‘Like a Dog’ by Hotline Boca

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You open your eyes. You sit up alone in bed in your shitty beige cell inside the larger, shitty beige cube. You’re accosted by social media pop-ups on your screen, Weibo, Twitter, and the like. It’s all shit; you shovel / scroll to the bottom. Here are the serious notifications, the ones with implications for IRL. They loom ominously near the top of your Gmail, prioritized by Google’s busybody AI Butler. He knows you’re unemployed so he puts the emails related to work toward the top without being asked.

“Thanks.”

You’re already two months behind on rent. The landlord is threatening to throw you out on your soft ass if you can’t start paying in at the minimum, which dropped again this month. The minimum drops almost every month, lower and lower than the depths of hell. Every time it drops, the interest rises; some fucker’s got this game figured. The landlord’s last correspondence says that if it were up to her, she’d give you more time, but she can’t fudge your payments anymore because of a new accounting system and that you must pay in something.

“Okay.”

Lower down the list is loan debt – the GoogleU email glows red like the eyes of some predatory serpent poised to devour you. For a moment of fancy, you imagine a flashback to equatorial Africa where your ape ancestor narrowly avoids being bit by such a snake. It makes you sick in the pit of your stomach. Google requests a “Read” notification; you consent. The text is the usual threatening scree; you owe Google bt4920K and you must start making the minimum payment. Failure to do so will result in automatic enlistment into a mandatory debtor job. This is a relatively new phenomenon, passed by a bipartisan majority of Democrats and Republicans, lauded by businessmen as the best thing since drug testing for welfare. Debtors are moved into Debtor Campuses, where they can work off what they owe – the largest two are administered by Amazon and Google. Inside, you’re put to work based on your skillset and earn credits; you can apply your credits toward improving your accommodations, gaining new skills to get better jobs to earn more credits, and, of course, paying off your debt.

You don’t want to go to a Debtor Campus, though. You’ve never wanted anything less – you must avoid this at all costs. You scroll down to the bottom of the page. You have until the end of the week. You sigh a long sigh. The final email is a glimmer of hope amidst the grey – a reminder that today you have an interview at SharkTek Comms. It’s a basic clerical job; they need someone to review auto-populated spreadsheets, make coffee, clean up around the office, lift boxes – all the things disembodied AI can’t do and the Creative Class won’t touch. You look again at the posting on Glassdoor – 793 other people have liked this post, but 721 didn’t have an unpaid GoogleU internship like you did. That’s the ace up your sleeve; these are the best odds you’ve had since leaving school. You’re gonna get this, you can feel it. You scroll down through the comment thread and look again at the reply to your application. You’re on – today at noon. After confirmation, an automated reply from SharkTek had said, “Job Application Fee is Non-Refundable.”

You throw your sockfeet over the side of your bed; you feel the tile through the holes in the cloth as you walk to take a piss. Your face is haggard, dried from substance abuse – you piss out a cocktail of coffee and booze from the prior night. You’re only slightly hungover, hardly even enough to notice, just not feeling at 100%. It’s a very vague sort of feeling, like a life that’s mediocre within a moment’s span. This is fine. You keep saying that to yourself. “This is fine.”

In the kitchen, you open the refrigerator. It’s empty, just a couple cans of condensed nutrients. You take one out and pop the lid. The tasteless liquid is technically enough to get you through the day, but it doesn’t satisfy. You open your cabinet; just booze, all at least half-empty. They mock you, these things that waste your life, momentary reprieves from your life that never satisfy. You close your cabinet.

On the street, you stand in front of your beige cube – the sky is grey and all the other fucking cubes are grey or beige or brown. There are some other people on the street and they are also grey or beige or brown. They are waiting for Ubers or GoogleCab AVs. Most of the passing AVs are occupied by Creatives, the cretins in their tight-fitting jeans and flannel shirts, ironic facial hair – muttonchops are back in style and so are tall top hats and shiny shoes but then still flannel and still tight jeans. President Mubarack has instituted a policy for the Creatives where every day of the week is casual Friday – everyone loves this. The president usually wears T-shirts on TeeVee now. There’s a picture in your mind of him, a meme of him playing basketball with the American Aristocracy wearing clown shoes and jorts; people high-five him. Creatives think this policy of Freedom of Expression is the most important aspect of the First Amendment and they just Love It, Love It, Love It…

