Monthly Archives: March 2014
“Advances in technology can change the way we interact with the world and with each other. Come visit our offices today for a test drive of the Deltron 3000! Guaranteed to make others see you in the best possible light! Come in today for a free preview showing of the new alternative vehicle made for the future of our planet!”
Marvey thought of the first time she’d seen the advertisement for the Deltron 3000. Back before the darkening, they had been the hottest alternative vehicles around. Owning one had been a status symbol in the early 2020’s. If you cared about the environment or the health of the planet you had a Deltron. It was something to make you stand out from the ordinary and now it was a relic from a time lost.
She’d been waiting for a public transit vehicle in the dusky afternoon Seattle drizzle for 20 minutes when the bus shelter suddenly lit up. She jumped a little in surprise. The shelters across the city had been wired years ago with sensors to turn on when someone was waiting for a bus. But due to the economic collapse and the intermittent power supply, the bus stops remained dark these days. Before the blackout, Direct Product social Marketing (aka DPsM) had been everywhere. Because everyone had a social media device, turned on and powered up at all times, the advertisers could “know” who the customer was waiting at the bus stop, or in an elevator, or in their car, or any of the other places that DPsM was allowed (the Supreme Court was still sorting out the legality of it all when the darkening had occurred).
The ads were custom designed to match the metrics of the people in the immediate area. If a group of teenaged girls were waiting together, an ad for the band “Destroy the Horizon” would flash on the walls, blaring the harsh emo-core music directly into their listening devices. It always annoyed Marvey when she could hear the screeching music seeping out of the teenager’s earpieces. And the advertisers always prioritized the desires of the younger viewers. But Marvey remembered fondly the advertising that targeted her. It would focus nostalgically on the roaring 2020’s: when energy was still relatively free and plentiful.
The ad that flickered before her in the bus shelter was one of those nostalgia pieces. Images of incandescent light bulbs cast soft glowing light on dewy wet roadways while a Deltron 3000 drove through the city towards still green forests. Marvey remembered what it was like to drive (something that was now forbidden) and couldn’t look away. She instinctively reached for her device to turn on the sound, before she remembered that her device hadn’t been active in over 15 years. Once the grid went down, the cars stopped rolling and all portable devices soon followed, screens going dark around the globe in a surprisingly short amount of time.
The ad featured a sexy looking woman stepping out of her Deltron 3000 while a man stared in admiration. The soft glow emanating from the woman made it look as if she was lit from within. In the next scene they were both shown cruising in the vehicle through the bucolic forest. Marvey could almost smell the pine forest and hear the faint whirr of the alt engine. It was a car that required no gas or oil; you merely plugged it in and charged it just like your cell phone. But since everyone had given up on gas-powered vehicles and switched to the electric vehicles the power supply chain had been over whelmed by demand. The car that had been sold as a promise for the future health of the planet had actually led to the collapse of modern society. Once the power grid was down all the trappings of modern society had been erased as with the flick of a switch. Electricity was horded by power companies and distributed to only the highest paying customers. Power pirates then came along and destroyed the supply lines by diverting the electricity to their own black market. In the end, the grid was so compromised no one could get any power. Many referred to the time they were living in as the Deltron Depression (D.D.). But the vehicle that had caused it all still had appeal to Marvey as she watched the shiny body of the sleek vehicle in the ad. The text at the bottom of the screen scrolled the location of the nearest Deltron dealership. Marvey noticed it had been right around the corner from where she stood waiting.
Peering down the now dark roadway Marvey saw no sign of any transit, bus, car, bicycle or otherwise. “Fuck it,” she said to herself as she stepped out into the rain. The bus shelter flickered back to darkness behind her as she turned the corner.
About halfway down the block Marvey heard the bus she’d been waiting for sweep past. It would be several hours before any other transit serviced this area. She figured she might as well keep going. She came to a stop before the papered over windows of the Deltron Dealership. She’d known it would be closed but still felt a shiver of disappointment that the place was so obviously deserted. The parking lot had been dug up and turned into a vegetable garden. The slick show room she remembered from the ads was obscured behind the faded craft paper that covered the graffiti sprayed windows. Coming up to the door, Marvey thought to herself “If I could just take a peek in the window.” A corner of the paper hung down where the tape had peeled loose from the window. She stood with her toes on the sill of the window peering in. Marvey gasped when she saw the faint glow coming from one of the draped vehicles inside the show room. She could tell it was a Deltron by the distinctive shape of the car’s body even through the fabric draped over it. Marvey knew that she had to see and feel the car. After hopping off the window ledge she gingerly tried the front door. It was open!
Marvey quietly crept into the showroom and approached the bluish green light of the glowing car. She gingerly lifted the edge of the cloth covering the car but let out a scream when she saw the family of raccoons inside the vehicle. Luckily the open window they had climbed in was on the other side of the car. “They must have activated the battery when they climbed in the car,” Marvey thought to herself. She slapped the glass with her hand and the raccoons a scurried out the other side. She opened the car door and checked to make sure no more raccoons were hiding in the vehicle. Seeing it was all clear she eased the cover off the car completely and settled into the seat. Fearing a return of the raccoon family Marvey pushed the window switch button and up the window came with a swoosh. The car hummed beneath her and Marvey knew that she would not be getting home via bus tonight.
Almost none of the agency’s younger employees were in the office on Friday afternoon. They were all scattered at nearby coffee houses and cafes. The people who remembered what office routines were like prior to, say, 1998, they stuck around and did what tasks they could do—filing, phones, in-person appointments and meetings.
One of the office old timers declared this Friday as “old home day.” A day to do things the way they used to do things around there. Why it wasn’t all that long ago, all the managers reminded me all day, when nobody used such newfangled nonsense as “email” or “Googled” anything. If somebody needed a document sent to them you mailed it off. If they needed it sooner, you sent it by FedEx. If they needed it any sooner than that, you faxed it to them. There’s still a fax machine, and a fax line, in the office. It was actually used on Friday.
Hell, there are even some old IBM Selectric typewriters around in there. And they apparently still work, though I have no idea when anybody used them last. Even on Friday, everybody still used their computers; even though the computers couldn’t communicate with the outside world, only with their own printers.
But not me. At least not after 3 o’clock, when I finally realized that (1) the tech support was not going to show, and (2) I still had shitloads of work to do that needed access to the electronic outside world.
