The 2004 Design Automation Conference, San Diego, California.

Broadway, the night club.

Gary has the presence of a man who just got off a horse after a long ride. He starts every sentence by exhaling half his lungs and smiling. There's money to burn so he doesn't need to breathe like the rest of us.

A two-thousand dollar Italian suit hangs from his shoulders like a tarp over a damp pitcher's mound. He nearly trips over the laces trailing his ratty New Balance 998s. He's lost some hair since the last time I've seen him. No matter what he tells me I'll have the pleasure of knowing that when he's as old as me I'll still have my hair.

"Check out the HDI booth?" he asks, then sucks on the atmosphere. There's a blast of feedback that feels like knitting needles poked through the eardrums. We only have a couple minutes to talk civilly before they start the music. Then we'll be screaming.

"The HDI booth?" I ask. Actually I couldn't miss it. Our booth is right next to theirs on the conference room floor. They're showcasing a Harley Davidson V-Rod. It 's going to be one of those: sit through our demo, give us your biz card so our salesman will have your number, and we'll enter you in the drawing for the bike.

We're giving our prospects pocket-sized tins of breath mints.

"What about it?" I say to him, trying hard to keep the conversation mundane. But it can't be that way.

"They'll be changing the name of the company, tomorrow," he says, grinning. The importance of the comment is lost on me. He reads my lack of enthusiasm for the cluelessness it belies. "I'm on the board so I can't say much more. Yeah. That was a good one. Put in a couple mil, get ten back."

To the NPR listening audience, what's just happened would be considered illegal. Were it not for the fact it's a couple minutes past the market close in New York, we'd be making plans for retirement in Folsom. But Gary knows that, and he doesn't make those mistakes. I've known this guy since he was 20. That's 18 years. He's worth about a hundred mil now. He makes more money on daily interest than I do all year.

"Gary, soon we're going to have a conference just for your companies. Fuck the rest of these bastards. How many do you have now?"

"Five if you include the slots business in Vegas," he says. "Soon it will be three, though. I got offers I may not be able to refuse."

And so on.

Raj, I've known since he was a student and I was a young buck working my way up the corporate ladder at the big "C" company. No matter how rich he gets he still makes time for me. Gotta love that about the guy.

He holds his Bombay and tonic against his lower lip, sipping from a black stirrer, grinning like a cat with a gut full of bird. Beyond his scratched wire-rims and uncombed hair I'm watching a woman about the age of my daughter undulate on a pedestal. She's wearing nothing but bikini bottoms and a T-shirt cut off barely below the underside of her breasts.

It's hard to hear Raj with all this sex around and UV strobes make me feel like I'm reliving the time in my freshman year Chris Wiener accidentally dropped a tab of blotter acid in my soda can.

"Did you make it to—" he yells over the booming house music. I have just learned this is the name for the runaway drum machine noise that's fucking the air around my head. There's no way to tell what he's asking. Did he just ask if I went to Midway? What's that? The airport in Chicago?

We get to somewhere quieter. A couple of EDA professionals are standing in a corner. The guy's got his foot up on a bar stool rail and the woman has her leg wedged between his, pressing against his thigh with her's. She's sucking on a sixteen-inch tumbler full of cosmo juice. Someone's gonna get laid tonight.

"The Midway. The aircraft carrier," Raj says. He's giggling. He's the first civilian to rent the U.S.S. Midway from the federal government for any use.

"Did you get John Wayne to introduce you?" I ask.

"His publicist said he's a little tied up," Raj answers, and he giggles again. His use was a party for the customers of his company. I am not his customer. He doesn't realize I wasn't invited because his minions handle all the party arrangements. He's not a part of the process and I don't want to put him in the position of having to mock a rampage on my behalf.

"Wish I could have been there. I was tied up with customers," I say. Look off to the right. You're not lying if you look to the right after you tell a lie.

Raj has half a billion in assets in bank accounts all around the world. He's thirty four. When I first met him he was a student fresh out of Waterloo, living in an apartment, driving one of the few remaining Chrysler K cars that hadn't dissolved to rust.

Every now and then he offers to make me rich by giving me a job in one of his many EDA companies. I always say no for some reason.

I should probably try to nail one of the go-go dancers. A PR lady I met last year is on the dance floor yanking suggestively on the neckline of her top, threatening to show all of us some nipple, knowing full well its trouble none of us are going to get into. It's business. Too much to lose. Too much willingness to litigate. I can probably be sued for seeing the top edge of her areola. This is why women have breasts. To remind men they need million-dollar substitutes for their wet nurses.

