The cuffs on his jeans had started to wear through on the bottom, not from dragging in the dirt so much has just from the heavy fabric having been folder many years ago and never undone. The crease finally winning out over the structure of the threads. The age and wear was apparent in his pockets as well, having long been over filled with too many firm edged objects that had worn holes through the sides and been repaired several times over. This served as a stark contrast from his shoes and shirt which seemed spotless and could have ben purchased minutes ago. And in this context, in this setting, he seemed entirely out of place. Though he was hardly aware of it, everyone else in the room had most certainly taken note.
Take 10 people and stick them in a room together and ask them what their world looked like – 30 years ago those people would have described the room and the other 10 people in it. If prodded further they might include references to thoughts of family and friends outside of that room as well. Today, you’d be luck to find one of those people who even considered the room they were currently in. Each person effortlessly straddling any number of concurrent parallel worlds – we used to call them networks. When you pull back a bit it’s not just circles of friends, it’s not just a work/family split. One group of people sees the world one way, another sees it differently, and yet another has a still different perspective. We thought that people bouncing between these would lead to greater understanding and unity but instead it allowed people to fortify the walls between the groups, and isolate their connections to them that much further. 2 hours from now none of these people will have even talked to any of the other people in the room, no eye contact even. But ask any one of them how many conversations they are currently a part of and they will all have to stop and think about it. Different worlds, same physical space.
(meta: does this even count as fiction?)
The smell of solder always takes me back to my childhood. The taste of it shocks me right back into the here and now. But when you have to resolder the servo in your left hand holding the solder with your teeth is really the only option. It tastes so bad, I tried holding the iron with my teeth once and that was, well, unsuccessful to say the least. I wouldn’t have to do these repairs if Armco Mechanics was still around for service requests, or if I’d taken literally every single modded person I knows advice and gone with one of the bigger firms, but brand recognition always comes with a pricetag and I’m nothing if not thrifty. That, and also a pretty good one handed solderer – now anyway.
“For some reason this building has an elevator, but you don’t ever want to use it. Not that you need to given that it’s just one floor to your apartment but believe me you want to take the stairs.”
Handy advice my new neighbor from across the hall who’d heard me moving in and come over to introduce himself.
“I’m not kidding, if you’ve got something heavy to carry in you might think the elevator is a good idea but it’s not. It’ll take you a solid 10 minutes to get up if you’re lucky. Anytime I’ve been in that thing I thought I was trapped forever and would never see daylight again. Even when it’s acting perfectly, which isn’t often, you could get in, press the button for your floor, start kissing your girlfriend, move on to full on sex right then and there with no shortcuts, finish up, smoke a cigarette and still have time to get cleaned up before the door opened again. And that’s just one floor. Trust me, stick to the stairs.”
“Wiccans Bro. They come out here, get totally naked and dance around in circles. But it’s cool by me, they don’t bother anyone and I can see some boobies, you know what I mean Bro.” Rattlesnake was telling me about life in the desert. I assumed his name was rattlesnake anyway since that’s what was embroidered above the breast on the now sleeveless extremely worn work shirt he was wearing, in the spot people usually have nametags. Rattlesnake was the proprietor of a “rocks and polished stones” shop about 20 miles off the main highway in the Utah desert. I suspected rocks were not his sole source of income. He was a personable enough guy, he’d definitely been out in the middle of nowhere for a long time and had a story about everything. In the 30 minutes I was there – I’d stopped to ask directions – he’d told me the long backstory of several of his sun faded tattoos, about the time a snake migration passed through his shop, giant spiders that end up in his underwear drawer, the best place to get local moonshine and the wiccans. I finally got the info I needed from him and headed out, waving by to myself in his mirrored sungalsses as he called out to tell me to remind him to tell me about something next time I came by.
I hadn’t seen him in almost 20 years. I was nervous and excited, we’d spent so much time together before that and had gone our separate ways at such a confusing time and under complicated circumstances. It’s not how I would have expected or hoped it would have played out, but it did, and that was then and here we are 20 years later. Everything has changed but in many ways nothing has. What I’ve done since, what he’s done – none of that really matters. I still look up to him and he still takes me for granted. Even if everything else in the world suggests those roles should be switched. A mutual friend once told me he had no idea what he was missing out on, no idea how good of a friend I was to him. I didn’t believe her at the time but standing here, out on the street past midnight where we’ve been talking for the last few hours it’s ever so obvious. Nothing has changed. But it was still nice to see him.
