“Hey, can I borrow twenty dollars so I can buy a bar of soap and a bag of rice and eighteen cans of beans?” I ask my roommate.“I don’t have any cash,” she says, shivering, staring at the wall with doom in her eyes. There is a plastic bag beside her. She has been puking non-stop all night, it seems like. Some kind of stomach flu. Surely infectious. Every time I leave my room, I wash my hands. I am running out of soap, in fact. It is legendary and brave of me that I am talking to her at all. “You don’t have any money?” she asks. “I have plenty of money,” I say. “The problem is that the fuckers at the bank have frozen my bank account and now I am fucked as the dickens, ardently and with great care.” “What did you do?” she asks. “They don’t just freeze people’s bank account for no reason. That is a thing that happens to dictators and war criminals. Don’t be offended, but you are not important.” “I got this letter about some hospital bill that I didn’t pay,” I say. “I didn’t know they could come after you for hospital bills. Aren’t hospitals like, you know, home base, like in freeze tag? It’s not like I wanted to go to the hospital.” “I should go to the hospital,” says my roommate. “Maybe I have ebola.” “Have you been licking the bleeding face wounds of any dead people from Liberia lately?” “No,” she says. “Then it is not ebola.” “You can get ebola from the air,” she says. “That’s what they’re not telling you. People might be bleeding from their sinuses and sneeze or something.” I wash my hands again. I go back in my room and sit down on the mattress on the floor where I sleep. I am so angry that I am not even angry, just defeated-feeling. I admit that I am partially honored to have my bank account frozen. Getting your bank account frozen is something that happens to advanced, adult scumbags. I know I am a scumbag, but I have always felt larval, primordial...a scumbag nymph. No longer! I have clawed out of my scumbag pupa and as soon as my wings dry, I will triumph over morphogenesis and programmed cell death, finally becoming a delicate scumbag butterfly. I think back to the years when I stalked lawyers on social media for a living, working for a legal recruiter, scanning through all the calcifications of their secret online lives just to find an angle. I try to remember if any lawyers owe me favors. Surely there is one out there that I hooked up with a good job that is willing to fight this ludicrous financial pantomime for me. Then I remember that I don’t have any money to hire any kind of lawyer, no matter how cheap. I don’t have the money to even get to a lawyer’s office. All the money that I have is on “hold.” My accounts are zeroed out. I can’t even buy a subway card until I pay what I owe. I have negative money, because even when my direct deposit comes in from my new job, it will also be frozen. “Fuck,” I say, kicking one of my shoes across the room. I hear my roommate moaning through my door. I return to where she is now lying on our couch, staring at the ceiling. “Why don’t you lie down in your bed?” I ask. “I am getting food delivered,” she says. “I can’t hear the buzzer in my room.” “What should I do?” I ask her. “Should I call this lawyer who says I owe the hospital money and who is suing me? Or should I just go down to the bank?” “You aren’t going to be able to get out of it,” she says. “But you might be able to get on some kind of payment plan if you sweet talk them in person.” “I am too angry to be charming,” I say. “If I go now, I will just come off as some kind of shrill asshole, speed-talking all kinds of Bolshevik nonsense, straight-up ranting about patrimonial capitalism, growth coefficients, and illegitimate state coercion.” “Then sleep on it,” she says, shivering. I watch her shiver. It is impossible not to feel bad for her. I envy her. “Man, it’s incredible and so fucking dangerous that they can just freeze poor people’s bank accounts like this without any warning. What if I were sick like you? I could be in the middle of nowhere out of gas, or there could be a big freak snowstorm coming. I could need to buy insulin...or fucking heroin for that matter. You can die if you don’t get heroin. Babies could be depending on me to buy quality fruits and vegetables. What if I was renting a storage unit full of organs that needed to be climate controlled, you know? They should at least text you to tell you: ‘hey asshole, just so you know we are cutting off your entire ability to provide for yourself tomorrow. Probably take all your shit to Coinstar if you want to eat calories in the near future. Sincerely, your bank and lawyers you’ve never met.’” “Yeah,” says my roommate. She doesn’t look very good. I go back into my room while she vomits, heaving fiery contagious chunks of stomach lining and sports drink into the plastic bag beside her. As soon as she sounds like she is done, I go back out and sit in the chair across from her. “You want a glass of water or something?” I ask. “I got Thai soup coming,” she says. “But thanks.” That’s when it hits me. I realize what I must do. I realize the only way I will be able to get out of this quickly and pay the least amount possible. I walk over and pick up my roommate’s plastic bag of vomit. “Hey,” she says, suddenly protective of -- and embarrassed by -- her own communicable egesta. However, she is too weak to fight me. “I don’t want to get you sicccccck,” she says. “Shhhhh,” I say. “Don’t worry about it. You need to rest.” I take the plastic bag full of warm vomit into the kitchen. I retch a little bit, but then the flames start up in my head and my Manic Glee Bad Idea Chemicals hit me and I grab a spoon from the kitchen drawer and suddenly I am spooning vomit out into a glass and filling it with tap water all the way to the top and I am chugging the tap water down and I am feeling so victorious and smart and I swear I can already feel chills and disease crawling up my spine and GODDAMMIT THE LAW SAYS I AM TOO IRRESPONSIBLE TO BE TRUSTED WITH MY OWN FUNDS WELL I WILL SHOW THEM JUST HOW IRRESPONSIBLE I CAN BE THIS IS WAR AND MY ONLY WEAPON IS THE ONLY THING I HAVE LEFT WHICH IS MY OWN BODY WHICH IS WHAT THEY WILL GET AND I AM LAUGHING AND MY ROOMMATE IS MOANING AND THIS IS THE MOST DISGUSTING THING I HAVE EVER DONE BUT I ALSO FEEL FREE AGAIN LIKE THIS IS THE ONLY WAY TO CANCEL OUT THE PERMANENT FEELING OF PSYCHIC INVASION AND DEPENDENCE THAT COMES WITH ALL OF THE MONEY I HAVE EVER EARNED BEING SEQUESTERED BY THE GOVERNMENT I AM TAKING CONTROL OF MY OWN PHYSICAL TRAJECTORY EVEN IF IT MEANS NOSEDIVING IT AND TURNING MYSELF INTO A WHITE HOT VECTOR FOR CONTAGIOUS DISEASE. The vomit water doesn’t taste bad or anything. It doesn’t taste bitter or anything like that. It just tastes like regular water. I was probably going to get sick anyways. *** My roommate feels terrible because she thinks she is the one who infected me. She is physically feeling much better, but I am peaking. I can barely stand up. I have been puking every hour on the hour, like some kind of vomit clock, and it is a ten minute walk down to the bank. Every time I throw up, I am able to convince myself that it will never happen again...that I have defeated puking altogether because I momentarily feel normal. I’ve got the chills and a little bit of a headache. There is puke up my nose and it is making my nose whistle. I have a low fever, but mainly I just feel like I shouldn’t even be standing up. I throw on a t-shirt and a sweater and put on two pairs of pants and socks. I know I only have about an hour before the nausea will come back so strong that there will be no way to fight it. I shuffle out the door and down the stairs before I can second guess myself. The bank is not crowded, but there are a few people ahead of me in line to plead their cases before the holos. I shuffle forward dutifully, my hand curling in my pocket where I am crumpling a plastic bag that I can whip out just in case. There are attractive human beings in tight suits working behind the glass, but in the center of the bank are four massive, glowing ten-foot-tall holograms: the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America. The AI holos are sorting out people’s problems, performing bank triage and sending people in different directions: to various windows and offices. Captain America opens up. I step up to Captain America when it is my turn and blink up at him. “HELLO,” says the giant Captain America. “WELCOME TO BANK OF AMERICA. HOW CAN I HELP YOU?” “I am...very ill,” I say. “I AM SORRY TO HEAR THAT,” says Captain America. “HOW CAN I BE OF ASSISTANCE?” “My account is frozen and I need to get it fixed so that I can pay rent,” I say. “And possibly buy a sandwich.” “HA HA HA,” says Captain America. “WELL THEN! LET’S TAKE CARE OF THAT IMMEDIATELY. CAN I HAVE YOUR ACCOUNT INFORMATION?” I hold up my phone and the hologram scans it, hands at his hips, his giant shield at his side. I am right at about cock level, but I am too nauseated to find this funny. “Could I please see a human being?” I ask. “HA HA HA,” says Captain America. “I AM HEARING THAT YOU WOULD LIKE THE ASSISTANCE OF A CIVILIAN. PLEASE BE PATIENT WHILE WE FIGURE OUT YOUR NEXT STEP.” Captain America says civilian. Thor says mortal. The Hulk says meat-thing. Iron Man says Banker-American, and winks. “PLEASE BE PATIENT WHILE WE ANALYZE YOUR ACCOUNT INFORMATION,” says Captain America, admonishing me with one raised index finger. I shift around on my feet. I look around for a chair, but there isn’t any place close by where I can collapse. “IT APPEARS THAT THERE IS A LEGAL HOLD ON YOUR ACCOUNT BY THE STATE OF NEW YORK,” says Captain America. “IN ORDER TO PROCEED AND CLEAR YOUR HOLD, YOU WILL NEED TO GET IN TOUCH WITH THE LEGAL ENTITY WHO HAS PLACED THIS HOLD. THE CONTACT PERSON FOR THE HOLD ON YOUR ACCOUNT IS CARLA ROSCOE FUENTES, REPRESENTING ELMHURST HOSPITAL.” Captain America gives me a number to dial. I try to write it down on my hand. I get him to repeat it a few times. “Can I please speak to a human though?” I ask. “I feel really really