Once upon a time.
Somewhere along the coast of the Northeastern Atlantic states.
Poof! The angel vanished in an almond scented cloud of smoke.
I can tell by looking down at my watch that it's only ten a.m. - and I don't get another shot of pain killers until noon.

Jack and Jill were nearly halfway down the hill
when the hill completely disappeared.


There are a thousand ways to begin a story of the end of the world.

Me, I'm just not creative enough for any of that. Call it a shoddy upbringing, call it me and a gun and God standing over my shoulder with long smooth hair hanging half in her face porn starlet style. Calle it whatever you need to. Everyone has their own little reason for why they do what they do.

Whatever excuse you give for the things you're involved in, the real answer to worry about isn't what got you started. The real answer to worry about is why you keep doing it. Fortunately for us monkeys, the real answer is always the same and not too hard to come to grips with once you're honest with yourself.

The real answer is that beyond the peer pressure, the lust, the boredom, the mundanity, whatever gets you started on something....you keep doing that something because you like it. You want to. Something about it can't be passed on.

I'm in the waiting rooom for God's own amusement park waiting for her to load the precise point in the timeline of the universe that she wants me to re-experience for her. I could say this is some sort of afterlife experiential gift for being such a good monkey

But it's not.

Thing is that I'm at least half responsible for the pre-mature end of the human race and she knows it.

The thing is that me and another guy were just playing around with newer and more exciting chemical recreation alternatives when we discovered how to unmake existence as God planned it. She hadn't seen this one coming, and that's got her a little bit worried.

I met God in one of those online personals. We're still talking on account of what I helped pull off and because she thinks I'm a little hot. But only just a little. It's a spiritual attractiveness based on how unlike everyone else I turned out to be.

She explained to me the big problems with deific existence as she knows it.

She's lonely, most people don't measure up, and she's a little lost on the online sex chat experience.

Most people she talks to are just so selfish and simple

She says that it takes the average person she meets about two to five conversations about general age sex location shit to lead into some higher end spritual discussion of existence and why we're all here.

I let her take her time and talk to me about the problems she had with her mother.
I let her describe what kind of post-partem depression she experienced after making Eve.
I let her go on about the long distance rates for late night lust conversations with her Fallen on the weekends.
I let her describe stuff like taste in shoes and chokers.
I let a lot of stuff come out before I asked her anything.

Asked her if she ever felt like anyone was listening.

Queried her about what kind of word-processing solutions she prefers.
I told her about how I can't help but be cruel to cats, while other animals are above human status to me.
I told her that I was really sure that even if my parents had never molested me, that they probably should have.
I told her that secretly, I loved the third grade.

All sorts of things, before the big question.

One day I just let it all hang out, and I asked her if she had any questions about the meaning of life. If there were any conversational points that she wanted to touch on, you know - monkey to creator. The sort of "So, given that you're a mystical all powerful creator - and a hot one at that - what is there that I can tell you ?

This sort of thing takes your average creation-centric deity by surprise. I think it has something to do with the fact that most people spend their whole lives wanting an answer from their god - without ever so much as offering to lend her some salt. It's like having a season pass for tea with the Oracle at Delphi without ever so much thinking that she might enjoy a season's pass to a good sushi buffet.

After the end of the Earth and it's happy set of inhabitants, she dredges me up and asks me if I'm happy with what I've done. She wants to know if I have regrets, fears, nightmares about the end of the whole mess in the dimensional aspects of Man.

Most people, they'd look up at God in Her ebony haired green eyed glory and start back pedalling in a serious way.

"No, Lord, I am sorry that I have forsaken thine divine plan." "My lord my lord how beautiful thou art."

Remorse, regret, fear that God is secretly angry and has just been letting you get away with hedonism as some sort of test to see exactly how far you'll go with it before being burned in hell.

That kind of stuff.

You could do this, but on an honest day she'll just look at you like your hair is on fire and remind you that not only has it been a hell of a long time since anyone talked that way, but that without the right kind of accent it just sounds wrong coming out of an American's mouth. On an honest day she'll remind you that most religions spend at least one worship day class talking about the creator's perfect love.

Me, being what I am, I just smile real big and look at her for a few seconds. Her hair hangs long and straight till it hits the straps of her favourite dress - this red polyester thing Lucifer lent her after last month's big get together in Purgatory. You can see the silver straps and platinum slide guides for her bra sitting there marooned on pure porcelain white shoulders. Islands in a sea of milk, they look completely blissful. Like two cookies about to enjoyed piecemeal by some etheral four year old.

She shakes her head from side to side to let her hair get all messy and wild looking. She grins at me laciviously. Usually this will interrupt my capacity for intelligent thought long enough to let me come up with something honest and uncontrived. You wouldn't think it, but she can be quit the sensual looking lass for someone who's infinitely old. I'm so terribly male that the look of a girl's mane lying across her in too wild a way turns off the part of my brain that wants to put on a good verbal show.

Instead of going into a long coversation about what's right in the world now that the world is gone, I just ask her if she has any idea how long it's been since I had to tolerate a telemarketer or bill collector.

She says I have to do this anyway. It's not personal. It's just that she has to be able to figure something out.

The simulation is ready.

I get up and head into the sim room. It's totally black. She nibbles my ear for luck. It's been a month and a half since I had to interact with a single monkey. That's long enough to prefer the universe stay monkey free. I can feel the gun pressing into my stomach from where I've pushed it into the front of my slacks between my beltline and midriff.

She goes back into the prep room, closing the door behind her. In a few moments, I'll be back in my truck on the way to the college. A couple of days before it all started it's final descent into perfection.

There's an electricity in the air as the thing powers up.

Time for human existence. Just long enough to figure out where we did something that god wasn't expecting. That's the real mystery she's sending me back for. She'll watch extra close this time to see if she can spot where we depart from her plot and start working on our own novella.

My skin is tingling. Here we go.

Time to learn how to eat again. Food is good. What bodies do with the food when you're done eating it is a bit less fun.

In a few hours I'll eat and have my first bowel movement. That's when I'll really remember how mundane human existence is. Nothing is more prophetically human than a damned bowel movement.

I reach into the pocket of my jeans and adjust myself. I don't want to appear spontaneously in my truck while having my cock out of place.

