or felony), the judge may
choose to issue a PJC. In technical terms it is an adjudication of guilt by the court, without an entry of
judgment. In other words a PJC is officially not a conviction because no final judgment has been
entered. It reminded Sterling of going downstairs to Vegas with his dad. Crime without punishment.
He quite liked the idea of PJCs. It made him proud to be Carolinian. He’d get off without a record and
his parents would get stuck with the fine, which they had earned for being duplicitous. Sterling had
learned from other Friday Nighters that Pandely had phoned each set of parents and asked their
permission to administer some “tough love” and “pretend jail” to the adolescents as a lesson. (He had
been told it had worked with Alfred Hitchcock, whose life of crimes he committed only on film.) “Let
me read you some statistics on how many children die on their bicycles,” Pandely would start. He
would usually get no more than several years into the data before the parent agreed to the proposed
punishment. None had objected, to Sterling’s lack of chagrin. William Senior had even suggested to
throw the “little shavers in jail all weekend, bread and water.” The Vaneys realized it was all Sterling’s
doing, of course, but they had no choice but to go with the majority opinion of the parents. The Trips
were home schooled and their Friday Nights offered them a rare opportunity to interact with their
peers, to be socialized. In the real world, they reckoned, you must take the good with the bad (their
blessed Trips with the likes of Sterling).
       Sterling had written a paragraph instructing the judge on the appropriateness of the PJC in this
case. But he had not anticipated two things. First, that all those faxes he send actually would be read.
A dozen reporters and photographers were on the courthouse steps to greet him (he had given them the
specific time of his arrival and had offered to give them each an exclusive interview. Exclusivity was a
matter he would have to deal with momentarily.) Second, he had anticipated that the magistrate would
skim the documentation or just be impressed by its authoritativeness, issue a summary verdict, dispense
a PJC and hand him a bill for costs. The judge, however, took one look at the document and assigned
him a court date before Sterling had time to object. Each judge assigns cases to the other judge (to
avoid conflicts of interest, supposedly) and these two judges didn’t especially like each other; they
would gleefully assign tough nut cases or those involving assholes to their colleague. Whether Sterling
was deemed a tough nut or not was not readily apparent from the action of the assigning magistrate.
But assigning a teenage jail house lawyer type to her vile colleague had made her day.
       The boy thus had another week to prepare for court. He worked up a powerful PowerPoint
presentation on Jeremiah’s Dell (Sterling was waiting for his own parents to give him his first laptop.)
On the Friday Night before court the gang rehearsed all their testimony. They practiced cute smiles and
batting their eyelashes in a way to make them look the most innocent. If confronted with an accusation
of running lights or stop signs, they were told not to lie, just start crying if they couldn’t think of
anything better. They had already alerted their teachers that they would need a hour off for a medical
type appointment. Sterling had told them not to lie, just conveniently not to tell all the truth. Say
“medical type” not “medical,” he had advised. This he had to reinforce on the Trips, whom he couldn’t
trust to follow directions. The Trips for their part had agreed to give testimony together which seemed
logical since they had shared the offending vehicle.
       Court was 10 A.M. a midweek morning. Jeremiah had scoped out the location, which was not set
up for PowerPoint. He had brought all the necessary extension cords and cables and even a portable
screen. The print media, as well as the local radio stations had of course been alerted and they were
handed PowerPoint diskettes. Sterling had already received a lot of press. He had had his photo in
three local papers and he gave the press photos of the gang on their bikes. The Trip-cycle was featured
in four papers. Sterling had a knack for turning phrases and that had ingratiated himself with the press,
which thrives on nothing if not a cute quote. He also had an instinct for parceling out information so
that no single journalist got all the details and so that no two stories were exactly alike. All rose as
Judge Winters entered.
       This was only traffic court but given all the boys in coats and ties and their parents, it looked more
like the glee club with its support group. First two cases were heard quickly by the judge and then he
read off a list of eleven boys’ names and turned to his clerk:
       “This a consolidation?”
       “Yes, your honor.”
       The boys crowded around the single seat allowed the defendant, wondering who should take the
       “It won’t take long, you can stand,” the judge said. “You have a spokesman?” he asked.
       “It is I, your honor, judge,” Sterling replied.
       “And you are the author of this twelve-page tome, young man.”
       “Yes sir, I am.”
       “And do I understand correctly that you want to plead guilty to the various infractions, which you
say you did not commit, as long as the court gives you a Prayer for Judgment Continued.”
       “Your honor, sir, it’s not my duty to inform the court how to rule, but I do think that would be a
fair verdict.”
       “Yeah, yeah. Do we have the arresting officer or officers in court?” Judge Winters asked to no
one in particular.
       “Jane Abernathy for the department and the prosecutor, your honor.”
       At this moment, in the replay of the event of five years past, as he walks home, Sterling now
realizes why Mrs. Abernathy looks so familiar. The Mrs. Abernathy of bikegate is the same Mrs.
Abernathy of the current Smiley Boy matter. Sterling may have a superb memory but his facial
recognition abilities are sub-normal. In fact, the second group of neurologists had suspected he likely
suffers from prosopagnosia, so-called face blindness. In its severest forms one is unable to recognize
faces or even objects. Fortunately for Sterling he has a mild form and this is not a progressive disease.
Over time he has learned how to accommodate his deficiency. He automatically recognizes people by
movement, individual features such as nose shape, moles, hair patterns. It comes natural to him, and
it’s rare when he encounters someone he should recognize but doesn’t. He now feels a tinge of regret.
Not only was he rude to Mrs. Abernathy by not responding to her faxes and calls but he showed no
signs of ever having known her. Women don’t like that. He tries to recall if she mentioned they had
met; he’s sure she never said so. On the other hand, perhaps she didn’t recognize him. In the
intervening years he has put on fifty pounds and more than a foot. The brief court appearance was five
years ago; it’s best he not remind her, Sterling figures.
       As Mrs. Abernathy began to confer with the judge privately, Sterling started to walk to the bench.
       “Should I be involved in this, sir, if I am part of the conversation.”
       “That’s fine, counsel, return to your places,” he said before Sterling could advance further.
        “Now, boys, from what I understand you have agreed to do as your spokesman counsels. I want
each of you to affirm this in a clear statement. You will include your name and say, only of course it is
true, that you have understood the charges and that agree to plead either “responsible” or “not
responsible,” according to your choice. In doing so, you accept the judgment of this court.
       Starting with Sterling, the boys do as instructed, one by one. When it gets to the Trips, they all
three speak at once totally confusing the court stenographer. The judge, who’s had enough of this
show, says to her:
       “I am sure you got all that.”
       Judge Winters barks at the youth:
       “Stand still and face the bench. You have pleaded “responsible” for what I consider a very serious
set of infractions. When you get behind the wheel in a few years, you must know that driving a
vehicle, and that includes riding a bicycle, can be dangerous. On a bicycle, you can kill someone. You
know that, I hope. The police were being very creative in teaching this lesson of responsibility to you.
Perhaps a bit too creative. I will disallow the fines, you will be responsible for court costs. You, not
your parents. To pay you will do community service and earn the equivalent of the court costs, which
are…,” he said turning to his clerk.
        “One thousand, six-hundred and twenty-two dollars and seventeen cents, your honor.” The judge
       “…and that community service will be in the form of various errands carried out on your bicycles
for staff of the courthouse and the police station. You will keep methodical records and give them in
one package to Mrs. Abernathy. When you have finished your CS, the court will issue each of you a
Prayer for Judgment Continued. This will be given to the DMV and if you are found responsible for
any more infractions before your sixteenth birthday, it will be the Court’s option whether to reassess the
PJC. Now, Mr. Eumorfopoulos, you have a way with words. Explain what I said in one sentence to
your fellow juveniles.”
      Sterling thinks for a second. “If we don’t behave, we could be punished for these alleged
infractions on our bicycles.”
      “Yes, except they are not alleged. They were committed.”
      “Yes, your honor. I guess I meant previously alleged.”
      “Next case.”
      On the courthouse steps, just like in Law and Order, the boys were mobbed by the media,
including some reporters for several internet news sites. Some articles followed in the next few days.
ABC news would have been there, and Sterling might have gotten on network news, had it not been for
the snow storm that was already beginning to sock in downtown for several days. They completed
their community service over the following months, until the Trips’ nagging finally convinced Mrs.
Abernathy to sign off, affirming that justice had indeed been served. That was the end of bikegate.

Chapter 8
     When Sterling returns home, he goes immediately to the gym.           The lights have been left on. The
family should really know better, he thinks. He’ll have a word with Sara, obviously the culprit.
Sterling is still undecided whether he will train for an hour. He tries his best never to skip training,
however late in the day, however tired he is. Neither is the problem now; he’s pumped up with heated
adrenaline. He is thinking about going upstairs to check in with Sara, for they must talk. He doesn’t
need to. She is finishing up downstairs. The gym sparkles; without looking up she asks him to take out
the two trash sacks to the curb for collection. When he comes back, she is heading upstairs.
      “Hey, I’ll be up in an hour.”
      “See you in the morning,” she replies.
      He leaps toward her.
      “Maybe we can talk. I need your advice.”
      “Sterl, it’s been a long day. I’m really tired. Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”
      “I guess.”
      She kisses him on the cheek, sisterly and continues upstairs, leaving Sterling quite unsatisfied.
He changes into his gym clothes and begins his routine, which will last an hour. The events of the day
wish to play themselves in his mind; but he won’t let them. This is his time with boxing; he lets
nothing interfere.
      Sterling must get into shape and make weight for the Under-19, which are in mid-summer, with
the preliminary rounds just days away. Welterweight for Under-19 is set at 152 pounds, an incredible
two pounds short of the JOs, which he had barely met last year. The brainless officials who came up
with this disparity have no idea how unbelievably difficult those last 32 ounces would be to lose. It’s
not like all you need to do is cut out desserts and modify your water retention. Nevertheless, to move
up to middleweight, 165 pounds, is ludicrous. The weight division is a veritable feed into the pros.
This summer is Sterling’s last hurrah at boxing. In the previous several years he has advanced a few
stages in the P.A.L.15-16 Championships and the Junior Olympics, but he has never got past the first
bout at the regionals. As disappointing as these results are, they have provided a wake-up call. Most
athletes would have quit, the message being that the level of competition has gone beyond their ability.
Sterling believes this is not the case. Boxing like any sport requires a bit of luck. If Sterling had had
easier opponents, he would have had better results. Indeed, he lost to one boy, Sam White, who had
made it to the semis. He accepts the fact that it will take more than blind luck to move closer to the
top, but he had once accomplished what no one (except his father) had said he could: win the Silvers
six years earlier. He had been, for a brief moment, the best 105 pound 10-year-old boxer in the whole
of the United States of America and, who knows, perhaps in the world. Then came the growth spurt
that condemned him to forever towering over his opponents, giving them a bigger target. He has never
kidded himself that his was an ability equal to his father’s, but he believes that he has still not done his
best. When he does his best, win or lose, he’ll be ready to retire from the ring. By the end of the
summer he’ll know whether boxing for him has reached its logical conclusion. For now he attacks the
jump rope.
      Showered and in his sweat bottoms, readying for bed, Sterling has Rube Goldberged the
apartment. As a final step he now locks his bedroom door. He has already tied one end of a jump rope
to the bed post and the other end around his ankle with a do-it-yourself Velcro lead, like the type used
by surfers. If he’s figured right, even if he can find his door key, which he puts in a sealed envelope in
the bottom drawer, he’ll trip in the hallway, before he can reach the kitchen for a somnambulistic
gluttony. He’ll wake up and go back to bed. He has also locked the door to the kitchen and placed the
key on the top ledge of the upper window, requiring a stool. Sterling figures that if he manages to free
himself from the rope, he will still not be able to open the door. Even if he can remember where he’s
put the key, he won’t remember where he’s put the stool (in the bathroom shower). Everyone in the
Eumorfopoulos household, including Bucephalus the dog, a Boxer, of course, has been put on an
overnight fasting regime.
      The Sterling has been his family’s home for as far back as Sterling can remember. He assumed at
an early age that all buildings were named Sterling and, after being informed of his error, then assumed
that all homes were named after their firstborn sons. Eventually he figured out that not everyone enjoys
such spacious accommodation. The family moved in as the hotel was being remodeled, long before
Vegas gym was seriously contemplated and at about the time the upper floors of the structure were
converted to offices. The first floor, which is now the family’s lodging, used to be a giant hallway with
spacious rooms off one side. After conversion it became what Yankees call a railroad flat. At one end,
where the elevator opens, is the family area. Several of the former hotel rooms have been dewalled and
the area merged into a common space, off of which is the kitchen, the common lavatory and a series of
rooms that extend off the long hallway. Proceeding down the hall you come to the first room, which is
the master bedroom, a former deluxe suite that contains a sitting area, enclosed bedroom and bathroom
en suite. Next to it is a former storage room, which was Sterling’s first bedroom, the one with thin
walls. There are a dozen more rooms of various sizes, now serving as either storage space, work areas
or guest rooms (Sara’s is one). At the end is another master suite, Sterling’s kingdom. He has not
exactly booby trapped the hallway to prevent the feared midnight food run, but he has set in place a few
chairs and tables, as obstacles to try to derail the hungry train.
     The next morning his father, his mother and Sara each must step over Sterling on their way in
and out of the kitchen. He is obliviously asleep on the floor, in a fetal position, in front of the kitchen.
One end of the jump rope is still tied to his ankle; the other end appears to have been cut by a knife.
The stool has been knocked over; the key to the kitchen door is in the lock. His mother throws a
blanket over him so that if he rolls over onto his back he won’t embarrass himself (as if Sterling would
ever embarrass himself). As the day begins for the others, he eventually wakes up. He orients himself
and realizes what’s happened.
     “It worked. I didn’t get to the kitchen.” He feels his shoulder, which seems sore.
     “I might have slipped off the stool, though.”
     “Lucky you didn’t break your neck,” Sara chides.
     “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. That and some other stuff.”
     “I have ten minutes before I have to take the bus to school.”
      They head back to his room.
      “Your father took your car? I need to borrow it to go to Chapel Hill.”
      “I can’t help you.”
      “I have to see a lawyer. I’m in a little trouble.”
      “I figured that much. You want to tell me what it’s about? I asked your folks. They didn’t seem
worried. They said ask you.”
      “I do and I will, but after I see the lawyer. I’m not sure how much I can say.”
      “Did you do something really awful?” Sara asks, quite seriously.
      “No. Nothing more than a practical joke, really. But some things will come out. And I need to
tell you before you hear it from anyone.”
      “Fair enough.”
      “I just can’t tell you now.”
      “I don’t like playing games, Sterl.” she chides.
      “It’s not a game. It’s serious. And we will talk about it tonight. Please Sara, just give me the day
to sort some things out.”
      “I have to catch the bus,” she says, counting out some change. She leaves.
      “Tonight,” he says after her.
      With some time to kill before his meeting in Chapel Hill, Sterling decides to get the day’s training
out of the way. He is in the gym working combinations on the heavy bag which seems not to be moved
one way or the other. In the mirror he sees someone at the door. It’s not just someone, it’s Brandon
Buffeau, dressed ready to box. He has a set of gloves slung over his shoulders.
      “Mind if I join you?” he asks as if his appearance is an everyday occurrence.
      Sterling is a bit startled. He responds with a boilerplate spiel.
      “We’re not really open to the public in the mornings. There’s a club that meets in the evenings
that my father works with. We have other activities including ladies aerobics, youth boxing, Thai kick
boxing and some other stuff. There’s a schedule on the counter. Feel free to take one.”
      Brandon approaches.
      “You should have called first, Brandon. I’m sort of busy.”
      “You don’t read your texts?”
      Sterling, in fact, was thinking about deleting all the texts and voice mail he has received in the
past 24 hours. Important ones could be resent, the rest ignored.
      “You ready to spar?” he asks.
      “I’m on a training routine. I’ll spar with my father tonight,” Sterling responds with a lack of
      “I mean now. You fight from the orthodox?” he asks.
      “I don’t. I’m southpaw.”
      “Good. I need the practice.”
      “You’re not warmed up. You need headgear.”
      “I’m warmed up. I don’t use headgear.”
      “Well, that’s a gym rule. No one in the ring without headgear. That’s the rules. You know, I
don’t break rules.”
      There is a standoff.
      “You’re a real shit, Eumorglopoulos.” He says the name like its dirty leaving his mouth. He
      “You haven’t in your friggin’ life ever come across a rule you couldn’t break, avoid or bend. I
know all about you. Now, quit being a pussy and get into the ring and show me what you have. You
wearing a cup?”
      “No, do I need one?,” he asks, taken aback.
      Buffeau removes his own cup, tossing it on the floor and further ignores Sterling as he climbs into
the ring and puts on the gloves. He does some stretches near the far turnbuckle. Sterling stands his
ground. It’s apparent Buffeau won’t budge either.
      “Can you give me a ride to Chapel Hill, when we’re done?” he asks.
      “Make it before lacrosse,” is as close to a committal as Buffeau will give.
      “It’s important. If not I have to stop early and hitch a ride.”
      “Get in the ring, dopey. I’ll give you your friggin’ ride after I deck you.”
      “Hey, amateur’s about points,” Sterling corrects him.
      “A knock-out is better than points,” Buffeau re-corrects him.
      Sterling climbs into the ring. He programs the timer bell for four two-minute rounds with one
minute intervals. An unknown opponent. Sterling hates unknown opponents. He needs videos,
information on strategy, shadow-boxing with the adversary. Even in the early rounds of the Silvers his
father would always provide some scouting. The only think he knows about boxer Buffeau is that he is
a class-A asshole. Whether he’ll fight like one remains to be seen. The electronic bell dings.
      The fighters slowly walk to the center and tap gloves. Buffeau yells: “Box” and reinserts his
      Sterling holds the advantage in both weight and reach. Buffeau is right on the money at 152
pounds and he’s compact like Pandely, built like a champion. The boys move in to size one another up
and each throws a few tentative punches to measure his opponent’s agility. For a punch to be counted
in amateur scoring the white strip of the glove, placed across the knuckles, must land cleanly on the
head or torso. Amateur boxing is not about showboating and knockouts. It’s about scoring points, as
Sterling said. Each round is judged by the number of clean punches landed (which is where judgmental
subjectivity rears its head). The boxer who scores the most points should be awarded the victory, if the
referee and judges do their jobs properly. The best fighter may not win. This contest feels awkward to
Sterling. It’s the first time in his life he has boxed without protection, above or below. It’s the closest
he’ll ever come to imitating a professional.
      Buffeau takes an orthodox stance, japing with his left. He’s very bouncy, a veritable pogo stick
with his perfect, blow-dried hair lifting and falling like the wings of a dove. He’s opening himself up
unnecessarily; this stops after Sterling gets off a clean, solid combination to the gut in the pogo’s
downward motion. It’s apparent immediately to Sterling that Buffeau’s midsection is where he should
attack. He fights his opponent in a very classic style, what he teaches the pee-wees. A few jabs
followed by a left cross or straight left hand, commonly called the one-two. When you throw the two,
you shift the body forward and put your shoulder behind it, then pivot on the foot like you’re putting
out a cigarette. Thus at the end of punch you’re protecting your chin with the shoulder; and at the end
of each punch, you turn the hand like opening a doornob and then bring it right back This is Boxing
101. Of course, Buffeau is no street brawler. He has learned the sweet science from someone, who
knows whom, and appears to have received passing marks in Boxing 101. He uses the classic defense,
which is called offence. As a right-hander, his left hand is his jabber. That’s his strong side, the one
closer to the opponent. After he attacks with a (left) jab followed by a (right) cross, he steps off at a 35-
45 degree angle so he can follow up with a combination. Stepping off allows him a new position,
leaving Sterling where he can’t retaliate. You do this several times (if the opponent allows) by
basically moving around the opponent, making it harder for him to retaliate. The two teenagers
continue to test each other for the duration of the round. This dance could be videotaped as a
demonstration of stand-still boxing, neither being aggressive enough to score additional points. It’s a
lesson in defense and counter punching; one throws the punch and the other slips it and attempts to put
himself in a better position to throw a counter punch. For each of them anything thrown with the
straight right hand is followed up with a left hook and vice versa. They take a minute break, the bell
pings again and they are back in center ring.
      Some invisible trainer in their corners must have given the youths identical advice: stop pussy-
footing around and show the jerk what you have. They come out of their corners aggressively and start
throwing immediate punches. Buffeau gets a point with a combination that ends up successful because
Sterling had lowered his guard. Sterling comes back with a series of punches to the gut, which he still
reasons is Buffeau’s Achilles heal. Blondy may be buff but these superficial muscles represent tone not
strength – just for show – and don’t offer much protection. The abs that so impress the Canuck’s
groupies at school don’t hold up under Sterling’s hammer. Buffeau doesn’t like the attack; he gets a bit
more ferocious and throws a few punches that seem almost wild. And he starts compacting his stance
to prevent the lower blows. Sterling gets an opening. Having more ring savvy, he simply takes one of
these wild punches to the forearm and counters with a upper right to the chin that lands Buffeau on the
canvas. He’s dazed sufficiently so that a referee would call the fight. Buffeau rises, shakes off the
punch and retrieves his mouthpiece. He has a cut lip.
      “I slipped,” he explains.
      Sterling shakes his head. A referee would call the match, probably either as a RSC-O or RSC-OS,
meaning referee stopped contest, with notations for either Out-classed opponent or Out-scored
opponent. Sterling doesn’t say this, though. That would be adding insult to injury.
      “I’ll get you some ice for the lip. It’s a good workout. I’m tired. I gotta shower and you then can
give me a ride to Chapel Hill. You want to shower upstairs?”
      Buffeau is not really satisfied with the outcome, but he knows he’s been beaten, fair and square.
      “I don’t have all day,” he responds.
      Sterling, having quickly showered, wears a coat and tie. For once his hair is actually combed.
Buffeau stands shirtless, having showered in the master bedroom. Sterling has tossed Buffeau a clean
Tee-shirt, which Brandon tosses right back. He’s not about to wear one with a cutely smiling Sterling
grinning on his abs. One suspects this is a joke on Sterling’s part; if so Buffeau is not showing Sterling
that they share a sense of humor. Sterling then gives him an XL P.A.L. shirt which Buffeau slips on.
      This is the time the boys should be talking about the fight, complementing each other, comparing
notes, reliving the experience. A sharing. They say nothing. It’s less an atmosphere of hostility than
one of self-absorption that leads to ignoring the person next to you. They are on the same wave length.
On their ten mile hop to Chapel Hill in the Shelby, the silence continues. Buffeau tries to find a station
to his liking on the classic ’60s radio. Sterling is studying one of the subpoenas. Buffeau cannot avoid
noticing. He offers no comment. He pulls up to the Law School on Ridge Road. In getting out of the
car, Sterling is the only one to say anything.
      “Thanks for the match and the lift.” Sterling does not say: “Let’s do it again.” Buffeau pulls off.
     Say what you want about Carolina being just a party school with a few excellent athletic
programs. Indeed, that’s often what Sterling himself has said, although he doesn’t say it to the people
who are encouraging him to go for a Morehead-Cain scholarship: four years, fully paid, summers
included. Academically, UNC is a more than fair school. On the best schools list of US News & World
Report, Duke ranks 9th, Wake Forest 25th and UNC-Chapel Hill 30th. Among state-funded research
and teaching universities only Michigan, Virginia and two in California – Berkeley and UCLA – rank
higher. Sterling has taken a few AP courses here; he doesn’t mind the place.
      The campus is not busy. Classes and exams ended Friday for the Maymester. The first summer
session is well under way and will be wrapped up in a couple of weeks. Sterling makes his way into
Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, a tongue twister of a name, which defies the mouth to repeat it ten times
without error. Sterling takes the stairs and heads down a hall, past the offices of the First Amendment
Law Review, which he considers a good omen. He arrives at an academic office with a name card
beside the door: Professor Hunter O’Connor, Institute of Constitutional Law. This organization is not
the Raleigh-based NC Institute for Constitutional Law, which is a 501(c)3 which Sterling greatly
admires for its vigilance in keeping state lawmakers from using their taxing authority irresponsibility.
As much as Sterling likes Dell and Google, he fully supports the NCICL’s assault on government
incentives ($260 million handout to Google) given to these business by state politicians. He knocks on
the door, hears a “come in” and does so.
        The secretary is on the phone and motions for Sterling to take a seat. It’s not a very spacious
office, for being an institute, Sterling reckons. Of course, institutes are a dime a dozen on campus, but
still, it looks like there’s only a secretary and her boss, Mr. O’Connor, whose diplomas are on the wall.
Very impressive: J.D. from Columbia and a S.J.D. from Harvard. Also, Certificate of Admission to the
Bar of the Supreme Court of the United States as well as a certificate of good standing from the
Supreme Court of North Carolina. The secretary gets off the phone.
        “Hello, I’m here to see your boss. I’m Sterling Eumorfopoulos.”
        “I am my own boss,” the lady says.
        Aren’t we all, Sterling thinks. This woman, like most all females allowed onto the UNC campus
is gorgeous, drop-dead gorgeous. Sterling wonders if the campus has some sort of screening process
for the distaff component of the work force. Do they have to score high in the swimsuit competition?
Maybe he could apply to be one of the judges. He could imagine this secretary in a two-piece.
Actually he could imagine her without any pieces. Hey, Sterling chides himself, Behave! You cannot
still be loyal to Sara and share a lust among others.
        “Could you tell Professor O’Connor I’m here for my 3 o’clock?”
        She checks the calendar.
        “Yes, you are William Duke’s friend. I have had several conversations with the young Duke.
Let’s go into the office.”
        She motions for Sterling to proceed her, and he steps into the back office, which is a work in
progress. A lot of projects are going on simultaneously and each is sparring for a few square feet of
space. The lady, who is obviously Professor Hunter O’Connor herself, sits behind the desk and Sterling
takes the empty chair. She asks to see his papers and he waits a few minutes while she reads over
them, checking the calendar to reconfirm the day’s date.
        “I’m glad you didn’t wait until the last minute, Mr. Eum…I’ll just call you Sterling, is that OK?
You could have come here at nine tomorrow morning.” She smiles to lessen the seriousness of
Sterling’s infraction.
        Sterling has no response. He knows he’s not given her much time.
        “Tomorrow’s affair, I think, is fairly simply. We’ll discuss the options. But the other subpoena,
that’s much more serious and much more interesting, to me at least. There are some potential
Constitutional issues and the only way I can help you is if Constitutional issues are involved. You see
the name on the door. We’ve had some indications that the Assistant United States Attorney has a
runaway grand jury on his hands. This seems to confirm it,” she says, dropping the federal subpoena
onto the desk. She motions to it.
        “They want you next week. It’s absolutely essential we talk with them beforehand. But that can
wait for a moment. Tomorrow, the local grand jury, comes first. And there are two very painful items
we must first cover. One is fees. Your friend, the young Duke – you know he’s come in here three
times to see me, so I am pretty familiar with you, at least from his perspective. Your friend Mr. Duke
wants to set up a legal defense fund. I can’t do that, first because it would obviously be a conflict of
interest and second because I’m not so advanced with computer this-and-that.”
        She waves her hands in feigned frustration. For the lawyer, in an institute the funds for which
doesn’t at the moment even provide a secretary, she has to do her own typing. Computers are but a
tool, one that she’d gladly place in the hands of others. She continues:
        “But William tells me you have a friend who’s a computer consultant with A-list clients and that
he can do this. So if you’d like, I can give him some general dos-and-don’ts over the phone. A legal
defense fund would have to be up and running at the moment the grand jury issues its indictments.”
        “I’ll be indicted?”
        “We’ll talk about your options in a moment. But getting a legal defense fund ready, just in case,
would not be a bad idea. Do you want me to talk to someone about this?”
       Sterling has never thought he would actually be indicted. He is only desired as a witness. There
are bigger fish to fry. But the lawyer is now suggesting that an indictment is forthcoming. That means
a trial or at least a plea bargain. All this sounds complicated and will require money. He takes out his
phone and calls Jeremiah. The number is blocked. It is clear Jeremiah doesn’t want any trail between
him and Sterling.
       “May I use your phone?” She nods and Sterling uses the land line.
       “Jerry, I’m putting a lawyer on. If anyone is listening in, this is going to be a privileged
conversation so you better get the fuck off the line.”
       He hands the phone to Ms. O’Connor and apologizes for his swearing. She spends about ten
minutes referring Jeremiah to several websites that can serve as models and provide some boilerplate
language. He had been expecting her call, alerted by Billy in the wee hours of the morning. He has
already built the site’s framework. She points out that he must make perfectly clear that this does not
involve a charitable donation, that donations will not be tax deductible. She points him to several
similar fund-raising attempts that say First Amendment rights are under attack. She notes that a neo-
Nazi Holocaust denial website and an anti-Islam Muslim-baiting site are particularly good with
reference to the Constitution, arguing that the right to say or show something nasty or vulgar or
blatantly offensive to the average person is still protected. “The USA is not France or Germany,” is an
especially effective phrase. She sends him also to several legal websites that focus on pornography
cases involving free speech. Finally, she tells him to keep the website clean and vague. “Less is more.”
Links can be added as needed later. Don’t activate anything publicly until Sterling gives authorization,
she says. She cups the receiver and says to Sterling: “That means, when your lawyer gives you the
       She certainly seems to know her way around Legal Defense Funds, Sterling thinks. In fact she’s
taken many trips down this road. She looks at Sterling to see if he has any questions.
       “You said two painful things.”
       “I need to know exactly what you did that has ruffled so many feathers. You have generated
subpoenas from two separate grand juries. I asked William to show me the website or give me a link
and he refused. He was on the verge of tears when he said it, so I didn’t press. You, however, don’t
have the choice. It may be embarrassing…”
       “It’s not embarrassing.” Sterling hands her a flash drive.
       “Can I watch it now?” Sterling nods.
       “How long is it?”
       “Fifteen seconds. My fifteen seconds of fame,” he says, condensing Andy Warhol.
       “And it’s still on the web?”
       “It keeps cropping up but the boy you just talked to, he wrote a pixel recognition program to track
the video any time it’s aired. People have downloaded it and they’ve tried to include it on DVD. Gay
porn sites pick it. Anyway Jeremiah has his step-dad on retainer, and he sends out a “cease and desist
order.” It’s quite effective.”
       “And when did you make this recording?”
       “It was shot March 2nd about 4:03 p.m. in a student dorm.”
       She writes all this down on a legal pad and glances occasionally at the computer screen.
       “And you put it on the web then?”
       “I never put it on the web. I never intended it for public consumption. I swear to you. Someone
else uploaded it. There’s a production company that gives an address at the end. I assume they
distributed it.”
       And do you know how many views it’s had?”
       “Jeremiah has the exact stats. There were 325,403 views in the two days it was on YouTube
before they took it off. They caught it because either it generated an unusual amount of traffic or
someone complained to them as it violates their terms of service. Anyway, that’s probably 99% of all
       She removes the flash drive, returns it to Sterling and asks:
       “Did you ever have any communication with YouTube over this?”
       “Or with the production company.”
       “We had a contract.”
       “I’ll need that.”
       “I’ve scanned it. I can give you a copy. I have the original, of course.”
       “Now your discussions with Mr. Miles, the DA. What transpired? See if you can recount word-
       She expects Sterling to explain the substance of their two meetings in a few sentences. Rather,
Sterling being Sterling, he reports both meetings much as a court stenographer, repeating the speaker’s
name and then what was said. Ms. O’Connor has never witnessed such a performance. He must be
great at parlor tricks, remembering playing cards, or obscure dates in history, she figures.
       As she listens Ms. O’Connor becomes especially interested in the history of the promise of
immunity, who initiated it (the DA not Sterling). Had they indicated they had seen the video? How
close did they come to telling him to “testify or else”? And how did they find out about Sterling in the
first place? Someone turned him in, apparently. Had he a history with the district attorney? In
Sterling’s explanation he then briefly relates the story of bikegate and his earlier encounter with Mrs.
       By the end of the conversation which lasts nearly two hours, Ms. O’Connor feels that she has a
reasonable take on the young man sitting in front of her. He is pretty literal-minded. Ask a narrow
question, get a narrow response. Ask a broad question, get as narrow response as possible. He doesn’t
volunteer information. Not such a bad witness to have on your side. Sterling seems honest with her,
but then she had not explored the reasons behind his actions (either bikegate or Smiley Boy). Sterling’s
response to the “why?” questions go unchallenged. He has told her he did the video on a lark, as a joke
to share with friends or future lovers, just sort of a bêtise, a childish stupidity. It does not offend him;
he doesn’t understand why others get so worked up about it.
       “It’s only sex. Maybe I have a bit of artistic flair, but you know, Ms. O’Connor, I am hardly a
ground-breaker. The internet is full of shit like this. Sorry, stuff like this. It just seems that my junk
comes with a price tag,” he explains.
       As for bikegate, according to the lawyer, the boy seems morally outraged by being treated the
way he was by the police. No doubt he enjoys being on his high horse, she thinks. Curiously, he
shows virtually no remorse over the reckless bicycling issues. He has no remorse about Smiley Boy,
either. Combine all these factors and you get a remorseless crusader who can go the distance, just
what’s needed in a Constitutional case.
       Why Sterling shot the Smiley Boy video is a question worth his exploring with his parents, girl- or
boyfriend, or a psychologist, the academic reckons. It is not important from the legal perspective, not
at this point at least. O’Connor watched the 15 second video, discretely just this once as Sterling had
answered her questions. Tempest in a teapot might be one way to describe it. Lewd, immature,
bathroom humor and not something she’d want her nieces to watch, but something that would bring on
Sodom and Gomorrah and turn you into a pillar of salt? Hardly. Yet Constitutional fires have often
raged from a single spark. Well, she isn’t exactly sure how often the metaphor holds true, probably
seldom. Certainly once or twice in the past two hundred plus years seemingly insignificant incidents
have resulted in big changes in law. It’s part of a process in which the nation tries to come to grips with
the meager 45 words of the first, and in her opinion foremost, of our Bill of Rights:
       Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free
exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people
peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
       Of those words five are at issue here, of which three are crucial: abridging, freedom and speech.
They were not in the original document, The Constitution, our forefathers adopted and ratified. They
were an afterthought that appeared in the form of an amendment several years later. Professor
O’Connor, however, considers this 45-word afterthought to be arguably the most important sentence
written in the history of humanity. She is eager to see it interpreted correctly. That’s her lot in life.
The Sterling boy might be just the one who can light a spark under the butts of the nine old men and
women who make the ultimate determination about what those words mean.
       Ms. O’Connor knows that when courts confront morality issues the results are almost always less
than desirable, and sometimes even less than comprehensible. Such court decisions are by necessity
compromises; they breed big messes. The current thinking on defining pornography is different from
the old “I know it when I see it” test, but that doesn’t mean the recent thinking is cleaner. The ruling
which influences current law dates back to1973, when Sterling was minus 19, at which time the courts
ruled on Miller v. California. Morals in America, however, have greatly changed – be it an advance or
a decline is a matter of debate. The law for the past 35 or so years has hardly budged, despite all sorts
of national social changes in sexual mores: the public’s acceptance of co-habitation between unmarried
adults, the destigmatization of children born out of wedlock, a technology that allows fertilization in
test tubes, the broad acceptance of homosexuality and abortion, Oprah, the recognition that sex for
purchase should have no victims by the law, not to mention cable television and the internet, with their
abundance of adult-themed content. The United States of the 21st Millennium is not the United States
of 1973. In many regards, as Sterling points out, sex is no longer a big deal.
       Miller v. California deemed a work “obscene” if it met three criteria: that “the work
depicts/describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable state
law;” that it, “taken as a whole, lacked serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value;” and that
“the average person, applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a
whole, appeals to the prurient interest.” Hunter O’Connor believes that this three-strikes-and-you’re-
out approach needs an update.
       In her own mind Ms. O’Connor, the legal scholar, declines to judge Sterling’s video on the Miller
criteria. The content of Smiley Boy hardly matters. It could be a skin head saying that all Jews are evil
or a rightwing Christian saying all Muslims are evil. Or it could be a boy playing with his genitals.
The content may offend some people; that’s a matter of taste. She is, however, an ambitious academic
who would love to bring a case before the nation’s highest Court forcing it to revisit Miller v.
California. Smiley Boy if it’s (mis)handled (im)properly by the grand juries may offer her that very
opportunity. Furthermore, O’Connor knows that she is ambitious to a ruthless flaw, but she
consciously does not want to exploit the boy; thus she must be very careful in any counsel she gives to
Sterling to ensure that she is representing his, not her, best interests. The DA is under no dilemma, of
course: he’s a political animal; that a randy teenager gets knocked down, dragged, even barbequed
along the route to his political goal is of no concern to him. Ms. O’Connor, however, is so concerned
about the conflict of interest issue, that almost two hours ago she decided that she could not represent
Sterling per se. He needs, and well deserves, a totally independent attorney, who will guard his
interests. O’Connor will work with Sterling as closely as possible in the future, but for the moment
they have been sufficiently exposed to one another. To that purpose while listening to Sterling, she has
texted her brother-in-law, who is also a lawyer, although not an outstanding legal mind. He has a big
practice that handles petty criminals and Sterling has parked himself right up his alley. She calls in a
favor forcing him (“you ever hear of pro bono, Stacy?”) to agree to help Sterling. Being bothered on a
holiday weekend posed no problem for Stacy James, who preferred work to home, most any day of the
year. After tomorrow Sterling will have to put him on the clock. But that’s tomorrow. They arrange to
meet at the Carolina Club at 6 P.M. Sterling texts (for which he has a template) his significant others
that he won’t be home for dinner.
       Being a lawyer (having been a 1L actually) has taught O’Connor the skill to capsulate Sterling’s
situation in the five minutes before drinks arrive (soda water for Sterling). Stacy James, the brother-in-
law, listens in silence. When she’s finished presenting the facts of the case, Stacy says:
      “It’s now about legal strategy. I’ll call you tomorrow, Hunter.”
      They exchange a peck on the cheek and she leaves, handing Sterling her card, writing down her
cell number. James drinks his shot of bourbon and motions for the waitress to bring him the bill.
      “I’ll give you, son, the same advice I give to all my clients who have the misfortune to look down
the barrel of a grand jury: do not testify. Let me rephrase that: do not fuckin’ testify. Appear, yes.
After that you say only two words: Fifth Amendment. This is what your generation would call a no-
brainer. Nothing positive for you – or just about anyone – can possibly be gained by your testifying
before a grand jury,” James reiterates, while fumbling for a twenty to pay the bill.
      “Immunity,” Sterling suggests.
      “Hah! Don’t put the horse before the cart, boy”
      “That’s cart before the horse, sir,” Sterling says in offering the correction.
      “You don’t hear me, son. The horse is the grand jury. The cart is the indictment. Don’t put the
goddamn horse before the cart. If there’s going to be an indictment, unmerited or whatever, there will
be an indictment. This is the grand jury; they don’t need reasonable doubt, just probable cause. In this
day and age most anything goes as probable cause. In the vast majority of cases the witness does
himself little or no good if he testifies. And in many cases he harms himself by blabbering something
he shouldn’t. Save yourself the trouble. Immunity is a prosecutorial trick.”
      He motions to the waitress to repeat the shot.
      “I’ve read up on this. I will testify, sir. There are principles at stake. Now, will you be my
lawyer or not?”
      James shakes his head. When he loses this little skirmish, he knows he’ll probably lose the war
that undoubtedly will follow. Thus, he asks Sterling some additional questions about testifying: his
willingness or unwillingness, under what conditions, etc. He generally probes his reasons for making
the video, an area that Ms. O’Connor chose not to explore in depth. From the questions and their
responses it becomes clear that Sterling takes some responsibility, and he clearly does not want his
testimony to hurt those who were just innocent bystanders. “Who would they be?” James asks. There
is the student director, Singh, and the actress Babette, and the student producer Raj, whom he signed a
contract with. Sterling, to use the legalese, wants them held harmless. He’s not afraid to testify, but his
testimony must not harm them, he says adamantly.
      Yet, the lawyer explains, they have no way of knowing what’s up the DA’s sleeve. One of these
alleged friends could have ratted on him. He will chat with Miles before the jury’s session. He and the
DA know each other quite well, professionally and socially. They have been on the opposite sides of
the aisle in numerous court rooms, too many to count. But they respect each other. Whoever loses a
case, usually buys the drinks afterwards.
      To hold the others harmless is a tall order, Mr. James continues. The pornographers are in a
slightly different boat from Sterling and the Babette lady. It’s quite likely their lawyers have given
them the same advice that James has given to Sterling: take care of yourself, let other’s take care of
themselves and don’t expect them to help you, and any help you give them should be incidental to your
primary task, which is to help yourself.
      “That’s a bit selfish,” Sterling says.
      “Then why don’t you offer to plead guilty to whatever charges they can dream up, and go to
prison so everyone else can stay out. Is that what you want to do?” James demands, his patience
wearing thin.
      “No sir.”
      James studies the boy. His response is sincere. All his responses have been sincere. He sighs.
      Furthermore, he explains, whatever indictments that the grand jury hands down must be specific.
They will not be blanket, in other words specific offenses for specific individuals. James explains that
they are all drifting in the boat SS Pornography, but there’s a difference between being the captain and
being the guy who mops the deck. The grand jury no doubt wants the big fish, the guy who’s putting
up the financing. That’s probably the question that most interests them.
      “You told Miles that you never met the big boss and you were never given his name. Is that
      “Yes, that’s literally what I said.”
      “You know what I mean,” says Miles, not eager to play footsie with this kid. Sterling hesitates.
      “No one told me the big boss’s name. I told the DA that; that’s the god’s truth. But I heard names
mentioned. I can speculate based on what I can piece together.
      “That’s hearsay, no good in court. The grand jury, on the other hand, can use it. Yet another
reason not to testify.”
      “Between you and me, sir, I know the names of three men out of Georgia. I overheard the
producer on the phone with his bookkeeper or accountant. I can recall the telephone number of one of
the men,” he admits.
      “Your memory is so good?” asks the attorney.
      “No doubt the DA figures numerous laws have been broken, even if he doesn’t know which ones.
Think of the grand jury as a type of lynch mob, with the government shouting its hue and cry in order
to gather the posse. They’re after whoever is corrupting the morals of a minor.”
      “That would be me?”
      “No that’s not you. That’s everyone else but you. You are a young, immature teenager who is a
victim here. Do you understand? I repeat, you are the victim.”
      “Yes,” Sterling replies, without much conviction.
      The lawyer continues:
      “There are labor laws, concerning minimum age in the adult entertainment industry (You were 16
½ when Smiley Boy was shot); there are laws about the use of state property (Smiley Boy was shot in a
university owned residence hall); and there is a law that offers almost limitless possibilities: Section
14-190.9. Indecent exposure is a class 2 misdemeanor but they’re not going to register you as a sex
offender, not in North Carolina for something like that. You can plead out as a juvenile and get a PJC.
You know what that is?
      “Prayer for Judgment Continued. I had one for bad bicycling. It would have been expunged by
      “You have some options. I can’t make up your mind for you.”
      “One. Hand over the video, testify with immunity, no indictment. Two, don’t testify and
possibly…possibly…be indicted on a class 2 misdemeanor which gets expunged some day. You would
recommend the second, of course.”
        “Of course.”
      “If I go for the first option, but don’t give them the video?”
      “I’ll have to talk to Miles. I don’t know what he’ll say. If you honestly don’t have the video,
have lost it or something, I guess you can’t give it to them, can you? You understand I am not telling
you to destroy evidence.”
        “I understand,” says Sterling, by which he means he understands he should quickly destroy the
evidence and thus solve the problem.
        “Less risk with the second option, even if I’m indicted. Maybe a $500 fine,” he continues.
        “If you get the right judge. Let me tell you, Sterling boy, about a client I once had. A young lad
about your age, about my son’s age. A different case. Burglary, really small potatoes. Some one else
had the weapon and hid it; my client knew where. He had similar options as you. And like you he was
more worried about his mates than himself. He didn’t follow my advice and he took the risk. I
presented a strong case to the judge. And for what? He got six months in juvie. You know what six
months in juvie is like, son?”
      “What happened to him?”
      “I don’t know. I guess he got another lawyer.”
      James studies his three empty shot glasses and mutters to himself: “Just what I need, another
      “Don’t worry. I’ll hitch home, it’s not far.”
      Fortunately for them both, Stacy James says he lives south of town in a gated community.
Durham is not far off his route, he says, handing the boy the keys. A bargain struck, about the first
thing they have agreed on.
      In Sterling’s humble opinion his attorney’s BMW 750i is more comfortable than any car likely to
give him a ride, mostly ones driven by voracious cougars or dirty ol’ men. For his part the attorney
doesn’t mind the boy’s taking the wheel while he lowers his own blood alcohol level. Moreover, this
defense attorney who sees the underbelly of society day in and day out is fairly opposed to young boys’
accepting rides from strangers, himself excluded naturally. But waking up in the morning to headlines
about Sterling’s rape and murder, or his own DUI, would surely be more inconvenient. Finally, he
would want someone to do the same for his own son, a kid as timid as Sterling is reckless.
      It is on the way home that Mr. James learns of the boxing side of Sterling. James himself had
boxed at East Carolina University where he did his undergraduate. ECU, a former teachers college
(ECTC) that went by the moniker Eat-zi-Teat-zi, is now the only Carolina school to make it regularly
onto Playboy’s list of party schools. James had spent his four years there partying and politicking, two
necessary but not sufficient skills for an up and coming lawyer. He somehow managed to get into the
night program at North Carolina Central University Law School, an historic African-American
institution in Durham. James struggled but managed to graduate in four years and then to pass the bar,
on only the second attempt. What he lacks in academic skills and scholarship, however, he makes up
for in business savvy. He knows how to make the law profitable. He has hired a lot of fresh graduates,
who come eager and cheap. He has them work in teams, as they had done in law school, so the weaker
ones will not bring down the others. He has them evaluate each other in a formal process which
determines promotions and dismissals, his administrative decisions thus supported by the collective.
And he has them bill by the quarter hour. James knows his client base; he has a big presence in the
yellow pages and on the internet. Eighteen times each day (24 on weekends) he can be seen off-peak
on the local cable stations, repeating with utter conviction his firm’s motto: “never a case too small to
handle.” “The smaller, the more profitable” is the in-firm motto. When Sterling says drop him at The
Sterling, he can’t believe it. He know The Sterling well. $10 an hour or $30 for all night back in his
college days. It’s where he and his various girl friends, including his future, now present, wife first
became acquainted. Ah, the pleasant memories of youth.
      The attorney asks for a coffee and has Sterling give him a tour of Vegas gym, while Pandely
finishes up with some of his boxers, which include a father and uncle of his pee-wees. When James
sees the Golden Gloves belt in the showcase, he stops and stares. Not much has passed him by in life;
this has, however, and he can only admire its recipient, the father of the boy who jerks off on the
internet, he reflects without malice. The two adults are introduced and chat while Sterling excuses
himself to find Sara. It is going on 10 P.M. and he wants to catch her before she calls it a day.

Chapter 9
     Sara still cannot believe what has happened between her and her boyfriend.     Good fortune or
darn luck? She wears her negligee open in the front, quite sexy, as Sterling tucks in the corners of the
new bed sheets, to replace the warm, soggy set that lay balled up in the corner where the dog now
sleeps. He has not bothered to dress. He now notices how Sara is taking him all in; in his nakedness he
looks over at her and smiles broadly. He doesn’t mind being a sexual object, even a boy toy; he offers
her a slight model’s stance, tightening his muscles. Their bodies have no secrets, or rather they enjoyed
sharing new secrets with each other. Other than his sexuality mostly Sara notices Sterling’s thinness,
really all muscles and bones. And his moisturized color. She has studied skin tones in one of her
drawing classes. She would classify herself as Northern European, not quite Scandinavian fair, more
like Saxony Arian. Sterling is a different matter. Because he contains big doses of hemoglobin,
melanin, and carotenoid, he’d be best described as Southern Mediterranean, with tan or beige skin. He
is actually several separate tones, darker olive along the less covered extremities: face, arms, legs; then
a much lighter shade toward the middle – his chest and muscular back. His ass is egg-colored; his
genitals a swarthy pink. On his video – Sara suspects it was touched up – his entirety is a uniform
shade of mild olive. The tanning marks he now evidences (collar and underwear lines) show up
nowhere in the short film, which granted had been shot at the end of winter. She wonders about the
coloring; has the film really been doctored? In any case he was healthier then, less emaciated than
now. And how can he lose another few pounds? He has a few weeks to thin down.
      Sterling’s mind has wandered off to a place it often visits: calorie counting. He is wondering if he
has burned enough energy during sex to lose any weight. The general rule of thumb, which he has
picked up off the internet, is that a vigorous 20 minute session burns about 100 calories (three times
what simple foreplay gets you). At that rate, after 35 sessions similar to tonight’s, which was veritably
vigorous, he could lose one pound. It only takes a dozen hours of jumping rope to burn that much fat.
Sterling is definitely conflicted over the costs and benefits of different weight reduction schemes. Still,
if he had lost only a few grams of weight in the enjoyable minutes of thrusting it took before reaching
their orgasm, Sara has surely lost more than a pound. Water retention is not her problem.
      Earlier in the evening, after he had introduced his lawyer to his father, he and Sara had begun a
long, intense, sometimes painful talk, the most serious conversation they had ever had. She had helped
him sort through his immediate legal problems and she had assisted him in coming to grips with his
current crisis. Their talk lasted until almost midnight. Near the end they lay on the bed, enjoying each
other’s warmth, but not making out. She could hardly not notice his bulge and without much reflection
they had quickly shed clothes and just as quickly finished making love. After their two evenings
together a discernable pattern of intimacy has emerged. An initial coupling is, it seemed, too brief to
satisfy either of them for very long. So after about twenty minutes of mutual, curiosity-driven foreplay
they are both, Sterling visibly apparent, prepared for an encore. He was as eager as always; this time
Sara was more than eager. By minute 18 she came close to having a seizure. The boy could never have
predicted how much he could delight her. He was approaching climax himself and gave out a little
grunt. She took in a lungful of air and, sensing she wanted to urinate, had a powerful urge to bear or
push down (the same sensation of pushing when delivering a baby). Just at her partner achieved
climax, she herself reached absolute ecstasy and then…she wet the bed. She had been feeling so great,
and now, in what was supposed to be a period of post coital bliss, she fells so embarrassed. She had
hardly recovered from the pleasure and exhaustion of orgasm when she began to feel terribly ashamed.
At the end of their conjoined twenty minutes, a large amount of fluid had suddenly gushed out through
her urethra. When she started to weep over this incident, Sterling came to the rescue with an
explanation: the several cups of liquid were not urine, but rather prostatic fluid, with a higher pH level.
He told Sara to smell it; it wasn’t pee. It was colorless and had a sweet odor like clover. It was also not
the slippery whitish fluid that lubricated her vagina, which had a very distinctive, acidic odor and taste.
Its supposedly pH is around 4.0 although Sterling could not personally verify this; a taste test was
something to look forward to. Sterling did know, however, that his own semen came in at 7.8, in the
school’s chemistry lab at least, the second highest among the Friday Nights. There were three
consequences to the bunch of pH tests he ran at school. First, William registered 8.2 and was sent to
the doctor for an infection; second, the school gave Sterling four demerits for using school property for
personal use (punished not for doing the tests on his own semen but for doing tests of that of seven
non-students); and third, three straps to the buttocks when his father found out. Sterling was angry at
himself for not using a Vegas get-out-of-jail-free card. In any case, with all his acquired knowledge
Sterling was able to correct Sara’s mistake in thinking she had peed in bed; rather they had, together,
stumbled upon her G Spot.
      Sterling is an expert on the Gräfenberg Spot, often called the G Spot, the bean-shaped area located
one to three inches up the front vaginal wall between the vaginal opening and the urethra. He learned
everything the internet had to offer on the subject. He then shared the news with the boys during one
of the Friday Nights. In his PowerPoint he had illustrated that the G Spot is the female prostate and its
erectile tissue, to put it in terms more understandable to the boys. It is not a spot per se, but rather a
small spongy pad that wraps around the urethra. When this organ is stimulated through the vaginal
wall during sexual arousal, secretions can flow from the paraurethral glands. Sterling professorially
reflected that sometimes in life the harder you look for something, the more difficult it is to find, both
physiologically and psychologically. In a response to a question from James, he told his twelve year
old buddies not to be obsessed with the G and never, never tell your girlfriend that you can’t find it
because it’s her fault because she doesn’t have one. “It will find you when you’re ready.” And so it
had found Sterling tonight. Although Sara had suspected the infamous G Spot to be more an urban
legend than reality, she had never had an actual discussion with anyone about it, not with her mother,
her gynecologist, her sister or her girlfriends. That Sara had discovered the G during only their second
night together was fantastic. Sterling would have liked to take more credit for the discovery than he
deserved; and he feared Sara might want to explore it on her own, or even worse with someone else; he
didn’t want that. Regardless, the G Spot had not been on his mind during intercourse. In fact, his mind
had been wiped blank; during those minutes he was having too much pleasure to think. A clean mind
rarely happens in his life, except during somnambulistic binge eating, and now during sex.
      The great sex they had just had was probably due to an exceptional psychological state, which
was one of severe intimacy and unity. Each was at ease with both the self and the other, so relaxed that
they had lowered their usual shields. They were in many senses totally naked with one another. The
earlier conversation Sterling had had with Sara and that she had had with him was almost as unified as
when one has a conversation with oneself, a veritable Vulcan mind-meld. At the moment they became
one, the outside world no longer existed. They were the universe.
      Sterling has enough faith in his girl that he didn’t fear the consequences of showing her the video.
Her reaction was not unexpected: “You can be so stupid for being so smart,” she had said. As a
budding artist she recognized the video as a work of art, more than as a political, social or moral
statement. And as a critic she offered some comments, including advise on what needed fixing. One of
her particularly enlightened teachers had given her the golden rule of criticism: lead with the positive.
Balance is important in criticism as in most aspects of life. You can follow up with the negative, but
get the positive comments in at the very start. Sara thought the little video, shot with two cameras, was
well paced, building up to the unexpected if brief climax. Lighting, camera angles, intercutting a
medium shot with two extreme close-ups all suggested a high level of craft. The actors were a bit on
the amateurish side. Sterling literally did little more than to stand on his mark and never move off the
spot. His face was stuck in a smile, a shit-eating happy face grin –☺. By his lack of engagement
you’d hardly know he was the focus of everyone’s attention. Nurse Babette, well, according to Sara,
she should definitely not quit her day job, which as it turns out is being a graduate student in
psychology (emphasis sex therapy). She is not just some bimbo, Sterling affirmed. Sara’s most
constructive advise was of a technical nature. A natural enemy of computers, she nevertheless
understood some of their uses as tools. She was especially critical of the short’s editing. Why hadn’t
he insisted on being pixilated? Pixelization is an image-adjusting tool that lowers the resolution of an
image or a portion of an image and thereby distorts it. Blurring is such a standard graphics filter,
available in all but the most basic bitmap graphics editors, that even Sara can use it. The public sees
the results on the nightly news or on television shows such as COPS, where passersby and other
individuals have their faces blurred while the criminal and the police do not. The pixilation of
Sterling’s face and genitals would have given the film more mystery and improved its titillating quality.
Sterling agreed and he forwarded this advise in a text from Sara’s cell to Jeremiah.
      That Sara was not greatly disturbed by the video’s overtly sexual content speaks to the reality of
their relationship. Sterling is the clown, Sara his audience. She rebukes him occasionally, but mostly
she accepts him for what he is: a youthful soul in search of itself. Like a piece of fruit, if handled
properly he will inevitably mature. Sara is biding her time. It was getting late. The insatiable, randy
teens had thought about loosing some more calories, but they were already exhausted; Sterling needed
a full night of sleep in preparation for his day in court.
     The Durham County Courthouse at 201 East Main, has not changed much in the two days since
Sterling had last visited. It is still an undistinguished glassy concrete building. Just across the street is
the Old Durham Courthouse, its magnificent predecessor, built in 1916 when The Sterling was a mere
youth of four.