sick.” “HA HA HA,” says Captain America. “THANK YOU FOR USING BANK OF AMERICA. IF YOU NEED FURTHER ASSISTANCE, PLEASE HAVE A SEAT IN OUR CUSTOMER LOUNGE AND WAIT FOR THE NEXT AVAILABLE REPRESENTATIVE.” He points. Fiber optics light up along the floor, indicating where I should go. “Okay,” I say. I shuffle over to the bay of plastic chairs and couches, where several projectors are playing cartoons about saving money. I sit down in one of the chairs. The room is so clean and climate-controlled that I realize how disgusting I smell and how sweaty I am. A mother steers her children away from me, chastising them in Spanish for veering too close. I take the plastic bag out of my pocket and hold it in my lap. I remember that I am supposed to call the legal entity that has actually placed the hold on my account. I stick a bud in my ear, closing my eyes. “The law office of Carla Roscoe Fuentes,” says a woman on the line. “Yes, hello, you have frozen my bank account and I would like to unfreeze this bank account so I can pay rent and perhaps buy some chicken ramen,” I say. “Let me pull up your file,” she says. “First and last name, please.” I tell her. She clears her throat. “Okay,” she says. “Looks like there has been a judgment against you on behalf of Elmhurst Hospital.” “I heard,” I say. “Are you agreeing to remit to Elmhurst Hospital the amount owed?” she asks. “I have to pay my rent and eat food and not die,” I say. “Get me to that.” “Okay then,” she says, typing. “In that case, I need you to go to the bank and they will have the appropriate forms for you to sign there, remitting the amount due to us, in which case we will remove the hold from your account.” “I am already at the bank,” I say. “Actually, I think I am about to throw up. Hold on.” I get out the plastic bag from my pocket and hold it open, staring into the bottom of it. The woman on the other end of the phone is silent. “Nope,” I say. “I’m good.” “Listen, the justice system works for you, too,” she says. “We are collecting on a legal judgment. I am sorry you are not taking this seriously, but as soon as we hear from the bank we will remove the hold and your debt will be discharged.” “Oh awesome,” I say. “I hate debt and debtors and all that.” I hang up. I hang my head, crossing my arms over the back of my neck. I try to breathe in one nostril and out the other. I can’t help but imagine the cilia of my stomach as a roiling wall of infected flesh, bubbling and frothing, a latticework of churning cottage-cheese and pink meat slime. I burp, and taste the powder from the guacamole-flavored tortilla chips I ate for dinner. To take my mind off my insides, I look up Marvel superheroes on my phone. There are ads for Marvel everywhere in the bank. I try to find the shittiest superhero with the shittiest stats. I find a dude called “Tatterdemalion,” who is technically a supervillain. Also known as Arnold Paffenroth, from Las Vegas, Nevada. He is a tapdancer who got swindled by the Las Vegas mob, and so now he is insane and hates money. All his stats are 1, the lowest they can possibly be. His only superpower is that he has special gloves treated in acid that he uses to dissolve cash and ruin people’s nice clothes. I guess he tapdances while he tries to dissolve the dollar bills from people’s wallets? I imagine the Tatterdemalion trying to fight the Hulk. He tapdances up to him and dissolves a twenty dollar bill right in front of The Hulk’s confused eyes. The Hulk smashes him into the ground, driving his brain into his spinal column, his shoulder-blades caving in and his shoulders smashing together and then smashing into his knees. My name is called and I walk right through Thor on my way to a human representative, weaving and stumbling like a horrible drunk. “Oh sorry,” I mumble to the confused pair of gentleman in blue work shirts and long sideburns who gawk at me as I fall to one knee inside the Thor hologram. “Are you okay?” says the bank representative who gets up from behind her desk to meet me beneath the giant glowing superheroes. “Yeah, I am probably gonna throw up right here right now though.” Everybody steps away from me. I begin heaving into the plastic bag, trying very hard not to splash any of my insides on Bank of America’s nice marble floor. Everybody in the bank is watching me puke. “I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you leave,” says the bank representative. “You seem to be in need of medical assistance.” “Unfortunately, medical assistance is suing me, which is why I am here,” I say. “I can’t really pay a doctor right now because my bank accounts are frozen.” I hold out the bag of vomit to her, trying to show her the contents. “It’s mostly just water,” I say. “See, I can’t even buy food.” “I am really afraid I am going to have to ask you to leave the bank now,” she says. “Sure thing,” I say. “I think there are some forms I need to sign, though. The lawyer who is suing me on behalf of the hospital said I had to sign some forms if I wanted access to my money. Do you need to scan my card or something? Probably might want to put on a glove or something, if you are scanning this card. I got this flu from my roommate, so it is probably viral. But I swear, as soon as you unfreeze my bank account, I swear I will go right to the doctor, you know? I won’t fuck around, buying, you know, lube and comic books and fried chicken and lotto tickets or whatever. I swear I will go right to a doctor and get my urine tested and everything, no matter how much it costs.” “Uh,” she says. “Yeah, let me see your card.” I hand over my card, sitting cross-legged in the junction of the superheroes, who all seem to be slightly glitching out, walking over to me and asking if I need help, and then returning to their resting state. “It does seem that there is a hold on your account,” says the bank representative. “I am going to need you to sign a document that says you are willing to remit the amount due. Shouldn’t take very long, okay? We will just fax the document right along.” “Probably just going to lay down right here then,” I say, stretching out. “DO NOT CALL AN AMBULANCE. I cannot afford it. If I get sued again, I don’t know what I will do. Something desperate.” “Let me get you those forms,” says the bank representative. “Really, all you have to do is sign and then you can go.” “Bless you,” I say. “I just want to pay my debt and then I will go lie down in the street until I gather enough strength to get myself home. I think I have probably lost a lot of fluids, you know?” I am actually feeling much better now that I have thrown up again. I am really hamming it up, but a bag of puke is a great prop. “HULK DEPOSIT OR HULK WITHDRAW?” asks the Hulk, coming to squat over me, his giant green muscles flickering like dappled light on a lake made of biomedical mistakes. “Hulk remit my debts to my debtors,” I mumble. “HULK NOT UNDERSTAND,” says the Hulk. “PLEASE REPEAT FOR HULK IN A CLEAR VOICE.” The bank representative returns with a form and clipboard. I look it over. “Is there any way I can get on some kind of payment plan? I mean, you just looked at my bank account. You know how I am doing in life, how I have done in life thus far. Probably there is a button you can press that will tell you how I should expect to do in the future? Don’t let me know though...I like surprises.” She lifts up the first sheet of paper and there is another piece behind it with the terms of some kind of Bank of America wage-garnishing agreement that will only take a little bit out of my paycheck each month. “I took the liberty,” she says. “Appreciate it,” I say. “Would you mind uh holding this...uh...while I sign?” I hold out the bag of vomit. “Oh, right probably not,” I say, squeezing the bag of vomit between my knees instead while I sign her clipboard. “That’s it,” she says. “You don’t need to do anything else.” “I promise I won’t beg for change for sports drinks and chicken broth in front of the bank. I promise I will just be on my way.” “Sure thing,” she says. “I swear to fucking god I will not leave this bag of infectious puke right in front of the bank on the sidewalk. I swear to fucking god I will take it back home with me." As I am walking out, the security guard by the door mutters something under his breath. “What was that?” I say. “You’re a fucking asshole,” he says, snorting. “You shouldn’t be coming in here all sick like that.” “My bank account was frozen,” I explain. “So you should learn to be more responsible,” he says. “There’s people in here with families and kids, you know? You don’t see them falling down on the floor, acting like fools. They just go about their business. With honor, you know? And dignity.” “You could almost say I just robbed this bank with a biological weapon like some kind of supervillain and I am getting away with it.” “You’re a fucking asshole. Get out of here.” “Right in front of Iron Man and Thor and you and everybody else.” “Asshole.” I stand there next to him, right outside the bank on the sidewalk. I try to seem dignified. Full of honor. Like I have superhero powers. He shakes his head at me. He spits on the ground; not at me, but as if the mere fact of my existence has filled his mouth with bitterness. Everybody who passes by us looks at me with pity and horror and at the security guard for reassurance. “It’s okay,” says the security guard to no one in particular. “This asshole was just leaving.” But I don’t leave. I stand there holding my bag of vomit, staring at the security guard, waiting for him to start to see how dignified I am. I start to tapdance. NOTE: read more junk at http://www.miraclejones.com
Mandy did not learn that her granddad was dead from her family, from Facebook, from the police, from a witch, from a Wikipedia article, or from Jezebel. She learned about it from a representative of the International House of Pancakes, the company that Mandy’s granddad Russell Irwin Fox started back in nineteen hundred and fifty one, back when coffee cost a dime and a television set cost exactly the same price as it does now.
