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To outsiders, San Francisco is all one big city. But to those in the know, there is SoMa, South of Market, where sleek eateries are squeezed between bail bonds storefronts and high-priced lofts look out over still rough edges. It's home to a generation of hipsters disillusioned by the dotcom bust, restless and searching for the next thrill, the next high, the next step too far. Sex, drugs, kink--you can find it anywhere in SoMa, if you know where to ...
To outsiders, San Francisco is all one big city. But to those in the know, there is SoMa, South of Market, where sleek eateries are squeezed between bail bonds storefronts and high-priced lofts look out over still rough edges. It's home to a generation of hipsters disillusioned by the dotcom bust, restless and searching for the next thrill, the next high, the next step too far. Sex, drugs, kink--you can find it anywhere in SoMa, if you know where to look. But first, you'll need your tour guides. There's Raphe, a writer torn between two worlds, belonging to neither. Lauren, the poor little rich girl living on the edge and pushing farther out. Mark, beautiful and cruel, who lives for games, the more extreme, the better. Baptiste, hot, smooth, and maybe as real as it gets. And Julie, both an object of desire and a pretty pawn to be played.
In a glittering, surreal subculture of private sex clubs and kept boys, identity theft and betrayal, nihilism, redemption, and sometimes love, they're spinning out of control and into each other's orbits, desperately looking for something real--something that will show them who they really are. In this provocative, intense novel, Kemble Scott puts a new neighborhood on the literary map for good, in a tale that is disturbing, gritty, wholly original, and utterly unforgettable.
Praise for SoMa and Kemble Scott:
"Scott provides us with an insider's look at a little known and gritty underground world. . .Shockingly, his raw and gritty account of this dark world is all true, which makes for an even more fun ride." --Andy Behrman, bestselling author of Electroboy: A Memoir of Mania
"I read the first page of SoMa and never put it down until I read the last page. . .I know people who are less real than these characters." --Joe Quirk, bestselling author of The Ultimate Rush
"SoMa tells. . .what's really happening in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood. . .It's one man's story of a twisted journey and compromised redemption. San Francisco can be a city of extremes, and we see one here." --Craig Newmark, Creator of Craigslist
Kemble Scott is the pen name of a successful and influential journalist. Using this pseudonym, Kemble is a writer and editor at San Francisco's subculture e-zine, SoMa Literary Review. In the non-fiction world of television news, he has been honored with three Emmy awards and is an alumnus of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
"Jesus." Raphe shook his head and laughed.
He didn't deserve it. His life was like a cruel joke.
All he ever did was love one too many. Where was the crime in that? Yet he'd been punished the same as if he'd committed unspeakable atrocities. He'd been pushed into poverty, faced a death sentence, and then this.
He looked up at the framed parchment hanging by a nail just above his computer. With his good hand he took it down. "To all men who are about to read this document, everlasting greetings of the Lord ..." In pretentious Latin, no less. His diploma from Brown.
He tossed it in the trash, where it landed in a sea of bloodied bandages, the waste from the constant cleaning and redressing of the gash.
Raphe took a tube of antibiotic cream and carefully dabbed the ointment on both sides of his hand. He awkwardly peeled two large adhesive bandages from their sterile packaging and nimbly covered each hole, being careful to avoid touching the centers. Then he grabbed one of the latex gloves the doctor had given him, advising him to completely cover the entire hand toprevent any risk of infection.
He held it up to the ceiling light. It was such a strange thing to behold-a hand encased in rubber. Too weird for what he had to do. Last time he went out with it on, people stared at him as if he were a freak. He didn't want people laughing at him. Not tonight.
He rummaged around the bottom drawer of his dresser until he found a pair of black leather gloves, the type race car drivers wore. He'd had them since high school when he thought they were so cool for driving his old, beat-up Camaro.
He slipped a leather glove over the latex. Much better. It added a certain air of mystery. He'd just wear the one.
He sprinkled a few pinches of shiny powder into a small glass of water and gulped it down. Not the best way, but he had to take the edge off.
The packed black bag sat on the floor. He peered inside to double-check and make sure he had everything he needed. The mask looked frightening, perfectly designed for secrecy and intimidation. He counted the tubes, all neatly sealed in their sterile packaging. Then there was the saline, and the needles. More than enough for what he had to do.
