[The following is an extended excerpt from The New Golden Age, a novel-in-progress that's set in the world of anime / SF / gamer fandom. In this excerpt, narrator Henry and his friend Winthrop arrive at one of the country's biggest conventions, and gain an unexpected hanger-on.]
(Warning: mild profanity and mature situations; recommended for readers 13 and up)
The elevators in the Hyatt are mostly bare glass, so if you stand only a couple of feet away from the doors you find yourself looking all the way up, and all the way down. Nothing but what feels like miles of empty space in front of you and on both sides. The far walls of the hotel itslf are either the big windows that show the western view or have wraparound balconies with hotel rooms behind them, and the only thing below you is the little multi-level plaza that has the restaurant, the cocktail bar, and whatever potted shrubbery you’d become part of if you were stupid enough to step over the balcony railing.
Our room was on the 19th floor. I could tell Winthrop was probably already trying to figure out how to go back upstairs as little as possible. He kept his eyes resolutely forward during the whole ride up. I’d found out about his paralyzing fear of heights when we were much younger: just taking the upper level of the George Washington Bridge made him physically sick.
Me, I looked down, and felt a different kind of illness. One day before things were officially under way, and the place was already jammed. Most of the people around weren’t in costume yet—heck, we weren’t—but I could tell the look of the fans without needing to see them in costume. Even without T-shirts or pins on their bags, they stood out to me: they were young, or even if they weren’t young, they had a young energy about them. Even the fortyish guy with the receding hairline and the comb-over hanging out in front of the elevators on the fifth floor, the one having a fevered argument with his rotund, silver-haired lady friend about whether or not Spike Spiegel was really dead—even they had a spark of that coming off them as they talked: “I mean, we see him fall over, and then there’s that angelic kind of hazy misty picture of him after the credits, but we never actually get told he’s dead, right? We just get an image, and—”
The elevator doors cut him off, and I regretted not hearing the rest of the conversation. I had a few theories of my own. And then I thought: What’s the point? It’s not as if his theory plus my theory equals anything but idle speculation. It was the same sort of thing I’d had with Winthrop over and over again for years in a row, and it had never amounted to anything else except a bunch of hot air. But here we were, ostensibly to repeat that experience.
Winthrop wasn’t looking at me; he was facing forward and trying to pretend nothing behind him existed, especially not that horrible dizzying drop to the ground floor. I turned around and let me gaze drop to the second floor plaza where all of those young-looking people were milling about.
From up here we’re not much of anything, are we? I thought. Step back far enough and everyone’s elation, everyone’s energy, everyone’s plans and aspirations and selves turn into nothing but little crawling black specks and a distant echo-y shouting. Step back far enough and it’s all noise and vague movement.
“Dude, nineteen,” Winthrop called out. “I’m not turning around.”
I turned around and grabbed the wheelaround handle on my luggage. Winthrop has no sense of direction, so I stepped out ahead of him and navigated our way through the rabbit warren of rooms to 1931.
“Fucking elevators.” Winthrop was sort of bounding up and down in place as he walked. When he had been younger and had worn those hoodies with the jumper pockets in front, he’d do that with his hands balled up tightly in them, and stretch the thing out until the pockets ripped. “Couldn’t you have asked for something closer to the ground, man? I thought I was going to toss some groceries.”
“The entire first four floors of the hotel are booked up solid by the con administration,” I reminded him. “Second floor’s conference rooms, the LARP people have the third floor, and the fourth floor’s all events.”
“Five beats nineteen any day. I can walk up five flights.”
“The last time you walked five flights of anything was when someone pulled a fire alarm. And you were going the other way.”
The room key didn’t work. I still had the image of all those people down there, filling my vision, I didn’t realize I was putting the damn thing in backwards and upside down.
“You wanna go downstairs and get badge pickup over with?” I said. “It’ll probably take about half an hour for pre-reg, is my guess, and you know it’s just gonna get worse throughout the weekend.”
Winthrop drew the curtains, doing his best not to look out the window. “I thought you said this was supposed to cheer us both up. Ever since we got out of the car you’ve been acting like you’re going in for surgery. What gives?”
“I don’t feel like I belong here anymore,” I said at random.
“Buh?—Oh, now you say this after you convince me to spend all this money and come all the way out here?”
“You can still have a good time.”