I'm sure she's laughing right about now, being as she can read my thoughts and everything. In my youth any thoughts involving my cock and God being able to read  my mind would've scared the poop out of me. But not these days. God's a corker. she has a brilliant and warm spirit - and a deep cutting sarcastic wit to go along with it. In any bar where a group of women were talking, God could sit amongst them, be in the converation, and I don't care what actress or model she's there with. She could be in a burlap bag with only half of her charm and looks...and you'd pick her every time. Whether you're male or female, based on her personna and general good will. God's no goody two shoes - believe me. But she's not going to be pissed that a male monkey was worried about which direction his penis was pointing for comfort's sake. After all, she designed my sense of comfort and my cock in the same week. She *knows* that tight denim bugs it.

Something you really need to know about God is this:

The only thing she holds against man on any regular basis is the fact that most major religions see her as male. Even the damned Christians had this wrong. She tells me one night when we're over in one of heaven's countless sushi bars that you'd figure that them knowing about the whole Seven Days Of Labour she went through building the world, that the Christians would have straight ahead fucking deduced that she was a woman - or at least feminine.

There's a dim light, and then I'm there. Here. Now. This time I have a lot more knowledge about how it all started. God's perspective on Ryan. How the spread of the whole drug craze kicked up.

It's confusing all over again. This is my mind changing back into the physical mushroom garden it has to be in order to regulate body functions. God, body funtions. Grotesque.

It's actually Friday night, but it feels a lot more like Monday.

It's one of those evenings in the extreme end of Fall that lends itself toward a particular hue and din of early evening dusk. It's after the clocks have all switched, rendering your capacity for safe sleep wholly misplaced for a two-month minimum. Between the rapidity with which light is leached from the sky and the way your day keeps ending without any sign of the sun, you really have to ask yourself a lot of questions about how seriously you should be taking this whole 'It's only winter and the sun will be back soon' mentality. The way the light is totally gone from the sky at six o'clock Central Standard Time, you truly might find yourself stuck in this traffic with some terribly entertaining questions indeed.

You might ask yourself exactly which doctor you need to see in order to become blissfully medicated beyond the post-partem neolithic depression of your very own yet not-so-special breed of seasonal affective disorder?"

You might ask yourself if enough darkness would make people transparent.....like all those really strange breeds of fish that live at the perpetually lightless bottom of the ocean depths.

You might ask yourself, "If I went to work any earlier in the day, while it's still dark outside....working twelve hour shifts....would I eventually lose my skin pigmentation completely? Would this qualify me for any special hazard bonus at the end of pay periods?"

Note to self: Ask personnell about special pay incentives for working dark to dark.

You might ask yourself all kinds of questions. Driving to the university for my overnight security gig, I'm mainly just trying to keep myself awake enough to remember the game scores for the ladies and gents I gamble with at work.

Weaving in and out of this traffic, this positively dead pace traffic is mind numbing. To keep my head in gear I'm scanning the AM band looking for real news feeds. Listening for what games the announcers are talking about. I can look up game schedules anywhere, but if I'm gonna find a mark to screw for cash at work, it'll have to be for a game they've actually heard of involving a team or player they care about.

No one you want to take money from bets the farm on the Kansas City Tadpoles of Doom during the off-season. And I do mean no one.

There are cars quagmired for as far as I can see. Even the high speed interstate merge ramps are moving slowly. Forty miles per hour. If things get much slower, I could try to work on developing my cross country cycling skills. On paved roads, riding atop a glistening titanium skeleton combo-cycle, a good rider could make the next ten miles in just over 11 minutes. For those of you that don't know, that's really trucking it for a foot powered machine. That would, in fact, be the rather literal equivalent of hauling one's ass in a truly serious manner. I once knew this kid - a semi-pro cyclist in the town I called home while away and enrolled at a local college - this kid, he kept bitching about all the tickets the local cops gave him. He'd get these tickets at all hours of the day and night, riding his bike at around forty miles per hour through normal pedestrian areas, weaving in and out of traffic like some death-crazed bug looking to make it's ultimate gate crashing experience into the hood or grille of some kind of oncoming traffic.

For a long time, I didn't believe this, reality being what it is and all. But I eventually hit a traffic court session with him once, just for shits and giggles. Believe me when I tell you this: There is nothing worse than a pissed off judge realizing that despite the fact that this is your third visit in a month to his court room the fact that you ride a bicycle everywhere means that he can't yank your license. Thus, while he can fine the living daylights out of you, he can't do much more than be a moderate annoyance to the stability of your bankbook balance.

Between the honks, deadpan straight ahead stares, and the nasty rattles of a highway full of dying machinery, I'm trying to find something decent on the radio. Not that I like the radio, mind you. I despise most media forms. Colourful ads, catchy norms, attractive voices and pictures...it's downright disgusting. And the way everything is so damned accessible to me....it's the ultimate indicator of how old I'm getting. When the slutty little sixty second promo spots on the radio can get your dick hard enough for you to remember a particular brand of creme-filled cookie, you're definitely pushing into old-person territory. It's a sign of the end of it all for your head when a well-paid but over-educated kid working for the Nabisco corporation can identify your thought processes so well that he doesn't really write so much of a commercial script as a marketing equation to identify your genre-ship in the 6 o'clock radio crowd for a given AOR station.

Bicycles don't have radios for precisely this reason, by the way. I think this is mainly because of one of two reasons....either A) Nabisco doesn't know a damn thing about titanium bicycles, or B) The average pro-level bicycle manufacturer's marketing department doesn't like Oreo cookies. I'm not sure which, but I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. Sometimes it's like that with cookies and bicycles. You have to see it all the way to the middle to get to the driver.

Sports is one of the few things I allow myself to be media tormented over. Most people never really understood my interest in sports. Y'know...all the various trivia and statistics. How many times two teams faced each other at a given stadium. Who won the game, which players were significant. This is normal to moderately in depth stuff. Me, I can tell you what brand of socks a player from the sixties was endorsing at that game. Ebonically speaking, I know my shit from my cow paddies.

Sports is just games and play, they would say.

So is most of the stuff people do to make children, I would reply.

I'm fishing through the old AM frequencies on my car's stereo looking for my broadcasts. You can lose yourself for hours this way. Make any traffic bend or jam more bearable. You do it like this: You start at the very top of the frequency spectrum and work your way down. The higher the numbers, the more likely you are to find something besides white noise, however commercial laden and generic the transmission may be. The lower the number, the more static there is, but anything you find that's not static is probably pure gold to some lucky listener.

