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I worked for Spyglass Creative for a while, back when I was able to work full-time. These days I mostly take on contract work when I can, and sleep through entire days when I'm feeling down. I manage finish my assignments on time, however, even if it means staying up for long stretches later on to make a deadline. I just have an issue with keeping regular hours. Plus I take long breaks when I'm just too tired to do anything. I lived in a small apartment in the north side of the city, and kept my expenses to a minimum.

I kept in touch with Stengel, who had helped me get my job at Spyglass back when I have moved to Minneapolis. I had known Stengel in college, and we'd kept in touch on and off since then. At any rate, he still came by to see me once in a while at a coffee place around the corner from where I lived. You know, a lot of people try to avoid the north side of town. But Stengel never complained even once when I invited him to meet up.

Still, he was never the kind to be tactful, which is why he was so useful to Spyglass. "You look worse than the last time I saw you, " he told me once when we met last winter. We hadn't seen each other in a few months by then.

"I'm doing all right, " I told him.

"Do you meet your clients looking like that?" he asked me.

"I haven't worked in a bit, " I said. "I'm doing okay, though."

"I have to admit something to you, " he said. "You know that last job you had? With the storage company"

"North Star Mini Storage, " I said. "I only did the content. Someone else set up the site."

"I know someone who's a good customer of theirs, " he said. "One of our own clients uses them frequently. So I sent that work your way myself."

I thought about that for a moment. I grabbed a packet of sugar and poured its contents into my cup. "I appreciate the gesture, " I said. "But I hope they won't think of me as just some charity case. You know, I need good references to get new work."

"They liked you, as far as I know, " Stengel told me. "Your work is good. That's never been your problem."

The coffee place was largely empty even though we were in the after-work period. A couple of old men played cards in the corner. The guy at the counter was typing messages into his cell phone. People were generally happy that the weather was getting better. I grabbed the metal napkin holder and tried to see my reflection in it. "I don't think I'm looking that bad, " I said.

"You need a haircut and new clothes, " Stengel said. "Definitely new clothes. Unless you have something better in your wardrobe."

"I have the stuff I wear when I meet clients, " I said. "And I have this."

"You need something that will make you feel like a regular human being even when you're not trying to look good for a client, " he said. "What I mean is, you have these long stretches where you don't work. I understand that. But during those periods you have to maintain a certain appearance. It's important for your own self-esteem."

"Listen to you, " I said. "Suddenly you're my life coach."

"I'm telling you information you need to hear, " Stengel said.

"Tell me what's going on at Spyglass, " I said. "Give me a good story."

Stengel hesitated, as he obviously wanted to continue his lecture. But he gave in. "We have this new client, " he told me. "These three young men who run a hedge fund out of an office in St. Paul. We went to see the place. They've found themselves probably the smallest possible space that they could squeeze themselves into to. It's unreal. I don't know how they all sit in there all day without driving each other crazy. But they make good money. The thing is that they're losing investors. It's the way things are now. People pull out their money and don't even give a reason."

"I would trust my money to three men in a tiny room, " I said.

"You would if you saw their returns, " Stengel told me. "But you're right. Their problem is like yours, actually. They don't maintain the necessary appearance. Their clients find them abrasive, or at least that's what they told us. I don't like them very much, to be honest with you. They all graduated from the same school and are smug and don't seem to know what it's like to lose at something."

"But you can't lecture them like you lecture me, " I said.

"I do what I can, " Stengel told me. "I told them that the freewheeling days were over. You know, you can't just take people's money and expect them to trust you with it. You have to sell yourself a little bit. So that's what we're doing with their website. We're going to put their own stories on there. Of course we'll pretty much make up the whole thing, but that's how it goes."

Stengel and I chatted for a bit longer, and then he told me he had to run off and get back home. There was a function he and his wife had to attend, he told me. We shook hands as we got to our feet. "Take better care of yourself, " Stengel said. "Take more walks. It's nice outside again."

"It's not that nice, " I said. "It's getting better."

When I got back to my building Ellis was sitting in the lobby reading some trashy old thriller. Ellis spent more time down there than he did in his apartment, so we all knew him well. He was old and wore a bathrobe most of the time, and obviously lived off of some form of social assistance or another. "I haven't seen you come out of your hole in a while, " he said to me.

"I don't like the winter, " I said.

"Then you're in the wrong state, " he told me.

"I'll never leave Minnesota, " I said. "It's home."

"Maybe not, " he said. "You go someplace else, you might that that's really where you belong."

"I have a friend who keeps my afloat here, " I said. "He gets me work. He pretends that it's only this or that contract, you know. But I know that he pretty much sets me up with every job I have. He just doesn't tell me."

"So what's he getting out of the deal?" Ellis said.

"I guess he just feels sorry for me, " I said. "You know, I used to work at a big public relations firm. Did I ever tell you that?"

"I can't remember you saying anything like that, " Ellis told me.

"We dealt with a lot of the local financial firms, " I said. "People making money from nothing. Or at least that's how it seemed. A dozen men and women in front of their computers and they're making millions."

"It's all a scam, " Ellis said. "It doesn't even make sense."

"They weren't doing anything wrong, " I said. "None of the people we worked with were, anyway. It's just the way things are. You can do that sort of thing now."

"I wouldn't be interested, " Ellis told me.

"I don't think anyone's asking you to go work for them, " I said.

"It's not my things, " Ellis said.

"How's your book?" I said, pointing to the novel in his hands.

"You know, the same old thing, " Ellis said. "Big government cover-up. The police are chasing this guy everywhere. He meets someone who can explain everything to him, but then that guy is killed while they're meeting. But they were able to talk a while first, so he has the leads he needs to bring the whole thing down."

"So it will end well, " I said.

"Of course it will, " Ellis said.

"They tell me it's getting nice out now, " I said. "That I should go for walks."

"Don't believe everything that people tell you, " Ellis said.

"I was thinking the same thing, " I told him.

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