This rule doesn’t apply to the Proles, who still have to honor the uniform of their respective employer. Today, you’re wearing a suit, a grey suit and a blue tie to match company colors. Company’s #Like things these days. They #Like seeing their Values #hashtagged on social media and they #Like when you wear their colors to interviews – it lets them know you’re paying attention to their social media marketing and their branding and that you know what they’re all about. You rattle off SharkTek Communication’s corporate values – “trustworthiness, integrity, honesty, patriotism.” Patriotism has been added to almost every company’s set of corporate values recently. There are a lot of American flags around everywhere, on everything. It’s important to show you’re a patriot. Terrorist attacks keep occurring and no one on the news can figure out why.

“Why?”

You ponder this and other mysteries as you walk to the SharkTek office. It starts raining. It’s 7:02 AM. On a street corner, you stop underneath an awning. There is a “No Loitering” sign that you ignore; there’s a camera on the traffic light that may ticket you if it can get a clean read of your face. After Facebook compiled a database of virtually everyone’s facial features, face-scan ticketing for minor offenses became predominant – can’t even jaywalk or take a piss outside anymore.

Fortunately for you, the security officers have already been alerted to another victim. Two officers from High Ridge Security are shaking down a young black man in a beige suit; he had stood at the crosswalk too long. Failing to move at a crowded crosswalk in a no-loitering zone could be construed as either criminal or terrorist in nature. Former President Brezhnev passed a national security law last year at the behest of his voting base to allow security officers to stop and interrogate people on the street as a countermeasure against the terrorist attacks that were becoming increasingly more common.

You watch the young black man silently suffer the abuse of small men with small power; they will let him go most likely, but he may incur a fee if he has previously been wrongly suspected. This fee is designed to encourage innocent people to abstain from the appearance of evil and not waste security forces’ time. You overhear the young black man will be charged the fee, but he doesn’t seem to mind. He smiles, nods, walks away. He joins you at the stoplight as you wait for a never-ending stream of AVs to abate long enough for you to cross. “Ticketed?” you ask him. “Yeah,” he replies. “Fucking A,” you say. You both cross the street; you go left, he goes right.

You don’t really make many friends these days. It could be dangerous to make friends, especially if that person has terrorist connections. Last year, a group of students at GoogleU were planning to organize a massive protest against student loan debt. You knew one of the protesters; her name was Sarah. She was an organizer. When the faculty learned of the protest plan, they had all ringleaders arrested for subversive activities under President Brezhnev’s Anti-Subversion Law. These arrests later resulted in your interrogation about your connection to the affair. You ended up resigning from your internship before being forced out. Even though you didn’t do anything, it didn’t matter. You, like everyone else in every other one of your classes, had once liked or watched or subscribed to something subversive at least once. You may not remember, but Google remembers. Google hates when you do things like that; it disappoints Google. Google would have had no choice but to fire you if you didn’t resign, so to save Google from the distress of it all, you resigned. Google was sorry to see you go.

The whole experience put you off from talking with strangers, or at least people who weren’t highly verified on Facebook. Most people weren’t highly verified, though, except the yuppies – the Creative Class – but no one ever talks to them because they are Narcs. They will watch you closely in casual conversation. They will make inferences about your views based on things you wear. They will report posts they perceive as subversive to Admins who will get a ball rolling that ends with men in starched blue jumpsuits showing up at your door. “Freedom for speech,” said President Brezhnev, “not from consequences.” The creatives like to say that; they like saying combinations of words that sound right. They are like apes under Pavlovian conditioning. They are strange people who like cheese, artisan cheese; all they do all day in their cool, white, sleek offices is eat cheese and laugh and clink glasses filled with cheese.

Sarah ended up shooting a Wall Street executive at a boutique in NYC with a 3D printed handgun; on the same day, two of her co-conspirators stabbed two other executives with 3D printed knives. All of them were killed by security forces; no one on the news could explain why this had happened. You thought about Sarah the night you saw the news of her death and drank a beer and stood at your window and watched the rain and the lightning. There is an idea like that, like standing and pondering things. You didn’t do that, though; you went on your fucking phone. As you scrolled Twitter, the vague notion in your brain was, “Why had this… ugh, you know… happened?”

