20140321

Ladykiller

Tre took the entire weekend to change his profile status from “IN A COMPLICATED RELATIONSHIP WITH THE DEVIL” to “ENGAGED TO JESSICA TRAPPER.”

He almost waited too long. Jess’s hurtness was seeping out of the walls like ectoplasm, almost manifesting physically in the apartment they shared.

“It doesn’t matter what it says on Facebook,” he lied casually, when she asked him.  “This is about us: not all those assholes on Facebook.”

“I changed it in the bathroom literally ten minutes after I said yes,” she said, squeezing one of his thighs as she curled up against him, trying to be more amused by her own response to her own joy than upset by his willful rejection of this extremely clear and obvious new rule w/r/t love.

“We are gonna talk about Facebook in the future like our parents talk about cocaine,” he said.  “Man, I can’t even remember that decade. I was on Facebook the whole time. I met your mother on Facebook.  I did so much Facebook that my balls went numb and I could only fuck on Facebook.  You want to see pictures?  They are on Facebook.”

“You sure you aren’t having second thoughts about being relationshipped?” she asked him.

“You make it sound non-consensual,” he said.

“9 times out of 10 it’s somebody you already know,” she said.

“The real problem is relationship culture,” he said.

 Eventually, she decided he was merely being dumb and not having “secret thoughts.”  She drifted off to sleep beside him.

But Tre lay awake all night, watching who liked the post and responding to the comments.

At Buzzfeed the next day, Tre felt doomed.  He coasted through work, trying to get as much done as possible. Everyone kept sarcastically congratulating him, which didn’t help. He figured out thirteen things that only people born in 1990 would know, and then he left early.

Jess had her Pilates class on Mondays so they usually both fended for themselves when it came to dinner. He wasn’t sure what to do.

He drove over to a strip center where they sometimes went for Appalachian food.  There was a Chili’s there. He would go to Chili’s. Chili’s was the right place. It was a place you went when your life was over and you were ready to die.

He got a glass of wine and a plate of fried cheese at the bar.

He took a long gulp of the bad wine, feeling cursed, and opened Facebook on his phone.

He started looking through the profiles of old girlfriends, trying to figure out what qualities they had in common, besides dating him.  Maybe if he could determine some essential quality they shared he would find out something useful about himself, something he could use as a wedge or weapon.    

He resisted the temptation to “like” anything they posted or to make any comments.  Surely doing so now, post-engagement, would seem hostile. 

“Drone over there just bought you a drink,” said the bartender. “What do you want?”

“The fuck?” said Tre.

“Are you Tre?” said the bartender.  “Drone said your name was Tre.  You want another glass of wine or like top shelf Scotch or what?”

Tre craned his neck over his shoulder.  He had never seen a drone in person before. 

“Over there,” said the bartender.  “By the bathroom. ”

The drone slumped along one side of a vinyl booth, smiling at him with high definition red lips and big soft cartoon eyes.  It was female-shaped. It was wearing a tight black dress and was sitting over a fizzy cocktail that had been purchased purely for decoration. The drone’s proportions were disorienting and hallucinogenic: the six-tone skin rippled in metallic tones, showcasing abstract animated tattoos that seemed to change hue and texture based on the amount of indirect light it absorbed from the stained glass bar fluorescents.

“I’ve never seen one in real life before,” said the bartender.  “Somebody you know?”

“I really doubt it,” said Tre.

As he stared, the drone stood up and arched its back.  Everyone in the restaurant was watching the machine seduce him. They were laughing at him and pointing, or else gawking and taking pictures.

Tre found himself slipping off of his barstool and walking over, his head swimming, his heart filling with quiet murder.  He had to talk to the drone or it would keep trying to get his attention. He slid into the booth and sipped his drink.

“Hello,” said the drone in its digitally-altered machine register. There was a human being on the other end of that voice typing words to him. Some hidden secret subjectivity. It was entirely possible that people didn’t have any kind of external soul that mattered and might survive death, but this drone definitely did.

“Do I know you?” asked Tre.

“Sure,” said the drone. “Sure you do.”

“Then do you mind if I inquire as to who is piloting this magnificent machine that is buying me drinks?”

“I am Anonymous, lol,” said the drone in the same throaty but uninflected half-tone voice.  “Does Anonymous get you hard?  Does Anonymous make you feel sex feelings lol?”