“Not when you’re bumming.” He dumped the loose change out of his pockets into the little drawer in the front of the desk. “You wanna tell me what brought this on?”
I knew what had brought it on, all right—the sight of all those people so far down. The certainty that whatever I was doing with my life, it was all just being siphoned into the same black hole that everyone else’s lives seemed to be vanishing into. But no one wants to hear about your existential bullshit, so I switched to an easy lie.
“I keep thinking about Karen,” I said.
“Oh for the Jesus H. Christ.” Winthrop turned around and smacked the wall. For a minute I thought he was going to start pounding his head against it. “You’re telling me that you’re getting another jones for the woman who cut you loose and who never really connected with you much in the first place?”
“You know what I wanted?” I said, taking the room key back out of its little paper sleeve and sticking it in my wallet. “For four straight years I wanted to be able to bring her to a place like this and have us go off and do our own thing and then come back together again in the evening and share it. I wanted to wander around with her in the dealer room and sit with her in the video rooms. I wanted to be romantic about it. And I never even got past the ‘bug-eyed Japanese cartoon’ phase with her.”
“You need a drink.” Winthrop took his own room key and stuck it in one of the side pockets on his shorts. “At this rate, you’re going to need a bunch of them.”
“Let’s just get our badges. I’m sorry I brought it up.”
“No, hey, hey—” He ran to catch up with me as I stepped outside. “I’m not saying, you know, don’t feel what you feel.” Distantly, down the hall, I could hear all those people milling around downstairs in the atrium. “I’m saying, don’t let it stop you from having the good time we came out here to have. We’re going to go and spend entirely too much money for our own good. We’re going to eat very bad food, a lot of it. We’re going to get three hours of sleep a night if we’re lucky. And you are not going to utter the name of that yuppie dumbass buzzkill airhead one more time.”
“Karen,” I said. “Karen. Karen, Karen, Karen—”
“You keep this up and I’ll teabag you when you’re asleep.”
The elevator doors opened. Winthrop stepped inside and pressed himself up against the button panel like he was trying to disguise the fact that his fly was open.
A convention is a case study in crowd management and traffic control, about how to devise plans to deal with such issues and then flagrantly ignore them. If you have five thousand people who all need the same thing at the same time, and can only get it in one place, what’s the best way to stave off a stampede? Answer: Give them more than one place to get it.
It sounds great in theory, but it rarely works in practice. The good news was that the theory and practice seemed to finally have converged.
The entire first floor of the hotel’s convention-center area had been ribboned up with TensaBarriers to create a labyrinth in which people queued up to receive their badges. At the end of the maze was an entire wall of booths—half for pre-registered badge pickup and subdivided into by last name A-G, H-K, M-R, S-Z, and half for on-site registration. Most of the people standing in line weren’t even standing: they were sitting, lying on the carpet, leaning against columns. The trash barrels were already packed with wrapping paper discarded shrinkwrap as people decided to get caught up on their reading or game-deck-sorting. But the line was moving, and even in the time it took us to descend the mammoth escalator to the convention floor we could see people stepping up from the head of the line to their respective booths. Not many costumes were visible in this crowd, but one girl was drawing a lot of attention for her Temari outfit—complete with massive folding fan, at least as big as she was. I wondered who she got to hold that thing for her when she took her bio-breaks.
“It’s not that bad,” I said.
“Yeah, I remember 2002.” Winthrop squinted out at the crowd to see if he recognized anyone. “That was when they only had one pre-reg booth, like idiots, because they thought it would go faster than the regular reg line. End result was you waited something like three hours to get your badge, and a lot of people bitched about it—they were like, ‘Why pre-reg if we’re just going to get punished for it?’ That was the year Greg Cameron stepped down from the convention administration. No, no coincidence there, oh no sir.”
I imagined there would be more than a few stories about one of the more openly corrupt people to chair a convention’s staff. People told stories about Greg Cameron the way people told stories about Charles Manson. Just having brushed shoulders with him in a hallway was enough to warrant a story.
Our total time in line wasn’t more than ten minutes. With people behind me and people in front of me, I felt almost at ease again—I felt more a part of what was going on here, with all the noise directly around me, than I did peering down at them from the elevator. How long does it last, though? I asked myself.
