Matt had played football in high school and still prided himself on his musculature, though truthfully, his weight training sessions at the gym had nearly petered out to nothing even before COVID. He was in much worse shape than he believed himself to be. Truthfully, even at 42, his arteries conspired with his depleted mitochondria and excess weight to make him a pretty strong candidate for an early heart attack.
Matt saw himself, however, as powerful. Maybe he wouldn’t be mistaken for “The Hulk” but that was the kind of superhero he identified with. He was, after all, a white male; the “ruler of the roost”; a family man who provided for his family despite the grief he often gets at work from his young “webersnapper boss.”
This week played out no differently (honestly, it never did) so Matt came home in a pre-tornado mood. He was ready for a nice tumbler of good Kentucky whiskey on the rocks. Or rock. Maybe, he’d watch some TV while his wife…where the hell is my wife, he wondered.
A quick glance out the front window showed him what he should have noticed as he drove up, was that his wife’s car, the Subaru Outback, was gone. Crap. No dinner yet. Where’s the beef? He glanced at his son sitting at the dining room table typing away on the computer. Sonny seemed more intent on that goddamn computer than on greeting his dad. Matt thought to himself: There sits my useless son working on homework even though it’s 6 pm Friday.
Matt said aloud, “Christ, Sonny, when I was young, at least I had some blood in my veins. What the hell are you studying?”
“I’m doing an essay on Aesop’s Fables for English class.” Sonny’s strategy tonight, was, as it always was, to stay neutral and not take any of the bullshit his father tried to use as bait.
“What the hell do you need to take English for? It’s not like you’re a fornicating foreigner for God’s sake. Who the hell is Aesop?”
“He was a Greek slave who was a storyteller…”
“Greek? What the hell!? You know they’re all queer, right? And the same goes for studying English. Just do me a favor. Don’t grow up to be a fricking faggot, okay?”
“The fable is actually kind of interesting. It’s about this dog who has a bone and he’s all happy and everything. Then, he crosses a bridge over a little water and he looks down and he sees his own reflection. Only, he thinks it’s another dog. A dog with a bone. And he wants that bone too. So, he growls at the dog in the pond and of course that dog growls back up at him. So he snarls and the reflected dog snarls too. Then, he barks loudly at the watery dog below. As he opens his mouth, the bone falls out into the pond. It’s called…”
“Who the f*** cares what it’s called. It’s a stupid dog and a stupid story and has nothing to do with life. Jesus H. Christ. Where’s your mom? It’s almost dinner time. Did she say where she was going?”
“I haven’t seen her since breakfast. But, it’s the second Friday in May. Doesn’t she have her painting class today? I think she has the second and fourth Friday every month. I think May is Surrealism. She should be back soon.”
“She’d better be. Why do I bother to work anyway? Man can’t even have dinner on time. Take a hike. Get some exercise. I need the computer now.”
“I’ll be done with my essay in ten minutes, Dad. Do you really need it right his minute?”
“NOW, Sonny. Get up. Yes, I need it NOW. I need to check on our finances. Go outside & get some fresh air. Do something useful for a change. You can finish later. Geez.”
Sonny shook his head and sighed, but it was a nice day out and this late in May, there was plenty of daylight. His train of thought had been completely derailed anyway. Might as well let Dad view his porn. He toyed with the idea of showing his Dad how easy it was to see exactly what he was actually doing on the computer and it definitely had nothing to do with the family finances.
If his father actually would have looked at the family finances, he might have noticed something that no-one in the family was as of yet aware — that every month, a significant amount of money was being withdrawn for a continuing political contribution.
While Sonny went down the street to see whether any of the neighborhood gang were shooting baskets, his Dad logged on and was about to go to one of his favorite porn sites when a pop-up grabbed his eye. The pop-up itself verged on being pornographic. A silky haired blond with sultry blue eyes stared out at him wantonly and invited him to come on board for something exciting.
Matt grinned at that and clicked the bait. He was already licking his lips in anticipation of a barely legal… but what was this? This didn’t look like sex. What were they selling, he wondered as he scanned the text and images before him. There was some company, “Ansestery dot co” — “I’ve heard of them” Matt muttered under his breath.
Except, of course, Matt had not previously heard of “Ansestery dot co” — he had heard of people talking about “ancestry.com” which used genetic tests and other methods to help you build your family tree or find out your genetic background. Although Ansestery dot co was not something that Matt had actually heard about, they had heard about him. Thanks to billionaire con men who used big data analytics applied to every keystroke, pause, and click Matt had ever made in the last ten years on the family computer, they knew everything they needed to know about Matt — what trigger words he had; what his secret fears about his masculinity were; what his hopes and dreams were. The script tree in which he found himself was tailored to be especially appealing to his sense that — somehow — things should have turned out differently for Matt. In fact, Matt deserved to have had things turn out better in his life. On this, Matt himself and the AI algorithms that chewed on his personal data, were in perfect alignment.
Matt’s heart raced. He felt excited, a little scared, proud, relieved. People had chosen him — him — as a candidate for special training. If he accepted their terms, he could have a new life… a new life! There might not be anything particularly wrong with his current wife, but he could have one much younger and more athletic and docile! And, he could have a new kid — one who was a star athlete, not a frigging nerd who studied English for God’s sake!!
The site didn’t just give statistics and amazing images of people just like him who had signed up. There were video testimonials. This was real! The site said time travel was impossible but that this was the next best thing to it. There was also a money-back guarantee! It was right there in black and white!