Tre set his drink down carefully on a Chili’s coaster.  The drone immediately slid around so that it was sitting right next to him.  It leaned in so that it was touching his thigh.  There was a warm hum coming from inside the drone that he could feel through the plastic seat.  He could feel it vibrating his prostate; pulling at his testicles.  The smell coming from the drone was simultaneously musky and artificial, like a werewolf that had just fucked a rack of fashion magazines.

“No seriously,” he asked.  “Who is in there?”

“I hear you are getting married,” said the drone.  “That must be exciting.  Such a change lol.”

“Do you know me for real or are you just learning stuff about me right now on the internet?”

“Come on now Tre,” said the drone.  “Relax a little bit.  Talking to us is like praying.  We only want to help you and we have the power to do it.”

The drone reached over and put one firm flexiflesh hand on his thigh.
 “Do you want to see a picture?” asked the drone.  “Something exciting?”

“I need to go,” said Tre.  His phone vibrated and he looked down.  He had a message.  He opened it.  It was a picture of the drone all tied up with a ball gag.  There was semen, or some kind of semen substitute, trickling down its haunches and it was looking trustingly at the camera.  There was a poster on the wall behind the drone for “Finding Nemo.”

“Do you like that?” asked the drone.  “Does it excite you?”

The image was sudden and shocking.  It was an exact replica from a series of photos he had taken of his college girlfriend in her dorm room, back long ago before people realized that everything digital was permanent.  It was a perfect replica in every detail.

The picture was still on one of his old hard drives.  His forehead broke out in a cold sweat.  That’s where it had to come from. When was the last time he had connected that hard drive to a computer?

“Where did you get this?” he asked. 

“Do you want to see more?” asked the drone. “We just want to make you happy lol. We can make more, if you like.  Tonight.  Right now. We can have all the sex! LOL!”

“I’m not going anywhere,” said Tre. 

“I thought you were leaving?” said the drone, bemused.  “Well, if you are going to stay, we should talk about interesting subjects.”

“What do you want to talk about?” asked Tre.  He was stalling.  He needed to think.  This could be an old friend; an old enemy.  Someone he had hurt in the past.  Some thirteen-year-old kid. Why today?  Did it have something to do with changing his relationship status?  Had somebody been watching him all along, waiting for him to finally decide to “settle down” before striking? 

They didn’t have to live anywhere close to him.  They could be on the other side of the world.

It didn’t have to be someone alone, either.  It could be a team of people. A bunch of his friends could have all chipped in together and rented the drone for the evening, and they were now fucking with him, all sitting around with beers laughing and debating what to type next.  One person at the controls, another busily hacking his laptop, another person figuring out what to say next to make him sweat. They didn’t even have to be American.  They could be feeding everything through a language filter.

He had no power here.

He realized all of a sudden that he was very turned on.  He needed to focus; to keep his mind away from the very real creature in front of him made out of silicon and rubber and firm warm plastic, he tried to imagine a bald and overweight middle aged-man chain-smoking in front of a bank of computers, pacing back and forth, barking out orders to acne-faced teenagers who were pulling levers and cackling, all wearing Skrillex t-shirts.

“Relax,” said the drone.  “We can talk about your fiancée if you like.  She seems nice lol.  How long have you known her?”

“Four years or so,” said Tre. 

“You seem nervous,” said the drone.  “Don’t be nervous.  How did you guys meet?”

Tre paused.  He needed to ascertain what the drone knew about him in order to figure out who it was.  Anybody could find out facts about him.  They were everywhere; nothing was private anymore.  He needed to know the color and shape and taste of these facts in order to triangulate the drone’s likely pilot.

“We met at a little crab restaurant,” said Tre.  “I was there with a buddy and we sat at the bar.  She wasn’t ordinarily a bartender there, she was normally a server, but she was filling in for the night and we got to talking.”

“Did you go home with her right away?” asked the drone.  “Are you a player? LOL.”

“What does it matter?  Don’t you already know the answer?”

“Does she know how you met?” asked the drone.

“What do you mean?” said Tre.

“I mean, if I asked her how you met, would she tell the same story?”

“Yes,” said Tre.  “Of course.”