So I bundled up my aging, firm-issued XP laptop, unplugged and gathered the power cord just in case, and got out of my workplace toward some place where I could do some work.
The thing was, our office tower didn’t have a coffee house in it, just a cafeteria that had already closed for the day. My own office mates had filled the seats in the ground floor coffee house in the tower across from ours. I had to keep searching, out in the downtown mid afternoon. My second, third, and fourth choice places had either already closed for the day, were too crowded, or too noisy.
Somehow I ended up almost at Pioneer Square, at some place named after the world’s most decrepit automobile. I was probably the only customer in there who knew that. Hell, I seemed to be the only customer in there who was old enough to remember there had been such a thing as East Germany, where the aforementioned automobile had been made. (Is there a word for somebody who’s old enough to remember Communism, but young enough to have always had jobs with email addresses?)
I purchased enough food and drink to justify my planned long term stay in the place. I plopped myself down at the table furthest from the counter, where I hoped to have the fewest reality-based distractions from my screen-based work stint.
The wifi here worked. I got my emails in and out. I retrieved the information I needed from the cloud. I inserted the just-acquired names, addresses, and case numbers into my documents.
I kept my eyes laser focused on the screen. I barley noticed that the room around me was steadily becoming busier and noisier. I vaguely overheard people vaguely talking about when some event was going to start in there. Next thing I knew, I overheard people yelling and clinking glasses. I hadn’t realized when I came in that this place turns into a bar in the evenings. There was a clock on my screen but I hadn’t looked at it. I still had a lot to do when I finally glanced at the little menu bar clock to find it was past 5:45. Had my supervisors been here, they would have admired my dedication.
Somebody WAS there who DIDN’T admire my dedication. I found this out suddenly, when my laptop was slammed shut, almost with my fingers in the way.
The second thing I did, after the initial shock wore off a bit, was look up.
When I did, I saw a pair of steely blue-grey eyes beneath a tussle of dyed red hair and above a cherry lipsticked mouth that emphatically proclaimed “Office hours are OVER!”
She grinned and stared straight at me. I felt terror at first sight, followed seconds later by, not love or even lust, but something I’d call “intrigue.”
She brusquely introduced herself as the instigator of this evening’s festivity, a closing night for the art show currently on the cafe’s walls. Yes, I had paid not a whiff of attention to the art works. I looked up just then to see collage pieces combining magazine pictures of different women from different decades. The woman looking at me (who would soon identify herself as “Lee Z.”) told me she wasn’t the artist but a friend of hers was, and that this party was intended to get the show’s last unsold pieces sold.
As I said, that was around 5:45 on Friday. By the time I reported to work (in our re-connected office) on Monday morning, Lee Z. Had sold me an artwork. She had also taken me bar hopping to at least seven places (and this was after the art reception had ended at 8), then let me crash at her condo that night, then driven herself and me on a weekend-long jaunt to wineries, casinos, the La Conner museum, a biker bar, several other bars, scenic Chuckanut Drive, and an unrestored dive motel. Along the way, she told me all about spending most of her law-firm salary on “bucket list” trips around the world; though her last trip was only as far east as East Rutherford NJ. Yes, she’d gone to the Super Bowl by herself.
Just about the only thing we didn’t do (and still haven’t yet) was sex. When she woke me up in her condo Saturday morning, she said I looked so peaceful and “yummy” while she’d watched me sleep, but she has a policy to never “take” a man in any way that she wouldn’t want anyone to “take” her. Without going into any examples, she said any American woman who travels the world solo quickly learns to not just demand respect but to give it.
How “giving respect” had to do with nearly crushing my fingers in my company-owned laptop, I still haven’t asked.
Nick arrived early and got a table in the bar section. He had just taken the first sip of his drink when George and Sam walked up to the table. Nick stepped down from his chair, shook George’s hand and hugged Sam. You look great, he said.
George said, What’re ya drinking?
No such thing.
Sure there is. There’s one right there. Looking at Sam, Nick said, You must have been out in the sun.
Well your hair looks lighter.
She smiled. Only my hairdresser knows for sure. Besides, I don’t remember the last sunny day around here.
The three of them climbed up into their seats. Yeah, it’s been raining like a bastard. The well in my basement is full up.
George said, When the world ends, at least, you’ll have water.
Sam said, When’s the world gonna end?
Together, Nick and George said, Any day now. They exchanged a glance and a rueful smile.
Sam shook her head and said, You two worked together too damned long. What makes you think the world’s gonna end?
If you read the papers and listen to the news, everyday there’s more evidence that the planet is dying. Did you hear about the landslide up in the mountains?
George said, If you still read newspapers and listen to the radio, you’re living in the nineteen twenties.
Nope. I’m living in the twenty-first century when every indicator says we’re wiping out the environment so quickly we don’t have time to even document the destruction, let alone do anything about it.
Sam said, But one landslide doesn’t prove anything.
That’s true, but lots of weird shit like that, taken together, paints a scary picture. The amount of rain we’ve been getting ain’t normal and neither are all the droughts and the fires and snow storms and all that flooding in England. Sure, shit happens, but when you fuck with mother nature, it hits the fan.
Sam looked at her boyfriend and asked, Do you agree with that?
George nodded and said, Yup. We’re fucked. Seven billion is way too many monkeys. Does everyplace have to have these tall tables now?
The waitress came by and took drink orders from Sam and George. Nick ordered another martini.
Sam asked, Where’s Margot? I thought she’d be here.
She teaches tonight.
I thought she was working at the museum now.
She is, but she’s still teaching two nights a week.
How’s she like the museum?
Well, parts of it are good and she likes everybody she works with but it’s killing her. There should be three people doing her job.
Why don’t they hire more people?
George said, It’s like that everywhere since the recession. Everybody is trying to run everything with just a skeleton crew. That’s why I’m out of work now.
Nick said, I go down there often as I can to help set up tables and chairs.
Sam said, What d’ya mean?
She’s got a Ph.D. but there’s nobody to do the grunt work. Every time she holds a meeting she’s gotta set everything up and take it all down by herself.
George said, That sucks.
Nick said, The worst part about going to the museum is I always forget about those god damn cars hanging from the ceiling until I walk into the lobby and see ‘em again.
George said, Yeah, those suck. And not in a good way.
Sam said, Why? I kinda like ‘em.
Together, Nick and George said, They’re horrible.
Sam said, You two are freaks. Are we gonna eat something?