“You wanna grab a meal after this?” Winthrop asked. “They re-opened the skyway to the mall, so there’s like every fast food ever invented about ten minutes from here. And we don’t even have to brave traffic to get it.”
“Is this the mall with the ice-skating rink next to the food court?”
“That’s the one.”
I looked at him and put on a smile—again, it felt like the first smile in days.
“…Final Fantasy on ice,” I said.
“Oh for the fuck love of Jesus you had to remind me of that,” he spluttered.
Last year, there had been no incident more widely talked-about and photographed than seeing three people dressed as the key characters from Final Fantasy VII—one of whom was mortal enemies to the other two—holding hands and skating slow circles on the ice in tandem. I’d been there myself and tried to get shots of the whole thing, but my camera wasn’t up to the task of getting a decent picture of them from that far away.
If there’s even one thing as naïvely sweet as that this year, I told myself, this whole trip will have been worth it.
The badge claim itself was painless, and the lariats supplied with the badge holders were printed with the name of a major online video retailer.
“They probably traded the cost of their booth in the dealer’s room for sponsoring this bit of product placement.” Winthrop almost bent his badge in half getting it into the holder.
“Static electricity and friction are not your friends today, I see,” I said.
“Yeah, but you should see the mean shit I can do with gravity and blunt force trauma.”
We joshed back and forth like that all the way back up the escalator. Now we really were like everyone else here, I thought: in-joking, one-upping each other with our wit, and maybe starting to feel at home. Having the badge officially installed around my neck only added to that sense of belonging all the more—even if for some stupid reason it kept flipping over and showing the blank backside. I gave up and simply clipped it to my sleeve.
“Are you actually planning on checking out the screening rooms at all?” Winthrop’s comment was probably inspired by the fact that one of the screening rooms was right off the second-floor conference center escalator bank. As soon as we stepped off, there it was right in front of us—and, in fact, there were already people in there, drinking in the industrial-strength air conditioning and watching something I didn’t recognize.
“I might,” I said. “I haven’t seen the schedule yet; I don’t want to devote time here to something that I could just as easily rent.”
“See, that’s the irony. Now that I’m here to spend the time, I might as well get caught up on what’s out by doing that. Back at home, I don’t have the time to rent anything.”
“We’ll talk about that one when we get back home, too. About getting you some decent co-workers who might give you the chance to take a day off.”
“Don’t make me dread going home, man. At least not any more than I already do. Come on, let’s get something to eat before I fall over.”
That confirmed it for me. One of the other things I intended to get done during this whole excursion was find a way to help Winthrop get that particular millstone off his neck once and for all. That would be my gift to him, much as this getaway was our gift to each other: to come back from the good times and be able to look forward to even better ones.
The second floor of the convention center connected back to the hotel through a short skywalk, windowed on both sides. People loitered in the skyway, sitting on the little ledge in front of the windows even though they would get hassled about it by both convention security and hotel staff. That was when you knew you were at a convention—when you didn’t just see people milling around in appropriate outfits and lugging merchandise, but just camped out anywhere and everywhere. One guy in the straw hat, red shirt, trousers and sandals of a Monkey D. Luffy outfit (and with the requisite make-up scar below one eye) had a shakuhachi flute; he was sitting crosslegged right at the entrance to the skywalk and blowing tentatively into it. Seeing him for some reason put a stab of guilt and regret back into me, but I buried it as quickly as I could. I should catch up with him later if I can find him again, I thought.
I’ve had, for as long as I can remember, a kind of sixth sense about certain things. If I go into a room or wind up next to someone in public where something bad is happening—an argument is about to break out but hasn’t started yet, for instance, or the aftermath of one—I can feel it, like someone spraying me with a water bottle. It hits me right in the gut.
The second we stepped out of the skywalk I got hit right in the gut, harder than I had been in a long time. Harder, maybe, than when Karen walked out.
At the far side of the skywalk, in the hotel proper, was a little lounge area—a circle of couches, a couple of tables. Several people had gathered there—a bunch of folks with suitcases and pieces of luggage of different sizes—and they were all sort of ringed around this one woman who was standing with her arms dangling at her sides and this look on her face. It was her face that did it—the sight of her made me stop.
“Winthrop,” I said quietly. “Hold up a sec.”
