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DIZZYING HEIGHTS BY BRUCE DUCKER

DIZZYING HEIGHTS
by Bruce Ducker

Released May 2008
Fiction
Hardcover, 352 pages
ISBN-10: 1555916856
ISBN-13: 978-1555916855
Paperback, 362 pages
ISBN-10: 1555916589
ISBN-13: 978-1555916589

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Indiebound.org
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DIZZYING HEIGHTS

Editor's Pick:

            The Denver Post
            The National Examiner
            Bookviews
            BC Books
            Goodreads.com
            Westword
            5280 Magazine

"A fun romp….Ducker has captured an essence of the West and its literature. He captures the zany oil heiress mingling with the street dweller, who borrows great works of literature from the libraries of seasonal residents, [and] is certainly believable in Ducker and, by extension, Aspen’s world.
—Elizabeth King Humphrey, TheCompulsiveReader.com

"Aspen, well roasted.   Satire is on the menu at Bruce Ducker's restaurant to the rich and famous….Ducker raises the bar on Glamour Gulch in "Dizzying Heights".  [The book] …may just be the novel for a leisurely beach read…. A giant romp in the priveledged playground of the rich and famous."
—Leslie Doran, in The Denver Post

Dizzying Heights conveys not only the cluelessness of the … ‘elite’ but also the vertigo of Ducker’s narrative style….[The book] hammers away at the lack of ethical concern found in many rich businesses. 
The Common Review

"Dizzying Heights is a brilliant spoof with a cast of hilarious characters inspired by various celebrities, as well as the assorted locals who serve the lives of the very rich and famous. Ducker has captured them all and the beautiful landscape that makes Aspen the Mecca that it is for so many. But beneath the spoof is a larger story about vanity, values, and saving the earth. Classic Ducker -- rich topsoil covering buried treasure." 
Corinne Joy Brown, Colorado Expressions

"Ducker...is a powerful writer combining a sharp eye for telling details and a keen ear for nuances of language."
—Scripps Howard News Service

"Ducker writes with the easy charm of William Saroyan."
—Kirkus Review

"With Dizzying Heights, Ducker turns away from some of the more sorrowful themes of his past to have a little fun at money’s expense, and in doing so highlights some of the contradictions of Colorado with a sense of charm and wit."
—Patrick Schabe, PopMatters.com

"This is a funny and instructive story of the meeting of greed and goodness and how sometimes the right guys win."
—Margaret Maupin

“The cover of Dizzying Heights…shows a lovely chocolate cake—an apt illustration, because this book is a completely delicious, acidic yet sweet romp through Aspen and all the affectations that plague not just that high-priced town, but modern society….The back cover [of] this bright book shows the cake completely devoured—as most readers will do with Dizzying Heights in one sitting.”
—Patricia Calhoun, in Westword

......................................................................................................

DIZZYING HEIGHTS: THE ASPEN NOVEL

This delicious send-up of Aspen elevates the antics of its outlandish residents to a whole new level. No one is off-limits in this satirical tale: the billionaires who travel to their second homes in private jets, the ski bums and service staff who live down valley and keep the town running, the fading starlets, the opportunists of every stripe.

Waddy Brush, a young computer programmer, stumbles into a new life in the famous resort town, falling in with Mortimer Dooberry, a quack psychologist who lives from scam to scam. Thus begins a story with many twists and unforgettable characters at every turn. A rollicking read, Dizzying Heights reaches the satisfying conclusion that nice guys don't have to finish last.

......................................................................................................

CHAPTER ONE

Imagine that these airy United States sit on a point of balance that is their center of population. A cosmic ball bearing. At the start of the republic, the fulcrum lodged somewhere north of Philadelphia, tucked snug against the coast, and the continent sloped off gently to the Pacific.

Slowly that fulcrum rolls westward, until one day, in late September toward the end of the last century, it finds perfect equilibrium. On that day the continent balances straight even, a day you may remember, of warm breezes, when every love discovered is eternal and every duffer’s putt runs plumb and true.

