Winston’s Place | Jan 1, 2011 | 8:11am
Writing in the car, waiting out here for my first assignment of the day. Tired. It’s hard to sleep on the bed in my company apartment. It’s too soft, and there’s no way to know what it’s rigged up to tell the Dude.
I got paid again yesterday. I talked my bosses into giving me a free apartment, but they still deduct for everything else. I spent most of what was left on a 2005 Pinot Noir from Burgundy.
It’s not super punk to buy the kind of fancy wine sitting next to me in the passenger seat, but I think I kept the punk spirit alive by spending all my money on a reckless whim. No future.
Still, drinking is the easy fight. Running away and finding a new scam, that would really be punk. That would be dangerous.
I move each sip of wine over my palate with my eyes closed, thinking about the sequence of events that led to this. There was a heatwave in Burgundy in 2003 and a mildew problem in ’04, but the wine sellers always tried to push the idea that 2005 had some of the best French grapes in human memory. I like the idea of tasting that kind of comeback.
I imagine the endless rows of vines where the grapes were grown. The label on the bottle represents one specific place, where generations of careful cultivation built up a quality to the soil unique in the world, captured here in a bottle at its moment of absolute height. Hold on.
It just tastes like wine to me.
Pretty soon, the only thing left of that season will be the same as my years with the band, nothing but empty green glass in the trash somewhere.
The apartment has a shower and washer/drier, but I didn’t use them after getting my dick wet last night. Under my dried sweat, I tried to savor the faint smell of Acid Burn’s pussy juices as long as I could, concentrating like I’m doing for these fermented grapes of Burgundy.
She had a wild look in her eyes and a desperation in her actions. I wonder how much the Dude deducts from her checks to stay in that house he won’t let her leave, where she can’t even get a drink. I wonder how long the cameras have been watching her.
Up in my room, there’s a camera hidden somewhere too. I want to rip out the walls until I find it and smash the thing, but Harry said they would put in a new one as soon as I left, and the Dude would know I knew he put that one in there, probably know I knew he would put in another one. It’s so confusing. I still hear the neighbors sometimes through the walls, but I feel like the Dude is right there in the room with me, invisible. He thinks he can watch without being watched, like this is all just a movie.
Harry also told me I can get anything I want if I use the right movie lines. There’s a TV in my apartment, and I shoplifted a DVD of Ghostbusters. If the Dude wants me to be Winston, I can play along for two minutes. There’s a line he has near the end of the movie that might get me a raise, “This job is definitely not worth 11,5 a year.”
That’s stupid. That would be the opposite of punk, selling out more than I already have. I might be able to afford to leave by just selling out a little more, but what would that make me?
I don’t know. This wine isn’t as good as they always said it would be. I don’t understand the world anymore. I’m so angry, and I don’t know what to do with that feeling.
Acid Burn is building some kind of underground network. I can’t find the Dude, but I can get to his programmers. When Casimir looked out at a good crowd, he said there was “potential aggression” in the air. Maybe the rest of them hate being watched as much as she does, but they’re all scared to say so.
Bring Neary a 2-liter of grape soda.
Shit. Work. The work never ends. Things are never gonna change unless someone makes them.
That would be a punk thing to do, keep this job but play both sides, do the work like Harry told me but build up this new underground network at the same time. I have experience sneaking around cameras, and I have a skill that’ll move the situation forward. I’m good at breaking things.
[Editor’s note: there’s an interruption in the writing at this point, but this scene and the one below are part of the same delivery, and I present them here as a single chapter.]
Casa Way | 34 min later
If that 2005 Burgundy showed what grapes are capable of, then the grape soda I brought Neary shows what modern technology can do — no vineyards and no heat waves, so no failures or comebacks either. It’s mass-produced the same every time, a flavor someone in a lab once decided we would all call “grape.”
This delivery took 34 minutes. It should have taken 25.
All the maps and satellite images Neary has in his house make it look like he has a sense of the world around him, but he was in his office at the computer, not moving as usual. There was a camera watching him from the top of his screen, so I put down the grape soda, leaned in and knocked his monitor face down on the desk.
His eyes went wide. He moved his head for the first time I ever saw. He followed my arms with his eyes and found my face.
I smiled. “Hi.”
I heard his voice for the first time too. “What the hell are you doing?” There was more force behind it than I expected.
“I thought you might not be happy pent up here all the time. I’m busting you out.”
“I am unhappy.” He looked at his collapsed monitor, disoriented. “Hans won’t give me pizza.” He crossed his arms, and his eyes didn’t quite look me in the face.
“But… it’s early.” I checked my phone. “Yeah, the pizza places are closed.”
Now that I think about it, Hans has never sent me to a place that wasn’t open. That’s kinda nice.
Neary laughed. “Lunchtime is an illusion, time doubly so.”
I was surprised to get an argument. I was offering this guy a way out. “Come on, we’ll go to Marina Deli, get you a breakfast burrito.”
“Where?” He looked at the maps covering his walls.
“It’s on Chestnut, right near you. I eat there sometimes.”
He squinted at me. “Where do you think I am?”
I frowned. It would be easy to go straight back to my Burgundy Noir, but I didn’t. “Alright, where are you?”
He pointed at the maps all around him. “How small you’ve become. You think in such three-dimensional terms. We’re not points on a grid. This p-p-p…” He stuttered, and his eyes flicked back and forth, looking for the words to express himself. “This is history, not just passing through history. Perception! That’s it, the instantiated… perception of motion and time.”
I had to talk him down. “Listen, I see you right now. You’re here, trust me.”
“Details. Now is just one tiny point of what’s happening. Large events aren’t written all at once. That’s why I have so much work to do.” Too fucking weird. He reached for the monitor.
I grabbed his shoulder. “I’m getting you away from the Dude who did this to you.”
He shook me off and shouted. “No! This is important.” He stood up, held his hand out towards his computer and gestured violently. “This means something. Space and time are pieces of information. Information exists forever.”
He was bigger than me and crazy. “Neary, you’re not information. You’re a person.” I took a step back, just in case his potential aggression came at me.
“I know. That’s why I have this.” He lifted his monitor back up.
On the screen, next to a window full of words and math symbols, I saw a shoreline. There were rocks covered in moss near the camera. Waves rolled in and out. The water went out to the horizon. A bird hovered in front of the camera, turned and disappeared.
“Where is that?”
He sat down and got quieter. “Wherever, whenever I want to be. I’m streaming from an island. The waves comfort me.” His fingers went back to the keyboard, and his eyes went back to their empty stare. “I have work to do.”
I let myself out. For all I knew, he could have been imagining himself in the vineyards of France, but there was no way for me to snap him out of it. I’ll try someone else.