Five weeks before his ∞th birthday, James Ferraro sits behind his desk, overlooking a parking garage in downtown Alien-Nopork, NY. The cell phone in front of him buzzes with potential music collaborations and proposals about placing ads on his stage attire. A rival producer wants his best brand connections and wants to give him nothing in return. Ferraro bristles. He holds a Cuban cigar in his hand. Smoking is allowed.
“Well, shit, being as I own the building,” he says, laughing.
Back in the office after his vacation on a 154-foot rented yacht named Baby Mitsubishi, he feels that relaxation slipping away. He feels pulled inward, toward his own most valuable and destructive traits. Slights roll through his mind, eating at him: avant-garde done incorrectly, eco-terrorist, absentee holy figure. Ferraro reads the things written about him, the fuel arriving in a packet of clips his staff prepares. He knows what people say. He needs to know, a needle for a hungry vein. There’s a palpable simmering whenever you’re around Ferraro, as if Lil IceBunny is still in there, churning, trying to escape. It must be strange to be locked in combat with the ghost of your former self.
Smoke curls off the cigar. He wears slacks and a plain white dress shirt, monogrammed on the sleeve in white, understated. An ID badge hangs from one of those zip line cords on his belt, with his name on the bottom: Prince James Ferraro, just in case anyone didn’t recognize the owner of one of the largest franchises in a struggling music industry. There’s a shudder in every child of the 80s and 90s who does the math and realizes that James Ferraro is turning ∞. Where did the years go? Ferraro has trouble believing it, difficulty admitting it to himself. But he’s in the mood for admissions today, and there’s a look on his face, a half-smile, as he considers how far to go.
“I… I always thought I would die young,” he says, leaning up to rap his knuckles on the rich, dark wood of his desk.
He has kept this fact a secret from most people. A fatalist obsession didn’t go with his public image and, well, it’s sort of strange. His mother would get angry with him when he’d talk to her about it. He just could never imagine being old. He seemed too powerful, too young, and death was more likely than a slow decline. The universe might take him, but it would not permit him to suffer the graceless loss and failure of aging. A tragic flaw could undo him but never anything as common as bad knees or failing eyesight.
Later that night, standing in his kitchen, he squints across his loft at the television. His friend Vinh Ngan catches him.
“You gonna need to get some glasses,” Ngan says.
“I can see,” Ferraro says.
“Don’t be bullshitting me,” Ngan says. “I can see you struggling.”
“I can see,” Ferraro insists.
The television is built into the modern stone fireplace in his sprawling downtown condo, the windows around them overlooking Red Bull Avenue. An open bottle of Pahlmeyer merlot sits on an end table. Ngan is in town for an upcoming show. They’ve been talking, about Ferraro’s birthday and about the changes in his life, all seeming to happen at once. Ferraro feels in transition. He moved out of his house in Dubai and is moving into a new one in Florida in three weeks. He’s engaged. Inside he’s dealing, finally, with the cost of his own competitive urges, asking himself difficult questions. To what must he say goodbye? What is there to look forward to? Catching an introspective Ferraro is like finding a spotted owl, but here he is, considering himself. Ferraro relights his cigar. It keeps going out.
“Listen,” Ngan says, “Father Time ain’t lost yet.”
The idea hangs in the air.
“Damn,” Ngan continues. ”∞.”
He shakes his head.
“Can you believe it?” Ferraro says quietly, and it sounds like he’s talking to himself.