Near the top four digit freq's on the AM band you get typical adult radio. Tinny...for some reason there's almost no bass frequencies in my AM. Five year old mega hit songs by one hit wonders you can't remember the name of when they were famous - let alone now. In the higher bands of the AM spectrum you also get the modern equivalent of name brand religion at designer price invocations. All taking donations 24 hours a day to the willing and wanting. All selling the same old line that you get at the hospital:

With enough money, we can heal anything.

With enough change rattling in your pocket, God hears you. It's the whole communal christian reality of how God's supposedly broke a lot.

Die wealthy enough, and you don't need a conscience.

I'm near the top right now, listening to someone talking early evening Theology.

Early evening theo means that you're going to hear a bit about fire, brimstone, salvation - the whole sign here deal - but that it's not going to be enough to upset your dinner. You're going to know God has been pissed at you since before you were born, but the reader isn't going to make you sleepless because of it. They mainly only pull that shit during the very very small hours of the night.

I keep tuning, looking for mention of games.

Sports has always been something useful and interesting. A literally infinite supply of trivia applicable to any given day of the week. Sports statistics provide the perfect answer to the age old college question of exactly where else in the bleeding universe will you ever use algebra in daily life. Sports is a fun way to blow people's minds during certain sports holidays. Sports can give a basic average guy like me a reason to travel the United States. Pheonix, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami.....nearly every major city has a professional sports complex. Pick a major team to follow, and you could stretch out the whole country over a couple of years - and still not see all of it. Pick more than one sport, preferably those that are seasonally opposed and you can really keep your mind busy.

Golf, football, hockey, formula racing, soccer, billiards. Add the new agers gliding on asphalt in their myriad variations on the skateboard, and you have a sport for nearly every interest category. Don't like the idea of watching men pit strategies and wills?

There are plenty of competitive sports for lasses as well. Basketball, soccer, tennis, golf.....the sexual revolution has officially moved from the bedroom out to the grass fields where grizzled washouts like me let fantasies play out in the bodies of people with better knees, stronger arms, flashier buttocks, hellacious endurance.

All of these people could outrun me on my worst day. So in a way, I'm glad that they're where they are instead of where I work. I would hate to have to chase down the teenage male angst driven equivalent of Jackie Joyner Kersee at my age.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for exercise and keeping fit, but let's be serious for about ten seconds here:

How badly do you really need to see my 32 years of intestinal growth hanging down to my chin while I'm in the grips of a massive myocardial infarction? Le'ts talk CPR, as in Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation. As in how well do you do it. As in how interested are you in rubbing stubble. As in how much tongue do you really have to give this situation.

Anyone who says they can't find something Sports-related that interests them simply hasn't watched the right broadcast of ESPN to get hard enough to play. Give me a so-called 'anti-sports personality', a couple hundred dollars, and a single evening and I'll bring you back someone who snarls at goals gone bad, outfielders gone to lunch, and goalies who missed their calling as birdwatchers.

Give me a decent sports-bar and a halfway decent television draw in the pub, and I can really hook a naysayer.

The real key to convincing the masses of the absolute vectored potential of it all lay in one very simple part of what I do. You show people that these million-dollar making, Ferrari-Testarossa-driving, three-cheerleader-fucking, ex-girfriend-beating, twelve-sandwich-eating athletic powerhouses can make them enough money to put a cursory scan of MSN sports onto their plates.

You show them your car.

You show them your computer.

You show them your apartment.

You show them your utility bills.

Then you show them a seat at your kitchen table, where you sit them down to a smorgasbord of receipts.

Horse track tickets that have made you money. The scores and newspaper clippings from the very first time your bookie told you, "Don't come back."

Not because you screwed him on money by not paying.....he's got his own group of poker buddies to help with that situation - trust me. It's because he'll have to find another way to pay rent now that you've beat his ass purple on a longshot Thai boxing match. It's because his girlfriend asked for your number - being as she's still got some of her belongings in the trunk of the car you're taking from his house in lieu of part of his debt.

Average life expectancy of a Thai boxer is early to mid thirties. You get to remember this after awhile. Most injuries can include - but are not limited to - shattered rib fragments getting flung into all kinds of internal organs, brain trauma from internal swelling, airways swollen shut after repeated shots from an opposing elbow. It's brutal stuff, but incredible fighting. Wet stick smacking sounds combined with a visceral fighing style that emphasizes incredibly strong leg and fist work coupled with knees and elbows.

You can count on never seeing an HBO special featuring De La whoever you pick to lose money with against a young Thai powerhouse. Someone's going home in a bucket, with their carcass powdered, drilled, and dribbled like toffee back into a tin cylinder. And it happens fast. You can't get this kind of real thing in the U.S.A. For this, you go to find underground stuff. U.S. networks aren't exactly big on knees and elbows - even on the pay-per-view side of things.

You show them dollars and cents. You show them ticket stubs, photographs, hats, pins, banners, pennant race memorabilia - you show them all of this in the scope of a second job.

And then you refer back to the apartment, the car, the utilities, the computer, the kitchen table......and you knock on the solid wood top of that table. And you explain that these football stats make this happen. That now that you've got enough skill and knowledge and contacts and money earned.....that you're only working to pay for food, fuel, and the capital for your next big trip.

You tell them that Jesus not only built your hotrod, he fucking financed the flames and pitchofork toting visage of 'de debbil' anodized on the side of the engine block by selling units of His very own whole blood plasma. You tell them that when reporters tried to reach him for comment, that his sole statement was, "Shroud of Turin, mah ass!"

Mid-frequencies, and near perfect dark outside. While I'm only about ten miles from the university, it will take me nearly thirty minutes to traverse the distance by car. Note to self: Buy decent running shoes next time a population jump of more than one-hundred-fifty thousand is indicated in the local newsies. Learn to run to work, thus shedding pounds and avoiding a heart related collapse at your video desk on floor 5 of the university science building. This might just work, considering that it makes sense that even my mother might have bought. Get some nice shoes. Run to work to avoid traffic. Jog to lunch to lose the weight you just ate. Stay on the jogging trails and off of the highway. Embrace nature. Find perfect dark somewhere. Discover all natural silence.

Sooner or later this whole damn traffic situation will come down to facing the reality of my learning how to avoid it altogether.

The more I run, the less I will have to deal with traffic. Traffic needs cars. Cars need people. Avoiding cars means avoiding people.

No sweating drivers.

No nose-picking boogers wiped under the seat drivers.

No singing numbskull drivers.

No waving at people to cause them to bend their will drivers.

There will, in point of fact, be no drivers to contend with at all.

