From prehistory to the present, belief in some sort of super being has been present in one form or another. Stone artifacts dating many millennia BC have been unearthed indicating this yearning for the unexplainable. The more sophisticated civilizations such as the Ming dynasty, Babylon, Egypt, Greece and Rome also catered to this mystical craving. In the 21st century when non-belief in such phenomena is widespread, the non-believer often exchanges the old notions for something new.
So, I just bought my new Sony Vaio IV portable with Intel’s Colossus chip. The gigahertz clock speed has so many zeros I’ve lost count. Maybe the PowerPC G25-XL chip by Motorola/IBM is faster, but what does it matter? With over 2000 GB of ram, blazingly fast doesn’t cut it anymore. Now, it has to be seriously warp fast. And yet, when I pose my question, I repeatedly get a warning message: The application unknown has quit. Save or restart the application. It’s a simple question and yet I feel betrayed by the technology I depend on. lt’s like being abandoned. You get a sinking feeling when you don’t know what to troubleshoot next and you feel helpless and alone.
I don’t know how a person can feel alone in this fabulous city of Megalopolis. For Gates’ sake! It has 25 million people. Yet every one of them seems to be breathing down my neck for my job, my girl, or my apartment. Just this morning Shelley, the elevator operator in our office building, came on to me. She actually jumped me between the 40th and 45th floors. When Congress passed that make work bill, I had no idea the possible trouble it might lead to. With all the bloody technology we have today, the computer on one elevator can run the country better than half the elected congressmen.Their latest decree is that all elevators must have a human operator. Don’t they realize it takes brains to run one of those things. You have to know which button to push for which floor you want. I’ve got to admit, though, Shelley is good.
If my girl, Gloria, found out I’d be singing soprano in the chorus of the musical 50 Girls 50. But was I at fault? I was minding my business sweating out what preamble to give for my PowerPoint boardroom presentation. My mind was miles away. Let’s face it. You don’t expect to be manhandled, by a ninety-five pound woman, in an elevator. Maybe it was my fault. Maybe I pushed her over the edge. Maybe I was dressed too provocatively. Loose tie. Top button of my shirt undone. Chest hair exposed. I know I had used that new cologne, Sexy Man, but that stuff was all TV ad hype, wasn’t it?
I straightened my tie and adjusted the knot as soon as I stepped onto the 45th floor lobby. I also stuffed in my shirt at the front. I didn’t look back. Gates Almighty! I was a mess. I ducked into the men’s washroom to make myself more presentable. I looked into the mirror and hardly recognized the guy who stared back at me. I placed my Vaio down gently on the counter within arms reach, washed my face and paper-towelled it dry. Gloria would love to play psychoanalyst on what happened and why. I admit, it wasn’t the first time I’d been involved with someone else while we co-habitated. There was Anna with the legs that went on forever. And Michelle, the vegetarian and animal rights activist. Catherine, the pizza delivery person. Then there was Ryan in marketing. Not exactly my bag, but he did advance my career. Messy breakup, though. And now, out of the blue, Shelley, the human vacuum cleaner. But they don’t mean anything. I’m still with Gloria, aren’t I? I believe in commitment.
My alter ego in the mirror looked rather smug. That half-twisted smile on his face was a perfect match for the weak chin and the gray eyes set too close together. After 27 years, it was the first time I noticed how vacant the eyes looked. Gray was not a good eye colour I thought. Just like beige and computers was a no-no. I looked back at Vapid Eyes and got my comb and ran it through my slick, dark hair. I guess that’s why they called me Mr. Slick behind my back. I checked my watch. Damn! I was late. I grabbed the Viao and took one last look at the mirror. The gray eyes looked back, lifeless, yet there seemed to be a trace of fear as well.
Fear. That’s an understatement. Every guy working at Adverts Online would happily cut my throat to get my job. It was my brilliant suggestion to change the company name from the stuffy Bigelow, Fellows & Associates to a more with-it, Adverts Online. Ever since, I was everyone’s prime target and, with the rampant loose gun mentality these days, I had to watch out. But I wasn’t born stupid. I know the ropes. Keep your back to the wall and they can’t Steve you. And, believe me, when you’ve been Steved you know you’ve been Steved. I opened the door to the board room. My colleagues were seated, immersed in a heated discussion on the pros and cons of art versus commerce. It was a no-brainer. Even a three-legged dog knows he has a handicap. To no one’s surprise, commerce won. I chuckled as the new guy covered his Technicolor Mac portable with a large manila folder. What a jerk to come into a new job with one of those Mickey Mouse play toys. Sure, Disney bought into Apple, but didn’t the old Microsoft do the same thing before they were diced and spliced? Guess the new Disney cartoon, Snow White’s Daughter, got bulldozed by Pixar’s Return of the Son of Woody. I can’t believe that old man Jobs won’t let go. He must be a hundred years old, at least. I know they tried to make him iChairman of the Board but, ironically, he told them to get Steved.