Matt’s wife Molly had always let Matt take care of the finances. And — although they were by no means rich — they did okay. She certainly never expected the reception she got at her favorite dress shop when they showed her not one but two checks that had bounced. They wouldn’t take her check. Her cheeks glowed crimson with embarrassment though she was sure it was a bank error. Nonetheless, a bounced check, let alone two, was something that Molly associated with traitor trash. She was sure Matt could explain. Sure. Matt will explain tonight, Molly thought as she walked the four short blocks back home. She bit her lip though. She wondered whether he really would explain it. She thought: Maybe it was not just a bank error. Maybe he had lost his job — maybe months ago — and he’s too proud to tell us. Could that be it?
Molly knitted her brows and tried to remember when … when the changes had started with Matt. It had been a few weeks ago. Matt had seemed upset that she didn’t have dinner ready. She had reminded him about her art classes, but he had simply grunted and said he needed the computer. Sonny and Matt had argued a bit. Somehow, Sonny thought Matt had promised that he could have the computer back right after dinner. The argument had seemed unusually heated that night. But that had only been the beginning. Matt spent an unusual amount of time on the computer. He always said that he was double checking the family finances. Molly wondered if maybe there was a problem with the family finances and that’s why the checks bounced.
And that wasn’t all. Matt had never seemed to take much interest in politics. But now, he would curse at the TV news and call people a “bunch of crooks” and ask where the “real patriots were.” He’d generally storm out of the room halfway through the program. And he “forbid” anyone in his house from listening to what he called the “fake media.” He even called them the “Enemy of the People.” Molly thought it must be symptoms of manopause.
Matt’s real problem might have had a little bit to do with manopause. But mainly, he was slowly being drawn deeper and deeper into what others would have described as a conspiracy theory, but which he himself thought of as “the real truth” that “explains everything.” It explained why, despite working relatively hard, and despite being a straight white male, he was not rich. Not yet. It explained why his son was a faggot. It explained why his wife was no longer passionate. And, best of all, it didn’t just explain. It promised. Very soon, he would have his new life. And, in his new life, he’d be much richer. Everything would be as it should be.
He would finally be that knight in shining armor he had always thought of himself as. And better yet, his new kids and new wives and new concubines would also see him that way. And they would show him the respect he deserved! Damn right, he thought. He’d show them. Things are speeding up now, Matt thought. It’s all coming together just like they said. The signs were everywhere once you had been trained to look for them! One last payment.
“MATT! Are you okay? Sonny asked you three times for the mashed potatoes. You’re staring off into space. Again.”
“What? What are you talking about? Mashed potatoes? Don’t you people have any idea what’s happening? Who cares about mashed potatoes? Here. Here, have some mashed potatoes. You can have them all, Sonny Boy. If you really even are my son.” Matt pushed his chair back from the table, grabbed the computer and headed upstairs.
Molly and Sonny sat starting at each other with mouths agape. Matt had always been something of a jerk, but these days, he really seemed unhinged. And angry. And angrily unhinged. And unhingedly angry. Almost all the time. And he spent almost all his free time on the computer when he wasn’t screaming at them.
Molly told herself she wouldn’t cry, and she didn’t. At least, she didn’t cry audibly, though tears streamed down her cheeks. How could Matt have made that nasty crack about Sonny not being his son, she wondered. Ever practical, Molly glanced at Sonny and saw that he was equally upset and equally determined not to show it.
“Well,” said Molly with a brittle bright voice, “I’ll just put the rest away for later!. We can just” — but at that moment, Molly brittle bright voice faltered. The lights went off. The hum of the refrigerator stopped. She sighed. She grabbed her cellphone, and called the power company to complain. She to hear free Muzak for a full five minutes — which felt like an hour. The same tin can versions of the same music alternated with the voice of the warm, friendly woman who assured her that her call was important to the power company and that the call would be answered in the order in which it had been placed. Molly found the voice comforting in an odd way. Even the Muzak seemed soothing compared with Matt’s screaming. Molly closed her eyes and shut out his screams. Despite those efforts, occasional words filtered through. Something about how they’d all soon see he was right all along (About What?). And they would pay for having blown a fuse because of what they had done (Which was What exactly?). He had screamed about coming down there and giving them what for! (What For?).
Once, many years ago, Molly and Matt had argued about whether to carpet the stairs. Like most angry marital arguments, this particular argument had two losers (or three losers, if we count Sonny and we probably should count Sonny) and zero winners. In the end though, the stairs had stayed uncarpeted because it was more “economical” as Matt had put it. And that would have been okay if Matt had been barefoot. Or wearing sneakers. Not great in the dark, but doable. But not with socks on.
When a human voice finally answered the phone, Molly was stunned for a moment. Then, she remembered why she was on the phone in the first place and asked if there were widespread power outages. No, the lady patiently explained. Their electric bill had not been paid on time. The grace period had also expired.
Molly stopped paying attention to the patient lady on the phone, who must somehow be mistaken, of course. Molly’s attention had been grabbed by a strange noise she had never heard before. What was that? It sounded like a very large pudgy animal pinwheeling its way down their front stairway and landing with a thud on the marble entry way.
Tales from an American Childhood recounts early experiences, mainly in NE Ohio, and then relates them to contemporary issues and events.
Turing’s Nightmares comprises stories about possible futures for AI and humanity.
Every wonder how the mind of a sociopath works? Maybe these stories about a child sociopathy will help. Here’s a link to the first. Donnie Plays Bull Dazzle Man.
Every wonder how and why millions of Americans could deny the reality of a pandemic that is literally happening right before their eyes? The story that begins with the link below is to fiction — but — is it plausible fiction?
Plans for US; some GRUesome.
Here is a link to the first of many stories about what happens when St. Peter “evaluates” you.
What happens when insatiable greed and lying are combined?