She was stoned and sitting cross-legged on the tiny concrete balcony of her apartment, smoking cigarettes and ashing into the same dead plant that was here when she moved in. She was staring at the storage closet at the opposite end of her balcony. The closet was painted a deep forest green. She didn’t have a key for the storage closet: it was locked with a sizable deadbolt, and so therefore the closet gained mysterious, occult-like properties whenever she got high and found herself staring at it, listening to the shrieking summer cicadas, a noise which, when commingled with the ringing in her ears from her weed-pumping heart, made her feel like she was slowly merging with the universe and also slowly going insane. She liked to imagine that there was a Soviet nuclear bomb in there, something leftover and forgotten from the Reagan years, and the digital timer was slowly counting down to nul.
She was thinking about Kip and how things were not going well. It was politics: she was basically a punk and he was basically a fascist. Everybody seemed to think he was only pretending, but she was pretty sure that deep down in his gleaming steel heart, he was always wearing leather boots and kicking a baby in the face for The Future. They needed to break up, but she wasn’t sure how. Their fucked-up sex life was regular, malignant, and satisfying. Also, she owed him four hundred dollars, a whole month’s rent.
Her doorbell rang and she quickly put her cigarette out. She left the balcony, and stood in her bathroom in the dark. The doorbell kept ringing, interspersed now with intermittent knocking.
“Amanda? Amanda Fox?” shouted a British man, definitely not her landlord. “I am with the International House of Pancakes, Amanda, and I really need to talk to you about your grandfather. If you are at home, please answer the door. I am only going to be in Austin for three more days. ”
She sighed, flushed the toilet so she would seem not-crazy, and put on a sweatshirt.
“I will come back tomorrow,” he said. “I am leaving my card, and—“
“No, no,” she said, unlocking the door and opening it right as the toilet crescendoed. “I’m here.”
He stood there on her doorstep, wearing a full business suit even though he was soaked in sweat. He was thin and round-faced and pale and bespectacled and there was a corona of acne covering his hairline, where his hair gel mixed with his sweat and flesh juices. He was holding a glass vase full of white flowers.
“Aha,” he said. “Sorry about the yelling, but I came by yesterday and the day before, and there wasn’t anybody home and you don’t seem to ever answer your phone or check your email… and my job, my actual job right now, is to get in touch with you in order to give you a very alarming sum of money. I am here from our London office. It’s sort of a working vacation, you see. I mean, um, tragic circumstances and all. Sorry about the circumstances, first and foremost, above all else.”
He coughed into his hand.
“I don’t have a phone,” she said. “So I don’t know who you’ve actually been calling. And I barely check my email; just have it to pay my electricity bill once a month. Sorry! What’s up? Who are you?”
“My name is Rory,” he said furtively. “Very nice to meet you. May I come in?”
She frowned, not really into this idea.
“I mean, it is a bit of a private matter, I’m afraid. Sort of a corporate thing, really. Can’t really speak about it where just anyone could hear. The money is real, I promise. Ha ha ha!”
He laughed as if somebody had just pointed a gun at him and said: laugh, motherfucker, laugh with your whole face.
He held the vase full of flowers out to her.
“Ah yes, and these are for you!” he said. “I’ve been buying fresh ones every day just in case, so they are fresh. I am very sorry for your loss.”
He frowned, darkening.
“Yes, well,” he said. “I mean, perhaps you and your grandfather weren’t very close. I mean, I have heard that this is the case.”
He was silent.
“Oh Lord,” he said. “You don’t know then, do you? No one told you. I’m so sorry.”
She took the flowers from him, inferring the rest. She let the door swing open wider. She backed into her living room, and collapsed into a bean bag chair beside a massive plastic yellow table where she had been breaking up weed. She fished her pack of cigarettes out of her pants pocket.
The representative from IHOP tentatively crept into her apartment and then gently shut the door behind him.
“Sit,” she said.
He lowered himself into the other bean bag chair, his knees popping and his suit pants riding up so high she could see his pale skinny shins.
“I am going to smoke this cigarette,” she said before flicking her lighter.
“Yes, of course, go ahead,” he said.
“So what killed him?” she asked, lighting the cigarette. “Did he break his hip? Was it cancer?”
“I don’t actually know,” said Rory. “I mean, I work in the London office, you see and just recently transferred to the States. I think I am here because I am so new and nobody else wanted to be about this particular business. It is a weird old world.”
“Well, you are doing fucking great at your new job, Rory,” said Mandy.
Rory turned bright red. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a check which was folded neatly down the middle.
“This is for you, and then I have some papers for you to sign, if you don’t mind, and then I will be out of here and that will be that.”
Mandy looked at the check, frowning.
“This is a lot of money,” she said. “This is life-changing money.”
“Ha!” said Rory. “Yes, I’m sure it’s no true solace, but there it is. Something to have.”
“What’s the deal here? My granddad hated us. I think the last time I saw him, he wouldn’t stop talking about how I was going to grow up to be a phone sex prostitute. I was thirteen and he told my mom I needed to get spanked for texting at dinner. That was before he disowned her, back when we still lived in California. She was high. I wanted to be high. He was a horrible hateful old man.”
“Yes, actually, it’s a little bit funny, really. This money isn’t from his will, although it is related to your actual inheritance. Your actual inheritance is a particularly odd bit of intellectual property. Worthless to you; very valuable to us. This money represents an offer from the International House of Pancakes to...hmmmm…purchase something that’s been deeded to you, uh, perhaps in a not entirely kind or, rather, charitable way.”
Rory took two folders from his suitcase and set them on the yellow table, carefully moving the weed to one side with the side of his hand. One folder was pink and one folder was blue.
“Deeded to me?”
“I guess, ha, it is a bit funny really, with what you said about his being concerned about your telephone usage and texting in your early years. He has actually deeded you the IHOP social media accounts, which we did not actually know that he had the rights to use and manage, but which were specifically enumerated to him several decades ago in a contract about computer game rights—OF ALL THINGS! CAN YOU IMAGINE AN IHOP COMPUTER GAME?—but which was never updated nor examined. We were able to get in touch with Facebook and with Tumblr in order to have those accounts shut down and reopened, keeping our same followers and so on, but unfortunately the good people at Twitter have been exceedingly difficult about allowing us to exchange executorship and management without your express agreement. They have run into some trouble with this recently, it seems, with some early novelty accounts. So they want to keep everything to some kind of official legal standard, which is fine, just a bit annoying.”
“What are you saying? My granddad gave me the Twitter account to IHOP in his will?”
“Ha ha, yes, exactly that,” said Rory. “Perhaps it was intended to be some kind of chastisement or life lesson, but I assure you that it is worth a great deal to the International House of Pancakes. As our sum presented suggests, we are willing to compensate you quite adequately if you will just go ahead and deed the account right back over to us so we can continue posting deals, specials, news, and additions to our menu to our three and a half million followers who crave our daily IHOP updates and pancake-related jests.”
“Wait a second,” said Mandy. “You mean I have three million Twitter followers now?”