He tossed a pair of old sweatpants on top. He'd never be able to fit back into his jeans later. It would be too painful.
Before leaving, he sized himself up in his bedroom mirror. He needed to be sure he had his head on straight. He could do this. Others wouldn't understand, but in his own way this would be a night for payback. Fate had taken him on the strangest journey into worlds he never knew existed. He'd seen things, done things, that would make the old Raphe blush or run away. Funny how you can't be a fugitive from yourself. Where the hell would you go?
Now it was Mark Hazodo's turn to face his destiny. Raphe always thought they'd meet again-San Francisco was a small town that way. He just never expected it to happen so soon and under such bizarre circumstances. Still, this was his opening. Who knew if he'd get another chance like this one?
An old wisecrack popped into Raphe's mind:
Today I am handing out lollipops and ass-kickin's. And I am all out of lollipops.
His thoughts pulsed with images. A flash of that beautiful, red hair. His baptism into that other world. The cleansing waters. The bizarre, purple house. He shook off the pictures that bombarded his brain. It was always like this when the powder first hit.
Some day he'd sort it all and write down what happened. Maybe even put it into a book. Of course, no one would believe him.
But it was all true.
Raphe turned his head up from his book. The Dr. Kaplan question again. It was the third time so far that day. This time the query came from a blond man in his late twenties. Nice lean build, with too much tan on his face for April. Gotta be a surfer.
"I'm sorry," Raphe deadpanned from his stool behind the counter. He tugged on the small tuft of hair under his chin. "There's no one here by that name."
The blond looked around the room. He noted the dozens of built-in mailboxes affixed to the wall. It was clearly no doctor's office-just a mail drop. Shaking his head in disgust, the man quietly walked back out onto the street.
225 Folsom Street.
That's all the shop was called. No outdoor marquee or door sign that might even vaguely describe what the business offered. The name was just the street address, and vice versa. There were operations just like it peppered throughout the neighborhoods of San Francisco, their low-profile key to their success with certain seedy customers. Anonymous mailboxes, all transactions in cash, no questions asked.
Mr. Harrington owned the entire chain. At least he said his name was Harrington, though Raphe knew the moniker was as suspect as the shady business empire. Harrington was in his fifties with gray hair, streaked in occasional rows of black as if a dye job had started to leach out, all of it slicked back by pomade. He always sported one of dozens of different large-print, untucked Hawaiian shirts. Around his neck he wore a medallion of the Virgin Mary in gold, the size of an Olympic prize, studded with a circle of rubies. He was so clearly Mexican it pained him just to pronounce the name "Harrington," but even after six months he refused to drop the facade.
"What's with this Dr. Kaplan?" Raphe asked. "I keep getting all these guys coming in and asking to see him."
"Don't ax questions," Harrington replied. "What I tell you 'bout that?"
Raphe felt slightly foolish for his lapse. He knew Harrington would never share his secrets. He didn't have to. Within days of starting the job, Raphe figured out on his own that the shop was no mere mailbox drop. It was a safe haven for con artists of all sorts: diploma mills, magic-mushroom seed orders, herbal HGH. If there was a way to separate a loser from his money, then the "corporate headquarters" for such ventures inevitably seemed to be 225 Folsom. Raphe shrugged off Harrington's scolding and turned his head back down into his book, a translation of Georges Bataille's twisted Story of the Eye. It was amazing the sick shit people were into, even eighty years ago.
"I go to real post office now. You want tik bathroom breek?"
"Uh, no. I'm okay," Raphe said. The office didn't have its own toilet, so Raphe used the McDonald's down the block. Not having a bathroom had to be some sort of code violation, but it seemed pointless to explain laws to a con man. Besides, Raphe had come to enjoy those moments when he could lock up, tape a "back in 5" sign to the glass door, and slip away to Ronald's world for respite.
Why complain? 225 Folsom existed on the fringe of legal, which is exactly where Raphe needed to be. He wasn't paid much, just five hundred dollars per week, but it was all in cash and under the table-an arrangement that wouldn't affect his unemployment benefits. He needed every dime to keep up with the payments on the condo. He couldn't risk losing that, even though it was an excessive throwback to better days. The dot-com days. Why did he go for the two bedroom? And at the height of the market! The mortgage payments would break him if it wasn't for 225 Folsom. These days he was like so many formerly upwardly mobile young men in The City, now betrayed and abandoned by the gone world of technology riches. Metrosexuals without means. How he hated that word.
