back to tomorrowland
/$$$$$$$ /$$$$$$ /$$$$$$
/$$_____/ /$$__ $$ /$$__ $$ /$$$$$$
| $$$$$$ | $$ \ $$| $$$$$$$$|______/
\____ $$| $$ | $$| $$_____/
/$$$$$$$/| $$$$$$$/| $$$$$$$
|_______/ | $$____/ \_______/
/$$$$$$$ /$$$$$$ /$$$$$$ /$$$$$$
/$$_____/|_ $$_/ /$$__ $$ /$$__ $$
| $$ | $$ | $$ \__/| $$$$$$$$
| $$ | $$ /$$| $$ | $$_____/
| $$$$$$$ | $$$$/| $$ | $$$$$$$
\_______/ \___/ |__/ \_______/
by Miracle Jones
Five days left on this trip. Trying to focus on my bid for Label Scar. Can’t focus enough to get good work done. People all around. Need to find a way to block them out.
Couldn’t afford a personal Tesla lozenge on the long leg of the Northern cut from Moscow to NYC. Had to settle for a group deal; some cheap Northern cut trip sharing app. Bunch of strangers all crammed into a double decker. The worst part is the radio on this fucking thing. Instead of silence, there’s a group playlist; everybody can add songs while we ride. Why does there have to be a radio at all? Can’t help adding twenty minute ambient noise tracks, but of course people can vote to change the song and of course they do. Starting to suspect they know it is me adding these noise tracks. Getting dirty looks.
Lady next to me keeps leaning way over to adjust the lights and air conditioning; keeps brushing my arm; squeezing it. Slightly embarrassing. Some of the people on this double decker are definitely murderers. Dressed too well, keeping to themselves, can’t travel by plane, why are they trying to get to NYC from Moscow anyway? Not getting out on the trip to see the sights.
Lady next to me has a vocal piercing that interfaces with her tongue stud: whenever she speaks: her voice artificially gets layered with reverb. Soft echoes amplified by the stud. Sounds like Enya whenever she says anything. Very soothing. California thing.
Five days left. The party is where now? Check the feed. Party is in Jersey. Mall in jersey. Countdown clock in my head. Good bid and the party goes my way, set for the year.
Don’t bother getting out to see the sights. Trying to enjoy this. There are skeleton drones all along the cut, haunting every rest stop. Spooky skeletons attached to drones hanging in the air. They’ll sell you drugs, people whisper. Dangling skeletons out by the ATM. Just floating there, some kind of apparition. Overhear two college kids talking about them in the seat behind me.
“They come from Russia I heard,” says one.
“My anthropology prof told us how they try and capture them and dissect them,” says the other. “The drones trade you cash for drugs and guns and shit, unless you try to attack one or catch one. Then a temporary flicks on inside them and they will evade you.”
“I heard that they come from hacked stuffed animal stores,” says the other. “Like, the 3d printers just start printing drone parts in the middle of the night and other drones come in and assemble the parts and the skeletons fly away before morning. Like, the stores only know something happened because the materials are missing.”
“Whoa,” says the other. “You’d think the government would crack down or something.”
“The money has to go somewhere though,” says the first college kid. “Somebody is gettin’ rich. Maybe the government runs them?”
Gotta block out these college students. Gotta work on my bid. College students everywhere at Label Scar: scared pinched fresh little college faces. Lady next to me practically throwing her legs over mine. Been days: you would think she would get the hint. Not much else to do. No other prospects on this double decker, though? Should change seats, but now it would be weird.
“So what do you REALLY do?” she asks. “You are DEFINITELY some kind of artist.”
Ten different soothing layers in that voice. Told her I wasn’t an artist, was “in sales.”
“I am a party scout,” I say. “I work for Label Scar, trying to find dead or dying malls for the next temporary autonomous zone gathering. You know, fete. Party. There’s about a dozen of us scouts. We are technically in competition.”
“Nice deck. How do you make money?”
“We get a commission if the party goes in our direction.”
She isn’t really interested. Wants to talk about herself.