We stopped walking. One by one, the ring of people around the woman picked up their luggage and began to walk off towards the escalators that led down to the checkout desk. One of them was a woman—a skinny, bony-looking blonde with a black broomstick skirt—who said something loud enough as she passed the other woman that even we, standing ten feet away, could hear it:
“Don’t bother coming by next week. We don’t need you.”
There are some things you don’t need a context for. They all filed off, leaving that one woman standing there, staring at a spot on the wall where there wasn’t really anything to stare at. She was pretty—she had straight black hair in a bob and blue eyes, almost like Theda Bara although not as broadly vampy. That and any coquettishness she might have had was gone right now: her eyes were all too wide, and tears were starting to run freely down her face like someone had left a faucet slightly open.
Fuck, I thought.
No one else was watching her.
She reached down, seized the handle of her rollaround suitcase and broke into a half-run—she wasn’t going anywhere in particular, I could tell, she was just going. Head down, covering her face with her free hand, she charged blindly into the open doorway of Screening Room #3, which happened to be one of the doors off the lounge area. The part of my brain that entertained irrelevant thoughts hoped they hadn’t booked any high-traffic events for that particular space.
I went after her. I didn’t check to see if Winthrop was still following me; I just followed right behind her. The lights were off inside and there was already something playing, but she didn’t care; she just threw herself into a corner to the right of the door—not even picking a chair, just sitting with her knees up against her face and her back to a wall.
I stood over her for I don’t know how many minutes before I finally found the nerve to ask the dumbest possible question.
“Are you all right?”
“No,” she choked, and pulled her head up from her knees; her jeans were going dark and wet where her face had been pressed into them. Then a funny look crossed her face, and I thought: She’s only just now realizing I’m not one of the people she was with.
“What happened back there?”
“I’m screwed, is what happened back there.”
Heads in the audience—all six of them—turned to face us. I made take-it-easy gestures to the people she’d (inadvertently) annoyed and crouched down next to her.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“Do I know you?”
“Am I with ‘them’, you mean? No—we were just walking by. I mean…”
She rubbed at her face and threw a glance at the screen. What was unfolding up there—it involved someone piloting a giant robot, from the look of it—was probably only making her feel all the more disoriented. She was probably someone who had been at the hotel before the bunch of us weirdos had descended on it.
“Henry,” I said, “and this is—crap, I think he’s back there.” I shot a look back through the open doorway, where a few yards back Winthrop was peering in with a very confused look on his face. “The guy who was with me back there, that’s Winthrop. We were just walking by and we saw you, and … ”
“And you got worried,” she finished. She actually managed a smile while saying that, and she was doing a good job of keeping her voice down. Both of us were now talking barely above a whisper. “That’s … well, that’s really sweet of you. But I’ve got to figure out how to get back home now.”
“My ride decided to leave without me.” She waved a hand and winced. “I don’t want you to have to hear this whole story … please, I fucked up. This is my mistake.”
“No, it’s OK. Listen, are you hungry? We were just going to get lunch, and I was thinking we could treat you or something.”
Her expression didn’t change. I winced and showed her the badge.
“It’s OK, we’re not trying to do anything stupid. We’re just here for the convention.”
“I guess … What is this, some kind of movie festival?”
I gestured for her to stand up, and she walked back outside with me, her suitcase trailing behind her like a broken toy.
She wasn’t “one of us,” or so Winthrop’s puzzled expression seemed to tell me. She was a mundane. She was one of the Great Unwashed who stared at us in the hallways, like we were all re-enacting high school. And she was also crying and troubled, so right then and there, I honestly didn’t give a shit.
Her name was Diane Schiebel—“shee-bull,” she pronounced it—and she hailed from Corpus Christi. She’d ridden into Dallas with her boyfriend to be one of the bridesmaids in a friend’s wedding, and was now stranded after her boyfriend had shrugged her off.
Winthrop and I introduced ourselves in turn, and just as we were about to enter the skybridge to the mall, he jumped ahead of us and got the door. Chivalry is not dead, I thought; it’s just very opportunistic.
I also figured there was more to her story, but it would either come out on its own or not at all.
“So where are you two from?”
“New York,” I confessed.
“New York?” She made it sound like we’d come here against our will. “People come in that far away for something like this?”
“Well, I—we kind of have an excuse. Friends of ours live in the area, a whole lot of them.”