Reflexivley...the more I run, the less I will have to deal with people.

It probably also means that as soon as I start running enough to enjoy the lack of people, that a car will start to seem like a great idea again, especially given what might feel then like a real lack of traffic problems.

Note to self: Buy really good running shoes. After all, what self-respecting athletic junkie would play spiritual dodge ball in anything they bought at their local Payless Shoe Source? We are trying to move ourselves forward.

The sign for the university is coming up on my right. I'm getting into the right lane now. Veering right for the hunter green marker of higher education.

Only a few minutes more, and I'll be back at the modern equivalent of middle aged prisoner stocks.

In the old days we put people in cells to do their time. Now we have smooth carpeted cells in lots of low-rent-subdivided-tier-zoned office complexes. If I worked downtown, the only difference between what I see going in to work would be the presence of a more upscale design influence. Downtown you get steel and glass sculptures to environmental indifference. At colleges you get old-school brick and mortar construction. It's not that this college is metaphorically stuck in some sense of the structural and architecutural bronze age.

It's that the past is stuck in the school. There's a lot of this modern education for some reason.

It's now that I can see why the traffic is so totally jammed up. Why cars are piling into position and basically dropping to three miles an hour as they pass the school. Since there's not any kind of school function at the stadium or banquet hall tonight, I've been wondering if there was a wreck a few miles further up the road, but the real roadblock is right in front of the school's exit. The reason no one is in a hurry to drive is a few hundred yards before it, to be precise.

From my point of view there are a few cars that look stalled. They all have their passenger doors open. All of them are sitting nose to ass as though there's been some kind of instant mass collision. Traffic is slowly milling around them as best they can to either continue down the highway or up to the exit ramp for the college. The closer I get, the better I can see it all. There must be like fourteen cars, all stopped.

Passenger door open, no drivers. People must've left to the breakdown lane side of the cars to exchange insurance. Call for ambulances. Let bosses, loved ones, lovers, friends, agents -whatever - know that they were going to be late.

Problem is, that while there's all these cars at a stop, there aren't any drivers beside them ranting and raving at one another as they shake insurance cards at the skies above.

All of the people are lined up matchstick style about 150 yards off the side of the road as though they've been spray painted there using some sort of special people stenciling kit.The chain starts with the first person shaped into an X fromhow their arms and legs are placed. This person's hands touch the next person's feet. This chain looks like it has enough people in it to explain all the cars. The chain of people isn't straight, but has a little arc to it. No one is moving. These people look dead, but no one is bleeding. No one is bruised, broken, or torn in half like you'd expect.

It's not that I want to see some kind of gruesome carnage here, but let's be serious. Car wrecks fuck human bodies up. Our soft little three-dimensional format isn't well suited to fast paced impact with anything much more solid than oxygen gasses. I've seen a lot of accidents on this interstate, and usually someone is so messed up that the state troopers are holding up a little sheet like some kind of peep show curtain.

Another group of cars is stopped a short distance afterward, with these drivers standing and talking like anyone would expect. Pointing at the little arc of people on the soft grassy shoulder. These people have stopped to gawk at the scene. None of them looks hurt. None of them are bleeding or crying.

With no police cars present, I can only assume that this has recently occurred, and the authorities are hopelessly quagmired somewhere behind me. A couple of people are checking the bodies. From the looks of it, someone is checking the signs of one of them. One guy is kicking this girl's head to see if she's alive.

While I'm looking at this, I'm praying she'll reach out and grab his fucking big ass Doc Marten cloaked foot. You know, just to see if he'll piss himself or not.

I turn the radio static to the mute setting and roll my passenger side window all the way down as I drive by the gawker's block. The din of vroom, honk, screech, curse, and hot car rattle is nearly mind melting here. As I'm passing the largest clotting of of onlookers I hear things like:

..just happened .....no crashing noises ......one minute...... and the next there they were ...where are the news crews ....someone called the police .....weird sound ....the school ...call my wife ....my son is in there

I roll up my window

I turn the radio's sound back on. I'm once again blanketed in radio.

This is what is wrong with moden America. We've had so much reality television and real world socio-drama that when we actually see something dramatic occur in traffic we aren't worried about helping survivors or whether or not we know mouth to mouth. We want to know where the news vans and helicopters are. What channel will this be on. Do you think the newsie cameraman caught me or my car on tape? Will I be able to see me on t.v.? How was my hair? Did I sound rattled?

It isn't until I'm in the parking lot that I finally give up on the channel surfing and settle on one of my FM band favourites. It's a quick and simple solution, this giving up on the art-nouveau spirit of the radio flowing in and out between the AM band static. You'd think I'd start and stop with the programmed FM band faves I've committed to the 12 sectors of memory in my stereo. You might think that this would be the smart move for someone who takes this whole thing as seriously as I do.

Note to self: Begin taking numbers and bets for the volume of people involved in a car accident. Given a specific interstate section of road in a major city, and the occurence of a major accident, how many people were involved. What kind of vehicle started it. How many people died. Wanna take the odds on whether or not someone famous bought the farm?

There are a lot of angles here. Lots of things to poke. And let's not get all squeamish about it either - there are stats piled from here to the top of the Empire State Building about this kind of shit. I'd never, ever be able to memorize them all.

But the whole point of this is doing it different. I mean, let's face the facts here. There are thousands of dime-a-dozen hopelessly addicted sports gamblers here in the States. It's not that I have some kind of image to hold up, I'm just terribly good at what I do and can't afford an talk-show compatibility tests going on in people's heads. This means new angles. Disproving someone else's take on my social geometry.

I park. I turn up the radio. I let the announcer break the bad news. I'm waiting for the disembodied voices of fortune coming in the form of out of shape and out of work atheletes posing as franchise newscasters to tell me that I'm a god. Or that I need to think really hard about hocking my home receiver.

My basketball team made good. I hit my mark on the score spread. My favourite guard did his job, but my lead shooter has had a bad day. The team will move forward, but whoever this fat cat college ball palyer thought he was before tonight, the wife or kids or mortgage or lover he had running through his head wasn't worth the blowjob they forgot to give him before he left for the away team game.

I lost $300 on his inability to focus.

Note to self: Send this cat a pamphlet for Viagra. It couldn't hurt.

Tonight I'll collect enough extra in spare small bets from colleagues to make my insurance payment.

You show them the apartment.

You show them the car.

You show them full coverage on a classic car.

You show them the computer. The nice flip top Sony VAIO production system computer.

