This is the story of how my friend, Cecil, got himself a free Zune.
I’m on a rooftop overlooking the San Francisco bay. In the distance the Golden Gate bridge is just sitting out there silently. We’re on Russian Hill and the landscape feels unreal. I look around and I see the crush of other houses below and popping in and out, draping the hills, and the roads look like ribbons.
David is pushing music wirelessly into the stereo via his iPhone and toggling between tracks. He keeps skipping through them, staring into his screen, and frowning the whole time.
“David” Cecil pops up from below, up the stairs. “You were right, we’re almost out of beef. Sorry-?”
“Yeah I made a steak for myself last night” David mutters, selecting a song and then pausing it after 4 seconds.
“David” Cecil says again “Come on, I have a nice DJ set, 3 hours, you won’t have to make a playlist”
“I don’t want to listen to techno” David says
“It’s deep house, David, you don’t have to pay attention to it, it’ll chill you out” Cecil says “Oh, where’s our dealer? We’re out”
“He’s going to be in Eastbay all week for some kind of thing” David says, sighing. “Tara gave me the number of some other guy, but I always get weirded out calling new dealers”
I don’t know what came over me. Probably the crushing weight of reality. I’m not sure. I just watch the commercial and I see so many things wrong with it, I don’t think I’d be able to articulate all the errors with it.
You, Levis Jeans ad, is set in a fantasy world. A world where people succeed because they work hard. A world where showing up
Look, nobody aged 18-34 is going to think that if they just buy a pair of your fucking pants, then they’ll be possessed by some goddamn motivation to “break through” and realize their “dreams”. I’m not sure what your ads are selling.
Hope? Optimism? A future?
Here in the real world, I can’t put on some pair of pants and suddenly get an audition, or an interview, or an opportunity.
Maybe a more accurate ad would have been unattractive people putting on a pair of Levis, and then sitting at a computer for 12 hours filling out Taleo job forms on company pages, scrolling through Monster.com, and firing off a half dozen resumes which won’t get looked at or replied to.
Look, Levis Jeans ad “Go Forth”, There’s no hope anymore. Gen Y don’t have any money to buy your fucking pair of pants. If they get money, it’s going to the student loan debt, or the credit card debt.
Me? I’m hoarding all my money, for when I’m inevitably laid off, again. I know 6-7 programming languages, loads of IT experience, but…but who would hire me?
Let me tell you a story, Levis Jeans ad “Go Forth”. About how I got my current job. Some recruiter called me up, and a week later I had an interview for a job where I didn’t know what I would be doing and had no prior experience in either. Or degree in. Basically out of the blue, I got a job and I make more than my parents.
I didn’t put a pair of your jeans on to do this, I bought a fucking suit.
It isn’t fair, either. The other guy the recruiting agency got for an interview fucked up the interview, despite having actual chops for the job.
The gal who was in line for the job before I came in, ,maybe thought she could take on the world, maybe she went home and wondered what X factor she needed in order to get that job. Maybe she saw your commercial for pants and thought “If I just wore a pair of Levis I’d have the IT factor that would have gotten me there”
You have awful timing, Levis Jeans ad “Go Forth”, there are no jobs, there’s no money, and there’s no hope. We’re not buying your pants.
Tomorrow after I come home and pay my rent check, I’m going through my closet and I’m finding every bit of clothes that have the Levis brand, and I’m donating it to the Goodwill. Mostly because I don’t need this bullshit aspiration. Mostly because experience tells me it’s bullshit.
I’m sitting in an anonymous, windowless conference room on the middle floor of an anonymous office building in the middle of Overland Park, Kansas.
The carpet is drab grey, the chairs all have various coffee stains and bolts missing, the table is covered in starbucks empties. Everyone is sitting there, staring at piles of index cards with words like “Rhythm” and “Energy” written on them. There are about 6 of them, middle aged white men in various states of business casual, in silence.
On the whiteboard, only one word is written. “Soul”
It’s 2 in the afternoon, too early to duck out early, too late to take a late lunch. So they sit there. I observe.
One of them gets up to the whiteboard and goes. “Okay, what other words start with S?”
They yell out:
finally, one of the younger looking ones with an incredible fake tan and unessicary highlights utters..”Sister”
“Soul….” the man at the white board moans “Sister” he writes them out in big, red letters with what he does not realize is a permanent marker.