“I am a personal DJ,” she tells me. “I make playlists for individual clients to get their mood right. Based on astrology and psychic resonances and so on.”
Explains the vocal piercing.
She is going to want to make my playlist. Her soothing voice echoes and trills. She sticks her tongue out suggestively: tongue stud reverb blowjob. How to get out of it?
“Are you going all the way? All the way to NYC?” she asks.
“Party season is over in Russia,” I tell her. “Label Scar is in Jersey right now. I am gonna catch up with the party: try and regroup a little bit.”
“Is there like a party president?” she asks. “A party ombudsman?”
“Sort of,” I say. “There is a loose association of people in charge. Scouts like me line up possible locations and then we make a bid to the party proper.”
“And its always at a dead mall? Do the malls get mad at you?”
“Dead or dying retail situations. The malls love it. The party core never stops traveling. They camp out in the food court. Drugs and dancing. Little ongoing art projects and temporary gift economies. Label Scar books local acts who perform inside the empty shops. Really revitalizes the space. Temporarily.”
Pays off the cops: no assault or drug charges in the party’s long wake.
“So how does the party decide which scout to follow?”
“We have to make pitches,” I say. “You gotta sell it, right? Sort of a highlight reel of potential spaces along a route. We get a chance to present to the party core once a month. We each get about five minutes and then there is a vote.”
“SO cool,” she says. “Guess that’s what you are working so hard on?”
Staring at a blank screen. Been dozing most of the time; still hooked up to my deck.
“Yeah,” I say. “Gotta get it done on this trip. Probably gotta get back to work, actually.”
Work for a bit researching Canadian malls along the cut. Has Label Scar ever drifted this far north? Worth it if we can get the passports sorted. Passport party on the border?
Research Canadian labor laws. Fall asleep. Feel justified in napping. Will work harder rested.
Sleep too long. Wake up with a sharp pain in my stomach. Bad road food: donuts, cold tamales, rest stop pizza. Skip to the double decker bathroom. Can hear the road down there. Feels like I am shitting on the road. The seams in the road are comforting. Ka-thump, ka-thump, ka-thump. Almost pass out again on the shitter on account of feeling blissful bowel relief but somebody knocks and I finish up.
Why am I so tired?
Get back to my seat and the double decker rolls to a stop. Rest stop. So groggy. So much work left to do. Haven’t even started doing CADs of the various malls I’ve flagged. Just a little bit over five days left.
Do I still enjoy doing this? Do I still feel enjoyment?
Get off the double-decker to stretch my legs. Night time. Most everybody is asleep. The rest stop is mostly automatic: automatic food and an ATM. There is a mean-looking woman with a skullcap and short hair and a bunch of rings on her fingers sitting on a blanket, surrounded by old magazines for sale. Walk over to the ATM. Look behind it, at the treeline behind the rest stop. One of those skeleton drones is floating there.
Look at the double-decker. Not going anywhere; got about half an hour here for the battery to recharge. Get a fifty out of the ATM. Canadian money.
Stroll over to the drone, looking over my shoulder the whole way. Hold up the bill. The drone registers it and moves closer to me. There is a fanny pack around the drone’s waist. I unzip it and look inside it. Drugs labeled in neat little baggies. Acid. Cake Roll. Don’t know the lingo up here. Some kind of ecstasy? Find what I am looking for. Individual bags of two: little yellow pills labeled “Caps.” Captagon: terrorist meth. Best in the world. Drone says thirty. I put the fifty in the money slot in the drone’s chest. I even get change back: two tens. I pocket the caps. Not usually my thing, but so much work left to do. Just a little speed.
Time left. Buy some Bugles and more donuts for later. Looking for solid food, even just a sandwich or something, but nothing here. Will have to wait until we hit a city. Walk over to the mean-looking lady selling magazines.
“Hello there,” she says. “Looking for something to read, mister?”
“You are a Southerner,” I say. “American.”
“Born in Florida,” she says. “Came here as fast as I could.”
All the magazines are old TV guides. Woman is crazy. Try to be nice about it. Genuinely a little curious as to what kind of crazy.