You show the tech building's desk guard your ID badge.

You show the recessed magnetic card reader your key card. They call it a key card based on the premise that it originally resembled a credit card in some sense, though this is certainly no longer the case.

Once upon a time magnetic cards weren't much different than credit cards. They get a mag strip imprint in a tool that's not much different than you're starting to see at hotel front desks these days. Once you have your card you'd take it to the security gate designed to keep the public from seeing the skunkworks where their lives are planned and supported. You hold the card against a reader. Or you'd slide it through a slot. These cards were amazingly easy to use when they first arrived on the scene for security, but were about as tough to counterfit as a laser printed raffle ticket - which is to say that they weren't too difficult to duplicate at all.

My key card hangs from a lanyard around my neck. It's still rectangular - and from a distance it does look a little like a credit card. On closer inspection it has a radio receiever/transmitter that's updating a random RSA encryption code every few minutes. The only thing that's not random about the system is a numeric seed - where you start the count that generates the random digits, and the algorithm used to mutate the seed into the new random itself. Both have ungodly enryption designed to keep people from being able to duplicate the random system well enough to get access to anything sensitive.

It's star wars cool, and I'm not kidding. High tech invisible transmission hanging from your neck as if you were a tree and it had lost a spelling game. Truth be told this is probably completely backwards from how things really work.

Once I'm at my desk, I start sending mail. I'm e-mailing the marks my version of a billing statement. Giving them notice to settle up.

If you were to receive one of these from me you might mistake it for a simple bragging stake. Me mailing these people like this seems friendly. Your team sucks so badly that the people you staked money couldn't grind them left them gasping on the floor like a teenage virgin after a first night porn star gig.

It's really just me asking for my money. Thanking them for the car payment.

The insurance.

The apartment.

You get the idea.

I log myself into the phone and begin the long dark teatime of my evening. I'll wait for a call to tell me to do my job. It's my rolling over onto my back with my forepaws in the air.

Pre-emptive victimization as performance art.

And I used to think my job was fun.

My security gig here at the school is pretty simple. I'm a third tier advanced security specialist for the on-campus tech building think tank group. When I read the job description I thought this sounded pretty cool. Tier based support. Advanced Security Specialist.

Nowhere did the job description use words like "Portable reference manual", or "Anti-fuck-up police".

Nowhere could you find these words in either the university job catalogue or my resume. Not even if you tried. But they'd be a bit more accurate.

Doctorate level students doing advanced software design projects and on-site research don't do their work with the other undergrad plebes. They need cooler toys to justify bigger grants and more opportunities for under-the-table outside research. They need voice and thumbprint authorization service on talking doors at the entrance to their labs. They need cryogenic multi-line dunk tanks for bacteria cultures. They need Cray XMP's to tell them that their math sucks.

Me, I only need my Casio calculator to do the read between the lines work on where I'm right. These guys spend all day and all night scratching each other's asses as a substitute.

Once logged in to my system I take over priority calls for people who've made it through two other levels of incompetency before coming to my desk. They call with nutty emergencies. Sometimes these things are funny sitatuations like working yourself when you're sick only to find that your cool voice and thumprint activated door doesn't dig you when you're too hoarse to talk and running a fever of a-hundred-and-six.

Have this situation crop up on your way to work and you'll never get to talk to me. Tier One will talk you down and get your contact info to pass it on to Tier Two. Tier Two will tell you to go home, take some meds, and don't come back till you're well enough for your door to know you as well as your mother.

To get me in this type of crisis you'd have something change after you're already in your cozy little crystal palace. You'd have to end up stone cold screwed because your door can't figure out how the hell you got into the lab, but it sure the hell doesn't believe in you enough to let you go home.

Tier three means problems that we can't solve over the phone. Tier three means a caller is either having some really unfortunate madness go down, or has had something go really fucking wrong and needs some help to get the security system to release them. To this end I have a neat rack of books on each floor's projects and what they do. What the protocols are for emergencies. Can they leave. Can anyone else go in. Does a crisis in lab 3D on the third floor mean that the poor bastards in 2D can't go home until we finish a two-day decontamination.

Tier one is all entry-level work study kids. They do their job on a different floor because they don't have any verifiable security experience and can't be trusted to know a damn thing without flapping their jaws about it to girlfriends, boyfriends, or family. These kids make no money, but handle the biggest part of the security service caseload - morons who forget passwords, new science admissions just getting their labs going, people who need to do the paper work in the system to get an upgrade on their clearance or equipment.

The cats in tier two filter out the stuff that's sort of challenging to see all the way into, but can be resolved by tweaking the security computer system in the building. If they can't, it comes up to me. People who have had a power reset in their labs generator system but are genuinely ok by any other measure can be helped by the tier two lads after a password reset.

Sometimes there are as many as ten people under my group, split with six of ten going to the heavy load on tier one. At night we don't need so many, and there are only a couple of tier ones, one tier two, and me. If something happens to keep the first and second tier from showing up I get to do it all. Usually it takes a holiday for this to happen.

Tonight's roster looks boring as hell. A couple of system sets requiring the new RSA private card transmitters for specific labs. Mag-lock diagnostics. System test for spin-up and shut-down. Lots of analysis to determine something simple in the typically altrusitic college way. In the event that end of the world should begin to occur, how are you on your basics?

If God came down and started licking your ear and talking heavy about redemption, do have a plan to reach the nearest roll of toilet paper? Should you find yourself facing down the renogitation of union dues as a permanent alternative to purgatory would you be able to work the combination Emergency Eye Wash/Xanex Dispenser in the hall?

Could you hold out, cope, hang on, cope, be cool?

Or would you wither and crumble like a girl scout's values after some serious harassment.

When push comes to shove, do you roll it off, or are you left with nothing but your cheap mojo bag shuck and jive routine in some Southbend baptist brothel.

We're testing to figure this stuff out.

You know, just in case.

Just in case *what* is something that my salaried ass hasn't had to ponder terribly often.


Once the daily email hooplah is put to bed I start to settle into my nightly routine.

You open your messenger window. Check your system stats. How are your first call solutions looking? Are you letting people off the phone too quickly, or too slowly? Are you getting enough calls to justify your use of the world's oxygen? Are you a kind, courteous, and just solutions technician, or are you Yoda after a seven day tequila bender.