But the giant steel ball continues to edge westward, and the nation tilts now on an easterly slope. When that happens, Horace Greeley’s ghost fluffs his pillow and shifts in his sleep, and the quicksilver that is Opportunity begins to run upstream, pooling in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. ...

I. The Summer

The summer—no sweeter was ever
The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The greyling aleap in the river,
The bighorn asleep on the hill.
The strong life that never knows harness
The woods where the caribou call;
The freshness, the freedom, the farness—
Oh God! how I’m stuck on it all.

—Robert Service

1.
Waddy Brush steered his car onto the cement curl to Rainwater Software and knew from the slight rush of G-force as he rounded the bend that he was atrack the perfect life. Beyond his windshield the Olympia Mountains shone under a recently washed sky, the pavement traced a measured and satisfying six-degree arc, and light from a rare April sun glinted off the window by his very workstation. Corridor F, Third Floor East. A yellow beam that spotlit his arrival, exactly as Jiminy Cricket highlighted the transubstantiation of Pinocchio from wood to flesh.

Waddy unpacked himself from the VW, pulled up the canvas top, and entered the sleek glass building owned by his employer. More than an employer. Rainwater Software was, he’d regularly been told, a family. The head of HR had a way of looking at you; the man could stare unflinchingly into your eyes and fix you with his sincerity.

Rainwater folk often spoke of family. At the summer picnic, when presenting the Christmas etching—employees were given a landscape rather than a check, last year it was a gnarled cypress on a hill—and again at the annual review. Every member of the family is treated the same, they told Waddy. Not in pay, of course, but in esteem. For two annual reviews, Waddy was Looked-on-Favorably, for the next three he was Thought-of-Highly, and last year (Waddy felt the most expansive, though there was no official grading of these terms), he had been elevated from participle phrase to dependent clause.  A Young Man We’re Watching. With each year’s good words, Waddy got a dollop of stock options, which, he was told, would make him rich if he continued to achieve harmony within the family. And of course if the options vested.

Harmony was easy. There were no discordant notes. Rainwater was a leading producer of retail software. Several of Waddy’s projects had blossomed into video games, made it to the shelves, and he’d been promoted to the Virtual Reality Task Force. Rainwater was a great employer: full health, dental, and surgical, even pregnancy (which made Waddy, without an immediate application, nonetheless feel confident and adult). Vast athletic facilities, grander than those at Skakit Point High or Puget Community College. Waddy used them all, the fully equipped weight and cardio room, the indoor volleyball court, the jogging path that meandered through blooming tea roses and jonquil.

The environment was ideal, the opportunities unlimited, and the colleagues were, well, collegial. To a man and to a woman, intelligent, creative, accommodating. Indeed one (Waddy looked for her red Honda Civic as he exited the parking lot), one was perhaps too accommodating. Ah, Lisa Laroux.

The plash of closed-cycle streams filled the three-story atrium. But this day a dark presence skulked amid the white noise. A wall of summer-weight wool gathered around the reception desk where the pretty greeter was handing out ID badges. Two dozen young men and women who might be Latter Day Saints on their mission. If that’s what they were, they outdressed the sinners. Waddy bounced up the helical stairwell that wound about the waterfall and thought no more of them. Turned to Three East, Corridor F, strolled down the hallway to his team.

The magenta-walled cubicles of the Virtual Reality Task Force were personalized with photos of towheaded children in striped jerseys, ski and sail snapshots, and crayoned pictures. On Waddy’s was tacked an eight-by-ten glossy of Satchmo and the Hot Five.

He booted up the computer, and it responded with a familiar buzz. Business as usual. But when he looked up to click on his pearlescent screen, he saw the pygmy reflection of a visitor.

“Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Brush?”

Waddy swung his ergonomic stool around to face the man. A suit from the lobby. White, button-down shirt, a tie in tiny blue paisley, business card at the ready. He was, he explained, from Rainwater’s auditors.