At least señor Harrington only demanded a modicum of effort. Most of the time Raphe could just lean up against the counter and read. The solitude allowed him to ponder for the first time what Camus really meant. When Raphe felt ambitious, he jotted down a few notes for the outline of his interminably delayed book-the great American novel told through the eyes of a young adventurer making his way to the big city, living the dream of success until one day an epiphany strikes and he finds ...
"Adios," Harrington said cheerfully, interrupting Raphe's mental doodling. Then, catching his slip, Harrington added soberly, "Uh, I mean gid-bye ... old chap!"
Alone again. Sometimes hours would pass without a single customer. When Raphe took the job, the solitude seemed appealing. He didn't count on the paralyzing nature of boredom. He craved customers, even the creepy ones who patronized such a place. At the very least, they provided fodder-bits and pieces-for the still ill-conceived characters he wanted to populate his own pages with someday. Raphe quickly learned the types of people who ran scams were careful, nearly invisible. They purposefully let their correspondence accumulate for days. When they came to retrieve their latest pile of victims, they'd be in and out of the shop in less than thirty seconds. Even after six months, Raphe would have found it impossible to pick out a single face if forced to be a witness at a police line up. If there was business to be done at the counter, like paying up the next several weeks of the extortion-level fees that Harrington demanded, Raphe had been instructed never to make eye contact.
He could count on only two worthwhile distractions per day. At exactly 9:15 each morning the red-haired woman who lived somewhere upstairs would leave for work. She was stunning, in her twenties like himself, and would always smile at Raphe as she walked past the glass front of the shop. He would smile back. He hoped they'd graduate to exchanging little waves soon. In time, maybe they'd even say hello. He wished the smell of McDonald's hash browns would beckon her one morning. He'd jump in line behind her, finally giving himself the opportunity to converse. But she was never corrupted by the scent.
The other highlight of the day came when the mail arrived around ten each morning. Raphe would take the piles and sort them into the various boxes in the wall. Mindless drudgery, but at least it distracted from the tedium. It was in these moments of manual labor that his thoughts floated off into fanciful worlds and memories. He'd daydream about the red-haired woman from upstairs, contriving little scenes where he'd be so witty and charming, and she'd respond with raw animal lust. Women. It had been too long since his last date. Who'd want to go out with dot-com debris? Sorting the mail allowed his mind to escape to a fantasy parallel universe where there was no tech meltdown and Raphe was successful, wanted, and loved. Placing the envelopes in all the little mailboxes could be done in as little as twenty minutes, but on most days he would stretch the duty out for more than an hour.
At his last job at a big web site design firm he'd worked with his mind all day, leaving little brainpower left in the evenings when he planned to do his writing. At the height of the dot-com craze the work was frantic, the projects moronically ill-conceived. Not that it mattered. Since so much money was coming in, the CEO complained he was "going to need a pitchfork" to handle it all. Meanwhile, Raphe's frustrations with his own thwarted ambitions to write developed into ulcerative pains whenever he entered a bookstore, overwhelmed by the thousands of bound accomplishments that surrounded him while he remained unpublished.
He blamed dot-com. On the surface it all looked so frivolous and fun, with its casual bull pen atmosphere, roaming pets, and never-ending, free supply of caffeinated soda. But it wasn't all laughs for those few who actually did the work. From college economics Raphe remembered the classic 80/20 Principle-that 80 percent of the work is done by just 20 percent of the workforce. Like most employment concepts of the past, dotcom had turned that old theory on its head. In the web world, it was more like the 95/5 Principle, with Raphe stuck among the toiling few. His first big job, and Raphe was already bitter. "It's a business that does systems analysis for corporations."
As he sorted the day's mail, Raphe remembered those fateful words from an attractive blonde venture capitalist looking to hire the firm. Was it two years ago? Spring 2000. It seemed like yesterday. "So we were thinking of AnalysisBusiness.com as the name for the site."