“Do a lot of people buy old TV guides from you?” I ask.
“I’m a fortune teller,” she says. “A genuine psychic. And political theorist. The TV guides are a side business.”
“I see,” I say.
“You trying to get your fortune told?” she asks me.
“Not particularly,” I say.
“You want to know who is gonna win the next election?”
“I like surprises. What brought you up here?”
“Not going back to America until it deals with its structural political inefficiencies,” she says. “I’ve got a pamphlet if you want one.”
“A pamphlet?” I say. “Not only are you a psychic, you are a classic insurrectionist.”
She hands me a pamphlet. Printed on cardstock. A little yellow book. Same yellow as the captagon, in fact. Coincidence? Pamphlet is titled: TOMORROWLAND: FOUR NECESSARY STRUCTURAL CHANGES TO THE AMERICAN POLITICAL SYSTEM OR ELSE COLLAPSE.
She’s a crank. Love cranks.
“What are the four changes?” I ask, thumbing through the pamphlet. Notice immediately that there is a heavy “international banking conspiracy” vibe.
“We gotta change the rules,” she says. “Gotta change the rules, or it will never be a fair game. The fix is in; the fix is in. And who wants to win an unfair game?”
“So tell me how to CHANGE THINGS,” I say.
“First, we have to get rid of the way people vote,” she says. “Gotta do it like Condorcet, in the French Revolution. In every federal election, candidates should be ranked instead of just choosing a favorite. This means more people can run from different parties, since the extremes will tend to vote their favorite candidate the highest, and vote the opposition the lowest. That means third parties can get into office by having the highest average among the ranked candidates. With enough third party representation in Congress, coalitions become necessary. Also, it is necessary to appeal to the entire country: not just your most rabid base. First-past-the-post elections are barbaric.”
“Sounds reasonable,” I say. “Not particularly controversial. Most people would probably agree with you. What else though?”
“My second demand is that an amendment be proposed such that there must be an even gender split in the Supreme Court,” she says. “Four men, four women. And then somebody who don’t identify one way or the other. I want it to be the same way for the other houses, and it should be alternating for the President, but I figure we start with the supreme court. Once people get used to the idea, maybe it will catch on in the states and then we will start to get somewhere.”
Nothing crazy here. A bit disappointing.
“My third change is a bit more controversial.”
I love cranks so much.
“Candidates for federal office must have attended public school,” she says. “Government-funded PUBLIC education, all the way through college. It’s the only way to keep public school alive and to break the hold that the elites have on the levers of power. Think about it: what incentive do all these leaders who went to prep and private schools, and fancy schools like Yale, have when it comes to protecting or even understanding public school? And yet they are responsible for managing them, for dealing with teacher’s unions and bond deals and all? Additionally, if the children of rich people had to go to public school, then public schools would get a whole hell of a lot nicer, trust me. All those grants and endowments would go to public schools instead of dumb weird elitist racist boarding schools. I’m not saying make private school illegal: just make the choice to go there have political consequences to protect the republic.”
“Hard sell,” I say. “Went to public school myself. It was terrible. I learned nothing.”
“Sure,” she says. “But it would turn around in a generation. And public school may not teach you good science or math, but it teaches you how to be a citizen in a diverse society. Teaches you how to get along with people different than you. Teaches you authority isn’t always right.”
“Okay, what’s your last change though?” I ask. Try to hand her the pamphlet back politely. She won’t let me return it though. Insists I keep it.
“My last change is to get rid of the Senate,” she says.
“Aha,” I say. “Hear you are being all populist, and now you are advocating eliminating half of Congress.”
“Well, replacing it,” she says. “We need to have one body where people are elected to six year terms for sure. And it SHOULD be capped at one hundred elite members. And they ought to be elected. But representation in the Senate should be based on the amount of tax revenue a state brings in, with the representatives allotted out proportionally, and an assessment made every six years. It makes no sense that a state like Vermont or Montana has as much say in government as New York or California. There aren’t people in those states. Land is voting, not people. A Senator from Vermont represents fewer people than your typical member of the house. That isn’t democratic.”