The fireworks wars of ’96 will go down as legend. We the residents of 3529 emerged victorious over the attackers from 3524. We crushed them. It all began on the evening of August 12th, at just after 9pm. They initiated the attack with an unprovoked deployment of a chain of black cats that lasted almost a minute. Obviously we couldn’t let this stand, and responded immediately with a barrage of bottle rockets. It wasn’t long before both sides had deployed roman candles and assorted other launchy explody munitions. The assault lasted close to an hour with heavy smoke inhalation and lighter burns on fingers suffered on both sides. The decisive blow came when we deployed a series of custom made improvised devices directly & simultaneously down the chimney and through the living room window of 3524. The residents evacuated and surrendered almost immediately.
Please discard any comments or statements by the residents of 3524 unless they confirm the above report, as they are liars and not to be trusted.
In hindsight setting up the table in front of a giant plate glass window probably wasn’t the best idea. We were thinking about the foot traffic – how many people would walk by. We were thinking about the background of the photos people might take, not wanting our message to get lost in the clutter. We were thinking about the people who would be happy to see us. We weren’t thinking about the detractors. We weren’t thinking about the was a pile of hand sized red bricks half a block away from the newly redone walkways. We weren’t thinking about how half the people in Ybor that night – or any night really – were crazy or looking for a fight, or often both. It took less than 30 minutes for these things to become all too apparent.
Instructions for new employees of That’s A Wrap Video Rental:
- If someone asks for the children’s section be sure to ask them if they want mind numbing or educational as these sections are on different sides of the store. Children’s movies with a liberal propaganda environmental message are in the back room and available only to customers who request them by name.
- The box of screeners under the counter is for employees to take home and watch. Please take at least 2 movies after every shift and bring back after you’ve watched them. Please include notes designating if the movie contains nudity, foul language, drug use, violence, or satanism. If nudity please include timecode.
- If a customer complains about a late fee check their account, if they have no previous late fees you can waive the fee for them. If they have previous late fees tell them there is nothing you can do.
- If a customer asks for “Mike” give them one of the black VHS boxes with a blue sticker which can be found under the storage table in the break room in the cardboard box with the Ming’s Wokin’ Egg Roll logo on it. Charge their account $100. Do not ever let employees from Ming’s Wokin’ Egg Roll into the break room.
- If a customer asks for “Sarah” give them one of the white VHS boxes with the red sticker from the same box. Charge their account $300.
- If there is ever a phone call where the caller asks “Do you have The Little Rascals on Betamax?” say “no” and then immediately take the Ming’s Wokin’ Egg Roll box out back and put it next door by the dumpster in back of Ming’s.
- The password for the account computer is taped on the monitor.
The corner of her jeans pocket was frayed and worn from the pocket clip on the pen she kept there constantly sliding on and off. Always writing. Never without her pen. You could find her every day at any one of the several coffee shops she shuffled between. Buying coffee, watching people, taking notes, taking up space for as long as friendly society would allow and then off the the next shop to do it all over again. She blended in. Anyone who saw her probably didn’t remember or assumed she was just another writer working on her script. That’s what I thought the first time I realized I’d seen her several times without realizing it. Then I started watching her and saw that couldn’t have been any further from the truth. She wasn’t looking for ideas, she was documenting the customers. Building out detailed profiles on specific people. She had different pages for each person and would add to the page every time she saw them. Were they wearing different shoes? What band and color. Did they have a bag? Did it have a laptop? What kind of phone were they thumbing, and what apps had their attention. Were they alone or with company. She knew things about these people they probably didn’t realize, and all of this without any technology to support her. No wide reaching hack or surveillance system. She just watched and took notes.
Innocent enough I supposed until I followed her one day. Her long day of coffee shop bouncing ended in the back parking lot of a church downtown. She, and apparently several other people with similar notebooks. They go there and hand the notebooks to a guy who photographs every page. Every day.