That's stupid, Raphe thought from his disgruntled corner of the packed conference room table.
"The problem is," the VC woman continued, "that name is already taken. Some virtual psychology site. So what we were thinking is shortening the title to something catchier. Just use the first four letters of 'analysis' and say 'bizz' instead of 'business.'"
Raphe already had four other projects to handle, and this was to be his fifth. The perky blonde's presentation hit him as the final straw. He already put in seventy hours a week, and now he was about to become the laughingstock of the office.
"You're shitting me!" Raphe burst out.
"Excuse me?" the woman said, straining to keep her relentless smile.
"You want to call this site 'AnalBizz'? 'AnalBizz'! Are you fucking serious?"
"It's not 'Anal-bizz,'" she countered, now clearly flustered. "It's 'anaaahl-bizz.' As in 'analysis.' Not ... 'anal.' It's 'anaaahl.'" She stretched out the pronunciation to try to make her point, but it was too late. She was humiliated, and Raphe would not let it go.
"It doesn't matter how you pronounce it. It's spelled 'anal.' That's how people will see it. They're gonna think it's a site for butt plugs or something. We'll probably get porn traffic!"
"Well, hits are hits, right?" the woman said sheepishly. When no one else was looking, she stared across the table into Raphe's eyes. He knew what she was thinking. Who the fuck do you think you are?
When the tech bubble burst months later, and the gravy stopped flowing, Raphe was in the first round of layoffs. All the other dismissals were done by seniority, but his "bad attitude" pushed him to the front of the pink slip line. He'd been scrounging ever since.
The voice startled Raphe, so lost in his mail-sorting dotcom daydreams he never heard anyone come in. "Dr. Kaplan, Suite One?"
"Dr. Kaplan, Suite One," the voice said again, much more determined and confident the second time. Raphe stood up from his sorting and turned. It was a young man this time. A teenager?
"There's no Dr. Kaplan here. I'm sorry. You have the wrong place."
"This is 225 Folsom, isn't it?"
"Yes." "Well, Dr. Kaplan's office is at 225 Folsom, Suite One. You sure it's not here? Maybe on an upper floor? I really do need to see him. It's urgent."
Upstairs? Raphe thought of the red-haired woman. She was definitely not Dr. Kaplan. The young man seemed almost panicked, as if his life somehow depended on finding this doctor. Raphe had been told how to handle these situations his first day on the job. "Jus ax stipid," Harrington told him. Their customers paid for complete anonymity for their shams. If anyone came snooping, it was best to play ignorant. Besides, it would be a good defense if the police ever raided, or if a scam victim decided to show up for revenge.
The young man standing before him didn't look like the type Raphe figured fell for rip-offs like these. He always thought of them as double-wide trailer types, grifting for a way to make a quick buck in some scheme. If they got taken, then it was probably for the best-it proved Darwin was right. This guy was different. Just a kid. A college boy maybe, or even high school. He was certainly young enough, dressed in the Old Navy requirements of his middle-class generation. Raphe thought he saw tears forming in the young man's blue eyes.
"I really need to see him."
It wasn't Raphe's job to feel sorry for anyone, or teach a wayward teenager a lesson about life. He knew that. Still, there was something about this kid that got to him. Maybe it was the innocence of the boy's youth, or the fact that Raphe was so bored he was curious to see how it all would play out.
"Over there." Raphe pointed to the wall.
"What?" The young man's face filled with hope.
Raphe gestured again, and the kid walked across the room. He stared at the wall of mailboxes. "I don't understand."
Raphe walked over. "Welcome to Suite One," he said, placing his hand on mailbox number one.
Excerpted from SoMa by KEMBLE SCOTT Copyright © 2007 by Kemble Scott. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted October 27, 2008
This one was an interesting read. I enjoyed the details and learned some interesting stuff but it seemed to end rather abruptly. It didn't seem like there was a crescendo. Like the author got tired of writing?Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 16, 2008
This book was absolutely phenominal- I can't recommend it highly enough. I wasn't able to put it down once I picked it up. It's surprising to me that it's considered romance, though.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 30, 2007
Soma penetrates San Francisco's sexual underground with a humorous and savvy touch. Rafe is a great character and the book is too fun to not read all at once.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.