“What rhymes with Sister?” The man says. The rest fall silent again.
The man at the whiteboard writes “Mister mister” on the board again, and recites it back. “soul sister…Mister Mister” he utters without a hint of enthusiasm.
“I hate it, start over” one of them shouts, taking a large gulp of already cold coffee.
“Fuck” the man at the whiteboard says, trying to erase the now permanent marker off the whiteboard.
I’m sitting in the recording studio. Train is here. They haven’t slept in 48 hours and keep asking for coffee.
“Just one more take” one of the men from the conference room says. He’s now in a Hawaiian shirt, and sits behind the large audio production board, on the other side of the glass.
“No, not one more take” The lead singer of train says, spiking his ukelele on the ground.
The man in the Hawaiian shirt turns over to his wirey assistant and motions as if to say “get me another fucking Ukelele” and turns back to the lead singer.
“You’re going to sing the fucking song you’re given”
“No” the lead singer crosses his arms “I relented when you made me record “drops of jupiter” but that was only because you were holding a knife to my throat the whole time…well….I’M NOT AFRAID TO DIE NOW”
Hawaiian shirt man seems to be ready for this, and from behind his desk produces a small dog.
“Scout?” The lead singer says, eyes tearing up.
“Yes, this is your childhood dog Scout, which we had cloned when you started becoming a little…uppity. Now, you’ll record this track and you’re going to like it, or we’ll shoot the dog”
At this point, the assistant has returned with a fresh Uke, and wades through the debris of hundreds of other broken ukeleles, handing it to the lead singer.
The producer hits “record” and they start the opening chords.
Today’s blog post is brought to you by a split in the space time continuum wherein Newt Gingrich is actually elected president.
Gingrich had Taco Bell yesterday, I can tell, because I’m the one that cleans him.
Let me explain:
We were all shocked, “there was no way that Newt Gingrich could be elected” we said to ourselves, and went on our merry way. I remember I watched the GOP debates and giggled to myself, taking shots of burbon as if my favorite team lost to Missouri. It would just take a few more primaries for Newt to be scraped off the map, like so much dog feces.
But then, Santorum got ahead, and suddenly he’s got three states under his belt. Suddenly he’s the front runner, and Mitt Romny with his moneybags, he goes after him. First place is not where you want to be, they call it “Mario Kart Politics” . The guy in front gets the blue shell by the blueblood. Jesus Christ.
So pretty soon, pictures of Santorum show up. Santorum in Missie B’s, Kansas City’s premier gay nightclub. I’ve been to Missie B’s once and I found the drinks to be moderately priced and the decor to be pretty tasteful. ANYWAY, Santorum was cruising that night, and Romny found the archival footage and the paid testimony. Santorum was out and, actually, in his concession press conference he said that he was “releived” that he didn’t have to be in the closet, and could take further steps towards self-actualization and healing. Really shed a tear there, honestly. We were glad some GOP scum could redeem themselves. Dan Savage even took spreadingsantorum.com down.
But then! Who’s out front? Romny! That’s who. And suddenly the conversation is about Bain Capital, and the last two front runners are just these rich, white, fucks.
After a few states, which pass in a blur, it becomes clear that the GOP would rather destroy the earth than have a Mormon be president.
And so it was.
Then the national debates, what a horror-show. Newt tossing out red-meat rhetoric out like so much dollar-store candy. The South ate it up. Super-PACs left and right going apeshit and rolling so much money into it.
We didn’t believe our eyes when Obama lost Florida, but when the numbers came in, the rest of the networks called it. We wept.
A few months later, as a part of Gingrich’s “Debt Free America”, all students with outstanding college debt were enrolled in the “Get America Working” work program. I still had a few grand leftover from Cornell, so one morning I was shoved in a van with everyone else from my class, as we were still squatting in that warehouse downtown. It was the Taco-Bell thing all over again.
I don’t think I need to elaborate anymore, but the entire time I was told that I should “be grateful” that my debt would be forgiven after 5-8 years of service, and the work experience of cleaning up after a moribly obese Newt Gingrich would pay dividends in my future.
I’m not sure how I landed in this spot. Like all evil things in this world, Halliburton was handling everything.