“Friends of his,” Winthrop corrected, “but his friends become my friends by default because he can’t get rid of me.”
Diane laughed—first time I’d seen her do that since we’d bumped into her—and her suitcase hit a bump in the carpeted walkway. She’d run over one of those brass-plate fixture coverings that’s used to hide an electrical outlet, and her suitcase flipped over on her and landed wheels-up. I snagged it and righted it, and she flashed me a grateful smile.
My turn to be a hero, I thought.
“So you guys do this a lot? Come to this convention thing?”
“Once or twice a year,” I said, “although mostly it’s been just me. Winthrop’s kind of been hard up for the cost of a plane ticket lately. But we split a room, which helps offset costs.”
“And after the year I’ve had—” Winthrop ducked ahead once more to get the other set of doors at the end of the skyway. “—I was determined to get the hell out of town one way or another. After you, gentlemen and lady…”
I hadn’t been in the mall in three years, and as you can imagine it didn’t even look like the same place anymore. The food court had been relocated from an upper level to right off the skyway entrance, clustered around the ice rink (which was indeed open for business—people were already gliding around on its surface). I spotted plenty of people with badges.
Winthrop stepped back in line next to me. “Were you thinking about anything in particular? —Please don’t say Subway.” He pressed his palms together at me, like a penitent facing his god.
“Panda’s?” I said, pointing. Winthrop relaxed.
Panda’s was one of a chain of Chinese places that also did Japanese dishes like teriyaki. Line up, take a number, choose one from columns A and B, step aside, wait till they call you, then pay up and eat. Someone had just vacated one of the tables near the front; Winthrop staked it out and offered to watch Diane’s bags for her. I snagged one of the noodle bowls for him and a grilled-eel combo for myself. Diane looked bewildered by the menu, and in the end opted for a chow mein platter—probably the safest choice for someone who didn’t know (or wanted to know) what teppenmaki was.
Watching her eat was a little scary. She shoveled down her noodles and veggies with more abandon than either of us did. “Sorry,” she said with her mouth full at one point, “this is the first meal I’ve had since last afternoon.”
“Jesus.” I shook my head.
“No, it was all my fault. Then again, I couldn’t eat for most of yesterday, I was so wound up.”
Leave it to Winthrop to ask the one question I was hoping she’d get to on her own, I thought.
“My boyfriend and I got here two days before the wedding so we’d have time to unwind and prep. Corpus Christi’s a goddamn ten-hour drive from here, and he was saying, ‘Why fly when we can drive? It’ll be cheaper, and you can sleep on the way,’ and he knows I can’t sleep in a moving car. Anyway. We get here, get unpacked, do the quick rehearsal, and then he says, ‘Me and a couple of the guys in the groom’s party are gonna go help him party.’ I’m fine with that. I go out with a friend of mine to get some drinks, and we wind up staying out pretty late and talking.
“I come back, go up to the room. Put my key in the door, and—you know how it is with these hotel doors, they have that latch you can throw that lets you open the door just a little bit but no further than that?” We nodded. “The latch was on. I’m all, ‘What?’ and pushing at the door, thinking it’s a mistake. Then I hear all this groaning and bumping around inside, and then I hear my boyfriend saying, ‘Oh, shit,’ and then another guy’s voice saying, ‘Is that her?’ And I backed right the hell up and closed the door. Like you would back away from a lion’s cage with the cage open. The whole time I’m going, ‘No, no, I’m misinterpreting everything, I got it all wrong, it’s all innocent, this is stupid,’ and I’m backing up the corridor to the little turnoff where the drink machine is. Then I hear the door open again, and then I just go charging at it and stick my foot in it. I was wearing pumps. Not a good idea.”