       Upon entering room 616, Sterling thinks he has been teleported from the 3rd Millennium back to
an old folk’s home from the 1950s. One man is slumped back in a wheelchair; another moves about
with a portable oxygen tank on a roller; a woman knits a children’s sweater. Two other women
compare wallet-sized photos of their grandchildren. The room’s temperature is set to the high
seventies, although most of the jurors are bundled up as if it were still winter. There is coffee and so
many different types of baked goods that the room has the aroma of a French bakery. The atmosphere
is like the rec center his mother’s parents frequent: clubby while maintaining sufficient
       Sterling’s image of the grand jury has been informed by what he has read on the internet over the
past few weeks, ever since the Smiley Boy matter had arisen out of the blue. Creatures of the individual
fifty states, grand juries operate differently among the states. In North Carolina they are impaneled by
the local superior court and constitute a part of his or her court. Unsurprisingly, the court operates
nearby in the court house. If the DA needs an instant court order, all he has to do is walk to the judge’s
chambers for a signature. This is a close knit community where people know each other’s business –
about a sister-in-law who just failed a mammogram or a grandchild who is having trouble at school.
       In North Carolina the grand jury’s mandate is to determine whether or not an individual or
organization should or should not be charged with a crime. The bottom line: is there sufficient
evidence to indict? Sterling has thoroughly familiarized himself with Chapter 15A of the general
statutes of North Carolina: Criminal Procedure Act. Grand Juries have 12-18 jurors, a minimum of 12
must vote for an indictment. Sterling counts 17 jurors, along with a stenographer. This means he needs
to have six of them on his side. This jury was convened two years ago and today is its next to last day
before its plug is pulled. Sterling has no way of knowing whether these jurors have aged much during
their session; he can tell only that they are indeed aged now. Some might just be counting the seconds
before dismissal; others may be anxious about losing membership in the secret club they are now a part
of. They all take the secrecy part of jury duty serious. They almost never tell anyone, except close
family, what happens, although they occasionally drop a few juicy anecdotes on the grocery line, for
example, once indictments have appeared in the press. They relish knowing grisly details of rapes,
mayhem and domestic violence. In their individual communities of elderly folk they are considered to
be legal scholars. They too think of themselves as paralegals, a fitting end for lives that have consisted
mostly of routine blue collar employment or housewifery.
       Before he entered this chamber of the near-dead – Sterling feels the elderly have their place but
wonders if they are up to the challenge of serving as his peers – his lawyer, Stacy James, and Assistant
District Attorney Abernathy had a spirited discussion. Sterling had been present for this hallway
confab but had remained completely silent unless asked a specific question to which he replied merely
“yes” or “no.” His taciturnity was on order of his lawyer, who had earlier sat him down, given him
extremely clear instructions, and made him repeat them word-for-word back to him. He did this with
all his clients, the excellence of their memories notwithstanding.
      Mrs. Abernathy had first handed James the proposed immunity order. He took a minute to read it
through and then he highlighted the salient features for Sterling. They were offering “use immunity,”
through which he would be protected for the actual testimony he gave pursuant to the immunity order.
James was adamant in his recommendation against accepting this type of immunity. It was essential
that Sterling be given “transactional immunity,” which provides the greater protection. This would
prevent him from being prosecuted for any transactions which he reveals in the course of the compelled
testimony. Although information or leads derived from a witness’ actual testimony under use immunity
cannot be used against him, he could still be prosecuted if the charges could be proven by evidence
independent of the information he provided. In other words, if they could find a copy of Smiley Boy off
the web or from another source, they could prosecute, that is, if he accepts “use” instead of
“transactional” immunity.
      Sterling had argued for “no testimony without immunity;” the DA had agreed to “no immunity
without testimony” and caved in on transactional immunity. By immunity, however, Sterling meant
immunity for not only himself but for the three others: Babette, the producer and the
director/cameraman. After some more discussion, Mrs. Abernathy agreed each would receive use
immunity while Sterling received transactional immunity. She added that Sterling’s testimony must
include a copy of the Smiley Boy video; and, of course, he must answer all questions put to him. This
would be stipulated in the revised order that was being word-processed down the hall; Sterling was
making a legal secretary and a judge earn their day’s pay.
      Sterling had to think quickly, on his feet, on these points. The overarching principle, according to
his attorney, was DO NOT LIE. Remember Martha Stewart? She was convicted of intentionally
misleading SEC and FBI officials who questioned her about insider trading; lying to federal
government agents violates Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001, the price of which can be five
years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sterling is in state, not federal, court, but the Martha Stewart
example should not be ignored. Ironically, investigators went after Ms. Stewart for financial crimes,
but she could have probably pleaded out to avoid jail time; the judge even threw out the more serious
securities fraud charge. It was the lying to federal investigators that broke the camel’s back. And
remember Al Capone? For a conviction-free career of murders and mayhem, he was jailed for simple
tax evasion.
      Sterling’s stubbornness is not much of a secret, to either himself, his attorney or the assistant DA.
He is, fortunately, also stubbornly determined not to lie. The only possible line of questioning that he
fears involves the phone conversation he had overheard and the fact he knows the name of the Atlanta
man behind the pornography operation. Lawyer James is the only person acquainted with this
information; lawyer-client privilege prevents him from sharing it with Mrs. Abernathy. Sterling had
made it clear he does not wish to reveal this information; since it is hearsay it cannot be admissible in
court, in any case. The Atlanta man is well connected (in the mob sense); Sterling had Googled him
and learned that he had had previous scrapes with the law involving narcotics and immigration
(importing Ukrainians to be Atlantic City prostitutes); he has never been convicted, however; but he is
clearly suspected of being involved in organized crime, according to press accounts, who dub him a
Tony Soprano wannabe. Thus, for reasons of personal safety if for no other grounds, Sterling feels it
essential that the Atlanta man’s name not be associated with this investigation. As his lawyer has said,
he himself is just an innocent victim.
      Before Sterling signed off on the immunity deal, he had a final word with James. His attorney
seemed worried. Sterling asked what was wrong.
      “I have a bad feeling about this, son” he replied. “The DA gave us transactional immunity for
you and use for the others; it doesn’t make sense. I would not have agreed. They’re holding a much
stronger hand than we are. And they have some aces up the sleeve,” he explained.
      “They really want the tape, I guess,” Sterling suggested. “It’s totally disappeared from the web.”
      “You think?” James reflected. He pondered a moment. “Sterling, my best advice is still my first
advice: that you don’t testify. We can tear up the immunity here and now and you can exercise your
Fifth Amendment privilege. It’s a safe bet that nothing further is going to happen.”
      Sterling shook his head. “I don’t want to look guilty; I’m not guilty. A principle’s at stake here.”
He had turned and entered the room. At that point James knew he’d done his best; he also knew a lot
of innocent folk have been jailed for their principles.
      The questioning in room 616 is conducted by Mrs. Abernathy. Mr. Miles is only an observer.
Sterling is first introduced to the forewoman, a older lady, who offers him a blueberry muffin, which
Sterling has to decline, explaining he is on a diet. No one in the jury room, however, believes that such
a thin boy is on a diet; the jurors’ instant evaluation of this teenager is that he is a boy who cannot be
trusted. And he has just offended the forewoman, their friend. The boy could have at least taken the
muffin and just not eaten it, they reason.
      Sterling answers the questions regarding name, address et cetera, his responses duly recorded by
the stenographer. He is then asked a series of pretty straight questions about the Smiley Boy video
which results in his relating, truthfully, all the events leading up to the actual filming of the video:
      In the second week of January at the start of the semester, Sterling had been on the Chapel Hill
campus for the course he audited for his AP in Comparative Government and Politics. He had struck
up a conversation with two fellow students, both from the Subcontinent. They had asked some details
about Sterling’s life and he mentioned he had been taking courses at UNC for three years. Having said
this supposedly impressive CV item, he looks over at the jurors, who seem unmoved. He then adds, for
their benefit, that he is a high school junior in a school for exceptional kids and he takes most of his
courses at university. The jurors, few of whom have college degrees, cannot fully relate to the boy
genius; that lack of connection is manifested in what Sterling perceives as bored faces; so he focuses
back to Mrs. Abernathy and gives no further thought to the others in the room. The Indians, Sterling
continues, did not ask his specific age but they may well have concluded he had to be over eighteen. It
turns out that the young men were film students and they were looking for an actor for a video they
were making for distribution back home in India. They wanted Sterling for a bit role, just a few hours’
work. They would pay a thousand bucks cash. One produced ten crisp Ben Franklins from his coat
pocket, Sterling confirms in response to Ms. Abernathy’s question. Sterling reveals that he had
immediately suspected this might involve what Indians call a blue film, or softcore pornography. He
then asked the boys if they were into softcore or hardcore. They had answered soft.
      Ass’t DA: Please tell the jurors how you differentiate between softcore and hardcore
      Witness: It’s sort of “you know it when you see it.” There’s not a clear line. Or maybe the line’s
been changing, even during my lifetime.
      Ass’t DA: You are familiar with pornography?
      Witness: Hey, I’m a teenager.
      This produces a smile on the faces of just five jurors.
      Ass’t DA: Full frontal nudity, is that softcore or hardcore?
      Witness: both or either.
      Ass’t DA: Penetration as in sexual intercourse?
      Witness: Definitely hardcore. Anal intercourse, also.
      Ass’t DA: Penile erection.
      Witness: Depends on context. Wikipedia has an 18 second video of an erection on their
ejaculation page.
      Ass’t DA: Ejaculation is hardcore or softcore?
      Witness: It depends on context.
      One of the alert jurors raises his hand and receives the forewoman’s nod to speak. He asks for the
witness to explain Wikipedia. Sterling explains, as one might to a child, in the manner he reserves for
the pee-wees. He spells the name of the on-line encyclopedia for the jurors and instructs them to do is
a search for “ejaculation.” “Don’t worry about spelling. The search engines can guess what you mean.
Wiki is really simple to use. Ask your grandchildren,” he advises, with no condescension intended.
Many jurors write down the words internet, Wikipedia, and ejaculation. Mrs. Abernathy continues:
      Ass’t DA: Let’s turn to the video known as Smiley Boy. You acknowledge you appear in the
      Witness: I do.
      Ass’t DA: In its brief stay on the internet, it was viewed by the public, is that correct?
      Witness: Yes. There were 325,403 views in the two days it was on YouTube before they took it
      Ass’t DA: when was that exactly?
      Witness: February 20th and 21st.
      Ass’t DA: The Smiley Boy video, is it hardcore or softcore?
      Witness: That’s in the eye of the beholder. I can cite several books on this, on how women have
changed the very definition of pornography.
      Ass’t DA: In your eye as a beholder, hardcore or softcore?
      Ass’t DA: softcore. It’s no big deal. A bodily function. It is in the encyclopedia.
      The DA gives Mrs. Abernathy his legal pad with some notes. She nods.
      Ass’t DA: Let’s turn to the day you made the Smiley Boy video. First, you have a copy for the
      Sterling retrieves a flash drive and hands it to her.
      Ass’t DA: Thank you. [to stenographer] Note that the witness, as requested, has submitted for the
record a copy of the Smiley Boy video. [to Sterling] This video was shot in a University of North
Carolina – Chapel Hill dormitory room. Please give us the exact location and dates of filming.
      Witness: I am sorry I cannot do that, mam. I was taken to one of the dorms and we went up a few
flight of stairs. I never was given the exact location. It was north campus, near the library and tennis
courts, I believe. It was February 12th of this year, just then, from about 3:45 to 4:45.
      Ass’t DA: And you were paid one thousand dollars.
      Witness: Yes. I have instructed my accountant to treat it as earned income.
      Sterling is pleased with himself. He has all the right answers.
      Ass’t DA: Before the actual taping of the video, you were in the dormitory room with the two
Indians and an actress. Is that correct?
      Witness: Yes, correct.
      Ass’t DA: You do not remember the names of the two Indians?
      Witness: They must have had very long names because they said I could just call them Singh and
Raj. Probably not their real names. And they might have been Pakistani or Bangladeshi or Tamil. I
never asked.
      Ass’t DA: And what were they doing during the minutes before the video was shot?
      Witness: Setting up for the shoot.
      Ass’t DA: Were they on the phone?
      Witness: Yes, one was.
      Ass’t DA: Whom was he speaking with?
      Witness: Is this really relevant? It’s only hearsay.
      Mrs. Abernathy turns to the jurors.
      Ass’t DA: The rules of evidence that apply to the trial jury do not apply to your grand jury. We
are just probing. The witness must answer the question. [to Sterling] Whom was he speaking with?
      Witness: I cannot answer that question.
      Ass’t DA: If you don’t know, just say you don’t know. But you must answer the question.
      Sterling thinks for a moment.
      Witness: I want to speak with my lawyer.
      Sterling is permitted to leave the grand jury room. Attorney James is conducting other legal
business on his phone. He immediately dismisses that client and he and Sterling engage in several
minutes of heated discussion.
      “How can they know I overheard the conversation? You must have told them!” Sterling says,
adamantly, controlling the tone and pitch but not the anger in his voice.
      “Sterling, calm down. Of course, I didn’t tell them, but you can be goddamn sure that one of the
other three people in the dorm room did. These are the friends you are protecting! One of them must
have struck a deal with the DA. No wonder they were so eager to have you testify. It wasn’t only
about getting the video. Maybe the Indians have visa issues. You never told me foreigners were
involved. That’s an immediate red flag,” James says.
      “I will not testify,” Sterling says. “I’ll take the Fifth. That’s what you suggested. Now I’ll do it.”
      “You can’t,” James says.
      “You said I could.”
      “That was then, before you testified. Once you start, you can’t selectively respond.”
      “No one told me that.”
      James doesn’t know how to respond. You set upon a strategy with a client and then follow it. A
lawyer cannot be responsible for telling his client all the legal minutia that are relevant in the various
permutations outside that strategy. Sterling seemed to have such a strong grasp of the law, much more
than even James’ incarcerated clients who were budding jailhouse lawyers. But now he wants to
change the rules; the rules are not his to change, however. The lawyer doesn’t have to explain this to
his client. He has figured it out.
      “I’ll take the consequences,” Sterling avers.
      James looks at his watch. He’ll have to stay around to follow this through; it could take all
morning. Today would end up costing Sterling over $5000 in legal bills. And the tab is just
commencing. He calls his firm for backup.
      Back in room 616, Sterling takes his seat. The stenographer repeats the question to which he
      Witness: I invoke my right against self-incrimination, as granted me by the Fifth Amendment of
the United States Constitution.
      Ms. Abernathy excuses herself to have a word in the corridor with Sterling’s attorney.
     This is not the first time, nor will it likely be the last, that Sterling finds himself behind bars.   He
stands in a holding tank for the court house. It is just a cell. Not even a bench or a bucket to pee in.
Nothing much can happen here. All the action is upstairs. Sterling is trying to figure out to whom, if
anybody, he will make his one phone call. Maybe he can take a rain check. Right now, there is no one
he wishes to speak to, certainly not his parents. He finds it ironic that he has finally out-smarted
himself. He knew he was going to have an especially bad day when James told him that he would be
meeting in chambers with Judge Eziekiel Winters. Sterling shutters at hearing the name, as in Winters
of his discontent. He knows he is in deep shit.
      In North Carolina judges of Superior Court move around their division; less entrenchment
translates into less corruption, so the theory goes. Ezekiel Winters had been up in the ninth district for
the six month rotation. He was not especially glad to come back to the fourteenth, even though it was
less of a commute for him. It is true that the third division was fairly compact, so no commute was that
tedious. The real reason the judge had no affection for the fourteenth, which includes his home base
Cary, was it had too many weirdoes: a lot of intelligent, well educated Triangle types who cause mega
trouble, too smart for their own good, like the Unabomber in California. Just this morning, he had been
in a bad mood because his wife of forty years had refused to accommodate his pre-workday marital
needs. When he was in a funk, he often thought about life’s least amusing moment: bikegate and that
sterling punk, the gang leader with the long unpronounceable Greek name.
       In the five years since his encounter with Sterling & gang Judge Winters has risen from District
Court (traffic) to a Superior Court bench. It was not an elevation without difficulty. Winters had
initially been appointed as District Court Judge by the Governor to fill the remainder of a term that had
resulted from a vacancy (the former occupant itched to get back into lucrative private practice). He
faced his first election in November 2004, when bikegate was still on the mind of the voters. He lost
by a substantial margin; he attributed the loss to all the bad press he had got from bikegate within the
District. Others might say he lost to a better qualified, if inexperienced, candidate, an African-
American Cornell graduate. In any case, he sat out justice for two years and then decided to run for
Superior Court, which is considered a step up the judicial ladder from District Court. Judge Winters
had done the math. The average annual workload for District Court judges is 12,527 cases. The
similar figure for Superior Court office-holders is 3,298. In addition, the election for the higher office
is statewide, even though judges run for and serve in a specific geographical district, the same as the
District judges whose electors live only in the district. Winters did not even bother to campaign in the
Triangle and he raised funds from statewide donors who had local R&D interests. A good fund raiser
who blanketed state television with his sleek 30-second infomercials, he easily won the eight year term
(District Court judges serve for four years, another mark against the office). So if it hadn’t been for
Sterling, Judge Winters might have dead-ended in District Court. He was not about to thank “the brat,”
however, and if “the snot” ever again appears before him, he would be well advised to dodge the book
the judge intends to throw at him with all his might.
       It is often said that the wheels of justice turn slowly. In this matter Judge Winters is a veritable
Lamborghini in black robes. Usually when DA Miles approaches a judge on small matters – such as
Sterling’s contempt – the adjudicator takes them under advisement. Winters is an expert at judicial
procrastination; he can outwait the fiercest perfect storm of hovering lawyers. It takes a few days at the
very least to get all the paperwork in order if the wheels have not been properly greased; Winters
controls the greasegun. But at the mention of a name Eumorfopoulos, so ingrained in his memory, he
took an immediate interest in the request. Of course he had been forewarned. He had been alerted that
Sterling was to appear before the grand jury when he had been given the first immunity order to sign.
He had suggested use immunity rather than its transactional cousin. The judge could only hope that the
kid would refuse to testify. “If pigs could fly,” he thought to himself. So when the assistant district
attorney came in with yet another revision, he dutifully signed, resigned that this would be another in a
lifetime of disappointing judicial days.
       Judge Winters was hearing a case in room 599 and wished to complete it before noon. Lawyers
were about to commence closing arguments in a minor drug case, when he was slipped DA Miles’ note
asking for an immediate hearing. He adjourned court on the spot, although the defense attorney had
already risen to address the jury. “You buffoon,” Winters thought, “There’s no way your client will
walk. No need to close; I’ve already decided on 3 to 5.” “We’ll reconvene at 2 P.M.,” he announced,
banging down the gavel.
       Poor Sterling. Who would have thought that having an unforgettable name can be such a
disadvantage? And what were his chances of getting the same judge he’d had before (Winters is one of
17 judges in the third division, thus a 6 ¼ % chance of landing his nemesis, in fact). Perhaps any judge
would have ruled the same, but Winters facilitated the ruling so that Sterling couldn’t do more than step
out on East Main before he was arrested. The judge wasn’t about to deprive the boy, who had once
made him look so foolish, his day in court, or rather his night in jail. Judge Winters figured on
extending the Grand Jury for as long as possible. How disappointed he must have felt when his clerk
reminded him that the jurors had only one day of service left. He asked the clerk to double check, to
see if the forever useful terrorism card could be invoked. The next question was how could he get the
boy for criminal, rather than civil, contempt. The former is defined as willful disobedience, resistance,
or interference with a court’s lawful process, order, or directive. In North Carolina, it carries a penalty
of 30 days imprisonment and/or $500 fine. Civil contempt carries an indefinite period of imprisonment
(as long as the civil contempt continues, which means as long as the grand jury sits). The DA also
wanted the former; the latter would have to suffice for the moment, Judge Winters agreed.
      James had assured Sterling, that the grand jury’s term would end before the Court got around to
dealing with the contempt charge. One cannot be jailed for contempt of court after the Grand Jury’s
authority expires. Not wanting to lose even a second, however, the Judge called in his secretary and
dictated over her shoulder into a template on the desktop. The result:
      North Carolina Superior Court for the Third Division, Fourteenth District
                                                                  In re: Grand Jury; Misc Nos.: session 05-05-2007
       Pending before the Court is the Motion of the STATE OF NORTH CAROLINA, by JOHN Q. MILES,
DISTRICT ATTORNEY, PROSECUTORIAL DISTRICT 14, to hold witness Sterling P. Eumorfopoulos in civil
contempt of court pursuant to NCGS § 5A. This Court finds as follows:
       Sterling P. Eumorfopoulos accepted on May 31, 2009 a subpoena as per NCGS § 15A-623 for grand jury
testimony and the production of certain videographic maerial.
       1. Sterling P. Eumorfopoulos was subsequently issued a grant of immunity by this Court on June 2, 2009
under NCGS §15A-1053.
       2. The grant was duly accepted by Sterling P. Eumorfopoulos on June 2, 2009.
       3. Sterling P. Eumorfopoulos began his testimony on said date but then refused to continue, invoking his
right against self-incrimination.
       4. Sterling P. Eumorfopoulos has, in person and through counsel, thus refused to comply with the grand
jury subpoena without just cause in violation of NCGS §15A-803.
       5. Based on this refusal, Sterling P. Eumorfopoulos is in civil contempt of this Court.
       6. Based on the foregoing findings of fact, and for the reasons stated in open court, it is hereby ORDERED
       7. Sterling P. Eumorfopoulos is ordered confined at a suitable place until such time as he is willing to
comply with the grand jury subpoena. The period of confinement shall not exceed the life of the term of the
grand jury, including extensions, and in no event shall exceed eighteen months.
       8. This order relating to the subject grand jury subpoenas will remain under seal until further order of the
                                                                                                      SO ORDERED.
                                                                                                         June 2, 2009.
                                                                                    The Honorable Eziekiel Winters
                                                                               North Carolina Superior Court Judge
     Sterling was indeed arrested the moment he hit the pavement, a few minutes after his testimony.
Judge Winters personally witnessed the boy’s instant incarceration as he headed out for surf and turf.
     The Assistant DA and the defense attorney had had an impromptu afternoon meeting with Judge
Winters in chambers. It was off the record. They discussed Sterling’s safety concerns in naming
names. “This is not a problem,” argued Miles. “The Grand Jury testimony can be sealed, correct
Judge?” “But seals have a way of breaking themselves open,” James countered. The judge said he
would review the situation after lunch. One possibility was that Sterling would give the testimony in
camera which meant off the record in the judge’s chambers so that the judge could make a decision
whether or not his testimony is relevant to the jurors. If Winters ruled that the testimony were not
relvant, he could excuse Sterling from testifying at all. The defense attorney pointed out what they all
knew: relevance was not in question. Of course, it was relevant. Winters did not have the same
negative opinion of James, the lawyer, as he had of his smart-alec client. James had appeared before
him in several cases involving nickle and dime crack dealers and had adequately handled a few wife
beaters. Taking on this kid was degrading to his practice, according to the judge. In any case, he
would deal with motions after lunch. He then went out and treated himself to a Surf & Turf buffet
       Judge Winters returns from lunch in such a jolly mood. He makes the DA and defense attorney
wait, while he calls in the lawyers involved in the other matter. He tells them to work this out in the
next five minutes “to save the taxpayers; arrive at a deal;” an accord is reached in which the defendant
received two years, down from the earlier 3 to 5. Winters no longer has to waste time with closing
arguments and jury deliberation. He can devote the full force of the law in Humanity v. Wiseass Punk.
The judge is indeed in a jolly mood.
       He then meets with Ms. Abernathy and James, who had talked with Sterling in the interim.
       “My client won’t budge, your honor,” James advises them.
       “He won’t budge out of his prison cell that’s for sure,” the Judge concludes.
       “Another matter has come up, your Honor,” Ms. Abernathy says. “The video he gave us is
encrypted, and we can’t access without a password.”
       Miles looks surprised:
       “I know nothing about encryption,” he says. “You asked for a USB drive, he gave it to you. With
this technologically advanced generation, you have to be very specific with what you want. You should
have asked for an unencrypted file. You didn’t.”
       “Your honor, the defendant is playing with the court. He’s trying to make a mockery of the
judicial process,” she says.
       “He’s a kid, your honor. He’s certainly not capable of the sinister behavior he’s being accused
       From personal experience Judge Winters knows exactly what Sterling is capable of. Now he had
him on criminal contempt. This is turning into a really fine day.
       “What does the District Attorney want?
       “The encryption key, your honor,”
       “So ordered. And if you don’t get it, you can pursue criminal contempt. Get the paperwork and
I’ll sign. Call me at home, if necessary. Better do it before the grand jury is dismissed, which is
when?” he asks.
       “This is its last case. We can release as soon as we have a viewable video,” she responds.
       “No, better have them come back in tomorrow,” the judge says. “Is that all?” he asks impatiently.
       “The matter of where my client will spend the night, Judge. I ask the Court to release the child on
his own recognizance. He’s not a flight risk and his father is an officer of the court.
        “RoR denied. Anything else?,” the judge decrees.
       James stops while he’s still only slightly behind. He visits Sterling in cell he’s been transferred
to: it contains a mattres, flush toilet and tap. James informs him he has alerted his parents and tells
Sterling to use his permitted phone call to telephone them and ask for whatever he needs for the
       “And give me the goddamn unencrypted video. Immediately. Do you understand?” he says in a
very harsh tone. “No more games,” he adds.
       Sterling writes down the password to unlock the video: SmileyBoy. No more games, he
understands. He is becoming resigned to his fate.
     Fate arrives in the form of his parents.  They bring a change of underwear, some toiletries and an
additional blanket. Pandely’s experience has told him that overnighters are always cold in the morning.
They have arrived at supper time. Sterling was given several slices of Wonder Bread with some sort of
processed cheese stuck between.
      Catherine and Pandely determine he is as comfortable as possible. Pandely, who is still in
uniform, rises. He whispers something privately to his son, which shocks the both of them. He then
leaves mother and son alone.
      “Mother,” Sterling starts. “I know this looks bad, but there’s a principle at stake here. In the end
you will be proud of the outcome.”
      Neither says anything for a moment. Catherine takes in a deep breath and begins:
      “Son, everything with you is a game. You just go through life with a set of blinders, playing your
      “You let me speak, Sterling. You listen to every word so you can replay this and understand what
I am saying.”
      “All right.”
      “We’ve known you were special since very early on. You weren’t like Susan. I mean, both of
you were hardheaded and independent and thought you could raise yourselves. You had to because I
guess Pan and I didn’t do our jobs very well.”
      Sterling wants to disagree but he realizes his silence is better. He awaits his mother’s confession.
She pauses and swallows. It’s almost as if she is holding back tears. He has seen both his parents cry
together, only once in his life. That was when his sister’s coffin was being lowered into the ground.
He didn’t cry. He was way too angry then. It was the13th of February, coincidentally the day after he
made his video. His mother has composed herself and continues.
      “You were a handful. I guess we indulged you. That first Palm Pilot or whatever it was. We
shouldn’t have given that to a six year old. That was a mistake, one of many. I’ve had a long talk with
your father about where we’ve gone wrong. You might not think anything’s wrong, but we realize
something’s been wrong. Masturbating on the internet is wrong.”
      “I didn’t masturbate, mother.”
      “Call it what you want. I can’t win at semantics with you. Sterling, we need to figure out what
has gone wrong. And we will, Sterling. You and your father and me…” She pauses and continues:
“…and I think Sara, too. We’ll figure this out. We lost one child. We will not lose another.”
      She composes herself again. Sterling feels rotten, too. A single tear rolls down his cheek. Then
      “When you get home tomorrow – the lawyer hopes tomorrow but maybe not if you continue to
refuse his advice, which is why you’re here. You do understand that, don’t you?”
      “Yes, mam.”
      “When you get home, your life will be different. You can accept the changes or you can leave.
Pan and I have decided not to oppose your emancipation, if that’s what you want. You’ve threatened us
with this before, telling us how smart you are, smart enough to take care of yourself. We won’t stand in
your way. We don’t want that, of course. Losing a child is the worse thing that can happen to a parent.
I’m telling you all this now because you need to prepare yourself. There will be a different set of rules
if you want to stay with us. You will live with those rules or you will live somewhere else. I have
talked with my folks and they have agreed not to accept you.”
      “That’s right, NOT. You’re not going to be a burden to them. I will not have you tricking them,
playing your games with them. You will not even talk to them, without my being present. Do you
      “And you will see a therapist.”
      Sterling offers no reaction. He will not let someone fuck around his head. This is not a subject
open for discussion, now or later.
      “Did you hear me?”
      “I heard you.”
      Sterling realizes that his legal problems will be the least of his worries. A new future is about to
Chapter 10
     Sterling slept fairly well, given the circumstances.     He is processed out by noon, a few hours
after the grand jury was retired, hugs all around, with the thanks of a grateful county, delivered by the
District Attorney himself. All that was left for the jurors to do was to await their last check from the
Clerk of the Court for $80, for these last two days of duty. Sterling has nothing else to do but walk
home with his blanket, toiletries, and the previous day’s underwear.
      While Sterling had been resting, many of the jurors had spent their night exploring the internet,
sometimes with the help of spouses, children or grandchildren. A few had had prior internet exposure;
they were not all digital virgins. But only two of them – both middle aged men – had heretofore
experienced the sexual side of the medium. Sterling’s instructions had been followed. They had
Googled for ejaculation and found the Wiki video which Sterling had mentioned for comparative
purposes. That was more than a tad shocking for many. But a little taste of internet potential was not
sufficient for some jurors, who started more ambitious searching until, with not much effort, they were
thrust into a host of pornography websites. They reacted in different ways, none of them positive as
regards the boy witness.
      The extent of graphic adult material available on the World Wide Web can only be speculated. A
search of the bookshelf at Amazon produces over 150 books on the subject of addiction to
pornography, with titles such as The Porn Trap, The Drug of the New Millennium or Porn Nation.
Whatever statistics are offered tend to be impressively large, and although they may not exactly be
accurate, their presentation in and of itself reflects the authors’ concern that Americans are addicted to
porn. Statistics are usually presented in group which tends to maximize their impact. An example:
      The pornography industry has grown to a $97 billion business worldwide; 13 billion is in the United
      Internet pornography in the United States is a $3 billion industry
      Every second, $3,075.64 is being spent on pornography, 28,258 Internet viewers are viewing pornography,
372 Internet users are typing adult search terms into search engines, and every 39 minutes, a new pornographic
video is made in the United States.
      Of 3.5 million Internet searches submitted by youth between February 2008 and July 2009, the words
“sex” and “porn” ranked fourth and sixth among the top ten most popular search terms.
       The grand jurors of Durham County, North Carolina, would not be expected to knew these
statistics (or even to have thought much about the subject previous to Sterling’s presentation). Yet,
after their brief internet foray, it is fair to say that many of them believed they were witnesses to a
problem engulfing the nation. They wanted to do their bit in providing a solution which meant
indicting someone for something.
      Academics have said that one of the unwritten roles of grand juries is that they serve to channel
public opinion into litigation. Jurors are average citizens, selected at random from the voting rolls, and
thus they represent the public and reflect its views, including those on moral issues. If they don’t like
something and if they have the opportunity to ride a high horse, they may do so, especially if they have
a willing district attorney backing their effort.
      Like so much else in the United States the concept of grand jury originated with the British who
then refined it over seven centuries. It was a Crown creation, a de facto citizens’ police force that
ensured central control over criminal prosecution. When the American colonies adopted the
mechanism, however, it acquired a distinctive American flavor. It often substituted for police and
prosecutors until those institutions could be developed in the young nation. The juries sometimes had
to concern themselves with every day issues affecting citizens, such as bad roads and infrastructure
deficiencies. In the Carolinas, for example, legislation was promptly considered if it was suggested by
a majority of the county grand juries. Thus, this social/political role for the grand jury, separate from
its main objective of issuing indictments, is rooted in American history. For the Durham County jurors
to observe the social elements of the Smiley Boy video, then subconsciously to reflect on the general
will of the people, and finally to act by issuing an indictment (regardless of how flimsy its legal
foundation) would not be inconsistent with history. In fact, if they had failed to consider the larger
issue, they would have diverged from their predecessors’ track record.
      Carolina today is not exempt from the spirited American public debate on sex and morality
sometimes characterized as the “culture wars.” The state has voiced concerns through legislation.
Some examples: Soliciting, enticing or coercing a child 16 years of age or younger by computer to
commit unlawful sexual acts is a class H felony if the defendant is at least three years older than the
victim. Another law defines as a Class C felony the transportation, recording, or inducing of a minor
for the purpose of producing a visual representation of sexual activity as part of a live performance.
Other statutes criminalize the dissemination of harmful material to minors or allowing a minor to view
a live performance harmful to minors. Other laws condemn as felonies the use, employment,
inducement, coercion, encouragement, or facilitation of a minor to engage in or assist others to engage
in sexual activity for a live performance for the purpose of producing material containing a visual
representation depicting such activity.
      Over the past several years the state has been awash with citizen concerns over sex. People don’t
want sex offenders living next door. The names of people convicted of sex crimes – the definition of
which varies by jurisdiction – are put in a national register for ten years. The list is web-accessible, and
sex offenders must report in person to the sheriff’s office twice a year. At any given time there are
between 250 and 280 sex offenders registered in Durham; they occasionally find themselves in the
news. Since anyone can access their current residential address; sometimes neighbors picket in protest
against offenders locating in their community; these protests can find a way of getting media attention.
      A state once dubbed “Smut Capitol of the U.S.” by federal attorneys and agents, North Carolina
removed many pornography businesses after it enacted some of the toughest anti-porn laws in the U.S.
Its advocates believed the legislation set a national precedent in its effectiveness in eradicating
pornography. After the bill was passed, according to one report, 19 pornography shops closed in one
day, representing at least $10 million worth of annual business. “A citizen’s group called ‘Concerned
Charlotteans,’ organized by Joseph Chambers, was very instrumental in lobbying for enactment of the
law…Somewhere between 500 and 700 adult book stores were doing business across the state…Not
only were they selling violence and degrading pornography, but were operating homosexual brothels.
The description of the acts transpiring in those establishments is too degrading to describe.” By April
2008, according to the same internet report, a growing number of community leaders were beginning to
focus their anti-porn efforts on the Holiday Inn hotel chain – now said to be the nation’s largest
distributor of satellite pornography.
      Who is winning the culture wars? On one side are the First Amendment supporters who hold that
the constitutional right of free speech overrides any harm done by offensive content. Sterling belongs
to this camp. Unlike him, however, many other Carolinians in this group acknowledge that much adult
media content is indeed offensive, and they admit that the nation would not be worse off if it
disappeared. But that removal, they argue, should be brought about with educational programs and the
like. Restricting speech, a slippery slope toward un-democracy, should not be among the weapons to
fight this disease. In the other camp are the anti-porn fighters, who are backed by citizens fed up with
declining American morals as reflected in the prevalence of sex videos and the like. Some of the more
vocal members of the grand jury are in this group. In following up on Sterling’s recommendation when
they had explored the internet the previous night, they were welcomed into a world they found
distasteful. To say that they had stumbled on more information than they cared for is to put it mildly.
Even the Wikipedia ejaculation video – so accessible, just two typed words and two clicks after
switching on the computer browser – some defined as pornographic. Such a video was deemed by
them as too graphic for inclusion even in a sex education class. And it was tame compared to the video
produced by the young “genius”, which they had watched in the darkened jury room. Given their
collectively poor eyesight, only a third of the jury could fit around the small TV at any one time; thus
three ejaculation screenings were required. By the third squirt and grunt, they had had enough.
Sterling was to be indicted.
      Frequently during his short life, Sterling has been his own worse enemy. No doubt in showing his
jurors a pathway onto the seamy side of the internet, he had merely meant to be helpful. They seemed
so clueless, he thought. He could teach them something new. The boy supported the free flow of
information. Personally, he loved to search the bowels of the internet to find data nuggets and gems
that could then enrich a school paper for Harvard. But exploring the bowels usually produces more
than data nuggets and gems.
      A single question remained: indicted for what? The forewoman had a blank form before her.
Fortunately Mrs. Abernathy was present to offer suggestions and guidance on how to fill it in. Not
wanting to beat around the bush, the assistant district attorney immediately offered for the jury’s
consideration the offence of indecent exposure, which is in violation of NCGS § 14-190.9. She passed
out a copy of the statute and answered questions.
      “How serious a crime?” asked one juror. Mrs. Abernathy explained that a typical sentence might
be two years probation, a $75 fine, and 100 hours of community service, exactly the sentence handed
down to Theodore R. Phalan in 2002. “How do we decide if there’s been a crime?” asked another. The
lawyer explained that for the jury to determine if there is probable cause for believing that the crime of
indecent exposure has been committed, four conditions had to be met: “(1) willful exposure; (2) of
private parts of one’s person, (3) in a public place, (4) in the presence of one or more persons of the
opposite sex.” She cited the relevant case law for the record. Another juror asked if there were laws
against putting pornographic images on the internet. Mrs. Abernathy explicated the subject. Case law
in this area is not fully developed, as the internet is young and it takes some time for the legislature to
pass laws relating to it and then for courts to interpret these laws. There is, however, NCGS 14-190.15
which “criminalizes the dissemination of harmful material to minors or allowing a minor to view a live
performance harmful to minors.” She explained that the offense is classified as a Class 1
misdemeanor; to date there had been no cases prosecuted under this statute. The jury asked Mrs.
Abernathy some more questions. When they started talking among themselves, she realized that they
were ready to deliberate. She and the stenographer left, as grand juries deliberate in secret; no one but
jurors are privy to their formal session of deliberation.
      After thirty minutes Mrs. Abernathy was called back by the forewoman. She was handed the
completed form. At that point District Attorney Miles arrived and thanked them with his closing
remarks. When he and his assistant returned to their office, they examined the form.
      “This will please Judge Winters,” he said.
      “And a cash cow for Stacy James, legal corporation.”
      Mrs. Abernathy shares the joke with her boss. Their strategic reaction to the indictment is not in
doubt. They have a meeting of the minds; no discussion is necessary. Contrary to myth, prosecutors do
not have to abide by the decisions of a grand juror. They can prosecute without an indictment or if
handed an indictment, they can refuse to pursue it. A case is often stronger with an indictment,
psychologically stronger, and witnesses’ testimony can almost always be used in a trial. Everything is
subject, however, to the individual rulings of the trial judge, Judge Winters, in this case. Miles phoned
him to tell him the indictments were in. Only Sterling had been indicted. The Judge wanted the
DAand his assistant in his office downstairs pronto.
      When they met, they delivered the indictment to the Judge, completed in the forewoman’s
handwriting. Why was there no indictment for the other three participants or the “black hand” who
financed the operation from his Atlanta base? Babette had been called as a witness when the grand jury
sat the previous month, and she had testified under use immunity, in advance and irrespective of
Sterling’s involvement. She offered nothing of much use to the prosecutors, save for director’s name
and phone and the name of the young actor, who lived in an eponymous building. “Sterling
something,” she had said. “A very long Greek name,” she had added. Many grand jurors knew the
exact building she was referring to, located a few blocks away. Babette’s name, itself, had been
provided by the director, testifying under oath, also with immunity. How the grand jury got their
names remains unknown to the district attorney, who figures it most prudent not to ask. On this matter
he and the grand jury operate with an understanding of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” In fact in their February
23rd meeting, the jurors had first discussed the Smiley Boy video among themselves – it was during a
period they were supposed to be deliberating a clear-cut, rather boring strangulation indictment.
Outside the presence of county attorneys, their discussion snowballed into a call for action against
pornography. Although none had personally viewed the video, one juror had been told about it at
dinner by her teenage son. She had shared with her fellow jurors the video’s gist, using general
descriptors like “lewd” and “lascivious,” and complaining that the pornographers were “using our own
under-aged minors in our very own backyard.” Despite the fact they did not know Sterling’s age nor
recognize the lady’s tautology, they certainly shared her indignation. The name and address of the
production company had been credited at the end of the video’s disclosure statement:
                         18 U.S.C. Section 2257 Age & Record Keeping Information
      Models, actors, actresses and other persons that appear in any visual depiction of actual or simulated
sexual conduct appearing or otherwise contained in all SmileyBoy websites were over the age of eighteen (18)
years at the time of the creation of such depictions.
      Some of the aforementioned depictions appearing or otherwise contained in or at these sites contain only
visual depictions of actual sexually explicit conduct made before July 3, 1995, and, as such, are exempt from the
requirements set forth in 18 U.S.C. 2257 and C.F.R. 75.
      The owners and operators of this website are the producer (as the term is defined in 18 U.S.C. Section
2257 and 28 C.F.R. Part 75) of all the visual content contained on the Web site. The Custodian of Records for
content on this Web site for which the owners and operators of this Web site are the primary producer is/are:
                                                                                 SmileyBoy Communications Inc.
                                                          Custodian of Records: SmileyBoy Communications Inc.
                                                                                           Private Postal Box 4783
                                                                                              298 East Main Street
                                                                                               Durham, NC 27712
      A simple telephone call to City Hall during a coffee break had produced the names of persons
who had registered a business license. “Sounds like foreigners,” they had agreed. The two young
Indians were thus the first persons to be subpoenaed, in March. They were indeed foreigners, as
charged. One was a Kannadiga-Punjabi intercaste and the other a gay Brahmin from Delhi. The DA
had offered them transactional immunity just as Sterling had later wanted. In fact, they had been given
this immunity before Sterling’s name was even known to the authorities. It was the director, who had
technically overstayed his student visa and was waiting for an extension, who had obligingly provided
Sterling’s name to Mrs. Abernathy. That heated the seal of Sterling’s fate. When asked under oath to
provide the names of the person behind the operation, the director admitted that he did not know the
big man’s identify. He had only dealt with him through his partner. His partner, the blue blooded
Delhiite, had also appeared before the grand jury in April. On advice of Manhattan counsel, however,
he had invoked the Fifth Amendment from the start; the day after his testimony he was on a plane back
to the Subcontinent, thus nullifying any attempt by Carolina justice to jail him on contempt. There had
been no indictment of the Atlanta pornlord because the District Attorney did not know his name (or
location). Sterling had been in a position to provide that information, but had refused. He had greatly
angered the DA and his assistant. So the book of law was brought down on the minnow Sterling, while
the larger smut fish and sperm whale swam freely away.
      In chambers Judge Winters asks the prosecutors why the charge is not felony indecent exposure,
which is appropriate when adults expose themselves to a child or children.
      “As I understand the internet, any child has access to YouTube. There’s no attempt to keep
minors off that website.”
      “That is correct, your honor,” Mrs. Abernathy confirms.
      He hands them back the indictment form. “The fact the grand jury issued these two indictments
seems to suggest felony, doesn’t it? Well, I certainly can’t tell you how to do your job,” he opines. He
doesn’t need to say that a felony conviction would more impress the voters – his and the DA’s. Felony
indecent exposure carries with it a much heavier condemnation than its lightweight misdemeanor. The
options include jail time, probation, fines, restitution, registration as a sexual offender, mandatory court
ordered classes and community service, a veritable field day for a hanging-type judge. Much is
negotiated between the concerned parties. For North Carolina, the average fine is $500, jail time 30-90
days and 5 years of community service. These are not penalties to be sneezed over.
     Sterling sneezes.     Having gone a day without training, he will soon make up the loss with double
sessions today, one in the afternoon and the other before he went to bed. Now he is dictating a
verbatim mental transcript of his testimony. After a momentary delay his words appear, phrase by
phrase, on the iMac screen, courtesy of digital dictation/transcription software. He concludes, quoting
      “Witness: I invoke my right against self-incrimination, as granted me by the Fifth Amendment of
the United States Constitution.”
      After reading the result over once, correcting just two minor transcription errors, he FTPs the text,
encrypted, to Jeremiah’s Swedish proxy for eventual inclusion on the Smiley Boy Legal Defense Fund
website. He adds some welcoming comments of his own onto the website’s blog. Sterling is quite
pleased with Jeremiah’s work. Following Sara’s suggestion, he has pixilated Sterling’s face and private
parts; they have been altered ever so slightly to subtlety obscure their owner’s identify. In fact, his
name is not mentioned anywhere on the website. The hacker-turned-designer had not altered the
extreme close-up, however, for this is the essence of Smiley Boy. This marketing hook is what would
bring in the clicks and the donations, they hope. The tasks completed, he goes down to box. As always
Bucephalus dogs him, as if this were her lot in life.
      The positive outcome of jail visit is that Sterling is now down to 155 pounds, with only three
more to lose. A piece of cake, he thinks. Or, rather, pieces of cake foregone. Only three more hours to
dinner, he reflects as he works the speed bag.
      His faithful bitch, Bucephalus (named before disengendered), lies in her corner on the floor. The
canine boxer tends to tag along with her human counterpart as he moves around the apartment and up
and down to the gym. She is his most loyal supporter; but she certainly doesn’t need anyone to open
doors for her. She can open them on her own. Bucephalus is about as intelligent as a boxer can get.
Some people say boxers aren’t very smart. An internet site, a frequent target for Sterling’s ridicule,
ranks dog breeds by intelligence. Boxers place 48th out of 80, slightly below average. The ranking
comes from a book The Intelligence of Dogs, the only intelligent aspect of which is the author’s
cleverness in being able to con the public to buy such nonsense. Rating canine intelligence is quite
ludicrous, the boy notes, for we don’t even know how to rate human intelligence, much less that of our
most loyal species.
      It’s best not to get Sterling started on human intelligence tests. Sterling let his Mensa membership
lapse at age eight, concurring with Groucho’s remark: he did not care to belong to a club that accepted
people like him as members. As a member of Mensa from the age of five, he has never had much
respect for tests that are used to show that one person has more brain power than another. “Just look at
me,” he’s told friends. “They say I’m about the smartest in the species; if that’s so, humanity is up shit
creek without a paddle.” He particularly feels that way this afternoon, after his release from detention.
It’s not usual for Sterling to be depressed and this feeling especially unnerves him today for he knows,
in his mind, that he should be feeling lifted up, having just battled Lady Justice and won. It’s at this
point he envies his canine companion, who accepts Sterling, faults and all, a model for Sara.
Bucephalus, who can open doors and take the elevator, purports a different type of intelligence from
Sterling’s. She, like her putative master, lives a life of chips. Sterling’s are in the electronic gadgets
that assist and somewhat control his life; Bucephalus’ are around her fur line. Under the skin she is
microchipped for identification and vaccination purposes; she also wears a GPS dog collar. Her most
unusual chip is one that does indeed open doors and controls the elevator. It involves wireless
technology, details of which she, like most humans, need not know. When the dog feels an urge to go
out for a walk, she stands by the elevator. It is electronically beaconed by her collar. It arrives, she
steps aboard, it descends, she walks by the gym to the back entrance and out the doggie door which can
flip open only when she is with ten feet of it. Sterling himself helped install the electronics a few
year’s back. He had trained Boo which was done by playing follow-the-leader with her. He moved on
his hands and knees onto the elevator and through the doggie portal for several weeks (granted,
Bucephalus is not a poodle which could have learned the procedure in several minutes). He had to
clean up after a few accidents during the trials, but eventually Bucephalus was able to go solo. Sterling
then invited the B Club members over to see Boo in action. Sterling stood outside the closed door and
called the dog. She didn’t come; he kept calling, wishing for success and not wanting to be the
laughing stock of his fellow tykes. The kids were occasionally banging on the inside of the door,
probably to get Bucephalus’ attention. Like her master, she could sometimes be stubborn. He kept
calling. Actually, Bucephalus was trying her best to get out the door to answer her master’s call.
Someone, undoubtedly the Trips, had sabotaged the electronic door and Bucephalus kept running into it
at full speed trying to get out in response to Sterling’s ever more intense pleas. Finally the entire door
opened. His father appeared with the strap. Pandely had witnessed this bit of animal cruelty from
inside, where the pre-teens were in stitches over Bucephalus’ predicament and her inability to
comprehend what was happening. Sterling on the other side of the door had heard the bumps but
thought they were just a boy banging on the door. He was given the opportunity to explain, pleading
his guilt in silence; there, in front of his friends, he dropped his shorts and received a severe thrashing.
Bucephalus, for her part, didn’t understand the pain Sterling felt; she obediently remained by his side to
share in the game. Afterwards he had certainly learned a valuable lesson; for the life of him he didn’t
know what exactly it was.
      As he continues with some sit-ups, he wonders how long he will be sharing the proverbial
doghouse with faithful Bucephalus. The talk with his parents is scheduled for after dinner. This is to
be a serious family sit-down. Sara is invited; well, she’s cooking dinner and sleeping with the in-house
perpetrator, they can’t very well exclude her. Before he commences some shadow-boxing, however, he
checks his messages. There’s another one from Buffeau who has been text-bullying him for the past 48
hours demanding a rematch. He tells him to come at 5 P.M. and asks how the lacrosse match went.
“We lost,” Buffeau replies; “it was close; if you had been there we would have won,” he notes, adding
a smiley with a downturned grin. Sterling is not a fan of emoticons and wonders if Buffeau knows
about the Smiley Boy video and is thus including the smileys just to irritate him. The Buffer, the newly
arrived irritant in Sterling’s life, seems like such a snooper, too. There are no messages from Billy,
which is surprising, but there’s a message from Daryl, which is even more surprising. For reasons
unbeknownst to Sterling, his teenhood friend Daryl has been avoiding him since at least around the
time he made the video. Sterling guesses that perhaps Daryl found out about the video and was
offended. Daryl is a bit of a prude. More than a year older than Sterling, Daryl was dating Susan in the
months just before she died. He’s pretty sure they had never had much sex (in fact Susan’s autopsy had
confirmed her virginity), and he thought that Daryl was more Mormon than he let on, or that was what
Susan had jokingly said. Mormons follow a strict rule of sexual conduct called the Law of Chastity,
which prohibits extramarital and premarital sex, pornography, masturbation, and homosexuality. Daryl
tolerated Billy just as he had tolerated the Friday nights, for one reason: he had had a crush on Susan
and the Friday night assemblies were an excuse to see her. Daryl had not provided a sperm sample for
testing, however. Sterling posited the theory that Daryl’s beliefs conflicted him with guilt because of
his associations with Sterling’s gang. Surprisingly Daryl had not been at the funeral; it was said he was
inconsolable in his grief and had sought consolation in his Faith. All the other Friday nighters,
however, had been there. The Trips had spontaneously burst into a rendition of Amazing Grace, after
which they had wept in unison, a genuine emotion infecting the crowd. At that very moment – sit-up
36 – Sterling does not feel his usual hatred toward the Trips; he had noticed the effect of their sweet
voices on the mourners, producing a becalming, almost satisfying, sadness within him, also. He had
been told the trio, now mature tenors, were exceptionally talented, although his own ears and brain
cannot differentiate quality from noise, which is probably why he had never respected the Trips for
their good qualities which, granted, are obliterated by their more salient evilness.
      Over the last several months, Daryl has pulled a vanishing act. He suddenly appeared at Sunday’s
birthday party only to whisper to Sterling they must talk. Then Sterling had been detained by the cops
and did not have a further chance to see Daryl. Now there was a mysterious message, desperately
shouting in caps: URGENT MUST TALK SOON AS POSSIBLE. Sterling has much on his plate, what
with his boxing, his legal issues, and the intensity of his new relationships, with Sara (good) and his
parents (less good). Daryl must go to the back of the line, unless he has some reason to jump the
queue. Could he be suicidal, Sterling wonders. Mormons don’t super-condemn suicide. Their attitude
is more one of compassion, without approval. Not subjected to a Vatican type of vituperative
condemnation, perhaps Daryl is conflicted on this subject, too. And, if he is still depressed over
Susan’s death...Sterling lets him jump the queue. Come over some time tomorrow, he texts back.
      He decides to jump rope rather than shadow-box. His mind is wandering too intensely for
shadow boxing. What will happen at the family confab? Sterling himself expects the worse: he might
be grounded indefinitely, even not allowed visitors; his parietal rights may be severely curtailed,
making it more difficult to further feather the lovenest. He can only guess what his parents have in
store for him. His father has not taken the strap to him for years, although on occasion he has
threatened to. If put to the test Sterling has wondered if he would let his father abuse him with their “I-
love-you-son-I-love-you-dad” type of punishing bullshit. He once went so far as to check out state
rules on corporal punishment on-line. The Child Protective Services manual says: “Parents have a right
to discipline their children. Done appropriately, spanking and the use of corporal punishment are not
considered child abuse.” “Appropriately” is one of those meaningless words one uses when vagueness
is desired. The relevant state statutes are equally vague and often mention the age of 18. Unless
emancipated a child of the Carolinas, it seems, is subject to his/her parent’s discipline until age 18.
Courts in North Carolina have adopted parental privilege by decision, which is to say that if a parent
were charged with a crime such as battery, the parent could raise the defense of parental privilege and
avoid criminal liability by demonstrating that his use of force against his child was a reasonable
exercise of the parental right to discipline. But you reach legal majority at 16 in North Carolina. In
any case, after some age, 16 or 18, beating a child would be the same offense as one person beating
another, in other words battery, defined as “the intentional touching of another person against that
person’s will or by an object put in motion by the perpetrator.” Battery need not cause actual physical
injury to the person and is still considered a civil offense. Sterling has no desire to take his father to
court on a battery charge, but the option is worth exploring, intellectually. In any event, the limits of
parental privilege cannot be easily defined but rather are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis and stated
in terms such as “reasonable under the circumstances.” Still, it’s all moot. Sterling has no desire to
ever again see the inside of a courtroom. As an articulate victim, however, perhaps he’ll write about
child beating.
      Corporal punishment is indeed a popular way of dealing with misbehaving children in North
Carolina; as pre-teens many of his friends had their bottoms smacked on occasion, although Sterling
figures no one came close to receiving his amount of hiding. The Trips have never had a hand laid on
them. Their parents worship the holy ground they tread upon; they never even scold the boys, which
they continue to see as a pure gift from God, in His own images. John Dewey, for all his
mischievousness, also gets away with everything, perhaps playing the autism card. Sterling doesn’t
know to what extent he can turn on and off his autism; he holds suspicions. Jeremiah’s original dad
beat him with a stick and he has a restraining order against him; he’s on great terms with his step-dad,
who he employs in his web security business. William, of course, is too timid to ever do anything that
merits a beating; Senior would never lower himself to beat the dog, much less the child.
      The inevitable arrives, in the form of Brandon Buffeau. He steps over Bucephalus, who doesn’t
deign to recognize his presence (The dog has refined tastes.). Sterling wishes he could do the same.
Brandon is all business, throws off his warm-ups, and steps into the ring, ready to fight. He does some
stretches on the ropes to show off his muscles. Sterling hands him the headgear. After a moment of
reflection, Brandon puts it on. Sterling sets the clock, enters the ring and waits for the bell. It rings,
they tap gloves at center ring, and start to box.
      Sterling is the more aggressive and his pounding at Brandon’s midsection drives him to the ropes.
Brandon breaks free and keeps his distance. Then it’s like a ballet; he dances in and out, side to side,
weaving, feinting, in order to draw Sterling out of position, forcing him to shoot short. Neither lands
punches. Sterling works for an opening; Brandon works to avoid one. The bell denotes the end of the
round. They retire to their respective corners for a swig of water. Pandely, who had arrived during the
middle of the round, is now whispering to Brandon, as if he were the boy’s second. Sterling notes this.
The bell rings. They start throwing punches, Brandon now less the ballerina. They fight tight, inhaling
each other’s perspiration. They exchange punches, each landing one or two, while Sterling waits for a
chance for another upper right to the chin, the punch that had previously decked the Buffer. From the
corner, his father is yelling ‘right…right…right.’ Sterling doesn’t have time to mull this over; in any
case the instructions are for his opponent. If he had time to think about it, Sterling would not know
why his father would suggest that Buffeau attack from his right, against Sterling’s left, which is his
supposedly stronger side. As his inner brain is trying to figure this out – Freud would say his
unconscious – Buffeau lands a clean left to the face that staggers Sterling. He shakes it off. His father
jumps into the ring, separates the fighters, has a look at Sterling’s face and gives the signal for the
fighters to stop. Brandon is as shocked as Sterling, not knowing what he had accomplished or how.