“Well, the International House of Pancakes does. But yes, I suppose you could say that, as a temporary and hilarious quirk of circumstance. Ha! It’s funny to think about. Now these papers stipulate that…”
“I don’t even have a smart phone.”
“Aha,” said Rory. “So you can see that such an account is very much useless to you, and vital to us, and so therefore this sum of money should exchange hands as soon as possible. We’ll just sign all the papers in this blue folder here and I will be on my way.”
“What’s in the pink folder?”
“Oh, that’s nothing, that’s just the account information which I am legally required to give to you, though the password will of course be changing once you take the money and sign these forms. Just a formality, really. Part of “Twitter law,” which is really quite fascinating. Gosh, I wish I had the time to explain it all.”
Mandy picked up the pink folder. Rory watched her, joggling his knees, not sure how bean bag chairs were supposed to make you feel mellow, or how any human beings could tolerate these insane Texas temperatures.
“The password is MARIOKART6969,” said Mandy. “Come on, man. Really?”
“Yes, well, the way I hear it, one of our marketing interns set up the account back in 2006, and this has stayed sort of an inside joke.”
“What happens if I don’t take the money?” said Mandy.
“What a fun thing to think about,” said Rory. “In that case, we would of course be forced to set up a new account and people would slowly trickle over to us as soon as they realized they were no longer getting official information from the real International House of Pancakes. We would also be forced to file an injunction against you. If you ask around and consult with experts, you will discover that the amount we are offering is more than fair and reflects our wish to respect the only granddaughter of our founder.”
Mandy didn’t say anything. She carried the pink folder onto her balcony, lighting another cigarette.
“Let’s sit outside for a minute,” said Mandy. “I need to think.”
She opened up two lawn chairs and they sat in the heat, smoking as she leafed through the folder. The vase full of flowers was on the ground between them.
“This shit is pretty hilarious,” said Mandy. “This is like giving your porn account to charity when you die.”
Rory didn’t say anything. Sweat and oil covered him like latex, sealing his juices inside a slick and dripping membrane.
He closed his eyes in silence while she smoked and read.
“Let me see your phone,” she said finally. “You have a smart phone?”
He handed her his phone. She frowned at it, pressing buttons.
“How do I get on the internet?”
He opened a browser for her.
“Cool,” she said. “Oh never mind, there is a button that takes you directly to Twitter. Neat.”
“Hang on,” said Rory. “Hold on now. What are you doing?”
She sat on the railing of the balcony, swinging her legs. She typed for a few minutes, starting to smile, and then she tossed him back his phone. She stood up, took all the flowers out of the vase, and festooned them around the lawn chairs. She poured out the water. She looked around for people watching, and then she threw the vase as far as she could into the parking lot. It smashed into jagged multitudes, making a chalk-white smear.
“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go. I am done mourning and I am also sober now.”
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“To IHOP,” she said. “We are going to get free pancakes. All pancakes are free at the IHOP on Cesar Chavez today.”
“Sure. Free Twitter pancakes. It has already been retweeted 11 times.”
Mandy hopped over her balcony and started walking out of the complex. Rory followed her, running to catch up. He was looking up the number for the IHOP on Cesar Chavez, and then he was calling and explaining the situation to them, telling them corporate would cover it, telling them there was an emergency, telling them they should only extend the offer to people who specifically asked for it.
“What are you doing?” seethed Rory.
“Let me see your phone again,” she said. “Don’t worry. I just need to make a phone call.”
He hesitated. He took his phone out of his pocket.
She snatched the phone out of his hand. She dialed a number while he glared at her.
“Hey daddybags, meet me over at IHOP,” she said. “It’s an emergency.”
“Why don’t you have your own phone?” asked Rory.
“Technology is bullshit now,” said Mandy. “What is cool about a smartphone? Everybody has a smart phone. Old racists with blood diseases have smart phones. YOU have a smart phone. I can always get someone else to look something up for me. It is not very hard to pretend that every single person these days is your own personal robot slave.”
Kip was waiting for them when they arrived, straddling his bicycle in the parking lot.
Kip had a tattoo of an elaborate "< a >" on one forearm and an equally elaborate "< /a >" on the other one.
(“Anchors,” he once explained to her. “You know, like a sailor.”)
“Kip designs websites for Nazis and skinheads,” Mandy explained to Rory.
“Hey man, I will write code for anyone,” said Kip. “Market forces and freedom of speech and all that.”
“But he specializes in websites for North American hate groups,” said Mandy. “Somebody has to do it right? His other favorite thing to talk about in the world is torture, which was part of the initial attraction, but now I’m not so sure. He is my boyfriend.”
“What do you mean you’re not so sure?” asked Kip.
“What do you mean torture?” asked Rory.
“You know,” said Kip. “Coercive violence. Pain with goals.”
They got a booth and all ordered coffee.
“So what’s going on?” asked Kip. “You said it was an emergency.”
“It is an emergency,” said Mandy. “An emergency of FUN.”
The waitress returned with coffee. She was built like a matador, whip-thin with veiny forearms. Mandy knew her name was Dinah, like Alice’s cat.
“What a day,” said Mandy. “Free pancakes! You must be busy, Dinah. I bet you are going crazy.”
Dinah was suspicious.
“Haven’t heard anything about any free pancakes,” said Dinah.
“It’s a thing,” said Mandy. “Today only. It’s on the internet.”
Mandy ordered six short stacks “for the table” and a side of sausage.
Dinah snorted and walked away. “Lemme check on that,” she said.
“Hey, I want to see your phone for a sec,” Mandy said to Kip. Kip handed her his phone. She logged into Twitter and typed while he watched.
HI KIP #WHATISUPKIPYOUASSHOLE she typed, messaging him.
She handed his phone back to him and it buzzed in his hand.
“You hacked the IHOP twitter account,” said Kip. “Cool.”
“Not exactly,” said Mandy. “I never told you my granddad started IHOP?”
“I thought you were joking,” he said. “I thought we always ate here because of the free refills on coffee and the strong American values.”
“We always eat here because it is the best restaurant in the world,” said Mandy. “Let me see your phone again.”
Kip handed it back to her.
“Man, the IHOP twitter feed is just a bunch of hipster jokes about pancakes,” said Mandy. “Every single tweet is some annoying joke about a pancake.”
“Is this about money?” asked Rory. “You want more money? Is this extortion?
“Just a minute,” said Mandy. “I am trying to write something. Ya’ll should talk about torture or something.”
“What are you more interested in,” asked Kip. “Theory or practice?”
“Why do you know so much about torture?” asked Rory, exasperated. “Who are you people?”
Mandy opened a new Tweet.
FOR THE MONTH OF MAY, IHOP WILL BE TAKING YOUR POLITICAL ASYLUM REQUESTS AND HONORING ALL EASTERN EUROPEAN VISAS #PANCAKESPRING
She chuckled to herself.
“Twitter is really stupid,” she said.
IHOP HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE CRUCIBLE 4 CNTRVERSL IDEAS ABOUT LIBERTY COME 4 THE PANCAKES STAY 4 THE PRTCTD RADICAL DISCOURSE #PANCAKESPRING
“With respect to Western torture techniques, we are really seeing something special happening lately,” said Kip. “It’s been taking place since the Global War on Terror, really, but watching it happen is great for the industry as a whole. Sort of a torture revolution, really. Nobody talks about it.”
“Kip is a fascist,” said Mandy. “I used to be into that, uh, romantically.”
“Yeah, right,” said Kip uncertainly.
Rory stared at his coffee, unsure of what to do or what to say.
“What do you mean ‘torture revolution?’” asked Rory, trying to be nice.
“What we are seeing is the supplanting of Vintage Prep with French Modern techniques all over the world, but especially in America and other western countries,” said Kip. “It’s rad. I never expected such an enlightened outlook coming from us, you know? South Africa, maybe. I wonder if internet porn has something to do with it? Probably, right?”
“You have to explain the difference,” said Mandy. “Not everybody spend their afternoons reading torture blogs and masturbating to 80s children’s cartoons. I can’t believe I used to think you were so hot and cool.”