My presentation was more successful than I could have hoped. I breathed a sigh of relief and mentally thanked Wall Street, the Dow, Nasdaq and even Shelley. I was not at the top but I was still climbing. It wasn’t easy to present a marketing plan for Nike and the Gap. When the International Clothing and Sneaker Manufacturers were kicked in the assembly union’s backlash, they were forced to pay living wages to third world workers. It was my job to play down the hyper profits the two companies had reaped for decades. Now it was up to me to optimize their reduced profit margins and to maintain stock market impetus. I hoped and prayed that they would find life on the next Mars landing because we needed cheap labour badly. Did I say hope and pray? For Gates’ sake, I must be experiencing a time warp. Haven’t prayed since I was a toddler. Funny thing, that prayer stuff. I couldn’t do it and relate it to things around me because there was nothing I believed in profoundly. But pray to something metaphysical, that I could do and not feel stupid. Holy Gates Almighty, what am I saying? I must be losing it. I’ve been working too hard. Too long. I’m stressed out. I was dreading that damn presentation all week. I’ve gotta get out of here. Now!
I headed out of my office with my personal assistant chasing after me sputtering something about appointments. I waved her away and told her I’d call her later. In the lobby, the four elevators faced me. My mind wasn’t functioning rationally and I couldn’t for the life of me remember which elevator Shelley was in. I didn’t want to see her now. But I had to get out of the building. I pushed the down button. This was going to be a little like roulette, the ball turns round and round and, when it stops, it’s elevator 2. For $100, pick the correct elevator and you win a free trip to Vegas. Will the secret guest please step out from elevator 1. The light flashed on, indicating elevator 3 was approaching. I dashed into the men’s room again. Sanctuary! For some reason, I was sweating profusely. My hands were clammy and my grip on my ever faithful Vaio was slippery with perspiration. I ran the cold water over my hands and particularly my wrists where the stitches still showed. I dreaded the thought of looking into the mirror, so my eyes scoured the sink and counter top. I looked down at my shoes. Anything, but not the mirror. I started trembling uncontrollably.
Someone called out my name. Or I thought they did. Yes, there it was again. I turned around making sure my eyes were averted from the mirror. I saw a pair of black shoes a few feet in front of me. I looked up. It was Ryan emerging from one of the stalls. He said I looked like crap. I felt like it, too. He offered to get me a cab but I declined. The look of concern he gave me made me feel even more agitated. I had used him and never felt a tinge of guilt. Now, the concern he showed forced me to confront my callous treatment of him. I mumbled something incoherent and fled in confusion. I rushed out into the lobby to the exit stairs and started my descent, two steps at a time.
My head was spinning. Or was it the constant swirl of the stairs as I descended level by level. I was panting heavily, gulping greedily for fresh air. When I reached the 30th floor, I tripped and went sprawling on the mid-floor landing. My right knee crashed onto the terrazzo and I skidded against the wall. So much for the $950 Armani. I looked down at the torn pant leg and the blood that oozed from the tear onto the soft fabric. I staggered to my feet. Suddenly, all the suppressed emotions welled up. I saw a picture of myself, as if I were watching from the top of the landing above. It was like a QuickTime video clip. My body looked like a marionette, the strings suddenly cut. It crumpled slowly, and rather gracefully, I thought, into a neat pile of flesh and bones with only the Armani suit visible. It was as if the suit were everything and nothing else existed or mattered. As a detached observer, a chill still ran through me and I thought, “The poor son of a bitch never knew what hit him.”
The next part I don’t quite know how to explain. I could see the crumpled pile and I felt a sadness and sorrow but I didn’t know why. Was I was dead? But I couldn’t be dead and be here watching everything. Then I thought of the time in Hawaii when I was on the big island. I had the strip of volcanic beach to myself and was catching a few rays. I thought I heard a noise, opened my eyes and forgot to shade them. The sun caught me dead on and I was blinded for a moment. It was strange, the colours I saw. Every shade of the rainbow multiplied a hundred fold and split and multiplied and split again. It seemed to go on forever. The entire sky was like the kaleidoscope I had when I was a kid. That was when I heard the voice.
Now, looking down at the pile of Armani fabric, I heard the voice again. At first, it sounded like my dad. Then my mom. And then, now this may sound crazy, but honest to God, it sounded like the babbling brook in Springfield. The one that ran by the house I grew up in. I couldn’t make out the words but the meaning was perfectly clear. They made me feel warm and mellow inside. The feeling grew like dough rising and my heart, my God, it was bursting. Then I felt what I can only describe as a soft breeze, but it wasn’t a breeze. Know what I mean? It was more like a sigh. Yes. That’s it. A long, loving, living sigh.
I wasn’t alone anymore.
Ralph J. Luciani