Pandely has somehow given him a strategy that worked. Sterling, however, knows exactly what has
happened; he has been fuckin’ Timberlaked. His father had told Buffeau to use his left and to ignore
what he was yelling from the corner. What he yelled was misdirection intended for Sterling, one a
coach’s oldest tricks in the book. Sterling had been out conned. What he had done to the lady ultimate
opponent (‘You missed two’) , his father had done right back to him. What goes around comes around.
      Pandely ignores his son and chats with Buffeau:
      “Very good, son. You saw the hole and plugged it. You should have gone in for the kill.
Remember only the ref should stop your aggression.”
      “Yes, sir,” Brandon concedes. He won’t make that mistake again.
      Pandely continues: “Height and reach are not that much of an advantage in boxing. In fact, they
just make for a bigger target. If you have smart hands, you’ll find the target. Don’t think, just fight.
You did good, son.”
      Twice his father had used the s-word and Sterling is annoyed. His father hasn’t been so
loquacious to the legitimate owner of the s-word for a long time, if forever. Is he trying to make
Sterling jealous?
      “You going to fight next week in the qualifiers for the under-19?”
      “I’m registered, sir.”
      “Good. Let me know who your opponent is, I’ll try to do some scouting.”
      Thanks a lot, dad, Sterling thinks.
      “Let me give you the trick to winning,” Pandely continues, reasoning Buffeau to be an admirable
listener. “In all sports, all athletic contests, there are four things that count. This holds true for football,
or for the Tour of France, ping pong or even rhythmic gymnasties. First you have physical
conditioning. You look like you’re in good shape, around 152, correct?”
      “On the button, sir.”
      “Good. Boxers who can’t keep their weight…well, anyway. Second, skill. You need to know
strategy, train so that your hand-eye coordination is perfect. Skill is what most coaches and trainers
work on. But it’s only one of the four aspects.”
      “Yes, sir,” Brandon affirms. Sterling shakes his head. The kid is such a brown-noser; Pandely
better not fart.
      “Third, and this is absolutely essential. People say, ‘How can so-and-so win? He’s not as good as
so-and-so.’ That can be true, you can lack the skill or you can be out of shape but you can still win.
Why’s that, son?”
      Pandely pauses. It was not a rhetorical question. Sterling smiles. Brandon’s probably not even
been paying attention to the old windbag. Or if he has he doesn’t have the right response. Sterling
knows Pandely’s “trick to winning” talk backwards and sideways; he plans to use the lecture himself on
the pee-wees if they ever reach the point they need it.
      Brandon points to his own head and then to his heart. “It’s up here, sir, or down here. It’s inside,
anyway. Winning’s very psychological. In boxing it’s called boxer’s heart, isn’t it? But I think it has
more to do with having the psychological edge, which includes wanting it more than your opponent.”
      Pandely nods his approval and hugs the boy. This is too much for Sterling, who bounds out of the
ring to head up stairs. Bucephalus notices but ignores. She prefers to remain with the new boy and the
old man.
     Dinner is quiet for Sterling because he’s tuning out all the praise Pandely is shoveling on
Buffeau. Fortunately, Brandon turned down his father’s invitation to join them for the family confab.
Mr. Loquacious, nevertheless, can’t stop with reporting on Brandon’s life accomplishments. In their
talk, while Sterling had absented himself to shower, Brandon must have presented his full CV…merit
this, awarded that, winner of such-and-such, Mensa, bla bla bla. The Trips, for all their many flaws, are
at least modest. They never boast about how many gold records they have or about their appearances
on Oprah and Letterman. Of course, they have parents to do the PR work for them. Brandon seemed
to be his own walking and talking PR machine. Sterling wished someone would pull his plug.
       Dinner is perfect as always. Pandely and the two women are eating a tuna casserole that is so
good it doesn’t taste like a tuna casserole. Everyone thinks it is chicken. Sterling has a different meal:
raw vegetables, no dressing, a large, lean steak and a bucket of hardboiled eggs. No carbohydrates
whatsoever. In a low-carbs cookbook – Sara had brought her collection cookbooks for the summer
visit – she had found a diet for athletes who need to lose weight. The author’s son was a high school
wrestler. The diet is simple: one day limited carbs; the following day carb-free. Sterling eats the food
in resignation. He would do anything to lose the last two pounds; this meal is getting him closer to that
       “Dad, if you’re finished, perhaps we can talk about your other son, me.”
       Pandely lets the remark slide. He looks up to his wife. Catherine is running the show.
       “Sterling, your father and I have had a long discussion. We also talked with your attorney. This
matter that you’ve gotten yourself into, because you failed to take your lawyer’s advice, is far from
over. But that’s not what we’re really worried about. It’s more the underlying causes that have gotten
us to where we are. I say “us” because this is not just your problem. You are the family. In fact,
children are always more important than parents. You’re our hope for the future. So we share your
problem. And any solution will impact us all. Am I clear so far?”
       “Yes,” he says, though he’s not clear at all where his mother is heading. Take away her condoms
and the woman has focus issues.
       “Sara is here because she is an important part of your life, our life. We have no objection. We
hope she might have a stabilizing effect. And, of course, you know we miss not having a daughter.”
       She pauses and takes a breath.
       “So your father and Sara and I are willing to suffer with you. It’s a radical intervention but we all
feel, we have no choice.”
       “You want to tell me what the punishment is, please?” he says a bit exasperated.
       “Let’s go into your room.” She rises, Sterling follows her down the hall. Pandely and Sara stop
at one of the storage rooms off the hall to collect some boxes.
       Sterling’s room is its usual tidiness. Each electronic devise is in its rightful place. Catherine has
brought with her a pad and pen. She asks Sterling to sit at the desk; she moves the keyboard to make
room for the pad. She hands him the pen.
       “We will first do an inventory.”
       He moves the keyboard back to its correct location. “I’ll use a spreadsheet; it’ll be quicker.”
       “No,” she says. He shrugs and does as instructed. He takes the pen. He hates pens and pencils.
       She goes into the closet and extracts from the shelf a black handheld device with buttons. This is
an Xbox 360 console, the 250 GB S model and new-style controller. It was a Christmas gift from his
grandparents four years back. It resides on the shelf not because it is outdated and useless but rather
because Sterling sets it up only if a visitor wants to play games. Sterling has never been much into
games. He likes to master a game once in a while, but he not a committed player. He doesn’t waste his
time on internet games, either. Further back on the shelf are some earlier versions of the Xbox, which
Catherine hauls down. Pandely and Sara arrive with some boxes. It seems that every original carton
that’s ever contained something electronic has been kept by the family. Sara finds the Microsoft box
for the 360. Catherine hands the unit to her and speaks to Sterling.
       “Turn the pad lengthwise and put the name of this contraption, model number…” she says,
turning to Sara.
       Sara reads off a model number from the underbelly of the unit. Sterling writes this down.
       “…source, this was from my parents, correct?” He nods. She continues:
       “and approximate value or what it would fetch on eBay. For example, what it would be worth for
tax purposes if it was donated to the Salvation Army.”
       Sterling thinks for a second and prices it at $100-150. No big deal, he thinks. Let them take away
the games. He hardly ever uses them. Sara is wrapping it in its original box, putting the packing in
place. When she finishes, she hands it to Pandely who is in charge of taping the box closed.
Meanwhile, Catherine has located some accessories and components, including four big button pads, a
flight stick and a stack of games themselves, including Halo 3. Sara puts related stuff in a generic box
and marks it Xbox 360 and briefly describes the contents.
       Catherine opens up the closet door fully. Along the shelf are other gaming consoles, including a
Sony PlayStation 3 and a Nintendo Wii. These were also gifts from his grandparents, in 2007 and 2008
respectively. One was inherited from his sister. Each is entered on the pad, boxed, its accessories
boxed, labeled and taped. Pandely, in addition to being in charge of taping, is the box retriever. Sterling
can only guess at their current value. He jots down $200-300 for each and $50 for accessories.
       When the closet has been stripped of electronics, Catherine goes to various nooks and crannies
and retrieves anything that contains a chip. Even the alarm clock is not spared. She then attacks the
desk. She opens up the bottom drawer, a veritable rodent graveyard. Members of the Eumorfopoulos
family are packrats. Sterling seems to have saved every mouse he’s ever owned, those with tails,
wireless ones without tails, one button mice for Macs, two button mice for IBM, scroll-wheel enabled,
even a mouse in the design of a naked lady, her breasts designed for left and right clicking (a Christmas
gift from an anonymous Friday nighter). There’s even an Apple desktop bus which predates Sterling.
All are registered, boxed and sealed away. Catherine rids all the other drawers of any material that
relates to computers: disks, flash drives, cables and the like are dumped into a carton. She finds several
digital cameras, some mp3 players, a few expired iPods, two earlier issues of iPhone and various other
hand-helds. She then points to the scanner/printer. Pandely nods and finds the appropriate box.
Sterling protests:
       “Hey I use that for school work,” he protests.
       “Not any more,” his mother replies.
       “You can’t do this. You can’t just take everything I own. I have rights.” Catherine looks at
       “You need to earn back those rights. You live under our roof, you obey our rules.
       “That’s our agreement,” Pandely explains.
      Sterling can only cast a hateful glare at this parents; he now regrets having made a jailhouse
agreement. He looks to Sara for support. She is preoccupied with sorting out the electronic gizmos,
dutifully providing serial numbers. She offers her boyfriend no sympathy. Pandely starts to unscrew
the Sharp 19-inch LCD HD television that is mounted on the wall. Catherine continues:
      “We will give you three hours to clean up your computer. Then it gets boxed. I suggest you use
the time wisely, close all your email accounts, tidy up any financial affairs. You should completely
erase your presence from the internet. We have already told Jeremiah to do the same for you.”
      Sterling gets out his iPhone to send a quick message to Jeremiah to contravene his mother’s order.
Before he gets very far, his mother goes to take the phone out of his hand.
       “You’re taking my fuckin’ iPhone!”
      Without reflecting Catherine does something she has never done before. With her free hand she
slaps her son across the face.
      “You watch your language in front of me and Sara. Do you understand?”
      Sterling, shocked, nods that he understands. He should have immediately appologized; he had
forgot. He and his mother are both still holding an end of the iPhone. He releases his grip. She hands
the phone to Sara who then addresses Sterling’s mother:
      “He should tell everyone he’s not using the phone anymore.”
      Catherine assents and Sara returns the phone to Sterling with its appropriate box so he can send
out a terminal message.
      Out the side of his eye, Sterling spots the Dell, wondering if it can escape his mother’s wrath. She
follows his glance and walks to the Dell. She retrieves it and hands it to Sara.
      “You have three hours to pack up the computer,” she says, facing her son and pointing to the
iMac. She then walks over to Sterling who can barely control himself from shaking with rage.
      “I am sorry. I shouldn’t have slapped you. That was wrong,” she says calmly and coolly,
meaning every word. She then looks at her husband and Sara and together they leave the room.
      Sterling observes his life in packed boxes. He closes his eyes and reflects. He shuts down the
phone after a terminal message. He, himself, packs it into its original Apple box. He is so angry. He
takes it out of the box. He finds a hammer and smashes the phone beyond recognition and returns the
remains to its box. Then he begins to sob. He gets on the iMac and sends out similar bulk texts to
everyone in his address book, to all his Facebook friends and to the Friday nighters on Twitter saying
simply, “I have closed this account effective immediately.” One by one he then disables accounts or
sets automatic replies. He deregisters his credit card from a dozen merchants. He informs his bank and
stockbroker and opts out for paper correspondence whenever possible. Over the following three hours
he erases his existence.

Chapter 11
      Sterling is sprawled out on the bed, Bucephalus at a foot. He has a slight headache; she is
snoring. He suddenly remembers that he missed yesterday’s Tea Party protest in Raleigh against big
government spending. Events had colluded against him to deny his right to protest. For a brief
moment, he thinks, hopes actually, that he is waking up from an horrendous nightmare. He is feeling
relieved at having had only a bad dream. In it his parents decided to punish him by making him go
back in time, to live in an earlier generation. He was being forced to live their lives (as fit a
punishment any parent can impose), to grow up as they had, for they had been born before the
marketization of the digital chip. The appearance of the room tells otherwise. The nightmare is reality.
His bedroom looks like it has recently been burglarized and the thieves took everything of value. There
is nothing much left to interest future burglars. So thorough was the robbery that it must have been an
inside job. They have pinched the television, the satellite radio, all the computers, the computer games,
even the digital alarm clock. Drawers had been ransacked of modernity. His wallet is empty, but then
again that is its normal state. They would have taken his credit or debit card, with its microchip, except
that he doesn’t own one. He has never possessed such a physical piece of plastic; he knows only the
account number and pin of the family account. He has his own ATM card, but the account never has
much money. It doesn’t pay interest so he keeps the balance low, electronically transferring money as
needed. In one of the drawers he has what they call a savings passbook and he has a checkbook beside
it. He remembers exactly where he had put them…five or ten years before. The former is a paper
booklet that was given him some years back when the account was opened in his name. It was red with
a crest of some sort, although the ownership of the bank has passed through several hands with
accompanying name changes. He knows that the passbook in the back of the drawer, undisturbed for a
decade. A little money can make for a little independence and reestablishing the latter is atop today’s
       He automatically reaches over for his cell to check the time. He gropes the bedside table before
his mind tells his paw to stop such futility. Sterling has no idea of the time as he’s never owned a wrist
watch or a wall clock. Why wear a watch when you have a cell phone? The sun is up; it must be after
dawn. All is quiet. It is either before the hour that the rest of the inmates of the Sterling asylum begin
to stir or they have already abandoned him, satisfied with the previous evening’s torture. He walks
down the hall, sleepy Bucephalus lumbering behind. Susan’s room – Sara’s room now – is empty, its
door ajar in an open-disclosure sort of way. Sara’s clock says it is 10:15. She probably sets it ahead, he
thinks. She’s that type of person – considerate, never wanting to be late. His parents have apparently
already left for work. He checks the clock on the microwave: 10:02 A.M. That can’t be right. Sterling
never oversleeps. Of course, the iPhone is pre-set to wake him up but that was B.C. (before
catastrophe), when oversleeping was never a threat. He looks at the time on the oven: 9:57 A.M. He
goes to his parents’ bedroom. The digital alarm clock says 10:06. Four different times; none probably
correct. He rummages through a book of biblical proportions that is printed on what looks to be
recycled paper. It is called a phone book; Sterling has used such a book maybe five times in his life.
His hands feel soiled from the newsprint. Finally, he finds a number for “time of day.” He goes for his
iPhone but catches himself as his hand on instinct reaches halfway down his sweatpants pocket. He
goes into the kitchen where there is a wall phone and calls for the time. He resets the microwave and
the oven clocks so they run in sync at 10:04 A.M. What is the day of the week? They get a newspaper,
don’t they? He hunts around and finds Tuesday’s paper, but he knows it must be later than Tuesday.
Tuesday was the grand jury debacle, Wednesday was the day of his release and the grand theft of his
property, so today must be Thursday. Or has he missed a day? No, it must be Thursday. He’d check
his schedule app but, of course, that’s been stolen along with all the other tools he uses to get through
the day. A place at the kitchen table is set for him with a bowl of cereal, an apple and a piece of paper
from Sara giving him the calorie count: 250. That’s hardly enough to hold him to lunch. There’s also a
Post-it from his mother, the household’s commander-in- theft. What do they say about family: you can
hate them and love them at the same time? He’d jot that gem down for future reference except he
doesn’t have his organizer or sticky notes, the main purpose of which was to anchor items like this
from rattling around his brain until they come of use. His mother’s note is a double-edged reminder:
first, he has an appointment with Mr. James at his office for 4 P.M. and, second, he is not allowed to
hitchhike. His mother must have made the appointment, for Sterling knows that if he still had control
over his own schedule, it would not include the appointment. God only knows what they have talked to
the lawyer about; the case is closed, he has no more use for Mr. James. Ignoring the appointment
doesn’t seem too wise, however. He doesn’t need to provoke his mother while she’s on the warpath;
she has been in a sufficiently bad mood of late to require no prodding. He’s suspects it’s early onset
menopause and he would Google to see where her age fits on the Bell curve except…He needn’t finish
the thought.
       He picks up Thursday’s N&O. He’s never actually read a hard copy of the Triangle’s main
newspaper, which provides the bulk of topics for his parents’ conversations. He’s familiar with its
website, of course, but he is convinced that the readers of the News and Observer, like his parents,
believe the world is quite flat and doesn’t extend far beyond Wake, Durham and Orange Counties. The
local news pages contain some cut-and-paste journalism, including official government items for each
county: business and marriage licenses, deaths registered, news from the police blotter and court
docket, grand jury indictments. Sterling stops and he feels a spine shiver as he reads that the Durham
grand jury on its last day has issued twelve indictments: four grand thefts, one murder second degree,
one murder first degree, all with names provided…and finally, one for indecent exposure and another
providing harmful material to minors. The name of the offender is withheld, the newspaper says, due
to his age. Sterling puts down the paper. Yes, a meeting with Mr. James is most certainly needed. His
thought is interrupted by some noise from downstairs. Bucephalus waits at the elevator to check it out.
Sterling goes down with her.
       There’s classical music coming from the gym. Brandon Buffeau has apparently made himself at
home, with Bach blaring from his Gear4 Duo iPod Speaker System. Working the speed bag, he sees
Sterling or rather sees through Sterling; the boy’s presence doesn’t stop his rhythm. Sterling kicks over
the sound system, muting it. He notices the front door key, a spare that his father gives to special
boxers who wish to train at times the gym is normally closed. Sterling’s territory has been invaded by
this interloper, this faux fils. He walks over to the speed bag to stop its motion. In doing so he
carelessly elbows Brandon in the shoulder causing him to fall backwards a few feet. Brandon rights
himself up as a determined Sterling approaches. Neither of these boys has ever had a real fistfight. In
both cases their fights have been governed by the rules of the ring as first established by the Marquess
of Queensbury more than a century and a half before. Both now hold their fists tight, cocked at breast
level. Each is waiting for – baiting – the other to throw the first punch. Neither will throw that first
punch, which would be an admission of weakness and defeat, not to mention unsportsmanlike behavior.
Brandon steps as close to Sterling as possible, his eyes staring into Sterling’s chin. He will not be
bullied or suckered.
       Sterling is not yet dressed to fight. He steps to the back room, tosses off his sweats, puts on his
supporter, cup and shorts, jersey and his Nike Lo Pro Boxing Shoes. By the time he returns he has
already wrapped both hands. The gloves are put on. He grabs identical USA Amateur Boxing
Headgear (with cheek protection) and tosses one at Buffeau. He says simply:
       “No limit. Last man standing.”
       Buffeau puts on the headgear. This is all out war. He climbs into the ring and is met by Sterling
at the center. They touch gloves and commence. This has nothing to do with points. Sterling
ferociously attacks the midsection of his opponent. Brandon is backed into a corner and manages to
escape before much more damage can be done. It’s clear he is outmatched. Pandely gave him only
three of the four attributes needed by every athlete. Brandon figures he omitted anger, which seems to
be what’s fueling Sterling. About the only thing Brandon can do is to keep out of the way of his
opponent’s long reach. Fighting close is no option. He dances around as best he can, but Sterling lands
blow after blow. The Greek is not offering even the semblance of defense, which allows the Canadian
to land some blows to the head. The punches, which would score points and are by no means weak, do
little damage to Sterling, thanks to the heargear. The Canadian slips away and raises his hands in a
gesture of defeat. Sterling stands down. Buffeau throws off his gloves and headgear and puts up his
fists. It’s a challenge to return to the days of bare knuckle prize fighting (except that the fists are
wrapped, of course).
       Sterling throws off his headgear and gloves, with mocking contempt. He goes one further,
unwrapping the wraps. Brandon hesitates but quickly accepts the challenge. They approach each
other, fists in position, very carefully. One or two well-placed blows are all it will take. Earlier,
Sterling was all offense; he is now all defense. Buffeau swings first, his fist parried off Sterling’s arm.
Sterling counters with a right jab right to the Adam’s apple. It stuns his hand a bit, but it has done
much more damage to Buffeau, who takes a step back dazed. Sterling follows with a cross to the gut.
Buffeau staggers some more. Sterling approaches for the fatal blow and then stops. He knows that he
has won, he extends his hand open-palmed, either in a handshake or to help Brandon off the canvas.
Buffeau is still a bit wobbly but manages to scare up enough dignity to shake hands and be lifted up.
Sterling starts to gather up some of the discarded gear, while Buffeau goes to pack his bag. Sterling
walks over and retrieves the key that his father had given Brandon and then goes directly to his
      “You listen to me, asshole. This is not your goddamn gym so don’t fuckin’ act like you own it,”
he says to Buffeau, who is still recovering from being bested. He is not looking up at Sterling.
      “You hear me, asshole, eh?” Sterling says.
      When Buffeau looks him in the eyes, Sterling slaps the key into his hand. Brandon is not sure
why, until Sterling explains.
      “You’re not getting off that easy, eh? Let me get warmed up and we’ll work out. I need you to
help me on my right. That’s my weak side, eh? Then I’ll show you how to protect your face so you
can stay in the ring more than a half a minute. Who taught you to box, anyway?”
      “I taught myself.”
      “YouTube and Boxing for Dummies, eh? You’re not going to last in the Under-19 with someone
decent the way you leave yourself open. No hard feelings, eh,” he says mocking his accent.
      Buffeau shakes his proffered hand, despite what hard feelings obviously continue to simmer.
     Some time later they have finished their session.     Not exactly buddies, they can at least be useful
to each other and are no longer unfriendly. On packing up his gear, Buffeau offers a curt thanks, which
elicits the same from Sterling. As Brandon changes into a dry shirt, he can’t take his eyes off the
goddess who enters. This is Babette whose work shirt and jeans hardly contain her luxuriousness. She
fits the stereotype of a porn actress, according to Buffeau’s tastes. She studies the boy who, as fortune
would have it, is shirtless and straitening his shoulders to preen. Then she remembers the business at
hand and heads directly to Sterling. She hugs Sterling as a way of apologizing; she is close to tears.
       “I had no idea this would happen. They didn’t tell me they were after you.”
       “That’s all right, Babs. It’s a shock for me, too.”
       She’s wound herself around Sterling in the type of clinch more suitable for the ring. Buffeau is
taking this all in, pretending not to. Sterling motions with his hand behind Babette’s back for the
Buffer to leave them alone. He obeys reluctantly, letting his mind run wild with speculation about what
Sterling and his video co-star do when the cameras aren’t running.
       Although Babette the body may be able to pilot young men such as Buffeau toward a state of near
priapism, Babette the person no longer has that effect on Sterling. In the not too distant past she had
certainly had that effect on the teenager; that’s the one-line plot of Smiley Boy. What happened on the
dorm-room video set, however, is in the past, taped for posterity as it were; subsequent to that brief
encounter a chemical bond has formed between them. It’s an unlikely coupling: boy fighting maturity,
porn star rejecting bodily fame for academia. Nevertheless, their relationship has blossomed on this
other level, intellectual, rather than physical. Over the past two months they have been meeting
regularly on campus, in very public places, for conversation. In her notes she refers to Sterling as
Subject S and he is one of about a dozen cases she is including in her master’s thesis, which goes under
the temporary title, “Teenage Sexuality in the Internet Age.” Sterling dutifully informed his B Club
boys about her survey and also provided her email address; none told him they had contacted her;
perhaps some have. Babette is a good listener and even a better interviewer. She has managed to
collect a lot of data from subjects who would never reveal such privacies to anyone else, not to parents,
siblings, lovers or BFFs. This budding Kinsian dynamo has already filled up a notebook on Sterling,
who has only recounted his life up to age fifteen, the year of his abstinence.
       Babette gives Sterling $150, the honorarium he has earned for the last two interviews he has
given. She has a modest grant for her research. He gets her another cup of coffee.
       “What a bummer,” she says. “She even took away the alarm clock?”
       “You think it’s menopause?” he asks in all seriousness. Sterling reckons that the change in life for
a woman can be a nightmare for a man. He thanks god he only has a penis to worry about.
       “I’ve never read anything that says hormonal imbalances produce some sort of phobia over alarm
clocks or computers,” she reflects, not sure if he is serious.
       “That would be chronomentrophobia or cyberphobia or logizomechanophobia,” he says, showing
off. Babette disregards this pretense to intelligence. She’s already been informed about his remarkable
memory and associated bag of parlor tricks. Babette has the body of someone who’s supposed to be a
bimbo; she is far from it. She was not impressed by Sterling’s claim that he had memorized a list of
537 phobias when he was stuck in the hospital for a few days after they took out (“medically stole” he
says) his appendix. She gives him a look of rebuke, something his parents haven’t done for years.
       “Sorry,” he offers.
       “You ever think you might have pushed them over the edge?” she asks. “You can annoy people
only so far before they snap,” she adds.
       “Yeah, maybe,” he says, unconvinced. “You mean you me or you in general?” he asks.
       “‘You can annoy’…you as in me or you as in anyone.”
       “Anyone can annoy people, Sterling, but you are exceptionally good at it.”
       “Thanks. You didn’t get the summons from the next grand jury, the federal one?” he asks.
       “No, just the one for a few days ago. I didn’t have much to tell them then, I don’t have any more
to tell them now. Anyway, they have my testimony, for all it’s not worth. They have your testimony,
too, you know.”
       “I’ve put it on the website. I don’t want anyone to think I said more than I did.”
       “I thought these things were supposed to be secret.”
       “They are. But they can’t stop you from talking about your own testimony. First Amendment,
you know.”
       “You sure?”
       “I’m sure.”
       “You never heard the name of the man from Georgia?” he asks.
       “That’s what I told them.”
       Sterling is wise enough not to ask the logical follow-up question.
       “Anyway I just wanted to make sure you didn’t object that the video is on the Legal Defense Fund
site. I can pixilate your face if you want.”
       “That’s not necessary. I’m pixilated enough. I know a few people in the industry; I’ll send them
the link. Everyone worries about the First Amendment.”
       “You want some pie. My girlfriend made it. She’s living here for the summer.”
       Babette shakes her head, rejecting the supposed invitation. She realizes that Sterling offered pie
only to give him an excuse to refer to his girlfriend. She figures she’s supposed to ask about her, but
that’s a interrogation that must wait. Sterling is obviously bursting with an announcement, but Babette
is not taking the bait. She is methodical and trying to reconstruct Sterling’s life in chronological order;
she still has years fifteen and sixteen. Also she has other errands for the morning, and she’s a TA for a
Psych 101 class in the afternoon. They set a date for the next interview. She gets up to leave. She puts
her hand on Sterling’s shoulder, almost motherly. “You take care of yourself,” she says as she gives
him a big hug. She’s like the big sister he no longer has, or never actually ever had.
     Since Babette left, Sterling has tidied up the gym, a chore he doesn’t mind. At the moment he is
assembling a frame from a kit. The frame will hold a speed bag for the pee-wees so that the punching
bag, which hangs from a swivel on a platform, can be hung at a comfortable height, adjustable to the
individual child. It was a recent internet purchase from Mexico, the last electronic transaction Sterling
will be able to make for a long time. The accompanying instructions have no words, just illustrations
for wall mounting. Vertical posts have been bolted to the wall by a carpenter friend of his father.
Sterling has already installed a track on each post. The rest of the assembly is the task at hand. When
finished, it should allow the kids to avoid the plight that Sterling faced when he himself was a pee-wee.
In those days he had to stand on a chair when he worked the speed bag, splitting his attention between
the speed bag and not losing his balance. One goal is to do the drill blindfolded, which establishes your
subconscious rhythm. Eventually he managed the task, having fallen off the chair so often that he had
surrounded it with mattresses, on which he had placed pillows. The adults thought it cute when he fell,
a grown-up equivalent of watching Bucephalus slam into the doggie door.
      Sterling is attempting to position the eighteen inch square plywood platform by letting one edge
rest on his chest so he can free up his hands to fasten a remaining guide wire to the vertical track.
However he positions the platform’s edge, he lacks just a few inches of reach to be able to put the hook
into the eye on the track. Fortunately, Daryl enters.
      Daryl has gotten off a bus and crossed the street in his approach to the gym for his critical
conversation with Sterling. Daryl is Sterling’s only friend who does not like to drive. He relies on
public transportation, an area of expertise beyond Sterling’s reach. When push comes to shove,
Sterling hitches.
      He enrolls Daryl’s free hands in the assembly, which keeps the two boys busy and not having to
talk to each other for some minutes. Before Daryl can get off his mind the topic of conversation he’s
apparently been burdening himself with, Sterling quizzes him on the best bus for Raleigh to get to the
office of Stacy James, the legal corporation. Daryl has to check the routes and schedules on the
Triangle Transit website, which will take some time.
      “How can it be that difficult. It’s just the bus,” Sterling points out. What he means to say, in his
condescending way of thinking, is that the average citizen takes busses; since the average citizen is not
overly intelligent, by definition only average, the system should be simple for the averagely intelligent
to understand.
      Daryl explains, as he navigates the website on his PDA, that you just don’t show up at a bus stop
and wait for the bus. They don’t run frequently and you are tied to their schedule. “Next time, make
your appointment accordingly,” Daryl advises. Sterling should take the express to Raleigh, not the
local. That’s not possible, unfortunately, Daryl explains. The DRX doesn’t start until 3:47 P.M.,
arriving Moore Square, Raleigh, at 4:40 P.M., too late for the appointment that has been prearranged
without bus schedules in mind. The good news is that Moore Square is only a few minute walk from
the legal offices on South Wilmington. Sterling must take the local bus. He’ll have to walk to Durham
Station, which is conveniently located just down the street, and take the 700 to the Regional Transit
Center and then transfer to route 100 to Moore Square. He has five minutes to make the transfer.
Make sure to ask for the transfer ticket on the first bus or else you’ll end up paying two fares, he
advises. On the bright side, he doesn’t need exact change. The farebox takes everything from pennies
to a fiver (Daryl has done time in transit-friendly Britain and acquired the lingo) and gives change in
the form of a chit that can be used on a future trip. If he leaves at 2 P.M., he’ll arrive at 3:20 P.M.
Sterling can’t believe that a trip which in the car should take 30 minutes, even if Billy were driving, has
to take three times as long with the bus. How about the train? Daryl, ignoring him, says that he should
not buy a regional day bus pass since they are not good on the express, which he will want to take back
after the appointment. The really good news is that the express stop is on the very same street as the
lawyer’s office. “You have all the luck,” Daryl points out. Sterling asks again about the train.
      “First of all, the Raleigh train station is almost a mile away from your appointment. You can take
your bike on the train, and even the bus, for free, however. But on the way back, if there are already
two people on the bus with bikes, you have to wait for another bus, with an empty bike rack. That
could be an hour wait. The bike’s free on the bus, too. But a single on the train costs $6 which is three
times what you pay for the local bus and (here he stops to think) or 6 divided by 2.50 for the express.
What’s that?” Daryl asks.
      “2.4 times,” Sterling says in exasperation. All this is information over-load. His life used to be so
simple. “When’s the next train?” he asks. Daryl navigates to the Amtrak website.
      “There’s only three a day. You’re in luck there: The Piedmont at 3.04 P.M., arriving at 3:43 P.M.
With the bicycle, you’d just make it to the lawyer’s office. That’s if the train is on time – it’s Amtrak
you know – and then like I said, you might have trouble fitting the bike on the express bus back. I’ll
transfer the data to your PDA…” he says, stopping when he gets an error message. That leads to their
discussion about Sterling’s newly acquired unplugged status and its ramifications for making his life a
living hell, starting immediately. Daryl should have known about Sterling’s plight, if he had bothered
to read his Facebook, Twitter or email announcements. Apparently, Daryl (as well as most of Sterling’s
friends) mostly ignore his bulk texts; at best they give them a skim. They don’t actually filter him out,
but Starlings, as they are called, are usually worth no more than a glance.
      Daryl is as self-effacing as Sterling is brash, and when Sterling asks what’s so important that
necessitated this visit after such a long absence, Daryl becomes silent.
      “You have problems of your own,” he finally says.
      “Cut the shit, Daryl. What’s up?” Sterling complains. He notices the clock. He just has time to
shower and dress before he walks to the station for his afternoon-long bus rides.
      “Follow me upstairs. You can talk while I shower. You don’t mind if I’m naked, do you?” he
asks, with no humor intended. He doesn’t fully understand Mormonism and genuinely doesn’t want to
offend (which is why he withholds the f-word in Daryl’s presence). That, perhaps, is a lesson he’s
learned from the Smiley Boy episode.
      Then, minutes later, Daryl has been talking to Sterling, who is still in the shower. Daryl is heaped
on the floor in the corner of the bathroom, sobbing. Sterling has turned the water to cold. He is
trembling either from the temperature, or from what Daryl has just told him. He manages to compose
himself. He steps out of the shower, shivering but calm, and starts to towel off.
      “You hate me?,” Daryl asks.
      “I hate everyone these days,” Sterling replies.
      He offers Daryl a hand and pulls him up.
      “Have you talked to your, what do you call them, deacons?,” he asks. “Susan said you were
moving up the hierarchy,” he adds.
      “First I was a deacon, then an ordained teacher and now an ordained priest. I’ve talked to the
bishop,” Daryl explains. “I am working things out within the Church. Now is the hard part.”
      “I’ll talk with my lawyer. He should help, is that what you want me to do?”
      “Yes and talk with your father. I want him to handle this.”
      “Do you need me to forgive you or something? I doubt I can.” Sterling says.
      “I’m not down that road yet, Sterling. I’m working on repentance. Restitution will have to come
      “Why didn’t you just go straight to my father? He’s the cop; he knows what to do,” Sterling says.
      “I don’t know. I’m closer to you. Susan always said that you were someone who could sort out
difficult things. She really admired you, you know.”
      This is not something that Sterling wants to get into. Fortunately, he’d better get a move on or he
will miss the first bus, causing the whole deck of cards to fall. Why doesn’t he just hitchhike, he
wonders to himself as he retrieves the Post-it with the lawyer’s location and the anti-hitching reminder.
      As they leave, Daryl puts his hand on Sterling’s shoulder. “I’m really, really sorry,” he says.
      “I know,” Sterling answers.
      “I thought you might punch me out. I wouldn’t have minded,” Daryl says.
      Sterling thinks about that as he walks toward Durham station.
     Public transportation is at best an acquired taste, even for those who have a choice.   Sterling, like
the rest of the passengers, is not here by choice. He just grins and bears it. Except that for Sterling it is
even worse. He has no mp3 whose volume can be maxed to drown out almost any undesirable noise.
The passenger seated behind him presents just such noise. For the past fifteen minutes she has been
explaining in the most graphic detail that she is convinced that the wart on her vagina is more than just
a STD. “I’ve had STDs; I know STDs; this is not an STD,” she retorts to the phone. She fears it is a
cancer. At every pause in the conversation Sterling imagines what the woman’s mother is saying at her
other end of the cell phone. “No, honey, cancer is inside, it doesn’t look like a wart.” To that comment
the loud-obnoxious-phone-mouth behind him says: “What about skin cancer. Everyone is getting skin
cancer. Mine is just under the clothes.” To which the mother, who in Sterling’s opinion is a holy saint
to tolerate loud-obnoxious-phone-mouth as a daughter, would explain that the malady which the
hypochondriac is now fantasizing cannot be skin cancer, which is related to overexposure to UV-
radiation which, unless she is a nudist sun worshipper, is unlikely to penetrate both the daughter’s pants
and underwear in order to do its purported damage. This is information that Sterling knows is not
entirely accurate. One type of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, is associated with human
papilloma virus (HPV), which usually manifests itself in warts, but not often cancer. If the infection
persists, according to his own mother’s spiel, you should get it checked out. This is advice which
perhaps he should now offer to loud-obnoxious-phone-mouth except that by not offering it, perhaps he
can lead to her early (preventable) death and thus help clean up the gene pool. A horrible thing to
think, Sterling admits, but she’s been yelling her problems into his ears for longer than is decent. When
she tells her mother that her boyfriend sort of likes the feel of the wart against his “thingy-ma-jig”
Sterling turns around impetuously and gives her a long, nasty stare. She immediately cups the phone
and says to Sterling: “Do you mind, I’m having a private conversation.” Sterling looks around at the
other bus passengers, who have been discreet (some avid) listeners, and says: “I don’t think so,”
slumping into the seat, hoping she won’t bean him with her purse. She does this is a mocking sort of
way, which brings laughs from the other passengers. She remains quiet for the rest of the trip. At the
regional transit center where he has to change busses, he passes loud-obnoxious-phone-mouth who,
fortunately, is taking a northbound, and says, being helpful:
      “Sorry, mam, have your GYN check it out. Warts are almost never squamous cell carcinoma but
you can’t be 100% sure without an exam.”
      This he knows not because it’s one of those tidbits of data that once crossed him and that he
cannot forget. He knows this because it’s part of Condom Mom’s lecture, which even if he had a 60
I.Q. he would have learned by rote, having heard it so often. He climbs aboard the Raleigh-bound bus
before loud-obnoxious-phone-mouth can respond.
      On this second bus, in addition to various phone conversations that Sterling has little choice but to
follow – one a spat with a girlfriend, another about Aunt Marie’s second heart attack – there is conflict
between muffled sounds. Ringtones galore, from all angles. And in window seats on either side of the
bus two teenagers are listing to their separate mp3s, each using earphones, but the rap is still pouring
out of the headsets. They serve as stereo for Sterling who is between them on the aisle. Each teen jives
to his own drummer. Sterling wonders if his iPod allows the same degree of seepage. He rethinks that,
substituting “allowed” for “allows,” knowing full well that all digital-related thoughts should now be
put in the past tense. In the past strangers have been known to give him nasty stares while he listened
to music; perhaps now he knows the reason. During this leg of the journey he has plenty of time to
study the various transit maps and schedules he’s collected during the trip thus far, and he realizes he’ll
have to start carrying a bag for all the bits of paper life now provides. He’s already filched a notebook
from home for keeping gems and other randomly generated ideas. And he took a pen and a mechanical
pencil. He does the mental math and realizes that he can bicycle the thirty miles from Durham to
Raleigh in about the same times it takes the bus to cover the distance. That’s another option, and he
wonders if he will have to make subsequent visits to the lawyer. He also reflects on the news that
Daryl just dumped in his lap. He now knows why Daryl had disappeared so abruptly after Susan’s
death. All their friends and all his parents’ friends were shocked by the hit-and-run accident, who
wouldn’t be? A girl walking against traffic on a crisp, clear night, dead an hour later at Durham
Regional Hospital. Sterling had been the first to arrive at the hospital and, ignoring a security guard,
saw his sister briefly in the emergency room as they were wheeling her into surgery. Her lips moved to
say “I love you,” he was certain that’s what she tried to say. She died before she got onto the operating
table. He was the one who broke the news to his parents. That’s the part he’d like most to forget. He
had just cried; no words came out; they knew instantly what had happened. He had wished at that
moment he were dead.
       There have been only several other moments in Sterling’s life when he wished he were dead, in
each case a brief passing wish that required no further contemplation or action. Announcing his sister’s
death to his parents (age 16, 10 months) was number two in chronological order. The earliest one (age
7) was after his father got angry at him when he had called John Dewey retarded. It was not a
strappable offence. He was too young to fully understand retardation and his parents had given him a
long lecture on compassion, sympathy and empathy, all terms he understood intellectually. He had not
cried then. He often suffered long lectures on subjects that bordered on morals and ethics. It was later
in the evening when he had overheard through the thin wall his parents talking to themselves,
wondering if their son was capable of human feelings and comparing him quite unfavorably to his
sister. Granted, they were exasperated and hadn’t actually meant to say he was inhuman, but he had
heard what he heard. And it had wounded him then and continued to wound him every time he recalled
the incident. In any event, from that day on he became John Dewey’s number one defender; no one
ever referred to John Dewey as anything other than normal unless they wanted Sterling’s wrath. One
time he had actually shoved his fist in a schoolmate’s face to revenge an insult about John Dewey. He
got the strap for throwing the punch. He was a boxer, even at that age. According to his father boxers
held such an advantage over a non-boxer opponent in a street brawl that his father absolutely forbade
him to use his fists to settle disputes, unless in extreme cases of self-defense. “And you must be able to
prove self-defense before I will buy that excuse,” his father had warned, waving the strap for emphasis.
Being whipped for defending John Dewey didn’t bother him, however. He had started the fight and he
would gladly start another one, irrespective of possible punishment. That was, of course, something he
didn’t tell his father for fear of getting a beating for obstinacy, his perpetual crime. The third low point
of his life came at Susan’s funeral when he saw the outpouring of love for his sister, who had meant no
harm to any living soul during her life; she “wouldn’t hurt a fly,” was what the archimandrite Fr.
Emmanuel had said. Sterling knew he himself was not always a good person and that he almost always
– correction, always – put his own needs before those of others. They were possible flaws in his
character, which he grudgingly accepted. Given the relative merits of him and his sister, he had surely
deserved to be taken first, he figured. Intellectually, he knew life and death didn’t work that way; it
was that moment of reflection that caused him to wonder about the value of living and as well as
question what little Faith he had ever had. To this day the questioning hadn’t stopped, but the desire to
advance death to the present had indeed passed. The fourth and most recent suicidal moment was in
the jail cell, after his parents’ visit, namely after his father’s brief remark. That moment of depression
had been wiped away with tears; the six-word remark that had provoked them was yet too painful to
merit consideration.
       Sterling had tried his best to put Susan’s tragedy behind him, as had his parents. Daryl had dealt
with the tragedy in his own way, which was through his Faith, and was now asking Sterling to work out
the non-Faith consequences. There is just no peace in Sterling’s life. He didn’t need this, Sterling
thought. He had enough to keep him busy. Wasn’t he was just a teenager? All that a teen should worry
about is his schoolwork and how to get laid over the summer. He wasn’t worried about either of these
things. Maybe that’s why Daryl came to him. No one seemed to have more time on his hands than
Sterling, who aced his way through life, the little prince, boxer extraordinaire, Mensa rejecter, teen
advisor and sexual confidant.
      Daryl was not really among Sterling’s inner circle. A year older than the rest of club members, he
was nonetheless welcomed into the Friday nights. He had begged Sterling for membership. There was
no question of his qualifications; he had reached puberty the previous year and had thus met the
entrance requirement before the rest of them. In convincing the others to let Daryl in, Sterling had
argued it would be useful to have an older member who could relate to them what a year of teenhood
was like. Daryl, however, was way too reserved to talk about such things. He could talk about Faith,
which endeared him to the Trips, who constituted 25% of the gang, although Sterling allowed the three
of them to share a single vote (they never objected). Daryl had actually joined the B Club just as an
excuse to be near Susan. Sterling knew he had a crush on her; he didn’t hold that against Daryl.
Sterling wasn’t really interested in his sister’s life. He lived his own life; she lived hers. The siblings
fought occasionally, usually provoked by something Sterling had done, innocently enough, that she
found quite obnoxious and embarrassing to the family. They had different spheres of influence with
their parents so that their Venns rarely overlapped. Susan dealt in the fuzzy areas: emotions, feelings,
altruism and the like. Sterling was the intellect, with a command of facts and instant opinion, which no
family member dared challenge. The children approached any topic from totally different directions,
never colliding but often sideswiping. Their parents played the role of traffic managers. It’s not fair to
say that Sterling and Susan grew apart; they had never been close. She was his big sister, seeing herself
as a third parent, often kind, helpful, instructional, reprimanding. He was her little brother, largely a
pain in the ass. When the Friday Nights disbanded, Daryl started to ask Susan to school dances, church
functions and the like. They seemed to enjoy each other’s company. Sterling who had become
instructed in the Law of Chastity by Daryl during the Friday Nights, explained his beliefs to Susan. He
did so in as much a non-judgmental manner as he could muster, at least until he started questioning
specifics. “Even copping a feel is borderline,” Sterling explained. Susan slapped him for that and got
an immediately apology. They had an agreement he would not talk to her as he talked with his randy
boyhood chums. As a girl she allowed herself permission to straighten Sterling out when necessary and
he was automatically slapped whenever he used the f-word, even if immediately followed by an
apology. He took punishment in stride, not just because of their accord but also because of house rules.
He could never hit her back. A prohibition against hitting girls had been laid down by his parents.
“Under no circumstances, not even self-defense,” he had been warned. “But what if a bunch of girls
try to beat me up,” he asked. “Well, first, you must have done something to deserve it. If not, you’d
better run,” his father had explained.
      Daryl’s visit had brought back a tidal wave of memories concerning Susan, whose life and death
he had largely relegated to history, as much as possible for Sterling. Now, Daryl had kindly shared
information about the vehicular homicide; Sterling would deal with this particular legal issue as best he
could, which he hoped was far better than he had so far dealt with the grand jury. And there was still
another grand jury on the horizon for next week. He made a mental note to ask the lawyer what lessons
he should take back from this first grand jury entanglement.
      As Daryl had promised, the bus dropped Sterling at Moore Square in the City of Oaks. He would
be walking southwest from the square, the center of downtown Raleigh. At the northwest corner sat the
Marbles Kids Museum, where the gang (the B Club had broken up several years before) had gone to
celebrate William’s fifteenth birthday shortly after the museum had opened. By the end of the birthday
party, Sterling’s offenses were multiple, not the least of which was that the boys had totally destroyed a
natural science exhibition. The Trips, arguing that dinosaurs and man walked the earth at the same
time, took it upon themselves to rearrange the diorama to reflect their view of Creation. A fight
ensured with the allosaurus suffering most, having to be boxed up for later reassembly at the
Smithsonian. But perhaps Sterling’s primary offence was his ordering the exhibit’s director to accept a
sheet of corrections to apply to the severely mislabeled exhibit. Sterling earned his puer non grata
status, primarily, because he was smarter than the principle curator, who Sterling referred to in
subsequent internet commentary as the “principle exhibitionist.” Sterling was still reluctant to go
anywhere near the building. Once he gets of age the museum had promised to take out a restraining
order on him, so he is always careful not to remind them he still exists. As it turned out all he had
received was a well deserved ban for life, along with the rest of the Friday nighters. William Duke’s
generous contribution avoided more severe damage. The Trips, of course, avoided any embargo. For
that indulgence they had agreed to give a free concert.
      Sterling doesn’t get into Raleigh much. But he’s always liked the town. It’s part sleepy Southern
capital, part bustling New South. The center part of the city, the old downtown with the State Capitol
and the various courthouses, is charming, in contrast with Durham, the former tobacco capital, which
was once warehouses and now their indistinguishable replacements. Both cities cling to their dignity:
Durham possesses the dignity of the retired merchant whose product is on decline; Raleigh carries the
dignity of the Southern gentlemen who finds himself having to accommodate new arrivals, inferiors
who will become his masters. Sterling would love to experience a law office of bow ties, suspenders
and linen suites, Mark Twains or at least Colonel Harland Sanders. He knows that’s not what lies in
store for him. He will see the New South type of law firm, with women, African-Americans and
Hispanics predominating the new hires. These are the groups migrating into the economy. Sterling,
who thinks of himself as a young Republican and conservative, has only kind words for migrants of all
stripes. These are not people who take jobs from Americans; they are the people who create jobs for
Americans. They built this great country, his grandparents say. It is what his parents – Democrats that
they are – believe. It is what he himself knows. Both sets of Sterling’s grandparents were born in
Greece. His mother and dad are also Greek natives, although they migrated to America while hardly
out of diapers. They never felt very Greek and do not speak the language, although they have not
abandoned Orthodoxy and appear in church irregularly, at least four or five times a year. Sterling is yet
another generation removed from having feelings for the old country. He often jokes that the only
thing Greek about him is his five-syllable name, Eumorfopoulos. He has, however, no problems with
that name (which is pronounced differently by Greeks in Greece). It derives from the ancient Greek
words eu = good or lovely and morfí = face and thus denotes a handsome person, one with a lovely
face. “Superficial, superficial, superficial,” the Trips once reminded him, prompting him to slug them.
They ran to their parents; he got the strap.

Chapter 12
     Sterling walks on the sidewalk along the park.     If he were enabled, he’d be guided by a Google-
map on his hand held. Instead, he’s looking at street signs and following the ascending numbers on
buildings, while trying his utmost not to run into oncoming pedestrians. Students, housewives,
businessmen and businesswomen, rappers, nannies perambulating, you name it…everyone on the
sidewalk (except Sterling) seems preoccupied with checking their mail or texting or phoning or
browsing, in any case not paying the least attention to other people, who are likewise preoccupied.
Sterling has to avoid many of these wayfarers who veer, seemingly intentionally, directly at him as they
commune with their devices. He feels like he’s a magnet to their iron filings. He is amazed that the
digitally obsessed don’t cause pedestrian pileups; they seem to avoid collisions as if their autopilots
have been programmed with a sonar guidance system. One heavyset youngster is not so adept. He
sports softball sized earphones and is busy rearranging his music list as he drifts like an iceberg in the
North Atlantic. Instinctively all the passing ships give him wide berth as he floats along. His lethargic
pace is deterred by nothing, not even the mailbox that forces him to detour. Even when he plows into a
utility pole, he only briefly glances around to reorient himself and then continues with traffic flow.
       Sterling crosses a block, then over to South Wilmington and another block down until he finds the
appropriate office building. The law firm is on an upper floor. He’s forty minutes early for the
appointment. If he had had a car at his disposal, he wouldn’t have to leave home for another ten
minutes. There had been no further discussion about a car as a birthday present. He figures it would be
wise not to broach the subject as long as his parents remain in such a foul mood. He could ask
Brandon, who is shooting for BFF status, or could ask the drama queen formerly known as Billy, who
had disappeared from radar for unknown reasons. He sits down to wait for his appointment. He is the
only non-criminally-minded male in the office without a coat and tie, a suit indeed. He is saving his
Sunday clothes for grand juries, prosecutors and judges. The lawyer is on Sterling’s payroll and thus
deserves no better than his best jeans. Regarding that matter, he goes up to the receptionist with his
rediscovered checkbook. She calls for the bookkeeper who goes back to her computer to check the
balance of Sterling’s account. Sterling figures he’ll have to pay several thousand dollars, including the
retainer. Penalty avoidance and/or principles do not come cheap. The bookkeeper returns to inform
him that there is no outstanding balance. In other words, the bill has been paid. He asks by whom and
she notes that the check is being processed and for him to ask again in a day or so. He then asks how
much the check was for. A $15,000 retainer, she says. Mr. James must bill by the minute, Sterling
figures. And who paid it? Other than William Duke Sr. Sterling knows no one who has that much
money squirreled away for a rainy day. As he ponders the next question to ask, he is directed into the
conference room.
      Sterling had expected to meet with Mr. James alone in his office. The conference room is a bit of
overkill for their meeting. This is apparently where the law firm holds its partner meetings. There are
at least twenty seats around the conference table and sundry chairs scattered along the walls. The book
shelves are lined with legal volumes, statutes and case law. This veritable law library is old technology,
according to Sterling. Most of the resources are available on line. These are books that should go on
eBay to be sold by the yard. A young man in a bow-tie enters and walks over to Sterling.
      “Hello, Sterling. I’m Robert Young, an associate with the firm, who will be handling your case.
My expertise is juvenile law. First, I need to establish the time lines,” he says.
      The young man is all businesslike and, with the clock running, no small talk. Sterling is a bit
disappointed he has been palmed off to someone who seems to be in his mid-twenties. He is further
disappointed that he is being treated as a juvenile, or at least the lawyer he has been given is juvenile-
oriented. The young mister is not someone he feels comfortable addressing as Mister Young. The
associate produces a yellow legal pad full of notes and for the next thirty minutes, he drills Sterling on
every detail of the Smiley Boy video, which he says he has not viewed in its unexpurgated form. He
asks for and receives the name of all the people involved, including that of the Atlanta man including
his telephone number. It is made perfectly clear that this is confidential information and even the fact
that Sterling has this information is deemed confidential. Just when Sterling thinks the interview is
over, another associate joins them. She is an efficiently dressed African-American, who wears a
Bluetooth earpiece. She introduces herself as Heather Wiley and she specializes in grand juries. In
more general terms she is classified as a legal strategist. She apologizes for not being there from the
beginning, but she had another client who she was defending against rape charges. “All teenagers,” she
explains. She dabs in youth and sex law, she says, which is another reason she was selected to be on
Sterling’s legal team. Sterling is impressed: he has gone from lawyer to legal team.
      Ms. Wiley lays out a printout from the Smiley Boy Legal Defense Fund website that Jeremiah
initiated. Sterling did not know it was up and running. The instructions were to begin if and when an
indictment were issued. In fact, the jury had handed down the indictment according to the morning’s
paper; Sterling realizes that Jeremiah had followed orders to the letter.
      “When I was surfing for a copy of the Smiley Boy video, I found the expurgated version on your
website. This is your website, correct?” she asks.
      “I didn’t design it. But it’s mine, I guess.”
      “It’s registered off shore, but that’s not important for now. You’ve uploaded your grand jury
testimony. When did they provide you with the transcript?” she asks.
      “No, it’s from memory. It’s correct. I have a verbatim memory.”
      “I was wondering. There’s no way the official transcript can be ready so quickly. Getting a copy
from the prosecutor can be like pulling hen’s teeth,” she adds. “On the blog of your website you offer a
rather unflattering description of the jury members. You make them seem a bit ignorant or even
senile,” she continues.
      Sterling wonders just how defensive he should be. He says carefully: “I think it is an accurate
picture. They did not seem to know much about the internet or technology or what’s out there. The old
people certainly didn’t know how to define pornography”
      “Just because they are old?” Ms. Wiley asks.
      “I may have been a bit prejudiced. Should I remove it?” he asks.
      She makes a call on her handheld and talks on the Bluetooth. “We’re ready for you,” she says.
      Sterling is expecting Mr. James but yet another associate arrives. He introduces himself as Clyde
Smith and his specialty is media relations. It’s unclear to Sterling whether he is a lawyer. In any case
Mr. Smith doesn’t fight cases in court; his court is the one of public opinion.
      “Sterling,” he says, “Would it be possible for you to, in the future, run your copy by me before
you put it on-line. I may be able to offer you some advice, editing advice, perception advice, that sort
of thing. To be a sounding board. It’s obvious that we’re going to be fighting this case in the media
since it concerns the media. The other thing is that I would like you not to speak to the press unless I
can be by your side. Don’t take this the wrong way. This has nothing to do with your age. I say this to
all our clients.”
      “Do you want me to remove the website?” Sterling asks.
      “Absolutely not. How else are we going to get paid,” he says. Until the others smile, Sterling
hasn’t understood that this is a joke. He hands Sterling a card and writes down his private cell number
with the notation 24/7. He continues:
      “I don’t even mind the blog as long as there’s no libel. Discussion on this can only help our
cause. He turns to the other associates, who nod in agreement. “It would help, however, if you could
include some serious musings about the First Amendment. I am sure the associates can provide you
links. You can quote, just double-check all your attributions, references and citations. Be careful not to
violate copyright. We are told you are very good at writing academic papers.”
      Sterling wonders about his source of information. His paper writing ability is not exactly a secret
but it is not something he advertises either. Another lawyer arrives, an older man, who could be a
partner. In fact, Professor Drake is the firm’s Constitution Law expert, a former law professor, who
was driven from academia by the subprime financial meltdown (specifically everything he had was in
Lehman). He’s now in private practice attempting to rebuild his nest egg.
      “Am I early or late?” he asks.
      “Early,” they say in unison. He leaves and another associate arrives.
      “Late,” they say to the new arrival. This is the firm’s chief negotiator, Barry Pitt. A former
District Attorney, himself, he is the firm’s head liaison with the various DA offices in The Triangle. His
line of questioning is different from the others. He is interested in a the history of Sterling’s
involvement with the DAs office, Mr. Miles and Ms. Abernathy over the subpoena, immunity and the
grand jury, even his pick-up and deposit during the birthday party. “Every meeting, verbatim,” he says.
That, of course, is an opening Sterling always likes, as he can comply with it literally. The recounting
takes another 30 minutes. The Con Law professor returns. The younger lawyers immediately defer to
him, their former professor. Professor Drake explains that he won’t be involved in this matter unless
and until the appeal process begins and then only if constitutional issues are raised. In the event that
happens he will work closely with the Institute of Constitutional Law, which will be expected to file an
amicus curiae brief.
