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  • If You’re So Smart
  • Tim Loc (bio)

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Photo by Jane Raese

The first setback came when the art store on Fairfax shuttered. Mr. Hashemi, who played Dizzy Gillespie records during store hours, wandered the aisles on the final days of the business, [End Page 75] sighing and wiping his hand across his balding crown. “This is a small thing to you,” he said to Simon. “But I was here the first day. Some things you don’t forget.”

“I’ll miss this place,” said Simon.

“You’re too young to be sentimental.”

The second knock came when his roommate, Paul, kicked him out. Simon had found on Craigslist a subdivided room in Westwood. Paul, who’d inherited the condo from his parents, had put up separators and advertised the single bedroom as being three. He was paying off fifteen grand in debts from online poker. He was twenty-three.

The setup was less than ideal—the third roommate sleepwalked—but the rent was only seven hundred a month, and it was close to UCLA, where Simon was getting his master’s in design. The ploy was working until Paul’s parents dropped in for a surprise visit on Labor Day. They entered the room to find three mattresses, each with a grown man fanning himself in the late-summer heat. Paul, after ushering his parents back to Burbank, told Simon that he was persona non grata, effective the next day.

The third blow was announced in an e-mail from Tran, Simon’s uncle. He informed Simon that there were complications from a hernia surgery he’d had a year ago.

The doctors don’t fix anything. If they did, they wouldn’t make any money.

Tran, who was impractical and prone to anxious paroxysms, had never married. He spent his Thursdays going to Freestyle Night at the roller rink. He lived with Simon’s single mother, relying on her for financial assistance during times of distress. This fact both embarrassed him and made him protective of his older sister.

His messages to Simon became increasingly urgent, exasperated. They culminated with a four-hundred-word e-mail with the subject title “important.” In it, Tran reiterated the story of his sister’s life, beginning with her childhood in Da Nang. (When her cat died, she got a chicken. When we ate the chicken, she got a lizard.) He talked about her many suitors and her hard luck in finding Simon’s father, who was a lush and a cheat. He reminded Simon of the time she’d spent two months of her savings to get him a pair of Air Force 1s. He reminded Simon that she was helping him with tuition.

You’re a big man now. Think about your family. [End Page 76]

Simon, confused and hurt by the cryptic message, shoved his iPhone under his pillow.

Which is how he ended up in the parking lot at the Westfield in Culver City. He’d been staying at a Days Inn for a week until his funds ran out. He checked out on the final day and drove to the mall for Chipotle. It hadn’t occurred to him that he’d be sleeping in the lot that night. He didn’t know until he’d gotten back in his Hyundai and realized he had nowhere to go.

Though, of course, he’d known it all along. There was a reason he’d driven out to the Westfield—he wasn’t even hungry for Chipotle. He began to panic. He got out of his car and walked around the parking lot. A paunchy man was carting a flat-screen TV from Best Buy. A woman in jogging gear said into her phone, “There should be a dating app for people with night terrors.” Simon felt singled out, as if everyone knew why he was loitering. He felt so uncomfortable that he got back into his Hyundai.

As he sat there, a profound sense of shame passed over him. He’d failed in a manner that was personal and flagrant. He felt a gulf opening beneath him. He began to...


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pp. 74-89
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