“You would prefer that states BUY Senators?”
“We need to put an end to the question of whether or not taxes are good or right,” she says. “They ought to have some kind of real value. If a state wants to slash its tax rate, it ought to be able to do that. Of course, it should lose the right to say what is done with the taxes that other people contribute. Just makes good American sense to me.”
“I don’t think the United States is ever going to abolish the Senate,” I say, glad for the distraction Old fashioned debate in a public space.
“Then I ain’t going back,” she says. “Will stay right here in Canada. Wearing America like a hat.”
“I have another question,” I ask.
“You want your fortune told now?” she asks, sizing me up shrewdly. “You want to know who is going to win the next election?”
“No,” I say. “I just want to know what the deal is with the TV guides.”
“People buy them so they can look up what was playing when they were born. What year were you born in? What’s your birthday?”
I tell her.
She grunts, moving over to a pile. Thumbing through the stacks rapidly. She hands me one of the magazines. There is a picture of some people from the TV show “Lost” on the cover.
“You know what time you were born? Morning or night? You know the precise time?”
“Early morning, I think,” I say. “1 AM?”
“Then here you go,” she says. “Ten bucks and you can see what was playing when you were born.”
The double decker honks. It is about to take off. I hand her a ten.
“Thanks!” she says. I try yet again to return her pamphlet to her, but she insists I keep it. Stuff the TV Guide and the pamphlet in my pocket. Run back to the double decker. Retake my seat.
My seatmate is asleep now. Blessed freedom. Thumb through “TOMORROWLAND” a bit, but it is just a re-hash of all the points she told me in person. Lots of misspellings. About thirty different fonts. Feels racist somehow. Can’t prove it: no overt racism or anything. Just has that conspiracy vibe. Same feverish logical gaps and aggressive smarminess or something. “If only you listened to me,” or whatever. “I know the secret truth.” Anybody who wants to live in a place as white as Canada possibly a little racist. But then again: America?
Pamphlet makes me feel exhausted. Makes me feel argumentative.
Everybody always wants to change the rules; doesn’t want to learn how to thrive in the system. Doesn’t want to learn how to make the rules work for you. Amateurs and dictators and jerks change the rules: pros hold other people to old rules and make ungovernable new spaces for themselves that they alone understand.
The old TV guide is genuinely interesting. Weird nostalgia hits me. Men and women were sexier back then. Does everybody feel that way about the generation that conceived them? Some kind of Freudian thing?
Flip through the listings and find what was playing when I was born. So many different dumb channels! The idea of TV weird in and of itself. Reruns of Seinfeld. Some show called Wild Australia.
No earth-shattering revelations about my soul attached to any of these programs. Curious though. A strange document, largely symbolic but imbued with real meaning. Things existed before I was born. Me not the center of the universe. People watching shitty TV before I was born and will watch shitty TV after I die. Shouldn’t be cynical. People need simple narratives to feel stable. Need narratives that are actually boring and limited, since their own lives are not. Need to feel they are doing better than the possibilities.
Best part is all the weird ads in this old TV Guide. Ads skew old. Makes sense: old people only people buying TV Guide in 2004 when you can use the internet for free. Ads for geritol and estate planning. Ads for exercise equipment, but showing old people in track suits not jacked-up bros.
Something catches my eye. An ad. SOAP PHONE. Old artifact of old phone culture, when people used to dial up sex chat and the like. But this is much sadder. Picture of soap opera stars leering at the camera, looking all sultry. The ad is for a service you can call that will tell you the plot of the soap opera that aired the day before. $1.99 a minute to hear a recorded voice read out the plot of yesterday’s soap opera. There’s a list: General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, As the World Turns, etc. Hard to catch reruns of soap operas? What if you had to pick up the grandkids from school or something? You could call the number and they would catch you up. Did they speak real slowly to try and draw it out; make it last two minutes? What level of detail would they go into when recapping the program?
Writers on the feed recap tv shows all the time. Of course, whole different thing there. More ironic and detached. Rare you just get a straight retelling of what happened. Spoilers and all. People watch the show then read the recap. This was a whole different phenomenon.