      “Professor O’Connor? She was the first lawyer I talked with,” Sterling offers.
      “A good choice. I recommended Hunter to head the institute. It would be good to have her in
your corner.” He then leaves.
      As the various lawyers confer with one another, Sterling studies his six-person legal team. This
entire afternoon will probably be billed at several thousand dollars. He is wondering if the law firm
isn’t making a mountain out of a molehill. Constitutional issues are all good and well, but shouldn’t
they be addressing the immediate issue: his misdemeanor and indictment. What happens after an
indictment? There has to be a prosecution, trial, verdict, sentence. Or negotiation. He doesn’t want to
think about all this. Fortunately, Stacy James arrives with two more associates who transport a white
board. The board contains some schematics drawn by a professional hand, almost as if they were
expertly printed. The right graphic is a triangle that represents the North Carolina judicial process. At
the bottom of the triangle is noted: the grand jury, further up is the Superior Court, above which is the
Court of Appeals and above which is the NC Supreme Court. The left graphic is more complicated, as
befits the federal government:

       Before Sterling has an opportunity to study and memorize the chart, the whiteboard is flipped
over to its blank side. Stacy James takes a marker and prepares to scribble on the board. He addresses
the room:
       “Gentlemen and lady, please, probable penalties for felony indecent exposure, based on recent
outcomes. Mr. Young is the first to jump in, asking “Adult or juvenile?”
       “Adult,” replies James. Barry Pitt offers the following, which James writes on the whiteboard.
       “Fine, jail time or probation, community service, restitution to those offended, psych work-up
and/or counseling, court-ordered classes, SOR…that’s it.”
       “SOR?” Sterling asks.
       “Sex offender registration, usually ten years, domicile prohibition school proximity, no contact
youth, visits police, sometimes social workers supervision, many rules, some interpretation,” Mr. Pitt
explains in the verbal equivalent of a PowerPoint, bullets omitting prepositions.
       Sterling is mulling over the ramifications of being on the SOR.
       “And who are we up against?” Stacy James continues, asking the question for the benefit of the
       “Miles and Abernathy, the fourteenth. I’ve set up a meeting for first thing Monday. They’re
willing to talk but I sense there’s some heat from the bench. My source says he’s hell-bent on a quick
trial before he gets rotated out. There’s a history,” Pitt shrugs glancing over to Sterling with a blank
expression, bordering on the unsympathetic .
       “Bikegate? That’s like five years ago. I was twelve,” Sterling explains rather defensively. No
one reacts.
       “Before the meeting, Sterling, we need to put this list in order. Start with what you least want and
work your way up,” James says, as he prepares to write down the list Sterling will give him.
       “Can I think about this and tell you before we have the meeting,” he asks, expecting an automatic
       “No, do it now, please. You will not be at the meeting,” he explains.
       “But I’m the client,” Sterling argues.
       “And sometimes the client is his or her worse enemy,” James counters. He looks at this watch,
adding, “Now, please.”
       “From the least acceptable, sex offender registry, counseling, jail, restitution, community service,
probation, fine, classes.” James studies the list he’s written.
       “You’d rather go to jail than have counseling and the SOR, is that correct?” he asks.
       “It depends on how long. I’m assuming 30 days. If it’s 90 days, I’d rather have counseling,”
Sterling explains.
       “We’ll see what we can do,” he says, nodding to his colleagues that the meeting is over. Sterling
is not sure he has been understood.
       “I’m not saying I want to go to jail. But you asked me what I wanted least and that’s definitely
SOR. Jail and counseling seem about the same thing to me,” he explains.
       “I understand, son.”
       Sterling leaves the building feeling deeply unsatisfied. It’s like he’s eaten a five-course dinner but
is still starving. It’s like how you feel after a boxing match before the decision is announced but you
feel you’ve lost. Even after the announcement of victory, you feel like you’ve still lost. At the
meeting, Sterling reflects, no one bothered to mention misdemeanor exposure. It’s like the lawyers
were assuming the worse, accepting felony as a given. They are supposed to have his best interests at
stake, so why doesn’t he feel like they’re in his corner? And this talk about constitutional issues, it’s as
if they want him to lose so they can appeal the case. On the bright side, at least no one mentioned the
video or passed judgment on it. He guesses that for people who deal with rapists and murderers on a
daily basis, an exhibitionist is a breath of fresh air.
       It is after six o’clock. He needs to call home to tell them he might be late. He can make the last
express, at 6:25 P.M. which will put him back in Durham at 7:05 P.M., just after his new curfew. The
sidewalks are more crowded, with the after-work throng. He looks around for a pay phone to call
home. He finds one, but it is vandalized with no receiver. Another is a block away in the wrong
direction. He reaches it, fortunately unvandalized. But he has only two quarters in his pocket, which
are not enough to make a call. He notes he will have to acquire a change purse so he can be fully
stocked with coins in the future. If he had a credit card, he still would not have used it as the charge for
a single, brief local call in North Carolina from a pay phone with swiped card can easily run over
$20.00. “A legal theft,” according to bloggers. If he calls collect, the charge will be even more. Under
the old rules it was permissible to get home by 7:15 P.M. without a courtesy call. Sterling is unsure if
the new rules include a fifteen minute grace period, but he suspects 7:15 P.M. is still acceptable, given
circumstantial evidence. It should produce only a slight addition to his current sentence. Then he
remembers that in his haste and his preoccupation with his own difficulties, he has forgotten to mention
Daryl to the lawyers. Sterling turns around and jogs back to the building. The lobby is crowded and he
has to wait an eternity for the elevator to arrive and empty out. Fortunately, Robert Young emerges
from one. Sterling ask him for his business card telling him he has a friend who needs a lawyer. Young
fumbles in his wallet, to an impatient Sterling, and gives him a card and asks what’s involved.
“Murder,” says Sterling as he heads out the door, jogging back to the bus stop. He arrives a few
seconds after 6:25 P.M., just in the nick of time to see the last express of the day pull out without him.
He takes a few steps to begin a jog after it but then realizes that the drivers are prohibited from opening
the door except at a bus stop. Not a silly rule, Sterling concedes, but a rule that has just affected him in
a silly way, sillily, if that were a word. He now sees three choices: to hitchhike and face his mother’s
wrath; or hitch and not tell her, which is what the old Sterling would do; or to wait for the next local (he
checks his schedule, one departs at 6:40 P.M., arriving Durham 7:55 P.M.). He’ll no doubt receive a
reprimand for showing lack of consideration by not phoning about his expected tardiness, as well as
breaking curfew. This is something he will have to work out. Maybe they will give him a phone for
emergency use only. Who’s he kidding? He would not give himself a phone with such loose
conditions. He’ll offer a compromise: a phone that only calls home or only connects to his mother’s
cell; he’s sure Jeremiah can figure out how to restrict one in such a way. The new Sterling thinks about
this day, as he waits for the bus. Today rates as the third worse day of his life, after the day Susan died
and the day of her funeral. And he still has an hour and a quarter joyless ride home, with no phone,
with no laptop, with no mp3, with no life.
      When Sterling eventually arrives home (having spent the past hours writing in his new notebook),
he’s no longer feeling sorry for himself; once experienced self-pity has been dispensed with. His father
is working with some boxers in the gym; upstairs the women are anxious, sitting around the kitchen
table. His arrival brings relief; they both hug him, before they vent their anger at his “inconsideration”
and “obstinacy” regarding the curfew. He tries to explain about the busses and the phones but is shut
out. They’d rather tell him about the worse-case scenarios they have been conjuring up for the past
hour: hitchhiking accident, run-away from home, getting drunk and high with friends or strangers,
getting cougared by a society dame. They have an active imagination when it comes to the variety of
trouble that Sterling can get himself mixed up with. He repeatedly says he’s sorry and that he’ll take
better account of time in the future. He quickly eats and escapes to his bedroom. He needs to prepare
for tomorrow. He stares at a blank pad.
     It is that time of year again, the moment when Sterling must make his annual appearance at
school. During the school year he usually strolls the corridors once or even twice a week, but this
assembly is one visit he considers mandatory. The principal and faculty would prefer he stay away; it
is his fellow students, the younger ones in particular, who require his attendance. He had received
numerous texts, mostly from freshers, imploring Sterling to come to their aid and that was only those
messages he had been able to view before he lost phone privileges. Why is he so popular? Since 2003,
when he was eleven, Sterling has led a vocal opposition to the standardized intelligence tests that
Durham Prep administers to its students. For many years Sterling had been conflicted over tests. It all
ended back in 1993.
      Actually Sterling’s ideas about tests are an extension of his general educational philosophy. In
Sterling’s humble opinion, education has two players: the student who wants to learn and everyone
else, most of whom seem hell-bent against the student learning. Almost anything he gets worked up
about at the school fits into the US versus THEM construct. Actually, Sterling has nothing against tests
per se. There’s nothing wrong with a school’s testing its students to ensure that they know president’s
names and state capitols, quadratic equations or the Gettysburg Address. That is part of cultural
indoctrination, a fine role for education. When schools try to administer general intelligence tests,
however, Sterling gets annoyed. What is IQ’s purpose: to praise the elites and stigmatize the rest? – to
provide tools for teachers to pigeon-hole students? – to give crutches to counselors who can cavalierly
brand this student an underachiever or that student a hard worker “more than fulfilling his potential?”
IQ tests, Sterling argues, symbolize exactly what’s wrong with American education: stratification by
intelligence. This line of reasoning may seem strange to the casual observer. Didn’t the boy’s success
on an IQ test generate an invitation to join Mensa, sight unseen? Actually, his parents had applied for
him, test score in hand, but the fact remains that IQ tests have served Sterling well. He almost always
scores in the 99th percentile, whether he’s tested with Wechsler, Stanford-Binet or Kaufman-ABC.
Regardless whether the reference group is state, nation or planet, he’s in the 99th percentile. Once he
bottomed out in the 97th percentile, but on that particular test day he had a fever of 101° and was
coming down with the flu and had to be woken up to answer one of the questions that had lulled him to
sleep. Given the medical circumstances the school decided to strike that low score which otherwise
would have blemished his record (but still raised the school’s average). This kindness notwithstanding,
Sterling was as eager as ever to fight the school authorities. Sometimes his fights involve a genuine
disagreement over educational philosophy; more often he feels some bug up his ass.
       This year Sterling is expecting basically to repeat his standard performance. In the past he has
given a brief, if extremely selective, history of intelligence tests, how educators used them to separate
the wheat from the chaff, with the latter getting tagged as “idiot,” “imbecile” or “moron.” Later as a
bow to political correctness, educators modernized their language and constructed rubrics such as
“defective” and “borderline.” Even today the terms “mentally challenged,” “developmentally
disabled” or “slow learner” are informally associated with low scores. The military also employed the
IQ test, which allowed it to pre-select potential leaders and exclude the rest from meritorious
advancement. Sterling is expected to rehash the same arguments he had presented for the past six
years: that the tests are costly, that they serve as a detour on the educational highway, that they do not
lead to better learning by students or better teaching by teachers, and that many academicians question
their validity. Some studies have shown an extraordinary variation from year to year in test scores
taken by an individual child. He normally uses a PowerPoint that summarizes the past year’s critical
literature. He especially tracks the “Just Say No” crowd who oppose any type of interpretation of test
scores beyond a global IQ, although Sterling, himself, is particularly opposed to the composite, global,
or full-scale IQ. As the tests have grown more sophisticated over time, with increasingly sophisticated
subtests, educational psychologists have focused on interpreting these individual tests, which may
include just a few questions and a subjective assessment by the examiner, to try to understand a child’s
particular strengths and weaknesses. Educationalists continue to fill internet forums with numerous
and various complaints about the individual subtests. Some of the loudest voices are those of the
examiners themselves.
       For many years the standard IQ test administrated in America has been the WISC, or Wechsler
Intelligence Scales, named after a pioneer in the field of educational assessment in the mid-1930s,
David Wechsler (1896-1981). These tests have been under constant revision, to better address
theoretical concerns, in order to develop subtests that relate to specific types of memory or reasoning.
From 1991 the version called WISC-III was administered to children ages 6 to 16, having replaced the
previous modification from 1974. The WISC-III was the last test Sterling took, before he started his
boycott. The WISC is not a mass test like the college boards with several hundred students sitting in a
gymnasium, with proctors roaming the aisles looking for cheaters. The WISC tests, which cost about
$32 per student (minimum order 25), are a one-on-one sit-down. They require an individual test giver
for each examinee to spent at least an hour, often longer. The person who gives the test is expected to
have graduate- or professional-level training in psychological assessment. WISC-III is the very test
that earned Sterling his hated Mensa membership.
       In 2003 the WISC-IV arrived. The new edition was a fundamentally different test, and had
involved a major theoretical rethink, “the most substantial revision of any Wechsler scale to date.” The
school administrators of Durham Prep wanted to administer it, over time to each student at the school.
Because of the test’s expense and demand on professional’s time, normally these types of tests are
given only to students who have manifested a problem in their schooling, mostly reflected in poor
grades. A classroom teacher refers the child to the school psychologist, who then gives him or her the
test and later tries to interpret the results and assess the pupil’s weakness. Sterling did not object to
tests administered this way although he challenged their effectiveness. But to blanket the school body
with this unnecessary effort irritated Sterling. WISC-IV was not just the normal bug up the kid’s rather
packed ass; it was more like a high colonic administered by fire hose.
       Over the years Sterling had gotten more aggressive in his vituperation against WISC-IV. He had
added a brief discussion of eugenics to his tirade. He had especially targeted his African-American and
Hispanic schoolmates, who represent a class which for various reasons score poorer on standardized
tests than do their middle-class white counterparts. He had raised the ugly specter of “test-racism.”
For the large group of Asian students – 15 percent of the student body – he hypothesized that these tests
downgraded the importance of mental rigor (read memory skills) over the type of freewheeling
thinking process that is associated with American creativity. “Socrates might be a genius, but on these
tests poor Mr. Confucius would be lucky if he comes off much better than moron,” he had said,
instantly attracting all the Asian-Americans to his corner. The result of this harangue was to drive the
students into a frenzy, creating such palpable fear that several of the more high strung had to run to the
toilet to vomit. From 2003 to the present almost no Durham Prep student has wanted the opportunity
being offered: to take the WISC-IV, a test which might just lower their previously established IQ.
       It’s no secret that IQ tests are flawed. Much of the academic literature quibbles over one or
another defect. Many, if not most, educators agree, however, that WISC-IV is a leap forward in
assessing individual student’s strengths and witnesses. It serves as an invaluable tool for the
educational psychologist – the most useless of school staff in Sterling’s opinion – whose goal it is to
strengthen cognitive weaknesses and improve academic achievements among pupils. The purpose of
the IQ test, in its WISC format, is to generate data that may be used to develop effective interventions
to resolve problems that the classroom teacher catches, be they with oral or written language,
mathematics, reading, or phonemic awareness. Simply put, Durham Prep sees the IQ test as a way to
help improve the individual examinee; Sterling says he sees it as a way to classify an individual on an
intelligence scale and to perpetuate the educational psychology establishment.
       Sterling’s fear of the test is grounded in something much more personal than he lets on. He had
tracked the changes from WISC-III to WISC-IV. He had participated in the internet forums devoted to
this issue, as a poorly informed educational psychologist (Mr.Sterling@DurhamPrep.edu email allowed
him to pull off this hoax). It did not take him long to comprehend the theory behind the tests and the
reasons the changes had been made. After he studied the instructor’s manual for the WISC-IV and
some sample questions, he was able to project how the changes would affect his individual score. This
test, by his estimate, would not verify his IQ to be much above 140. Even with practice tests in his
weak areas, he would not likely increase that score more than .35 - .58 standard deviations, at the most
slightly more than one scaled point, thus 141. Also, this was not a test he could study for, even if he
could find black market copies. He agitated over these distressing facts for a few days, during which
time he did not sleep well and, for one of the few times in his life, he became constipated. Literally, he
was scared shitless. The remedy was two-fold: he went on attack against the WISC-IV and his mother
administered a warm water enema.
       Sterling knows something about his own intellectual strengths and weaknesses, thanks in part to
the brain scans he had undergone and the barrage of tests he had taken by those lab-coated technicians
who were eagerly waiting to dissect his brain. The simple conclusion he had reached: strong in
memory, weak in visualization, sound and graphic/design areas. WISC-IV comprised fifteen subtests.
These tests, in turn, were combined to build the four components of the test which, when maneuvered
statistically, produced the composite IQ. Sterling did not fear two of the four components (verbal
comprehension and working memory). He could easily ace all the subtests in these components:
similarities, vocabulary, comprehension, information, word reasoning, digit span, letter-number and
arithmetic. The other two components posed the problem. They would discern his weaknesses because
the testing method incorporates visual tools, rather than words. The Perceptual Reasoning Index
includes three tasks: block design, matrix reasoning and picture concepts. The first task consists of
colored blocks which are put together to make designs. The second consists of a sequence or group of
designs, and the individual is required to fill in a missing design from five choices. The third requires
the examinee to match pictures which belong together based on common characteristics. All three
measure non-verbal concept formation, intelligence and reasoning. It’s not that Sterling would “fail”
these tests. He would be a bit slower, demi-seconds rather than nano-seconds, and the score produced
would be lower than one that might be suggested by his elevated verbal scores. Processing Speed is
Sterling’s other weak component. This represents the ability to perform simple, clerical type tasks
quickly; it includes two tests: coding and symbol-search. The first is an exercise in which symbols are
matched with numbers or shapes according to a key. It measures visual-motor speed and short-term
visual memory. The second requires the examinee to identify the presence or absence of a target
symbol in a row of symbols.
       The Wechsler tests address the major criticism that intelligence tests are bias in favor of
convergent, analytical and scientific modes of thought versus divergent, artistic and imaginative modes
of thought. That’s a bias that favors Sterling, and he knows it. WISC-IV’s incorporation of so many
picture-associated tests responds to that very criticism. The Wechsler tries to correct that bias,
something which Sterling appreciates but does not like, as a stakeholder. Sterling is annoyed that the
revised test design will disadvantage him. His shotgun attack of the tests is his response. Ironically,
Durham Prep does not want to test Sterling. As of his recent birthday, he has become too old to be a
test subject for this particular test. Therefore, the school told him pointedly that he doesn’t need to
come to the meeting. Coach Mac, the school’s temporary psychologist, has specifically asked him not
to come. Sterling weighed this request against all the messages of fear he received from the lower-
form students and wrote back to Coach Mac that he was “morally obligated” to go to the meeting. He
promised to say “little,” which, he reasoned to himself, is a pledge that doesn’t mean much given the
relative nature of “little” “much” and other measures of uncountable quantity. A step ahead of Sterling,
Coach Mac emailed back that he would understand “little” to be fewer than 75 words and he would be
counting. That email, as well as others trying to find him, unfortunately, was returned, “550 Requested
action not taken: mailbox unavailable.”
       Before he even enters the school auditorium, Sterling has the support of the underclass boys and
girls, including the autistics. This year he does not come very prepared. He has no PowerPoint and has
not surveyed the literature which, under normal circumstances, he would have done the previous night.
Without a prepared text, he takes another tack with a new proposal. “In the spirit of democracy and full
disclosure, if the school is so adamant about testing, why not test everyone as well as the teachers?
Teachers have access to their students’ IQ scores, why not have a reciprocal arrangement?” he asks. To
this concision he adds: “These tests favor people like me who have good memories over those who
have other types of intelligence,” (total 57 words by Coach Mac’s count). Behind this statement was
the fact that Sterling had been impressed with what Howard Gardner has to say on multiple
intelligences. You can be an art genius (gifted like maybe Sara) or a music genius (the Trips, he has to
reluctantly admit) and still not score as high as Sterling on IQ tests. This test is specifically biased
against those types of students. After saying his mind, he sits down, leaving his supporters a bit
disappointed. He is thanked for his brevity and Coach Mac, the test administrator, is invited to say a
few words.
       For most of Sterling’s time at Durham Prep the post of school psychologist has been vacant.
After his first successful attack on the IQ test in 2003, the long-serving psychologist became so
depressed that she took early retirement. The next occupant was a young man who was a constant
thorn in Sterling’s side and vice-versa. Not only had this man wanted to test Sterling but, once denied
that option (Sterling gave so many ludicrous answers that the examiner quit after administering but the
first section), he began to psychologically access the young man on the basis of nothing more than
conversation and observation. Sterling so bad-mouthed this adult that none of his fellow students
would visit him, at least not voluntarily. His reputation thus in tatters, he took a job at Harvard as a
student counselor. Coach Mac became his successor.
       Mac rises and addresses the student body. He says he agrees with most all the objections that
Sterling has raised in past years and those he presented today. Mac promises he would not look at the
global IQ statistic. He would have his secretary black it out from every copy in the file. Neither
students, nor parents, nor teachers nor the psychologist himself would ever know a pupil’s score. It
was only the subtest scores that interest him. The issue is not using the test to identify poor
performance. Everyone at this school is gifted. “My goal,” he tells the students, “is to get you to do
better than you are doing, which translates in getting you into the best university, your top choice. We
can look at your individual subtests and identify areas you can improve on. You don’t know those
areas that can be improved, just like I don’t know these areas in myself. But the tests can identify
them. That’s why they are so important, with all due respect to Mr. Eumorfopoulos.”
      He then turns to Sterling. “I promise you 100% privacy; the day I break that promise is the last
day I work at this school.” To the rest he says, “Let me help get you all into the college of your
      He sits down to the students’ approbation. They had not applauded Sterling as they had in past
years. That had aggravated him a bit, but then again he recognizes he gave an off-the-cuff presentation,
no PowerPoints, no impressive charts, no technology (his friend and crutch). The students bought what
Mac said. The psychologist had put a sign-up sheet for those who wanted to be tested with WISC-IV.
The sheet is mobbed. A deserved victory for the coach who has seen few victories since his departure
from Duke, he reasons.
     Sterling needs to have his senior schedule approved so he follows Mac to his office.       Mac tells
him to wait outside while he talks briefly with some other students. Sterling then hails Buffeau as he
comes around the corner.
     “Can I borrow your cell?” he asks.
     Brandon treats his phone as an appendage of himself and slowly removes it from his jeans. He’s
not eager to turn it over to Sterling.
     “Hey, I’m not going to give it a blow-job,” Sterling comments, holding out his hand. Buffeau
hands him the phone.
     “Local calls only,” he says.
     “Yeah, yeah,” Sterling replies, punching in the number for Billy. He waits for it to be answered.
     “Hey, Brandy, how’s it hanging?” comes a familiar voice, which Sterling recognizes. He looks at
the small screen which confirms that he has dialed William Duke III, a number in Buffeau’s directory.
There’s a pause while he tries to think of what to say. He should cut off the call immediately and give
the phone back to Billy/William, saying “wrong number” or something. But it’s a bit late for that. It
would take only a call-back for William to realize that Sterling had been on the line. The old Sterling
would have made a joke out of not being “Brandy” but neither William or Brandon would find any
humor. He says, simply “Billy?”
     There is a longer pause. Sterling is pretty sure his friend can recognize his voice. Buffeau has
taken all this in and he grabs back the phone.
     “William, your friend Sterling borrowed my phone. Sorry, he called you.” Then, muffled says
something that Sterling cannot hear, but can imagine as “be careful what you say.” He returns the
phone to Sterling.
     “Hey, I haven’t heard from you, William. Can you come over?”
     “I’m sort of busy, end of term and all,” William replies.
     “I know. But I could use your help. I saw the lawyer yesterday. That’s the lawyer referred to by
your lady lawyer. I’m in some shit.”
     There is a pause. “Yeah,” Billy says. “Give me Brandon. I’ll come over tonight.”
     Sterling hands back the phone to Buffeau who goes down the hall so he can enjoy a more private
conversation right under the sign that says: NO CELL PHONES – 2 demerit offence.
     The students leave Mac’s office and Sterling takes their place.
     “Hey Mr. Mac. I need course approval for next term. Actually, just the forms. You can sign the
blank ones; that’s what everyone does,” Sterling says breezily.
     Mac searches in a file and hands him the forms.
     “You have enough credits to graduate. May I ask why you’re postponing college, yet again.”
     “You know, this and that really,” Sterling answers. Mac lets the non-reply slide.
     “And what will you do senior year?” he asks.
     “I’d like to try out for the lacrosse team, if you’ll let me. I’ve definitely decided to play. For
courses, I’ve found 3 APs and Arabic 101. Two at Duke, two at Carolina. I’ll get the auditing forms
for you to sign.”
      “Sterling, I think if you want to stay at Durham Prep, you need to take courses here. Is there
nothing you haven’t taken?
      “The languages – Greek, Chinese and Russian – but I think Arabic is the language of the future,
especially if I’m cut out for something like foreign service. We offer Russian, that’s sort of a dead
language, geo-politically, isn’t it? Then there’s Chinese, but I don’t look Chinese; I’ll always be a
foreigner in their eyes. But I might pass for Arab. I would have to get uncircumcised, but that’s no
      This was not an offhand remark. Sterling had indeed investigated foreskin restoration on the web.
Some years back, when erection was still a novelty, the B Club had had a long discussion, interrupted
by constant web referral, about retracted foreskin, paraphimosis, smegma, glans penis and the like.
Sterling, who thought he knew everything about the pleasure organ, was amazed to learn that his
friends had to clean beneath their foreskin daily, a hygienic chore “just like washing your hair or
brushing your teeth,” with just water, never soap, according to the Trips who must have cleaned in
unison when they took their daily shower together. The Friday Night educational discussion had
included a modest amount of show and tell, to which only Sterling and Gedalyahu Chaim
Zuckermandel could not participate with any pride. From that evening on Sterling had been
determined to get his prepuce back – circumcision was something his mother had inflicted on him
before he could oppose the butchery, and he was determined to regain the reins of control. The family
health plan would not pay for the surgery needed for foreskin restoration unless it were deemed
essential for the “patient’s psychological welfare.” Sterling feared he was too psychologically sound to
qualify; in any case surgery was not recommended on the web. Rather he would endure a tissue
expansion procedure, with a contraption called the Dual Tension Restorer. He had already priced them
on the internet. If he used it on non-sex nights, he’d become uncut in only a matter of time. How long
depended on how uncut he wanted to be and that couldn’t be determined until he had begun. Before
this, however, he had to take the matter up with Sara; he had penciled in this chat for summer vacation.
      Mac studies the boy. This is a kid who has all the answers. Then he says flatly: “I’m not going to
approve anything until you tell me why you’re staying here. And don’t try to pull rank and go the
principal. We agree on this.” He returns the forms to Sterling, unsigned.
      “That’s shitty,” Sterling says quietly. The new Sterling is not supposed to use foul language; but
the reply was spontaneous and meant no disrespect. “Sorry,” he immediately adds.
      There is a long pause. Sterling hasn’t rehearsed a response but he has several candidates. One,
he’s not mature enough for college. Who could disagree? Also, he has some legal issues to take care
of, resulting from that immaturity. Two, he’s still grieving his sister’s death and doesn’t want any more
abrupt life course corrections. Three, he’s not ready to leave home; his parents need him. Four, he’s
quite comfortable, a whale in the little Durhamic pond of adolescents; he has a girlfriend (and great
sex) and a school he practically owns. Why rush to college with all its limitations? Five, and the only
response he cares to offer Mac, is that the deadline for college applications has long past, so the point is
no longer moot. If the school won’t keep him, he’ll get a job bagging groceries or something. Does
Durham Prep really want to have that on it’s conscious? Instead, he says:
      “Can I get back to you on that?” he asks. The new Sterling has learned, in the past few days, that
the first dozen or so ideas that pop into his mind are precisely the ones he should not impulsively act
upon. His brainstorms need to be navigated with care. If given sufficient thought, most bright ideas
eventually lose their glow. Smiley Boy had been a quick decision and look where it has landed him.

Chapter 13
     Despite the down mood in which Coach Mac has left him, Sterling is still looking forward to the
weekend. His parents will be away visiting his grandparents and plan to stay over Saturday night.
Catherine and Pandely have wanted to drag him along, but he convinced them that two days off
training, subjected to his grandmother’s cooking, would ruin his chances in next week’s boxing
qualifier. They took the dog instead. So he and Sara would be home alone, more or less. However,
she wants company – having lived away from Durham she was keen to catch up with friends – and had
informed him they would be having a barbeque. They would invite a few friends over, maybe watch a
video. Sterling may be unplugged, but Sara was still very enabled and as potential fiancée she had
permission to operate the DVD in the living room. He had been instructed that he was prohibited from
watching. The new Sterling had accepted the sentence. He was determined to live by their rules, his
current life challenge.
      No one else is home at the moment (Bucephalus is in the back yard tending to business), so this is
the perfect opportunity to find a piece of mail that his parents have mislaid – his SAT scores. Back at
the beginning of the month he had taken the college boards, now called the SAT Reasoning Test,
formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Unlike the IQ tests that required an examiner who is
allowed much discretion, the boards were a mostly computerized test that he absolutely adored.
Possible scores range from 600 to 2400, combining test results from three 800-point sections (math,
critical reading, and writing). He had taken the Preliminary SAT as a sixth grader, the first year the
school would let him take it, despite his earlier pleas (he had tried to register on line, only to be told to
go through his school). He had scored, as expected, in the 99th percentile. As he told his parents it was
the best 3 ¾ hours and $14 that they had “never wasted on me.” In the years that followed he had
busied himself with taking the SAT subject tests ($21, one hour, multiple choice, scored on an 800
point maximum), which help with university admission but are unlikely to lead to the waiver of any
curriculum requirements. By sophomore year Sterling had run out of subject tests to take. He had
scored above 780 on all the tests he had taken and had received five perfect scores. The tests were on
Literature, U.S. History, Mathematics I, Mathematics II, World History, Biology (both ecological and
molecular), Chemistry, Physics, French and Spanish (both with listening). The rest of the tests offered
were subjects he would not take: Korean, Japanese, Italian, Modern Hebrew, German and Chinese.
      The Advanced Placement tests, which can lead to the waiver of college requirements, posed a
bigger challenge. They are scored on a five-point scale, with 5 representing “extremely well qualified
to receive college credit.” The tests are given over the first two weeks in May but the scores may not
be available until July, since some sections have to be individually marked by subjective readers
(Sterling had filed a job applicaton to the office in New Jersey to be a reader but was told to reapply in
twenty years). Sterling is waiting to hear how he has done on: European History, English Literature,
Statistics, Spanish Language and Microeconomics. In the previous three years he had received 5 on
Biology, Calculus AB, Chemistry, Computer Science A, Physics B and French Language. He was
awarded 4 (meaning “well qualified to received credit”) each on Macroeconomics, English Language
and Environmental Science and U.S. Government & Politics. He has received his 3 (only “qualified”
according to Sterling) on Calculus BC and had been so dejected that he resat the exam the following
year and received a 5 for the effort.
      For his upcoming senior year he had wanted to take only four additional APs but as a result of his
conversation with Mr. Mac, he has for the moment decided to take the remaining six: Physics C, Comp
Government & Politics, Human Geography, Spanish Literature, U.S. History, World History. That left
the eight he would not take: Latin: Virgil, German Language, Japanese Language and Culture, Music
Theory, Psychology, Studio Art, Chinese Language and Culture and Art History.
      Sterling weeded through the pile of slick college brochures (actually two piles each over two feet
high and a third that had recently grown to over a foot) looking for the letter containing his SAT scores.
Why so many college brochures? From the moment back in the sixth grade when he had received his
outstanding PSAT marks, he had been bombarded with college promotional material. They came from
not just superior research universities and elite liberal arts colleges – types of institutions that someone
with the boy-wonder’s scores would likely apply – but also from schools of every size, shape and
location. Small Bible colleges, large state mega-universities, private on-line institutions and sundry
diploma mills, they have all vied for Sterling’s attention. The most curious collection came from
nursing schools. Just about every nursing program in the country wanted Sterling. Some were already
offering money. In filling out a questionnaire accompanying the PSAT the boy had been asked about
his educational ambitions and courses he might pursue. He was presented with a list, at least one of
which had to be checked, the proctor had ordered, in returning the uncompleted form that Sterling had
initially shrugged off. Immediately, he read this as a trap, the first tick toward a lifetime of junk mail.
To stop this in the bud, he figured he’d tick off the one program for which he had no interest, nursing,
and which obviously would have no interest in an eleven year old boy. It’s not that he hated nurses: his
mother was a nurse, well, almost a nurse, a few credits short of completing her degree. But that was
long ago, around the time Sterling was born; he had long suspected his arrival was the reason his
mother had never completed her education. She may have even blamed him for her own inadequacy,
he wasn’t sure. He felt no remorse, however, not for the woman who had brought him, kicking and
screaming, to the pediatrician to have “a minor cut you won’t even feel.” Literally, an attack on his
boyhood that the four year old fought against until he was successfully drugged into twilight sleep.
When he woke up, he realized he had been maimed. This had been no Brit milah, the butcher no mohel
(although in fairness the surgeon was Jewish), the conciliatory McDonald’s happy meal indeed no
seudat mitzvah. Sterling had not been a compliant, unfeeling eight-day old shagetz but rather a more
sentient being who had preferred his privates to remain, well, private. (That attitude disappeared with
time.) Even then his mother, with his best interests at heart, was more concerned about the spread of
diseases in some feared hypothetical future than the present mental health of her son. That was surely
in the past; Sterling hardly continued to fret over the issue, although it did seem like yesterday; he
could still smell the doctor’s office and he could visualize and even smell the purple lolly-pop that the
nurse held out as a bribe. Indeed, the white-coats who had once been so eager to autopsy his brain, had
originally conjectured that they had found themselves a hyperthymesiac, a person who possesses a
superior autobiographical memory. But, when quizzed, the tyke Sterling wasn’t able to provide, for
example, the weather conditions on specific dates from his past, or talk about earlier events as if they
had occurred the day before. Disappointingly, he wasn’t their desirable subject; he was not a SAMy,
they said. Those tests had been years ago; if the teenage Sterling, with his more mature brain, had been
retested today the neurosurgeons would have found their subject a likely fit to the SAM construct.
Scientists are just now beginning to understand this, there existing only a handful of individuals known
in America to possess this extraordinary ability. Today, indeed, Sterling can relive his distant past, as if
it were his immediate past, which is great when he mentally replays sexual intercourse but not to so
great when he thinks about genital mutilation.
       He finds the SAT scores – 800m, 790cr, 781w – not bad for a $47 investment. He would include
it in the package he was preparing for Mr. Mac for when he argued his case for remaining in school for
senior year. He had already obtained the necessary signature from the AP coordinator, who basically
signed anything she was offered if Sterling submitted his most seducing smile. Mr. Mac would be a
harder sell; he had already promised to play lacrosse for the coach; what else could he offer? He’s all
out of smiles. Sterling had left the brochures in disarray so he methodically puts them back into order,
setting up divisions: research, liberal arts, religious, for profit, nursing, other. This is a routine he often
goes through to keep his life in order; some might say he is a borderline obsessive and compulsive, but
he would disagree. He’s just orderly.
       He is about halfway into the task when Daryl arrives. Sterling offers him a business card, and
Daryl calls the lawyer for a Monday appointment, which he coordinates with the train schedule.
Sterling agrees to accompany him to Raleigh, since he needs to meet with his own legal team to find
out the outcome of their meeting with the DA, from which he will be harshly excluded. He doesn’t like
the way he’s been treated and has thought about just showing up at the Durham Courthouse for the
lawyers’ meeting with Miles and Abernathy. That’s what the old Sterling would do, so he decides
against that strategy.
      As Daryl leaves, Sara arrives. Together they need to go to the market to prepare for the next day’s
barbeque. While Sterling finishes arranging the catalogues, they have a half-hour debate of the pros
and cons of the local markets, the closest being Food World. Sara prefers the Whole Foods just outside
Duke’s East Campus. Sterling points out that: (A) Holy Foods is too expensive, catering to Dukies on
large allowances from mommy and daddy who have no sense of the value of money, “kids who won’t
think twice about paying $6 for a cup of soup;” (B) it is too far to walk to; and (C) it is an unsafe area
for bicycles. How can it be unsafe, it’s the university, Sara wonders. Not unsafe for people, but very
unsafe for bikes. Sterling says a biker needs his own personal security detail to keep a bike from
getting stolen at this time of year. He’s lost two on campus already, both in the month of June; now
whenever he bikes there, he chains his bike near to the guard’s booth. We can do that, she counters.
      “There’s no way I’m going to bike there for the pleasure of getting ripped off,” he thinks to
himself. He once did a price comparison for identical items and found a 28% discrepancy on paper
products and common canned goods. On the other hand an inner voice is also warning him not to over-
intellectualize this matter, reminding himself that he doesn’t need to win every argument in life, even
when he’s right, which is virtually all the time. This is advice Susan had often given him, guidance he
had hitherto rarely heeded. Sterling franticly searches his mind for a maneuver that will cost neither a
loss of face – healthy stuff from WF, the rest from the discounters – when Sara counters by
maneuvering her hands into his shirt, massaging his chest and then heading southward. A hour and a
half later, still in the afterglow of a pleasant afternoon rumble, they are cycling to Whole Foods and to a
butcher known only to BBQ cognoscenti. The final bill comes to $156.37 and Sterling has to make a
return trip for the second lot, which are stuffed into the panniers with the excess bungied onto the bike
racks. He holds no complaints: the best argument he ever lost.
      When Sterling gets back, no one other than Brandon and Billy/William is in the gym. Brandon
is jumping rope and William is admiring him, occasionally checking his phone. Sterling had once
persuaded William to try to jump rope; he had promptly tripped and fallen on his face. That was when
he was five years old and he has never jumped again. Grabbing the remainder of the shopping bags,
William follows Sterling upstairs for a talk. He waves to Sara who’s occupied in the kitchen and then
follows Sterling into his bedroom. Sterling quickly straightens the bed, which seems to have sustained
tornado damage.
      “Party tomorrow? Your parents won’t object?” Billy asks.
      “They’re not here,” Sterling confirms. That might seem to come from the old Sterling, but in fact
the new one rationalizes that the party is Sara’s; Sterling’s new role is to ensure it won’t get out of
control, the role for the new Sterling.
      “No beer, no drugs,” Sterling commands.
      “No problem,” Billy says. He’s quite aware of the strict prohibition honored at the
      Sterling explains, in summary form, his visits to Professor O’Connor and to the Stacy James law
corporation. Then, he asks his friend:
      “Did you or Senior pay the retainer?”
      “Not me. And Senior doesn’t know you’ve hired outside counsel,” William says, intending
sophistication but offering pomposity. “Maybe it’s from your website.”
      “It’s just come on-line. Whom am I kidding? The site will never generate much cash. I’m not
sure how long I can afford all this, Billy,” he admits. “William,” he corrects.
      “Good reason to take the deal they offer. It’s just going to be a slap on the wrist. What’s this
other grand jury? Isn’t that like double jeopardy?” he asks.
      “I’m not worried. It’s a witch-hunt for an out-of-state porn king. The feds can’t get me for
something local, like public nudity. Indecent exposure! Do you believe that Mickey Mouse charge?
You’d think government in this county would have more to worry about than a kid without clothes, like
raising taxes or tapping our phones. You know how common this is on the web? If I had a dollar for
each guy who showed his hard-on, I’d be richer than Senior!”
       William studies him. Sterling really does see himself as completely innocent, a victim in what
should be a victimless crime. Who is he fooling? William is supposed to be the naïve boy, but it’s his
friend who keeps saying that Smiley Boy was no big deal. An indictment that could lead to juvenile hall
or worse, prison, that’s a big deal in anyone’s book, especially William’s carefully constructed book,
built on hours of worry. He doesn’t care to envision Sterling being held down in his cell by a bunch of
tattooed, over-muscled men and then repeatedly gang raped, but that’s exactly what he does envision.
He’s had that nightmare three nights’ running, which is what prompted his ultimatum text Monday as
well as an unscheduled visit to his shrink. The irrevocable advice he has steadfastly offered Sterling is
to contact a lawyer. This was also his psychologist’s advice, that from a woman who for years has
warned William to keep his distance from “boy Eros,” the doctor-patient private euphemism for his
friend. For two months, ever since the video first appeared on YouTube, seeking out legal counsel has
been William’s nagging advice. It was also his recommendation that Jeremiah wipe out all traces of
Smiley Boy from the digital world. That advice, fortunately, Sterling agreed to, if reluctantly, although
William himself had to phone Jerry to get the eraser rolling. At this stage there’s little more that
William can do, other than to lend a sympathetic ear. He’s been chastising Sterling for his
exhibitionism from day one, but that rebuke still falls on deaf ears, or rather has gone in one of
Sterling’s ears and out the other, skipping over his much lauded cognitive organ, which William refers
to (only to himself and Brandon, and only when he’s in a sour mood) as a “puffed up piece of brain-
         Sterling thinks of their relationship as one-way: William demanding with exigency, Sterling
himself acquiescing with perturbation. Over the years, however, Sterling has often sought William’s
help, almost always after some stupidity. On the day the video was shot, William had rebuked Sterling,
who had come to him typically only after the fact. William had been asked to clean up the damage,
literally. Neither with pride or shame, Sterling lowered his pants and produced his flaccid penis,
painted with a yellow Smiley, or happy face, on the flat tip of his organ, a task only the circumcised
half of the male population could accomplish. William stared in amazement and finally offered simply:
“What have you done?”
         “I didn’t know it was indelible ink. They should write that on the pen,” he said angrily.
         “What? ‘Attention: indelible ink. Do not draw on your cock.’”
       William, who lives most of his life in a miasma of nervous perturbation, is not occasionally
without humor. Sterling continued:
         You’d think they’d be regulation, consumer protection and all. Now it won’t come off. Tell me
what to do.”
         William took a few minutes to survey the internet. His conclusion:
         “There’s nothing to do.”
         “You mean I’m scarred for life?” Sterling asked, his condition of stupefaction unpleasant
because of its rareness.
         “No, stupid. You just need to shed skin cells. A few days, maybe a week. Exposing it to air
and sun might help, but that’s what got you here in the first place. If you kept it where it belongs, you
wouldn’t be in this mess,” William said, a bit annoyed.
         Sterling then proceeded to list a variety of compounds from baking soda to sulfuric acid and
William dutifully checked the web for each, with the same results: indelible ink is, unsurprisingly,
indelible. “If you put alcohol or anything strong near your precious meatus, you’re going to feel like
someone just shoved a red hot needle up your prick. I know you know what the meatus is,” William
concluded, referring to the urethral opening.
        Sterling was meanwhile busy seeing if he could advance the flaking process, which grossed
William out. He said angrily:
      “Stop playing with yourself, Sterl. Put it away for God’s sake.” Rebuked, Sterling obeyed.
      As William had predicted, the problem took care of itself in about ten days. One day in the
shower, Sterling had looked down to notice not a trace of yellow, not even a vestige of the black curve
and dots smiling back at him, although upside downly. He was elated and felt vindicated, but
vindicated from what he wasn’t sure. He could at least start drinking water and using public urinals
again and could go back to living the life of casual nakedness that characterizes the Eumorfopoulos
household. Sara had not yet moved in and Bucephalus, who was always nude save for a collar, was not
bothered. Bucephalus, however, had once been scolded, after he had aroused a sleeping Sterling with
his licking, specifically his licking in a place he should not be licking except on his own body. From
then on the boxers had clung to different ends of the bed.
        William, despite his curiosity, never asked the particulars about why the happy face had been
painted on his friend’s penis. This was weird, but then Sterling was not the least weird person he knew.
The Smiley design, itself, had been around since the early 1970s; everywhere one could find the yellow
circle with two black dots representing eyes and a black half circle representing the mouth. William
could live his life without being privy to the details of Sterling involvement with the icon. He certainly
didn’t need more involvement with Sterling’s phallus than he had already had (this was not the first
time they had been acquainted). Later he had asked himself: was the Smiley Boy video’s theme
Sterling’s brainchild or that of the porn producers? Introducing the Smiley to internet porn seemed
somewhat sacrilegious, but William let that concern slide.
        About a week after his first encounter with Sterling’s Smiley, William was accidentally reunited
with the icon. By chance he had discovered the video while he was at school, in study hall, killing time
before he would be excused for the day. He had browsed YouTube for recent popular releases and
landed on Smiley Boy. Most of the videos with ‘boy’ in the title were masturbation videos with
expected short YouTube shelf lives (they were yanked off as soon as discovered by management).
William decided to take a gander before the video disappeared. He was viewer 90,273, an early bird.
He had to view the clip three times before he was convinced that the boy in the film was indeed
Sterling. The first time he was positive it was Sterling, but he hoped it was not. The second time, it
looked even more like Sterling, but he hoped even more that it was not. The third view left no doubt;
he rejected his earlier denials. In a state of hyperventilation he pleaded successfully for the study hall
monitor to grant him emergency leave, then phoned and eventually caught up with Sterling in Chapel
Hill after he’d finished a class.
        Sterling was surprised that the video had made it to the web. He had done it, he had been paid,
but he had not expected to ever see the final product, which was supposed to be for Indians – India
Indians, not American natives. William was a bit perturbed that Sterling had not bothered to mention
the video to him before, especially since their relationship was an open one, stripped as it were of
secrets. At least William as BFF told Sterling everything; it now seems that the road was not two-way.
The taping had simply been one of those life experiences, Sterling explained. “Hardly something to
talk about. I put it in the past almost before it was finished,” he added. What Sterling didn’t mention,
of course, was that for him the video was indelibly a part of his memory and would be lived over and
over again. He had some control over this, but not total control because he could not forget: nothing,
never, period. He could choose to forget, but that was problematic, indeed never successful. Once
done, remembered forever. In truth, the video had not seemed at the time very important to Sterling. It
was an experience; he had learned that he didn’t embarrass easily, in fact, he didn’t embarrass at all.
He supposed that a vocational aptitude study should encourage him to be a porno star. Also, Sterling
did not consider the Smiley Boy video to be pornographic, something defined by him to involve
penetration. He was pretty truthful in what he had told the grand jurors. The whole world could
disagree with him; his response would remain the same: de gustibus non est disputandum. As it turned
out the unexpected result of the filming was his friendship with Babette. She was a person of interest,
to whom he would be pouring out all the conflicting details of his sexuality. Even Sara is not afforded
that privilege.
         William is now fully acquainted with the seemy side of the Smiley Boy saga, and Sterling has
updated him as well on its legal aftermath. Being a worrier, William has been given even more to
worry about but he puts up a brave face to his friend. The BFFs still are keeping secrets: Sterling has
not mentioned the Daryl turn of events, and Brandon seems to be a mutually acceptable taboo subject,
Billy not willing to shed details, Sterling for once showing some tact in his unwillingness to pester out
those details. That Sterling should reveal Daryl and his supposed involvement in his sister’s death
would be expected, but Sterling has not sorted out the matter for himself. He’s suspending speculation
and judgment. Ever since The Punishment and the severe dressing down from his parents, each in a
personalized manner – his father’s curt harshness, his mother authoritarianism – Sterling has been as
careful as possible not to act or even think heedlessly. “Take due heed” has become his byword and
creed, a kind of background noise that wants to drown out all his spontaneity. He has become a
cautious boy, one who earlier today refused to give Mr. Mac a usual false promise or equivocation. He
has become careful not to be his overbearing, argumentative (a trait he once thought loveable) self. He
had thrown in the towel and let Sara win the grocery match. So he’s treading lightly with William
when the very subject needing treading – Brandy – arrives. He juggles three walnuts, showing off his
         “Can I use your shower, man?” he asks, not bothering to take his eyes off the walnuts.
         “Mi casa es su casa,” Sterling replies without enthusiasm.
         William beats Brandon to the door, enters and shuts it behind him.
         “Sorry, number two can’t wait,” he shouts back to them.
         “Turn on the fan,” Sterling orders, from experience.
       Sterling, fresh towel in hand, blocks Buffeau’s path, unintentionally making him step with his
back against the desk. With his quick hands, he grabs an ascending and descending walnut, leaving
only the remaining walnut in Brandon’s hand. Sterling has a parlor trick he’d like to show Buffeau.
He can take two walnuts in his palm, placing their soft sides together and then crack them to
smithereens. Instead Buffeau retrieves back a walnut and shows the trick to Sterling.
         “The real skill is to leave the walnut meat intact. Anyone with a little girl’s grip can make a
mess,” Buffeau informs him. He scrunches the nuts in his hand. Two unbroken pieces of meat emerge
from the wreckage. Sterling’s face fails to show that he’s impressed. He stares down into Buffeau’s
cocky smile. Sterling still holds the towel; his other hand is down between them, actually between
their crotches, as it were. Sterling is going to have to step back to give Buffeau room to leave. He
doesn’t move an inch.
         “You know, I’ve been friends with Billy, who you call William, since, well, forever. Sometimes
he’s sort of fragile, like your nuts here. I don’t want to see him hurt,” he says solemnly. “I don’t want
to be the one who has to pick up the pieces,” he adds unnecessarily.
         Buffeau doesn’t respond, but he steps forward, forcing Sterling quickly to remove his hand from
between their crotches. He surrenders the clean towel.
     Ahead of him Sterling faces two chores in the gym.       He needs to tidy up and get the sundry
equipment ready to engage the pee-wees, who will arrive with unruly enthusiasm Saturday at 9 A.M.
And, more importantly, he needs to prepare both his mind and his body for next week’s bouts. In that
regard he has mapped out a rigorous training schedule for the next seven days. He will start off each
day with a ten mile run, followed by an hour workout. He will weigh himself several times a day and
he will refrain from all stressful sexual activity. Father and son dispute this last point; but the new,
reformed, accommodating Sterling has agreed to his father’s advice that he and Sara should bed in
different rooms (the two sentence père-fils conversation was one about sleeping arrangements, not sex
per se). These changes begin tomorrow; today, Friday, he’s still on vacation.
         The Under-19 match in Charlotte eight days away could be an elimination match for the boy.
An early loss could help flush his boxing career down the toilet. If Sterling advances sufficiently in the
competition, however, he’ll qualify for future events, which lead to the finale – the 2010 Under-19
National Championships – which will be held in Cincinnati February 8-13. Since that event is open to
athletes born between Jan. 1, 1992 and Dec. 31, 1993, Sterling will be in the younger tier of entrants.
Some of the older competitors could well be more experienced, perhaps having competed the previous
year in the Under-19. To qualify you must have at least five bouts excluding walkovers under your
belt; that poses no problem for Sterling who has survived more than thirty amateur bouts, although not
all of them might be deemed certifiable for qualification purposes. In the Silver Gloves competition
alone, he has a history of twenty-two sanctioned bouts. Most boxers, however, have only more recent
ring experience. If Sterling does poorly in the competition, he could well be eliminated from the
Under-19, but not altogether from boxing: there is also the National P.A.L. Boxing Championships.
         American boxing at the amateur level shares with its professional counterpart a confusing, but
an even less comprehensible, complexity. Both share a defining characteristic: disunity that borders on
disorderly, multi-stranded stratification. At any one time there is not usually one single American
boxing heavyweight champion, for example. There are various champions, whose title matches are
organized by different boxing entities, which can award championship belts across as many as 17
weight divisions. Titles can be held concurrently by the same boxer, but that’s often not the case. Five
entities administer this chaos: World Boxing Association, World Boxing Council, International Boxing
Federation, World Boxing Organization, and The Ring (the boxing magazine which does title
promotion as a sideline, despite a possible conflict of interest). With amateur titles there is at least as
much confusion, probably more. Unlike the relative sanity in the professional ranks, among the
amateurs there is the additional stratification by age for national competition: Silver Gloves 10-15,
Golden Gloves 16+, Junior Olympics 15-16, P.A.L 17+, and of course the Under 19
(complemented/succeeded by the USA Senior Nationals and the Olympics qualifications). All these
national tournaments and feeder competitions involve their particular organizing committees, entry
forms, and rules, some of which can be charitably described as arcane. In the Silvers, for example, the
age groupings are: 10-11, 12-13 and 14-15. With purported fairness the rounds for all bouts are geared
toward the younger boxer. In other words, if a 14 year old boxes a 15 year old, the round is 1½ minutes,
not 2. There is often a consistency in the bizarreness of the rules, but paying attention to the fine print
is well advised. In addition there are various invitational competitions for which, unlike the ones above
which are characterized as advancing or elimination tournaments, their motto is: you pay, you box.
Many of these, notably Ringside, are quite prestigious and attract crowds much larger than their
advancing counterparts.
         Thus, if Sterling fails at the Under-19, his next best hope is the National P.A.L. Boxing
Championships. This competition, the 35th annual, will be held in San Antonio from 17-24 October.
You just show up with your $10 and your USA Boxing Passbook. Leave it to the Police Athletic
League to do something straightforward, one of the few times cops get to make all the rules
themselves. Unfortunately, Sterling at 17 must now fight in the open division with experienced adults
up to the age of 34. The three two-minute preliminary rounds mean a lot of punching to gain points.
The opponents do not match defenses. In the past Sterling has done well in P.A.L., which has duly
rewarded him by subsidizing the pee-wees. He won the intermediate division (age 13-14) in 2006 and
got through to the quarters in the senior Junior Olympic division (15-16) the following year. He did
poorly last year – a mismatch with Sam White who eventually won his division – partly because
Sterling, as well as White, could not meet their weight and were both bumped up. It was an
embarrassing loss and would have been an end-of-career bout for ordinary fighters.
         It helps to have a boxer father to sort out all the sport’s idiosyncrasies. Sterling has always
deferred to his father on matters of boxing. He may not be the brightest bulb in the room, Sterling
reasons, but no one he knows knows the sport better than his father. Pandely plans his tournament
schedule and does the necessary recon. Sterling believes that his time in the army, years which his
father refuses to talk about, was in recon and spying; that’s probably why he’s so damn good at
scouting and assessing his son’s opponents. Normally, Pandely unearths a tape or video of the
opponent, often a film he’s bartered for one of Sterling’s Silvers. Sterling knows the name of next
week’s opponent from the tournament’s handout, but his father has provided him no additional
information. There is a DVD by the television; it is several poorly shot rounds of one of the
tournament entrants, specifically the one who will be boxing Buffeau. It was certainly kind of Pandely
to help out Buffeau, an imperfect stranger who the ol’ man has known for all of two days. He isn’t
doing squat for his son, so that son believes.
        Sterling studies the draw for the Charlotte tournament; a full complement of sixteen boxers. He
recognizes two he’s already boxed (and beaten several years before), two he’s lost to within the last
year, and three he’s seen or heard about. The rest, like Buffeau, are unknowns and appear to be new to
the sport, or at least new to him. If he were not unmoored from the modern age, he’d check the web,
especially YouTube, for some details. Informed or not, Sterling needs to get to the semis in order to
qualify for the regionals in D.C. If all goes well for both he and Brandon, they won’t meet until the
quarters, in other words the second round. Sterling learned this fact when he opened the envelope that
arrived a few days earlier. Brandon, apparently, has known this information for longer, probably from
before the first time they met. For various reasons he would prefer not to think of Brandon. Foremost
Sterling should concentrate on the more immediate opponent, unknown except by name. Furthermore,
since he doesn’t particularly care for Buffeau, he doesn’t want to think about him anyway. Worse Sara
just invited William to the BBQ, and William asked if he could bring a “special friend,” which Sterling
appreciates as code for Buffeau. And even worse, Sterling is preoccupied with the worry that William
now has the balls – he uses the metaphor carefully as he’s never thought William’s testicles even found
the courage to drop by themselves – to show off a boyfriend. What next will his friend try? Of course,
Sterling knows his imagination may be running away from him, this a likely consequence of his having
to go digital cold turkey.
     Like so much in life, Sterling has William so wrong.      He’s not aware of how his conflicted friend
lives his life. Sure, he admires William for coming out of the closet, with Sterling’s own help, he notes.