“We’re being dispatched today to inform the Rainwater employees of the transaction, to carry the message simultaneously and personally.”

“Who’s we?”

“Us. CPAs from the auditor.”

“What message?”

The fellow looked relieved. “Rainwater,” the fellow said, “considers its employees a family.”

“Gee,” said Waddy. “Thanks for taking time out to tell me.”

“No, no. The message is the merger. Rainwater has received an offer from Pelican Fund to buy all of its assets. The Rainwater board met this weekend to approve. It’s a merger.”

“Really? Like a marriage?”

“Exactly. Pelican Fund will be buying you out at forty-one dollars a share.”

“Buying me out? I don’t own anything.”

“I was speaking,” the man glanced at his shoes, “collectively.”

“Could you say it again? The price?”

The man, Waddy’s age, spoke with ecclesiastic timbre. “Forty-one dollars a share, for a total of six hundred and fifty-two million, one hundred and eighty thousand dollars. Plus or minus.”

“Is it good news?”

“It certainly is.”

“What do I get for my stock options?”

The man sat down on the only guest chair, a wire straight-back with magenta seat pad, and placed a boxy attaché case on his lap. Cordovan belting leather, no small matter. Two snaps and it was open, revealing a lining of ivory silk.

“Your options? Options will depend on individual circumstances. As you know, top management wanted all the employees to share in Rainwater’s good fortune.” He found a computer printout and let it drape to the floor as he examined its listings. “Those who are vested can exercise and sell at closing.”

Waddy waited.

“Or they can elect to take shares instead, the shares of CyberGullet. We encourage that. Hold on to Pelican shares and become part of their family.”

“Thank you,” said Waddy. It was comforting to know that another family was arriving. Corporations were far more solicitous of their children than people realized.

The man gave a tiny grunt, perhaps the result of mild dyspepsia. “Brush, Henry W. L. Here you are. Looks like you’re out of luck. Your options would have vested next January. Only vested ex-employees can exercise.”

“Which means?”

“No value.”

“No money?”

“No money.”

The young man nodded, an irregular bobbing of the head that a good welterweight might use. He asked Waddy to sign a form acknowledging he had been apprised of the merger and of the value of his stock options. In the blank for value, the man drew a perfect circle and halved it with a slash. He stowed the form and the printout, snapped up the case, and stood.

“I think that’s all.”

Waddy thought of something else. “You said ex-employees. Are you expecting some of us to quit?”

“No,” the man said and took a backward step. “No. It applies to all of Rainwater Software. You see, Pelican Fund is buying the assets of Rainwater. It wants the patents and the product. All these wonderful games you’ve designed. Eight Major Disasters, Buchenwald Adventure, Sinatra’s Women. But Pelican Fund will not be continuing to budget for the development business.”

“And?” The man kept retreating. The two furrows on his brow deepened.

“And as a result, our client will be downsizing Rainwater to assets alone.”

“I don’t follow.”

“They’re downsizing Rainwater. How can I put this? They are outphasing all staffed functions, to alleviate incremental labor costs.”

“They’re firing me?”

The man had his back to the portable wall. “That’s all I’m authorized to say.”

One hand was groping for the plastic border around the opening. It was not possible, the young CPA knew, to become trapped in a modular workstation.

“Not just you. All of Rainwater. You will of course receive the proper notice. The law provides for ten days. And naturally you’ll receive full pay for unused vacation and sick time.”

“They’re firing me?”

The man sidewinded across the corduroy wall and found the opening. Relief spread across his face like impetigo. He backed out.

“Yes. You could certainly ... ” he felt with his shoulder for the edge of the divider and slinked behind it “ ... say that.”

He was gone.