Nick said, I am. The fish tacos here are killer.
The waitress came back with drinks.
Nick said, See I like these tables. You don’t have to look up at the waitress. We’re all at eye level.
The waitress said, I’m not a waitress. I’m a server.
Nick said, Why not just waiter?
She replied, It sounds menial.
Nick said, I worked at three different restaurants and it never bugged me to be called a waiter.
George said, In five years, they’ll change it again because somebody will decide that server is degrading. I’ll have the fish tacos. They all ordered the fish tacos.
Sam said, I was a wait person.
Nick said, They call these yuppie highchairs.
The waitress asked, What’s a yuppie?
When she departed again, George said, Did you hear that they just found the second largest canyon on earth?
Nick said, Yeah, I heard something about that. Up in Greenland?
Sam, said, I thought Greenland was covered in ice?
Together, Nick and George said, Not for long.
Sam said, Cut it out, you creeps.
Nick said, So, what, is it exposed now?
No. They found it with a satellite that can see through the ice.
Sam said, Why don’t they use that to find the plane in the Indian Ocean?
George said, I don’t think it works that way and you gotta know where to look.
Nick said, So were they looking for the canyon?
No. They were just trying to map the terrain under the glaciers.
What? They couldn’t wait a couple of years until everything melts?
Well, you know, they try to keep busy.
Sam said, So, we have all this technology. Don’t you think they can save the planet with it?
Together, Nick and George said, There’s no time.
George said, Cause all the monkeys keep fucking and making more monkeys and they all gotta eat.
Sam said, But we keep finding ways to make more food.
Nick said, And it’s all done by burning petroleum and that’s fucking up the atmosphere and we’re cutting down all the trees and, now, the oceans are dying too.
So, what do we do about it?
Together, Nick and George said, Nothing, we’re screwed.
Sam said, Stop stop stop stop stop stop stop. I’ll scream.
Nick said, What’s to worry? We probably have a couple of good years left.
George said, Not many. The only thing the climate scientists got wrong is how fast it’s happening.
Then the waitress arrived with the tacos.
Together, Nick and Sam said, Those look good!
Three generations of Turners gathered for dinner on a chilly, by Tucson standards, Seattle evening. The event was occasioned by the visit of Sarah’s parents and grandfather, ostensibly to enjoy an early spring vacation from their sunny Arizona digs, but really, she suspected, to check on the youngest member of the family’s lifestyle as a techie up in the wilds of the frigid Pacific Northwest.
Everyone else had stayed in Arizona – her brother and other sister – and kept the greater Tucson area as home. Her parents had settled in Tucson when the kids were small, and her grandfather had moved there when grandmother died back shortly before Sarah’s birth. From most points of view her relationship with her family was pretty good. She had not run away from them when she moved north, she just liked it in Seattle. She was not sure what they missed: her or teasing her.
Her Mom and Dad had been supportive of her going to school up here. She not so much froze her first couple of years, but she did find it chilly and the dampness went through her. Now though, it felt like home even if you might need a sweatshirt in June.
She had once been especially close to Pa, her grandfather, but they had grown apart over the years and their relationship, even when she was a teen, had been a bit prickly and burdened by his image of her as an eight year old. Pa was in his eighties and the slowly progressing Parkinson’s and the wide variety of medications he took on a regular schedule had not improved his demeanor. He was, she sighed to think, a cranky old man.
Now, in fairness, there had not been much grumpiness from him on this trip. He had been quiet, almost too quiet. He moved slowly and she suspected was fairly tired by the agenda they had kept him on. They had all seemed to enjoy the visit to the Space Needle. Economically it was unreasonable, though Mom, Dad, and Pa found her insistence on paying for it sweet. Despite early morning sunshine, by the time they got to the viewing deck in mid-afternoon clouds and showers generally obscured everything.
From there the Arizonans had retreated to their motel for a siesta and then it was dinner at Sarah’s. The menu was Thai food. No comments on her vegetarianism: she made them prawns, though she bought a different wok to cook them in. She bought them already cleaned; the smell in the kitchen was bad enough. Poor bugs.
From there, the highlight was a photo display. Last time she had been home she borrowed a box of the family photos to scan in. Tonight she was going to display them on her big new TV. She thought it would be fun: an act of preservation and display. They were amazed at the size of the TV, even more when she told them the main reason was for gaming: she needed something high definition, big, and fast enough to keep up with her gaming.
Mom and Dad took the dishes while she and Pa sat down to check out the TV and the photos.
“This thing is impressive. How could you afford it?”
“I’m doing alright Pa. They’re paying me alright.”
“No kidding, but what a toy?”
“What do you think of the photos?”
“They’re fine,” he said. He sounded bored, not really noticing. “You’ve come a long way from that little girl eating with the dog under the table.”
“I was always a little out of the ordinary Pa. Me and old Mabel were the only ones who liked that asparagus.”
“Mabel would eat anything. You were slightly more discriminating. So, you’re happy up here with your toys in this city filled with hippies and pinkos?”
“Pinkos? Really Pa. Use that term and nobody’ll know what you’re talking about. You’re lucky I know you.”
“Sorry. I have not come to terms with all that politically correct stuff you and yours up here are obsessed with.”
“Now Pa, who wants to get into that tonight, people up here are nice, even though some say they aren’t too friendly. Does it really seem all that weird up here? Aren’t the mountains beautiful?”
“They are when you can see them, every few days I imagine. I agree it is beautiful. I’ve been in Tucson thirty years now. Love it. Good enough for me. Couldn’t you make good money at home with the rest of us in the sun where you know people are polite and you can get decent food?”
“You didn’t like dinner?”
“Dinner was fine, I guess, if you like that Asian stuff. I’m old Sarah. Set in my ways. I miss what I love, wonder why it has to go away.”
“I’m sorry Pa. I am not running away from you. I’m just living my life. And I like it! I’m down to see you pretty often.”
He looked up to a picture of her and her siblings.
“You’re bigger on the screen than you were when that was taken.”
“I think they look neat, special,” chimed in Sarah’s mother. “I like seeing you as kids again, thank you so much Sarah.”
“It is kind of neat. And we can look at these at home too?” asked her Dad.
“Yes. They’re stored online and in a flash drive I saved for you.”
“Such a fuss over gadgets,” added a now cranky Pa.