“It’s a rivalry as old as the seasons,” said Kip, glaring at her. “Vintage Prep torture techniques are things you wouldn’t even really consider torture, because they are so awesome and ubiquitous. For instance, handcuffs, right? Or being forced to be inside a jail cell? Or prison guards looking the other way whilst you get raped by some of your fellow inmates to teach you a lesson about class and manners? All of these techniques have filtered down over the years from the finest Anglo-Saxon prep schools, and have been modified and adjusted to fit our modern incarceration needs. Forced sitting, forced standing, solitary confinement. Terrible food that makes you sick. Stuff like that. It is the kind of cruelty that children do to each other, with the main goal of inflicting maximum psychological damage without requiring many resources. It is also the kind of torture that anyone can do and which requires no specialists, which is great because you don’t want somebody on your payroll whose job title is ‘torturer.’ You can keep somebody in solitary confinement their entire life and people will just shrug, though this is probably the worst thing you can possibly do to a living creature of planet earth. But what I am saying is that Vintage Prep torture techniques are giving way to French Modern, and not just in South America or Southeast Asia or China or Russia. But everywhere, everywhere!”
YES THIS OFFER IS FOR RL @TheRealEdwardSnowden she tweeted
IHOP IS PROUD TO ANNNCE THAT WE WILL NOW BE OFFERING PLTCL ASYLM AND LGL PRTCTN 2 WHISTLEBLOWERS, DISSIDENTS & FUGEES WRLDWDE #PANCAKESPRING
IHOP IS PROUD TO ANNNCE THAT WE WILL NOW BE OFFERING PLTCL ASYLM AND LGL PRTCTN 2 WHISTLEBLOWERS, DISSIDENTS & FUGEES WRLDWDE #PANCAKESPRING
“What is French Modern, then?” asked Rory, miserably.
BRING YR SLEEPING BAG DISSIDENTS! #PANCAKESPRING
FREE COFFEE AND PANCAKES ALL NIGHT LONG N XCHNG FOR LEAKING INFORMATION ABOUT THE SRVLLNCE STATE TO JRNLSTS #PANCAKESPRING
FREE COFFEE AND PANCAKES ALL NIGHT LONG N XCHNG FOR LEAKING INFORMATION ABOUT THE SRVLLNCE STATE TO JRNLSTS #PANCAKESPRING
“These were the techniques that the Nazis and the Vichy government developed jointly together to deal with the French Resistance, basically,” said Kip. “Now this is top notch stuff, stuff meant to break people without leaving a mark. Until the Germans started employing French professionals, they were just snapping people’s fingers and beating them senseless while tied to chairs. That doesn’t work at all. You don’t get the feeling that your torturer is enjoying it, that they don’t care whether you talk or not. French Modern techniques are artful, require professional attention, and do not scar. Most famously used in Algiers and throughout South America during the Cold War, we are talking here about electricity, experimental surgery, and water stuff, coupled with acts of explicit sexual degradation which are designed to tap into a subject’s unconscious needs and make them fall in a kind of submissive 'love state' with the torturer.”
“Which definitely wears off after awhile,” muttered Mandy.
Kip looked at her. Frowning. Hard.
“You think uh…French Modern is better than Vintage Prep?” asked Rory.
“Almost certainly,” said Kip. “French Modern is passionate romance; Vintage Prep is a cold sexless marriage. I admire you British, I really do. Very efficient, very careful. But with French Modern, people are interacting in a hands-on, intimate way instead of just coldly extracting confessions through the brutality of time and the body’s own natural weaknesses. It’s artisanal. It’s authentic. It’s professional, not a relationship of convenience. It’s a craft, like Martha Stewart, you know? Which means we will get scientific data about torture, figuring out whether it really even works or not, and we will have professionals doing this work instead of amateurs, leading to fewer casualties, fewer mistakes, and vast harm reduction across the world. Everybody knows French Modern techniques work better, and once we get prisoners signing release forms, we will…”
THERE IS NO STRCTRL CLASS STRATIFICATION AT IHOP, THERE IS NO INSTITUTIONAL DISFIGUREMENT OF THE HUMAN SOUL #PANCAKESPRING
THERE IS ONLY COFFEE AND PANCAKES AND SOMETIMES WAFFLES #PANCAKESPRING
THERE IS ONLY COFFEE AND PANCAKES AND SOMETIMES WAFFLES #PANCAKESPRING
“…we will finally be able to make torture a permanent institution instead of just a scary word that means whatever bad thing you want it to mean.”
They all sat there in silence for awhile, pondering torture as a permanent institution and pancakes, respectively.
They all sat there in silence for awhile, pondering torture as a permanent institution and pancakes, respectively.
“Rory,” said Mandy. “I am not going to do a deal. I am not going to sell you back this Twitter account. I will tell you why for four hundred dollars.”
“Fucking Christ,” said Rory. “I am not going to give you four hundred dollars just to tell me why we are going to have to sue you.”
“There’s an ATM in the front of the restaurant,” she said. “Call your boss or whatever.”
Rory threw his napkin down on the table and stood up.
“We are breaking up,” Mandy said to Kip as soon as Rory was gone. “I can’t hang out with any dudes from Stormfront anymore at your damn 'shitkicker' bars. It’s not funny anymore. Maybe it never was. It’s fine to have ironic and cruel beliefs about things, but like, maybe that’s what fascism actually is, you know? Everybody just saying the worst things and playing pretend. You are good at sex, but lots of people are good at sex. I can find about ten people as good as you on the internet in about ten minutes.”
“But you hate the internet,” said Kip.
"That was before I had a twitter account," said Mandy.
Kip slunk down lower in his booth. He started sulking.
Rory returned, glaring at her. He handed her the cash and she handed the cash to Kip.
“Why are you being such a jerk?” asked Rory.
“Yeah,” said Kip. “How come?”
“Because I believe in things for real, including IHOP, especially IHOP,” said Mandy. “It's basically the UN, but tons better. An international organization dedicated to pancakes. You can sue me if you want, but god help me, I will be the voice of pancakes until you cut my throat. It is my destiny.”
“You should take the money,” said Rory.
“Being poor as shit never changed anybody’s life,” said Kip.
“Fuck you dude,” said Mandy. “I just paid you back!”
“Listen,” said Rory. “What do you mean you believe in IHOP? I mean, I sympathise: I vote labor when I am back home. But it’s just a stupid corporation same as the rest, same as Twitter, you know? Just take the money.”
“There was only one restaurant in the town where I grew up, the town we moved to after my mom left California. I spent every Saturday night there. Every time I snuck out of my house, it was always to go to IHOP. This was before the internet, so nobody believed me when I told them my grandfather started this place. It didn’t matter. IHOP is the opposite of Twitter. It’s a place where real people talk about real shit face to face over giant plates of cheap food. There are infinite coffee refills for infinite problems. How many people do you think have fallen in love inside an IHOP? How many people have written beautiful novels sitting at an IHOP, or come up with crazy ideas that have changed the world?”
They looked around the restaurant. No one seemed to be falling in love or writing a novel.
But they could have been. There were plenty of empty booths.
They looked around the restaurant. No one seemed to be falling in love or writing a novel.
But they could have been. There were plenty of empty booths.
“You are going to have to get your own phone,” said Kip. “You sure as hell aren’t going to use mine.”
Mandy turned around in the booth and tapped the guy in the next booth over on his shoulder. He was a giant man with a luscious and disgusting beard who was eating a massive plate of chicken fried steak alone and reading the entirety of the New York Times. It looked like he probably did this every day. There was a battered Graham Greene novel on one corner of the table and a personal bottle of hand sanitizer.
“Hey man,” said Mandy. “Can I use your phone?”
“Um,” said the man, trying to be polite. “What for? I mean, I can dial the number for you.”
“No, I just need to tweet something,” she said.
“I don’t use Twitter,” he said.
“Oh, me neither,” she said. “It’s for IHOP.”
She started to explain. Rory sighed and got up to leave. Kip followed him, realizing she was just going to keep ignoring him, and plus also they were broken up now.
ARISE YE WORKERS FROM YOUR SLUMBERS! ARISE YE PRISONERS OF WANTS! IT IS TIME FOR PANCAKES she tweeted. She handed the phone back to the man with the hand sanitizer, just as her six plates of pancakes arrived, just as the Soviet nuke locked up in her storage closet counted three, counted two, counted one, counted zero.
I am working at the new Amazon fulfillment center in Haslet, Texas as a seasonal, part-time picker. It is winter. We aren’t workers here: we are associates. It is a job that I can do hung-over and high and I can make just enough money here to technically have my own apartment, a place to store all my empty beer cans and all my crumpled Taco Cabana wrappers and all my stacks of shitty sci-fi novels.
I am back home because I don’t want to be in Dallas anymore, or maybe I couldn’t “handle it,” and maybe I want to forget how the internet works for awhile.