**

Waddy pulled out the shutdown procedures. He knew them by heart, but company policy said use the checklist. Encrypt new code in random access memory, download to storage, log off. There was no new code. He flicked off the machine. Facing him, Satchmo stood with horn in hand, happy at his work. Waddy made his way toward the communal zone. Scents of herbal teas floated smoky and fruited in the air. The kitchen was empty. He pulled a pint jar of mango-raspberry from the refrigerator and twisted off its top. Walked to the far stairwell and went down. In the meditation garden, knots of people had gathered. Waddy finished the juice—there was no eating or drinking in the meditation garden—slipped off his shoes, donned a pair of paper slippers from the pile, and entered through the glass door.

The talk was angry, technical. “Selling against the box ... ” he heard someone say, and a response “ ... excessive multiple.” He kept walking. A woman from the general counsel’s office was crying and being comforted by the fellow who gave spot neck massages. “No place like it ... ,” she was saying between sobs, and everyone agreed. Finally, Waddy spied his gang, the VR tekkies. Group Leader had his hand squarely on the Buddha’s head, bracing against an animated attack from three programmers. One of them was Lisa Laroux. Sharp-chinned as a Benin mask, undernourished and intense, Lisa was far from beautiful. But Waddy had had few women enter his life, and this one, by grace of a few civil words and a single frantic encounter (at her bay-view apartment, on a yellow futon beneath unframed Kandinsky prints), this one had early won him over.

“Two years of work pissed away?” a short Pakistani chap was asking. “What happens to You’re Lee Harvey Oswald and Madonna’s Boudoir?”

Waddy shuffled across the stones to hear the answer.

“That’s all been bought. New management will decide whether to proceed.”

“And us? What are we supposed to do? Go out to pasture?”

Group Leader leaned back and closed his lids for a measured second. Waddy recognized the expression, intended to card his subordinates that he knew more than he was telling. It was, in fact, a false card.

“Oh, I’d guess Pelican Fund will come around. They’ll want to pick off a few of us. After all, we’re well known in the industry. The best VR staff, bar none.”

The man was not satisfied. He said something unintelligible, said it again more loudly. Lisa asked Group Leader something Waddy couldn’t hear, and GL ignored her. Instead, he toed the edge of a meditation rug so its corner flopped over, then carefully flattened the triangle under the sole of his grommeted hiking shoe.

“Well,” Lisa announced, “I say it’s the shits.”

“A severance policy is in place,” GL offered, palms out. “You’ll get that.”

“Two weeks?” asked Lisa. She moved in.

“The nonmanagement plan is, I believe, two weeks.” GL backed up, but the Buddha blocked his retreat.

“For every year of service?”

“No. Just two weeks. Two weeks for every year of service, that’s the management plan.”

“Exactly. The shits.”

A pimply fellow moved close, shouldering the front wheel of a racing bike. “What about the options? One month from vesting. What does that mean?”

“Well that’s a bad break,” said GL. “If they’re vested, you can exercise.”

“And if not?”

Again GL gave them the palms up, throw-it-here sign. “If not, they expire on the date of the merger. That’s a bad break.”

“Let me ask you something,” said the fellow. His voice lowered, and the others leaned in to hear. “You, you’re in the management program?”

“Yes,” said GL and let slip an unfortunate smirk. “That’s the way things go down.”

“No it’s not,” said Lisa. “This is.”

The punch was telegraphed. Waddy, indeed everyone, even GL, saw it start at her hip and travel the long ellipse up to GL’s temple. But the early warning did not diminish its effect. GL went sprawling into the shallow water of the contemplation pool. Lisa marched out the glass door.

Waddy was not far behind.

“It’s an outrage,” Lisa muttered as he caught up with her. She headed toward the parking lot. “We’re left to scramble.”

Waddy wanted to share her outrage, but he was optimistic. He’d been paid a good wage and had some money saved up. “Perhaps it’s an opportunity,” he offered. “A new adventure.” He opened the door to her red Honda Civic.

“Don’t be a horse’s ass. You want adventure, take a cruise around the world. For me it’s the classifieds and pounding the pavement. Damn them all to hell.” And with that she slammed the car door, fired the engine, and reversed out of his life.