Flip through the rest of the TV Guide. Big article about Jennifer Aniston. Skim it, but largely uninteresting. Return to the soap opera recap phone ad. So weird. Everything that could possibly exist ends up existing.
Stuff the TV Guide into the pocket of the seat in front of me on the double decker. Pop the captagon. Wash it down with warm Coke from my bag.
Plug into my deck and surf through the feed a bit and then start working in earnest, trying to get an outline together. What if Label Scar went up along the cut? Mostly the party would be in Canada, but why not, right? Lots of weird places for the party to go here in Canada.
Start downloading clips of the various malls as possibilities. Start building simulations, trying to make little virtual showpieces. Eyes start to throb. Bit of euphoria. Cap kicking in. Fingers flying. Get real into making a closed down Sears next to a place called Books A’ Million feel just right. Gotta feel perfect. Turn off my deck and pick up the TV guide again. Feel like chatting but my seatmate is still asleep.
Open the TV guide to the page with the soap opera chat recap ad. SOAP PHONE. So curious. Open up a phone window in my deck. Switch it to manual dial. Dial the number listed. Just want to see.
Phone doesn’t ring. Weird clicks for awhile. Then a women’s voice telling me numbers to press for various shows.
“Holy shit,” I mumble to myself.
I press the number for As the World Turns. Sounds really promising. Simultaneously, I look up As the World Turns on the feed. It went off the air in 2010. What the hell?
Phone chat line wants me to dial in my credit card number. Why the fuck not? I do it. Sure.
Caps really kicking in. I am giggling. Feeling pretty great.
“AS THE WORLD TURNS,” says the same voice. “SHOW SYNOPSIS FOR MONDAY’S EPISODE. Velvet tells Big Ricky that she is pregnant with Steve Lake’s child. Big Ricky is devastated and breaks his vow of sobriety, storming out and buying a bottle of red wine. He drinks an entire bottle of red wine by himself on the top deck of the Saint Sebastian, which is in port. The hurricane continues to advance. Luke and the Duchess conspire to corner the canned goods market. The prisoners in the Duchess’ basement conspire to escape, but are thwarted by Luke who reveals he knows all about their plan. Little Ricky is having a hard time at art school. Magdalena Lake attempts to seduce her summer boarder.”
There is silence and more clicking noises. Then the woman’s voice again, pre-recorded:
“THANK YOU FOR USING SOAP PHONE. If you would like to hear more summaries, please press—“
Hang up. Wipe some sweat from my forehead. This terrorist meth exceeds its reputation. Search the feed for the names mentioned in the recap, but none of them show up. Not even when cross-referenced against As the World Turns. Look up the history of the show. No “Lake Family.” It’s all Hughes and Holdens and so on. This is some kind of new continuity. Check to see if it is on in some other country. Nope.
What the hell? Look up SOAP PHONE but nothing on the feed about it. Doesn’t seem to exist. Predates the internet swallowing everything.
Dial back and call again. What the hell. Feeling kind of giddy about this mystery. Punch in As the World Turns again, just to make sure. Maybe some kind of procedurally generated text. Art project or something. Nope: get the same message about Steve Lake and all that.
Look over to my bank account. See my credit card has been debited. Good Luck Fortune, LLC, out of China. Can’t find a phone number or anything. Money is going to China?
What is happening here? People addicted to calling into SOAP PHONE on the regular; whole population of people who called in but never actually watched the soaps? Some entrepreneur keeps manufacturing plot summaries, as long as people are calling in? People in nursing homes. People in other countries, maybe. Desperate people who need the world to keep turning.
It’s a ghost narrative. Could still be procedurally generated. Sent out on some kind of daily burst. Plots and names. Plots plugged in and resolved by machine intelligence? Robot reading out plot summaries. Enough of an audience to keep one person alive without having to work. Honest work: making people happy.
Maybe some kind of frustrated novelist or superfan? Does it as an existential “fuck you” to the corporate ownership of narrative, as a fusillade against the modern age? Mad that people don’t take narrative seriously? Mad that they take it too seriously? Who knows what artists think?