There are a lot of ways to judge your adequacy as a human being. Me, I'm lucky that I have a call center policy manual instead of religion. Let's face facts here:

This manual lets me know in less than an hour whether I'm gonna be shoveling coal into the shithouse fire in my underwear. I've yet to get anything nearing that level of soul security from any organized faith whose pew rows I've necked in.

You look at the log for the prior shift's activities. You make sure that none of the tier one folks has decided to try bedding one of the little science groupies who follow the real work into the building.

With all the little things you have to deal with it's almost easy to miss the single greatest blister experience that this position has to offer.

All the down time you could wish for in the classic military sense of 'Hurry Up and Wait'.

I pop open my system's web viewer and open my sports ticker.

It's a bit like Nasdaq, but with more abbreviations. I found out about the ticker last year from a tier one who liked to lose his money in mounds and mounds of miniscule chunks. Like the stock tickers you see on CNN this thing is constantly scrolling to your right. In it there are several layers you can choose from. Right now I'm watching basketball scores and National Hockey League stats. Working out in my head who'll be top guard, top scorer, worst goalie. You name it, there's a top ten list for it. For every top ten list involving a major sport there is some clod who thinks he's psychic enough to pick where the names will start to make their spirit totem.

Get enough knowledge to learn to predict what monkey will make the top rungs of a given totem pole and you can turn a clod into a secondary income. A secondary income can come in handy for a lot of things.

Apartments, computers, tables, etc. You can do a lot with people's passion for playtime. You get the idea.

Right under this is a stack of video feeds that swap out to show different areas of the building. Mostly you get to see some scruffy haired polo shirt donning cackler who hasn't showered in about a month on their way to the John. Right now I'm seeing a tier one kid talking to our leading Biochem guy.

Most of the grad students don't stop to talk much. In this building there aren't exactly a lot of social butterflies. This mainly stems from the rather harsh fact that it's hard to win a Nobel while you're at a tailgate party.

The Biochem guy's name is Ryan. Ryan is nearly always here when I come on shift, and tends to stay working long after I'm gone. He has the pallor of your standard ten gallon per minute porcelain god. He's getting enough in grants to pay for about a third of next year's planned lab systems upgrades. You'd think that with such heavy financial clout that he'd be beyond speaking to. That if you were to try to talk to him that he'd either smack you down for wasting what little time the gods saw fit to place in the day...or that he'd be too socially inept to manage more than a shifty hello. Ryan, however, is probably the most personable monkey in our particular zoo exhibit.

Put another way, Ryan could probably charm your mother into seducing her brother. He's just that charismatic. For a guy who's actively designing the next decade's therapeutic drug market this is hardly a detriment to his career potential. When the cats from Smith-Kline come to town jingling their pockets, Ryan is sent to speak and spark them into spilling the change.

When he started doing his labwork he was mainly a professor's pet. From there he warmed up to talking to nearly anyone he wound up spending more than a couple minutes alone with. If you're a tier one looking to find a ladder to get you bumped up a notch, this is an easy and powerful friend to make. It's little surprise that he's terribly popular on the first floor.

Add to this his deeply passionate love for professional hockey, and you've probably got enough factoring elements to start breaking down the equation that places my less than glamourous butt in this more than comfortable chair.

The tier one is a mid-twenties lass with one of those erotic looking shag haircuts designed to make her look recently bedded no matter how freshly shower-to-shower prepped she may be. She steps in closer to him and takes his hand. He smiles, pulls his slowly back, and then steps away from her to take a lean against the blue brick wall behind him. They both keep their hands cupped after this. Looks like they've just swapped numbers. Or a list of preferred character traits. Who knows.

My ticker shows that Detroit's hockey team is still as satanic as ever.

They're both smiling. She's taking an incredible amount of his time, but he is far from caring about it. She's an earthy looking brunette who smiles a lot and doesn't seem to be intimidated by him at all. I'm thinking that this guy is probably not too concerned about pharmeceuticals just now. She keeps doing the head cocked with giggles thing too much for my taste, but the little tassles of beads she's woven into her hair would probably make me overlook that.

Part of my job is to make sure the grad students can do their jobs with little to no hassle from the outside world. I'm supposed to be noting who she is by a location scan of who's card key is in what sector of the first floor. I should be entering her badge ID into my terminal to page her badge, thus causing her to go directly back to her desk to do her job.

I could do this. It's part of the job, keeping the right people secure from stupid rubbish. But in my head I see another part of my job as trying to help keep these people happy. A happy person works with a little more vigor than one who just had an apparent partnering effort snubbed by the chump in the crystal palace upstairs. While everyone likes their security and privacy to be tight, no one digs these same conveniences when they're a barrier to getting laid.

My phone rings. On one end is a baffled tier two who claims that the girl in the botany lab is having a strange computer problem. It's either another damn prank, or a serious hacking problem, he says. Her computer was fine when she came in at four, but in the last twenty minutes or so it's decided that to have a personality shift. This computer is mainly just an expensive replacement for a notebook and pen for her needs. Me, I get a mulitple operating system dinosaur that's been jerry-rigged five ways to sunday in an effort to keep it viable for the job. This girl gets a Sun Sparc workstation so she can type the names of plants that look like they seem to dig a particular theta-wave series. For this, she could have a pocket organizer, or even a big whiteboard. Instead, she gets a computer that costs more than my vehicle to use as a simple database tool.

This is a waste of a beautiful computer. To me this is kind of like using the same brush as a famous artist to paint a big sloppy x on a door. In the last ten minutes her computer has decided it agrees with me. And that it really thinks she should consider anal sex with two guys in a section of town just past the university exit on the freeway.

On one end of the phone is this tier two telling me that he's checked the situation out and from what he can tell she's not making it up or playing some kind of ultra-advanced prank on us.

Los Angeles will have a new assistant coach. New York's Yankee Stadium is expanding the media capabilities of it's press center to allow for even better online coverage. A potential cheerleader is kicked out of tryouts in New Orleans based on evidence that she may have been a man as early as two years ago.

Live streaming data is a pristine thing. It's not hard to imagine a future where people with addictions are cured with the removal of chemical habits in favour of continuous information streams piped straight to their cerebral cortex.

I'm biding my time by alternating between stifled chuckling and watching Ryan and the girl on my video feed. They're hugging.

The tier two is telling me that he's checked the address sending the information, and based on what he can tell from the network, this address belongs to the receptionist's phone. I calmly assure him that it's relatively unlikely that our 45 year old menopausal receptionist is actively living an alternate life as two boys that spend evenings shaking down our science staff for possible butt-play.