He considered Lisa’s words. Not a cruise—he tended toward mal de mer--and certainly not around the world. Exotic foods made him costive. But with Rainwater his first job out of college, he’d not been beyond Seattle, and had begun to think of his surroundings in pixels. At Rainwater they spoke of an analog life and a digitized life, with equal affection. Here was his chance to see the difference. He would find the American landscape for himself.

**

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Brush had been at it—the quest for truth and beauty—only some twenty-six years. The youngest of three children, all named for American poets, raised by their mother in the picturesque town of Skakit Point, thirty miles west of Rainwater. Emily Dickenson Brush had become a teacher of Life Force and Basic Composition at an alternative school outside Medford, Oregon. Del—Delmora Schwartz Brush—had stayed in Skakit and started a lawn care business. Waddy had been a diligent student and an Eagle Scout.

It was neither these traits nor his Gary Cooper sincerity that produced a college scholarship, but rather a reliable jump shot from the top of the keyhole. He had come to attention from one game, the State one-A championship, where Waddy was high scorer for the Battling Crabs. Good things followed from the modest press. One scout, from a school for the deaf, promised, if Waddy would but apply, to overlook his hearing scores. He took a second offer, Puget Junior Community College. There, he found he was neither fast nor, at six-three, big, but simply an affable white guy with a single shot he could sink if left alone.

Two years of obscurity were followed by no further offers. Waddy finished a computer science degree by correspondence, at the top of his remote class. He lived at home, in off-hours learned how to animate a character to move naturally across a screen, and worked in his mother’s catering business. Each weekend there were hundreds of halved egg whites yawning like baby robins for their deviled fillings, and from Advent through New Year, thousands. Squirting anchovy paste on sesame crackers, placing parsley around cut crusts, laying wax paper across trays of hors d’ouevres, Waddy dreamed of a larger world. His mother had made a go of her business, but serving snacks to an indifferent crowd was not his idea of destiny.

At Rainwater he rose quickly from checker, a tedious job running algorithms, to programmer, and then assistant to the fabled editor Lisa Laroux. He worked under her, a locution he found distractingly erotic. Software editors were responsible for the product from origination to profit. GL had nixed Waddy’s early ideas for software products—In the Lab with Madame Curie, Thirty Merit Badges You Can Earn, and Founding Fathers, a virtual trip to the Second Continental Congress—as off-market.

“Hang in there, Brock,” Lisa told him. “Think box office. More Dionysus, less Apollo. You’ll get the feel of it.”

Eventually he had. His Historic Executions had been written up by Software Tomorrow, and Sinatra’s Women earned him single-card credit as executive editor. He would have liked to show his mother, who had no grasp of what he did for a living, but the program bore a NC-18 rating, mostly for the trios.

The Pelican merger came at a perfect time. He was burned out. Maybe somewhere in the vast spaces he’d visited in Summer Vacations for Windows Vista, PG-13, there was a place to equal Skakit Point. In one weekend he closed his apartment. He packed a single valise with clothes and his CDs of Louis and Bessie Smith. He sold the rest of his possessions from the apartment-house lawn. In two hours they disappeared. The lava lamp, the rose-and-mauve Simmons hide-a-bed, a basketball signed by Bill Walton, “To Waddy Go Crabs, Bill,” the works of Robert Louis Stevenson bound in simulated buckram, a VCR that didn’t work and a sixteen-inch TV that did, one bottle of South Dakota Vouvray, three and a third place settings, and a poster of Kurt Vonnegut. All disappeared in hours.

And Monday morning, the mist blowing gray and green out of the Cascades and across the water, Waddy Brush folded his frame into the silver Volkswagen convertible, jiggled the gearshift as he’d been taught in Driver’s Ed, put his arm out the window to signal that he was pulling out from the curb, eased the Bug into the street, and turned east toward the future.

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