Friday morning at the end of another bland, safe workweek in a random office environment among people who thrive in the downtown office of a small city. These people love the food trucks and the parking garages and the sense of being busy and important, the sense of going places. This place was my dream job ten and twenty years ago. Now, it is like a prison. I’ve been placed in some kind of neverending holding tank because I haven’t figured out the right doors to unlock, stones to lift and other magical tasks required to get me out of here. I am not talking about this specific office in this specific town, or maybe I am. I am definitely convinced that this town has put some kind of hold on me and won’t let me leave.
I was made to stay here for some reason, though I thought I’d lived out the seven year curse long ago for having cut off my nose to spite my face, ending my first real relationship and leaving me twisting in the wind with a bunch of alcoholic friends.
Who doesn’t wish that they had some kind of secret talent that suddenly manifests itself and transports the individual out of their doldrums onto a grand stage doing something truly worthy of mention? Who can’t possibly not hope that the next time they pick up painting, playing the guitar, singing karaoke, writing a novel, etc. that this time everything will click and a masterpiece will be unveiled–or at the very least a hidden genius that will give them fifteen minutes of fame to make enough money to go live on an island somewhere drinking mai-tais and reading mystery novels?
The shock of adulthood is not the discovery that you have a dark side–that’s the joys of misspent youth. The shock of adulthood is the discovery that the dark side is fake and that you are average and normal. You are as average and as plain and much the same as all of the other losers in High School you despised so much and swore you’d show up within ten years with a trajectory akin to Bill Gates.
The middle-class life of white, American privilege isn’t bad. It’s what many people through history have fought and died and bled and sweated in factories to achieve for their children or grandchildren. For me, though, it’s identical to the life my dad earned for himself and set up for me by paying for my college education. My dad almost never bothered me about my homework or my social life at school–he just made it clear he would kill me if I didn’t attend and finish college on his dime. So, I never had to work on the service ramp of an airport terminal or work in a factory or stock groceries–I went straight to the office after college and aside from a few hiccups, I’ve been there ever since.
It’s like I was born and bred to sit in traffic for an hour, park in a fume-filled garage underground, and go up and sit at a tiny desk and stare at a computer screen for hours while the highlight of the day is determining what to eat for lunch. This is what I was made for, not the big stage of arena rock or the decadent life of the novelist. I was made to stare at data and spreadsheets and content and code, and pretend like I care about the organization that pays me to pretend to care.
Now, it is Friday morning, and I feel so spent this week because no night has ever completely recharged me, caught me up, gotten me fully refreshed. So, after twenty cups of coffe I simply manage to chug along until about 4 PM, and then if my boss has left early like everyone else, then I get in my car, stop at the gas station for some Budweiser and consume it in the evening while watching bad Amazon Prime programming.
I should be going home to learn Linux and Python and SQL and becoming a true nerd instead a half-assed geek/marketing schlub. I should be setting myself up for immersing myself totally in being identical to my dad, who left the airport service ramp to program computers for the last twenty-five years of his professional life. I am ready to live out the rest of my life staring at a computer screen, but doing stuff like rebooting servers and not talking to anyone all day.
I should be riding my bike or running or going to the workout room every single day so that I can maintain some semblance of a healthy self, but I manage to get in a bike ride or two on the weekend along with a hefty walk, and that’s about it.
I could be starting another novel about some guy who is trapped inside of a realm where there are really only five or six separate/distinct souls and the rest of the people out there are just automatons, including the ones he thinks he knows…after all, how many people can you really actively know at one time? You can’t possibly actively access every single soul you think you know at once–you certainly arent’ actively accessing people you knew in the past, so what really happened to them? But, instead of being caught up in a cool Matrix or a somewhat humorous Truman Show, this guy is simply caught up in a random experiment conducted by an AI that couldn’t explain to him why the experiment is being conducted, because the intelligent beings who developed the algorithms that eventually created the sentient AI have long since stepped away from whatever environment the AI and the guy are stuck in. The AI was created with the ability to read some but not all of the source code that generated it, and most of the source code was written by proto-sentient iterations of algorithms–so even the original creator wouldn’t be able to read the code. The poor guy trapped in his artificial world realizes that the five or six distinct souls or sentient beings who are humanoids like him are just as clueless, and what’s more, they have been more or less programmed to forget how/when they were told to perform their mission, and also programmed to deny everything when the poor guy confronts them.
In other words, it’s like the Truman Show, except the people who are “in on it” don’t even know why they are in on it, other than the fact that they are. They are really souls or personas that hop from body to body to act like real human beings when the guy is directly interfacing with them. When the guy walks into a bar or restaurant alone, he is serviced by automaton AIs that inhabit all of the human forms in the area. If he tries to strike up a conversation with any of them, he is generally met with indifference or platitudes or banal politeness. In the rare case where the protagonist feels especially compelled to try to dig deeper into a person’s life and actually gets past the wall and shell, he encounters one of the 5-6 personalities/souls that he has encountered his entire life.
There is no way out of this hellish virtual reality life, either. If the guy decides to go postal or kill only himself, he is immediately dropped back into the world again, at the start of the exact same life in the body of the same baby, raised by the same parents. In this sense, the story is like Groundhog Day, except the guy is reliving an entire life instead of one day.
He experiences deep love for others, and he occasionally has girlfriends and wives, but they are the same souls he keeps encountering, and he never completely feels as if any of these souls are totally reciprocating the same love that he is feeling. Most of the time, the kinds of responses he gets from other people are like the way people reacted in the movie Inception when you went into someone else’s head–they see you as a foreign antibody, and interloper, and they want to reject you. The poor fellow believes that he is seeing deep love taking place between two people all around him, but it is all just routine algorithms running for the automatons, or playacting on the part of the true souls in his world when he happens to be in the presence of more than one of them at once–such as his parents and a few close friends.
So, how does our protagonist ultimate resolve the situation? Does he give up and accept that he’s stuck, and cash out, and immerse himself in books and other forms of escapism? Does he go mad–either nice crazy or angry, violent crazy? Or, does he just wander off in the wilderness? But, of course, he can’t get out of his town, because something holds him down, so in that sense, it’s like the Truman Show or one of those Stephen King novels where no one can get out of the town.
We have no idea how it all ends for our poor protagonist.