There's a long pause on the other end of the phone. Work enough phone supprt and you can narrow down what the long pause means based on the tone of the abysmal sigh that follows it.

"I could be wrong, of course, but Claire just doesn't look like two cats in a woman suit to me."

In the video on my computer's desktop Ryan and the brunette hug for a moment, and then she's leaving. Ryan watches her walk down the hall until she's out of the view of this particular camera. He's wearing a smug grin. He looks particularly satisfied. He stands straight again and dips his left hand into his pocket and then out again.

Ryan looks up at the camera and winks. At the camera, or maybe he thinks it's more like winking at me. Either option is equally dishelving just now.

The tier two is sounding a little pissed off. He's reiterating the problem and trying to explain to me that there's some kind of catastrophic flaw in the system if two guys from off-campus can be pounding cheap talk onto her screen at will.

The problem with being in the middle of a three rung ladder is probably that you're way to concerned with being taken seriously enough to be given climbing orders to take very much of my sense of humor.

I could explain to this guy what's going on. This could be construed as part of the job. People helping people. You scratch my back, I scratch yours. Don't climb on the backside unless you're genetically pre-dispositioned for the reach-around.

But in most places, you give away too many of your card tricks and you end up playing solitaire on a folding cardboard table in your local homeless shelter. You don't get comfortable chairs by helping everyone make you look less extraordinary.

So I tell him he's probably right - it's the end of the world as we know it. I'll look into it. I'll call the NSA and have them send spooks to chase down the offending data tyrants. Will this make him happy enough to go eat enough Grape Nuts to fiber loose whatever elongated stake has lodged itself in his bowels? Has he gotten any lately, or is his mom holding out on him.

The trick here is to berate him until I hit an eclectic funny-bone nerve in his head, thus triggering a chuckle. If he laughs, then we both acknowledge that I'm about as serious as I am - which isn't much at all.

I get him off the phone. This problem won't take long to solve, but will probably be the funniest thing I get to touch base on this month. It's not going to make me famous in any way that I'll want to brag about, but let's face facts here:

How often do you get to rescue a girl from her over-sexed piece of office equipment?

Most computer system pranks are really only funny to the people that are pulling them off. The yanker laughs in a nearby cube while the yankee sits there in dumbfounded shock and growing anger at whatever teenage trick his new toaster is pulling.

There are a ton of tricks you can pull on people who use computers. Part of this job is learning them so that you can either prevent them, or unscrew them. With smarter people below me on the ladder, I wouldn't have to deal with any of it. But part of the problem with tier one and two people is that if they were any smarter I'd eventually have to share my desk with them.

Tricks to make computers act alive, tricks to make them act broken, tricks to make them act plague ridden, tricks to make them act posessed. Tricks to crash the network, tricks to make the network crash the computers.

There are as many fun tricks to play with computers as there are things that people don't know about them.

All kinds of neat stuff any meagerly competent and bored teenager can pull off with their eyes closed and pants off. Computer pranks are a common thing in any place where damn near everyone has to use one.

In our building, however, the bored teenagers are in their twenties and more than a few of them sport advanced technology degrees.

This trick - the ass hungry chat-mongering database computer in the botany lab - is not so simple. This is a moderately complex stunt that catches classification as an oldie-but-goodie type of gag. It's not a whoopie cushion in the couch so much as it is a couch that looks like a whoopie cushion.

Networks work a lot like the mail does. You have a set of major links called servers that act like post offices. Traffic goes in, traffic goes out. Each little piece of traffic is like a piece of good old fashioned paper mail. It came from someone's house. This house has an address. In this case, someone's house is mailing out hallmark astro-glide greeting cards. Being as the average christmas fan doesn't necessarily dig this sort of card, the sender has decided to make it look like someone or something else is sending the traffic.

All of the network traffic in any recently networked building passes through the same address system. Data, phone lines for voice and fax, video monitoring, and security systems all have this in common. The various security card readers use a network address that's not terribly dissimilar to the one my computer uses. This is done so that the system can, in theory and practice, send or receive from any capable piece of equipment you plug into it.

To send the shut-ins on any of the lab floors a message offering them mind-expanding experience without getting in trouble you make it look like it's not coming from you. Sensitive players in this field will typically try to avoid making their work appear to come from anyone else either. So, this leaves you faking network attacks from phones, card readers, and video systems.

In this case, we have the mystery of the erotica consumed multi-line master-phone downstairs in the front entryway. Claire's desk. The network knows this is where the phone is as well as I do. In our system, only one piece of equipment can have any one address at a time. Since no one uses Claire's phone at night, the address for the phone is free and clear. That makes it a pretty attractive target to fake. Stopping this kind of thing is a simple matter of making use of the suspicious address from the device that it's really associated with. The server will see both uses of the offending address about as clearly as you or I might spot a turd in the party punchbowl and shut them both down for awhile.

In other words, all I need to do is pick up Claire's phone for a couple of seconds to make a temporary status transition to the position of computer priest in the eyes of our girl with the raucous network problem.

Somedays, I love my job. I set my phone to take all calls directly to the inevitable limbo of my voice mailbox.

"Don't go sending out network text messages offering sex to the natives. Well, at least not until I get back. I'd hate to miss something interesting."

My big black phone gleams with a row of red and green line status indicators. A permanent grimace of numbers and little alphabetical symbols does all the smiling the thing can pull off tonight. A sign above the buttons lists the escalation number for the local and campus police should anything interesting occur. Outside of this, my phone doesn't say anything back.

On my desk there's an announcement that the Chinese will be fielding some new ten year old skating prodigy at the Olympics next year. I stoop over my desk long enough to jot her name down on a paper scrap lingering near my coffee cup. The cup is riddled with cracks that are supposed to be intended imperfections acting as textural substance. It's trash masquerading in broad daylight as itself in the hopes of achieving performance art. I bought this cup with the twenty dollars I made in my first adult wager. Oddly enough, the bet wasn't even about sports.

I head for the elevator and press the arrow pointing down to the first floor, home of tier one, our little cafeteria, and the reception area. It's about 7:30 now, and for me things are about to change.

For me, elevators have all the regalia of a coffin. I've never been terribly certain why this is. It's not like I've ever really been stuck in one, or been any closer than the eleven o'clock news to an elevator accident.

Maybe it's the insipid way they always reek of that subtle yet overpowering old people scent.

Or perhaps it's the faux wood grain laminate on the walls.