You pause under another awning; it’s to Starbucks. You go inside. You’re almost out of AT&T mobile data but you’re a little concerned you may be lost. You decide it would be cheaper to buy a pack of stimulant pills to gain ten minutes access to Starbucks wifi than incur overage charges so you get in line. It’s only 7:22 AM; you have plenty of time. When you arrive at the register, you take the little pack of pills out and throw them down on the counter. The cashier scans them and rings you up; you’re overdrawn, as per usual, but basic needs credit allows you to complete the purchase anyway – just more debt. You don’t receive access to the Starbucks wifi, however.

“What gives?” you ask.

The cashier looks up at you before you have time to elaborate; she’s heard this fifteen times previously this morning. “Policy change; no wifi access without a minimum purchase of twenty.”

You sigh and grab the pills. Out in the street, you have no choice but to turn on your mobile data. You try to quickly verify the SharkTek Communications office location, but pop ups are in your way. You have to watch a mandatory fifteen second ad; these ads support your basic need credits and allow you to continue receiving assistance from the program. In doing so, however, you incur more data charges – it about evens out, maybe bringing you to only a slight loss. Just like with everything, you’re only running at a slight loss…

The ad is a government PSA against radical views – these started under President Mubarack. The advert features the president in a compilation of several memes and gifs he’d popularized during his campaign warning against the dangers of radicalism and urging young people back toward civil discourse. The biggest issue of the day between the Democrats and Republicans is whether or not yuppies living on the moon colony should have to pay extra taxes on their travel between earth and the primary spaceport. You get an ad for this issue next. Yes, the democrats say; “It’s time the 1% stop Getting Away With It.” Next, per the fairness laws passed under President Becker, an ad for the Republican viewpoint: “Innovators.” Just the word innovators, nothing else. The libertarian and green party share two seconds worth of advertising at the end of the Republican ad, just their website links.

You can now finally pull up the map; it verifies you’re on the right track. Everything is going to work out, everything is going to be fine. “Yes.”

When you arrive at the SharkTek offices, it’s 7:55 AM. In the lobby, you facescan in and the secretary directs you to a rubbery red plastic seat. “They’ll be with your shortly,” he says to you. He’s flat in affect, with dull eyes that size you up in quick, incisive glances. This is rather common, however. It’s difficult to relate to other proles at the office. Fraternity among proles outside the context of corporate camaraderie is viewed as suspect. Last month, a group of workers got together and burned down their office after receiving extensive paycuts due to labor devaluation on the heels of automation, just another disruptive market change.

No one on the news…

Could figure out…

Why this might have happened, the sort of thing that would cause this…

“Very strange,” they said.

“Very strange,” they are saying on CNN.

In the lobby, you log in and sit on the company wifi, watch their approved streams. “Very strange,” they continue to say on CNN. You watch with disinterest while you wait.

Someone beside you is called in and you watch them go, remain where you are, watch the stream. “This post-Earth gen is just not motivated to succeed,” says the right-winger on the news, some cheese-eating, nominally-subversive, bow-tie jackass. Post-Earth Gen – that’s what this Nancy Boy called you. You’ve never been in space, of course, because that’s something only yuppies can afford, but nevertheless, that’s what he called you – it’s what they call you. The Democrat on the news is concerned that young people aren’t doing enough to combat climate change; he’s wearing the pin of a GreenTek industry that uses petroleum products in their manufacturing of renewable energy hardware because the Green Synthetics cost more.

You switch off the news, sit in silence. Your face is long, weary, tilted slightly downward, morose, heavy. You try to breath, try to focus. Something Sarah had once said to you comes to mind, “You can always just turn it off, try it for yourself,” she had said. “That’s one thing you can do.”

“Maybe,” you say. “Maybe…”

You’re back on social media a minute later.

In the office, you sit before your interviewer, some 30-something yuppie manager with a receding hairline. He wants to know some things about you – you answer those questions. He gives you more questions. He reviews your social media, your Twitter and Facebook. The Twitter is okay – there are a couple anti-government posts that have been flagged by the review software: “Student loan debt is fucking insane!!! I want to blow my fucking brains out every month – my statement is only getting higher!” You blush, shrug. “Just shouting into the void,” you say. The interviewer looks at you, then strokes his clipboard with his pen.