“My boyfriend was not the one at the door, I’ll tell you that. It was one of the other guys in the groom’s party, and he wasn’t wearing much. I backed up again and shouted, ‘Get out of that fucking room!’ And the door flies open one more time and the guy goes running out while pulling his shirt on. Two in the morning, no shoes, no socks, no pants, just his undershorts and a pullover shirt, flapping down the hallway. I go inside, I don’t even look at him. I sleep on the couch. Next day’s the wedding and I’m not even talking to him. He’s like, ‘Now you’re gonna tell everyone I’m gay, is that it? That’s your idea of revenge?’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m telling everyone you’re sneaking around behind my back, because that’s what hurt me, you dumb bastard.’ He pulls on his clothes and storms out of the room, and next thing I know I’ve got the bride, the rest of the bridesmaid’s party, and a bunch of other people from her side of the family all crowding into my room. ‘Are you using my wedding to tell mendacious lies about my friends?’” She jammed her fork back into her food. “I didn’t say anything, I just sat there and looked out the window and let them yell at me and tell me not to bother showing up at the wedding. And I didn’t; I just sat in there and lay on the bed and cried and watched TV and ate peanuts out of the machine. I packed up my stuff before he showed up and spent the night sitting in that lounge chair in the downstairs area, where you bumped into me. And then when they showed up on the way out, I just looked at them, and they just looked at me, and my boyfriend’s probably already on I-30 South doing ninety by now.”
We didn’t say anything.
“You know how when you hear about something wrecking someone else’s life, about how it’s always something complicated and dramatic. Then something happens in your own life, and it’s the dumbest, most mundane thing; and you’re ashamed of it. I was ashamed that it really all came down to something that stupid. That he was messing around, that for all I know he’d been messing around like this behind my back for a long time, and—” She took a trembling breath. “—and I didn’t have my shit together enough to get in the first punch. That he goes and gets all of them and lies to them, and they look at me like I’m—”
She didn’t finish the sentence, but for some reason the scene she was describing felt familiar. The looks on their faces had probably been a lot like the more venomous looks that Winthrop and I had gotten back in 2002. The last year either of us chose to dress up.
Diane pressed napkins against her face, but it was too late. Tears were already sliding down and splashing in her chow mein. She mumbled sorry, and we mumbled don’t worry, and for minutes on end it was just her with her face in her hands like a penitent.
There’s a part of me that’s a lot more worldly and cynical than I’d like it to be, and as I watched her wiping at her face and trying to pull together some semblance of dignity, that part of me spoke: It would be nice to think that she really is telling the whole story, but let’s assume for the sake of argument she’s not.
Shut up, I told myself.
“So you can’t get back home,” I said out loud.
“I have fourteen dollars in my checking account,” she declared, her voice still shaking but not as badly as before, “a busted credit card, and the last person who could have lent me any money is already on his way back to town. So, yes, I’m kind of fucked.” And then she put on what I guessed what the best smile she could manage in a moment like that, which wasn’t very good.
Don’t do it, I told myself.
“The room we’re in has two queen beds,” I continued in the same careful tone as before, and I shot a look at Winthrop as I spoke. He wasn’t looking like he had a problem with any of this. “I could sleep on the long chair or something, and you could crash with us until we figure out a way to help get you home.”
Diane looked down into her food like it was about to speak to her.
“Hey. We’re not going to do anything,” Winthrop said. “We’re harmless.”
Diane put a hand up, slowly. “That’s … I’m not worried about that. Honest. I just … ” She took the balled-up napkins she’d used to blot her face and threw them on top of the chow mein, along with the fork she’d been eating with. “ … I can’t do that. I’d feel like a parasite.”
“You’re not going to be a parasite,” I said, throwing a laugh in there just to make it sound all the more spontaneous. No, I thought, for that you’d have to be Karen—and I instantly felt lousy for making such a cheap shot, even in my own mind. Then I perked up for real: “Actually—Winthrop, is Gordon working Hospitality this year?”
“Guh—I think so. Last time I heard, he was pulling shifts in the suite. He’s been doing it every year since the con kicked off. He still owes you a favor?”
His grin matched mine. “He still owes me a favor.” I gave Diane’s shoulder a friendly, entirely non-sexualized clap. “Come on back with us—there’s someone I want you to meet who might be able to help.”
“Actually—” Diane stood up and picked up her plate, and lifted her chin in a way that struck right home. She’s girding herself, I thought.
“I was wondering if I could borrow your shower first,” she said. “I … I haven’t done that since yesterday afternoon.”
“Sure,” Winthrop and I said at the exact same moment, and with the exact same intonations. Great, I thought; now she has all the proof she needs that the two of us have spent entirely too much time together. But then she put on the first—no, the second unforced smile I’d seen since we’d met her, and I no longer felt so awkward. One more thing we had in common, and one more thing I could use to not ask how she had ended up with $14, no credit, and no friends in a strange city. Anything to stave off my stupid suspicions.