Can’t worry too much about SOAP PHONE. Got a job to do.
Four days left. Getting there, making headway. Didn’t sleep. Stayed up all night lovingly crafting a vision of a Label Scar party in one of these cut rest stops…people in tesla lozenges gawking as they speed by. Label Scar party core dancing to house music only they can hear coming out of their networked subvocal earbone implants. “COME JOIN THE PARTY MAAAAAAAANNNNN…” The only food whatever you can buy in the vending machines or whatever can be cooked in Label Scar rice cookers.
Do these old rest stops along the cut count as abandoned malls? Definitely feel doomed, like a dying mall. Might work.
Seatmate has given up completely trying to talk to me. Watching old movies on her deck. Suddenly I wonder if old phone sex lines still work. Are people out there still waiting to talk to me while wearing short skirts and flipping crimped blonde hair over their shoulders? How did phone sex even work? Were you supposed to watch porn while you talked on the phone to somebody? Was the person on the other end supposed to anticipate your made-up far-fetched scenario? Seems harder than mere sex even. Or was it all pre-recorded like SOAP PHONE?
How many people have been jacking off in the double decker bathroom during this ride?
It is a new day I realize. I dial up SOAP PHONE again and punch in As The World Turns.
“AS THE WORLD TURNS,” says the voice. “SHOW SYNOPSIS FOR TUESDAY’S EPISODE. Magdalene Lake’s summer boarder is revealed by his tattoos to be an escaped convict from Process Island. Little Ricky is having a hard time at art school. The prisoners in the basement of the Duchess go around the room and discuss what they would eat if they could eat anything they wanted. Luke makes a mysterious phone call. Big Ricky, drunk now and alone on the Saint Sebastian, which is in port, has a dream where he is the captain of spaceship. Velvet tells Steve Lake that she has told Big Ricky that she is pregnant with Steve Lake’s child. The hurricane continues to advance.”
All this news about Big Ricky and the hurricane is comforting somehow.
Wonder about those prisoners in her basement. Realize I am hooked now.
Chuckle to myself: imagine blowing hundreds of dollars a day on SOAP PHONE calls. Speculate a bit on what the person doing the storytelling must be like. Some kind of sad genius. Judo writing…all you gotta do is write an outline, and your adoring fans fill in the details. Do these soap opera fans know enough about stock characters to fill in the details without ever seeing a face?
Imagine all the fans are messed-up hipsters and literary theorists in basements all over the world. Recording each day’s dispatch from SOAP PHONE on cassettes. Giant cassette library, meticulously indexed and sorted.
Call again and listen again to the recording once more for good measure. Try to imagine the show: Big Ricky on that boat, stumbling around as the hurricane advances. Take another captagon. Haven’t slept / not even remotely tired. Should never take speed / caffeine / any uppers when you are sleepy: just fixes you in whatever state you take it as long as you keep taking it. You take it sleepy, you stay sleepy. Better off sleeping.
Back to work. Plow ahead, crafting mall spaces out of phone snap shots and architectural blueprints downloaded from the feed. Got my sources: obsessive architecture savants who database whole cities to remake them in virtual space. Spend a few hours searching for the perfect tracks to accompany each scene: gotta give people the right vibe, let them know that they are doing something new / something dangerous. Russian punk blends. Canadian afro-futurist EDM. Never know what one ideal virtual moment might push a voter your way.
Work until my eyes start to shiver in their sockets.
Find myself counting down until the next installment of As the World Turns. Try to figure out the personality of the writer of this ghost show based on the subject matter: a red wine alcoholic, maybe? Tropical location? Hurricane some kind of metaphor for the advancing doom of climate change?