They all grew quiet, watching the slideshow of pictures continue to play. Pa was starting to fidget and Sarah, despite herself, was starting to wonder when the three of them would call an end to the evening.
Then a black and white photo of two women popped up. They were standing in a blooming garden, one woman young and the other about the age of Sarah’s mother. It was an old photo, but clear and well taken. It had scanned well and retained its detail.
They heard Pa gasp, then the picture moved on.
“Hey. Bring that one back. Can you bring that one back?” Pa asked.
As it flashed back up, Sarah paused the slideshow.
“What is it Pa?”
“I remember like it was yesterday. Look at that. She was so lovely.” His voice caught a bit, “they were both so lovely.”
She looked at him, his eyes shiny and full behind their big thick lenses.
“That was the day I introduced them, my mother and the woman who was to become your grandmother. Mother and Maggie, it’s good to see you,” he said to the big screen.
He forgot himself for a moment. Then he sat quietly and stared.
The evening was over in short order. In a few minutes Sarah’s parents called an end to the festivities.
Pa stopped at the door and hugged Sarah more tightly than she imagined he could. He stepped back, smiled, thanked her. He shook his head.
“I’m really impressed. Our littlest girl has really grown up.”
She interrupted and started to explain how it was not much at all.
“It might not have been much to you but it took me back a long way” as he shushed her with a shaky finger at his lips, “and if what you said is right, I can look at it anytime I want, big enough for these old eyes.”
“I’m so glad Pa.”
“Now, it would have been perfect if we had a picture of you and that old dog eating asparagus off the same plate.”
“Too true Pa, too true.”
She smiled as she closed the door behind them. She smiled thinking of how happy he was. And how happy she was that she had pulled the picture of herself eating with the dog and made sure no one else was going to see it.
Dina sat in a stall in the teachers bathroom, dragging hard on her cigarette. What a fine mess. She blew a stream of smoke toward the cracked window, but rather than escaping to the outside, it hung like a cloud above her head.
A door opened with the long squeak of dry hinges.
“Becker, is that you? Jeez, it’s like one of those smoking lounges in the Las Vegas airport.”
“Yeah, Gladys, it’s me. Sorry, it’s been a long day.”
“It’s barely past lunchtime.”
Dina emerged from the stall, and stuffed a lifesaver in her mouth.
“The kids can smell it on you, you know. As the school nurse, you might try to set a better example.”
“I don’t think they can. Really, Gladys, it’s the first cigarette I’ve had in days.”
“What’s up? Why the drawn face?”
“I don’t know. There’s a lot going on.”
“Gladys, you’re been married a long time?”
“For 31 years, believe it or not.”
“But no kids, right?”
“I’ve been a school teacher for almost as long as I’ve been married, have taught almost every grade in this school, the little kids and the teenagers, and early on I figured I’d be doing enough parenting without messing with kids of my own. Can you imagine? It’d just be too much.”
“And your husband – he never wanted any?”
“Nah. I mean, I think there was a time that he was more interested. That he thought about it, anyway. But, you know, we women ultimately have a lot of control of what happens. Or doesn’t happen.”
“Hmm. That doesn’t seem so fair, does it?”
“Fare is what you pay the bus driver. I’ve gotta’ go collect my class from the gymnasium and you probably need to get back to your office, no?”
“Yeah, we better get a move on.”
Dina stopped to wash her hands.
“Everything okay with that boyfriend of yours, Becker? That fireman guy?”
“Oh, him? Yeah, fine, fine.”
Dina followed Gladys out of the bathroom, and hurried down the hallway. She had been gone too long from the nurse’s office, and wasn’t sure she had remembered to lock the door. She hoped no one was waiting for her. But before she could find out, old Mortie stopped her in the hallway.
“Nurse Becker, I was just about to come looking for you.”
“Oh, hi, Principal Morton.”
“Jennifer Wilkins said that you were sending her home sick, but that you hadn’t called her parents and you’re allowing her to walk home on her own.”
“She’s fifteen, Principal Morton, and she lives, like, what, four blocks from the school.”
“Well I don’t think she’s going to get kidnapped, Nurse Becker, I just wonder at the wisdom of sending a sick child on a four block walk in the cold. That is, if she is truly sick.”
“She is most definitely feeling unwell, Principal Morton, and if you like, I can call her mother when I get back to my office.”
“I think that would be prudent.”
Old Mortie nodded and continued on his way.
What a prick, thought Dina, rushing down the hall. She had definitely been gone too long – there was someone in her office.
“Marjorie? What are you doing in here? Are you feeling sick?”
“Oh nothing. I’m not doing anything.”
Marjorie was behind Dina’s desk, stuffing something in her pocket, but Dina couldn’t tell what. She probably found Dina’s stash of lifesavers. Marjorie was a precocious third-grader who didn’t get enough attention at home. Dina knew that the constant stomachaches, light-headedness, and other ailments that plagued Marjorie had more to do with her desire for Dina’s company than actual illness. Dina often let her prattle on about how crazy her mother was or what she wanted to be when she grew up, but today she didn’t have the energy for it.
“You should get back to your classroom, Marjorie.”
Dina knew she was disappointing Marjorie, but she had some serious thinking to do. Marjorie claimed that she had been waiting in Dina’s office for almost an hour and would need a pass to get back into her classroom without getting into trouble. Could Dina have been in the bathroom for that long? She finally agreed to write the pass – sketchy, she knew, and Marjorie eyed her slyly as she wrote it – and then hurried Marjorie out the door. Once the door clicked shut, Dina counted to 10, opened the window and lit another cigarette.
…to be continued.
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“Yes, I’m thankful to be alive. That’s for sure. I’d always thought the cell phone and all that computer crap was evil but if some genius hadn’t invented this bullshit, my whole evening would have gone very differently. I’d be dead right now.”
“What the hell happened anyway? I thought you didn’t even drive anymore.”
“Oh, I told my kids I didn’t drive that I just used my car for storage. It sure looked nice sitting there in the driveway.”
“Yeah, Larry, such a fond memory of yours and mine, of our glorious youth. That was one damn beautiful car. I couldn’t sell it either if I owned it.”
“I liked all my old devices. I couldn’t embrace this new fangled technology anyway. I think it has made a mess out of life.”
“Oh, I don’t think it’s so bad.”
“Well, Linda you’ve always been the smart one. You’re such an over achiever.”
“It’s not just that Larry, It’s just instead of bitching about new stuff I like learning new things. I like to try out the new while you’ve always thrived on being a Luddite.”