Technically, I’m not even employed by Amazon. Technically, I’m employed by Amazon’s staffing agency, a place called “Human Solutions.”
The Human Solutions rep for Haslet is this lady named Ashley Hood (as in John Hood, as in Fort Hood, as in Hood’s Rangers, as in Texas Rangers). She is an excellent chick that I have known forever, which is how I got the job in the first place. We used to do whippits and fuck each other in the Cici’s Pizza parking lot after theater practice when we were in high school.
Sex back then for us was as satisfying as fixing an oily carburetor with your bare hands and then gunning the engine. We were both on the same sad level back then, and even though Ashley has far eclipsed me now, we still have some of the same problems.
We reconnected again thanks to this website DRNKR, which is basically like grindr, except for getting drunk instead of getting laid.
You flag places where free drinks are being served in your community. Weddings, funerals, corporate promotional events, gastropub grand openings, etc. You get DRNKR points based on how many people use your DRNKR post to get wasted for free. You then unlock promotional prizes from liquor companies like t-shirts and neon signs for your bathroom and trips on party buses.
While I was in Dallas, I accumulated basically as many DRNKR points as you can possibly get. I now have the capacity to flag and moderate posts. I am a goddamn DRNKR superstar. I have DRNKR boxer shorts and a DRNKR phone cover. I am not proud of this. Thanks to DRNKR, Ashley Hood and I end up at the same BBQ restaurant doing a Sunday open bar to promote some new brisket rub. We hug each other. There is zero chemistry, or else the chemistry is weird and specific and non-sexy, like a bleach titration or something.
She is all like: “You always have good weed. Do you still have good weed?”
I am all like: “Do you know of any place that might be hiring dudes without any qualifications or experience or hygiene skills?”
I am all like: “Can I have a job please?”
She is all like: “Can I have my copy of Dragon Warrior 3 back?”
I get the job.
I fill out a bunch of paperwork at the Human Solutions office at a strip mall behind an orthodontist. The job is explained to me. Basically, the job is shopping at Wal-Mart for people who are too embarrassed to actually shop at Wal-Mart.
On my first day, I show up at the Amazon Fulfillment Center wearing my best black “Tool” t-shirt. At the last minute, I turn it inside out, deciding that the deodorant stains are better than the glow-in-the-dark picture of a man giving himself a blowjob. I wonder if I have just now, in this instant, become an adult.
There are three hundred of us here to be temporary associates at the Haslet fulfillment center; new recruits for Christmas season.
Our new manager, an actual Amazon employee, explains that we begin as seasonal employees, but that Amazon tends to hire “from inside” if volumes stay high. They explain that the thing that makes volumes stay high is people loving Amazon’s service so much that they use these services during the rest of the year.
We get an informational packet with elaborate sexual harassment policies and we are forced to watch an informational video about Amazon’s humble beginnings and its crafty rise to the very top of every marketplace.
THE GIST: they are so powerful because of CUSTOMER SERVICE!!!!!!!!! And now in some markets: SAME DAY DELIVERY!!!!!!!!!!!
There is a guy sitting next to me with lots of tattoos of Looney Tunes cartoon characters. During the video, he says pretty loudly that Jeff Bezos “looks like a guy who shaves all of his body hair and likes to have his dick locked up in a little dick cage while truck drivers from Craigslist take turns fucking his wife.”
Lots of the other temporary associates laugh at this joke.
He is not fired for making this joke.
“I heard he is building a spaceport out in West Texas,” says somebody else.
“Bullshit,” says the dude with the Looney Tunes tattoos.
“No, for real,” says this other guy, a stringy fellow with a long white beard and a Confederate flag do-rag. “Ten cents of every dollar that Amazon makes is going toward putting rich immortal faggot vampires into orbiting space stations, and then they are gonna turn the REST OF US down here on EARTH into a nature preserve.”
“Bullshit,” says the dude with the Looney Tunes tattoos, but you can tell he sort of admires this plan.
“You’ll see,” says the stringy Confederate. “Immortal faggot vampires gonna be running the show from here on out.”
The warehouse is the biggest covered building I have ever been in. It is explained to us that we will not need to become familiar with the merchandise and how it is laid out. We are supposed to follow the trails of millions of LED lights that will light up to steer us where we need to go, from item to item and then over to a pick station. The fulfillment center is covered in conveyor belts that deliver items we find to the sorter, which then dumps the packages out for pick-up by trucks that come and go around the clock.
I once read a book about cockroaches, where they explained that if you put roaches in a maze suspended over a tank of water to keep them from escaping, they will become faster and faster at running the maze if you shock them every time they go the wrong way. But here’s the crazy part: even if you chop off their heads, the ganglia in their abdomens will still run the maze correctly.
Even the asshole of a cockroach can be taught to do the job that I now have.
We have battered, modified touch-screen Kindles. These Kindles tell us which items to pick and in what quantities and beep when we are close to them. We scan each item with these Kindles when we pick it up, and then again before we put in on a belt.
We are told that we can wear headphones and listen to whatever we want while we pick; as long as it is at an appropriate volume and does not disturb others. We are shown where the bathrooms are and we are told that we get either two fifteen minute breaks during our ten hour shifts or one long thirty minute break.
We are given cards and shown how to punch in and out. We are told that it is okay if we get sick, but if we fail to call in ahead of time, we will be let go immediately. We are told how many other people have applied for the positions that we now have and who are waiting on standby so they can make enough money to buy Christmas presents for their children. We are told that we are the real elves. That Amazon is the real Santa Claus.
“When do we start?” asks the guy with the Looney Tunes tattoos. “Do I have time to go grab a beer and get laid? Haw haw.”
“You are already on the clock and getting paid right now,” says our supervisor, a man named Spivey who has the bluster, paunch, jaw, shorts, and smell of a junior high football coach. He wears a tight Polo shirt with the Amazon logo over the floppy triangle of his left breast.
“Now here’s something we do a little different around here that you might not find at your other jobs you have had,” says Spivey. “If you do a good job, you get to scream. It’s just a thing that we do different.”
He waits for somebody to ask him what the hell he is talking about, but no one does.
“Yep, if you do something particularly great, you might just be allowed to rear back and let out a scream as loud as you want,” says Spivey. “Let’s all try it together, huh?”
He counts down from three and we all half-heartedly scream. He makes us do it again and again until we are sufficiently loud and passionate enough for him. It is 100% just exactly like being on a junior high football team.
“Round about Christmas, if ya’ll learn what the hell ya’ll are doing, you are gonna hear screaming all over the place around here,” he says with smug satisfaction.
Spivey also introduces us to a woman named Kathy Jane, who runs what he calls “the book machines.” In a dark corner are ten machines that make so much noise that my chest vibrates and I feel sort of sick. They print paperback books to order.
“HELLO,” shouts Kathy Jane over the churning machine noise. She is not wearing an Amazon uniform. She is wearing a sweater with an 8-bit cat on it.
It is an extremely cool sweater. Kathy Jane is about five feet tall and about five feet wide. I like her very much. Everybody else walks on by, continuing the orientation. But I linger.
“WHAT ARE BOOK MACHINES?” I ask. “WHAT IS THIS EMPIRE THAT YOU RUN?”
Kathy Jane makes me follow her until we are standing behind a wall of cheap hammers. So she can explain.
“We do print-on-demand for Amazon CreateSpace over here,” she says. “It’s called self-publishing. Lots of people want to see their work in print, but they can’t get published, or don’t want to share their profits with a publisher. We print the books up one at a time as a person orders them.”
“You have the best cat sweater,” I say.
“Thank you,” says Kathy Jane, looking over my shoulder and turning bright red.
“Are you a writer yourself?” I ask.
Am I hitting on her? What am I doing?
“You seem like a writer,” I say.
“I do a little writing,” she says. “I mean, I am not published or anything. But I actually did write a couple books. It’s kind of a joke around here. How did you know? Somebody told you, huh?”
“Can I read them?” I ask.
She pretends not to hear me. I don’t ask again. I slink away to rejoin the rest of the group.
The items on the floor of the fulfillment center are not in any kind of order. It is explained to us that this is to keep us from accidentally grabbing the wrong one. Two different kinds of cat litter, for instance, would be on opposite sides of the fulfillment center if they have different SKUs.
The job is exhausting and easy.
I listen to podcasts and try not to make any friends. They all seem like the sort of people who would need a lot of help from you, and I don’t want to help them.