He knows, through his friend’s boasts, that William was the initiator and founding president of his
school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, and for his pains he got a write-up in the Times which characterized
William as “the scion of Carolina tobacco wealth.” But Sterling pooh-poohs this extra-curricular
achievement, saying that forming a heterosexual’s only club at William’s school would have been a far
more formidable task. Still, he defended William to Senior, who threatened to ‘un-scionize’ his son if
he ever again gives an interview without family approval. Inwardly, Senior was proud of his son’s
internal fortitude, something he “confidentially” mentioned to Sterling, knowing it would leak back to
his son, which it didn’t. Sterling, however, is especially not privy to William’s adventures into the gay
world. Their trip to the adult bookstore did not leave William with much self-regard. In fact he felt
humiliated, passing up an interesting experience with a man who obviously found him attractive.
William vowed on the drive back home with Sterling that he would never make that mistake again. It
was that vow, to himself not to Sterling, that was the moment in time when one could hear their descent
and William’s discovery of his genitalia that Sterling so mocks.
        About a week after the adult bookstore fiasco, William was packed off to Toronto to represent
the Southern branch of the family at a distant cousin’s funeral. Being a Duke carries with it
responsibilities but also a few perks. William stayed in a plush hotel and dutifully showed up at the
graveyard for the obligatory mourning. He had never met these cousins and never intended to see them
again after he had finished a very nice buffet he was offered at someone or other’s home. He had a day
and night to kill in Toronto before his flight back. It was early afternoon and, with little else to do, he
was flipping through the cable channels. He watched a rerun of Queer as Folk and an episode of
Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. He thought about taking the hotel up on its offer of the five minutes of
free porn, but figured that was not enough time for him to get excited, while all the time he would be
worrying about whether a charge would somehow show up on the family credit card statement. He
came upon another free gay channel. The topic under discussion was Toronto’s gay scene which the
commentators made sound second in greatness only to San Francisco’s. They flashed on the screen the
addresses of several websites for those who wanted more information. William, fortunately, had a pen
handy; he had brought his laptop for a putative term paper on some worthless dead European; the hotel,
naturally, was wired, actually wireless. An hour later, William was dressed casually, or as casually as
the Preppie ever got, and with a map full of annotations and a wallet full of cash, went out on the town.
He headed straight for a gay bar which ignored his youthful appearance once he had produced his
foreign driver’s license (NC via PRC) and the $50 cover. The admission charge might seem a bit steep
for a just a seat at the bar and a complimentary drink but the web had insured him he’d get more than
he could handle. Once his eyes adjusted to the light, he found the unmarked door through which
knowledgeable patrons exited. Loosened by the scotch he went through the door. Around the corner
was a reception area, where valuables were checked. William was given a towel and locker key in
exchange. He was anxious and breathing a bit hard, but he sucked it in and went into the changing
room. There were a few men of various ages, shapes and sizes and levels of exposure and hormonal
elevation. Modestly, not letting his eyes wander, and paying attention only to himself, he stripped and
quickly donned the robe and slippers that came with the locker. On the wall was a notice admonishing
and reminding patrons that public sex was strictly against Torontonian law. The appropriate local
ordinance was cited. A man in his twenties came up to him, dripping from a shower. William
pretended not to glance or notice how well the man was hung. Nevertheless, the young man seemed
tired and invigorated at the same time; in any case he was on his way out, back to spend another boring
evening with his wife and children. He looked William over and asked:
         “First time?”
         “Here,” he said.
         “Anywhere?,” he asked with a smile.
      William nodded in the affirmative, sheepishly. He had noticed the man had a Southern drawl; he
could be Carolinian.
         “Are you going for the arena, the rooms or sauna or the tubs?”
         “I don’t know. What would you recommend?”
         “Charlotte?,” the man asked, picking up on the drawl.
         “Durham,” William replied in a single syllable – Durrmm.
      “I’m good with accents,” he explains. “Just one other guy, right?”
         “Yeah,” William replied, acknowledging the fewer the better. He was starting to lose his nerve.
The young man approached closer so he could talk to William confidentially, older brotherly. In his
mannerisms, this man could be Sterling’s twin. The rest of the men in the locker room were also
interested in William and could not stop staring.
         “I’m thinking the small sauna, number six,” William confided, having carefully planned the
evening out.
         “Nah. Go to the arena. You might get pawed, but just say no, firmly, if necessary. Canadian
men are very well behaved. Twinks like us are held in very high esteem.”
      William figured the man to be about seven years older than he, but he could not be sure. He
nevertheless agreed that they both qualified as twinks.
         “First, take a look at the glory holes. You might find something interesting.”
      “What about the steam room?” William asked.
      “Not if you want one-on-one. Try the private rooms. That way you can pick and choose. Don’t
settle low. Here’s the law of supply and demand, and you are in demand, boy,” he said by way of a
         “Thanks,” William acknowledged. The man slipped his name card into the William’s locker,
through the aeration slit.
         “I get down to Charlotte about twice a month on business. Call me, maybe we can hook up,” he
said. He then did something quite bold. He ran his hands through William’s golden locks, not unlike
what Sterling occasionally did, but only when he pretended to be playfully gay. This young man, his
wedding ring now in place, was not playing. He was almost rueful and obviously conflicted, maybe
more so than William, who didn’t mind the gesture at all. He instantly had wanted to object; his body
had nevertheless refused to flinch.
         “I wish I’d come an hour later,” the young man said. William agreed; he wished he himself had
come an hour earlier. He sucked in some courage and headed off.
         The evening for William proceeded downhill from there. He wandered aimlessly into the area
they called the arena, well named, for this was indeed an amphitheater for gladiatorial combats, or
maybe medieval swordplay. As he walked down the ramp, along “the Path of Glory,” in fact a wall of
glory holes, the Durhamite felt like every lance in the place was targeted in his direction. Despite their
infinite variety, no lances interested him, as he was unable to see their owners. The glory wall was just
too anonymous, which was exactly its intention and the reason it was supposed to give a thrill. William
had been determined to try anonymous sex. That was the reason he was here. He was much too timid
to try this south of the Maxon-Dixon. And now that he was north of the 49th Parallel, more or less, and
the lower fifty beneath him, he was still timid. He couldn’t get much further from home without
venturing into another continent, or California, which was another world entirely. But William also
realized that the distance that needed to be traveled had nothing to do with geography. It was all in his
mind. In his current state of anxiety, there was total doubt William could perform, a fact that was
perceived by everyone in the room and something which made everyone in the room that much
hungrier to be William’s new BFF, for at least a few minutes. The less desirable he tried to become, the
more desirable he became. He quickly escaped the arena, occasionally pawed, and went into an empty
sauna to recuperate. Unfortunately, William had already built up somewhat of a following. Although
sauna number six was chosen specifically because its size suggested intimacy, it became apparent that a
sauna built for four could easily hold eight. With a little more squeezing it could hold a baker’s dozen.
William escaped through the naked humanity and out the door to the relative chill of the corridor, off of
which were the private rooms.
         If the door was closed, then there was activity in the private room. Otherwise, the occupant was
looking for someone to join him so that activity could commence. Most of the doors were opened just
enough so that William could peek in. But, even if the light was on (and it often wasn’t) he could
rarely see the occupant clearly because he was positioned at an angle. For William to see him, he
actually had to open the door wider and poke in his face. Some men were wearing hats so their faces
could not be read. That would require William to step even closer to identify the features of the
mystery man. Most of these fellows had enough flab on them to suggest they were certainly beyond
twinkhood, probably well beyond. If William had gone in and closed the door, automatically sealing
the deal, he would just be buying a pig in a poke. And he was pretty sure none of this pork interested
him. William was not completely naïve: he knew that the general rule of thumb about the tubs and
similar establishments was caveat emptor. As far as William was concerned he, as a twink, had better
beware or he would find himself in a situation which he would definitely regret. William walked up
one side of the hall and down the others, finding a lot of over-stuffed bread-baskets, but nothing that
interested him in the least. Some of the room occupants insisted on lowering their towels to show their
wares, effectively making William ever more squeamish.
         As he was quickly dressing to leave (too scared to take a shower), William found the card of the
mysterious young man with the sometimes missing wedding ring. His name was Harvey Della Nave
and he was a salesman for a paper company based in Toronto with a regional office in Charlotte.
Normally William was not the impetuous sort like Sterling. He stewed and stewed before he made
decisions, as risk-averse as Senior was risk-hungry. Thinking clearly William would have never called
a strange man, given his real name, involved his father, invited him to dinner and promised to buy a ton
of paper. A few feet out of the club that’s basically what he did. William called the number on
Harvey’s card. It went immediately to voice-mail.
        “This is William Duke. Our paths crossed tonight. We need to order a ton of light weight,
unsized 21.2 g/m2, 28% calcium carbonate and we’ll provide specs for the jute-cotton mix. Let’s hook
up for dinner and my father can close a deal. You have my number on caller ID.”
      And that was that. He went back to the hotel, picked up a tourist brochure from the lobby and
called his best friend. Sterling was busy writing a paper. This was par for the course, William figured,
as Sterling worked about 40 hours a week on schoolwork. William made up some stories about the
great Tee-Oh and how he’d spent the entire day as a tourist. He rattled off all the places named in the
brochure. Sterling didn’t pay much attention. “Bro, you gotta get laid,” he finally said. For once they
were in total agreement and that was no secret.

Chapter 14
      It is pee-wee hour at Vegas Gym. For both students and their teacher this weekly gathering has
become the most keenly awaited event of a week. For the past seven days they lived their lives in
anticipation of these two hours. This is not like ballet class or piano lessons or little league, things
children often do for their parents’ sake rather than for themselves. These children are not being hauled
here by soccer-mom types; the reverse is true. The kids today woke up by themselves, roused their
parents and have dragged a parent here. Their folks love them, for sure, but if truth be told, the adults
would prefer to be doing something Saturday morning other than carting the little ones to and from this
landmark structure in downtown Durham. About a dozen tykes have arrived, most now in handwraps
of various quality, grasping by hand or mouth the signed waiver that Sterling had just asked for. The
Ukrainian boy comes in a black Mercedes, the Hernández siblings in a battered Ford pickup with
Arizona license plates, and Sven in a Volvo sporting a Research Triangle parking permit. Latisha has
brought a friend, meaning that there are now four girls, so as to obviate any inter-gender sparring.
These girls are all African-American as are several boys. The larger minority, which here is actually a
majority, is represented by an assortment of Latino names and children to fit them. Sterling gets to
practice his Spanish on both parents and children. Finally there is Bobby Joe, he with the tiny redneck
behind which has been known to receive an occasional whooping from his mother. His mother
deposits him out of a battered Chevy station wagon whose backseats are overflowing with dirty laundry
and siblings. “God bless you Mr. Sterling; now if Bobby Joe misbehaves, just smack him,” she says as
she hands over a dollar tuition and the waiver form.
        It had been Bobby Joe the previous week who had asked Sterling if he would run a boxing
summer camp, coincidentally an idea that Sterling had mentioned only the previous day to his father.
P.A.L. had agreed to provide $1000, matched by the Duke Foundation. Sara has agreed to cook hot
lunches, as long as Sterling becomes gofer / sous chef and takes care of the shopping and chopping. To
that end, Sterling had already extracted commitments from the local supermarkets to donate what they
would otherwise toss in the bins: dented cans, produce that has lost its visual appeal or meat that is fine,
despite what the expiration date says. He must keep methodical records of the donations so a list can
be handed into their corporate headquarters – Durham Pee-Wee Box Inc. is a registered 501C(3). The
budget is tight but Sterling knows that the project is feasible. He has put some flyers by the gym’s
entrance; interested parents have already slipped the completed forms under the door. Sterling is
demanding a tuition of $10 per pee-wee per week for the three-week course. When this seems too high
a price for the parents of some of the kids, he advises them that seasonal work is available and he
points them in the direction of Senior’s growing fields, which pay the going wage, which is not much
but better than nothing; it’s honest work. When their parents said they were too poor to indulge their
children and that the boxing lessons would have to be cancelled, the Hernández boys initially whined
vehemently. After four days in which the boys refused to speak a word of Spanish to their parents, the
folks relented; the entire brood will be moving into one of the trailers set up for Senior’s migrants.
How the boys will get to and from The Sterling over the summer remains to be figured out. Sterling is
pretty sure that this task will fall upon the dainty shoulders of William Junior, who gets assigned to
tobacco-related chores during summer vacation. “It’s all the same, chauffeur or overseer,” the scion
has quipped.
      The day’s lesson plan is fairly straightforward. Calisthenics and warm-up will be followed by an
introduction to the speed-bag, now available in its pee-wee format from Mexico which he and Daryl
have assembled. Then they will each have a one-minute round in the ring, Sterling officiating.
        The entire program is temporarily upset by a casual remark that Bobby Jo makes to Sterling.
Bobby Jo is not happy that his former sparring partner Latisha has abandoned him to join the girls’
team, or the “Nigra League,” according to Bobby Jo, using an expression that he has no doubt picked
up around home. Bobby Jo doesn’t come into much contact with black people which is just as well for
all concerned. Sterling is not pleased. He grabs Bobby Jo and tells the other tykes that as soon as they
all can skip their age by rope, the one-on-one matches will begin. Meanwhile he is going to have a
heart-to-heart with Bobby Jo. With one hand Sterling grabs Bobby Jo by the scruff of the neck, as one
would lift up a cat, and with his other hand, he grabs the strap. He marches a dangling Bobby Jo into
the office and slams the door.
        “What did you say?” Sterling demands.
      Bobby Jo, who spends much of his life navigating away from punishment, takes the offensive:
        “I didn’t use the n-word,” he says.
        “And the word you used, what letter does it begin with?” Sterling demands.
        “Uh, ‘n’, but that’s not the n-word,” he says with as much conviction as he can muster.
        “You know Bobby Jo, we live in a complicated world. We all have to get along together in
peace and harmony. Right?,” he asks. He picks up the strap, threateningly.
        “I guess, sure,” Bobby Jo answers.
        “And one of the things we don’t do, so we can all live together in peace and harmony, is to call
people names.”
        “I didn’t say it to her face.”
        “You said it to me and that’s the same thing. Here’s a real good rule, Bobby Jo. Anything you
have to say to someone, you better be able to say it to their face. Do you understand?” he asks.
        Bobby’s eyes don’t move away from the strap. He says: “I understand, Coach.”
        “What do you understand, Bobby Jo?”
        “That I shouldn’t use the n-word that I didn’t use or the almost n-word that I did use,” he
        “You can use the n-word at home?” Sterling asks.
        “Lordy no. My mouth gets soaped out for that. But we use the almost n-word.”
        “Well, in the real world, in the modern South, there’s no difference between the n-word and the
almost n-word. You just have to accept that bit of knowledge from me because I’m older than you and
I know the ways of the world better than you.”
        “Coach, if you’re going to whoop me, whoop me quick. I can’t stand the wait and I want to
      “Pull down your shorts,” Sterling orders.
      Bobby Jo dutifully obeys. This makes Sterling furious. He grabs Bobby Jo and talks to him
        “Bobby Jo, never, do you understand me, NEVER do you let someone who’s not your mother or
a medical doctor see your junk, you understand me, NEVER!”
        Bobby Jo does not understand. He has followed the coach’s order and now he’s getting blamed
for following that order. He is utterly confused, not for the first time in his life.
        “But you said…” he tries to begin.
        “And if I said, ‘Bobby Jo, please go up to the University Club, you know that’s on the top of
The Pickle Building – the glass skyscraper with a white rod on top – and please jump off to see if you
can fly, would you?”
        “Nah, that’d be dumb.”
      “And another thing, you ever hear of a jock strap?” Bobby Jo wants to say he surely knows what
a jock is, but that they cost too much. He’s been looking for a used one but they are always too big.
        Sterling finds one, size S ages 9-11, and instructs Bobby Jo to put it on.
        “That’s yours to keep. Pull up your trunks.”
      He obeys, having digested all the coach’s points without a licking, he thinks.
        Sterling in a seemingly fluid gesture puts the boy’s face flat on the desk, bending his body in a
right angle. He takes the strap to the youth’s behind in the lightest of blows. The boy waits to see if
there is more. There isn’t. Sterling leads the boy out and they head back to the pack of children who
are in a circle surrounding the tiniest Hernández who trips at hop number five. He has to begin all over.
        “Good enough,” Sterling says, putting on a clip-on bowtie. He grabs the smallest Hernández
and another youth about the same height and weight and helps them with their gloves and helmets. The
protection dwarfs the boys; the armor appears to contain them. The rest of the kids gather at ringside.
Sterling has to lift each of the first opponents into the ring. This is the most special moment in their
lives. Sterling gives elaborate directions about following referee’s instructions, no low blows, and the
like. He talks as if this were a pay-for-view championship bout for the world heavyweight title, fought
in Africa or somewhere. The two tykes go to their respective corners and wait eagerly, like Formula 1
racers being held back only by their brakes. He rings the bell.
        The little Hernández and his opponent rush to the center of the ring, actually overshooting it in
their eagerness to arrive at the promised land. They return to centerpoint in order to tap gloves like
they do on TV, except that they come close to knocking each other down. Sterling dutifully yells ‘box,’
and then the little boys start all out swinging. All of Sterling’s carefully laid instructions about jabs,
pivots, counter punches, defense tactics and other aspects of strategy are ignored, replaced by the lust
for the knock-out. Many punches are thrown, none landing for points, all wildly off their mark. This
sound and fury signifies close to nothing. The air around each boxer receives a savage beating,
however. One boy manages accidentally to connect with the other’s forearm, which tempts Sterling to
award a point. By the time the clock has reached the minute mark and the bell sounds, the two little
fellows are out of adrenalin and so exhausted they can hardly stand up. Sterling leads them back to the
center, holding a hand of each, facing the audience. The gym grows silent; the ringside fans, who had
been arguing about who is victor, become still, awaiting the referee’s decision. With full drama and
almost yanking their tiny arms out of their shoulder sockets, Sterling holds up the hand of each fighter,
declaring the match a draw, thus allowing both tykes to claim victory.
        The morning’s card advances. The next taller pair get their round of glory. During the sixty
seconds Sterling awards a point which leads to a victory. The loser is almost in tears, but accepts the
defeat with as much honor as he can muster. Sterling offers a few sentences on defeat with honor and
good sportsmanship, which consoles the loser. There’s nothing worse than seeing athletes cry, he tells
the children.
        “All we can ask is that you do your best. If you don’t win and you have done your best, there’s
no reason to feel ashamed. Just do your best,” he says. “At this level of competition, there is always
tomorrow,” he adds. He repeats all this in Spanish.
        The couples advance. Two girls pair off and, having paid attention to some of what Sterling had
said, they actually evidence a bit of technique. Sterling counts five clean hits during the one-minute
encounter, which is largely defensive and to the spectators a bit boring. He awards the bout to Latisha
3-2. He explains why this would be considered good boxing: that is, the boxers were focused on
getting points. “You all should learn from these young women who, I am happy to say, seem to have
been paying attention to what I’ve said. He repeats that in Spanish, too.
        After one of the better matches Sterling reenacts certain vital moments and provides color
commentary, alternately playing the roles of each boxer in his replay. He lauds a particular
combination, which unfortunately did not score a point as intended and left the boxer open for a left to
the head, which was a solid point, the decisive score leading to his loss. “One single point can make all
the difference,” he reflects. “Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you intend them, despite
your best intentions,” he philosophizes.
        Only once does Sterling have to intervene before the sixty seconds run out, awarding the win by
RSC. The middle Hernández, the southpaw, so outclasses his Ukrainian opponent, that Sterling stops
the contest after only 30 seconds. None of the assembled pee-wees, even two-on-one, can offer the
southpaw the semblance of competition. This worries Sterling who is struggling over what to do with
the overqualified fighter, who he thinks is better than Sterling himself was at that age. He’s thinking he
may work with him individually and enter him in the next Silvers advancement tournament, something
he’ll have to ask his father about. Sterling does, however, know exactly what to say to the pee-wees
after this one-sided bout. He turns to the humiliated and hammered Ukrainian boy, who is sulking.
Sterling apologizes to the boy and accepts full blame.
        “You have no reason to feel bad, son. This was a mismatch. Mismatches are not the fighter’s
fault. They are the fault of the promoter, coaches or trainers or managers. No one here should be
fighting lefty Hernández. He’s too good. I’ll give you a parallel. It’s like little Ukraine fighting big
Russia. It’s just not going to be fair fight. That doesn’t mean you should feel good about you getting
your ass kicked. You should just know it’s not your fault. We’ll find a better match-up next time. You
understand what I’m saying.”
      He understands. He comprehends English perfectly; in fact he speaks no Ukrainian, only English
and Russian.
        The final bout is between the two largest boys, the senior Hernández and Bobby Jo. They
should be equally matched, Sterling hopes. They are both scrawny, strapping youths, if each quite
reserved. Their fight is the most interesting on the morning’s card. They are both extremely defensive
boxers. They dance around, throwing punches only as a warning to the opponent not to come close.
By the time the minute is up, no points have been scored. The bell rings and the boxers approach for
the referee’s decision.
        “No, no, no. We’re not near finished. I hope you boys have just had a good rest, because we
have another ten minutes before the yoga women arrive. We’ll do last man standing. Or first to get
five points wins. No time limit, no rounds. I’m glad you agree.”
        This is the way Sterling has chosen to reward such lackluster performance. The boys do not
agree, of course, but neither will be the first to complain. During the break the spectators have split up,
gathering around their respective fighter. Latisha is telling Bobby Jo to jab with his left, while he’s
getting just the opposite advise from the Swede. Tall Hernández – Sterling has not bothered to give
names to the three brothers – is receiving conflicting instructions in Spanish, English and Spanglish.
Sterling puts this confusion to a stop when he rings the bell. The boxers approach each other, tap
gloves carefully, and actually start throwing punches. Still they are both conservative fighters, but they
are not afraid to throw punches. They are just not very good at taking punches. Each punch that
connects so distresses the receiver that he staggers and looks over to Sterling to stop the fight. The
fighter who has thrown the successful punch, rather than follow it up, is also willing to wait for the
referee to call the match. Each time this happens – both fighters are playing this game – Sterling
merely yells “Box” to the delight of the spectators and the continued distress of the two boxers. Aware
that the referee is not on their side, each fighter searches deep down and surprisingly locates his
determination; they now trade punches up close. In a matter of fifteen seconds, they score so many
points that Sterling loses count. They are indeed quite evenly matched. The boxers continue, their
punches ever diminishing in strength until the action becomes almost slow motion. At this point the
yoga women start arriving and Sterling blows the whistle. He separates the boxers who are in a final
clinch; he steps between them, taking a hand of each, positioning them so they face the spectators who
have moved to the ropes. They eagerly await the decision. He gets ready to raise one of their hands.
        “This fight shows what we call boxer’s heart. At least the second part of the fight. There’s no
decision here. Too close to call.” He raises both hands, himself unable to decide who is the victor.
        The young boxers hug each other, their supporters each claiming victory. Pee-wee boxing ends
for the day on a most positive note.
     After his customary lunch of PB&J Sterling bikes over for his weekly ultimate scrimmage with
the Faux Dukes. This time he intends to be on time so he is the first to arrive at the field. He waits a
bit, and cars eventually begin pulling up. They deposit not his ultimate teammates, however, but the
members of a girls’ softball team. Sterling knows he hasn’t confused the date or time – such is not
really possible; obviously there’s been a change of day or place that he’s not been told about. He asks
one of the adults and learns that the park schedule was revamped a few days back for the entire
weekend; everyone received texts or email. The softball team even has a phone tree so that all the girls
are adequately informed. No one seems to know about the time or place for frisbee, which even the
softball brownies don’t consider a real sport. Frustrated, Sterling tries to remember the name or phone
number of someone, anyone, on the team. But he has never learned anyone’s last name, ultimate being
sufficiently informal that everyone is on a first-name basis only. There’s actually no one in charge,
either. He gets back on his bike and cycles around the park looking for the ultimates. He runs across
little league baseball, girl soccer, a Tai Chi class, boys soccer and a kite flying contest. No ultimate.
He finally wanders around to the park entrance and studies the bulletin board. The Faux Dukes are on
for tomorrow.
         Sterling, on his ride back to his namesake, remains a bit peeved: angry that he didn’t plan for
this contingency, angry that he took a hammer to the iPhone without first dumping out its phone book,
and of course angry at his mother, who continues to be the root of all his evil. Running a red light, he
forces a car to brake in order to avoid hitting him. He sheepishly waves off an apology and snaps back
to reality. By the time he has arrived home, he’s dispelled his peevishness. The guests will be arriving
for the late-afternoon BBQ. In fact he sees a few vehicles, indicating that some guys are already there.
He also notices the “Trip-cycle,” motorcycle and sidecar, the latter painted with the names of hit
Christian tunes. It’s Sara’s party and her guest list. He puts on a bright face. One of the Trips, heading
to the sidecar motorcycle, sees Sterling and gives him a broad smile and friendly wave. The Trips,
despite the way Sterling treats them, have always liked him and do indeed consider him an honorary
brother. Sterling vows to be on his best behavior for Sara’s sake. The solo Trip takes off. It is not the
first time he’s seen a Trip separated from his brethren, but it is a rare event; he realizes there must be
something devious being planned if only one is on the cycle. Likely the Trip is making a beer run.
Time and time again he’s told the trio that drinking is absolutely prohibited in his home; he’s
threatened, he’s pleaded; once he took them all on, not hitting them but merely slapping their faces in a
sort of game. On that occasion they were bawling by the time they accepted Sterling’s zero tolerance
policy. Once he even opened up a six-pack of contraband and began pouring cans of Bud into the
sidecar. It didn’t take them long to relent that time, either. That was some years back before they were
into hard liquor and worse. In recent years their tastes have advanced to inhalables, first glue, then pot,
then coke. The only time Sterling had experimented with any of these was under duress from the Trips,
who have from infancy been able to bully him with peer pressure and chicken clucks. Sterling has
nothing against soft drugs; they are universally accepted among his peers. But they are not his thing.
First, they don’t mix with athletics. Second, they are too mind-altering for a boy whose mind is
specially wired, specially altered before birth. He doesn’t want to tempt fate; he likes the extraordinary
wiring he was given and doesn’t want to chance a cross-circuit. His firm rule against anything illicit in
The Sterling or within a hundred yards of the building makes him seem a bit of a fuddy-dutty; he
accepts that criticism, for it’s not unjust. In any case he doesn’t want to compromise his parents,
especially his father who by professional standing is an officer of the court. Dad’s power not-to-arrest
can be tested only so far; Sterling has already pushed him beyond reasonable limits. His complaints
about the Trips unfortunately fall on deaf ears at home. For years he’s told his mother that the brothers
exhibit an addictive and reckless personality; maybe this comment gets lost among the massive bad-
mouthing the brothers receive, some just, some not. Still Sterling knows that it’s only a matter of time
before track marks show up on their arms. He’s been looking; so far they seem clean. Sara, who likes
the Trips and adores their music, agrees that they can sometimes be mischievous; yet she cannot
imagine that drugs pose a problem. “Don’t be so old-fashioned,” she reprimands Sterling. “I mean,
they are musicians and deserve some slack,” she shrugs.
        When Sterling enters, the two remaining Trips are in the kitchen with their girl friends. All
three are parading steady girls on presumed floats of virginity. As opposed to the brothers the girls
present striking contrasts: blond, redhead, brunette; 5’3”, 5’7”, 5’11”; flat, average, zaftig; short-
cropped, bangs, overflowing curls; Gap Petite Womens Medium Curvy, Lucky Brand Stark Sweet N
Low-Short, Dittos Trouser Denim; Lancôme Aubergine Velvet; Maybelline Wild Berry; Avon Kicked
Up Coral; Lancôme Cedar Rose blush; Avon Ideal Shade Ginger; Mabelline Rose Petal Dream Mousse
Blush. They even smell unique: Lancôme Hypnôse, Avon Eternal Magic and Hermes Caleche. The
boys, in contrast, are unified in everything they do, including aftershave and underarm: Old Spice, all
from the same bottle, naturally. Each of the girls has trained her sights on one particular brother (they
most definitely do not consider them fungible) so they mostly ignore his two siblings. Sterling
wonders how they can possibly tell the difference as the boys always dress similarly, have identical
mannerisms, etc. He’s known them since birth; they are an indivisible unit. The girls, not to be fooled
by the rumored tricks that twins, not to mention triplets, like to play on people, have required their
boyfriends to wear identification bracelets, the type found in hospitals that can be removed only with
scissors. Jake’s is red; Connor’s is green; and Zack’s is yellow. Connor and Zack – Jake apparently
being the one who just left on the motorbike – proudly display their ID bands so Sterling can carefully
study them. The boys grin broadly and during the conversation they refer to each other pointedly by
first name, again something new to Sterling. “Conner, please tell Sterling about the trip we’ve sent our
parents on,” “Or, yes, Zackary, I’d love to tell Sterling.” He’s never heard them call one another
anything other than “brother,” or simply “bro.” At one stage, when their idioglossia was at an
especially annoying stage, they used special names for one another, but a proffered fist from Sterling
convinced them to drop their private language in his presence. He had of course given them the choice
to include him; they had of course refused: membership in their club closed at birth. He now shakes his
head in disbelief at this new development; there is obviously more to it than meets the eye. He’s never
known the Trips to do anything without an overarching ulterior motive. Sara distracts him with some
chores and he starts to carry down the fixings to the backyard. It’s his job to man the grill.
        William has arrived with Brandon and a girl. Buffeau has already taken the initiative to light
the grill, which isn’t a surprise to Sterling since Brandon seems to be a step ahead of him at every turn.
What is a surprise is the girl, who is introduced as Mindy, Brandon’s significant other, which is
William’s pompous way of saying “girlfriend.” Sterling is not sure what to make of all this; he’s not
opposed to people being kinky; it’s really none of his business. But he cannot envision William
involved in a ménage à trois; yet he doesn’t put anything past Brandon who exhibits
       svengali qualities. The two boxers chat about the Under-19, Brandon praising Sterling for being
able to maintain weight, while he himself is stuffing his mouth full of chips and dip. Sterling dutifully
munches on a carrot; he has trouble remembering what a potato chip used to taste like. Brandon pulls
him aside for a confidential chat:
        “Hey, buddy, I was wondering if Mindy and I could get some private time upstairs.”
        Sterling is not eager to enter this conversation. He preoccupies himself with the barbeque.
Eventually he says:
        “Don’t you two have somewhere else, like the backseat of the Mustang?”
        “Shelby,” he says, correcting him. “OK. I just thought I’d ask,” he adds, not intending to
pressure his friend nor inflict any guilt. Sterling suddenly feels guilty despite his best efforts not to.
        Brandon’s is not an outrageous request – no doubt Jeremiah will be making a similar request
later on. Jeremiah and his wife – they have been married twice, and twice annulled by opposing
parents – have been living in on-and-off connubial bliss for several years, a bliss now restricted mostly
to weekends. Their first marriage was made possible by their Chinese driver’s licenses and equally
forged certified copies of their birth certificates. When they were found out by their parents who,
unlike the Register of Deeds (Marriage License Division), saw through the ruses, they had little choice
but to consent to the annulment. They were later discovered in a roadside hotel in flagrante delicto by
his mother and her husband; at least that taught the adults to knock before entering, the couple says, not
the least ashamed of the sordid affair. Their second marriage had parental approval and their real birth
certificates were used. It’s just that the approval came not from the parents who had legal custody of
the children, but from their exes. Exasperated, Jeremiah’s mother had agreed that the couple could date
(a 21st century euphemism for the f-word), but that the silly idea of marriage (she was on her third) had
to be postponed until they were both eighteen at which point North Carolina no longer accepts parental
opposition. They had thought about getting pregnant to force the issue, but the girl didn’t want to lug a
fetus around high school or a baby around community college. Nevertheless, they were counting the
days towards nuptials and had already asked Sara to cater. Sterling had agreed to be best man and the
Trips were going to sing.
        That couples come to The Sterling for sex is certainly in keeping with tradition. In its earlier
guise as a fleabag it used to rent rooms by the hour and the boy himself was conceived there which is
no doubt how he got his name. His father was home on leave from the Middle East and his parents and
baby Susan were living with his parents. The young-marrieds, wanting some privacy, shacked up for
120 minutes in the Sterling (in the exact space that’s now the boy’s bedroom) and nine months later
(less two days) Sterling appeared. So it’s not reasonable for Sterling to have anything against getting
laid at The Sterling. So in all fairness he consents to Brandon’s request and the couple head upstairs
businesslike. He had not consented, however, that they use his very own bed in his very own bedroom
(as opposed to one in the other four available), but by the time he thought of that it was too late. They
had already finished their transaction and had returned for dinner. He says to William, not intending to
be serious.
        “I guess you’ll be wanting to use my room next.”
        “Thanks,” William replies, accepting the offer. “My friend should be coming any minute.”
        The BBQ is in full swing. In addition Sara has invited many of her artistic schoolmates who
Sterling (referring to them as artsy-fartsy) dutifully chats with but can’t pay attention to. Sara’s friends
talk mostly in non sequiturs and Sterling has never been able to do much more than try to listen and
attempt to piece together what they mean. The artists, themselves, seem to have no problem
understanding one another. To add to the menagerie the motorcycle Trip arrives with the third girl, the
one detailed in Avon. The rest of the Trips and their lady admirers are present, along with Jeremiah and
the girl he introduces as his mistress, as in “mistress of the house,” no derogatoriness intended.
William still nervously awaits his friend who, in Sterling’s opinion, is less likely to materialize than
Harvey the invisible rabbit. He is wrong; Harvey Della Nave soon arrives in a rental. He is still
dressed in his business suit, having just closed a paper deal with Senior Duke. Senior came out ahead
on this deal; Della Nave will have to sacrifice some of his commission, which he will gladly do for the
sake of getting William in the bargain. He sets down a six-pack of Heineken which disappears into the
Trips before it can be confiscated. There are again introductions all around and an explanation must be
given to Mr. Della Nave, after the protrusion of Trips requires several double-takes. Sterling addresses
the young man as Mister in deference to his age and his attire, producing a glare from William, who
calls his desirable partner Harvé, with H aspiré. Sterling tries to pry out some information from
Brandon’s date; she seems clueless about Brandon which leaves Sterling to conclude that that she is a
professional engaged for the party to establish Buffeau’s sexual orientation for anyone interested.
Brandon for his part completely ignores the girl and spends most of his time talking with William and
Harvé. Sterling later looks in on his room, between the time it served Brandon and before its use by
William (who has dibs on it for the entire night). Sterling notices that the bed does not appear to have
been slept in; a close examination of the sheets (he makes the bed fresh for William) provides no
telltale evidence of any untoward activity between Brandon and his accomplice, who leave the party
early after a plate of victuals.
         The BBQ has been quite a success. The arty classmates who had streamed a Netflix on Van
Gogh have now departed. Sterling had spent the evening cleaning up, following Sara’s lead. William
and his new friend have vanished into Sterling’s chamber. Sterling hears a few giggles emanate from
the room; otherwise he does his best not to imagine, in detail, what is going on. Jeremiah and wife are
in his parents’ bedroom; he doesn’t need much imagination to know what is happening there. Sterling
has provided them with enough protection to forestall the arrival of a blessed event until after their
marriage. The Trips had demanded equal treatment and had insisted on nine rubbers, including three
glow-in-the-darks, and the right to return for more. So much for the boys’ virginity pledges, signed in
triplicate, before an admiring studio audience. It had been a ratings buster for Oprah. They had also
written a song on abstinence, earning them a bullet in Christian rock, and a Grammy nomination (they
didn’t win). If Sterling had not been in such a good mood, he would have told the Trips to take a hike
to the nearest pharmacy, but he acquiesced to their demands. He knows that long ago they had
promised their parents they would never buy prophylactics without telling them beforehand and they
always keep the promises to their parents, so they say, if not the ones made to a million viewers
nationwide. In fact, they had just that day packed off mommy and daddy on a round-the-world cruise,
the tickets for which they themselves had purchased from a tour agency on the condition that the tour
be non-changeable, non-refundable. The Trips didn’t want their parents to back out or postpone the
trip; in other words, they wanted to be left with virtually no supervision for the next six weeks.
Sterling imagined the real beneficiaries would be the area drug dealers.
         Sara and Sterling lie on the couch, alone, under a light blanket, both exhausted and just enjoying
each other’s body heat. Events have banished them from their bedrooms. Each of the three adjacent
corridor rooms, including Sara’s, is now occupied by a Trip and his loving partner. There isn’t much
they can do; the Trips won’t be done until morning so Sara and Sterling have resolved to spend the
evening as they are, looking out from their cave in platonic warmth. They have rehashed the matter of
the Trips and drugs. To establish his credibility with Sara in this debate and to underscore his points,
Sterling relates a story he has never shared with anyone:
       A little less than a year ago, in fact at last year’s Fourth of July, he had joined his parents and
sister at the Vaney compound for their annual Independence Day gathering. For the grown-ups it was a
low alcohol affair, keeping with the Christian family’s near-abstinence policies. Nothing stronger than
beer and wine was provided for the adults. One year they had made it completely booze-free but more
than a few invitees had left early; from experience Mr. and Mrs. Vaney have learned to dole out the
drinks only to those who looked eager to leave. The kids were of course prohibited from booze
altogether, although in previous years one or another of the Trips had managed to sneak in a bottle of
Johnny Walker. They themselves were also careful gatekeepers of the scotch, to ensure no one got
drunk and thus gave away their behavior to their parents. This year, however, there was no banned
liquidity. The Trips were on seemingly model behavior, putting aside all their hypocrisy and actually
being righteous and apparently living the lives they pretended to live. Even the cigarettes had
disappeared. Earlier they had helped out in the kitchen and had prepared brownies, which the adults
were enjoying. The kids also had an open plate of brownies; there was also a smaller, special plate that
they carefully guarded. Sterling, who they considered indeed to be their best friend outside themselves,
was awarded a brownie from the special collection. Reliving the moment Sterling now tells Sara that
the brownies were very tasty and exceedingly crunchy; that should have been an early warning sign,
she says. Sterling, who had finished boxing in the JOs a few days earlier, having lost in the third
round, was no longer a slave to diet. He was momentarily free to indulge so he munched on a second
brownie as well. He began to feel delightfully woozy, so he took his leave and lay down on one of the
three identical beds in the kids’ suite. For at least a quarter of an hour, he lay there motionless, without
mass. As he explained to Sara, the best he could, he was traveling the universe at the speed of light.
All other particles in the universe were also massless, like himself, and from his point of view time
stood still and space contracted to nothingness. This is wholly consistent with a theory of metaphysics
offered by cosmologists who contend that an infinitely small universe is the one that would undergo a
Big Bang. The Big Bang appeared to Sterling in the form of a whopper of a headache, thanks to the
Trips’ laced brownies. The Trips never admitted what they had done, nor did Sterling ever cross-
examine them or simply beat the truth out of them. Before leaving each had warmly gripped him, a
sort of welcome to their fraternal universe. It was at that moment that Sterling realized they truly had a
drug problem. He had just had an interesting out-of-body trip; but never again would he try
hallucinogenics. And he would always be on guard against Trips bearing gifts.
        Thinking of the devils, one appears from the middle door in the corridor. According to the red
wristband it is Jake, who wears a pair of red boxers with a bulge. A few moments later his brother
Connor appears, in green boxers and with his green wristband. They wait impatiently; finally one of
them gives a brief knock on the third door. A few seconds later Zack appears, apologetic, in yellow,
matching wristband and underwear. He wears slippers; his brothers are barefooted. Together they
march down toward the washroom, each concealing something in his left hand. Sara and Sterling look
at each other and smile. “Comparing notes?” she asks. “Or sperm samples,” Sterling offers.
        In the five minutes before the Trips return to their rooms, Sterling sniffs an odor from the air.
He sniffs bloodhound like, catching Sara’s attention. “Cannabis,” she says. Sterling acknowledges she
is correct. He starts to rise, but she lightly restrains him. “Let it go,” she says. Sterling accedes and a
few minutes later the Trips are marching back from the washroom. What’s wrong with this picture,
Sterling asks himself. It’s like the picture they give on I.Q. tests and ask you have to find what’s
wrong: like the clock is missing the minute hand or a shoelace that’s untied. These puzzles are not
Sterling’s forte, but he’s taken enough practice tests to raise his intelligence as scored by puzzles. Two
inconsistencies pop up out in the moving Trip tableau. First, Jake’s red shorts are on backwards. The
pee-flap is in the back. Second, the slippers go with the Trip in yellow underwear but now they belong
on the feet of the boy in the green shorts. Sara has not caught any of this; Sterling doesn’t explain, but
says simply: “I think they’re playing musical beds.” Sara is a bit startled. “No,” she counters. “Yes,”
he contends. Sterling is absolutely certain he’s correct, for just before the boys go back into the
bedrooms, the slippers are slipped over to the boy who is entering the room from which the slippers
had earlier emerged. For anyone’s who keeping track, this is a pass from the boy in green (formerly
yellow) to the boy in yellow (formerly red). Sterling no longer bothers to associate name with boy
because he’s pretty sure they’ve fabricated the name associations just for the evening. Maybe they
don’t even know their real names.
        Sterling rises, offering the excuse that he needs to pee and lunges on tip toes down to the
washroom. Closing and bolting the door, he goes directly to the wastebasket which he sifts through to
discover all sorts of interesting items. As expected there are three used condoms, filled with equal
amounts of liquid. These are not the glow-in-the-darks, which apparently are still held in reserve for
the finale. There are three severed wristbands: yellow, green and red. And there is a single cigarette
butt, something hand-rolled. Sterling sniffs it to confirm it’s not tobacco. He carefully replaces all the
evidence and begins to search the nooks and crannies of the linen closet. He finds what he’s looking
for: tucked behind some Costco light bulbs is a men’s leather travel kit for toiletries, initialed JCZ in
gold. When unzipped the ditty bag reveals itself as the Trip’s portable drug workshop. Careful not to
leave any sign of breaking and entering, Sterling examines the kit’s contents. In addition to a six-pack
of condoms (indicating the Trips didn’t need to borrow but three from Sterling to achieve their master
plan) there is a baggie of pot, some cigarette papers, a lighter, a spoon, a votive candle, a syringe, a
length of heavy duty elastic, two sets of colored wrist bands, all unused but with the appropriate Trip
name written on each. There also a brown medicine bottle, label scratched off, which is one-third filled
with a translucent liquid. He unscrews the cap to discover a mighty aroma: the strongest semen he’s
ever smelled. Finally, he finds two unmarked film canisters. Sterling opens one to find something that
resembles rock candy. He looks from the kit to the toilet bowl and then to his face in the mirror. He
studies himself in the eyes, intensely, trying to decide is best to do. He carefully looks in the other
canister: white powder, sort of like the talcum that is stored in the medicine cabinet. He again looks
down at the toilet bowl. He thinks. He doesn’t act. Finally, he is careful to repack the kit just as he
found its contents; he returns the shaving kit to its original hiding place.
         Sara has fallen asleep by the time Sterling returns. He slithers beside her, wide awake, his mind
racing beyond its desirable speed limit. Yes, the problem is what he expected. He should not be
surprised. But he is. He had never run through any scenarios about what to do if he were actually put
in the position to be able to do something. He then drifts off and hears his mother in a heart-to-heart:
      “Sterling. I have to give you some very, very sad news.”
      He is sitting down with her at the kitchen table. She has just received a call from Mr. Vaney and
he was all beside himself. Before he had completely broken down in sobs, he had told her that they had
lost their sons. “One had died of a drug overdose and the other two had killed themselves a few
minutes later. There must have been a pre-arranged pact. He wasn’t sure.” This shocks Sterling
awake. He fears this is how he will be proved right. He gets no pleasure now from thinking about the
inevitable “I-told-you-so” moment.
         He finds himself in a much different position. He wishes he weren’t where he is. He shouldn’t
have snooped, but he did. He shouldn’t know what he knows, but he does. Now he has the claim on
much more responsibility than he desires. There is only one person to turn to and methodically he
starts to hatch a plan. He hopes the Trips survive the night without requiring a trip to the emergency
room or the morgue. In any case he has to act fast.
         While he’s deep in thought, preparing for the chain of events that he will initiate tomorrow, the
Trips again appear in front of their respective rooms off the corridor. All are barefoot and all hold
something in their left hand. They march to the washroom. About five minutes later, they return, the
three flagpoles in quite an elevated state – perhaps from a speedball, Sterling doesn’t know – but
obviously having changed shorts and wristbands and consequently room assignments. The Trips had
said earlier that they wanted to stay the entire night and Sterling had agreed. He had told them he
would wake them up by nine so they could get to church on time, after which they had a church lunch,
afternoon Bible study and an informal evening concert. “No rest for the weary,” “Only God gets His
day off,” “Our Lord’s work is never done,” they had commented in sequence to their lady friends.
Thus their Sunday schedule nicely coincided with Sterling’s own plans, as ultimate scrimmage was
scheduled for nine-thirty.
         Sterling rises at seven, waking Sara but leaving the rest of the brood asleep. He has a long chat
with his mother on Sara’s phone, whispering from the washroom. For once the mother-son
conversation is on an intense but even keel, devoid of childish outburst or motherly authoritarianism.
For this rare episode, he is sincere with her on both a factual and emotional level. He learns in passing
that she had given Sara permission to take her car to Greensboro for Sunday service. The matter has
not come up, but apparently Sterling is pretty certain he is still prohibited from driving either family
car. He is grounded, save for shopping, sports, legal meetings and other items on a need-advance-
approval basis. Under duress he had agreed that he will not exercise his motto: better to ask
forgiveness than permission, which he has just broken and has now again must ask for forgiveness.
She reminds her son that she and Pandely have pretty much run out of forgiveness. He understands
he’s running a deficit in that regard. Catherine is not pleased to learn that all the beds in The Sterling
are so actively engaged, but she is an hour away and cannot deal with this until she returns. He says
he’s sorry for being such a disappointment. She says disappointments are only temporary. In light of
the Trips situation, Sterling has also realized that in the grand scheme of things, his being unplugged is
not very important. He tries to tell his mother this, but she now has other worries and will have to
make a bunch of phone calls, calling in favors. They end their talk saying they love each other,

Chapter 15
     Sterling is dressed in the Faux Duke’s official uniform – their mascot is a mischievous monkey,
supported upside down by one arm, holding a blue devil mask, right-side up. He cycles to the park to
gather with his ultimate teammates. Back home he has left Sara in charge, to sort out all the confusion
that will inevitably befall The Sterling this particular morning. For her part Sara will quickly lay out in
disordered fashion a DIY breakfast (from Catherine’s supply of microwavables) and then abandon ship
for the same reason as Sterling: confusion avoidance. And there will be confusion and anger as well.
The apartment has only three showers which will have to be divvied among the ten young men and
women, all eager to cleanse themselves of residuals from the previous night. Two of the showers are
en suite and it’s unlikely that Jeremiah, William and their companions will share these private domains
with the Trips and their harem. The hot water tank, tested over time, is good for four eight-minute
showers; after that the water becomes tepid, which suddenly turns invigoratingly cold. The last Trip or
Tripette will experience what it’s like to jump into an ice fishing hole.
         None of this is on Sterling’s mind. He has relegated the Trip predicament to the back burner,
alongside his legal problems and his state of disconnectivity, and is focusing on having a good ultimate
game, wondering why a team with such potential can usually play so lousily. He loves this sport so he
is arriving early. Thus he is quite surprised to realize that he is the last to arrive. The posted game time
was 9:30 A.M.; this apparently has been changed, without his being informed. He needs to tell
teammates that he is not perfectly incommunicado; messages can be left with his parents on the home
phone (which lacks voicemail). The entire squad is present, twelve people in all, including Sterling.
There are usually absences, however, making today unusual, indeed unique. The other team are just
beginning to arrive but his own teammates are already huddled together in a strategy scrum. Sterling
dismounts and is noticed. There’s a murmur and the scrum instantly disassembles. The team members,
each careful to avoid eye contact with Sterling, begin stretching and otherwise busying themselves.
Sterling walks over to Sally:
         “Hey, what’s up?” he asks.
       She doesn’t reply for a moment and then offers only:
       Sterling starts stretching his calf muscles, next to Sally.
         “You know, I don’t have a cell anymore. So you’ll need to phone my home. I came here
yesterday but the practice had been changed. And today you’ll showed up early. What’s up?”
         An older member, one who meets the by-law’s age distribution requirements, comes up to him.
He motions for Sterling to step aside for a private chat.
         “Sterling, we’ll need your jersey,” he says.
       Sterling looks at him, confused. Are we changing uniforms yet again, he wonders. His uniform is
like all the rest: green with a red monkey head, holding the mask of a blue devil. The name Faux
Dukes is split in two, each word emblazoned vertically under the armpits. Like so much this team
does, the jersey design (rather hideous in the boy’s humble opinion) is the result of a compromise,
reached only after hours of endless inebriating discussion, little of which Sterling was party to. Over
the past year Sterling has successfully avoided most of the team’s effort at participatory democracy.
       “We’re changing uniforms again, Paul?” Sterling asks.
         “You’re no longer on the team,” he replies.
       Sterling lets that sink in and looks around at his teammates, apparently former teammates. He is
starting to see the picture.
         “Paul, I didn’t quit. If someone told you I quit, they’re wrong. Sorry.”
       He returns to his stretching, ignoring Paul. Another team member, Louis, arrives as back-up.
         “We had a vote. You are no longer on the team.”
       “We had a vote,” Sterling repeats, with a bit more mock than intended. “ ‘We’ wouldn’t happen
to include all the team except me, would it?”
         “We’ve had a vote; it’s final,” he affirms. By now the rest of the team are paying attention.
         “Apparently I’ve been transported to Cuba or somewhere. If I remember, our by-laws say
something like: ‘Any member’s participation can be terminated by a formal majority vote for any
cause, but said cause must be specifically stated before the vote, in writing to all members. Each
member must be notified of said vote at least 24 hours in advance. All members may speak on the
motion for a maximum of three minutes…’ and it goes on and on and on. It seems to me, Paul, Louis
and any of you who want me off the team, I have the moral right and the by-legal right to hear my
accusers, no more than three minutes each, mind you. You should be ashamed of what you’ve done.
Maybe in China you could get away with it. But not in America. You ever hear of basic human
         This is liberal Durham; his teammates, or at least those old enough, surely vote Democratic and
tow its party line. The accusation of human rights abuse is a gauntlet they dare not pick up. Sterling
then surveys the individual teammates, glaring at each one individually. Before his eyes can reach
Sally she says:
         “We have to vote again, guys. Maybe Sterling will waive his right to advance notice.”
         “Maybe he will so waive his right if he’s told what this is all about? Is it because I miss
practices. I will not miss any more; you have my word. Is it because I don’t participate in all the
endless debates and just want to throw the frisbee? Well, I’ll participate if you want; just be aware that
I know the by-laws and I can be an absolute asshole when it comes to details, so I’m told.”
         He takes a deep breath and then glues his ass to the bench and waits for a team response. A
player from the opposing team arrives, tells them it’s nine-thirty, and asks them to get on to the field.
       “Five minutes,” Paul replies, waving him off. He addresses Sterling and the group.
         “The reason we voted you off the team, Sterling, has nothing to do with your activity on the
field. We’re more concerned with what you do off the field.”
         “What, my straight A average? My playing other sports, lacrosse and boxing? My work with
underprivileged youth? My tutoring autistic children? My defense of gay rights? What so upsets you,
Paul?” he asks.
         “The Smiley Boy video,” someone in the back offers.
         “Oh,” Sterling says. “Should I mention it’s wasn’t me who uploaded this video? It was private,
not for public consumption. I’m the victim here. I don’t want to ask how anyone found the video, but
whoever has viewed it will surely have noticed that I don’t wear the team jersey. In fact my own
name’s nowhere to be found. So really I don’t see how this impacts the team. I mean, I don’t want to
be rude, but is this any of your damn business? Please, you each have three minutes to tell me how this
involves you or the team. Meanwhile, should we play or forfeit?”
         The other team have all taken their positions and await the Faux Dukes.
         “Go play. I’m not going anywhere. You vote me off and I’ll give you the jersey and trunks and
I’ll bike home in my jockstrap,” Sterling adds, by now in a fairly foul mood.
         He is joined on the bench by four other substitutes while the first seven take to the field. He
looks at his fellow substitutes. One says:
        “Hey, I voted for you,” he says.
        “Was the vote close?” Sterling asks.
        “Let’s just say your vote wouldn’t have made any difference,” the teammate responds.
        Sterling notes to the others that he has been on the bench the longest, so that makes him coach,
according to the by-laws. For the next 24 or so minutes he will throw his maximum effort at attaining a
victory. The first thing he does is tell the boy who voted for him to prepare to go in for Paul, the man
who voted against him. He then explains a new game plan to the substitutes; all four will be sent in as
soon as possible, replacing more than half the team. Sterling will remain side-lined. Soon a goal is
scored against them, around Paul, who plays at the key defensive post. The mass substitution is
effected before the ensuing throw-off, as the rules allow. When Paul gets off the turf, Sterling
approaches and talks to him in a very businesslike manner. He tells Paul that he’s playing the wrong
position. He’s horrible at defense because he can’t throw an accurate long pass. He is not playing to
his strength, which is uncanny fielding and the quick short toss. He wants to reposition Paul close to
the opponents’ goal, all the way at the opposite end of the field from his current position. Is that OK?
It will mean a lot of running? No, Sterling replies. He doesn’t want Paul to wander more than five
yards from his post. Play to your strength, he’s told. Paul waits on the sideline until the next goal, at
which time substitutions are permitted. Meanwhile Sterling talks with Sally. He considers Sally one of
the weaker throwers but the best playmaker on the team, even better than Sterling himself. Sterling
knows his strengths, and maintaining the large picture while he’s playing is not one of them. He can
strategize when he’s coaching from the sidelines, but when he’s on the field, he’s too focused on
immediate play. That’s a weakness (this from someone who is big on focus and who admits to few
weaknesses) which he has identified but has not yet been able to correct. Sally, in contrast, is excellent
at reading the action and calling plays while she’s competently holding her position. Yet she rarely
exercises her ability, for reasons unknown to Sterling nor perhaps understood even by herself. Her
timidity is surely a psychological restraint, in that the individualized manner a player plays any sport
mostly involves personal character and psychology. Sterling doesn’t have the time (and is perhaps not
as qualified a sports psychologist as he imagines himself to be) to sort out her issues; but he knows
what the team needs from her. He tells her, in so many words, to be more balsy and orders her to call
plays. He apologizes for being so bossy, but asks: Do you want us to win or not? Sally is not confident
she’ll call the right play. Sterling says he is confident: “Just do it! If it doesn’t work, you can blame
me and never have to do it again.” At the next substitution, with the score now 2-0 against them, Paul
and Sally both return to the game. The new strategy starts to pay off. Sally calls a play that produces a
quick goal from Paul. The team begins steadily to improve as Sterling continues to tinker and
reposition players. At each goal he continues to make substitutions, dazzling the opponents who are
sticking with their original seven, each controlling a fiefdom, and growing tired, both physically and
mentally. The Faux Dukes, in contrast, are on a roll, not feeling the least fatigued although they are
getting more exercise today just trotting on and off the field than they do in their normal games,
characterized as they were by sedentarily accurate play, according to Sterling. The boy, himself, has
yet to play. He’s much too involved with coaching. As much as he likes to play, as much as he wants
to play, as much as he wants to score goals and show himself indispensable, he knows he’s better used
at the moment as the bench coach. At halftime the Faux are actually ahead 7-5 in this overall fairly
defensive match. The team is in a high mood. The topic of earlier discussion is not revisited. The only
complaint is that Sterling has not yet played (a by-law violation). Their team, which presumes to be a
participatory democracy, intends that all players “strive for parity time” on the field, according to
Article XI, Section A, Subsection 1. Thus Sterling is obliged to play for much of the second half as the
team struggles to an 11-9 victory. Before he leaves he mutters a blanket apology of sorts saying that he
had not intended his video to offend anyone. At least he doesn’t have to bike back home only in a
     Whether thanks to competence, arrogance or just plain luck (the fourth quality that all successful
athletes possess à la Pandely), Sterling has managed to avert an ultimate crisis, which of course he had
only himself to thank for. The next crisis of his own doing, that he must now solve, involves his
sanctimonious friends and druggies, aka the Trips. After arriving back home and taking a coldish
shower, he goes into clean-up mode: ten sheets and five pillow-cases into the washer; tissue, condom
and wrapper collection (three per bedroom) and general clean-up to get the apartment cleaner than his
parents had left it. The kitchen and washroom look like tornados have attacked. All the linen in the
washroom closet has apparently been extracted and then stuffed back, seemingly at random. Obviously
the Trips had conducted a search for their travel kit, which Sterling had removed for safe keeping.