“I could do everything just fine before Google. I have books. I have an EN-CYC-LO-PEDIA and my ham radio set is working just fine.”
“What a nut you are Larry. Remember when I first told you about the Internet and the Wide World Web. You told me point blank that this crap was the stupidest invention of the century. Maybe the stupidest invention of all time.”
“I think it’s still really stupid, all this nonsense about Twitter, and Facebook, and Hashtag this and Google that.”
“I’m surprised at you Larry. I didn’t know you knew so much about the evil empire.”
“Well, I had to modify my self a little in the light of what happened last week.”
“I sure am glad something changed you a bit. You can be so ornery and hard to get along with.”
“I could resent your remarks but have to admit you are right. I was such an old cuss. Don’t get me wrong I still hate all this new world technology but now that I’ve sold my soul to the evil genius I will still hold on to the right not to twerk or download any of the porn that seems to drive the internets engine, or to take a selfie with my phone. Hey Linda, don’t you think it’s stupid to keep calling this new fangled crap telephones and televisions. How come these young hot shots haven’t re-invented the English language yet, huh?”
“Just give then time Larry. If we live long enough we probably will have to learn a new language.”
“Oh God no! I hope I won’t be around for that mess.”
“Well, here’s a cup of coffee for you. I want to know what the hell happened to you. It must have been a real dozy if you have gone out and spent a hell of a lot of money buying all of this equipment. My god, I’ve known you for damn near fifty years and I don’t think you’ve ever spent that kind of money, ever. I mean this house only cost you ten thousand and that 1964 GTO was probably not more than, what five thousand bucks with all the options, right?”
“Now, don’t be so harsh Linda. Something heavy happened and I vowed to catch up and so I bought everything: Big Mac, little Mac, mini Mac, iPods and iPads and my beautiful iPhone which will never leave my side.”
“Here, drink your coffee Larry and tell me what happened.”
“Ok, Ok. See it was like this. It was exactly one month ago when my girl Lynn came by the house.”
“Here Daddy, I bought you this cell phone. It’s on my family plan. You won’t have to pay a thing. You’ll just have to keep it charged. I’ve already programmed my phone number into it. All you have do when you want to call me is to press this button Ok.”
“I don’t know Lynnie, I’ve tried to work these darn cell phones before and I can’t see the numbers and I hate that. I have a perfectly good phone right here in the house.”
“I know dad but when you go out of the house and sneak a ride in the GTO something could happen to you.”
“Nothing is going to happen to me. I just drive the car to the store and to get gas. I hate this crap. This is why I don’t have the stupid Internet and all that ridiculous email stuff. I have plenty of mail to answer right here on my desk.”
“You are so stubborn. The Internet is not evil and a lot of your friends are on line. Who’s that friend of yours, Linda, she’s always on line and you guys are the same age. You guys could Skype if you were on line and see each other on the computer. You’re going to end up isolated and lonely if you don’t catch up join the modern world.”
“Oh don’t worry about me. I promise though that I’ll carry the phone with me just to please you. Just because you’re daddy’s little girl.”
“Larry, your daughter is really good to you. Then what happened?”
“Well I hardly drive at night. You know my eyes are not very good. Well, actually it all started with my last check-up at Doctor Hanson. He warned me about my heart and told me I would be in serious trouble unless he did this procedure and even then my chances for a much longer life were non-existent.”
“Oh, I didn’t know that Larry. So sorry to hear that.”
“Thanks Linda. I guess I was feeling sorry for myself. I decided to go fill up the GTO with gas, check the tires and oil. But after that I thought why the hell not. I took her for a ride out down Highway 101.”
“You went all the way to the peninsula “
“I know, I know. I thought I could get some speed up and drive out to the old cabin. Well, it started getting dark and my eyes couldn’t see real good. I guess I made a wrong turn somewhere.”
“Man, Larry that was real stupid.”
“Damn Linda I know it was but I was feeling depressed and I don’t drink anymore or smoke weed. I only had my car to make me feel better. But anyhow, I guess I ran out of gas. The gauge must have been wrong. I thought I’d better start walking and try to find some lights and maybe a house.”
“In the dark, oh no. I’d be so afraid. My eyes aren’t so good either and with my fake hips I’d be sunk.”
“I realize now I was a stupid old man, but that’s not the worst of it. I tripped over a rock, a small rock at that and tumbled into a ditch on the side of the road, sprained my ankle and smacked my head. Well, in all that excitement I sent my heart into a fast arrhythmia.”
“Oh my God or should I say OMG, Larry.”
“ I thought I was going to die right there in a ditch by the side of the road and the most embarrassing part, I can tell you, was that I pissed my pants when I fell.”
“Wow, how miserable. That’s terrible. I can see it now. What a mess.”
“ I felt like giving up right there my heart beating like crazy, pain all on the right side of my body, the taste of dust between my teeth. It was only then that I remembered the little cell phone in my shirt pocket. Didn’t even think of it before.”
“Thank god you had it.”
“No shit, Linda. I thought I was a goner and then to press a button and hear the sweet voice of my beautiful daughter brought tears to my eyes.”
“You were so lucky, Larry. You could have easily died out there or worse. How did she find you?”
“I guess the EMT’s followed my GPS and got me in less that an hour. That’s when I decided to stop the bullshit and join the modern world. It was the genius of technology that saved my butt. Oh, and by the way, or as we say, BTW I’ve sold the GTO to pay for all of this. I put it on Ebay and got an offer of fifty thousand dollars. No evil in that at all.”
“If some genius hadn’t invented the technology, then the whole evening would have gone differently,” Sam thought as he watched Grace walk away. He stood in the parking lot of the Olive Garden, his hands thrust in his pockets and a scowl on his face, as he thought about the disaster that tonight had turned out to be.
Sam had had the night all planned out, from where he would sit at the bar to observe Grace, to what time he would swoop in to be the hero, and when he would get the girl. While the first two scenarios panned out, the third did not as evidenced by Sam getting in the cab by himself. He furrowed his brow as he leaned back into the upholstery covered seat. Sam’s plans had worked many times before, but he had never counted on Grace being technologically savvy.
“But that’s okay” he thought. He would use tonight as a learning experience and come out better in the end. “After all,” Sam mused as the cab turned the corner onto his street, “Superman has his kryptonite and I just found mine.”