Not even American probably: Chinese company, maybe some kind of Chinese pop culture enthusiast, learned English by watching old soaps. Devastated when they went off the air. Making enough money on the currency difference to live a comfortable life. If forty people still call in regularly, almost eighty dollars a day. Pretty good money still some places. If there are ten shows off the air for which the ghostwriter is still churning out ghost plots, this could add up substantially. Maybe a whole team of them. A third-world writer’s room…coming up with just enough narrative to keep a whole little village alive somewhere. Elaborate pageants honoring the fictional creations of the village. Plots that would never get produced in Hollywood or Bollywood…instead they exist as narrative ether. The purest television ever made. Raw story, unencumbered by actors or plots or budgets. Ultimate fan fiction: you know some subset of the most hardcore viewership thinks your plots and developments are canon. The highest honor.
Captagon’s got me flying. High as a goddam terrorist. Look up the Roman Empire in Britain, how it kept going despite being cut off from Rome, evolving separately and in parallel. Knights and wizards and all that…artifacts of ancient Rome deployed as propaganda, as cosplay fanfic by essential illiterates. Decrepit population following any symbol of ancient Rome thanks to artful manipulation by skillful operators…wizards…yet Rome does not exist / cannot come to the rescue of the Britons to help fight off the Picts, the Scots, the English, the Danes. Superfans expecting plausible narrative…other superfans the only available source, leveraging narrative as a form of control. Definition of a wizard.
Start wondering what hooks are hidden inside the As the World Turns recaps. Is audience entirely composed of old people out of their goddamn minds? Exhortations subliminally embedded to buy gold, colloidal silver, investment scams? The phone numbers of people still calling SOAP PHONE sold to companies who make their money off direct targeting of seniors going crackers who still have access to credit cards. “Excuse me madam, I am calling about appointment we have already scheduled with you for remote computer maintenance and virus removal. We just need your verbal authorization before we go ahead and charge your credit card to keep your feed clean and your identity secure.”
Gotta sleep, getting way too deep into SOAP PHONE. Night rolls around. Shut my eyes when everybody else does. Quiet time on the double decker. Making tremendous progress on my pitch. Sort of just lobbing a whole bunch of shit at it though. Unclear about the quality. Too jacked up to really do any serious editing. Creative mode: will have to do edits at the very end, when coming down. Gotta get it all made first. Will make my commission based on the sheer insanity of my layouts and designs. Label Scar will be forced to go my way or admit that it is taking the safe route, the conservative route, will piss off its constituents, anarchists got standards.
Better leak my pitch to certain circles in the party core before its done. Get some hype going.
I work through the night again, really cooking, my brain dipping in and out of total focus as I craft malls and put together avatars to explain the malls to the people.
Get off the double decker at the next rest stop. Need to stretch. Walk around.
The night air is cold. Makes me shiver a bit, but I like it. Feels weird not to be moving. Been up so long and moving so long that I still feel like I am rolling down the road, walking around.
Feel pretty good actually.
Then: start feeling weird, like I shouldn’t move.
Like I can’t move.
Rest stop is empty. Nobody else here but this double decker. The few other people who got off to piss or buy jelly rings from the machine trickle back to the lozenge. I stand by the machines with my bag in my hand. If I had a cigarette I would smoke it. Quit ten years ago. I watch people move in and out of the bathroom, loitering basically.
Read too much about Britain and Ancient Rome. Mind whirling.
Start thinking about work and wergeld. Saxon tribes and how they handled crime. Every crime has a price. If you can pay the price, you can get away with the crime. If you are a prince, an athling, and you murder some poor laity or churl or villein, you pay a discount on account of your better lot in life. Maybe takes a few cows to murder a churl. A few cows to take some laity’s wife away. Even in the time of King Alfred the Great…steal a nun and just pay for it out of your pocket. A few hundred shillings. She still doesn’t get to inherit your property if she outlives you, on account of her church vows and being a woman.
Works both ways though.
If you can afford it, maybe you save up your whole life, you can start murdering your betters. Even your prince. The rich suspicious of anyone who saves money and doesn’t spend it. Foundations of capitalism: are you gonna kill me and get away with it? Go murder some churls, not me. Cheaper. Murder down, not up. Slave villages of serfs all pooling their resources to kill the local churl. First banks!
Princes get to be buried with their gold. A divine right, a privilege not to leave the kids any inheritance. Some kind of built in charity with respect to the lifecycle: lowest of the low plundering corpses, willing to take the spiritual taint on them.