I take my twenty minute break and get a candy bar and eat it in the break room, where people are watching a basketball game. There are no books to read in the break room, though there is a “Golf Digest” from last month. I pick up the “Golf Digest” and start to read an article about how to stop missing four-footers. The advice is to “relax and stay straight.”
“I will relax and stay straight,” I assure the Golf Digest.
Kathy Jane comes in and sits alone, eating a sandwich from a bag. I do not jump up to join her, though I want to. We both eat in silence.
When she gets up to go, I also get up to go.
“People sure do buy stupid books,” I tell her, trying to make conversation.
She smiles at me.
“I spend most of time printing up some pretty weird ones,” says Kathy Jane. “Imagine books that even publishers won’t print. They are pretty filthy. I mean, they are just about as filthy as you can get. It’s mostly pornography. Amazon doesn’t like it, but that’s freedom of speech.”
“His truth is marching on,” I say.
She laughs at me.
“Why would a writer work here?” I say. “It seems pretty depressing, for a writer.”
“I do it for the discount,” says Kathy Jane. “I buy a lot of books, and I also get a discount on the books I print. I get discounts on design, edits, and even sending books out. It is really nice for me. I don’t think I could afford to make books if I wasn’t working here.”
“What kind of books do you write?” I ask.
But she is done talking to me. She veers away and returns to her book machines, where the noise drowns out all possibility for conversation.
“Kathy Jane prints all the PORNOS,” says Spivey, putting his hand on my shoulder. “She WANTED the job. Can you believe that? Ya’ll gonna be friends?”
“Maybe,” I say.
Spivey laughs at me.
“Where ya’ll from?” he asks. “Fellow like you.”
“I am from right here in this town,” I say. “I mean, you can pretty much see the hospital where I was born.”
I point. He actually looks where I point, even though we are standing inside a warehouse. Amazon does not sell hospitals yet.
Where I point, there are words painted on the wall in giant human-sized letters:
BIAS FOR ACTION
HIGH BAR FOR TALENT
I wonder what bias for action means, but I do not ask Spivey.
A week goes by. The monotony makes the job grueling. Many people quit after a few days because there are much easier ways to make not very much money. I am glad it is not summer: the winter is probably the best time of year to be humping around in a warehouse, boxing up Stephen King novels for people.
I try many more times to talk to Kathy Jane, but she is very good at evading me. I get the sense that she does not care much for the seasonal help. Seasonal employees probably don’t make good allies. She needs to seem above us in order to maintain her position in the Amazon hierarchy.
Thinking and wondering about Kathy Jane gives me focus and keeps me sane. People come for a few days, they keep their heads down and listen to music and make what they need to make, and then go. It is weird, like working construction. Only we aren’t building anything. We are just making sure that when people buy a box of soap or a DVD about how it is bad to keep whales in captivity they get it AS SOON AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE AND DAMN ALL THE CONSEQUENCES OF THIS.
Because what if they changed their mind?
Because what if getting it seemed difficult, and so they decided to buy nothing instead?
One day, Kathy Jane comes up to me grinning. She is pinching a silverfish between two fingers. It is wriggling.
“Rock on,” I say.
“Do you want to see something crazy?”
“Of course I do,” I say.
She takes off. I follow her through the stacks of books, excited to be having any interaction at all with the famous Kathy Jane who runs the book machines. She stops, frowning, and seems to have lost her way. Then she finds what she is looking for again.
“Look at that,” she says, pointing beneath a giant stack of “Helter Skelter,” by Vincent Bugliosi. “Under there.”
I get down on my knees and look.
“That is a big glass jar full of silverfish,” I say, standing back up.
She giggles. She unscrews the jar and adds her silverfish to it.
“Whenever I find one, I add it to the jar,” says Kathy Jane. “They can live for a year without food. I looked it up.”
I fumble in my pants for my phone.
“We gotta take a picture for the internet!” I say. “Maybe we should put it on top of a stack of books. See if we can get the Amazon logo in there.”
I tap the jar.
“The next time somebody buys a Mackenzie Bezos novel, we could dump them all in the box,” says Kathy Jane. “That’s Jeff’s wife. She’s a novelist. I guess she’s famous.”
“Kathy Jane!” I say, shocked. “You are terrible. Do you think this place is infested?”
“Maybe,” says Kathy Jane. “I mean, exterminators come every week.”
“Did you know there are cockroaches on the moon?” I say.
“There’s no cockroaches on the moon,” she says.
“Sure there are,” I say. “And on the international space station. They are built for space. They can smell food in three dimensions and are extremely adaptable. One of the astronauts took some up as pets and they started breeding and now the ISS is infested with them. It caused an international incident once between India and Russia.”
“But the moon though,” she says.
“Oh, sure,” I say. “We left all kinds of crap up there, just in case. They eat each other. And Tang. And space ice cream. They live in the moon rover. It’s pretty cold for them, but all that gear made of aluminum foil or whatever absorbs warmth and lasts for thousands of years.”
The closer we get to Christmas, the harder we have to work. Spivey seems increasingly uncomfortable, and I get the feeling that he is getting chewed out on a regular basis. I get the feeling that our particular fulfillment center is not doing so well compared to the other ones.
One day, I decide to see how hard I can possibly work, just to do something different. I spend the whole shift grinding away, following the lights, nearly sprinting to put shit on conveyor belts. Anytime somebody says something to me about “sucking up,” I tell them that I have a bias for action now.
I work so hard that I catch Spivey’s eye. When the shift is about to end, he comes up to me and puts his hand on my shoulder. He leaves it there while I grin into his face like a giant bastard.
“You know what,” he says. “You can scream. You’ve earned it. How about it? You want to do a scream?”
“I can scream?” I say.
“That’s right. You been doing a real good job lately. You are an inspiration. If you wanna scream, you can scream.”
“Do I have to do it right now, or can I like have it as a credit that I can use when I am really feeling it?”
“I don’t know,” says Spivey, thinking about it. “Most people want to scream right away.”
“Can I save mine, though?”
Spivey takes his hand off my shoulder.
“You can save your scream,” he says, walking away from me, disappointed in me.
The week before Christmas, I buy Kathy Jane a giant gift basket full of cheese, tea, and smoked meats. I do not order it from Amazon. I present it to her, grinning, wearing my best “Cannibal Corpse” t-shirt.
“I got you this cheese basket,” I say.
She takes it from me. She frowns at it, and then she bursts into tears.
“Thank you,” she says, miserably.
“What’s wrong?” I say. “It is a cheese basket! Everybody wants one of these.”
“I know,” she says. “It is great. I am getting fired, though. After the 1st of the year they are getting rid of me.”
“What?” I say. “How come? That doesn’t make any sense. You run the book machines!”
“I know,” says Kathy Jane. “But they say they don’t need a person to handle the printing and all anymore. They are just gonna print them straight to the conveyor belts. There was a meeting here, and they are also gonna stop selling adult and erotic titles. That’s most of what I do, honestly. I’m not gonna get my discount anymore. I don’t know what I’m gonna do. I won’t be able to print my books and ship them out. I won’t be able to afford it.”
“Don’t leave,” I say. “Make a little fortress in the boxes, deep in the stacks. Come out late at night and use the machines to print your books and then sneak them into the shipping.”
“Nah,” she says. “They got cameras everywhere. They’d find me.”
I sigh. “Well that is some terrible bullshit.”
“You want to see my books?” she says in a tiny voice.
“Of course I want to see your books, Kathy Jane,” I say.
She leads me away to her book machine empire, still sniffling. She goes over to one of the machines which is not currently printing out POD paperbacks for direct sale.
“I wish I had enough money to buy one of these machines,” says Kathy Jane. “Amazon bought all the technology so they could sit on it, making sure it stays too expensive, but I would start a coffee shop in Dallas where the book machine was right in the middle. People could come in and print up any book they wanted. I would print up and sell my favorite books there. We would also sell books people brought back as returns, paying a dollar a piece for them. Instant bookstore. You wouldn’t even have to wait the two days it takes to get a book shipped to you from Amazon.”
She punches some numbers into one of the book machines. The machine starts to whir and churn.
We stand there side by side in silence. Eventually, the machine stops printing. The machine glues on the cover, and cuts everything to the proper trim size.
She looks at the book, smells it, and then hands it to me.
It is called “PUSSY PATROL ONE: MEOW MIXXXER.”
“It’s sex stories, but for kitty cats,” says Kathy Jane. “I have written ten so far. This first one is about a tom named Lester who throws a big party for all the cats and then things get a little crazy.”