He silently paid the cab driver his fare, plus an exact 15% tip. He could feel the driver’s stare as he walked into his apartment building, most likely wondering what kind of guy takes a cab home alone from the Olive Garden.
“Lots of people go to the Olive Garden,” Sam scoffed, alone in the elevator. “They have great breadsticks.”
He lumbered into his apartment and felt along the hallway for the light switch. The bright glow of the florescent lights made him wince for a second until, blinking his eyes rapidly, he adjusted to the contrast from being outside in the dark. His coat was flung on the shabby couch, and he toed off his shoes. Sam sat down at his desk and flipped the switch on his dual monitor computer. The screens flickered to life as they came out of hibernation.
Sam scrolled through his email, bypassing messages from the dating web site, and got up to get a glass of water. The entire evening had left a bad taste in his mouth. He thought again about Grace and grimaced when he remembered the look on her face when she had come back from the bathroom.
“Is it true?” She had confronted him barely even before she sat down.
Sam looked up from pasta, confused. ”Is what true,” he asked.
Grace shook her head and took a big gulp of wine. ”You know,” she said, “I thought my dad was crazy when he sent me the link for this app. He told me, ‘Grace, now that you are trying online dating you need to be sure that people are who they say they are.’” Grace’s voice had deepened as she mimicked her father.
“What are you talking about?”
“I was so worried when I got here that Mike wouldn’t like me in person. And then, when he never showed up, I felt like the biggest fool.” Grace paused and took a breath. “And then here you come, swooping in to save the day. But Mike’s been here the entire time, hasn’t he?” She looked at Sam, her eyes narrowed in anger.
Sam sat, frozen in his chair. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He stumbled over his words and tried to figure out how Grace had found him out.
“You!” she yelled. “You’re Mike. And Larry. And who knows how many other people.” Grace’s voice was rising and Sam could see the family sitting across the aisle looking over at their table.
“Shhh,” Sam said, trying to calm Grace down. She had partly risen up out of her chair while she was raging at Sam. Sam tried to gently ease her back into her chair and waved away the waitress who was warily making her way over. He could handle this, he thought. A hero never loses his cool.
“Now,” he said, “what are you talking about?”
Grace sat back, slipping her wine slowly now. “I have this app,” she began, “that searches dating websites and searches all the pictures that are posted on the site. The app is designed to look for facial similarities in the photos in order to figure out if someone has more than one account or if someone is using someone else’s photo.” Grace looked up at Sam. “I tried it on whim tonight, wondering if maybe you had joined an online dating website. Want to know what I found?”
Sam could feel his face start to pale as Grace spoke. “No,” he said. “What did you find?”
“I found,” Grace said, finishing her glass of wine, “that your face is on twelve online dating accounts.” She held out her hands and tried to count to twelve but kept messing up as the wine was making itself known.
“Funny that I was supposed to have a date with two of those and neither showed up.” She waived over the waitress. “I’ll have another bottle of wine, to go. And my date,” she emphasized the word date, “will be paying.”
Sam watched silently as Grace put on her coat and stuffed the new bottle of wine into her purse. “This was not how the night was supposed to end,” Sam thought. But, as he laid the money onto the table and surreptitiously followed Grace out of the restaurant, like every good superhero, he had a backup plan. Even if he didn’t know what it was just yet.
Sitting in his apartment, Sam blew out a breath as he waited for his game to load. He reached across his desk and grabbed the crumpled packets of cigarettes. Shaking one out, he clamped it between his lips and flicked the lighter in his hand. The end of the cigarette lit up with a glow and Sam closed his eyes in a sigh, inhaling the sweet nicotine. He breathed out a cloud of smoke, leaned over and opened the window, and sat back in his chair as the opening credits of this week’s game began to play. He had a villain to catch.
He couldn’t figure out if being high had anything to do with it or if it was the atmospheric conditions or the time of day or something about that particular kayak. He didn’t know how the whole thing worked. He only knew he that it happened accidently after he had gotten up early on a foggy July morning, filled a small thermos with thick black coffee, twisted up a fatty, and paddled out into the middle of the lake to burn it. Then, just as that first little buzz came on, he started paddling into a fine gray dawn and left his casual familiarity with his surroundings far behind him.
John owned a small, older houseboat on the east side of Lake Union in Seattle. Most people on the lake lived in floating homes which were larger and didn’t move, but his was technically a houseboat because it had an outboard motor on the side. As long as he took it out on the lake once a year, he could keep it tied up in a marina with a nice view.
He’d gotten a pretty good deal on it shortly after his no-kids-marriage ended and it suited him. He’d always enjoyed “messing about in boats.” He half suspected that the old guy he’d bought the place from had given him a good price because he’d shown so much interest in the old wooden kayak tied up alongside. The old guy had built the kayak himself, and John paid him an extra three hundred bucks for it.
He’d loved living by himself for several years. He thought that a house on the water suited him given his nebulous attachment to life on earth. He’d never known his father and his mom had died while he was in college. He had a sister and a nephew down in LA, but they had a Christmas card relationship. He didn’t even know where is ex was now. He did have some friends in town, but they were mostly the “let’s get together sometime” sort of people so common to Seattle. He genuinely liked the handful of folks he worked with, but none of them had ever been to his place on the lake.
The only change he made was to cut a hole in the wall facing the lake where he installed a sliding-glass door, and all that water was company enough for him until he met a woman with nice tits. They got along well enough until she started spending most of her nights at his place. Then they started bickering over tiny little things that didn’t matter at all. He suspected that she mostly liked his houseboat and he knew for sure that he mostly liked her tits. They sure made the place feel more like home.
She’d gone on home on late Saturday night, after they’d had one of those stupid fights. Next morning, he was just trying forget the whole episode when paddled back in time. What he’d done was lose focus as he paddled – absently gazing at the forward tip of the kayak. It reminded him of those 3-D stereograms that were popular for a time back in the nineties. What you had to do was deliberately let your eyes glaze until the image appeared. Double vision occurred and he saw two bow tips in his field of view.
There was no drama to it at all. It was just that he came right up to the broad expanse of a gray wall made up of steel plates held together with lots of round-headed rivets. It came out of the fog so rapidly that he had to back paddle to avoid running right into it.
Obviously, this was the side of fairly large immobile ship yet he felt certain he was still in the middle of the lake. He paddled to his right and came upon an anchor chain. This ship looked old fashioned. The bow was nearly vertical unlike the swept bows common to modern marine architecture. The numerals of the draft markings looked somewhat antique like ones seen on highway signs in old movies.