Before he had left for ultimate he had also absconded with the contents of the wastebasket, which
included nine colored, broken wrist bands among the waste. Sterling reasons that the boys, after
sampling their girls, had agreed on who would end up with whom. In any case the Trips were now
going to pay for their lifetime of indiscretions. When he gets around to cleaning the kitchen Sterling
notices the thank-you note William had tacked up on the corkboard (he carries around Duke letterhead
for just such an occasional emergency), next to a thank-you note from Jeremiah (in the margin of a
newspaper scrap), next to an envelope also addressed to him, which when unsealed reveals the angry
penmanship of a Trip. It makes a point: “We want our stuff. We will return at 5 PM – JCZ.” Sterling
is delighted that one problem has just been solved: he no longer needs to figure out when he will
confront the Trips. They will arrive gunning for him.
      Sterling has to commit most of the afternoon to clean-up. After that he’s hit by a sudden
brainstorm; he starts weeding through his clothes in a move to down-size. He thins out his underwear
and sock drawers and separates out all his undersized tee-shirts, but keeps those silk-screened with his
smiling face. He finds a few pairs of pants that are too short for him, shirts that his arms have
outgrown, and some shorts that might fit but are not very attractive, the type of thing the tasteless Trips
would wear. He goes through the various medicine cabinets in the apartment and removes all the
excess tubes of toothpaste, underarm deodorants. The Sterling’s cast-offs fill three grocery bags which
he takes downstairs just as Bucephalus and the parents return. He puts the bags in the back of his
mother’s hatch-back and then goes to the gym for a work-out. After that the shower delivers some hot
water. At five o’clock he’s at the kitchen table, waiting for the Trips. They arrive punctually. He
motions for his friends to sit down at the table. There is no small talk.
      “Where’s our stuff?” one asks. A refrain comes from his two brothers.
      “What’s in the film containers?” Sterling asks.
      “What do you think?” one replies, somewhat nastily.
      “It none of your beeswax,” another says.
      “You can’t go around and steal our stuff,” the third says.
      “We’ll share if you want some.”
      “Sure,” the others agree.
      “Share what?” Sterling asks.
      “Give us back our shit,” one says, his vulgarity raising fraternal eyebrows.
      “Our stuff,” the others agree.
      “I’ll give it back when you tell me what’s in them,” Sterling responds.
      The boys look at each other.
      “He knows what it is,” one says to another. “Yeah, but can we trust him?” another asks. “Hey, if
he gives us his word that we can get our stuff back, we can trust him,” another concludes.
      “It’s just some coke and crack. We use in moderation. A little bit helps us perform. We don’t
abuse drugs,” they say simultaneously.
      “No way,” one adds.
      “Now give it back.”
       Sterling nods. “OK,” he says loudly, whereupon his mother walks in carrying the boy’s toiletry
      They look at each other and at Sterling and at his mother. They’ve been had; they really have
nothing to say. Sterling, however, has something to say.
      “First, thanks for being honest. This is what’s called an intervention.”
      The Trips rise, on their way to the door. They want no part of any intervention. Sterling and his
mother can keep the drugs. There’s no problem scoring again, through one of their staff.
      “Sit down, boys,” Catherine says. My husband’s downstairs. You have a choice. You deal with
me and my son or you deal with my husband and the long arm of the law.”
      The Trips look at each other and given the choice, collectively sit down.
      “JCZ, I’ve known you since before you were born. In my job I see children die from drugs on a
weekly basis. I’m not going to lecture you. You’re beyond lecture. You are going to be getting
professional help. It’s all been arranged.”
      “You can’t do that.”
      “Yeah, you’re not our parents.”
      “And we’re emancipated.”
      Sterling smiles. His mother continues.
      “That’s the irony. You’re emancipated and that means you can be treated like adults. I don’t need
to get your parents’ permission. They don’t need to know what’s happening. We can tell them if you
      The Trips nod in the negative, in unison. The last thing they want to do is to hurt their parents.
      “All right, we’ll go to drug counseling,” one says. They all start to rise.
      Catherine nods against that idea.
      “My son tells me you have time on your hands for the next few weeks, concert tour begins in the
fall. You’re going on a little retreat before that. And when you come back you’ll be clean.”
      At that moment, Pandely, sweating from a workout, arrives. He greets each Trip with a
handshake and stares at the shaving kit.
      “Catherine,” he says. “Don’t you have a soft drink to offer our guests?”
      “Yes, dear. JCZ were just telling us that they are going away for a bit.”
      “No concerts?” Pandely asks as he fetches glasses and ice and soft drinks.
      “September 2009…Campus Revival Tour…sir,” the boys say, assembling pre-composed parts, as
      “What type of retreat?” he asks.
      “Sports, religious, music,” the boys say in a conflicting manner all at once.
      “Sounds like a lot of fun,” Pandely says as he leaves for a slower.
      Catherine looks at her son. It’s his turn to talk:
      “Now here’s what we’re going to do. You and me and my mother are getting into her car and we
are going to take a little ride. I know that you won’t give me any trouble. I know you will not give me
any trouble because if you do, first I am going to beat the holy shit out of you and then give your bag of
goodies to my father and he can do with you what he wants. He’s a lot less zero tolerant than I am, or
maybe that’s more zero tolerant. You get my drift?”
      The boys are not in so much shock that they can’t glare at Sterling, with hatred.
      “Hand over the phones,” he orders. That produces no response, so Sterling yells: DAD.
      The boys take out their phones from their pants, in a uniform gesture, but don’t yet hand them
      “Yes, Sterling,” his father says, poking in his head, keeping the rest of his body, which is in a
towel, out of view. The Trips obediently surrender their PDAs.
      “I’m going out with mother. We’ll be back for supper. Can you order Chinese?,” he asks.
      “Yes, son,” Pandely replies and heads back to the shower.
      Sterling passes the boy’s phones to his mother.
      “Can’t we call our girlfriends,” one protests. Sterling produces a handful of severed colored
      “I think not, the way you treat them” he says. “Try writing a letter. Or if you want me too, I’ll
call them and explain everything.”
      They shake their heads against that idea.
      Sterling drives; his mother rides shotgun and the brothers are being transported in the back seat.
They drive for about twenty minutes to the outskirts of Chapel Hill, past a few small towns until they
reach their destination – a gated estate with a simple sign: Anderson Clinic. Sterling hops out and
speaks into an intercom and the gates opens so the car can enter. The facility includes several
dormitories and a larger central administration building. There are people in green gowns and blue
gowns, defining nurses and orderlies. The patients all wear white. Sterling pulls up the car and turns
back to his passengers.
      “Two of you wait here. You’re taking turns. Just one of you come with me,” he orders. He opens
up the hatchback, retrieving one of the grocery sacks of his hand-me-downs. He walks with one of the
Trips to the admissions desk, where the boy signs himself in voluntarily as Zachary. He doesn’t bother
reading the small print; he has people who always do that for him.
      “Are you really Zack?” Sterling asks.
      “Who else would I be? Zack is the evil one,” he retorts. Sterling gives him the bag of clothes.
He continues:
      “You won’t be able to contact anyone on the outside by phone except my mother, but you can
write. We’ve already taken care of this with your parents. If they send you postcards from Europe,
Asia, or South America, your manager has agreed to forward them to us and we will copy them to each
of you.”
      “You’ve talked to our manager?” the boy say incredulously.
      “Mother has covered all the bases. We’ll keep this a secret; your fans don’t need to know. I know
you think I hate you and I certainly could have been a better friend, but I want you to know that this is
for the best. I don’t want for one of you to die and the other two to have to kill themselves.”
      The Trip is amazed and he blurts out, before he thinks:
      “How do you know about that?” he demands.
      “I do now,” Sterling shrugs. As little boys, maybe only five or six at the time, they had told
Sterling that they were so much of a unit that if one of them died, the rest of them would want to join
him in heaven, then and there. They asked Sterling to join their pact; he refused. “Without my brothers
life on earth would not be worth living,” one little boy had said, and this was immediately confirmed by
his siblings. In the back of his mind, Sterling had never forgotten this, and he must have shared the
anecdote at some point over the years with his mother. Last night when he saw all the drugs they
packed just for overnight use, he realized that death and suicide were only a swallow or snort away.
That’s what caused him to initiate the events that now play out. The worse is coming up.
      Sterling starts to head to the car. The boy who calls himself Zack wants to follow.
      “I’m sorry, you can’t come. I promise you, you’ll see your brothers before long.”
      It dawns on Zack that they are being separated.
      “God damn you, Sterl,” he yells, the first time in his life such a curse has passed his lips. He
starts to run around Sterling, but Sterling restrains him until men in green arrive to take him away. The
boy kicks and screams but mostly he sobs in painful gasps. Sterling, himself, is almost in empathetic
tears, but he must get back to the car before either of the other two escape. His mother has one by the
arm, one who is way too respectful to hit or bite her to break free. The other, however, has opened the
door and is heading for a reunion with his brother. Sterling intercepts him and has to fend off a kick
aimed at his groin. He slaps the brother hard across the face, drawing blood. The boy knows that
without his brothers he is overpowered; he calms down sufficiently so Sterling can lead him back to the
car. They speed off, the two brothers holding hands and trying to comfort each other. Both are holding
back sobs.
       When they reach the perimeter, the car stops while the gate opens; Sterling turns to his mother.
He is distraught, unsure whether he’s doing the right thing. Usually he’s so cock-sure about everything
in life. Rarely has he ever doubted what he does when he is actually doing it. He may have regrets
afterwards, but self-doubt and Sterling are not well acquainted. He now needs support, the type that
mothers give best. His mother, who is made of steel and ice, takes his hand tenderly.
       “There’s no other choice, son,” she says. He accepts that judgment without hesitation and they
drive off.
       Sterling had wanted to blindfold the Trips so they couldn’t find their way back to one another, but
his mother had insisted that the abuse centers she had chosen were noted for their maximum security
features. If anyone escaped, one even promised that they would refund twice tuition (that’s what the
entry fee was called). For the Trips, of course, money is no object. They have a business manager for
that. They have no idea how much they were worth ($4 million and change) or their earning potential
($100 million over the next 20 years). Their manager had little choice but to accept Catherine’s
proposition; the alternatives are worse: death was bad enough (although a company could use the
Jackson model and capitalize on a death) but the idea of scandal among evangelicals was far worse.
The manager had agreed to pay the various tuitions if the boys each voluntarily signs himself in. There
would also be a shake-up in the supervisory team and the boys would henceforth be closely monitored
with twice-weekly urine tests. That is, when they returned.
       One down, two to go, as Sterling drives on back roads that disguise the direction he heads.
Eventually they reach the second facility. By this time the remaining Trips have composed themselves
but are still pretty glum. They put up no resistance when they arrive at Piney Woods Sanitarium,
somewhat of a misnomer since the surrounding forest is hardwood. The Trip with the fat lip volunteers
to stay here. He signs in as Zachary.
       “Your brother said he was Zack,” Sterling comments.
       “He’s the not-too-bright one, haven’t you noticed? I’m Zack, the evil one,” he shoots back.
       “I know you think I hate you and I certainly could have been a better friend, but I want you to
know that this is for the best,” Sterling says as he departs.
       “God damn you, Sterly,” this Zack says, his ease at profanity stunning them both. The hatred
Sterling feels directed at him is not mitigated by its reoccurrence; it’s not a sentiment he cares to get
used to.
       The car heads back toward Durham and stops on the outskirts of town where there is another
treatment facility. It is eight floors, a more vertical prison. It offers quite pleasant suites, a gym, a
restaurant rather than a canteen and even has a rooftop garden and swimming pool (with a high fence to
discourage jumpers). Converted from a Chapter 11 motel that could reach full occupancy only on
basketball weekends, the new owners have in rehab created a cash cow, producing more profit than the
Duke Motor Plaza ever had. During good economic times in the Research Triangle drug rehab is a
growth industry; at other times it’s rampant.
       The remaining Trip signs in as Zachary; Sterling is too emotionally drained to comment. He
musters the enthusiasm to say: “I know you think I hate you and I certainly could have been a better
friend, but I want you to know that this is for the best.” He hopes he’s right, for everyone’s sake. He
waits for and receives the expected “God damn you, Sterling.” Sterling reflects to himself that
parenting is just the shits. In dealing with this relatively straight-forward matter (all the details worked
out by his mother), Sterling is completely drained, emotionally. How can parents discipline their
children, year after year? How can any sane parent, well, manage someone like himself? Sterling
realizes that he would have driven himself crazy if he had been his own parent. All the deception, half
truths, rule bending, not to mention his superior intelligence…he doesn’t want to dwell on this now.
Nor does he realize that in his seventeen years this is the first time he’s empathized with his parents.
      When they eventually arrive home, Catherine asks her son to handle the boys’ phones, which
Sterling interprets as instructions to construct an auto-reply that says the Trips are indisposed for the
foreseeable future, ending with an affectionate: “C U at Campus Revival Tour 2009. God Bless.” For
good measure he spams everyone in the trio’s address books with a similar message. This is not
difficult. Once he figures out how to operate one phone, the other two prove identical, just like their
owners. The task take him about forty minutes, because he prolongs the pleasure of connectivity as
long as humanly possible. It reminds him of one of the few adolescent pleasures he allowed himself
during his year of abstinence – from his 15th to 16th birthday – during which period Saturday night
became the only permitted day of relapse. If his mother would just give him two hours a week to play
with his iPhone – actually a replacement, the new model due out in a matter of days – he’d serve the
rest of his punishment without complaint.
     Sterling, who shares so little of his day-to-day life with his parents – and virtually nothing of his
inner life with them – decides that tonight will be the leaf-turner. Tonight is the night for the new
Sterling to make his debut. They eat their Chinese and Sterling describes his day at ultimate. He omits
nothing, especially his pride at being successful in not getting booted from the club.
      “Why do you think they wanted you off the team?” Catherine asks.
      “The video, of course,” he quickly responds.
      “But why?” she rephrases.
      “They didn’t like the video; it offended them.”
      “What about it?” she persists.
      “I didn’t ask them what scene they didn’t care for. I am not sure how many people saw it. Mostly
they saw it second-hand.”
       “Go on,” she continues.
      “Mom, you’re sounding exactly what I imagine a shrink would sound like.”
      “I am merely curious, son. This is an important event in your life. We should talk about it,” she
      “I agree,” Pandely adds.
      “Well, I imagine they think it is improper for a sixteen-seventeen year old boy to do in public
what he might do in the privacy of his own bedroom, which is sort of acceptable behavior nowadays on
the internet. It’s all a question of social code. My code threatens their code.”
      His parents say nothing. They want to listen. They wait for him to continue. When he realizes
this, he offers some thoughts off the top of his head.
      “Accepting that my code is different, that leads me to three areas I should explore. One, why the
difference? Two, is there a right or a wrong? Three, where do I fit in? How can I be accommodated,
and if not, how can I change? Or should I even change? It may take me some time to figure all this
out. There may not be definite answers; life, unfortunately, is not multiple choice. Is that enough of an
answer for now?”
      “Thanks for talking with us. You know, this is the first real conversation we’ve had since this
table has had an empty place.”
      “That’s a euphemism for Susan’s death. You can mention her name,” he says.
      Pandely has stopped eating and is ready to offer a little insight.
      “You talk about moral codes and things that are a bit beyond me, son. Let’s talk about boxing. It
much simpler. There are no codes. Everything is by rules. There may be judgment calls; that’s why
there are judges and the ref. Life can be simple if you let it. There are simple rules about what you do
and don’t do. Just forget about codes and start living by rules; life would be simpler.”
      “Not everything in life has rules, dad.”
      “No, but start by not breaking as many rules as you can. Life would be simpler. That’s all I’m
saying,” he says, not wanting to get into a debate when he knows that his over-intelligent son can twist
what he says to mean just its opposite.
       “He doesn’t break so many rules, Pan,” Catherine says coming to his son’s defense.
       “You don’t know the half of it, dear,” he says to his wife.
       Sterling looks at his parents who have the potential for a disagreement. He says to his mother:
       “I break more than my share of rules,” he concedes.
       “JCZ forget their shaving bag. Do the boys shave yet?” Pandely asks, nodding in the direction to
the toiletry kit.
       Sterling grabs it. “The little fuzz balls are starting to learn. I’ll keep this until they return from
vacation. May I be excused?” he asks on his way out. A few moments later he has flushed $870 worth
of illicit substances and some ounces of foul-smelling semen down the toilet.
       William’s former comment that Sterling spends forty hours a week on homework veers only
slightly off base. It would be more appropriate to say that the boy spends that much time on
intellectual work, most of which is not actual schoolwork. In anticipation of summer vacation (and
before The Punishment), Sterling had found a classy British website and downloaded a copy of
Philosophy 101’s primary source reading list, the most comprehensive, yet still manageable, he could
find on the web. Now he sits at his desk, devoid of distractions, and soaks in some Plato. Sterling,
who is innately methodical, is reading the great thinkers, one at a time, in sequence. Of course, he does
not want to read every word each has written; rather, he has chosen to focus on their most frequently
cited works, according to Google-Scholar. He has started to borrow these from the various libraries he
has access to. He doesn’t need to ask whether it wouldn’t be more efficient just to find a Philosophy
101 text book that covers the whole of western (and eastern) thought in under 400 pages, giving each
thinker the proportional space he (rarely she) has earned, according to the taste of an esteemed editor,
probably a promotion-denied college professor who is better at earning royalties than doing serious
research. Sterling would rather stand on the shoulders of giants with Google-Scholar. Himself an
educational philosopher, he asks: why substitute CliffNotes or Classic Comics for the real McCoy?
Sterling’s goal, although he himself may not realize it – his summer reading program is instinctive,
unplanned, devoid of one of his pet peeves: rationalizing forethought – is to get a picture of how
humanity thinks, studying the foundations of philosophical thought in order to understand how the
process has evolved. His survey, which he expects to complete by summer’s end, is background
reading. He’s absorbing ideas. He is reading slowly, not intentionally memorizing, whether
consciously or unconsciously. Slow for Sterling would be like skimming for the rest of us. When he
finds an intriguing passage – he quite enjoys the idea of Plato’s cave – he may read it over several
times. He’ll probably be able to repeat verbatim these passages, if asked to. Since he first learned to
make sense out of letters (before he was three), reading has been fundamentally his favorite activity. It
doesn’t substitute for sports; then again, it’s not a rival to sports, either. Nor sex. As he’s grown up, he
has come to realize that not all the world shares this pleasure. William, for example, has never declined
a Classic Comic when assigned a member of the canon to read. Sterling used to find people’s anti-
intellectualism and mental laziness sad; now he finds it mostly annoying, in that the result is a planet
populated largely by non-thinkers grazing among assorted ignoramuses. At the moment Sterling
especially enjoys Mr. Plato, a fellow elitist. He can hardly wait to get to Confucius for eastern elitism,
after he’s through with western thought.
       That Sterling turns to original sources suggests that he prefers that others leave the interpretation
to him. That’s perhaps one reason why he has so often been considered by his teachers as a difficult
student. It’s not that he doesn’t respect teachers (that’s true, but another matter entirely) or trust them
(there are reasons in his past for this); he just doesn’t need them. In his particular case, they are getting
paid for doing nothing. If left alone he could have easily home-schooled himself and not have even
strayed from the web. Indeed, that’s what Durham Prep has finally let him do, against the judgment of
Coach Mac and a few others. All the school wants from him now is an occasional score on this or that
test in order to raise the school’s average. It’s a relationship that works; no one much cares whether it’s
symbiotic or parasitic, or who’s the pimp and who’s the whore. This streak of independence is
something which both his parents and his school are resigned to; indeed they indulge him in it.
Whether the larger society will be as flexible is another matter. The Smiley Boy video, a harmless
prank in Sterling’s view, seems to have created waves that would rather drown him. He’s been thrust
into a whirlpool in which he is penalized for being a free, independent thinker. He has started to lose
control. He can’t do his own lawyering. That is, he is not legally qualified; more importantly, he has
not learned how to think like a lawyer, primarily because he’s never tried to. We’re not talking rocket
science, he imagines. So far his out-guessing the system, however, has produced only bad choices
which have included an overnight stay behind bars in the basement of the courthouse and which, if he’s
not careful, could land him in juvie.
       Sterling reluctantly puts aside Plato, or pretends to, in order to receive a visit from William, who
enjoys engaging his friend while he continually searches for his inner gay self. William sees the world
as he sees himself: someone continually trying to escape the closets that are being erected for him. For
years he’s been trying to get Sterling to get in touch with his own non-heterosexual being, which is the
exact wording he uses as he skirts around the issue. Sterling knows William (and vice-versa) exactly
for what he is – supposedly confused – and he doesn’t let his friend’s pseudo-shrinking much bother
him. For years he’s been able to partially tune William out so he can carry on more pressing mental
self-dialogues, occasionally refocusing when William produces a non-rhetorical question. William has
just taken Mr. Della Knave (Sterling’s spelling) to the airport and his mood is both up and down. He’s
in the afterglow of their twenty-four hour fling, their relationship consummated (thrice) as well as
consecrated: Harvey’s gift was buying a ton of cigarette paper; William’s gift via his dad was a
handsome check with enough wrapping material to do in a small country. While Sterling is supposedly
not looking, William has maneuvered his hand between the box mattress and springs to find the
wrapper he had hidden there. At the time it had seemed unseemly to just drop a condom wrapper on
the floor so he had wedged it aside for later retrieval; he had forgotten to reclaim the evidence. Getting
it back before Sterling or his mother happened to find it was what prompted this visit other than, of
course, BFF-ship.
       “I already tossed it out,” Sterling explains as he watches William’s failing attempt to cover his
actions. “Did you want it for a keepsake?” he asks.
       “You found it?” William asks, embarrassed, about two mental steps behind Sterling.
       “The math didn’t add up. Three condoms but only two wrappers.”
       “You counted?” an amazed William asks.
       “I’m a thorough housekeeper,” he shrugs off. “So it was a good first date?”
       “Like no other,” William says, all smiles.
       “Do I need a blow-by-blow?” Sterling asks, not wanting to let William yet off the hook. William
for his part wants to change the topic.
       “We just talked. He wondered why you are so conservative,” William explains, pointing to the
three framed portraits on the wall: Jefferson, Lincoln and Reagan. Now that the room is devoid of all
things with chips, the portraits take on a more prominent place.
       Sterling is having none of this and gets back to the main topic:
       “You know, that you don’t need condoms for oral sex. Despite common sense fellatio isn’t
thought to lead to STDs.”
       This is not the topic William came to discuss. He says:
       “Harvé couldn’t believe you were a Republican and were stirring up a hornet’s nest with the tea-
       “Tea-partiers,” Sterling corrects.
       “I explained you were just rebelling against your liberal parents and your communist
      “Almost communists. It was their parents who were the communists, murdered by the Greek
Army. Have you been reading Wiki on CliffNotes on Freud?” he contemptuously asks. William
ignores the barb.
      “I explained how your family was just devolving…” William explains, interrupted by Sterling.
      “…Evolving,” he corrects.
      “Whatever, and that even here in North Carolina, by no means a left-wing state, you would be
considered politically red-neck, what with boxing and guns, support of capital punishment and
animosity against welfare…”
      “Animosity? Has that Yankee fellow from Canada been teaching you big words? He spend the
whole night giving a vocab lesson to the back of your neck?” he asks, suddenly realizing that the not-
so-nice old Sterling has emerged. “Sorry,” he says on quick reflection.
      William is not especially offended, however, because the lame insult comes for a boy whose
views on gay sex come across as somewhat conflicted, at least to William. They are akin to a very
liberal Jew’s view on rants of holocaust denial: acceptable but only under the weight of the First
Amendment. In other words, Sterling has repeated told William that he has never touched and that he
will never touch another man’s junk, but he ardently defends William’s right to do so. William has
often wondered whether his main supporter is not really a homophobe in homophilic robes, or even
vice-versa. They change the subjects by implied mutual agreement.
      “I tried JCZ and I keep getting an auto-reply. Are they on tour already? They were hopping mad
about something this morning. When they talk to themselves, it’s like a foreign language.”
      “I don’t think they are on tour.”
      “I don’t know. I tried all three numbers: ‘C U at Campus Revival Tour 2009. God Bless.’
Exactly the same in all three. YMMV, you’d think. It’s like they’re poking fun at themselves.
      “They did say something about a retreat. They don’t want to be disturbed. Maybe they want
some privacy.”
      “I guess. Court tomorrow?”
      William hands Sterling a print-out of a legal matter he found on the internet. Sterling glances
over it before putting it in his inbox.
      “Nah, just lawyers. You know, Billy…William…last Sunday when we were driving back from
the spa…”
      “Don’t go there, Sterling.”
      “I don’t want to go back there…”
      “That’s not what I mean,” William corrects.
      “I know what you mean. I just wonder why you got so mad when I asked you what happened. I
spend the day waiting for you and you didn’t say anything. Did something bad happen?”
      “You’re not going to tell me anything?”
      “Can I have some privacy, please. It’s bad enough you’re counting condoms. Do I have to run
away from you like JCZ? I mean, the Trips didn’t run away from you but, you knew, we all need
privacy, except for you. Witness Smiley Boy.”
      “Sorry I asked. But Buffeau was there and…”
      “He told you he was there? What did he say?” William asks.
      “Nothing. I have to ask you.”
      “He told you to ask me?” William asks.
      “I didn’t say that. It’s just I have to ask you because he won’t say anything.”
      “Well, then, I guess neither will I,” William says smugly.
      Sterling is exasperated, his curiosity unquenched. He turns to the other mammal in the room.
      “Attack, attack,” he commands. Bucephalus opens one eye and goes back to sleep. “Attack” is
not part of her vocabulary. The friends smile at each other. William is fully aware that Sterling’s
curiosity is unbearable; this bothers him not in the least. He resorts to a gesture known to infuriate
Sterling: he zips his lips and throws away the key.
      “Look, Billy…William…I know where the Trips are and they can’t be disturbed. We each have
our secrets.”
      “They’re OK?”
      “They just need a vacation, that’s all. They’ll be good as new when they get back. Let’s leave it
at that,” Sterling says. They do. After a few more exchanges lacking substance, William departs.
Sterling returns to his friend Mr. Plato.

Chapter 16
     In opening up to his parents the previous night, Sterling had not revoked the right to keep his
own counsel; the family exchange over Chinese had not made him any less a mystery to them despite
his legitimate desire, or perhaps pretense, to obey a kind of newly-initiated Sunshine Law in the family,
he himself volunteering to be its test case. The new Sterling wanted to give them the opportunity to
read him as an open book. Let there be light to reveal, to cleanse, if not sanitize, his life, if that’s what
they want. He had answered the questions submitted by his mother/inquisitor, presenting the whole
truth, nothing but the truth. His evidence would surely have produced a flat line on any a reliable lie
detector (i.e., no emotion vs. no deceit). He had genuinely wanted Catherine and Pandely to better
understand him. If they did, they would surely repeal the draconian punishment they were subjecting
him to. Even Draco himself would have shown mercy in the case of a Athenian boy, hardly yet a man,
who was merely an innocent victim: it was not he who had uploaded on YouTube those fifteen seconds
of his past. On this matter he agreed with his lawyer, Stacy James. But that was Athens seven
centuries before Christ and this was pre-historic 21st Century North Carolina. Not a representative
fifteen seconds BTW, he would like to remind us. Regardless, there was no denying that he had
participated in the film, that the design was his idea, that the art work was by his hand (few others were
allowed admission to that domain) and that the execution of a vague script idea had been entirely his.
The first and only take had caught everyone in the dorm room by surprise. It was only their
professionalism that kept the actors in character and cameras rolling. Sterling himself had been the
most surprised; he may have thought he controlled the little things in life but his film exposure brought
home the point that the heart or other organs do not necessarily obey one’s best intentions. His
surprise, however, was not revealed until second seventeen, lost on the cutting room floor, when he
uttered not a curse, only an apologetic “oops.” He had not meant to destroy Babette’s mascara and
dislodge a colored contact. He had thus ended his film career prematurely, with an enthusiastic “cut
and print” from the young director eager to become the next Bollywood sensation.
      Past indiscretions have a way of coming back to haunt. Sterling reasons, however, that reckless
behavior in youth does not reveal character flaws; rather, it shows character development – the
emerging character of independent spirit, of innocent youth not yet corrupted by society. The boy does
not ponder this point excessively; he’ll surely find support for it in his summer reading. In any event
he figures that the future is a pretty long time away and most things work themselves out in the long
run. In the long run we’re all dead, so what’s to worry about?; on this the boy had found a rare point of
agreement with Lord Keynes, the quasi-Marxist. Thus, when William had informed him that Smiley
Boy had been publicly aired, he had not become greatly alarmed or angry. Sterling almost never
reveals anger. His father, by both example and lecture, has trained him not to show emotions to his
opponents. Never show how you feel, son, he had instructed the young pugilist. This was a message
Sterling had taken to heart. But he’s only human; he gets angry occasionally (the Trips can lead him to
the gate of insanity) but it is in a rare event that he allows that anger transparency. As it turns out, his
fifteen seconds of fame had passed away after a few days, and Jeremiah had been able to erase its
digital footprint thanks in part to his step-father’s fondness for cease and desist threats. In sum,
Sterling seems on the surface pretty mild-mannered; he does his best to project an even keel. So when
the first subpoena had arrived, he had not been alarmed; it wasn’t even worth a mention to his parents;
the term of the grand jury would expire before they could haul him in. The second subpoena was
initially ignored: take one subpoena at a time, Sterling reasoned, line forms at the rear. It was only
William, a Martha Stewart fan, who had been alarmed. The snooper had located the subpoenas when
idly fingering the #10 envelopes in Sterling’s inbox (mostly family insurance matters relating to
Susan’s death). It was, in fact, William who had recognized the judge’s name on the first subpoena;
Sterling had not be bothered to pay close attention. Getting a hanging judge had not been foreseen;
getting this particular hanging judge was definitely not desirable. It was William who had nagged
Sterling not to be his own counsel, but to hire outside help, which he eventually did. These events
provide just some of the loosely connected thoughts that run through Sterling’s head as he sits beside
Daryl on the Carolinian, bumping its way into RGH at 10:48, in plenty of time for them to get to their
11:15 A.M. appointments. Daryl, the route-planner, has informed Sterling that the trip back will have
to be by bus, unless they want to wait for the next train, the Piedmont, at 3:04 P.M. Certainly they’ll be
done with the law by then.
      Daryl is not a Trip, a William or even a Buffeau. Sterling and Daryl have never been the best of
chums, but not enemies either. He has liked Daryl well enough; initially that was in deference to his
sister, who contended that he was the love of her life. Sterling had heard this before about every other
mec du jour; sadly he would never hear it again. But Daryl and Sterling had never had much else in
common. That Daryl was the one who ran over Susan, leading to her death, was an incident that had
obsessed, actually catatonized, the boy for the past almost four months. The event, as well as the
horrible irony associated with it, has troubled Sterling for the past four days, ever since he was told
about it. He had not gotten visibly angry with Daryl, however. A cold shower had frozen his anger and
brought him to reason. Among all the people he knew, Daryl had to be described as the most Christian.
Sterling is pretty much an agnostic, especially since Susan’s death, but he has nothing but respect for
the strength of Daryl’s belief. Some of the Mormon beliefs Sterling finds a bit bizarre; but as he often
says “If it’s not bizarre, it’s not religion.” He finds his Orthodox faith no less bizarre, just bizarre in a
different fashion. And unlike the Trips, who also hold deep religious convictions, Daryl is at least not
such a hypocrite. He is a very honest person, which is all the more ironic in that he had been so slow in
reporting the hit-and-run. Sterling can only imagine how much this is tearing him up inside. From the
moment the car had slid into a silhouette walking along the darkened road, the issue had never been a
legal one. The torment for Daryl had been moral. He has been literally searching his soul and seeking
God’s help over the past months. Eventually it dawned on him that the law of man required certain
actions; it was this realization that had brought him to Sterling. He has not been avoiding the law,
Sterling would tell the lawyer; man’s law had not existed for Daryl these past sixteen weeks. When he
eventually decided to come forward, he confided in Sterling, the victim’s brother, and he even asked
that the arrest be made by his father. He had actually wanted Sterling to hit him, to administer some
sort of primal justice at the animal level. He had wanted Sterling to heal; if striking Daryl was a step to
achieving that end, so be it. Sterling did not strike Daryl, of course. Not only would it have been
against the fighters’ code to hit a civilian, but it would not have helped Sterling to heal. He knows this
without having to think about it. Sterling, however, is being pushed toward the line, on the other side
of which is written: I AM FED UP. He questions whether he has yet fully come to grips with Susan’s
death; certainly his parents have not finished grieving. That they will now know the details may help
the family to heal; most likely it won’t. Healing is not about knowing details.
      Sterling thumbs through his stack of #10 envelopes to be dutifully surrendered to the lawyers.
Each has been previously opened, its contents consumed, and then replaced in its carrier, all very
neatly. Sterling is big on tidiness. The lawyers had asked him to bring all relevant documents; he had
grabbed his inbox in compliance. Sitting beside him Daryl is listening to a download, the Mormon
Tabernacle Choir’s recent release of American Folk Hymns & Spirituals. Sterling can hear what seeps
out the headphones. Nothing on his mind worries Daryl, nor should it, with Sterling beside him.
Without being asked Sterling had accepted the job of being Daryl’s worry-wart, much in the manner
William serves his own needs. Since Sterling’s own legal issues pale in comparison with those of
friend, offering a helping hand is the least he can do. Daryl’s predicament has sidelined Sterling’s own
for the moment, a subsidiary benefit. He now feels more confident in facing his own problems, since
they are relatively minuscule. Taking on the role of Daryl’s spokesman with gusto, Sterling has
concocted an elaborate theory to explain to the lawyers why events happened as they did. The boy, of
course, thinks he has a theory to explain almost everything in life, but what he offers in this case is not
a theory per se, rather a view of events with rational and plausible explanations. First, Daryl is an
extremely bad driver. No one can dispute this, certainly not the first three DMV personnel who failed
him on his road test (Each could be a witness, if it please the court). Daryl, Susan had said, should
have never been given his license, which he supposedly earned on the fourth attempt. North Carolina
does not have a limit on the number of times one can try to pass the test; Daryl is exhibit number one
for those advocating tougher regulations to keep bad drivers off the state’s roads. Second, one needs to
examine the weather and overall driving conditions for February 14. Wasn’t there a blizzard, a one-
hundred year rain and thunder storm or other climatic anomaly that prevented Daryl from seeing Susan,
the sole pedestrian on the side of the road? Actually, no. The weather for last Valentine’s evening
reflected the seasonal average, dry, with the temperature falling to about 40 degrees. If the weather had
been poor, perhaps Daryl would have been paying better attention. That is the very point Sterling
offers. Third, was Daryl undergoing some personal trauma that interfered with his concentration, such
as the unbearable grief over the death of a parent? In this regard, Sterling is more hopeful.
       In fact, Susan and her boyfriend on that fateful day had had an argument, actually only a
discussion, and not a very heated one at that. Sterling had listened to one end of it, when Susan was
walking down the hall yabbering away. That was when she still occupied the room Sterling now
enjoys, which he had moved into full time on the very night of her death. After her death his parents
had refused to leave the room as some sort of memorial to their slain daughter. It was they who had
insisted that Sterling keep the room; “It’s what she would have wanted,” they said. Sterling had his
doubts. He and his sister loved each other, but over the years they had had constant fights over the
unfairness (according to Sterling) of her having the room with attached bath while he had endured all
his life in one of the tiny corridor closets, which recently had so briefly served in congregate the
nocturnal needs of the Trips. After her death Susan would have definitely wanted Sterling NOT to have
the room; a memorial seemed a bit over the top; a well decorated guest room Susan would have found
more acceptable. After years of battle, it had finally been decided – the morning of Valentine’s Day –
by family vote (3 to 1) that the siblings would switch rooms for six months, the very move Sterling was
effecting at the moment he received a phone call from hospital admissions. It was he who on the
following day had wanted to return to the original room plan. That idea was nixed by his then grieving
parents. Pandely had even lost his cool: “Look, son, if nothing else good comes of Suzie’s death, at
least we won’t have any more bickering over the rooms. Not another fuckin’ word from you.” That
was the only time his father had ever thrown out the f-word that Sterling could recall.
       The room battles had once been a source of amusement in the Eumorfopoulos household. In this
matter Susan was an unholy mix of advocating women’s liberation and “first come, first served” rights.
The decade’s long fight on who gets which room was finally over. It may seem heartless for the
parents to recognize this cessation of battle as a positive, indeed welcome, result of Susan’s death;
Sterling said it was at best an unacceptable benefit. His father had won the argument over his son not
by words; his victory came at the moment when he physically blocked his son from undoing the move
he had just finished. Pandely had simply made a threatening fist, something so out of character for him
that Sterling had realized that he better leave bad enough alone; he was willing to suffer with the better
room, however unfairly obtained. Susan’s abrupt passing, which had hit the family so hard, was still
too recent an event for Catherine, Pandely and Sterling to reflect on the humor provided by the clashes
their children had had over the rooms. The parents had viewed this as low theater (high theater was
serious discussions over dinner), as their children came up with wilder and wilder rationales why one
or the other should get the bigger room. (“Boys need rooms to entertain; girls go over to their
boyfriends or to hotels,” was one of Sterling’s less than successful arguments.) Once the kids had
moved the discussion into the European theater, both at the time studying medieval history in school.
Susan supported absolute primogeniture, Sterling agnatic succession. He said she was a whore to
birthright; she called him a male chauvinist piglet and slapped him for being called a prostitute; he said
she wouldn’t know a metaphor if one pinched her “plump bottomless behind,” an insult which forced
him to lock himself in the safety of the gym for the entire afternoon.
       The phone conversation that Susan and Daryl had had early Valentine’s evening concerned her
refusal to let Daryl pick her up. He didn’t understand why she wouldn’t let him make the short drive;
she didn’t want to give him the real reason: she did not want to ride in a car he drove. (Such a petty
excuse, Sterling had thought). She insisted on driving whenever the two went out, saying she needed
the practice. If he had picked her up, how could she use that excuse and insist they change drivers?
These details were educated speculation on Sterling’s part; Daryl had been driving for less time than
Sterling, despite his being almost two years older. At the stroke of twelve announcing the arrival of his
fifteenth birthday, Sterling had insisted his parents’ sign the necessary form so he could get his a
learners permit that very afternoon. His parents asked if it couldn’t wait until breakfast. He replied:
why not now? He won, and later that day obtained the first of several provisional licenses along a
bureaucratic path that will eventually lead to a NC drivers’ permit at age eighteen. Daryl had gotten a
full license at eighteen only when forced to by his parents; Susan’s phone call had ended with her
saying that he wasn’t going to fetch her and that she would get there on her own. This implied she
would take Catherine’s car, which wasn’t the case, since it was Sterling’s for the weekend, according to
their negotiated, non-renegotiable schedule. After she had left, Daryl had called on the family phone
line. Susan was not picking up her cell. Sterling said that she had left, on foot, and would be at Daryl’s
in about an hour. At that point Daryl had decided to fetch her. Three months after her death, Sterling
still feels guilty. He should have loaned her the car. Or he should have known better than to tell Daryl
that Susan was walking. And he should not have added, “She doesn’t like your driving,” which could
be interpreted in several ways. Sterling, who normally speaks grammatically correct English saying
exactly what he intends, even with his peers, had not said: She doesn’t like you driving. He had said
what he meant: Susan didn’t like the way Daryl drove. She would do nothing to encourage him to
drive, he implied. He did not know if Daryl had picked up on this; now it is too much an after-the-fact
kind of question to ask him. Sterling in his mind is still trying to figure out the esoteric points of
grammar, which he suspects he may have wrong, as the train bumps to a stop.
       They arrive at Stacy James legal corporation with some minutes to spare. Sterling deposits Daryl
in the waiting room. He submits the #10 envelopes to the receptionist so the lawyer can review them
before their meeting. He then talks with the accountant. He is shown a copy of the check that retained
his legal team. The check was drawn on his parent’ joint account over his father’s signature. Sterling
has no idea where Pandely has found $15,000. He surely doesn’t keep that kind of cash in the checking
account. As government employees his parents have decent, if modest, annual incomes (together about
$70,000, after taxes but before mortgage payment and insurance premiums, which are sizable, and
earmarked withholdings, also mysteriously large). They neither skimp nor live hand-to-mouth. Yet
their incomes do not permit a lot of savings. Sterling suspects there are some college funds set up by
his grandparents, but he is not certain. As in most other families, the Eumorfopoulos general financial
situation is never discussed between parents and children, now child. The household operates under
some general conventions: Sterling himself is indulged in terms of electronics, sports and education. In
contrast, his sister was always low maintenance; she had the large suite (actually larger than the master
bedroom); she asked for nothing else and lived on a below-average clothes and entertainment
allowance. Sterling has a good set of eyes and ears, however; he could construct a fairly accurate
family budget if asked. Sterling knows that he himself does not come cheap. He certainly takes care of
at least one of their salaries all by himself. His fancy schooling is expensive, even if much of it is paid
by scholarship, details of which he has never been privy to. He is not certain how much, exactly. Even
with Susan gone, there could not be much cash dead-ending in the checking account. Sterling knows
the real reason they did not buy a kids’ car is the money issue: a decent car, two teenagers and
insurance…this was never in the plans, not with the family’s limited cash flow. Sterling also knows
that his father puts aside part of his check toward the gym, which is more hobby than income source.
That’s a private account to which Sterling has never been allowed access; Sterling’s never been able to
discover where his father keeps the passbook. Sterling’s part of the boxing enterprise breaks even. But
his father is always helping out his boxers, for example, paying for meals and hotels when they go to
tournaments. The two who have made it to the pros never subsequently earned much prize money; in
any case they never shared any winnings with Pandely who had discovered them, who in fact was one
of their financial backers. Thus boxing as a family investment has not yet paid off. Sterling is going to
have to dig into his own pockets if he is going to push the middle Hernández into the Silvers. The gym
itself is not a big drain on cash flow, however. Sterling is always finding equipment on Craigslist or
through government excess property auctions, which P.A.L. managed somehow to bid on, flipping over
the items at cost to Vegas. Boxing gyms are becoming scarcer in the USA; many universities, include
Harvard – where Theodore Roosevelt, JFK and Norman Mailer boxed – no longer include boxing in
their sport’s offerings; the US military has downsized its boxing support; neighborhood clubs are
becoming fewer and fewer. Vegas Gym was initially not that expensive to equip; Pandely himself had
built the 16x16 ring over a weekend with some Army buddies. The materials cost $2,800, including the
platform, corner posts, canvas, one inch manila rope, turnbuckles and covers, corner cushions, rope
spacers, foam padding, retainer rings, grommets, eye hooks, picture frame holder (to hold down the
canvas), etc. The food and booze for the construction buddies added another 10%. Sterling had passed
along all the receipts to Senior’s accountant who works pro bono for the Vegas’ 501(c)(3).
     After Sterling introduces Daryl to attorney Robert Young, the boys all go back to the latter’s
cubical. As apparently befits his ranking on the totem pool, Young has a windowless space, which he
explains is just temporary while the new one is being decorated. Perhaps the better your acquittal rate,
the more attractive the digs, Sterling wonders. Or perhaps a high conviction rate earns you an office
like Young’s.
      Sterling’s neat pile of #10 envelopes have been raped open, the content letters misarranged among
other junk that clutter’s the lawyer’s desk. After introductions Sterling starts to summarize the facts of
the hit-and-run. He is stopped immediately by the attorney, who wants Daryl to do the talking. He
doesn’t even want Sterling present but Daryl, the potential client, does. The lawyer informs Sterling,
therefore, that if he chooses to stay, he must remain quiet. His appointment with members of his own
legal team is scheduled at the half hour. This introductory meeting with Daryl is the quarter-hour
freebie (advertised so successfully on midnight cable) to establish whether they will become lawyer
and client. Daryl has the floor.
      “I struck her. It’s all a blur but I know I hit her. When I got back home I just knew I had hit
someone. And then the next day my parents learned about it from someone..”
      “…A friend of my father was making the calls,” Sterling interjects.
      The attorney is certainly confused. One boy claims to have hit a girl with his car. The other,
Sterling, is somehow involved.
      “We need to start at the beginning. Sterling, why are you concerned with this?”
      “I’m the one who Daryl first talked to. And I talked with you,” he explains in answering a
question to which Young should already know the answer.
      “Yes, I know that. But why are you involved? Were you in the car?”
      Sterling realizes why Young is a bit baffled.
      “Susan, the victim of the accident, she was my sister.”
      The lawyer is taken aback. He looks down at the papers on his desk, thinks for a moment and
then rises.
      “Sterling, you need to go to the waiting room, immediately. We have a possible conflict here. I
need to talk to Mr. James. Daryl, you wait here.”
      Sterling figures it’s best not to protest. He starts to head off to the waiting room but has second
thoughts and says to the lawyer:
      “I understand. I’ll just stay with him until you get back. We won’t talk.”
      James is not comfortable with that proposition.
      “Not a word. No communication whatsoever.”
      Sterling nods. For the next five minutes the boys sit in the room, occasionally looking at each
other in silence. James returns a few minutes later.
      “Here’s what we’ll do. I’m going to escort Daryl upstairs to another law firm, Aaron & Smythe.
They will take your case, Daryl; we just spoke to Mr. Aaron who will speak with you personally in a
few minutes. He’s Jewish, is that a problem?
      “No,” Daryl says. “I’m not Jewish,” he explains, unsure why. Mr. Young shrugs and continues,
talking to Sterling.
      “Here’s the condition we must impose on you, Sterling, since you are our client. We want to
avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest. That’s why I can’t take your friend as a client. We’re
already representing you, even if it’s on another matter. And we may likely have to give you legal
advice on this matter, since you have knowledge of the alleged crime ex post facto and may be called to
give evidence and thus need legal representation, which is what you are keeping us busy doing. The
condition is this: you must desist communicating with Daryl on this matter. It is best if you have no
contact with him whatsoever, which would solve the communication problem. That’s what I
recommend, but that’s not a condition. You understand the condition?”
      “Yes, sir,” Sterling says. Mr. James nods that he has received that commitment from Sterling and
he escorts Daryl away. Sterling assumes he’s supposed to wait in the office for Young to return.
Instead, a secretary arrives to fetch him for his meeting with Stacy James and the firm’s plea bargain
specialist Barry Pitt.
      Mr. James’ office is much more what Sterling had expected to see for a lawyer who drives a 750i
and appears to charge Sterling by the half-minute. It’s all wood and leather, even if faux antiques as
Sterling imagines. Some Civil War relics or replicas adorn the walls.
      “As you know, we met with Mr. Miles and Ms. Abernathy this morning. We have two bits of
good news. Whatever happens you won’t be getting your friend Judge Winters. We’ll be in District
Court. Also, the DA won’t be going after you for felonious dissemination of pornography to minors,”
James says, nodding to Robert Young who just enters the room. Young adds mostly for Sterling’s
      “That’s very good news because we don’t want to be involved with Section 14-190.7,
dissemination to minors under the age of sixteen years or to minors under the age of thirteen years,
which is the next paragraph. Of course, they should not be able to prosecute under those statutes
because Sterling is not a “person eighteen years of age or older who knowingly disseminates to any
minor,” he says using his two fingers on each hand to indicate the quote. “However,” he continues,
“Section 14-190.15 ‘Disseminating harmful material to minors; exhibiting harmful performances to
minors’ has no such age restriction. But it’s only a Class 1 misdemeanor while the other two are both
Class 1 felonies. This DA prefers felonies, I assume.”
      “Yes, it’s not much of a gift from the DA, but it’s the thought that counts.”
      Everyone chuckles, except Sterling, who doesn’t understand legal humor. Also he has a
foreboding, the type he doesn’t like having. James continues:
      “The DA made a big deal of this and implied they were going light on you only because you
provided the video under transactional immunity. Without that video they could not have taken further
       “What action?” Sterling quickly asks. James continues:
       “First, the DA on Friday instituted an action in district court under the Law on the Protection of
Minors from Harmful Materials, Section 19-9, for adjudication of the question of whether Smiley Boy
is indeed harmful to minors. Your video is what is called ‘a true copy of the alleged harmful material’.
If they get a favorable ruling, they’ll go after the film’s Durham-based distributors…the postal box
       “I can see the TV crew interviewing Mr. Miles outside the PO boxes. This, of course, will not
hurt Mr. Miles in his election next year,” adds Barry Pitt.
       “This type of case only rears its ugly head in election years,” Mr. James says, adding off-handedly
to Sterling: “No pun intended.”
       “None taken,” Sterling responds, already immune to Smiley Boy jokes at his expense. That type
of humor he understands, inappreciably.
       “At this time the DA would like to pursue felony indecent exposure...”
       Mr. Young is eager to say something, but Mr. James waves him off. The senior partner of the
eponymous firm continues. He opens up a statute book and puts on his reading glasses to quote:
       Unless the conduct is prohibited by another law providing greater punishment, any person at least
18 years of age who shall willfully expose the private parts of his or her person in any public place in
the presence of any other person less than 16 years of age for the purpose of arousing or gratifying
sexual desire shall be guilty of a Class H felony.
       “That seems pretty clear language to me, even for a statute,” he continues. “That section does not
apply to 17 year old Sterling. The DA argued in our meeting that Sterling should be treated as an adult.
He implied that he could find “another law providing greater punishment.” Misuse of state property,
i.e., shooting the video in a UNC dorm room. We have a lot of statutes, a lot of oddities from before
the Civil War; I don’t know what he’ll find. We’ll have to wait a bit. Perhaps he’s bluffing, been
watching too many Law & Order reruns. I am almost certain he is bluffing. Maybe he is going
through the motions, acquiescing to what Judge Winters wants. Winters might want to twist the law to
consider you an adult, but he’s not presiding in this case, fortunately. But we certainly want to avoid a
felony here. Felony indecent exposure charges are the only ones that qualify for the SOR and we want
to keep you off that. In any case, the bad news is that they will certainly at least pursue misdemeanor
indecent exposure.”
       “But I had immunity,” Sterling quickly inserts.
       “Which was revoked when you refused to answer questions.”
       “Can they do that?” Sterling asks.
       James turns to his colleague Heather Wiley. She says:
       “I’ve reviewed your version of the transcript and we can certainly argue witness incompetence.
In other words, they didn’t give you proper instruction so you didn’t know the rules. Using handcuffs,
dragging you from your birthday party, we can paint a fairly sinister picture. There was no Miranda.
They’ll say they weren’t arresting you, but then why use cuffs? There was certainly intimidation. Of
course, you had a lawyer outside the jury room, but your age is a mitigating element. Given this judge,
however, and your history with this judge, we’re not likely to win the first round. It’s possibly
something for any appeal if they try to use your testimony or the video.”
       “Fine, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Think about some motions, Heather. Hold off preparing
them; we don’t want to run up Sterling’s bill unnecessarily.”
       Sterling lets out a cackle at this remark, which he considers a deceit masquerading as humor. No
one else laughs. In any case, Mr. James motions for Barry Pitt to continue:
       “As Stacy noted the DA was eager for a felony. He says that in this state if you’re over 16, you’re
treated as an adult, despite what a particular statute says. He said that treating indecent exposure as a
misdemeanor trivializes it, lumps it in with “Mickey Mouse” offenses like spitting on the sidewalk or
picking a rose from a public garden. That’s not what the Legislature intended when it wrote the statute,
he said. We first tendered a pre-trial diversion or conditional discharge, or even a deferred prosecution,
given the two year statute of limitations on misdemeanors. These were dismissed out of hand; that’s
never a good sign. Then we suggested a guilty plea on only the Class 2 misdemeanor – exposure – in
exchange for a hundred hours CS and a pysch write-up. They countered: pleas on both the harmful
materials and exhibition, 45 plus 30 days community punishment, a $11,000 (which includes $1000 for
the Class 2) and a year of obligatory counseling.
      This is too much for the youngest attorney present, Robert Young who jumps up and speaks
without bothering to ask permission.
      “That’s not negotiation. They’re offering the max community punishment. Fines for a Class 1
misdemeanor are at the discretion of the Court, as per Section15A-1340.23. But $10,000, that’s just
begging for an appeal!” he says. Young realizes he’s lost his cool and sits down, but not before
muttering “cruel and unusual punishments,” referring to the U.S. Constitution’s Eight Amendment,
which begins: “‘Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and
unusual punishments…”
      Barry Pitt continues:
      “As negotiations go, we’re not yet seeing eye-to-eye. The next step is yours, Sterling. By the
way Mr. Miles showed off the morning’s paper with an article saying how tough the recent grand jury
had been on pornography and an editorial saying it was now up to the district attorney “elected as a
servant of the people” to go after smut. Then he said your parents were good people, as we departed.”
      Mr. James takes over:
      “Yeah, it’s all about the election. So we’re looking at the two charges: one, distributing and
exhibiting harmful materials and, two, indecent exposure. We can plead on both, fight both or do each
separately. That gives you four choices.”
      “I understand,” says Sterling. James continues:
      “Of course we will continue to argue that you cannot be charged with a felony if it comes to that,
but I don’t think it will. If he disinters some statute from the 1700s, we’ll just make him look like a
fool. Anyway, we needed to test the plea bargain waters. Our strongest argument is that there was, of
course, no indecent exposure and no handling of harmful materials. The video captures what happened
in a private space, although one owned by the State of North Carolina, among consenting adults. You
are neither the owner nor the distributor of the video in question. Furthermore, you have to ask
‘indecent exposure to whom?’ Who’s being harmed? What victim is going to testify? All in all, this is
not a winnable case for the DA. This has more to do with political ambition than it has to do with the
law. Miles will play in out in the media, but at the end of the day, he will not get a conviction. He will
only win votes.”
      “You can guarantee that?” Sterling asks.
      “There are no guarantees in life, boy. No sure things. But I think the DA here is only going to
create himself a courtroom farce. Anyone else have something to say on this?” James points to Robert
Young, who knows the morality statutes verbatim and has a similar grasp of the relevant case law.
      “If I may play the devil’s advocate. State v Fly, 348 N.C. 556 (1998) – That’s the case, you’ll
remember, sir, in which the judges said the buttocks in Carolina are not ‘private parts’ but that the anus
and genitals are. Newspapers had a field day, saying that the supreme court collectively mooned the
public, their arguments careful not to show holes or leave anything dangling. Anyway, it ruled inter
alia that the statute does not go to what the victim saw but to what defendant exposed in the victim’s
presence without the victim’s consent. Furthermore, in State v Fusco, 136 N.C. App. 268 (1999) the
SC ruled that the victim’s testimony was not required to substantiate the charge since the State only
needs to show that defendant was exposing himself and that victim was present during the exposure
and could have seen had she looked. As for the public space issue, in the same case the judges ruled
that if a place is open to the public for access, it is also open to the public view and it cites Black’s Law
Dictionary on accessibility and viewability in its definition of ‘public.’ By the way, The US Court of
Appeals, Fourth Circuit, referred to both these cases in United States v. Phalan. In that case the man
received two years probation, a $75 fine and 100 hours of CS. Anyway, you apply all this to the
internet, sir, and one can argue that the DA does not need to produce a sole victim who saw the
exposure, the exposure itself is sufficient. It’s a messy area. I suppose you’d have to produce evidence
that the video was broadcast to the public; that could be difficult. I don’t know if YouTube would
voluntarily hand over its records. I’m not a media expert and there are several Con Law issues raised.
There’s much worth including now, setting up for a possible appeal.”
       Various lawyers turn to Professors O’Connor and Drake (ret.) who have been sitting in the corner,
silently observing the legal minds at work. They nod but say nothing.