Newt gained so much weight during the campaign that he was no longer able to, um, clean himself. In his first state of the Union, Newt said that he had been a job creator, and when I watched him say this I was filled with a sense of intense dread, because I just knew he was talking about me
It’s no so bad. I have a cot, a small room, and it even has a window. They feed me twice a day. I don’t have much work to do, actually, I probably work maybe three or four times a day.
We met in a Starbucks. The ads in the wifi login splash screen advertised for job-hunting sites. Everyone was hatless, save for this man; Theodore.
“Call me Ted, please”
Ted is special because he’s part of a small but dedicated community of Fedora wearers and Fedora Enthusiasts.
“So, I know you get this question a lot” I began “But you’re not a freshman going to a State University who’s trying to be ‘Unique’?”
Ted shook his head “I get lumped in that crowd a lot, also: People who watch Mad Men and then go to a department store immediately after. There is a science to wearing a Fedora, you can’t just throw one on while wearing the JNCO jeans from middle school and your Tapout hoodie”
This had clearly flustered Ted, so I tried to get him back in the interview.
“When did you first start wearing it?” I asked
“I found one in a Target, and things progressed from there. When you start wearing one, you quickly become ‘that guy’ who always wears a Fedora, and everyone sort of points at you. You feel like you could pull off the Fedora, but you’re just not there, there’s an X factor that a person has to figure out. Guys in the Fedora community call this the “transition phase”, that is, after the novelty of a Fedora wears off, you’re left questioning why you got one in the first place, and this is typically where people toss it the closet next to the Korg MS-10”
Ted went to elaborate on the Fedora Community, mostly existing online in the form of chatboards. Every once in a while a group of them will rent out a Ramada Inn off the interstate and hold the annual “Fedora Community Git-Togeether.” Ted has attended twice.
“You try not to look down on the newbs who just bought one at Hot Topic or whatever, but it’s important to mentor Fedora wearers through the beginning stages of Fedora Ownership”
The Fedora Community has their own set of slang. A NFW is a “new fedora wearer”. A TFW is someone who’s “Transitioning” and an “Old Hat” is someone who wears one all the time.
One “Old Hat” with the username ‘Alabama_Hotpocket’ is writing a book on Fedora Ownership, hopefully he uses his real name.
Ted hopes to become an Old Hat one day, but for now he’s sill in a TFW, awkwardly taking his hat on and off and staring at his reflection in the Starbuck’s window, wondering if it was such a good idea after all.
Cecil, my dear friend from the IT department, was always talking about Reddit, the link-sharing website. Four years ago he discovered it, and would go on and on about “this cool thing I found on reddit” and post funny cat pictures he found to the office pinboard. But as the years wore on he began to complain more and more about “reposts” and over used jokes, or “memes” as he called them. He also wouldn’t stop complaining about how annoying the “atheism” subreddit was.
I always assumed Cecil was an atheist based on his bumper-sticker of a Darwin fish eating a “Jesus” peace fish. But you never know.
“Cecil” I asked “I check the browser logs, and you spend 90% of the workday on reddit, but you complain about it so much”
“I know” He said “But, you must see it for yourself”
He wheeled me back to his workstation and loaded the site up. It’s a white background, and most of the text are links. Next to each link are arrows “up and downvotes” Cecil called them. When you submitted a link users on the site can up or downvote your post, and the site orders the links based on newer ones with the highest ratio of “upvotes”. I was amused.
“So, then there should just be good stuff all the time on the front page, right?” I asked
“Yes, but then people were just posting images with text on them, like an inspirational quote next to an Important Atheist, or an Advice Animal image macro, or something else, and pretty soon they made it so you could submit links to sub-reddits, or subsites of the main reddit site”
“Cecil” I asked “Why are these poorly drawn comics so popular? and why do they use the same faces in each one? are they made by the same person?”
“Those are ‘rage comics’ ” he said, sighing “they’re used to express daily annoyances and other things”
“They’re not very funny, and they’re not much to look at, so why are they so popular?” I asked
“I DON’T FUCKING KNOW OKAY?” He yelled, we continued to click through the other subreddits. Each one would be filled with rage-comics, inane “self” posts (or discussion posts) and the comments were filled with women-hating and racist comments.