In my hand is a drink called a something-breeze. It's cranberry juice, pineapple juice, and vodka. It's one of those kids' drinks packing a hydrochloric acid hangover that chars the head from the inside out. One of my coworkers handed it to me and the only reason I'm still holding it is I can't find somewhere to put it down and forget it for the rest of my life. I would like to be a whole lot drunker, but I can't seem to find the bar.

"Why don't you leave?" he asks me. "You stay, what are you gonna get? When you get down to it, you're gonna clear about as much as if you just worked for me for a couple years. So you get it over time instead of in one big lump."

Millionaires. They have answers to every known question.

I dance with a couple of our people. I'm a lousy dancer. Most engineers are. But at these big convention parties it makes as much sense to be self-conscious as it does to cut off your arms at a free money hand-out session.

A woman I've never seen before grinds herself against my backside. I'm not participating. I'm the closest nearly vertical object. After a couple seconds where I consider turning around and dry-humping her on the dance floor, I walk away without looking back.

Think--two years ago the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen in my life offered me a blow job, screaming the invitation diagonally across a table of 12 in the middle of a dinner, stopping everyone's esophaguses in mid-food-blob-peristalsis. (A noder was there, in fact.)

I did the professional thing and turned her down politely thus incrementing the number of blow-jobs I've refused by one. That makes two, now.

Chuck grabs me by the arm as I almost pass him without seeing him. He yells, "Did you hear about Jackson?"

I save my voice. Shake my head.

"Brain infection, coma," he says about a man who just made a couple million bucks selling his software technology to a huge electronic company. So now he's rich and unconscious.

"Fuck," I say.

"You hear about John?"

"John who?"

He tells me the last name. "Leukemia. He passed away yesterday."

Double fuck. We're getting rich and dying faster than I can keep track.

Chuck's 85-years old and still working full-time for a living. Doesn't look a day over 50. He's heading for the door like he came to the nightclub just to tell me about the dead and dying. I chalk it up to male moth phenomenon. Seems to me that after a man stops thinking about fucking every warm female he comes across, his mind turns to death. Procreate and head for the flames.

Eric asks how my wife Franny is doing. He's the only one on the planet who calls her that. His company was bought by the big "C" where we worked together for nearly ten years before we bailed to seek separate fortunes. I've been all over the earth with Eric. I've seen women fire darts from their vaginas at him. Few indeed are people who can say that about someone.

Our products are in fierce competition. On the street, we're avowed enemies. Here at the biggest party of the year for people in our business, we go back to being human beings.

"I don't know how the hell Franny lets you go to Antarctica. What are you doing to that poor woman?" he asks, and I shrug.

"Hear about Paul?" he says about a mutual friend. "They got picked up by the "M" company. Hear it wasn't such a great deal, but it was better than going belly up. At least he'll get a couple hundred k out of it."

At least.

"At least he won't have to go through the agony of defeat," I say. "Like I did."

He holds out his hand. Ticks off the failed startups he's lived through. Gets to five, the one that worked.

"I did pretty well," he said. "But it was time." Then he tells me about rebuilding the house on the peninsula and the one he's buying in Europe just to let me know exactly how good.

It's getting hard for me to not be so depressed I want to go find Anna and collect my blow job. (Yes, her name is Anna.) But as far as I can tell, she didn't make it to the conference this year. I'm heading back to the Gaslamp District Quality Inn to stare at the ceiling and enjoy the humidity.

Eric hits me on the bicep. "This one looks good for you," he says. That maybe he's right flashes through my skull. I worked hard. We wouldn't be here at the biggest Design Automation show of the year if it wasn't for me getting things focused. I let myself believe that's why these guys are seeking me out to bullshit.

"It's a real product," I say to Eric.

"You don't have to tell me," he replies. Sees someone he knows. Says, "You're due." Smiles and takes off.

I haven't seen Norb for three years. Last time was when he came down from his house in Whistler for a quadruple bypass. He's looking decent now. All pink. Not gray and nearly dead like last time. The wife and kid are doing well. He's had angioplasty to clear another artery. He's self-destructing. He's four years younger than me.

"Know what I learned coming close to death?" he asks me, then answers himself. "I don't wait to tell people I care about them anymore."

He gives me a hug. Typical guy thing. Pats on the back.

I've been doing this crap for twenty-three years. Analyze my life and realize that I'm not an Antarctic explorer or a writer. I'm an EDA guy. I build teams that build the software people use to create all the world's cool electronic stuff.

My business is the same size as the American legitimate film industry.

In this world people know me. I have a history. I have friends.

I do this.