“So you haven’t told her.”

“Told her what?”

“About your buddy the doctor,” said the drone.  “And the program the two of you made to have a good time in bars. About LadyKiller lol.”

Tre’s mouth went dry.  The drone leaned in close, seeming to taste the aroma of his panic. He and Peter had sworn each other to secrecy about that.  In fact, his shame and revulsion was so complete that he had mostly manage to convince himself it had never happened.  Where was Peter now?  He was practicing medicine in Florida.  He was happy.  This couldn’t be Peter.  But what if Peter had a secret livejournal or something?

He wanted to run away, but the drone was too dangerous.  It knew everything about him, and he didn’t know what it wanted or who it was yet.  It was like a cat, flipping him over onto his back and watching him scramble to his feet before flipping him over again, staring at him, watching him struggle, trying to learn something about the nature of struggle itself.

“You should tell the truth when people ask,” said the drone.  “It’s a much better story lol.  One night your friend the doctor was drunk on tequila after passing one of his big doctor exams. He had recently dissected a cadaver that had died from a self-inflicted drug overdose and he was having an existential crisis because the cadaver had such glorious and stirring breast implants.  He Facebook messaged you about it. He had been worried about his sexual response to a dead woman, and you tried to cheer him up by going as far as you could along with him, talking about breast implants and how they all had to have RFID tags embedded inside them so that they could be tracked for insurance and emergency purposes.  And then you said: maybe we could track those RFIDs in living people.  With the right open data algorithm, you could find all the people with breast implants in a 300-yard radius and match them up to their Facebook profiles.  You both spent the next month coding it up.  It was good code lol! And even though you found a few people with plates in their knees and artificial limbs, it worked like a goddamn charm, yo. You got so laid. You got ten thousand times laid. You became a sex hero! You had weird confidence, knowing things about people before you even said hello.  And THAT’S how you met your fiancée.  It was good and smart.  We salute you.”

“How do you know all that?”

“Because we care about you,” said the drone. “We are Anonymous.  We are legion. Sometimes we are benevolent lol and reward those who serve the world. It was a brilliant program. Did you know that people still use it to this very day? You are almost a hero in certain circles. In other circles you are not a hero at all. There are many circles.”

“I didn’t know that,” said Tre.

“Ladykiller,” said the drone.  “Was that your title or your friend Peter’s?”

“That was me,” he said weakly.

Tre realized now that it didn’t matter who was piloting the drone.  He was in an extremely precarious  situation and he needed to get away.

“What do you want from me?” 

“We don’t want anything,” said the drone.  “We are giving ourselves to you as a wedding present, like a fruit basket. You can do whatever you want to us.  We are yours to keep.  We thought about hacking a power user on Fetlife and sending some willing slave from the bottom of a leather family to you as a gift but this is more clean. We will both keep our secrets: you won’t tell anyone what happened, and we won’t tell you who we really are. It will be so fun for both of us. This whole body is artificial.  Have you ever wanted to fuck the internet? LOL.”

The drone reached into its purse and pulled out a band-aid colored pill bottle.  The drone shook the bottle, rattling the contents.

“What are those?” asked Tre.  “Now you want to drug me?”

“They are harmless,” said the drone.  “Just sugar.  But they are password pills.  For the suite.”

“I can’t stay with you,” said Tre.  “I have to get home. You are trying to hurt me somehow.”

“You don’t have to stay the night,” said the drone.  “You can leave whenever you like. But you should really come with us.  So we can be alone together. I bet you aren’t really honest with your…desires…until you are alone with someone lol.”

A shadow fell across his face.

There was somebody standing over them.

The bartender was standing at their table, grinning knowingly. 

“Your car is ready,” said the bartender.

Tre followed the drone out of the restaurant, unsure of how to get away.  Could he run?  He found himself getting into the backseat of the car beside the drone.  The car didn’t have a driver.  It navigated the streets carefully and persistently, tinted windows concealing this terrifying vacuity from other drivers on the road.

The drone slipped its hands down Tre’s pants and encouraged him to feel the warmth of its perfect mouth, the wetness of its breath. 