As he maneuvered past the anchor chain he saw that this ship was tied up to another on its port side. He continued on and counted another seven ships for a total of nine anchored in the middle of the lake. They looked like they’d been there for some time. The portholes on the hull were battened down with round steel plates, and those on the sections above deck were covered with boards. In places, blackberry vines twisted around the ships’ rails.
As the fog thinned out, he continued paddling north, dodging a tugboat, a barge loaded with a mountain of coal, numerous steam powered launches, and a couple of wooden sailboats until he came within sight of Gasworks Park. Except it wasn’t Gasworks Park. It was just the Gasworks with large storage tanks and unfamiliar brick buildings and smokestacks producing billowing black clouds.
Despite some tall trees here and there, the whole expanse of shoreline had a grittier, more industrial look to it, but he didn’t really start to get it until he realized what was missing. That was the constant, continuous din of traffic on I-5; a sound so omnipresent as to blend into his consciousness, unheard, until it was gone.
He paddled to his right towards Portage Bay. He was approaching the University Bridge before he looked up at the gray sky of early morning and noted the utter absence of the Ship Canal Bridge that had carried I-5 past the University District for the past fifty years.
The few automobiles crossing the University Bridge were antiques. He spotted two Model Ts but had no idea what the others were. There was only one pedestrian crossing the bridge. The guy was wearing a fedora and that was what finally made the figurative light bulb above John’s head click on. He knew he was “back in time.” It was starting to look to him like he was slightly stoned, in a kayak, in the 1920’s. And he needed to get some breakfast.
(To be continued)
Just before he paddled under the bridge a northbound electric streetcar crossed it heading toward the University District. Thinking of University Way, or “The Ave”, as it was known; he figured he might find a place to eat there, so he continued heading east into Portage Bay.
As John began maneuvering around a white wooden-hulled fishing boat heading west a guy standing at the stern hailed him.
“Hey, Nanook! Where’d ya get the eskimo boat?”
“A friend of mine built it.”
On the north side of Portage Bay, not far from the University, there was a boatyard with several Lake Boats tied up to a dock. Two boats were evidently not yet completed and were being worked on, and another was being painted. He came up alongside and asked a man in coveralls if he could leave his own boat here for an hour.
The guy just pointed at a spot near a ladder on the dock that extended down into the oily water. The guy put a forefinger and a thumb in his mouth and whistled loudly twice. The guys on other boats looked up, another guy stuck his head out of the window of a large work shed, and another guy came around a corner. The man in coveralls pointed at John’s boat. By the time John tied up and climbed the ladder there were five young men and two older guys looking down at his kayak. The guy in coveralls now seemed more interested in John’s clothing which consisted of a hoodie sweatshirt, blue jeans and an old pair of sneakers. No one spoke to him, so he walked across the work yard, out the gate, and up the street towards the Ave. He heard church bells.
It was quite disorienting walking a neighborhood he knew fairly well, but, that this morning, lacked familiar landmark buildings such as the University Hospital and the large brick academic buildings that dominated the area in his time. He remembered one that had a big vertical sundial mounted on its side. There were lots of small wooden houses of the type he had seen bulldozed so often over the years. He saw many vegetable gardens and some vacant lots. And some enormous trees.
He was absently staring at a cow in a vacant lot when it occurred to him that he had no money on him, and, even if he did, it wouldn’t look right to anyone he tried to pass it off on. Maybe being high wasn’t helping him so much in his current predicament.
He continued on until he reached The Ave where he walked a couple of blocks uphill not finding any places to eat or anything open at all. He cupped his hands around his eyes and peered into a closed barbershop. On the wall near the door he spied a calendar. July, 1923. He noted that there was a Sunday with a date corresponding to the one he had set out on.
On the way back to the boat yard he stepped into a garden and stole a large yellow tomato which he bit into as he would an apple. It was warm from the sun and delicious.
He rounded a corner onto the street leading back to the boat yard with its large open shed housing a hull propped up on big metal jack stands, and he thought, “Wait a minute, if it’s Sunday morning, and everything is closed, what are all those guys doing at work when this is probably their only day off? Who writes this shit anyway? And why do all his stories seem to revolve around drugs and alcohol?”
Then all the traffic sounds and the huge interstate bridge came back just as, one by one, all the charming single family houses on the street were replaced with crappy-looking five level condominiums with retail on the ground floor.
Then, just like that, with the click of a mouse, John disappeared as well.
Just after their action, on the day before their arrest, Jackie and Joey set up their smartphone on a mini tripod on the dashboard of their borrowed minivan. Having planned for this moment in advance, they had strung up a little black sheet behind the front seat, so the police could not ascertain their location. When they began the recording, they’d driven for at least an hour after their initial getaway. Their faces were still a bit dirty, their hair unkempt. Jackie had put on a big brimmed hat, to try to cover the fresh scar on her forehead. In the longest available version of the video, they can be seen breathing heavily, trying to compose themselves; Joey can be seen fiddling with a previously printed-out script. Joey counts down five, four, three, two, and a silent beat before he begins to speak:
“We expect a lot of you want to know a lot of things about why we did what we did. A lot of you are probably also asking who would dare to do such a thing.”
Joey had been staring at his printout. But Jackie starts her turn to speak by staring directly into the phone’s camera:
“To those of you who ask these questions, we have a question for you: Why haven’t most of you risen up to act? Like the saying goes, ‘If not you, who? If not now, when?’
“Every day in this society, millions of people go about their daily routines. They drive to their jobs. They shop in the malls. They send their children to schools. They watch TV and look at Internet pages. They eat, they drink, they take drugs, they pee, they have sex, they do the laundry. They commit big and little crimes. They sleep. They dream about the lives they wished they had, about the world they wished they could live in.
“But they don’t do anything to create those lives, to create that world.
“But we did.”
Joey took his next turn to talk, his eyes darting from his script to above, or to the side of, the phone camera.
“We are not one bit ashamed or sorry about what we did. We would do it again. With any good fortune, we will. Whether we get that chance or not, we want you to take your lives, your futures, into your own hands. Live without dead time. Be truly alive, now. Give a damn. Be somebody. Do something.”
Jackie can then be seen reaching out to click the recording off. It was sent to an “anonymized” file-upload site, then uploaded to YouTube.