       “You’re saying the DA could win?” Sterling asks to no one in particular. Young answers:
       “I don’t know the competence of this particular DA. He seems pretty much like a politician with
a mail-order law degree. But a competent DA could present a strong case, yes,” Young says without
answering Sterling’s question. Sterling, of course, knows the question has not been answered and that,
in itself, is a sufficient answer.
       When Smiley Boy was shot some sixteen weeks before, Sterling had no idea (because he had
never thought about it) that there was a law specifically against indecent exposure, not to mention
several supreme court decisions interpreting that law, as well as a federal ruling. Law is not his field
and he hasn’t committed the North Carolina statutes to memory. Sterling is not naïve; he knows that
society in general frowns upon exhibitionism; some friends whose parents are nudists are always
complaining of harassment even when sunbathing on private islands off of Wilmington. Sterling,
himself, does not see much use in such a law; he prefers the way that many European countries deal
with the subject: ignoring it.
       North Carolina in most respects is conservative enough for Sterling. He would like to see
speedier justice, however. The state only sent off 43 murderers between 1984 and 2006. As of last
April 9th (around the time Sterling was writing a paper on this subject, then as now having command
of all the relevant statistics) 150 men and four women still resided on death row, with the state
providing three-squares, medical coverage, limited entertainment and recreation while they waiting for
their lethal injections. His parents, Sara, William and most everyone he knows share with the
Europeans a distaste for state-sanctioned murder. In fact, there’s been no execution in North Carolina
since 2006 and Sterling thinks the state is wasting a lot of taxpayers’ money in delaying jury-ordered
punishment. It’s not that capital punishment makes economic sense. Sterling got his hands on an
advance copy of a journal article due out in December that says that repeal of the death penalty could
save the state $11 million annually, mostly relating to extra defense costs for capital cases in the trial
phase, extra payments to jurors, post-conviction costs, resentencing hearings, and the extra costs to the
prison system. This grates on Sterling who is even more a fiscal conservative than he is a social
conservative. He hates to see the state forever wasting money and agrees with his Tea Party brothers-
in-arms that something must be done. The two DAs assigned to his own case are doing nothing
positive for the public good, just wasting money going after the most innocent of offenders, himself.
State resources should go to finding and punishing hardened criminals not stupid boys, he reasons. Yet
public exposure is taken seriously in North Carolina. And stupid justice sometimes prevails. He can
cite another example.
       Sterling, even though he has been recently unplugged, still has plugged-in friends. William had
last night given him a print-out concerning the case of Michael Bullard of Raleigh who was denied a
alarm systems business license on the grounds of lack of good moral character. Partly at issue was his
conviction for indecent exposure in the year 2000. Here is an extract of the decision of the
administrative law judge, who ruled in favor of Mr. Bullard:
       Petitioner’s conviction for indecent exposure in 1990 resulted from an incident in which Petitioner pulled
into a parking lot to investigate extreme pain in his groin area and was unknowingly observed by a woman
walking through the parking lot.
       Petitioner had been to the emergency room and subsequently to a urologist shortly before the incident, and
the urologist diagnosed him with a medical condition known as Epididymitis. Petitioner was prescribed pain
medication and an antibiotic for the condition. Epididymitis is an inflammation of the epididymis, which is a
mass of twisted ducts or tubes situated on the upper part of each testicle. The inflammation is usually caused by
infection and is painful.
       On December 20, 1989, while Petitioner was driving to a business meeting in Raleigh, he experienced
severe pain in his groin area. Petitioner decided to stop at a McDonald’s Restaurant to investigate what was
causing the pain. Because the McDonald’s was very crowded and Petitioner was pressed for time, he decided
not to use the restaurant’s bathroom but instead to drive to a secluded area of an adjacent shopping center
parking lot and examine himself there.
       Petitioner pulled into what he thought was a secluded parking space and examined himself while seated in
his truck. Petitioner’s truck had a prominent sign on the side door with the name and number of his business.
       A woman walking in the parking lot observed Petitioner while he was examining himself and became very
upset. The woman told Petitioner she was going to call the police and did call the police from her cell phone.
Petitioner voluntarily remained at his truck until the police arrived. The woman pressed charges and as a result,
Petitioner was charged with indecent exposure.
       Under the advice of his legal counsel, Petitioner pled guilty to the indecent exposure charge.
       Petitioner did not tell the woman who filed charges, the arresting officers or the trial court that his
urologist had recently diagnosed him with Epididymitis.
      Whether Sterling is as innocent as poor Mr. Bullard is not at issue. The point William was
making in giving Sterling this report is that indecent exposure in Carolina is an issue not unlike capital
punishment, in which emotion tends to obscure the legal, sociological or logical arguments. In other
words, it’s an issue that a cautious, conservative, risk-averse person should avoid. A court victory is far
from certain. And Sterling would not be given the opportunity to sweet talk a jury; he would face a
lone District judge.
      “And if I plead guilty and pay the fines and do the community service, will the conviction be part
of my permanent record?” Sterling asks. Young answers:
      “Not necessarily. Under ‘NCGS § 15A-145. Expunction’ convictions can be erased after two
years. There’s are conditions of good behavior and procedures to follow.”
      “Instead of pleading, if there’s a trial and I’m found guilty, is it still expugnable?”
      “Yes, same conditions and procedures. Guilty is guilty.”
      “I had that earlier PJC…” Sterling begins as he’s cut off by Mr. James.
      “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I think we’ve given Sterling enough so he can make a decision.
We told the DA we’d get back to him COB tomorrow. If you want an arrangement, tomorrow’s the
chance. There’s no reason to drag this out.”
      This leaves Sterling 24 hours to decide whether he’ll plead guilty or not guilty, take the best deal
he can get or stand trial. First, whether to call the DA’s bluff regarding a felony and then whether to
throw himself on the mercy of the Court, and cop a plea. Sterling suspects that he might not be
automatically eligible for an expungement of a guilty plea since he had had the earlier Prayer for
Judgment Continued for bikegate. One erasure of a conviction is all you get in North Carolina,
although the PJC is not technically a conviction. As far as he knows his record is technically clean.
Pandely had said he would make sure all the boys would have clean records, if they behaved
themselves. They had consequently all lived spotless youths. Even the Trips had had no post bikegate
arrests, much less convictions, but then their music career keeps them busy. Expungement is
something, Sterling fears, which his lawyers, billing at $350 per hour, would have to eventually work
out with the State bureaucracy of Justice. The deferred prosecution or punishment without a conviction
of the PJC had seemed so smart at the time. Little did he know that he was using his only trump. The
PJC had seemed unimportant five years ago; Judge Winters’ court was then all a game to Sterling, a
stage for showing off. Even Smiley Boy started out like a game. It is one no longer. The legal arena is
not an environment for game-playing, something maybe Sterling has finally learned.
      During this discussion Sterling was sensing that there could be various grounds for appeal if he
were convicted. That’s apparently why the non-verbal professors O’Connor and Drake were interested.
Were they lusting for a fight, a conviction and an appeal on Constitutional issues? If he pleads guilty,
however, an appeal is nearly impossible. There are only a limited number of proper grounds for appeal
for someone who pleads guilty (as opposed to one judged guilty in Court). One can appeal on the basis
of incompetent lawyers, of course. Also, if what Sterling were to admit to were not actually a crime or
if the court did not have jurisdiction over him. These are possibilities the lawyers could explore, but
not until later, for Mr. Miles, the chief lawyer, who liked to order his horses and carts, was adamant that
they “not get ahead of ourselves.” If Sterling appealed a plea bargain, he could possibly argue that
some of the evidence was tainted or that some of his various constitution rights had been denied; but if
that had been the case, why would he have pleaded guilty in the first place? He would have stood
before the court and agreed to the guilty plea. At that time he would have had to answer questions from
the court regarding whether he had had sufficient time to talk the matter over with his attorney, whether
he understood the ramifications of the plea, whether anyone had given him inducement to compel him
to take the plea, and so on. So, to go back on appeal and say that he didn’t know what he was doing
when he pleaded guilty would be like saying that he had committed perjury to the court. We then get
the old adage: “Were you lying then? or, are you lying now?” Because, at some point, he would have
lied to the court. At this point in time, pleading guilty doesn’t seem like a very good idea. Sterling will
have to sleep on this and get back to the legal team before close of business tomorrow.

Chapter 17
     On his way out, but before Sterling can successfully escape, he is introduced to another lawyer
and led back to a cubical along a separate corridor. He sits down in the cluttered office of this young
attorney, Denis Brockton. He is on the firm’s insurance team. Spread out before him are the several
#10 envelopes Sterling received from insurance companies. They deal with matters that had been
placed on the back burner and have subsequently slipped behind the stove. After introductions,
Brockton indicates one letter.
      “When Robert handed me these letters, he explained he was representing you on another matter
but that you may need our assistance here. He asked me to tell him what I thought, after a ten-second
perusal. You know what I said? I said you should get a lawyer. You know why I said that?”
      Sterling waits, thinking this is also a rhetorical question. It isn’t, so he answers:
      “Because, otherwise, you’re be dishonoring your sister’s memory. Have you had any other
contact with Dixie Carolina Mutual?” he asks.
      “No, just the letter. I had sent them an email saying that Susan was dead and that she should be
removed as a driver from my mother’s car. My parents allow me to deal with these matters,” he added
so that he didn’t look like he was committing yet another crime.
      “The letter came as a response to your email, is that correct?”
      “That’s correct.”
      “What do you want to do with the letter?” the lawyer asks.
      “Nothing myself. You can deal with it.”
      Brockton types and checks his monitor.
      “Dixie Carolina Mutual. Yes, it’s a growth company, doing quite well. $187-million of assets.
Net surplus of $9,495,051 in 2008. Let’s see, key officers…legal department.”
      The lawyer looks over the names on the monitor and compares them to who signed the letter and
then turns to Sterling.
       “Here’s what I propose, Sterling. Can I call you Sterling, Sterling? It’s convenient that we’re
dealing with the same insurance company here for two different policies. But let me first work on this
letter, the hit-and-run. Let me send a response to the boss of the guy who sent you this letter. I won’t
characterize this letter as insulting, but some would. I’ll ask for a meeting to discuss the letter. Let me
ask you a difficult question?”
       Sterling waits. It seems that Mr. Brockton is waiting for a response.
       “Your sister, I’m sure you miss her very much. Her death was tragic. And being so sudden, it
must have been very traumatic. You can’t really put a value on the unfulfilled lives of young men and
women who die before their time. Sure there are tables that can project earnings over a lifetime,
discounting for inflation, but when it comes down to it, it’s difficult, not to mention crass, to put a price
tag on an individual’s life. Nevertheless, insurance companies have to do it. That’s their business. My
question to you is: do you think your sister is worth more than the $10,000 they are offering to pay
your family?”
       “Yes, of course.”
       “Fine. I know it’s difficult, even distasteful, to come up with a more accurate figure, but in a case
like this…” he says as Sterling abruptly says:
       “At least three more zeros. She’s worth at least a thousand times that.”
       “Fine. Since we don’t know who the driver is, it’s only your insurer we must deal with.”
       “We know the other driver. It was an accident. It was her boyfriend. He’s upstairs turning
himself into Mr. Aaron.”
       “Oh. That’s fine. Let me warn you that North Carolina is a pure contributory negligence state.
Which means that even if the victim is found 1% at fault in an accident, you can’t recover damages for
your injuries. That’s why insurance companies often try and shift any amount of blame they can onto
pedestrians and bicyclists in the hopes of avoiding paying on a claim altogether when their policy-
owner hits a pedestrian. Two insurance companies will have to work something out. Who knows if
either of them will be willing to keep its end of the bargain. Nevertheless, we need to protect your
rights, the rights of your mother and father, the rights of your sister’s estate. We need to get this
moving and examine the fine print on the policies. You’ll have to give me those and I’ll need
authorization from your parents in order to proceed. I’ll give you a form for them to sign. Generally,
insurance companies are better at collecting premiums than with disbursements. You can take care of
this matter on your own; I hear you are a very bright boy. There may be legal complications; it’s too
early to tell. Or we can handle it. It’s your call.”
       Sterling asks what the law corporation will charge.
       “Normally, on personal injury we work on a 33% contingency basis. But you being a regular
client and this is not being strictly PI; it’s estate work. We can bill you by the hour against a 10%
contingency, whichever is greater.”
       “Yeah, whatever, draw up the papers.”
       Brockton has already done that and gives them to Sterling to read. He does, corrects a typo and
signs. He takes the form for his parents.
       “Original copies, not faxes,” Brockton adds.
       Sterling is able to leave the office without another legal ambush. He takes the elevator up to
Aaron & Smythe LLC, a company being a step down from a legal corporation, Sterling figures. Daryl
in still meeting with Mr. Aaron, who has cancelled an afternoon golf lesson to fit the boy in. Their
meeting is expected to last another hour. This is all Sterling needs to know. He borrows the phone,
explains the situation briefly in a call to William and calls in a favor. Under a communications
embargo concerning Daryl, Sterling is doing the next best thing: he relies on William.
       On the elevator down, there is another legal ambush of sorts, this time in reverse. The elevator
stops and picks us none other than Professor Hunter O’Connor. The two of them alone in the elevator,
Sterling asks the lawyer in her capacity as a constitutional expert, where his stronger appeal would lie.
“Just for the sake of argument,” he says, “Let’s say I plead guilty to one charge but not the other.
Which would have a better chance in an appeal?” Her response is non-committal: “That’s hard to say.”
Undaunted, he tries again: “Which charge is more problematic, constitutionally speaking?” he asks.
“Maybe that’s not the right question to ask,” she suggests. “Which alleged crime carries more weight?
Take the example of a murder that’s committed during a burglary. This is very complicated and
involves the felony murder rule but I’m using it to illustrate something different. Here the state
obviously focuses on the murder, which is the more serious offence and likely more difficult to
prosecute. The burglary is necessary but relatively speaking it is unimportant and pled out, with no
negatives because the DA puts all its eggs in the murder basket. This is a simplistic example, but
normally, a client would plead guilty to the lesser offence and concentrate on the greater. In your case,
however, the event they are alleging as exposure is a precondition for the dissemination allegation.
Both raise serious constitutional issues, as the young lawyer pointed out. It’s extremely unlikely,
however, that enforcement issues surrounding an anti-exhibitionist statute will get anywhere in the
federal courts, whereas dissemination inevitably involves interstate commerce. It’s a more sexy topic,
no pun intended. In terms of defining obscenity, which is the central issue, either suffices, but since
dissemination obviously involves interstate commerce, it’s the more likely to make its way up the
judicial hierarchy. I’m not sure if this helps,” she says as the elevator door opens. Sterling is not sure,
either, but she provided more data to be assorted before he makes a decision.
      He then waits outside the building for Daryl, munching on his lunch: celery, carrots and some
fruit. Sara’s diet does not provide many carbs but at least he’s guaranteed of making weight, not to
mention receiving more than the minimum daily requirement of roughage. Sterling suspects his friend
will not be formally arrested until the lawyer makes arrangements with the Durham police which prefer
to work in their own jurisdiction (His father is reluctant even to drive the patrol car to Raleigh). His
hunch is correct.
      The BMW heads on the well-trodden I-40 towards Durham. Sterling lays out across the back
seat of the X5, his mind on other matters (he has borrowed Daryl’s mp3), while Daryl updates William,
explaining the accident and his legal situation. Daryl is upbeat; William is too stunned to do anything
but pay attention to the road, even more than usual. With active cruise control set at 52 mph, he resides
in the far right lane, allowing the world to pass him by. Among other interesting comments, Daryl says
he looks forward to spending his two missionary years among a captive audience. After they take
Daryl home, William summarizes Daryl’s situation and time-line for arrest to Sterling, who is then
dropped off at the Durham police station. He waits around until his father quits for the day and they
walk home together, Sterling talking, his father listening. Later at the kitchen table, the complete
family assembled, they discuss Susan’s death. Both parents sign the form provided by the attorney.
Sara is not present, having excused herself, at Sterling’s suggestion after he tells her the nature of the
gathering. This particular family discussion is about as sober as these things get. It lasts thirty
minutes, after which Pandely and Sterling go down to the gym.
      Sara emerges from what used to be Susan’s room. Her very presence consoles Catherine,
although she doesn’t think she needs comfort. Catherine, in her profession, confronts death, dying,
grief and grieving as well as life’s other unfortunate condiments on an almost daily basis. She
sometimes views her own daughter’s death in a detached way, her grief sublimated in an increased
workload, or in the tough love attitudes she has recently shown her son. She’s a bit less icy to Sara
than to others in the family – Bucephalus has learned not to ask her to fill up her bowl – but any
warmth she was formerly known for having died with her daughter. The two were more than close.
Catherine and Susan had the connection that most mothers and daughters dream of and few achieve.
Perhaps that was because neither woman could be close to the men of the household; their downstairs
male lair was off-limits to the women: full of manly arts, male bonding and untold secrets. Only Susan
had much influence on Sterling. For example, initially her brother had opposed opening the pee-wees
to girls, offering a variety of excuses (no separate changing facilities, so few girls would mean they’d
be bored having to spar only among themselves, etc.). He changed his mind after Susan marveled out
loud that P.A.L. as an organization was much more open- and fair-minded than her sexist brother. “You
better hope they don’t find out who you really are,” she had said. He relented; and later appreciated
that decision. It was not the first time Sterling had to be shamed into better behavior, a tactic Susan had
skillfully deployed over the years. She could rarely reason with her brother. She had much more
success if she could point out that his actions, or the perception of his actions, poorly reflected the
exalted image he held of himself. Sterling especially did not appreciate being called a hypocrite, a
class populated by the Trips and their kind. He has always prided himself in being honorable, part of
the Southern tradition, however he defined his code of honor. If shame worked for Susan, guilt by
contrast proved a worthless strategy. Sterling had rarely felt guilt about anything; at best he had
occasional misgivings, which were always washed away with time. Sterling, always, has been more
concerned with who he is rather than what he does. His is a consciousness of guilt, rather than a guilt
per se.
       Sara had in common with Susan a keen interest in astronomy. The men in the house could not be
bothered and Catherine herself was a bit too science-oriented to give the subject serious thought. Sara
had known Susan for as long as she had known Sterling; astrology and what it says about love and
relationships was a topic they could spend hours on, especially now with so many published forecasts
and do-it-yourself kits available on the internet. Catherine had indulged her daughter on this subject;
she did the same for Sara, which seemed only fair. An inexhaustible topic among the women was the
extent to which Sterling was a real Gemini.
       Delivered at Durham Regional Hospital on May 29th, Sterling himself has never felt like the
Gemini he is supposed to be. From his first exploration of the subject at age seven, he figured
astrology to be a “bunch of bunk” (he had had his mouth washed out for using the term he preferred).
Sure, he believes that mysteries, certain unknowns, still exist in the universe. Particular systems and
physical laws currently defy rational understanding as they go beyond man’s present intellectual
capacity. Nothing illustrates man’s cerebral limitations as much as the confusion among physicists
over string theory and whether this intellectual conjecture can bind together a Theory of Everything,
finally explaining in mathematical symbols the elegance of a Higher design. For the boy string theory
is at best a fad, at worse a hoax; he will buy it only if it can be proven. Sterling is too cautious,
however, to dismiss astrology out-of-hand. Its hocus-pocus is not what bothers him. Rather it just
makes no sense to him personally. In other words he is unable to deduce that he is no Gemini. Over
the centuries astrology developed inductively – based on years of anecdotal evidence: people born
under a particular sign appeared to share common characteristics. He accepts the way newspaper
astrology works, enunciating for each sign enough vague, even conflicting, qualities so it can please, or
accommodate, everyone. Still, the signs differentiate types of people. Granted, some of Gemini’s
attributes fit Sterling; but he believes that most of them do not. In his discussions with Sara, who like
his sister generally accepts celestial clairvoyance – thus discussing the value of astrology is pointless
because belief systems cannot be subjected to rational argument – he obtained the Gemini profile from
the web and corrected it so it fit himself. Here are his annotations of a summary of the Gemini man
from something he had picked off the eAstrolog.com website:
                                                    Gemini Man
       …a gregarious human being, a good company, who loves parties and people in general. His mind is
       never tired, he has a quick understanding, he likes communicating and he has a good sense of humour
       and brilliant replies. He can’t stand routine, he loves freedom and exercise.
                The Gemini man doesn’t seem to get old either mentally or physically as if he were Faust and
       signed a pact for eternal youth. Moreover, he often behaves as if he lived a continuous adolescence.
        When he likes a girl, he pays court to her almost in a rudimentary way, with no guitar and serenades:
        “Do you want to? Ok!” or “You don’t want to?! It’s your loss”. It couldn’t be simpler and more boy-like
        than that. The essential for the Gemini man is to keep away from passion and emotional involvement.
                The Gemini man is somewhat terrified at emotional necessities. He is the cerebral kind and
        sexuality does not play an important role in his life, although he has what psychologists call
        “apperception”, that means he knows how to determine reactions, making his partner going into
                The Gemini man is exasperating, yet charming. He is neither jealous nor possessive and he finds
        it monstrous to want to keep a woman just for you. He does not refrain from any affair, but when he goes
        “hunting”, he is not driven by sexual instincts, but by his eternal desire for something new.
                One day though, the Gemini man decides to settle down and he chooses a practical woman, with
        a sense of humour, who understands and shares his intellectual preoccupations.
      As indicated by his selective editing, the web astronomers had gotten Sterling mostly wrong,
according to the boy himself. And who should better know? Sara, however, thought that the experts
could hardly have been more accurate. In any case, Sterling certainly did not appreciate being called
immature or a sexual hunter devoid of passion and emotional involvement. Whether his editing reflects
reality may be debatable; but it does reflect how Sterling sees himself, or would like to see himself.
      While the Trips could well be described as Gemini; Sterling was certain he was a Taurus. Here is
the glowing description he found of himself as a generic Taurus, on the same website, requiring no
                                                  Taurus Man
      In love with life, the Taurus man is also in love with love, of course. He is a sensual, very physical person,
to whom lust is probably the most powerful component of his temperament.
      In his relationship with a woman, sensuality comes first and the Taurus man will stay with the woman he
gets along best with from this point of view. One could say about the Taurus man that he “plays” a woman as
well as he plays a cello: fervently, efficiently and... with gratitude. The Taurus man almost despises the men who
don’t try to offer a woman everything she wants.
      Although the Taurus man is well known for the wisdom he spends his money with, he will show his
feelings not only by means of words and gestures, but presents too, because, beneath his practical appearance,
the Taurus man is, like any other Venusian, a romantic.
      The Taurus man keeps his promises. That is because he doesn’t make a promise unless he is certain he can
live up to it, and he is certain of that only after having analysed the situation very carefully.
      The Taurus man has the sense of stability and this is why he seldom begins or puts an end to a relationship.
He can enjoy the pleasure of sex with many women, of course, but to him, a relationship is something much
more serious than that.
      In his youth, the Taurus man passes from one woman to another, with eagerness and curiosity. However,
when he decides to settle down for life, the Taurus man stops joking: he chooses carefully, with no haste,
analysing the advantages and drawbacks, and he decides only after a mature examination.
        In response Sara, however, found a different website which listed Taurus’ weakness as
stubbornness, laziness, possessiveness, materialism and self-indulgency. Sterling could only shrug:
“Who said I was perfect?” That particular website had assessed the Gemini Trips to a T: energetic,
clever, imaginative, witty and adaptable; but superficial, impulsive, restless, devious, and indecisive
(i.e., it takes three to make a decision). For Sterling this was further evidence that the Trips, rather than
he, were true Gemini, despite their shared birth date.
       Astrology is also about love compatibility between signs. According to common wisdom (which
Sterling again picked up on the web), a Gemini boy and a Cancer girl (Sara’s birthday is July 21st)
have a doomed relationship:
    Gemini’s sparkle immediately intrigues Cancer, but Cancer won’t find security with fickle, fly-by-night
Gemini. The Cancer’s self-confidence will decrease during his dialogue with the changeable Gemini, who are
fond of pleasures. The unguided sexual energy of the Gemini will create problems for the Cancer. Cancer is the
home loving type and will be content to stay there and lock the rest of the world outside, but Gemini would soon
become restless and angry over this as he/she is very sociable and likes to be around other people; having no
wish to feel as if they are a prisoner in their own home. Life will quickly become unbearable to Gemini. Cancers
are driven by emotion and feelings and generally prefer the constant. Gemini’s unstoppable movement will
prove unsettling to Cancer. Though it is a very emotional connection, the long term connection is almost
impossible here.
      This analysis reinforced Sterling’s skepticism of astrologic readings. For Sara it meant they
would both have to work harder to correct their weaknesses: they had received a warning shot across
the bow; if they were to navigate their union successfully much negotiation would be required.
Negotiation, however, was an alien concept to Sterling. He has always thought that any problems
facing the couple lie not with themselves, their individual natures and personalities, but with the
invalidity of astrology itself. On occasion he has elaborated on why current astrology is so lame. His
main criticism is that a person’s zodiac sign corresponds to the position of the sun relative to
constellations on the date of birth as opposed to how they appeared over 2200 years ago. In the
intervening time, unbeknownst to the ancient astrologers, the Earth has continually wobbled around its
axis in a 25,800-year cycle. This wobble, which is called precession, is caused by the gravitational
attraction of the moon on earth’s equatorial bulge. Thus modern-day constellation boundaries have
changed. The sun is, of course, still within the astronomical constellations of the Zodiac, but when you
correct for precession, the signs are assigned different dates. Thus, Sterling becomes a Taurus (which
he thinks he is) while Sara remains a Cancer (which she knows she is). Her birth date falls near the end
of old Cancer and near the beginning of its replacement, but she is still nonetheless Cancer. Low and
behold all this works out for Sterling and for his relationship with Sara. The Taurus-Cancer love charts
are quite positive, according to the same website:
      Usually this makes a good combination. Both need security and a sense of permanence, and both are
loving, affectionate, and passionate as well. The Cancer adds to this union more sensuality and imagination.
Both are passionate and do not need any extraneous help to be pleased with each other. The Taurus is capable to
understand changes in the mood of the Cancer, and can help smooth the problems if any appears. The Taurus is
usually an attentive person. The Cancer is responsive. This relationship can and will improve with age and hard
work, as these are such different personalities, and in many ways ones strength supports the others weakness.
Cancers sex life is affected by the way they are getting along in the evening and if there is arguing or other
unpleasantness Cancer will not make love to Taurus and too much of this could build a wall between them. The
understanding of each other problems will help the existence of pleasant connection. A successful marriage is
possible if case these two are willing to give rather than get.
      Having figured all this out – and unwilling to exclude astrology from a Theory of Everything –
Sterling has become less skeptical of astromancy (which he contends has more evidence in its favor
than string theory) and offers no objection to Sara’s daily review of what the stars say about the crab
and the bull. He’s most willing to make such an accommodation for the sake of their partnership, with
his brain, heart and other vital organs falling dutifully in line.
     Sterling is serving as sparring partner for Pandely’s best bantamweight. To protect his
midsection Sterling wears a heavily padded corset, and he dons special headgear. The normal helmet
protects against major bruises and cuts; the helmet Sterling now wears has extra padding which helps
cushion blows; most of the face is covered up, with mere slits for the eyes. Sterling has thirty pounds
over his opponent, a foot in height advantage and a half-foot in reach. Despite the Mutt and Jeff
appearance, this pairing has been carefully thought out. In the upcoming Under-19 the bantam is due to
box a taller opponent, who has a three inch advantage, so using the mismatched Sterling fits into
Pandely’s training strategy. Also the trainer has given his son instructions on which punches to throw
as part of preparation. The bantam shows more and more frustration, with Pandely yelling from the
corner for him to work the stomach. Pandely gives a quick hand signal to his son. A few moments
later Sterling comes across with a somewhat pathetic right hook, which the lighter fighter successfully
slips, allowing him to lay into Sterling with a left hook. Sterling staggers a step back, as the bantam
immediately finds the courage to hammer away at Sterling’s midsection, tightly so that Sterling’s
longer arms prove quite disadvantageous. He lacks the space and distance required to throw his
punches; meanwhile points are being scored against him. At this point, Pandely blows the whistle,
informing the smaller guy to stop picking on the bigger guy: “The padding only does so much,” he
says. He dismisses Sterling and congratulates the bantam on his aggression and doing exactly what he
needs to do to his opponent in the Under-19.
      Sterling removes the padded gear. He’s dripping wet; Buffeau tosses him a towel. He tells
Brandon that his father wants to use him next with the Bantam and explains the training strategy.
“Don’t be too obvious,” Sterling warns. Buffeau is not keen on playing the role of a punching bag; but
he concedes that everyone has to help out in this, his newly acquired substitute family. Sterling weighs
himself, pleased that he’s entitled to a PowerBar energy gel, from which he quickly squeezes out the
last drop. He’s not looking forward to the next week: one without food or sex, but with a certain grand
jury appearance and numerous meetings with lawyers. First, the clock is still ticking; he must tell his
team which of the four legal options he’ll go with. And then there’s Daryl and the Trips. All in all
Sterling is expecting this to be the summer of his discontent.
     “…People pretty much get what they deserve.            I’m not talking about crack babies or if you’re
born with HIV in Africa. Sure, no one deserves those things, but then no one deserves his environment
at birth, to be born sick or healthy or richer or poorer than some other poor fool, but you don’t have
much control over how you come into the world, do you? You can beat yourself up over how unfair
life is, but until someone comes up with a way that lets us choose our parents, it’s the luck of the draw.
Susan told me and now my mother and even my girlfriend say I ‘lack compassion.’ Well, fuck them.
Maybe I should pretend to show some empathy, yeah, I’m expected to do that, and this would make
them happy. And I promise to be more hypocritical in the future since that’s what everyone wants. But
there’s no way I’ll go all weepy over fate and events I can’t control, I mean we can’t control, like how
we are born or if you’re killed in an accident. That’s fuckin’ fate. I feel real bad about those things, but
I can get over it. And so should everyone else. If you can’t, then life is really pretty shitty, and frankly
you’d be better killing yourself because maybe that’s the only way you can be happy. I don’t say that
to anyone, because there’d be way too much blowback – my mother would figure out how to make my
life more a living hell than just forfeiting my netizenship, like sending me to an asshole shrink, no
offense intended – but that’s what I think, and I can say what I think, right? It’s sort of a privilege to
have that luxury. Anyway, here’s an example. You know Billy, who I’m supposed to call William, who
for his entire life has been beating himself up over how unfair life is. Of course, he’s in a quite good
position financially to be able to complain: he was born with the whole silver service stuck way up his
rectum. Wouldn’t we all like to beat ourselves up over how rich we are. And for years I just told him
to shut the fuck up; I mean, I do it without using the f-word because I’m subtle when I want to be,
which is not right now, but I really get tired of his shit. Anyway, God’s payback came in the form of
William’s sexual orientation. Some people are born crack babies and others are born gay. I have
nothing against homosexuality; it’s not my cup of tea, but Billy’s always been my best friend. But it
just proves that life is not fair. Once I told Billy that, he stopped complaining about being rich and
when he finally got laid, he stopped bitching about being gay. Here’s a person who is pretty much
getting what he deserves. He’s starting to overcome the obstacles to being happy: being rich and queer.
He’s dealing with his problems, despite the fact he’s been in therapy since he got his first boner, a fact
which he soon acquainted me with so we could compare. And it was me who dragged him out of his
closet. Why do I mention him? Yeah, you live with what you are given, that’s why. I mean adults,
living within the constraints of their environment. You have to make the best of your talents. What if
you’re born without talents? I guess you have to make do with mediocrity and find something you can
do that others appreciate. Fortunately, I’ve never had that problem. Brains, brawn, sexual magnetism,
I got it all. That’s a joke; which is not to say it’s not true. Seriously, that’s a problem. I was given too
much and I’ve made too much of what I was given. And there are all sorts of expectations of what I’ll
do next, but worrying about that is like complaining you are too rich. Maybe I didn’t deserve to be
given what I was, but now that I have it and know what I have, I’ve tried to do the best. And it’s at that
point that you get what you deserve. If you have talent, you develop it. If you don’t, well you don’t.
You remember the Trips? They have talents I don’t. And they’ve done a lot with what they were
given, even if they are three people pretending to be one. You know, I’ve managed to get them locked
up. They’re in rehab, the first time they’ve ever been separated. I know to some people that sounds
like a cruel thing to have done. I had about two seconds of remorse and now whenever I feel those
pangs returning, I think about all the times my father whipped me for things they did. Eight times I
took the strap for them. That’s eight separate occasions as opposed to being whipped a total of eight
times. It was more like 33 individual lashings, but who’s counting? I might have just now saved their
fuckin’ lives, not to mention their careers and the respect of their adoring fans and the kinky sex they’ll
have with those fans in congregate. And will they thank me for saving their lives? I’ll never get a
word of thanks for that, I can guarantee. No, they’ll just come back and pick off where they left off,
trying to make my life miserable. And then I’ll get what I deserve for saving their fuckin’ asses. No
good deed goes unpunished. It’s no wonder my mother loves the Trips. She once told their mother that
she would be honored to be their mother. She never has said, not a single fuckin’ time, that’s she’s
honored to be my mother. That goes without saying, you might say. Telling me that just once in
seventeen years would be appreciated. She’s a very difficult parent, at least from my perspective. But
she is who she is. Just like I am who I am despite you children of Dr. Freud’s best attempt at the
moment to change that. You know she was the most affected by Susan’s death. Since then she’s been
more unemotional than before, and I wouldn’t have thought that possible, really. Not that my father is
Mr. Warmth, either. Apparently, and I am not privy to all the details as my parents have secrets
between them, he suffered when he was overseas, just after my birth, his last tour in the Middle East.
After the first gulf war, when we were maintaining the no fly zone. Something happened, I think, but I
don’t know what. I do know he was in the VA recovering from a wound or some desert disease for six
months. My grandparents and my sister were more-or-less in charge of me when my mother moved
closer to the hospital. I asked them once about this; they said I was too young to be told. My sister
knew but she wouldn’t tell me. Anyway, that was a long time ago; I guess I should ask about it now.
Do you think they’d still say I’m too old to be told? I’m making our family sound weirder than it really
is. As weird goes, it’s not so bad. I am not the easiest child to raise, I guess you’ve figured that out! I
know it. I’m bull-headed and I don’t give up until I get my way because I’m right almost all the time.
Correction: I shouldn’t say that. I’m really right 100% of the time, but that makes me sound too divine,
something someone can criticize me for. My parents certainly don’t understand me; I more or less
understand myself but I can’t explain myself to them. I don’t try to explain me to myself. I just know
what I am. And I live comfortably with myself and I’m reasonably happy and I guess I get a little less
mature with each passing day, ha! I mean, I’d never do Smiley Boy again, that’s for sure. Immaturity is
on my flaw list. I don’t need any help along in this area. That’s why I’ve always been so bearish on
psychiatry. Don’t get me wrong, it’s useful in extreme cases, psychosis, schizophrenia…it’s not a short
list, there’s no argument there. And having someone to talk to if you don’t have the right type of
parents or a girlfriend, that makes sense, too. But for normal people – I am more or less normal, right?
– it can’t do much good although it can probably do a lot of harm. Let me share a quote I found just
yesterday. It’s from Smith, Hidden Conversations, page 123:
       ‘…even if we grant that psychoanalysis is therapeutically unreliable, ethically ambiguous, or
epistemologically shaky, there is still a need for a searching insight-based form of treatment and that
psychoanalysis is the best that anyone has been able to develop along these lines.’
      That’s nice, isn’t it? Of course communicative psychoanalysis is not very much liked in psych
institutes, is it? But, you know, my thoughts on this, doc, and I shouldn’t rehash, as you’ve advised,
indeed warned, me to stay focused on myself and my world. I’ll go back to a stream of consciousness
in a moment; I even have a dream to submit. I must say one thing first, because I haven’t said this yet,
that I am truly sorry I gave such a hard time to your colleague. It was very disrespectful of me and you
know as well as I that lack of respect is on my list of character flaws, too. You know, it took me a
while to figure out she was trying to be an interactionist in the Kleinian tradition. Object relations
could use a bit of an update, couldn’t it? Anyway, what really bothered me is that she just wouldn’t
leave my penis alone and she took it personally when I told her why I thought that was so. As part of
her training analysis she deserves a C minus in transference and an F in countertransference. I realize
that Smiley Boy is what landed me here in the first place, but she could have been a bit more respectful
of my genitalia. She was very insulting. Respect is a two-way street. How did you people approve her
dissertation anyway? Some sort of affirmative action, going for gender parity? I mean, did anyone
read the fuckin’ thesis? Yes, in hindsight I know it was somewhat presumptive of me to point out her
deficiencies as an analyst, but she was glaringly inept. She must have been if I, an amateur who’s just
done a little light reading on the subject, noticed how she was making a hash of existing theory, all that
without too much investigation on my part. I wouldn’t have expected much if she were a Lacanian, but
from a Kleinian, come on. I guess this sounds more like a rationalization than an apology, but I do
regret what I said to her; please forward my sincere regrets. Still, I thought she was made of stronger
stuff. I sense I have just committed some more character flaws: superiority, elitism, snobbism. No
doubt you’ll point them out in your analysis. At least you seem more competent, although that essay on
Darwin, that was out of left field! The dream I had? We’ll I’m not comfortable with this dream at all.
And I’m not comfortable telling you about it. But I’ve struck a bargain to be honest with you and let
you do your job. Anyway, the dream is of a sexual nature. The irony is that we had just had sex, my
girl and I. Usually after we do it, the second time, I go to sleep. The first time is never very satisfying
but the second is always good. So I fell asleep. It usually takes Sara longer to fall asleep and
sometimes she watches me. And sometimes she wakes up in the middle of the night and she watches
me. So I go to sleep knowing that she is watching me. And the next thing I know there’s someone else
in the bed. And it’s not the dog who we have trained to stay in the corner if the bed is already full. I
can’t really tell who’s in the bed with us. I’m actually worried it may be my sister or even worse my
mother, because either of them in my sex dream would really make your day, wouldn’t it? I don’t think
you are in the dream but you might be on the sidelines taking notes. I know someone is outside
looking in, but it could be my father, too. In the dream I must be awake, but in bed like I am, and I
know that I am aroused and I can feel myself being aroused, getting hard, and as I make a movement to
Sara, who is not asleep but not too receptive either, and by now I am fully aroused, like a rod of steel,
and we start to have intercourse, in the dream, well I assume it’s intercourse because Sara is not
interested in the anal stuff, although I’d like to try if she wanted to, and in the dream I’m in a rhythm
and approaching climax when I look up and it’s not Sara I’m making love it. It’s not vaginal, it’s anal
and not only is it not Sara but it’s not even a girl. And when I look up to see who it is, I can’t see the
face, but I can see the back of the head, the hair flapping up and down, and the whole back side and
then I recognize who it is. But still I climax and wake up. I’m groggy, of course, and I look over at
Sara and she’s looking at me the way she does and I realize that I’ve just had a wet dream and she’s
been watching. And then the object of the…then the…then my friend Brandon appears. It’s his hair
and back from the dream. And then I really wake up, with a start, and what’s weird is that Sara is
looking at me just as she had in the dream after I woke up the first time. Everything else is normal,
except that there is a damp spot and I am ashamed for what I’ve done. And she comforts me. And I
feel really rotten. And I of course don’t tell her about the dream and I make sure she doesn’t figure out
what type of dream it was. I mean to have such a dream in the very bed next to the girl you love. It’s
kind of…well, I guess, shameful. That was last night and I haven’t fully digested it.”
      Sterling looks out the window to gauge how much time is left in the session. In the almost two
months he’s been unplugged, the boy has become skilled in approximating the correct time. He’s
committed to memory the hours of sunrise and sunset for the entire month of June and July. At the
moment, therefore, he knows there are ten minutes (he’s never wrong by more than a minute)
remaining in the 50 minute session. By prior agreement the last ten minutes are reserved for Dr. Franz,
his current psychiatrist, to present his analysis. Thus, for the past 40 minutes, Sterling has been lying
on the couch, with his eyes shut or staring into space, talking. On and on and on. He’s never had a
chance like this to express himself so freely, to someone else, without constraints, and say anything he
wants to. Indeed, he says whatever comes into his mind; he can use the f-word every sentence if he
likes. Sometimes he tells stories, or describes incidents from his life or relates events involving others.
In the four sessions he has had with Dr. Franz, he’s offered a lot of details and even more opinions. No
detail seems too minor to escape a Sterling judgment. William has received some caustic, if loving,
observations. The Trips have not fared well over the past sessions; his parents come in for quite a
hammering, too. Not even Susan has been spared. Sara, however, is almost never mentioned, unless it
concerns their sex life. This is not the first mention of Brandon, either. The second session with Dr.
Franz was devoted to Brandon, boxing, the pee-wees, Silver Gloves and especially the recent Under-19
tournament. Amateur boxing had been a bit part of the boy’s life and now that that chapter is closing, it
is worth being understood. Sterling, of course, thinks he fully understands his interest in boxing; then
again, Sterling thinks he understands everything about himself. He is almost starting to have doubts in
his ability at self-evaluation, however. Anyway, he is giving the professionals a shot. It is a new
experience, in any case, and Sterling is always game for new experiences. In the boxing session, like
all the rest, Dr. Franz had sat back, taking in every word, seldom making a note. As far as Sterling
could tell the session was not being recorded; it didn’t bother him if it are, as there are numerous rules
on confidentially to protect a patient. He has signed a waiver for the doctor at the beginning of his
analysis, allowing Dr. Franz to refer to him in academic work, but only anonymously as Patient X or
with a false name. Thus Sterling has no doubt that the academic would be writing up his case in some
form, probably a journal article, so he has tried to make the sessions as entertaining as possible. That
the doctor considers Sterling of academic interest intrigues the boy, and it alone would have guaranteed
his agreement to submit to psychoanalysis, following years of successful avoidance and despite
residual misgivings. At the end of each session Dr. Franz presents Sterling with an analysis, more or
less as one psychiatrist would to another, as Sterling is, after several weeks of reading up on the
subject, well versed in the history and terminology of the profession: much more acquaintance with the
field that the average psychiatrist would want from his patient. At this point in the session, Sterling sits
up and slips his Nikes back on. He is all ears.

Chapter 18
     Dr. Fritz Franz is short and bald, a psychiatrist out of central casting. Despite his name he
doesn’t speak with an accent. His parents spoke with Swiss accents when they immigrated to the States
in the 1950s. Franz runs the Institute of Psychology and Psychoanalysis, just off the Duke campus,
which is thus conveniently located for Sterling’s visits, which now number three times a week. Franz
is nearing retirement and completing his last book, which will be on teenage sexual deviation.
Sterling’s parents had presented him with a list psychologists and psychiatrists in the Triangle area.
Together they had chosen the Institute, not because of the Institute’s solid reputation but because of its
location. And, as Sterling wisely noted, he was not choosing one individual but an entire building full,
so it was likely there would be a decent one after he had weeded out a few incompetents. This is more
or less what happened. The first two staff had not worked out for the boy. The first psychiatrist felt
that Sterling demeaned him and he abruptly took sick leave. “They don’t pay me enough, to take this
kind of abuse,” he said to the Institute head.
      Compared with colleagues in other fields of medicine, psychiatrists are indeed relatively lowly
paid. One compensation survey of US physicians in practice over three years, for example, examined
28 specialties; it placed psychiatry sixth from the bottom, analysts earning about $175,000 annually,
above only the other office-visit practices – pediatrics, endocrinology, rheumatology, internal medicine
and family practice. Physicians with surgical procedures earn the most. A psychiatrist charges $101-
150 an hour on average (depending on which survey once chooses). Still, this hourly rate is more than
five times that achieved by the average Joe ($21/hour in 2007), leading some to wonder whether
shrinks earn their keep. If talk is cheap, then listening is even cheaper. Just sit back and rake in the
dough. Nod sympathetically; get paid for daydreaming! This is what Sterling had imagined.
      In fact, an analyst – at least a good and honest one – is anything but a daydreamer. He should be
taking in every word, searching for free associations that reveal what the patient doesn’t know he’s
saying. Anything he says or leaves unsaid may involve defense mechanisms and thus relate to the id-
ego-superego construct. This represents psychiatry’s view of the world. Professions each have their
individual ways of observation. Engineers see in terms of how things work. Artists like Sara or the
Trips look for beauty. Lawyers relate humanity to a bundle of rights, remedies for wrongs, etc.;
journalists – who, what, where, why, when; planners – goal, data collection, evaluation. Physicians are
taught to diagnose diseases and search for cures. This is their world view. Psychiatrists do this too, in
their own way, but the guiding roadmap still remains, one hundred years after Dr. Freud, the constant
battle, vigilantly moderated (by the ego) between a patient’s impulses (id) on the one hand, and his
conscience and desire to adhere to social conventions (superego), on the other. Whatever a patient says
– an offhand remark, a bit of humor – could be relevant to understanding this battle.
      Sterling’s second Institute analyst couldn’t carry on the type of exchange with him necessary for
effective psychotherapy either. Sterling had easily trod over the young woman, whose Ph.D.
dissertation he studied and then assessed it to have little academic worth. At that point Dr. Franz
stepped in. He had interviewed Sterling, with his parents, when they had first approached the Institute.
After his colleagues’ failures, he himself decided to take Sterling on. He had dealt before with young
toughs successfully. That Sterling could be a subject for an entire chapter in his forthcoming book was
not a conscious factor in his decision. So he told his wife, Frieda.
      A few days before Sterling and his parents were to meet initially with Dr. Franz, the boy had
consulted the library shelf on which Franz’s scholarly career is deposited. His approach to psychology
interested Sterling: somewhere between polymathic and scatterbrained. Dr. Franz is a physician who
holds a Ph.D. in psychology. He has a dual department appointment: Psychology-Neuroscience
(Graduate School) and Psychiatry (Medical School). In most universities not as enlightened as Duke
this would be somewhat unusual as the two disciplines are not the most harmonious of academic mates,
often located in separated buildings at opposite ends of campus, thus outside normal dueling range. At
Duke they are almost within spitting distance. At most American colleges psychology provides an
undergraduate major for students who have no idea what they want to do in life. Psychiatry, in sharp
contrast, is a specialty for medical residents, which is to say physicians who are looking to become
psychiatrists. Dr. Franz’s major contribution to the field has been his combining bits and pieces of the
two disciplines to arrive at a homogeneous, integrated approach (the author dares call it theory). He’s
made his fortune, as it is, from continually authoring and re-authoring a single college textbook,
Psychology, which is updated annually and which retails for $59.99 in campus bookstores across the
nation. The yearly revisions are so extensive that copies which appear on the used book market the day
a student has finished the final exam find themselves with little market value: each year the new
edition, which students are expected to purchase, will be a totally different book, unrecognizable from
one year to the next. Each year’s edition, a current traumatic event (natural disaster, assassination,
royal break-up) pictured on the cover which is marked boldly with the calendar year, has been totally
reorganized, mostly by Dr. Franz’s research assistants, who spend months cutting-and-pasting to
produce the so-called up-dated (versus up-to-date) version. Most importantly, they publish a teacher’s
edition, with an accompanying PowerPoint series (which is given free to teachers who guarantee the
sale of 50 or more books). Those instructors willing to fork over another $150 (or an additional 50
sales) receive a series of computer-gradable multiple choice exams (chapter, mid-term, final). In large
lecture halls the teacher has little to do but read word-for-word the emboldened text of the teacher’s
edition while ensuring that the PowerPoints are presented in proper sequence. Dr. Franz’s textbook
basically teaches itself.
        Even Sterling must agree that Dr. Franz has helped him discover some of his formerly unknown
character flaws: lack of respect shown to those of lesser intelligence, immaturity, snobbism. Sterling
actually respects Dr. Franz more than most people, as an entrepreneur if not an intellect, and attentively
awaits his analysis.
        Dr. Franz begins. His style is mostly Socratic. Before he asks his first question, he comments.
        “Mr. Eumorfopoulos,” he says, as he never uses a patient’s given name, “that was very
instructive. We are making a great deal of progress. Let’s see if you agree with me. First, how would
you characterize your overall mood today? Use some single adjectives, like “anxious” or “elated” or
        “I feel good, like I usually do. On a scale between depressed and elated in the upper half toward
elated,” Sterling replies.
        “Single adjectives, please,” the doctor prods.
        “Content, satisfied, happy.”
        “Nothing bothering you?” Franz asks.
        “Not really.”
        Franz examines his notes which are usually single words and hash marks that occupy much of
        “You mentioned that your sister, mother and girlfriend sat you lack compassion and you said…”
        Sterling interrupts: “I said ‘fuck them,’ but I used a light tone. You said you had no objections to
the f-word, if that’s honestly how I feel.” Dr. Franz nods.
        “You characterized your life as a living hell.”
        “Perhaps I exaggerated. I’ve adapted to losing my devices: a boy without toys.”
        “You sometimes find William ‘exasperating’?”
        “He’s less so now.”
        “You don’t get ‘tired of his shit’ anymore?”
        Sterling marvels that the doctor has such a fine memory, aided by his scanty notes. He comments:
“I’m starting to understand how annoying I can be when I repeat people’s words back to them,” he
says. Dr. Franz gets excited.
        “That statement there, right there, how would you characterize your mood?”
        Sterling reflects on what he’s just said.
        “Annoyed, in a single word,” he says somewhat annoyed.
        “And that sentence just there.”
        “More annoyed.”
        “In forty minutes, do you know how often you were ‘annoyed?’”
        “I wasn’t counting,” he says defensively. He immediately regrets this and restates in a more
neutral tone.
        “I wasn’t counting, doctor, but not too many, I guess.”
        “Let’s see.” Dr. Franz examines his notes where he has been enumerating with hash marks: ////
//// // etc. I count 73 times, but there’s some duplication, with the triplets and William.
        “Seventy-three times! I’m that annoyed?” Sterling exclaims.
        “Anything over a dozen, it seems to me, is beyond annoyance. We use another word.”
        Silence from Sterling. The doctor waits for the patient to say the word. Dr. Franz is well
prepared for another staring contest if that’s what Sterling wants. Once, in the analysis part of the
session, the stand-off lasted to the session’s end, a complete eight minutes. They had been talking
about his father’s use of the strap and Dr. Franz had asked, seemingly out of the blue, if Sterling had
ever thought about using the strap on any of the child boxers. Sterling did not answer. He had
promised at the beginning of the sessions that he would not lie to the doctor. “Lying to me would be
lying to yourself; eventually you’ll realize that. Let’s save us some time and tell me/yourself the truth
as you know it,” the doctor had explained. Telling his version of the truth was one of the conditions
that allowed the boy to receive psychoanalysis at a greatly reduced rate. In fact, these sessions were
not costing his parents a cent; the costs were covered by an NIH grant the doctor managed. Indeed,
Sterling was receiving a token travel allowance: $10 a session, which he was using to buy athletic
supporters for the boy pee-wees, who had complained that he unfairly favored Bobby Jo because he
hadn’t given the rest of them jocks. Bobby Jo had apparently been showing off. “No good deed goes
unpunished,” Sterling had muttered to himself. For his part the physician wanted to make sure that his
own investment in Sterling would not prove futile; that is the reason he had exacted a promise of
honesty from the boy. He had assessed the lad, a teen who granted would certainly fib on occasion, as
a person who would never consciously lie to himself. Sterling had agreed that he would always tell the
doctor the truth, but had insisted that if the occasion ever arose in which he wanted to lie he could just
remain silent, not being forced to tell the truth, a sort of Fifth Amendment application. Dr. Franz had
agreed without a worry. He had a former patient who had refused to talk in parts of four concurrent
sessions. Each bout of silence lasted twenty minutes before she had relented. Dr. Franz figured that
Sterling himself (a boy with an over-engaged mouth, for whom silence was not a close ally) could not
be silent for twenty minutes. When Sterling had refused to answer the question about the strap and the
pee-wees, he had remained silent until the end of the session (eight minutes). When the next session
began, with Sterling tossing off the Nikes to get comfortable for his monolog, the doctor had insisted
they begin where they had left off. After ten more minutes of silence Sterling had confessed that he
had threatened Bobby Jo and even used the strap once, very lightly, with the mother’s advance
approval, and with an effective result. Dr. Franz’s comment on this incident was delivered in a very
flat tone, barely concealing sarcasm: “Well, that makes it all right, I suppose, even though your action
was against the law, you realize.” The strap remained an issue waiting to be revisited; Sterling was not
yet ready for such an encounter.
       “Anger,” the boy finally says, offering ‘the other word.’ “Repressed anger.”
       “Yes, I feel you are very angry at me. Very angry.”
       “Transference,” Sterling explains.
       “Do tell,” Dr. Franz says with tight lips, slightly rolling eyes, and a downward vocal inflection.
Sterling accepts this for sarcasm, that he should not play games so they can make quicker progress.
       “We know I’m not really angry at you, I’m angry at someone else. We know my relationship with
the Trips. That’s known to everyone, save the Trips, who until I locked them away, considered me a
sort of estranged brother. But that’s no biggie so, if I am as angry as you say – and I’m not saying
you’re wrong, Doctor, because I don’t know myself as well as I’d like to and something inside me says
that you probably have a point – I must have some repressed anger against someone. I don’t know
       “Try process of elimination.”
       “Sara. I don’t think so. We’re celebrating her birthday. Maybe I’m jealous, but I don’t think I’m
ever angry with her. It’s she who should be angry at me. Could I be angry at her for not being angry
with me? I’ll have to think about it. William or Brandon or Daryl or John Dewey or James. It’s a long
list. I think we’re all doing well. Brandon works with the pee-wees. They like him; I’m not jealous,
unless it’s being really well repressed, also.
       “No one else important in your life?”
       Sterling thinks. He eliminates Bucephalus. Then, suddenly:
      “Fuck. My parents.”
      That’s not exactly the answer Dr. Franz is looking for. He says:
      “Our time’s up. We’ll begin this line Monday, so no need to prepare your monolog.” He waves at
his own page of notes, saying “We have plenty to keep us busy.”
      There’s a standard joke between them: that Sterling comes to these sessions fully prepared,
pretending in all sincerity to be extemporaneous in his “monolog.” For Dr. Franz Sterling’s seemingly
spontaneous rants appear far too professional, too scripted; but the boy swears that everything he says
is off the top of his head; he sees himself as a successor to the fossils Letterman or Leno. “You see cue
cards, a teleprompter?” he asked, knowing full well that they both know that Sterling is capable of
talking without notes. Dr. Franz finishes off Friday’s session in another direction. “Your anger doesn’t
surprise me, Mr. Eumorfopoulos. I just don’t know why today it should be more intense than usual.
That’s what we’ll need to talk about.”
      Sterling would have preferred that this session continue in situ while he and the doctor are both on
a roll. The psychiatrist has perhaps run out of patience; he has no more patients to see; in fact, Sterling
is one of only three patients he is caring for at present. But psychiatrists live with the 50-minute
session, partly out of tradition, partly because it works. A good 50 minutes can be exhausting to both
parties; a bad 50 minutes can seem tedious, unrewarding and boring as well as exhausting. For the
most part, patients are often clueless on how well a session goes. More often than not, the proverbial
light bulb does not pop on above their heads, no miraculous insight appears from nothingness. Yet a
competent technician like Dr. Franz is always able to find something to latch on to, if not words, then
emotions or tones, or their lack; what’s not said or shown – repressed – can be more useful than what is
manifested. The doctor initiated these sessions with a 40-10 time allocation, giving the loquacious
Sterling free rein, so he could listen to the patient’s psychiatric narrative. It sometimes takes a patient
many sessions before he reveals himself sufficiently; by the end of this session, Sterling’s fourth, the
boy can at last be muzzled, for the physician has observed enough symptoms to suggest a diagnosis (for
his own use, not yet for the patient), so they can work together on a cure.
      Sterling normally hates to be given homework by anyone other than himself; in this case he
cannot escape a weekend’s preoccupation with anger so he will be well prepared for Monday’s battle.