Somewhere, a libertarian says, “If you don’t like it, go somewhere else. No one is forcing you to use social media. You don’t have to be on here and if your speech doesn’t conform to the terms and conditions, too bad! Okay? You signed up, you agreed, and these companies are just trying to protect their brand. It’s good for business, it’s good for the economy…”

Somewhere, someone tries to put up a poster on a crowded street corner and is immediately arrested for vandalizing public property.

Somewhere, you are still in the SharkTek office.

The software they use to rate candidates tallies up the interviewer’s inputs and gives you a slightly above-average karma rating. That’s better than what most people get; you’re officially passed the first stage. Next come the homework questions; “What values do you like most at SharkTek?” You say, “Integrity.” He says, “Why?” You go into a rehearsed spiel you prepared for the night before. You feel good about it; he’s nodding to himself. He strokes the clipboard again. “Where do you see yourself long term?” You say, “SharkTek.” He nods, strokes the clipboard. “Favorite color?” You say, “Blue.” He nods. “Excuse me for a moment.” He leaves the room.

There’s a breakroom adjacent to the interview room replete with Playstation consoles from 25 years ago and vending machines and potted, plastic plants and colored tile flooring and window displays of tropical environments and a jungle gym and a ballpit and TeeVee. The interviewer enters the break room, comes in behind a couch. Two coworkers are watching old episodes of Family Guy during the morning’s first 25 minute break. President Hitler (very unpopular name, he refused to change it, still won somehow) instituted the standard 50 minute federal lunch break back during his first term in office. “Give America Just Ten More Minutes of Your Time During The Workday (to increase productivity)” had been the slogan that’d pushed it through congress. Since then, this one 50-minute break had been subdivided into two standard morning and afternoon 25 minute breaks during which employees could do anything they wanted – nap, eat, do schoolwork, take a shit, file federal form papers for government assistance, use legal stimulants like adulterated cocaine or upper pills, microdose LSD, or maybe go for a walk outside. Employees were usually encouraged to stay in the employee break room, however, to cut down on travel-related delays. A poster hangs on the back wall behind the thumb-up-your-ass-big flat screen that says, “Fight for 45.” The interviewer glances at it, then back at the TV. A human being gets horribly maimed and people laugh. The interviewer licks his lips, scratches his ass, looks down at the screen in his hand. He gets a notification with your face on it. It shows a Big Green Checkmark.

He reenters the interview room and extends his hand to you, extends a big clownish smile under the florescent overhead light rods and popcorn ceiling, extends a welcome. “This isn’t just a job, he says, “This is lifestyle, this is values, integrity, hard work…”

He goes on for another 25 minutes saying similar words to you. Here are some of them: AV automobile, Game of Thrones, Network TEEVEE, values, moral values, America, freedom, democracy, MTV, social democracy, suburbs, two story house, barrel tile roof, nice car, big house, 1.3 kids, artificial baby formula / (KEEP READING) / SWAT knocks down your fucking door / arrests on arrests on arrests on every street corner in America / adverts / collapsible baton whipped open, swung on your ass / x-ray of broken ribcage / CIA logo on floor tile / drone against blue sky / IR strobes blink / enemy combatants exploded into itty bitty pieces once, twice, three, thirty times within fifteen seconds / bodycam shootings / tentacle porn / dead kids in shot up schools / tits on a webcam / Molotov cocktail on tank turret / Marines in Iraq / yellow smile face.

At night, you return to your shitty beige cube and plop down on the sofa, exhausted after the mental strain of the performance you gave during the interview. It was a good performance, worthy of a golden statue on a little black stone base, weighty enough to bludgeon someone to death with like in an old Hollywood noir film.

You start at 6:00 AM tomorrow morning in the shipping room, moving boxes and whatever else that needs moving – “other duties as assigned.” Until then, TeeVee lulls you to slow, stupefied sleep. Your first check will be in by the end of the week; you will be able to start making rent, to start paying off your loans, to buy food! Hell, maybe you’ll have enough left over for premium app features or fruit or maybe… maybe just more booze and stimulants, you’re unsure yet. You’re unsure what you’ll do…

But yes, it all worked out in the end. “Everything is going to be all right,” you think to yourself. “Everything will be okay. I’ll make it. I’ll survive. I’ll keep on going the way I’m going. I will survive.” As you recline back on your couch, bathed in the blue light of Late Nite neoliberal talking points bulletins, a single clear thought crosses your hazy mind: “Like a Dog.”

You sleep.

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