In the months and years after their initial arrest, Jackie and Joey’s manifesto was transcribed, revised, altered, and reused by advocates of various, even contradictory causes. Their words were invoked to justify the bombings of Planned Parenthood clinics and animal-testing labs, the lootings of banks and fast food restaurants, attacks against the lives of liberal politicians and conservative preachers.
The noteriety wound up working against Jackie and Joey,at their initial trial and their subsequent appeals. After four and a half years in the legal system, Jackie’s conviction was overturned on a technicality. Joey took another 19 months to get out on parole.
Among the conditions of Joey’s parole were that he refrain from any presence on social-media sites, from anything involving explosives or their components, and from being within 500 feet of any oil refining or transport facilities.
“She looked good. If I close my eyes I can see her now, walking across the room.”
My eyes rove around the room, surveying the empty cans and pizza boxes. I look out the window at the parking lot of this drab motel, up to the dusty mountain ridge in the distance. Open a new can and try to forget the day that was going to be, that wasn’t, and that has slipped away.
Jack is asleep on the floor, his hands tucked up under his ear, no pillow. In sleep there is peace. He had been great today, patient and accepting of boredom and sugar bribery. Tantrums could not have made the day much worse, but him being happy had made it seem a little less disappointing.
“Now I had known her for a while. I used to go into that office fairly often. But I’d never really thought about her that way. And at that time, I was on a losing streak. Let’s just say that things had been dry for me for quite a bit. If it had not been for a friend with benefits situation, infrequent though it was, the stench of desperation coming off of me would never have allowed us to connect.”
I’m giving off a stench of desperation. Instead of a long weekend hiking and swimming I’m swilling cheap beer and eating cardboard pizza listening to some old story of my brother Ben’s that is focused on the incredible ass and light blue underwear of a woman he had a short fling with five years ago.
Every time I think I’ve turned a corner I seem to find myself in the same old mess. Here I am again, broke down and broke, sitting in an ugly motel getting drunk with my brother, kid asleep on the floor, hoping my credit card will pass muster when the car is finally fixed. Then, and only then, I’ll tuck my tail between my legs and bid a retreat home
“Stink of desperation,” I mutter.
“Come on man, you don’t have it that bad. You can’t let a dead fuel pump destroy you. It is what it is. What can you do? Got to make the best of it.”
“Getting hammered on PBR in downtown Kalama’s cheapest motel on a beautiful Friday night: that’s making the best of it? Damn – and I took today off too.”
Ben rolls his eyes.
“So – we end up back at her place, and I get rid of any hint of desperation. We have a lovely evening.”
“Aside from reveling in some past conquest, do you have a point here? Do you want to walk – somewhere – anywhere and look for some action? Feeling a little zesty? You can always get a little alone time in the bathroom if you need it.”
“Look – my story does have a point. True, I am reveling in some past joy, despite the fact that I am happily tied down.”
“The old ball and chain.”
“Shelly hates that. She also hates it when you refer to a boy’s weekend away as a hall pass.”
“She also thinks you’re grumpy and all too easily bummed out.”
“Thanks man – super helpful.”
“Look – I know this sucks. But what are you going to do? Sulking is not going to fix the car. Get over it man. Don’t be so uptight.”
“I know. I’m trying. But sometimes you just feel like you are on the brink. Afraid to go forward, afraid to turnaround. That or it’s one step forward, two steps back.”
“I know – you’ve got all the answers, still failing the test. Those of us who’ve known you forever are amazed you’ve gotten this far.”
I shrug. My eyes glaze. I sip at another beer. Stare out the window. Watch the TV with the sound off. I watch my sleeping child and try not to think. Before long I am laying down on the floor next to Jack.
Ben wakes me not long after dawn, says that he and Jack are going downstairs for some complimentary continental breakfast. I roll over, back to sleep, I wish. My head pounds from the beer and the floor. I seem to remember Ben offering to take the floor, but I was too sleepy. All too quickly, morning is here.
I hear them rumble back to the room. I can smell the burnt watery coffee and sense an ancient Danish that will make up my morning nutrition.
“Dad, look at me.”
I open my eyes and stare ahead. Then try to hide my face, too late.
“Burst shot!” exclaims Jack. “Uncle Ben set it so I can take, like, ten pictures of you in a second. And then pick the best one.”
They survey them and giggle.
“You look bad Dad. I bet you wish you hadn’t drunk all that beer now.”
I reach for the phone and lose the subsequent game of keep away. I soon find myself pinned to the floor by my eight year old. Ben reaches in and shows me the phone. It is a picture of him from a ways back, he’s staring into the camera, hair disheveled, looking worse than I feel currently.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“I told you my story had a point.”
“Not for you Jack. Maybe someday you can hear all of it. Go brush your teeth.” He turns to me, “So, it’s the next morning. She’s sauntering out of the bathroom when someone buzzes at the front door to the building. She checks the intercom, but I can’t hear what she says. She runs in – quick she says, into the closet. It’s my boyfriend – he’s on his way up.”
“I take cover in the closet, worried about the turn this adventure has taken. I hear voices at the door and in the living room. I’m quietly trying to put stuff over my head. I hear someone – her, please be her – walk into the bedroom. The closet door opens, and in comes a cell phone that takes my picture. Flash and all. Then she starts laughing. Just kidding she says.”
“I don’t know who it was at the door. She never told me. But she laughed and laughed. Do I look like I am stressed in the picture?”
“A little, maybe.”
“You look better than Dad looks in his picture today,” Jack adds, helpfully.
“I aged years in those long moments in the closet. I thought I might have to jump out the window or something.”
“Did you stay in touch with her?”
“I tried to, but she lost interest in me pretty quick. Her texting me this photo was the last I ever heard. Perhaps if I’d been ready to fight for her instead of hide? Who knows?”
“Amazing you never told me before. Perhaps she did not have as much fun as you did.”
“Thanks, family man.”
“So why now? Or yesterday”
“Because it’s funny and you were having a shitty day. You are no fun to be around if there is no laughing.”
“Jack,” Ben says, “pick one of them and show me.”
They huddle over Ben’s phone laughing. My protests are ignored. Then my phone buzzes, lets me know I’ve been tagged on Instagram: #hungoverdad. The giggling is infectious. Laughing, we grab our stuff and head out to the painfully bright sunshine, hopefully ready to face what the day deals.