It’s not that the boy exactly scripts his delivery. He does, however, think about what forthcoming
topics he might cover, usually what’s stuck in his craw at the moment. He fears being caught silent, a
phobia without name, for it’s not on his list, suggesting it’s not a very commonplace worry among
lesser humans. Sterling has no idea why he’s more angry today than normal. Until this session he
didn’t even realize that he represses so much anger. He has the whole weekend to sort this out. Anger
does not seem to be a character flaw per se; being angry all the time might be a flaw, however, he
figures. Thus, today’s session was well worth its cost, he concludes. Dr. Franz, for his part, was
nowhere near finished with Sterling for today. He needs to spend the next three hours dictating his
notes on the case (he uses speech recognition software). Sterling had raised issues of control, respect,
anger…and additional rubrics of concern that will require time to untangle: narcissism, self-esteem
issues…the shopping cart is starting to fill. And his sexuality, that’s a subject for more than article; it
merits at least a book. The boy who formed the B Club so his friends could show off their erections
and masturbate!; this is just too good to be invented, according to the somewhat lapsed Freudian.
Franz, in fact, finds Sterling to be such a potentially prolific subject (in terms of research out-put) that
he would gladly pay him $200 a session just to hear the boy talk, which is usually what he charges his
own patients for the privilege. The boy is a gold mine of abnormality.
     While he’s on campus Sterling heads over to the library to trade-in some philosophy books. He
recently got bushwhacked by a reference to Zeno’s Paradox, which caused him a grave loss of focus by
giving him too much to think about, for which he had no ready answers. He had to backtrack all the
way to Socrates to look over what he had missed and now he has finally returned to Aristotle, rereading
him with a deeper understanding. Thus, his dream of covering Western Civilization over summer
vacation, in retrospect, seems like one of his more foolish intellectual pursuits (memorizing the catalog
of phobias tops this list). He’s so bogged down with his ancestors, the Greeks, that it is unlikely he can
complete the ancient era, much less tackle the Renaissance and later epochs, before school begins. The
more Greeks he reads the more unanswered questions he unearths and the more temporarily
unanswerable questions he puts aside; a “theory of everything” seems as elusive in philosophy as it
does for physics. He confided this discovery to Coach Mac in what was probably the first honest talk
he’s ever had with a teacher. He described to the Coach with excitement that he had finally found an
academic field that had so much complexity that he couldn’t merely memorize and regurgitate. Coach
Mac had suggested something startling: that Sterling had reached a higher plateau of intellectual
achievement: discovering the unanswerability of questions and the existence of intellectual limitations.
He had found it in philosophy, but there’s no reason to think the same doesn’t apply to other academic
disciplines as well. It certainly does for economics, the coach affirmed. Sterling, Mac implied, was
used to treating knowledge as digestible, true-false, multiple-choice. For all his 4s and 5s on APs, he
had failed to realize the complexity of knowledge in any of the fields he had so-called mastered. That
insight gave Sterling something unpleasant to think about. The words “limit/limited/limitations,” which
are not on the list of his personal descriptors, had come to mind. This notion of intellectual constraint,
which he was quick to apply to others, became depressing when he connected the idea to himself.
What if the coach is right, he thought. What if there are not answers to everything? Of course, Sterling
knew rationally (from Socrates et al.) that not all questions have simple, obvious answers, but on the
emotional level he felt that most all questions are in fact answerable, if one is just smart enough to
know where and how to look. All his life he has been so used to winning arguments that he often fails
to understand that he never engages in difficult arguments. Philosophy has given him a rude
awakening by challenging him right up front. He was very sad to realize that all his mastered areas
probably were indeed not yet mastered; he had learned facts and theories and acquired analytical tools,
but he hadn’t built anything new with them. He had checked off these subjects as completed: islands
on which there was no more buildable land. He had just never delved deeply enough; he had never
asked the right questions or participated in the correct arguments. In a sense, Coach Mac was smarter
than Sterling; for he already knew about limitations. And the coach was articulate enough to be able to
explain it by penetrating Sterling’s thick skull. Sterling had never thought the coach was stupid; you
don’t get to be an almost Rhodes Scholar from Duke by being stupid. Just at that moment, however,
Sterling had realized that for his entire life he thought everyone, save himself, was stupid. He had
indeed thought Coach Mac to be less intelligent than himself, in other words stupid, he is ashamed to
admit. He had included this revelation in one of his monologues, which Dr. Franz had failed to
comment on, probably saving it for a rainy day. His doctor had preferred to ask some questions about
his sister’s death and his repressed guilt about it. That had made Sterling feel extremely
uncomfortable; he was not yet at ease with the concept of repression (and he wanted to check off this
topic and move onto the next as soon as possible); he didn’t like the idea of all this id-ego-superego
hanky-panky in the back of his mind, occurring without his consent. It took only a week, however, for
him to accept repression, conceptually speaking, indeed embrace it with such open arms that he had
instantly become one of its most formidable vocal antagonists. Sterling was nothing if not a quick
learner, and tangents being its specialty, repression was given notice. Every word he uttered, every
move he made forced him to ask: what am I repressing now? He talked with his parents and Sara about
this new awareness until they were bored with his new fad; more importantly he broke the de facto
injunction against dinner talk about Susan. He relived their daily sibling rivalries, acting out (playing
both parts) for his family ten years of childish behavior, until family members could talk about the
missing member through tears of happiness rather than tears of pain. Susan was back among the living;
they had Dr. Franz to thank for that. Sterling figured he’d find out what other stuff he and his parents
were repressing (he suspected the existence of a genetic identifier for repression – would he get a
Nobel if he found it?); somewhere there was a puzzle waiting to be solved.
       The lacrosse team meets once a week during the summer to toss around the ball. That gives
Sterling an opportunity to talk afterwards with the Coach. These conversations also provide the boy a
type of therapy, supplementing his sessions with Dr. Franz and his interviews with Babette. It’s more
comfortable for Sterling to meet casually than to see the school psychologist on his own (more
artificial) turf, for an appointment squeezed in between the lucrative IQ examinations. In a bold move
Sterling has today brought some forms for Mac to sign, in his capacity as Sterling’s advisor, a position
inherited, not chosen. He is asking Mac’s approval so he can audit three college courses, in philosophy,
psychology and pre-law. He’s already sweet-talked the individual instructors into signing the forms.
One, who had initially told Sterling that the boy lacked prerequisites, was taken back by the boy’s
encyclopedic knowledge of the subject, after being offended when told he had to crawl before he could
walk. Of all his possible character flaws, having the silver tongue of a snake-oil salesman is the one
Sterling least wants to discard. Mr. Mac, also, has been beaten into submission, although he manages
to obtain Sterling’s promised participation in a minimum of three non-sports extra-curricular school
activities in existing clubs, not his own creations (Even Mac had heard about the B Club). Sterling
doesn’t care to negotiate, so he generously accepts the terms, to Mr. Mac’s surprise. The new Sterling
appears less argumentative, less stubborn to the Coach, who is fully aware that appearances can be
       Summer lacrosse is only one of the diversions keeping Sterling away from the decaying Greeks.
There’s ultimate, of course, on Sundays. Sterling seems to be getting along better with his teammates.
It helps that his strategy was rewarded with four consecutive wins. The by-laws are being rewritten,
yet again, this time to form a youth squad to play in tournaments. He volunteered himself to chair the
by-law writing committee, but his platform of “less is more” was not accepted. They gave him a co-
chair, with a sort of adult supervision. In sum, it’s been a busy summer. Sterling had to take a full
week off to brief himself on psychology and psychiatry; also, various court appearances, the Under-19
competition, and administrating the pee-wees have demanded his time. Fortunately, Sara and Brandon
(“burnishing my CV for Harvard”) help out with the children. In the evenings when he’d like to curl
up with a good dead Greek, he finds himself instead having to curl up with Sara (to which he offers no
resistance) or to meet one or another social obligation. Sara manages his evening schedule and she also
has convinced Catherine to unground him on occasional evenings. Slowly, The Punishment is being
lifted. He gets the car only to run family errands; he has to endure public transportation to visit his
legal engagements, of which there seems to be no end. His parents’ attitude: “You dug this hole
yourself, you can dig your way out. No car.” During a moment of weakness his parents had once
relented on keeping him chipless. When told he could choose between a simple computer (his first
Macintosh, which still works) with no internet connection and a basic cell phone (his bulky first 2-G,
pre-texting, pre-media, pre-apps, which is stored away in its original box), he declined, saying he’d
prefer to dig out on his own (to remain “self-plugged in” was the term he used, confusing them).
Actually he is waiting for a better offer. He’ll only accept a 32GB iPhone 3GS, which had been
released the previous month. He’s willing to wait.
       But the biggest diversion of the summer has been the least expected: the Trips. Sterling had
figured their confinement would remove them from his world until their parents returned from the
world tour on which their loving sons had exiled them. About a week after they had been incarcerated,
Sterling was at home minding his own business when the postman dropped off the daily mail. The
unplugged Sterling had sextupled the family’s intake of catalogs and newsletters; until recently he had
no idea that printed matter still mattered. As he routed through the day’s delivery, he noticed three
envelopes, none with return addresses, each with more or less identical adolescent handwriting,
although the envelopes themselves were of different sizes and paper. He opened the first one. It was
short and concise:
       Dear Sterling,
      I am so sorry I blasphemed God’s holy name against you. I pray each night that the Lord will
forgive my many sins, including all the sins I have committed against you. I ask your forgiveness
because you are always my brother.
      Connor Vaney
      Sterling was touched. He wasn’t sure which one was Connor but he accepted the letter as coming
from all three. The Trips had each been in touch with Catherine; she was the only person they were
permitted to call and they called her frequently so that she received at least one call a night from one or
another of them. Catherine had asked them to call only at night and to limit their calls to three minutes,
rules they gracefully accepted. From what Catherine reported, the boy were detoxing well. On
admission their urine had confirmed identical states (50 ng/ml for marijuana on a SAMHSA-5
approved test; 350.6 ng/ml for opiates; 165.2 ng/ml for cocaine by gas chromatography/mass
spectrometry), leading her to tell her son they were lucky to have acted when they did. The boys would
always tell her that they missed their brothers and would ask her to share their love with each other.
Sterling was not referenced. They were strictly prohibited from communicating with one another; in
any case they had no way of knowing where their other thirds had been secreted. Catherine initially
was their only link to the outside world. Sterling’s mother would ask them what they missed most and
she would note this with non-committal interest, an attitude Sterling was quite familiar with. Unlike
the Vaney parents, Catherine was not at the beck and call of her or anyone else’s children.
      Sterling opened and read the second letter:
      Dear Sterl,
      First, I must apologize for using the name of the Lord my Gods in vain when we parted. I have
been praying for forgiveness and I ask you too to forgive me for all the sins I have committed against
you. You will always be like my third brother.
      Zack Vaney
      He quickly opened the third envelope. This missive, from Jake Vaney salutating ‘Sterly’, was a
veritable draft of its brethren, or vice-versa. Pretty close to a carbon copy, just like the boys
themselves. These three independently sourced letters confirm a mysterious connection between the
      Sterling, for some years, has been leaning toward the belief that the Trips communicate
telepathically with one another. Either that or they cheated in every card game he’s ever played with
them. They had played dozens of rubbers of bridge together and not once had he and his Trip partner
won; he’d change Trip partners and he’d still lose. They were making a mockery of probability theory,
he would say. “You’re probabilly in theory the worst bridge player alive,” they would counter, jointly
laughing at their own puns. At the campus bookstore Sterling once purchased a pack of Zener cards
(Karl Zener had done his research at Duke) to test and confirm the boys’ extrasensory perception. He
had constructed an exercise in which one brother would choose a card, not showing it to the others, and
then think about it; the other two were then asked to go through the deck and pick the same card,
guided only by the thoughts of the first. After every few attempts, they would change over, thus
varying between senders and receivers, to determine whether one was stronger than his brothers.
There’s a 20% random chance of success in such an exercise. Would they match cards sufficiently to
prove telepathy at the 95% confidence interval, Sterling wondered. Before each demonstration he
shuffled the deck himself to randomize the circle, cross, waves, square and star. At first the Trips had
objected to being used as guinea pigs, oinking at Sterling in feigned disgust. After pointing out that
rodents don’t oink, Sterling argued that they should agree for the good of science, for the good of all
humanity. They conferred among themselves and eventually agreed. Sterling had worn them down
with the same arguments that the white coats had used (unsuccessfully) on him when they wanted to
study his brain. The Trips, who are quite accommodating lads, or at least not as obstinate as Sterling,
therefore surrendered to his persistence. Sterling set up a video camera to record the event, which he
was planning to submit to Guinness World Records. He gave a brief introduction which he concluded
with: “At the end of this extraordinary event, I, Sterling Eumorfopoulos of Durham, North Carolina,
United States of America, who am still in middle school, will be able to confirm without any doubt the
existence of extrasensory perception, QED.” Pausing the camera he explained to the boys in a rather
condescending manner the meaning of QED, not realizing he was a bit premature in ejaculating such a
phrase before rather than after proof. He conducted the test, with the complete 25 card deck. Not once
did the Trips succeed in matching cards through mental telepathy. They grimaced, held their breath,
clenched their teeth, but nothing worked. Finally they concluded: “Proves we don’t got it, Sterling…
Sterl…Sterly,” they boasted to the camera in their annoyingly sequential manner of speech. Cards
don’t lie, go back to your chemistry set, a failed scientist at age ten, we’re normal, Q-E-D…the Trips
were relentless in their taunts. Sterling, however, knew that they had proven his point. It was not
statistically possible to go through the entire deck and never once have a match. Somehow the trips
had communicated among themselves to accomplish exactly what they intended – no matches – but
they had failed to cleverly disguise their deceit; quite the opposite in Sterling’s opinion. If they had
made five or so matches as normal people would, Sterling would have admitted defeat, for then they
would have been placed at the top of the bell curve. In any case he had no choice but to drop the
subject and eat a bit of crow. For months he had to endure them calling him “Q-E-D,” each Trip
offering a letter so its perfect elision sounded like the nickname came from one person.
      Sterling remembers these events as he is driving for his weekly meeting with Zack Vaney.
Sterling is the boys only visitor – his mother has assigned him the chore of reporting on their progress –
so he has had a bit of power over them. He has managed to get each of them to surrender his real name
and although Sterling can still not distinguish them in personality or manners, he is starting to be able
to identify them by appearance. He had told each a little white lie about facial hair, so that each
thought he was copying his brothers. Zack has stopped shaving altogether; Jake is attempting a
moustache; Connor is struggling with a Van Dyke. Sterling was not ashamed for tricking them; in fact,
he was still angry about the Zener cards, where they had tricked him. His anger was not an I-want-to-
smash-my-fist-through-the-wall anger, more like shaking his head with a Clint Eastwoodish “those-
fuckin’-bastards” followed by a spittle of tobacco and much revenge. The event plays in his head like
it was yesterday. He thinks about this anger in the context of his session with Dr. Franz. Could that be
the origin of the anger the psychiatrist alluded to? But these events had occurred six years before.
They are an unlikely trigger, he concludes.
      Transporting some culinary delights from Sara’s kitchen, Sterling enters the maximum-security
Anderson Clinic; on a bench Zack is strumming his guitar. His peach fuzz has slightly progressed. He
wears Sterling’s hand-me-offs as well as a nicotine patch. He’s gained weight during his stay, his
normally gaunt face is now slightly less haggard, even hallowed. Sterling has always figured the boys
in an earlier life were the model for Munch’s Scream; now Zack looks more Christian goth. In any
case, this particular Trip is the healthiest of the lot. Beside Zack are several taped cardboard bundles,
ready to be shipped out, including a boxed Yamaha P-250. Eagerly awaiting his friend, he quickly rises
to greet Sterling, who submits to a bear hug. They sit and share some snacks. Sterling himself has put
on five pounds since his defeat in the Under-19. Still he eats but a single brownie, habits being hard to
break. Zack is excited about his release. The purpose of today’s visit is to pick up some of Zack’s
belongings. All the brothers, when approached alone, have been easy to talk with. Of course, they are
quite dependant on Sterling, for deliveries and news, but Sterling senses that they do like him. He
hasn’t yet fully reassessed his opinion of them, and today’s he’s decided to bring up the Zener card
matter. It takes Zack a moment to remember the event; it was six years ago and for him
inconsequential. He remembers Sterling being excited at having reached some monumental scientific
discovery and he wanted to use the brothers as proof of this discovery. At some point the brothers
conferred among themselves:
      “We were not happy with you using us as lab rats. It was not the first time. You never asked if
we wanted to be part of your experiment. And if I remember right, you introduced us on film
collectively, not bothering to give us names. All rats look alike, right? We have individual identities,
you know. This was all about you. But if it weren’t for us, you didn’t even have an experiment. It
should have been about us. So I guess it’s fair to see we were a bit pee-oed, Sterl. All our lives you’ve
just bullied us around; of course that’s why I’m here. We don’t like the way you treat us, but we’re
family so we can’t dislike you for who you are and you sometimes do.”
      “I’m sorry. I guess I can be difficult at times,” Sterling says.
      “When we talked about your experiment, we decided we had to cooperate because we had no
choice. You can obsess about things, Sterl. Even though we are three-in-one, we know we can never
beat you in a fair fight. We never win. So we decided to just do opposite of what you wanted, to teach
you a lesson. We’d fail your test and then we could all forget about it. We really didn’t mean to be
mean to you.”
      Sterling said he understood in a forgiving tone. They were only kids and it was a long time ago.
Zack continues:
      “So Jakey says we’ll have to figure out how to cheat so we can win, or actually lose. We’ve been
cheating you at bridge since we learned to play and you’ve never caught on. Conny says it can’t be
hard to fool you because you’re always so fixed on what’s happening that you never notice when we
slip a card to one another. Sterl, you are the easiest mark of anyone we know.”
      Sterling does not take that as an intended compliment. While he was trying his damnedest to win
a hand of bridge, he can now imagine the brothers all conspiring, exchanging cards under the table,
among themselves, constructing exactly the hands they wanted, so Sterling would always lose. For
weeks they would laugh about it, laughing at Sterling. He is actually furious at the thought of being
made such a fool of, of being so stupid in their eyes. Zack senses his anger.
      “Hey, we didn’t mean anything. It was just a trick. Because we trick you doesn’t mean we don’t
love you. We never trick anyone we don’t like. That would be cruel.”
      Sterling figures there is a logic in this somewhere, although it is logic aux voyages, as he
sometimes describes the boys to himself.
      “But how did you fuckin’ cheat! I was very careful. I had the camera running. I knew you might
try to cheat,” he says. “Sorry for the language, Zack.” Zack continues:
      “I’m used to it. My brothers, however, are not so tolerant. You shouldn’t be profane to them,” he
informs Sterling. He continues:
      “So we figure we have to never match the cards. The best way to do that is to know which card
that’s being mentally transmitted to us.”
      “I knew it,” Sterling interrupts. “You knew what card the sender had and you purposely chose
another card.”
      Zack shakes his head and gives him the traditional tisk-tisk-tisk type of clucking one might give
to a misbehaving child.
      “Sterl, Sterl, Sterl…no, no, no. We didn’t know what card he had because he thought the card.
We knew what card he had because it was missing from the deck. You were so…what’s the word?”
Zack asks.
      “Confident?” Sterling suggests.
      “No, arrogant, that’s it. You were so arrogant and you spread out the deck in such an…help me
out here, in a manner so…” Zack says, looking for the right word.
      “officious, assholish,” Sterling suggests.
      “Exactly, you made such a big production of spreading out the cards. We had plenty of time to
study them and pick out the card that was identical. All we had to do was to find which card was
missing. Two of us are pretty good at something like Sudoku, not as good as John Dewey, of course.
So there was always one of us who could look at the deck and know instantly which card was missing.
If you had used a regular playing deck, we couldn’t possibly have done it. But you had only 25 cards,
5 of each. It was like taking candy from a baby,” Zack concludes. He notices that Sterling is
extremely agitated. He has gotten up and he’s walking around in circles, literally, trying to walk off the
pain or shaking off a cramp, it’s not clear which.
       “Sterl, please, I’m not finished,” Zack says.
       Sterling returns, no less discontent.
       “Sterl, you know yourself and we know myself that you are the smartest guy in the world. That’s
why we love to play tricks on you. But every time we do something like this, we pay a price.
Afterwards, at home Conny is usually the first one to feel bad. Of course, he usually comes up with the
schemes we later come to regret so he deserves to feel the worst. Everything we do bad is almost
always Conny’s fault. And of course then we all feel remorseful. Unlike you we are very emotional;
we cry a lot. We pray for forgiveness and that helps. Sometimes we confess what we’ve done to
mommy and daddy, but they think you’re perfect.
       “They think what?” Sterling asks surprised.
       “When we were boys, they were always telling us to be ‘more like Sterling.’ You are so serious,
so logical, so all together. It’s not you who are in here and me who’s outside.”
       “Maybe I’m not so all together as you think.”
       “We’re not all perfect,” Zack shrugs.
       “No,” Sterling agrees.
       On his visits to the brothers Sterling does not have the same exact conversation with each brother
nor does he share what one brother tells him with another. Given the half dozen visits he has made to
each, he is now better able to understand their relationship. It’s certainly not easy being a triplet. No
way would Sterling want to have two other identical Sterlings to wake up to every day of his life. Just
living with himself is enough of a challenge. Most importantly, he is starting to see the Trips in a
different light: the light of his anger. A lifetime of antagonism has certainly clouded the relationship;
no wonder Dr. Franz raised the anger card. Sterling is heading toward what he figured would be an
epiphany. Before attaining this Nirvana, he’d have to blow out all the fires of hatred that still rage in
his life. Relatively speaking the Trips, merely boyhood buddies, are not consequential. His parents and
Sara are consequential. Sterling is not sure how to go forward: whether to talk this over with each
parent individually, or the two together, or avoid confronting them and just wait until Dr. Franz can
guide him.
       On his way home he visits Connor Vaney, alleged trouble-maker-in-chief, who for the past six
weeks has been a resident of the drug rehab center that was formerly a motel. Connor is the most
reserved and mild mannered of the lot. Sterling has had to draw him out, which he has succeeded in
doing. On this final visit before release, he has come for the electronic piano and box of possessions.
He also needs to explain the rules of their “parole,” which is the exact term that Sterling uses, saying it
is his mother’s term, whereas it’s really his own phrase. He says that his mother has contacted the
Trips manager, lawyer and business agent and all have been apprised of the drug problem. The agents
have agreed to supervise mandatory, randomized drug testing and each brother has been enrolled into a
counseling program. If one fails, they all fail and they all will be going right back into residential
rehab, even if this means canceling an on-going tour. Then Sterling tells Connor that he is the strongest
of the brothers, in Sterling’s opinion, and that he must look after his weaker siblings to ensure they do
not relapse. Of course, he’s said this to all three brothers, playing each off the other. Sterling figures
that they got themselves into this mess because each was so willing to go along with the others. No
one questioned impulses; no one questioned the wisdom of suggesting a course correction. Being three
has made it easier for them together to ignore boundaries and limitations. Sterling has pointed this out
to all three brothers. He has promised he’d be more of a fourth brother, which was probably interpreted
by the Trips as Sterling being a sort of black-sheep relative, a sheriff. When Sterling had asked for
their frank opinion of this arrangement, each brother has replied, frankly, that Sterling is still being a
bully. At certain times in life, when events dictate, Sterling has not been above being a bully. If he
needs to bully the Trips to keep them in line, he will do exactly that. They can get mad at him and
blaspheme him all they want, but he does not intend to budge. He and his mother will play good cop –
bad cop, or more likely bad cop – worse cop if necessary. Lest they miss the subtlety, Sterling says
point-blank that he is blackmailing the boys with the threat of showing their parents the drug test
results. If he had a copy, he’d wave it under their noses. That, of course, is what the Trips want most
to prevent. They love their parents; they don’t want to harm them. If they manage to stay drug-free,
this will likely be the reason. Sterling cannot take credit for developing the Trip recovery strategy; Sara
and his mother were just as involved in identifying which Trip buttons could be pushed. Sterling,
however, is appointed the bad-cop, a role he has no problem accepting. Thus, being a bully in a good
cause is not a role he regrets. He quite relishes it, and this nags him a bit. It’s certainly a subject for
future discourse with Dr. Franz.

Chapter 19
     Soon after Sterling wakes up on this bright Saturday morning, he announces to an amazed Sara
and then to his even more incredulous parents that he needs to go to church today: in his own way, he
believes he’s been born again. Sterling’s desire to commune with God is unusual, and not just because
it’s Saturday. Several local Greek Orthodox churches offer Saturday afternoon Vespers, if he feels the
urge to attend – for a rare time in his life. Nor is this just an excuse for getting the car keys. Normally
only two occasions in the year motivate Sterling, who is not inclined toward formal religion, to
demonstrate his Faith. One is Easter – that is, Orthodox Easter which normally is a different date from
its Catholic/Protestant counterpart (this year, 2009, the former follows the latter by a week). The other
is his saint’s day on November 26. There is, of course, no Saint Sterling in Greek Orthodoxy (nor in
Catholicism). Sterling, without the prefixed saint, is the boy’s name as it appears on his birth
certificate, provisional driver’s license, his I.R.S. and business filings, etc. Sterling is not, however, the
name he received at baptism; there’s a story associated with this discrepancy. Like so much in
Sterling’s life, it is not a simple tale.
      Traditionally, Greek babies (or babies of parents who were born into or converted to the Greek
Orthodox Faith), do not receive a formal name until they are baptized. Sadly, in older times many
newborns did not survive to baptism; so it was somewhat desirable to wait a bit for a healthy baby to be
baptized (dead babies could be anointed before burial). In pre-modern Greece, infants before their
formal baptism were sometimes referred to in the family simply as “Baby.” Baptism traditionally could
occur months after birth; for some families there seemed to be no real rush. Once you were baptized,
however, you were instantly a full member of the church and could take Eucharist. Unlike the other
branches of Christianity Orthodoxy has no rigorous “confirmation” or “first baptism” instructional
program. Many consider it a fairly laid back religion which, despite its rituals and a dose of pomposity
at the top, allows at the grass roots a believer to arrange much of his communing with God through
personal prayer, not requiring the intervention of an agent (deacon, presbyter or bishop). In modern
day America Greek heritage babies are often baptized forty days after birth (the delay relates to
provisions in old Jewish law about postpartum sanitation) at which time they become full members of
the church. Children are baptized by a priest in a Saint’s name and they take his or her name for life.
The Church does not offer trade-ins. Observant Greeks celebrate their saint’s name-day as they would
celebrate their own birthday and often children have a party with those who share their given name.
The Orthodox church, unlike the Vatican, is not unified; there are at least three conflicting patriarchs –
in Moscow, Constantinople and Athens – and a number of lower divisions covering the disparate
reaches of the world where Orthodox Christians live. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Greek
Orthodox religion does not publish an authoritative list of saints. There is actually no formal procedure
for achieving such status; sainthood is something you know when you see it, like pornography in that
regard. Suffice it to say that Orthodoxy recognizes quite a few saints, four or five hundred in fact.
Many have been assigned a calendar day (your saint’s day) on which he or she is celebrated. And
people who are not named after a saint have a party on the appropriately named All Saints’ Day, eight
weeks after Easter. All of the dead have had some saintly virtues; from that perspective all of us are
saints. In any case, not being named after a saint is not a condemnation, at least for normal individuals.
       As a tyke Sterling had surfed the web searching in vain for his eponymous saint. He found some
27 American municipalities sharing his name, including one just yonder, southwest of Charlotte (a low-
middle income biracial neighborhood of single family cottages). The Social Security Administration
told him that the name Sterling ranked 439th in popularity for American boys born in 1992 (and has
been steadily falling in rank, to 901st in 2009). Another source estimated that 50,000 people bear the
name of Sterling in the United States and a new Sterling arrives about every twenty hours. Among
adult Americans Sterling is the 895th most popular name in the country (according to a name database
of college educated men and women), which made the little S.P. Eumorfopoulos exceedingly proud to
be in such a select fraternity. (Who would want to be just another Michael, top ranked with 54,360
born just in 1992?). Despite all the trivia acquired, he uncovered no Saint Sterling. This made the boy
exceedingly annoyed. He ordered that his parents show him his baptism certificate. This demand
produced not the certificate but rather a major row in the family, for no actual baptism certificate had
ever existed. In fact he had never been formally baptized; “We just never got around to it,” his mother
had explained. Susan raised a point of dogma: “As far as God is concerned, you don’t exist; Sterling’s
not a saint’s name,” she had said, proud of the fact she was named after the Virgin Martyr Susanna,
celebrated August 11th. She was immediately punished for the deadly sin of pride as well as for her
astute, if likely incorrect, observation. His parents offered all sorts of lame excuses: his father was in
Iraq when he was born, they were waiting for his return, then when he finally arrived stateside, he was
hospitalized; the sets of grandparents disagreed on a baptism name to replace Sterling which was
supposed to be only a temporary name (reflecting place of conception), despite the parent’s contention
it was a permanent name. Each grandparent wanted to be his exclusive sponsor, but only on the
condition the godparent could select the saint’s name. Familial and intergenerational rows escalated…
in any case, by age eight Sterling had not yet been baptized and the name on his birth certificate had
stuck. The boy was not appeased on learning this history, however. He was entitled to a Saint’s name
day and he would not quit nagging until he got one. It was a matter of principle, he said. He had, in
fact, located a saint, the closest aural relation to Sterling. This was Stylianos of Paphlagonia, the saint
of children yet to be born, with his own Wiki page, thus making him legitimate in the boy’s eyes. Saint
Stylianos was noted for his compassion toward children, especially orphans, and he always wore a
smile. This saint was thus appropriate, the boy reasoned. Sterling smiled when he wanted to, and he
didn’t mind children, being one himself. Years later Sterling would admit that Saint Stylianos had
inspired him to oppose abortion, despite the grief he received on the subject from all his knee-jerk
friends (save Daryl and the Trips).
       Just entering church as Sterling Pandely Eumorfopoulos (in Greek tradition the father’s name is
his child’s second name) and coming away baptized as Stylianos S.P.E. was, unfortunately, not
possible. An adult wishing to convert to Orthodoxy must study church doctrine before he is
chrismated; at some point only when the priest feels that the catechumen knows enough is he or she
ready to be received into the church. Sterling’s parents wanted to argue that Sterling was only a child
and should not have to jump through adult hoops. This argument would surely have been accepted by
parish officials. Even at age eight, however, Sterling took offence at being considered “only a child”.
Thus, he duly memorized the catechism (several hours of effort) and escorted his parents, to church.
The older priest, who had married Catherine and Pandely, was away so they met with the newly
appointed deacon, Fr. Emmanuel, a young man who lacked an impressive beard. Sterling made his
request to be baptized the following Sunday and demanded an exam. If he had been given a multiple-
choice or fill-in-the-blanks test, he would have certainly earned a perfect score. The priest, however,
was convinced that, although the boy knew all the facts and could provide all the right answers on
demand, he lacked a true Christian attitude. He failed to understand the essence of the Church; he
failed to accept that Holy Communion was actually the body and soul of Christ, a belief fundamental to
Orthodox Faith. Sterling had admitted so much to the priest, when he went off-text in his responses to
questions from the catechism and contradicted the existence of miracles “and other religious hocus-
pocus.” Fr. Emmanuel, recoiling from such pagan terminology, had explained: “Holy Communion is
strictly understood as being the real presence of Christ, his true Body and Blood mystically present in
the bread and wine which are offered to the Father in his name and consecrated by the divine Spirit of
God.” Sterling responded that he was too rational to accept the superstitious aspects of religion. “I
believe in God; that’s enough of a leap of faith, isn’t it?” The priest told him that it wasn’t and that he
must work on his beliefs. He should return to be baptized when he was ready. Sterling barked to his
parents that he wanted the presbyter, not this “inexperienced decanol bureaucrat.” There was quite a
row, with the parents (who were to blame for this mess in the first place) having to drag Sterling, who
wanted nothing more than to be named Stylianos, away. Pandely later tried to give the church a
donation, which the deacon contended was a bribe and refused to accept; the presbyter later accepted
the check, knowing the goodness in Pandely’s heart. Catherine offered a suggestion. Without
providing details she told Sterling to implore her parents to intercede. His grandfather needed little
prompting and on the very day he was promoted by Sterling to godfather-presumptive, he drove
Sterling to a nursing home where their retired and infirm archimandrite resided, the very man who had
married them when they had arrived in America in 1960, a couple much in love, refugees, both
orphaned young when their parents, Communists, had been murdered during the Greek Civil War.
Sterling helped his grandfather bundle the retired priest into the car and they went together to the
church where the old man, perfectly sound in mind and impressed with the fact Sterling could answer
perfectly any question of catechism put to him, baptized him on the spot. That Sunday Sterling went
up for Eucharist, baptism certificate in hand; the young priest from the earlier row denied to serve him,
as was his doctrinal right. Sterling refused to budge and was prepared to make a scene (not for the first
time in his life); his father had to forcefully remove him, hauling him off like a sack of potatoes. Susan
later commented: “You can’t trick God with a piece of paper,” an observation for which she was not
punished. Sterling, however, received the strap for his obstinacy, his duplicity, his theatricality, his
arrogance, his self-centeredness, his lack of Faith and for general misbehavior unbefitting his age,
having put Pandely in a rather foul mood. Over time – perhaps because Sterling’s nemesis priest failed
to recognize the boy as he physically morphed into a man – the priest began to serve him holy
communion; he still does so, on the two annual occasions Sterling goes to church.
       Nine years later the boy, now fighting to be a young man, has vowed to work on those character
flaws evidenced during his religious wars. His continuing lack of faith, however, troubles him. All his
friends believe. North Carolina believes. The whole country believes. He doesn’t consider non-belief
– whether heterodoxy or agnosticism, whichever applies to him – a character flaw per se; it nonetheless
nags him. This is what motivates him to call the church and make an appointment for confession.
Sterling does not need to explain to the family his reasons for going to church; his parents themselves
are not model churchgoers, and religion, as well as politics, are generally not discussed in the family.
They dutifully takes the car keys for his various chores.
       While Brandon and Sara administer to the pee-wees’ needs, Sterling makes his daily run for food
donations and deposits them for Sara. He then gathers up Bucephalus and together they go to the
Vaney compound to sniff out some drugs. Despite the fact the dog flunked out of the K-9 corps’ anti-
drug program, she still demonstrates a good nose when she works with Sterling (apparently only
Sterling can engage the dog in police work). Together they find booze, cigarettes, weed, various
pharmaceuticals as well as an expected large cache of illegal drugs – smokeable, inhaleable, digestible
and shootable. Then he puts up a welcome home banner, with a note attached instructing the boys to
immediately surrender any contraband that has survived his inspection “on penalty of reconfinement.”
He signs it “love Sterling” without sarcasm. Before he leaves he fills up a plastic garbage bag with
some changes of clothes to take away.
      After he drops off Bucephalus at the vets for her annual check-up (covered by one of his parent’s
numerous insurance policies – no other family, the boy figures, could waste so much on senseless
premiums), he heads over to church. He did not bother to contrive his visit to get a young priest. He
prefers to talk with his nemesis, who knows Sterling for what he is. Only a deacon when Sterling first
met him, Father Emmanuel is now the man in charge, the presbyter, having replaced the older priest,
who having retired, has died and presumably gone to heaven. The presbyter, himself, now has his own
young deacon to train in his own image. He definitely does not want to talk with the new priest.
Experience has taught Sterling to avoid stepping on the bottom rungs of the religious hierarchy, where
he seems to commit more sins.
      In the past seven years Fr. Emmanuel has aged only slightly. Still in his thirties, lean, with a full
head of cropped black hair, his appearance has changed in only one aspect. His beard is much more
impressive; it has been inching downward at a slow but steady pace. Sterling has seen the priest at
least twice a year since their first encounter, always noting his maturing beard, so he really looks about
the same to the boy. To the priest, in contrast, Sterling is not the same little tyke who gave him so
much trouble. He’s now a big, troubled tyke, the priest reflects.
      Sterling knocks, enters and makes a bow by reaching down and touching the floor with his right
hand, then placing it over the left (palms upward), and says: “Bless, Father.” Struck by the lad’s
formality, Fr. Emmanuel instantly rises from his desk and answers, “May the Lord bless you,” making
the Sign of the Cross, and placing his right hand in Sterling’s hands. Sterling then kisses his hand. The
priest then asks how he can aid Sterling and whether the boy wants to make a confession. Sterling asks
Fr. Emmanuel how much time he can spare and, being given half an hour, he spends the first ten
minutes summarizing his sinful past. Fr. Emmanuel is a patient listener, often being the only person his
parishioners feel comfortable talking to. He’s content to give Sterling an opportunity to unburden
himself. Sterling, for his part, admits he’s broken all the commandments save one.
      “Murder,” Fr. Emmanuel offers, hopefully.
      “Yes, all the others,” Sterling responds. He was thinking of saying, in regard to not having
murdered anyone yet, that he was still young, but he figures Fr. Emmanuel not to be one to appreciate
his sense of humor.
      Sterling nods, understanding that having committed “immoral acts alone” was not what is being
referred to. He doesn’t have the time to go into the details of how he lost his virginity. He summarizes
the event – a lady nearly three times his age, whose pool he cleaned in his Speedos – in a single
sentence, although one that is structurally compound-complex with 56 words and not a few dangling
modifiers (the words flowed more from his heart, than his brain). Technically, Sterling is not sure
whether the encounter counts as adultery in that the lady was between husbands, so she had said
(untruthfully, as the papers had not yet been formally signed). Still, a lawyer as good as Stacy James
would surely be able to get him acquitted before an ecclesiastical court on this particular sin, but in
Sterling’s heart he feels he had erred that summer, five years before. The Institute’s second psychiatrist
– the one obsessed with his sex life – had informed him that the affair constituted rape “statutorily and
actually,” an analysis Sterling still refuses to accept. He may have been young and inexperienced, but
he had not been forced to do anything against his will. Indeed, he was extremely willing, so willing
that he willingly sinned several pool cleanings in a row. Fr. Emmanuel stops Sterling from offering
more on the seamy side of his losing battle with the Ten Commandments.
      “The gift of God’s forgiveness, although assured, is not magical. It does not automatically spare
us from spiritual struggle - the continual vigilance against evil and the unceasing warfare against sin,”
he says.
      “Yes. I’m just beginning the struggle.”
      “Preparation for Holy Confession requires a prayerful examination of feelings, thoughts, words,
acts, attitudes, habits, values, priorities, goals, direction and way of life. This prayerful self-
examination includes not only the personal religious life, but also family relationships, social activities,
job conduct, business dealings, political commitments and even recreational pursuits, because our
entire existence should be lived in under the light of the Holy Spirit is not to condemn ourselves, but to
affirm our true selves in Christ who has given us access to God’s mercy and forgiveness and who has
taught us to live for God’s glory.”
      “I know, father. It won’t be easy. And I’ll forego Holy Communion until I’m ready to confess.”
      “If all the Faithful did that, we’d never finish a bottle of wine,” Fr. Emmanuel says, trying to
employ a bit of humor. Sterling appreciates this and smiles, unsure of whether that means he’s
permitted to take the Eucharist or not. He’s not willing to ask the priest, given their history on the
      “To some people I’d recommend they write down their sins so they could reflect on them. I
suppose you may have done that.”
      Sterling pulls out from his backpack a thick spiral notebook, filled with his thoughts on this
subject. He offers to give it to Fr. Emmanuel, who kindly refuses it.
      “Confession is an ongoing process. It’s between you and God. I can advise you on some prayers
and how to facilitate the process, but I don’t need to know all the details. But you can always talk to
me if you don’t have anyone to talk with about personal life.”
      “I have parents, a girlfriend, other friends, psychiatrists, teachers, lawyers. For my religious
worries I only have you.
      “Are you still having problems with Faith?” he asks.
      “Yes, father.”
      “Then, that’s what we’ll work on. It’s not my job to deny you Holy Communion. Are we clear on
      “Yes, father.”
      Father Emmanuel rises to open the door for Sterling to leave. The boy thanks him, his thoughts
preoccupying him. He’s almost out the door before he remembers the ritual, says “Bless. Father,” is
blessed and kisses the hand. He supplements the ritual with a “Thank you, Father Emmanuel” which,
although unnecessary, comes from the heart.
      Sterling does not know and may not know for some time whether religion will be important in his
life. He knows that it is important for some people around him and less important for others. He
suspects it’s not long before friends like William and Jeremiah stop believing in God altogether. The
former will question how a God can allow such an unjust world; the latter, who sees the universe in
terms of ones and zeros, can find no God in numbers. Sterling doesn’t know what he himself believes.
He has been recently having more doubts than usual, not additional doubts about God but doubts about
himself. As the boy’s belief in his own infallibility diminishes, the possibility of the likely existence of
a Superior Being in the universe is starting to assert itself. Once upon a time, not long ago, he thought
he knew, or could know, everything; but from a time dating back to Smiley Boy, he can now admit that
he knows only one thing: that he doesn’t know everything.
     Sterling has never much worried about money.       That’s not just because he had access to his
parents’ credit card, which he used freely, but reasonably. At least, his parents had never complained;
after Smiley Boy he has only his ATM bit of plastic. Money was never an issue to him because he knew
that he belonged to a very privileged class – American adolescents – who form the largest body of
freeloaders on the planet. Sterling freely admits this and attaches no shame to the fact. He wrote a
paper for an economics course on the amount of “intergenerational subsidy” that flows between parents
and their children in North Carolina. The figure dwarfs the state’s entire budget for highways, prisons,
welfare payments and the like. Just the parents’ toy budget in the state is certainly larger than the GDP
of some small African country, a fact, however intuitive, Sterling could unfortunately not empirically
establish. In any case, he found that Gambia’s annual GDP, at $440 per head, is less than the amount
he calculated the average Carolinian spends on a child in a month, excluding cars, health insurance,
plane tickets, college tuition and other big ticket items. What made his paper interesting and worthy of
publication, however, was his finding that, using government data that he had pried out of a
Washington bureaucrat, the reverse transfers, later in life, are miniscule. That is, children do not
greatly support their parents as they reach the end of their lives. In other words, American parents take
care of themselves, using savings, pensions, IRAs, profit from a house sale or welfare such as
Medicare. Sterling concluded that the belief that raising kids pays off later when parents need their
children’s support is mistaken, at least for North Carolina. Thus, discouraging poor people from having
children makes sound economic sense. Liberal economists (almost oxymoronic to Sterling) might not
like the boy’s insight, but then Sterling doesn’t think much of liberals, anyway, and generally ignores
them. He gets enough liberal exposure at home: his parents. His paper was, indeed, published over the
name of an Ivy League undergraduate in a peer-reviewed journal, with no mention of Sterling’s
contribution (i.e., that he had ghost-written it for $350).
      Sterling uses his ATM card to check his bank balance. Recently his balance has remained pretty
steady at around $40,000, much of it proceeds from Apple that he has yet to reinvest. Formerly he
worked the market on-line, but since The Punishment, he’s let everything slide. He’s eager to get back
into the game as standing on the sidelines is costing him several hundred dollars a day in opportunity
cost. He has a preliminary appointment next week with Merrill Lynch. He hopes they will accept him
as a client, and if not, that they will at least accept his parents, his guardians, as clients. They have
agreed to accompany him to the meeting. He’s soon expecting some major checks to be deposited in
the family account. These will go toward covering his college expenses and he needs to plan an
investment strategy that allows a stream of income for four or more years. Sterling has always been
expected to figure out for himself how he can pay for college. From the time the family established the
fact that little Sterling was a genius, it was understood that he would go to the best university possible,
which translates as an expensive one. In admitting the boy was so bright, his parents had informed him
he was also bright enough to figure out for himself how to pay for his post-secondary education.
Sterling had no reason to object to this; it was reasonable. If he couldn’t figure out how to afford
college, then he shouldn’t be allowed to go. From an early age he did not expect his parents to take
care of him once he reached age eighteen.
      Sterling fiddles around with the ATM to arrive at the balance of the family account. He is allowed
(by both parents and bank) to do this but he is restricted from making transactions. He’s not doing
anything sneaky, in other words. The only account he cannot access is his father’s boxing account. He
doesn’t even know which bank that’s in.
      As expected one of the insurance checks has arrived. The balance of the account has risen from
$12,458.21 to $557,493.21. This does not bring a smile to the boy’s face, just an awareness that,
thanks to his sister, he no longer must worry about how to pay for college.
      The papers which Sterling had given over to Denis Brockton of Stacy James LC contained a letter
from Dixie Carolina Mutual referring to the termination of Susan’s life annuity. With other things on
his mind the boy had not paid much attention to the letter except to reflect that it would result in one
less insurance premium for automatic salary deduction. Sterling’s parents, according to the boy, still
had the mentality of Old Country arrivals, indeed just like his grandparents on his mother’s side. That
mentality includes a fondness for nickel-and-dime insurance, the type that requires small monthly
payments and can result in a bonanza if certain (highly unlikely) future events materialize. Of course,
those types of events hardly materialize or else insurance companies wouldn’t be in business. Sterling
would concede he doesn’t know much about insurance, but what little he knows has given him a fairly
negative view of the industry. Thus he was happy to turn the annuity and other insurance matters over
to the lawyer because that relieved the headaches involved in dealing with a bureaucracy of agents,
claim adjusters and other leaches on society. At Brockton’s request, Sterling had gathered up the
family’s insurance papers into a big bundle, and left them for the lawyer and his secretary to sort
through (including Boo’s health insurance, which was mailed back to The Sterling, addressed to Miss
Bucephalus Eumorfopoulos) . Sterling realized he and his family were paying a well educated
professional to do clerical work for which he was certainly overqualified; Sterling had other things that
interested him more and, although he never minded dealing with figures and calculations, he preferred
not to deal with bureaucrats, a rubric that, as the boy aged, was becoming ever more enveloping.
      Brockton had studied the annuity. The agent for Dixie Carolina Mutual who had drawn up the
contract had been an army buddy of Pandely. Shortly after Sterling’s birth, his friend had shown
Pandely a graph that projected the costs of higher education to rise extraordinarily in the next
generation. Pandely, being a Durham Eumorfopoulos, was pretty much of an incurable pack-rat, and
he had saved that projection and attached it with the insurance policy. The lawyer marveled at how
accurate that projection turned out to be.
      The family’s insurance contracts reflected, in part, fairly standard regular-payment annuities for
both the children. In these instruments a life insurance company agrees to make a series of future
payments to the buyer (annuitant) in exchange for the premiums they pay each month. In other words
Pandely’s army buddy had concocted a savings plan for Susan’s college. Pandely had taken one out on
Sterling, also; for despite the parents’ declaration that Sterling would be responsible for funding
college, they were secretly squirreling away support. In each case the annuity would terminate when
the child reached the age of eighteen, and a lump sum payment would be made (premiums plus
earnings). What made these policies different from a regular college savings plan was that they had a
life-insurance kicker. If either child died before age eighteen, the surviving sibling received $500,000,
plus the annuity. In terms of the actuarial tables, there was only a slim chance of early death and the
additional premium more than compensated the insurance company for taking added risk, spread over
thousands of policies. Susan had died several weeks shy of her eighteenth birthday. Her death benefit
was the amount recently deposited into the family’s account. The auto insurance claim was heading to
      In a sense the life insurance policy was the opposite of longevity insurance: the shorter you lived
the bigger the pay-out. If Sterling had been his father, of course, he would never have allowed himself
to be talked into such a policy, which increased the premiums with about as much chance of a payout as
the state lottery. Sterling would have found a better use for the money, convinced as he is that he is far
better at investments than an insurance bureaucracy. Pandely, however, had followed his buddy’s
advice (newborn Sterling was not yet capable of speaking his mind). Pandely didn’t know insurance
from neuroscience, but he knew his friend to be honest. Indeed, he felt sorry for his buddy, and pity
was more than just a contributing factor in buying these policies. It was probably the only reason he
bought the insurance, which he did after more than a few beers. The buddy had survived the first Gulf
War but he had demons. After his tour was up, he had enrolled in law school on the G.I. bill and
dropped out before the end of the first semester. He had then tried his hand at journalism but that, too,
had not panned out. So he resorted to sales, first Bibles door-to-door to rural North Carolinians.
Eventually he gravitated toward life insurance, which paid better. One evening, after his second wife
had left him, he had off loaded his problems onto Pandely, as if Pandely didn’t have enough problems
of his own; after a few Scotch chasers, Pandely was committed to two separate college savings plans,
masquerading as insurance policies. Pandely, in his son’s opinion, had acted like an idiot. Idiocy
sometimes pays off.
     With Boo riding shotgun, Sterling is starting the last of the day’s errands: Trip retrieval. He will
pick up each brother from his rehab center and bring them back to The Sterling which will serve as a
half-way house until their parents return in a few days. This was not his idea. Indeed, Sterling has
mixed feelings about living under the same roof as the Trips; the boys were so insistent that they were
ready for release that they had bullied him into convincing his mother this was the best decision. All
agree the boys need a few days of careful monitoring; if they don’t pass muster, Sterling will be driving
them back to the same institutions they have been forced to call home for the past six weeks.
      Like her master, Boo (who passed her physical in grand form) has a complicated relationship with
the Vaney boys. Whenever she sees them, she greets one with particular affection while she is utterly
hostile to the other two. It’s as if she were protecting one from the others. Sterling has never figured
out if Boo prefers one boy over his siblings – in other words, that she can tell them apart, perhaps by
smell – or maybe that she picks out one at random to protect from his brothers. The first stop is the
Duke Motor Plaza rehab where Connor Vaney awaits, all packed and ready to go. Boo totally ignores
this Trip. Given the rehab’s proximity to home, Sterling suggests that Connor walk back to The
Sterling, where Sara is preparing lunch; this suggestion is refused out of hand as the brother, despite an
eagerness to snack, is impatient to unite with Zack and Jake. They thus head out to Piney Woods,
Connor fidgeting as he nervously awaits the familial reunion. Sterling reviews all the rules that he has
devised for the deviant brothers, including very limited parietal hours. They may each entertain a
single girlfriend, in a public space, once for a maximum of two hours. Sterling has previously lectured
each boy individually on the wickedness of his ways with their girlfriends, behavior which Sterling
characterizes as “despicable, contemptible and probably illegal.” Each boy had silently accepted
Sterling’s condemnation with due penitence. Zack had said that the drugs had controlled their libido.
Jake had said that the girls had agreed to the musical bed - group sex arrangement, which “we never
wanted you to find out about.” Connor had said it was the other brothers’ idea of a joke and he
confirmed proudly that they were all still virgins. Obviously, the trio hadn’t had time to concoct a
single fabrication of events; Sterling had caught them unawares. Connor then informs Sterling that he
and his brothers would like to spend the night catching up, so they must sleep in the same room, as they
do at home. Sterling responds that this wish could be granted only if Sterling lends them his room, the
only one sufficiently spacious to accommodate them. Before Sterling can continue, explaining why he
won’t do this, Connor thanks him profusely for being such a good brother. “To give up your own
bedroom, now that’s a sacrifice,” Connor says, putting his arm tenderly around Sterling’s shoulder as
he might do to one of his brothers. Sterling figures he’ll correct this misunderstanding with the
remaining brothers; there is no way he will spend a night on the couch, alone, as Sara’s parents are in
town to celebrate her birthday and the sleeping arrangements have been amended to accommodate their
      Jake, who eagerly waits at the Piney Woods gate, is allowed to leave as soon as the guard
recognizes Sterling in his mother’s hatchback. Jake hands off his belongings to Sterling, in the style of
master to servant, while he and Connor hug. Boo is excitedly barking and nipping at Connor’s heels.
Once they are all settled into the car (Boo being affectionately patted by Jake), they head over to the
Anderson Clinic for the final pick-up. The brothers affectionately hold hands in the back seat. They
remark on each other’s facial hair which has altered their appearances and they mockingly condemn
Sterling for his deception, a ninth Commandment violation. Jake also instructs Connor that, after
removing his “hideous” Van Dyke, his second job is to gain back his lost weight. Institutional cooking
has cost Conner about five pounds and Jake calls him a scarecrow to drive home the point. Connor
accepts the assessment and then excitedly tells his brother than Sterling is kindly lending them his
bedroom for the night; Jake offers his copious appreciation, mentioning what a kind brother Sterling is,
despite the fact that he had imprisoned them, violating their rights by tricking them to sign the
admissions papers. Jake had learned this fact from several coke-addicted lawyers who had become his
rehab buddies. At Anderson they pick up Zack and repeat the performance: hugs, comments on facial
hair, changes in weight. The brothers oink Zack, stroke his beard and call him an overripe peach. Jake
then leads off a discussion on whether they should arrest Sterling for his falsely arresting them.
      “North Carolina has no statute making false imprisonment a crime, but it is a crime at common
law,” the jailhouse lawyer offers. “Furthermore, North Carolina does not permit citizen arrests but it
does permit detention by private persons where probable cause exists that one has committed a felony,
breach of peace, physical injury to another person, or theft or destruction of property,” Jake says to his
brothers. They discuss whether they should detain Sterling on the spot and decide that the theft of their
cell phones provides their strongest case. Sterling listens to this bemusedly. He returns their phones
which, despite being identical, instant are grabbed by the correct owners. The boys decide, however,
that they will let Sterling off this one time. “Everyone makes mistakes. He meant well. God forgives
and so shall we,” they conclude. After a sarcastically offered “thanks,” Sterling says that Sara has
invited over their girlfriends, despite his own strenuous objection. Sterling says he is still extremely
upset about how the boys treated the girls in the musical beds episode. He had expounded his contempt
at length to them each individually; now he addresses the culprits ensemble. The Trips giggle. Sterling
exudes a flash of anger and pulls off the road, turns off the car and turns around to talk to them
      “This was contemptible and egregious behavior,” he says flatly.
      The Trips giggle again, commenting on Sterling’s skill at finding just the right 12-letter word.
The have to look up the meaning of egregious after Sterling tells them its spelling.
      Sterling sees no remorse among the brothers, who had each individually confessed their guilt
during his earlier visits. This makes him extremely disappointed; he doesn’t know what to say. He
can’t stand to look at them and turns back, trying to decide whether he should just dump them out here
and forget about them altogether. The giggles continue from the backseat, infuriating him further.
Without even bothering to look back at them, he barks:
      “Get out of my fuckin’ car. You fuckers disgust me. I never want to see you guys again.”
      They don’t move and just give him some tongue-clucking condemnation. Finally, Jake says:
      “It was just a joke, Sterly. And don’t call us eff-ers.”
      Sterling recognizes the words as emanating from Jake, Boo’s friend.
      “It’s no joke, Jake, not showing your girl respect by having your brother’s…” Sterling says,
pausing to come up with the right phrase. “…share in sexual intercourse. That’s pretty low in my
book. Some would say rape,” he concludes.
      “Sterling, it was a joke. Sometimes, you’re so thick.”
      “Sterl, you know we’ve always said we’ll wait until we’re married, haven’t we? I mean we come
close, but we never violate our promise.”
      “Very close.”
      “Very, very close,” Jake offers. His brothers give him an evil eye. Jake seems to be suggesting he
needs some brotherly assistance to keep him on the straight and narrow. His remark will necessitate a
full revisit about what is permitted and what is disallowed in the Trip world of repressed sexuality.
      “Yeah, Sterling, we’d never break the Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Commandments as well as fib to
Oprah. Surely not in syndication!”
      “I know what I saw, you liars,” Sterling shoots back. “And I found the evidence, nine fuckin’
      Zack turns to Conner and says: “I told you he’d find them. You of so little faith.”
      “But I take the credit for making them look so real,” Jake chimes in.
      “They were real,” Sterling shoots back.
      Together the boys cluck at Sterling and guffaw while they torture him. One of them says: “Pig
semen.” They continue to oink.
      “Pig semen?” Sterling asks. He recalls the bottle he had found. “That’s what was in the bottle?”
      “Bought on-line, next day UPS.”
      “You weren’t supposed to find the bottle. Lucky we tore off the label.”
      “My idea,” Jake says proudly.
      “And what about the bracelets. Nine of them.”
      “That was my idea,” Zack adds. He turns to his brothers: “I told you it’s a lot more difficult to
fool Sterl than it used to be. Either he’s getting smarter or we’re loosing our touch.”
      “But you came out the washroom, you’d changed shorts. One was on backwards and the
      “Pee-flap my idea,” says Connor.
      “I get credit for the slippers,” says Jake.