“Reddit used to be the coolest person on the chess team, you know? He’d be cool and interesting, kind of geeky, but not too bad. And pretty soon as the site got popular, he went from the coolest to the uncoolest person on the chess team. You know the guy, smelly, doesn’t bathe, watches Anime all the time, kinda tubby, a bit sad.”
“But then, Reddit became the worst guy out of all the chess teams in the region, the guy that they don’t invite to the after-regional-chess-tournament Chipotle binge. The rest of the chess teams just sit there, in the Chipotle, to talk about how AWFUL this guy is”
“And THEN” Cecil continued “Reddit became the guy that the chess teams talk about at nationals, sure, other teams from other regions will try to top him, but this guy is worse than them all. He is the worst person on the chess team, but extrapolated to an order of magnitude worse, someone who makes the news in a few years for suffocating under his collection of Real Dolls”
“Oh, my” I said, agast “What happened?”
“The site got popular, accounts can be created in seconds, users are virtually anonymous, and there’s very little moderation outside of the up and down arrows.”
As a result, Cecil said, things just went downhill.
“Now it’s a continuous circlejerk of image memes, casual racism, and other unpleasantries.”
“So” I asked “What’s the draw?”
He said nothing and wheeled around in his chair, scrolling through the links and clicking on them. I backed out of his cubicle and went back to my desk, where I spent the afternoon reading Ask Metafilter questions.
“You should really learn how to relax” Burgress said to me as I lay in the grass of Washington Square park, weeping slightly.
“I can’t” I said “It’s sorta hard to relax when your insides are made of deep-fried depression, and the only thing that keeps you going is the use of controlled substances and the delusion that at some point in the future things won’t be a big shit-bucket of suck” I said, curling up.
“You can’t live like this” Burgress said to me, adjusting his fedora.
“Nonsense” I said back “I will construct a reality in my mind where I can just rock back and forth in a corner of darkness and nothing will happen to me, good or bad, so I can just exist in my black and white world of pain and suffering and wait for the overwhelming grimdark to consume me”
“Huh” Burgress said, taking a drag from his cigarrette. “You have any hobbies?”
“Yeah” I said “Getting out of town and reminiscing”
“It could be worse” Burgress said “you could work for Reuter- oh”
“I miss home” I remember myself saying
“Home? The Midwest you mean?” Burgress asked
“Yeah” I said
“You don’t want to go back *there* ” Burgress said, taking another drag. “Where will you get your fair trade coffee? What about the cutting edge arts scene? Your favorite bands certainly don’t tour where you want to live, and you certainly won’t get a job doing what you’re doing now. The midwest doesn’t accommodate for artistic motherfuckers, such as myself. And the beer, I don’t think you’ll get to choose between 5 different kinds of microbrew IPAs in Colby Kansas”
“You’ve just been in Philly too long” Burgress said again “Some Brooklyn Tap water will help with that”
“The one with the mercury in it?” I asked.
Later that night we were at the world-renown Barcade in Brooklyn. I had ordered the Lasganga at a fancy uptown food-place and was instead given a cheese covered pile of potato slices. I wanted to take my woes out on some Dig Dug.
After a few rounds, I was no closer to enlightenment. Burgress motioned over to a corner of the Arcade.
“this” he said “Is TURBO, the strangest racing game of all time. Nobody can get bast 12k points or so, because it’s just impossible”
I sauntered up to the arcade cabinet, setting down my 12.4% APV drink and inserting a coin, gripping the wheel and flipping the gearshifter into low. It was on.
The road streached out into the horizion as cars appeared out of nowhere and into the path of mine. I swerved around them with a deft flick of the steering wheel. and then suddenly the screen flashed to a turn, and then a tunnel, there were no transitions inbetween. And then an ambulance came up from the bottom of the screen and passed my car. More driving, then the road turned to ice, then narrowed to a bridge, and then flashed again to a turn. Cars would hit each other and fly into mine, but I kept steady and continued to drive. But out of nowhere a flock of cars flashed on the screen and plowed into mine, and the entire screen filled up with a pixelated explosion.
I looked over to the quaint digital readout of my score: 35k. I was #1. It must have been the beer, or my many years as a delivery driver for a Temp agency, but here, in this barcade, I had found my calling, an obscure Sega racing game. I put my name on the high score list.
And soon everyone in the barcade had swarmed me. They lifted me up on their shoulders chanting my name, I took a burbon shot and felt the warm embrace of the universe….what.