(this story is a sequel of sorts, or an alternate telling, or a parallel universe encryption, of a story I posted here the other day called The System)
[soundtrack by SPC ECO]
It was the one locked door, the one question you could never ask, so naturally it drove them all crazy. Not me. I didn’t need to know. I was not on that basis. If you’re in The Resistance, you’re supposed to resist, am I right? But that particular itch was too much for most. You’d have to be a saint or brain damaged or both. Someone tells you not to think of the letter ‘A’. What are you thinking of, eh? Got you there, one way or another. You have to be mentally tough. You have to have a discipline, a creed, a practice. You have to have a black belt in self-mind control. Basically, you have to Be Your Own Fascist Dictator.
You’ve heard of Schrodinger’s Paradox, right? Of course you have. There’s a box and you cannot look inside but you know (because they told you) that inside the box is a cat and some poisoned cat food. You cannot look, you cannot know for certain what is going on inside that box. As far as your certain knowledge goes, that cat is both alive and dead. Alive, because it was a cat at some point and cats are living creatures. Dead, because living creatures get hungry and the food in there is poisoned. If you could open the box, you would be able to know for sure which state the cat was in, but you can’t, so you can’t.
That’s how it was with us. Out there, in the world, The System ruled. Inside The System, everything was data, everything was known, everything was rated and ranked, collated and collected, garbaged in and garbaged out. And I mean everything. People, of course. Products, for sure. Companies, places, historical events, whatever. The Declaration of Independence had a pretty steady ranking of 76 on The System’s universal scale of zero to one hundred, but most things didn’t hold that steady. They moved, and they moved in mysterious ways. Your mother was in there. Your sister was too. That coffee drink you just consumed? Rated and ranked. They all had their numbers, and you could find out anything’s number at any time, and most people did. It was how people lived.
You wouldn’t make any decision without knowing its worth. You wouldn’t go out to some restaurant if you didn’t know exactly how other people judged it most recently. You wouldn’t take a walk in the woods without knowing the value of the view and the landscape, the number of steps, the average ascent and descent, the climate, the history, the likelihood of encounters with snakes. You’re a civilized person. You can be well-informed. You can experience anything BEFORE you experience it personally. You can see what it’s going to look like. You can know how it’s going to feel. You can rest without having exerted an effort. This is all good. The world is not only your oyster, it’s a five star oyster, an oyster with an aggregate score of 95.7 or more.
There were those who resisted, who refused. We called ourselves The Resistance. We had learned about other people who had called themselves The Resistance and fancied ourselves as courageous and selfless as they, those who had fought, those who had hid, those who had protected the innocent, saving lives and being the bridge to freedom across their heroically cold dead bodies. We were not really brave, we just wanted to be “off the grid”. We wanted to be data-free. If anything, The System would have us scored at exactly and precisely zero, like companies that failed, like people who died, like products that couldn’t be bought anymore. We would disappear from the records, we would be lost forever to history, to lore. We wouldn’t exist, as far as The System could tell, but we would be there, there in the world, thriving in obscurity, glorious in the dark.
Let them sell other people’s personal proclivities to marketers and product designers, not ours. No one would ever target us specifically with ads. No one would be able to tell our little secrets, our dirty little thoughts would be closed to big business forever. How rich we would be in liberty, if destitute in every other way, because, let’s face it, if you want to be off the grid, you have to be nobody nowhere. We slept in the woods behind the big grocery store. We bought nothing from no one, ever. We scrambled and scraped, we got by on scraps, we were dirty and smelled but at least we were free. I stole some black lipstick and rubbed it all over my cheeks. I “borrowed” some boots from some beach-going bozo, and walked along the ocean at night.
Jose C_ was the first one to crack, because of that one locked door, that one nagging thought. What if we were not off the grid? How could we ever be sure? We couldn’t find out, like Schrodinger’s box. We believed we were outside The System, that The System knew nothing about us, but if one were to ask, only once, and even if it were somebody else who asked about us, there we would be, in The System for sure, just because of that act, that question.
“What about Jose C_ ?”
“Jose C_?” The System said to itself, and then it knew, it knew there was a thing that was called Jose C_. That right there would give it a One, and just like that, Jose C_ was back on the grid. Hellen Duane was next after him, then it was Carly, and then it was Shrimp Boy’s turn. Soon I was the only one left, the last one standing, the True Refugee, the Outcast, the Final Believer. I had faith, faith in myself. I could resist that dread taunting urge. Hadn’t I learned from the masters, from years of mindfulness trainings, from studious studyings of the impossible fakirs, the ones who could turn themselves inside out, the ones who could pass a thin wire throughout their entire intestinal tract? Yes, I had.
Since you asked.
I am scratching these notes on the walls of a cave, a cave near Pomponio Beach, about a hundred yards north of the parking lot entrance. I think I am pretty much done. This is the end of my journey. I barely have the strength to finish this scratching. History will never record it. No one will ever find out if I was rated or ranked, if The System ever knew me. I am even wiping my DNA off of this stick with my last, final breath. Goodbye, and good luck.
Jermaine P. Rincon