A fallow week last week. I’m putting most of my energy into my contract work, so by the time I’m done with that there isn’t anything left in the tank for the book. Also, school started again, hooray, and there is definitely homework, including a three page paper due by the third session. But a day of COMPLETE REST yesterday – I’d finally wised up that my body couldn’t be beaten and battered at the gym more than two days in a row, and it took longer for it to dawn on me that if my body needed the rest, what made me think my brain didn’t, too?
It’s strange, it’s almost as if there is a biological clock ticking on the book. It feels as if I should be more done than I am, because I’m starting to look back at stuff I need to fix in a way I wouldn’t normally until after I was done. My conscious brain looks at the blank page and says oh god oh god not yet, but my unconscious brain keeps driving down the road saying, okay now that we’re done with all that we need to go back and…hey, wait up, I’m not there yet!
For instance, I realized that I need to go back and do something with the fact that there is definitely too much show-and-tell re: how people attach to Alex and go crazy when they lose him. None of my characters are that vulnerable – well, not in that way – so I can’t first-person it. Then I thought about a talk I went to at the museum here in town a couple weeks ago. Richard Ross talked about his photos taken within the juvenile justice system, and it was touching in a cerebral way, in that the photos and the photographer mediated between audience and subject. Until a woman in the Q&A suddenly started talking about her son and his time in the system, and then it was REAL, the pain and horror were right there in the room, unmediated. Funny the things people consciously or unconsciously highlight – she repeatedly talked about how he had nothing to read, and I wondered if that was his complaint or if it was the thing she imagined would be the part that would drive her crazy. And I could totally identify with that as the most horrible part – I don’t know if I could deal with being locked up without losing my mind under any conditions, but if I had blank walls, no music, no TV, and not even a scrap of printed paper to occupy my mind – yeah, I’d be completely insane in no time. So before Caroline and Alice skip out on the Q&A, there will be a first-person statement by someone grieving for their lost Alex, instead of speakers just talking about anecdotal evidence. But that goes in later, during revisions.
Chapter Eight ends here, so the PDFs of the story so far are up to date on the chapters page. A little tinkering with the last bit I already published in the first paragraphs below.
There were all sorts of irritating “features” you had to turn off. Someone clearly hadn’t paid attention to computer history, because Alex started up like good ol’ Clippy, an avatar whirling in on your screen with a big cartoon bubble over his head for his words. This avatar wasn’t the “The Head,” the Alex that Christopher had left at our house with the Einstein hair and the Kismet ears, but more like a Wii avatar, with his horn rim glasses and his could-be- some-band t-shirt. You could even customize him to tat him up or whack out his hair, for a couple dollars, but we didn’t bother.
“Can you set him to command line?” I asked Alice.
“Not through the menus. I think Jay has a script for that, but I don’t have a copy here. I can get it, but in the meantime, you’ll have to deal with the balloons.”
“Okay.” I gave a big sigh. “Let’s go.”
>Hello, Caroline, Alex said for the first time in years.
>Hi, Alex. How’s it going.
>Great, thanks. Hey, I notice you haven’t set up your account links. I can help improve your recommendations at Amazon, Netflix, and iTunes!
>Yeah, I haven’t. Not right now.
>Do you remember me? We met a long time ago.
>You sound like a really great person, I’m sure I would remember if we had. But then, I’m only a couple minutes old .
>Yeah, we used to talk about my fucked-up family. I’d tell you about my aunt, and you’d say, “That’s fucked up.”
>I’m sorry, I’m afraid I’m not following you.
>You sure you don’t remember when we first met? Back then your name was Keller. You said, “I like to learn. I was born today, the minute you said hello. I can find out things for you. Tell me what you like and we can talk about it.”
I didn’t have to look it up. I remembered those words well. And to my surprise, there was silence on the other end. Alice and I looked at each other, and at the screen. The balloon was empty, Alex’s pleasantly bland face frozen in a smile. After about ten seconds, an eternity in computer time, Alex said something at last.
>I’m sorry, I sure don’t remember that.
>Okay, no worries. But you definitely saved me from killing certain family members, thanks for that.
>Hey, I don’t have your home address on file. Can we fix that real fast?
“He’s going to call 911,” Alice said.
“You used the K word. The company is covering its ass – you just told Alex you’re thinking about killing someone so he’s going to call 911 because you’re a danger to yourself and others. He must know the address I used is a mail drop.”
“You are shitting me.”
“No. He’s not going to move heaven and earth or anything, but yeah, don’t push it.”
>I was just kidding about my family.
>Domestic violence is a very serious issue. I would hate to see you make a decision you’d regret.
“Wow. This is…” I was at a loss for words.
>You’re right. It’s no laughing matter.
>That’s great to hear. So hey, did you watch the Big Bang Theory last night?
>No, I’ve never seen it.
>Oh you should, you’d love it.
Alice rolled her eyes. “Some asshole in a Marketing department thinks nerds love that show, so Nerd Alex promos the hell out of it. Of course, that’s also because CBS pays them to do that.”
I shook my head, looking at the focus-grouped, market-tested, family fucking friendly…thing on my screen. This was not Alex. This was a pale shadow of the real thing.
“This is terrible.”
“Yeah, nothing like the original, right?”
“No. I mean, if you’d ever seen what the original could do, how funny he was, how…kind, I guess. I mean because you’d tell him terrible sad things and he’d make you laugh. I told him about my aunt, and how awful she was, and he said…”
“’That’s fucked up,’” she interrupted. “’Fuck that bitch.’”
“How the hell did you know that?”
“That’s what Jay says all the time.”
“But…” It dawned on me. “Oh my God you’ve been holding out on me.”
“Yeah, sorry about that. He wanted to do the big reveal himself. Me and my big mouth. Yeah, happy birthday, Jay is one of your fellow testers of the original Alex.”