“You have to take one of the pills whenever you want to come up,” said the drone.  “Your stomach acids will dissolve the coating and prime the transmitter.  It is temporary; a bit like a glow stick.  By the time it stops working, you have to be gone, or otherwise security will be called.  You can take another pill if you want to come see us again. We are a present to you.  For all you have done.  From Anonymous.  For the lulz.”

Tre dryswallowed one of the pills and put the rest in his pocket.

The lobby of the building they stopped in front of was also empty.   The elevator snapped open.  There were no buttons in the elevator; just smooth metal on every side.

“It is scanning the pill inside you,” said the drone.

The elevator opened on the top floor suite.

“This is nice, isn’t it,” said the drone.  “Facebook tells us whose birthday it is and who is in a relationship and who is having kids.  We ‘like’ these things.  We say: ‘happy birthday.’ Facebook measures how responsive we are to our peers, and to ads, and how much money we make based on the trips we take and the wonderful things we buy and the exciting jobs we have.  And when we want to fuck somebody with a drone as a present, Facebook makes it so easy, doesn’t it?  Everything is so nice now lol. 

Tre waited for the drone to turn its head to walk deeper into the suite.

And then he slammed into it from behind, tackling it to the ground. The drone was not made for combat or battle.  Its responses were silky and catlike as he straddled it and got his knees onto its shoulderblades. He put his boot on its neck.

“Lol,” said the drone.  “You mad?”

His phone beeped at him.  Alerts.  Hadn’t he turned his ringer off?

There was a marble side table by the foyer.  With his boot still on the drone’s neck, he swept a ficus and an antique clock from the tabletop and then picked up the table by the base.  He swung the table around and broke the legs off.  He just wanted the slab of marble.

The drone writhed beneath him, stroking his ankle seductively.  He slammed the piece of marble into the drone’s head, cracking it.  He heaved and sweated, bringing the slab of marble down again and again.  His phone kept bleeping at him.  It was nearly a constant irritating whine now, alerts streaming from his pants pocket. 

“Shut up,” he said.

Any piece of the drone that moved, he bashed it with the slab of marble.  He was precise and consistent.  The fingers twitched; he bashed them.  An eyelid fluttered; he smashed it as hard as he could, making sparks, sending chips of marble flying. 

Eventually, the drone lay completely still on the soft rug beneath him.  He was sweating and kept burping up stomach acid, though he felt nothing but cold inside.

It’s the equivalent of breaking a camera, he thought to himself.  The fact that it feels like murder is part of the camera’s new defense mechanism.

He leaned against the door of his suite and finally checked his phone.  The alerts were all from Facebook. There were thousands of them and they were still coming in.

He scrolled over to his Facebook wall.  It was filled with pictures of him from every angle smashing the drone.  The only text accompanying the pictures was a frowny face.  There were thousands of them; each moment captured in beautiful three-tone sepia.  Too many to delete.

He looked for the camera taking the pictures.  Was it in the ceiling tiles?  Was it embedded in the door frame?

He was up on a chair using his phone to look at Facebook with one hand and searching the ceiling tiles with the other when the security guard unlocked the door.

“I had to smash it,” said Tre.  “It was hacking my computer.”

“The cops are on their way,” she said.  “Just so you know.”

“Man,” he said.  “Why did you call the cops? It’s a fucking ROBOT!”

“It calls the cops automatically, dude,” said the security guard.  “Do you know how much these things cost? You basically just crashed somebody’s yacht, dude.”

“Whose apartment is this?” asked Tre.

“You mean you don’t even know where you are?” asked the security guard, laughing. 

His phone was ringing.  It was Jessica.  He put his phone on the ground and started smashing it with the slab of marble, gritting his teeth so hard that they squeaked and his gums frothed, while the security guard just shook her head and laughed, not getting too close, quietly taking video with her phone just in case the cops had questions.


20131129

Fulfillment



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 6 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.  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?”

“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 indecent bulges 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 tell the Golf Digest in my mind.

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:

OBSESSION
FRUGALITY
BIAS FOR ACTION
OWNERSHIP
HIGH BAR FOR TALENT
INNOVATION

I wonder what bias for action means, but I do not ask Spivey.

A week goes by.  It is grueling, soul-deadening work.  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.

“Thank you!” I call back after him.

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 up and then sneak them into the shipping.”

She laughs.

“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 for people like me to buy. 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 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 12 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.

Everybody cheers.

“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.