What will I be buried with?
I am the last person outside the double decker.
Double decker springs to life. Idling. All charged up.
I make a decision.
Not getting on it.
Leaning up against the wall by the men’s. Faces at the windows of the double decker looking at me. My seatmate gets out, frowning, leans out of the double decker.
“Hey cowboy,” she says. “You coming?”
Her mellifluous multi-level voice is tempting. So Enya. The fens and dells! Elves on the backs of unicorns. Riding through a misty moor.
Step forward, but then shake my head.
“Nah, gonna hang around here for awhile,” I say. “Maybe hitch a ride into town. Haven’t really SEEN Canada, you know?”
What am I doing? Am I just gonna live in this rest stop?
All my big decisions made this way. Acting instead of thinking. Some kind of performance art to myself. Will process it later. The caps maybe? Do I hate my life? Do I secretly hate parties?
Plenty of chances to change my mind later really. Other double deckers streaming by on the cut. People stopping here all the time. Get a ride with the next one using the same rideshare app.
Just need some time to think.
The double decker takes off without me on it. So quiet now. Sit down on the ground. Another skeleton drone hovers at the edge of the forest. A companion. Wave. Hello there. Skeleton drone doesn’t move.
Sit there for awhile. Feeling peaceful and content. Lozenges stream by on the cut. Sound is soothing, like being at the beach. Feel stuff unclench inside me. Made the right decision. Been traveling so long.
An hour passes. Alarm goes off on my phone. New day: new AS THE WORLD TURNS.
Can hear crickets far away.
“AS THE WORLD TURNS,” says the voice. “SHOW SYNOPSIS FOR WEDNESDAY’S EPISODE. Escaped prisoner from Process Island tells Magdalene Lake the story of her uncle’s experiments and political ambitions. Luke receives a mysterious phone call. The hurricane continues to advance. Big Ricky lifts anchor, sailing in the direction of the storm, cutting off radio contact. Velvet and Steve Lake worry about Big Ricky and decide to go to the marina. The prisoners in the basement of the Duchess elect a new leader. Little Ricky is having a hard time at art school.”
How long has the hurricane been advancing? Years now? How long is a story cycle? Seems like only hours pass in an episode. Is one week of the show one day in real time? Different time dilations for different shows?
Lights make me blink. Lozenge pulls off the road. Cute couple gets out. Young and roly poly. Stretching just like me. Dude waves to me, trying to establish my threat level. Wave back. Not threatening. They each go to the bathroom. Guy comes out faster. Checking his deck.
“Hey man,” I say. “Got a thing for you.”
“Oh yeah?” he says, walking over warily.
“Yeah,” I say. “The future. A very important thing I wrote. You going back to the states?”
Pull out the TOMORROWLAND pamphlet and hold it out to him.
“Wait,” I say. “Hold on. You got a pen?”
He hands me a pen.
Go through the pamphlet, scratching out all the references to the Bilderbergers and Bohemian Grove and the “world banking conspiracy.” Am utterly thorough. A careful editor.
His girl eventually comes out and stands next to him. He whispers something in her ear. Don’t make sudden movements. Don’t make this stranger agitated. Could be dangerous. Just has a pamphlet he wants to give us.
“There,” I say, holding the pamphlet back out. “I fixed it. I no longer believe those specific parts that I crossed out. Had a revelation.”
He looks at the cover.
“You are Ruby J. Sickles?” he asks me.
“Yeah man,” I say. “It’s all in there. What America needs. Go back home and tell them.”
“Great!” he says, uncertainly. He and his girl walk jauntily to their lozenge. They get in. The lozenge pulls away, joining the other traffic on the cut. I lean back against the wall.
Feeling pretty good. Like a prince, not a slave. Sing that song a bit: here we are, born to be kings. We’re the princes of the universe. Fighting to belong, in a world with the darkest powers.
The moment passes. Realize I am pretty damn cold, standing here, coming down hard.
back to tomorrowland
(c) Miracle Jones 2015