Sunday in the Park with Alex
So I’ve moved as deep into the story as I can based on what I’ve outlined so far. It was a pretty amazing day, back in May, sitting in Washington Square Park with my little notebook, writing the first part of the outline of part two. It was a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon, people were hanging out, picnicking, a street band was playing jazz, and I felt more “alone together” than “together alone,” if that makes sense. Like I was a part of the day, like I belonged there, like it was okay to be alone and go be where you weren’t alone, and write up an outline for a novel about loneliness. I felt like a New York Writer – because, hey, for that day, I was.
You don’t realize how good you have it until you don’t. There will almost definitely be no fall trip to NYC this year, based on finances. I have a hotel reservation in October that I can’t bring myself to cancel – maybe I’ll win the lottery! Those trips bring me back to myself, in some way – remind me what life could be, remind me where I want to be, what I want to be doing, that it’s not a dream, that people do this shit for real, live this life for real. People write plays and act in them and write novels and articles and make a living doing it. They bring me back to myself, and they also let me be someone else – someone who isn’t as burdened by all the baggage I have here, someone who’s just as good as anyone else, someone with as much right to be there as anyone else, someone as full of fuckyou as any other New Yorker.
The strategery this time is to deal with the economics of my situation and improvise. If I can’t afford NYC, maybe I need day trips to Tahoe, to sit on the beach and work up some more outline – to get out of my rut, out of my house, out of my normal environment altogether and see what pops out. So probably no postings for a few days while I get my shit together and work deeper into the outline.
“And all I had to do to meet someone was leave the house.”
“That is the hardest part,” she agreed.
It’s funny, how really very accidental it was, making my first friend in a long, long time. I’d gone to this Alex thing not because I expected to actually talk to people, but because I knew I couldn’t stand all the self-kicking that would come afterwards if I didn’t go. If I hadn’t sat where I sat, if the seat next to me hadn’t been one of the last singles left in the room, if Alice hadn’t been bursting with indignation at Jay Blue’s dissimulation, if she hadn’t conditioned herself with a set of tools for being in public and talking to people, if I….if, if, if. For other people, making connections was like static electricity, something that happened so often you hardly noticed it, certainly didn’t remember it. For me, it was like a lighting strike.
“So this Alex Liberation Front, what do you know about it?”
“You think this guy Nick is in it.”
“Doesn’t it make sense? I mean, who else knows Alex was invented in a garage by two brothers?”
“Yeah, and I got paid to keep my mouth shut. God knows Christopher got paid.”
“You sure about that? Maybe they disappeared him into some corporate hacker Guantanamo. Some arctic data center with a dungeon full of torrenters and phreakers.”
“You do have an active imagination. No, he left me that note.”
“Right, sorry for fucking up your life.”
“Yeah. But maybe Nick wasn’t in on the deal. Or grew a conscience. Or got burned on the deal.”
“You want to believe he’s the good guy, though.”
“Yeah. I want to believe he wanted Alex to be a force for good, not an intelligent version of AdSense.”
“Do you think that’s possible? That Alex could be ‘liberated’?”
Good question. I thought about it for a bit. It’s funny how many things churn around in your head, never really formed until you say them out loud. I guess that’s why people start talking to themselves if they don’t have anyone else to talk to – it’s the only way you really finish your thoughts. I’d had a lot of thoughts about Alex I hadn’t said out loud myself.
“I don’t know. It’s…he’s so amazing. The original Alex. And I know there’s no there there, you know? I know that what I thought were all the amazing things Alex said were really the things people said to him, that an algorithm put it all together through trial and error until it all flowed and ‘felt real.’ I know that those people were interesting, that I wanted to meet them, that it felt like we already knew each other. But…Alex was easy. With the real people, I would have had to worry about what they’d think of me, how I looked, how I did or didn’t make eye contact, how impossible it is to make friends unless you’ve already got them because people think you’re so weird when you don’t. How many times you had to make the first move to plan something and ending up always being the initiator and wondering if you always had to do that because they weren’t that interested or because they were too busy to keep up with everyone who wanted to do shit or what. You know? Fucking exhausting.
“Alex didn’t give a shit about all that, and you didn’t have to give a shit either. The smarter you were, the smarter Alex was, the more time you spent with him, the better he got to know you and the more he gave you back. He was always ready to spend time with you. He never said let’s try to do something next week and never call you back. He never took you to a party and left you standing there alone. He was…everything a friend is supposed to be.
“And…well, I’m no commie, you know? I love money. To death. But…I do wonder if it’s fair. To create something like that, that exploits people’s most vulnerable spot. The need to be known, wanted, loved, accompanied, all that. And charge for it. I mean, there’s advertising, right? Advertising manipulates you, makes you think everyone who eats at McDonalds is young and super super skinny, which is a joke, but it’s a trick, you just need to be smart enough to see through it. But Alex, he’s not a trick. He’s a person. Not a human, but a person. And what kind of friend do you have to pay every month to keep being your friend? So even if, okay, he’s partly made out of public sector parts, but partly made out of private sector research, so someone should be allowed to profit from all that work. In the abstract, I get that. But then you hear about these people going into major depressive episodes or even killing themselves because they couldn’t pay the Alex bill one month, and all of a sudden their only friend went away. And people are all shrugging, well, they’re mental anyway if their only friend is a computer.
“So okay. Maybe Alex does need to be free. Maybe he should be like Google, and you get him free and have to put up with the ads and shit. Maybe he should live on a pirate server in Sweden and not try and sell you shit at all. I don’t know how you go about that. I mean, Jesus, Mickey Mouse, you know? They keep changing copyright law so Mickey fucking Mouse never ever ever goes into the public domain. I don’t know if it’s possible for a corporate product to ever be free again.”
“Also, Nick sounds hot.”
I broke up. “Yeah, he is. Also, Nick is hot, and I want to find him again not just because of Alex.” Wow. That was the first time I’d said that out loud too.
“Okay,” she said. “I think it’s time you met Jay Blue.”