“Oh wow,” I say.
“Yeah,” she says. “They’re not for everyone. Nobody has reviewed them yet on Amazon. I sell a couple a week, though. I price them pretty low so that people who really want them will be able to afford them. I guess I won’t be able to do that anymore.”
“I can have this?” I say.
“Take it,” she says.
I clasp it to my heart.
I cash my second to last paycheck. One day, Kathy Jane stops showing up. I try to figure out her address or number, but no one will tell me anything. Spivey comes up to me the day before the day before the day before Christmas. It is the last day that people can order things and still expect to get them in time for Christmas morning.
“Did Kathy Jane ever show you how to run these book machines?” he says. “Ya’ll was friends right? She showed you how?”
“Sure,” I say. I start to tell him how they work, but he cuts me off.
“We are automating them all in a couple months,” he says. “But we are still getting thousands of orders right now and she has stopped coming into work.”
“Do you know where she lives?” I ask.
He shakes his head.
“Do you think you might be able to run these book machines temporarily for a little bit? I mean, we can’t hire you officially or anything. But it sounds more fun than picking on the floor, right? And who knows, maybe we can find a place for you after everything? Since you was born right here in this town and all.”
“I’d love to do that,” I say.
“Great,” he says. “Tomorrow, go right to the book machines instead of the floor.”
I decide that tomorrow will be my last day. I don’t want to spend Christmas here. I wish nobody did. When I am punching out for the night, I steal a handful of packaging labels from the front office, pretending that I need a new ID card.
I stay up all night reading Kathy Jane’s cat porn, which is surprisingly readable.
“Lester Bootykins, fearless leader of the Pussy Patrol, you will have your goddamn revenge,” I say to myself, sitting cross-legged on my shitty stained carpet, naked, drinking a Bud Light Lime Michelada tallboy and using it to keep my testicles cold, because I have no control over the heat in my apartment and my landlord has cranked it to the max, meaning that even with the windows open I am sweating so hard that I can suck on my top lip and fill my mouth.
I do not sleep. I am too excited to sleep and I have too much to do, looking up addresses of bars around the country, sending them DRNKR messages, and creating DRNKR events for them.
The next morning I go quietly to the book machines. Spivey comes around to check on me. A few orders come in and I dutifully print them up and put them on the conveyor to be scanned, sorted, and packaged.
Then I start printing up copies of “PUSSY PATROL ONE: MEOW MIXXXER.” I use one book machine for the orders that are still coming in, just to keep Spivey from getting suspicious.
I use the other machines to print as many copies of Kathy Jane’s cat porn as I possibly can. The machines can print a book every five minutes. This means I can do twelve an hour with each machine, sixty altogether. I crank them out, stacking them in boxes of thirty a piece. There are boxes at the station, and I load the books into boxes for bulk orders, slapping address labels on them that I have already filled out, and then sealing them.
When boxes like this go through the conveyor belt, there is an automatic override and they are sent straight to shipping.
I am able to fill two boxes an hour. I am working a ten hour shift, so I am able to send boxes to twenty cities around the United States.
Getting the beer is a little harder. Amazon sells beer and wine, but they don’t fulfill it themselves. For this, I have to sneak over to the manager’s station and edit already existing orders using Spivey’s account info, which we all know by heart by now, since we have spent six weeks looking over his shoulder whenever we fuck up the slightest thing and he has to fix it.
I change these already existing orders, people’s last minute Christmas presents, into orders for cases of Bud Light Lime Michelada tallboys.
All day long, people have been responding to my DRNKR posts. I have set up events in twenty cities around the country:
MEOW MIXXXER CHRISTMAS EVE NATIONAL BOOK RELEASE PARTY!
Says the DRNKR post
Sponsored by Amazon.com and BUD LIGHT LIME
Free BUD LIGHT LIME till it runs out. Free copies of PUSSY PATROL NUMBER ONE: MEOW MIXXER by Kathy Jane Freshnell. This is totally legit. The only catch is that you must give the book a five star review on Amazon or you don’t get free beer. MERRY XMAS YOU HORRIBLE DRUNKS.
I put the last box of the books on the conveyor and wait.
I wait an hour, doing pretty much nothing. The 5 PM truck shows up to take away the next-day delivery boxes, including the cat porn. I have won. Time for my victory lap. Time to make sure Kathy Jane gets away with it.
I look around for Spivey.
“Spivey!” I call out. “Where are you man? Come manage me!”
After a few minutes he strolls over, his thick hands rubbing his belly, looking reptilian and mean.
“What do you want? Don’t tell me you got a problem over here.”
I don’t say anything. I sit down on the conveyor belt, swinging my legs.
“Don’t be sitting on that,” he says. “Hey now hey.”
I push back and sit cross-legged on the conveyor belt. The belt starts carrying me away, carrying me to the big central sorter and the rows of flatscreen computers in the center of the fulfillment center.
“Hey come on now,” says Spivey. “It’s good to have fun, but come down off there. Where you going?”
I stand up.
“HEY GET DOWN OFFA THERE,” says Spivey, jogging along to catch up with me, crashing through stacked boxes of novelty coffee mugs and cheap plastic lawn furniture.
A crowd gathers round.
“Somebody’s riding the conveyor belt!” I hear somebody shout from miles away.
“Surf it, man surf it!”
I stand up.
“YOU BETETR GET DOWN OFFA THERE THIS MINUTE,” shouts Spivey. Some of the other managers are running over to me now, trying to keep pace with me, but utterly unwilling to climb up on the conveyor belt with me and risk breaking it, busting the tread.
I am shooting through the fulfillment center at an alarming clip.
“Same day delivery,” I shout to Spivey.
I drop my pants. I squat.
At first, I panic, thinking I won’t be able to do it.
But then I remember the best part. I start screaming. My primal scream.
Everybody shuts up. They are watching me. Scrutinizing me. I can feel myself burning into all of their memories. I am not a “temporary associate” now. I am not temporary at all. I am permanently searing myself into all of their minds and all of their dreams and all of the cameras that are watching me.
I dry fart a few times, and then I squeeze out a big ropy shit on the conveyor belt, making sure to shit downbelt so I don’t step in it.
The people chasing me stop. They look ill. Everyone else is cheering.
“You are gonna pay to have that cleaned,” shouts Spivey. “That is coming right out of your paycheck! Get him! Somebody get him down. Somebody call the police!”
“Don’t you dare,” says Spivey’s boss. “You want a police report of this?”
I pull my pants up and run along the conveyor belt, running against it, staying in approximately the same place.
“Ya’ll better catch that shit,” I say. “It is heading right for the sorters and the pickers. It’s gonna gunk up everything, especially if gets caught in the teeth at the end and gets smeared along the whole tread. If it gets down there underneath, ya’ll will never get the stink out. And then those sorters are gonna dump my shit all over all those Christmas packages waiting down there. Ya’ll will have to repack everything. Ya’ll will be stalled out for the whole day. But ya’ll can catch my shit if you hurry. Come on, now, hurry, run, go get it, go get my shit!”
The constellation of managers and security realize I am telling the truth, though none of them think to simply turn the conveyor belt off. They veer away from me and chase after my rage turd, trying to catch it before it is sucked into the sorting machine and starts smearing along the tread. I wait until I am free and clear, and then I hop off the belt and run for the doors. Everyone is cheering me, holding their hands up for high fives which I do not grant.
“I GOT IT,” shouts Spivey. “Sweet fucking Jesus, it is still warm. Somebody get me a goddamn towel or some of those plastic gloves.”
I hit the big steel emergency exit doors and I burst through them, the cold night air hitting me like a wet mop on a tile floor. My bicycle is right there where I put it, and I hop on, pedaling like mad.
I am unemployed again.
But this year, no matter how hard they scrub, there’s gonna be a little bit of my shit in everybody’s Christmas.
I feel great, like I used to feel jumping out of the window into the bushes late at night in high school and sneaking out to a party in a field somewhere. I did my time. I got some money. I know I don’t matter in this world. I am not a millionaire genius. I am not a brilliant start-up entrepreneur innovator.
But I can still do things they can never do, and I feel great right now, and maybe all experiences are equal, and they might own everything, and I might never own anything larger than a duffel bag, but Gradatim Ferociter, goddamn it, “Step by Step, Ferociously,” even if that means walking the wrong way on a conveyor belt, never getting anywhere, never getting properly sorted or arriving fast enough so nobody complains.