Maybe even the way they have handrails like a handicapped toilet.

Or the sliding doors and the way they're hiding me from the view of the shaft. Nothing about the inside view of an elevator shaft is comforting. It's one of those special little things that all the movies are lying their asses off about.

You let the doors close. You pick a floor in your head. You push the corresponding button. Electrical contacts do their kissing cousins routine long enough for the aids virus of the electrically conductive world to make it's spirit trip across them. The elevator moves to the chosen location.

Elevator shafts are not clean. You can not leap from side to side and snag the shaft cable on your way across. Even if you could, sliding down this cable by your hands for more than a foot or so would be the single most painful experience you'd have for the next five seconds. Followed by a loud wet smashing noise.

This noise would be your head doing it's best interpretation of a watermellon being decimated by a light sledgehammer in the hands of some viciously bad comedian.

Maybe I'm just neurotic, but I hate them. Nonetheless, I'm still far too lazy to take the stairs.

It's a short ride to the first floor. There's that jolt as the elevator grinds itself to a halt.

When I was a kid, I practiced hopping up just before an elevator car makes it's complete stop. I did this with the crazy idea that if I were ever in an elevator accident that hopping right before the bottom would somehow save my poor doomed ass. I've studied enough science since then to realize that this is not the way gravity and inertia do the bump and grind.

The elevator opens to a blue brick hallway. On one side just a little down the hall and to your left is what sadly passes for our cafeteria. Standard coin-operated machines, bad coffee, and the stink of carpet cleaner pervade.

About ten feet farther is the right hand turn that leads us to the entryway where Claire does her daily toiling. Along the way is the camera where I watched Ryan and the beatnick tier one girl making eyes a little earlier.

Welcome to DCD, the national airport abbreviation for Claire's desk. Those of you on the port side of the cabin will note the amazingly large plastic waste bin filled with today's munched diet bar assay.

Our Claire is on a mission to look a bit less like the decade long married woman that she is. With the mid-forties looming large on her horizon her metabolism is no longer racing to compete with the twenty year old girl group and has decided to begin storing everything she consumes should the unlikely event of a nuclear winter or ice age occur before she can make it back down to the local fast food eatery of her choice.

Claire's diet bars are top shelf all the way. Almost totally carb free they should be losing enough weight for her to claim the loss of a small child at bathroom stops. Unfortunately she eats enough of these a day to make up for any other concessions she's making in how she eats when she's not at her desk.

Those of you on the starboard side of the aircraft will note the small photo display of Claire's disenchanted husband and statistically predicatable children. As we make our approach you'll also see the keyboard sized phone system nexus she controls begin to make it's way from under the wing and outside your view into the center of your foggy little pieces of the plexiglass farmland near the center cabin area.

The phone shows a few lines active in the tier one area, but nothing making it's way to tier two or my voice mail.

This means that my phone isn't likely to have racked up an orgy for me by the time I get back to my desk. Shame, because I'm just in that kind of mood today.

Claire's phone looks as free of prurient interest as I'd expected. I lift the receiver off the hook, and dial directly into my voice mail.

There's the sound of my voice message coming up

"Thank you for calling University Advanced Security, this is Paul in tier 3 support. I'm away from my desk at the moment, but if you'd like to leave your name and extension I'll be - "

and then a brutal static click as the connection conflicts with the illegal traffic address.

The server has just disabled the address for Claire's phone until I tell it to do otherwise. Right now a couple of guys are probably a little disappointed about the end of their gig as internet sex gods, but I'll bet you ten bucks that they're still amused as hell.

Ten dollars may not seem like much, but trust me - it all adds up in the long run. You really wouldn't believe what you can do with these little wins over time. With enough small wins you have a major victory celebration.

Something warm is now making it's way down the chubby little digits of the hand holding the phone's handset. Some sort of funk is moving over my fingers and palms, following gravity on it's own little analogue of the elevator's travel itinerary.

Anywhere you want to go from here - as long as it's down.

Not fast like water, but not slow like syrup.

What did Claire do, decide to hide a Dr. Pepper diet trespass by pouring it into the damned phone? I lick my hand.

The fluid tastes salty and a little metallic. Kind of like the taste of medium rare steak.

With the light the way it is, it takes me all of another minute to realize that the mystery fluid is blood.

I drop the receiver on the desk and start shaking the blood off of my hand.

Little drops of blood start doing that whole eighties art-nouveau paint splash thing on Claire's desk blotter of the month. The subdued pastel tone dolphins watermarked into the background of the blotter paper vanish underneath ugly red toe-nail polish colours.

The highlights on the drops show off how blood splashes on horizontal surfaces make little stretched toroids you can examine to determine splash direction and speed.

Reaction time.

Did I cut myself and not notice? Am I walking on someone's body, or is there some horror movie axe-murderer hiding somewhere on the first floor waiting for me to do something sin-related so that he can add to his frag count for the night.

This is the sort of rational thought system that starts to play through my head. You look at the breach, and you run it all down. This problem has ocurred. This can be accomplished in what ways. Out of all of these possible causes, what's realistically possible. Out of what's realistically possible, what's truly probable.

In logic courses , they'd call this a bastardized version of Ockham's Razor. Ockham's Razor is a very elegant way to cut through the myriad possibilties of life. In a given situation, you eliminate all improbable and impossible options. Whatever's left is most often the truth or cause of the situation you're pondering.

If there's a dead guy in the parking lot, and a kid is found wandering nearby, the law says that it's not necessarily nice to assume the kid is a wannabe serial killer. You have to investigate your options and have a trial to determine the truth.

Ockham's Razor says to hell with all that extra work. Go with your gut. You have a dead guy, and a live guy in close proximity. Whoever is breathing at the end of round one is probably your perpetrator.

Ockham's Razor says that I've probably cut myself somehow and just haven't noticed it yet, or someone else was hurt and went to get a bandage before cleaning up the phone.

I check my hand. No cuts. No blisters. No petechiae.

Petechiae are the cool little pinprick to birthmark sized lesions you might get under your skin if you have AIDS or a really nasty virus such as Marburg. They're a sign that whatever you've caught is now causing the separation of one layer of sub-surface tissue from another. The little separations fill with blood and get squishy and soft to the touch. You have to be a really <i>special</i> level of sick to get Petechiae.

I'm looking at my forearm when I hear a dripping noise. It's kind of what you'd expect to hear if you tried to pour an egg yolk on to your floor a spoonfull at a time. I look down at my feet, and there's more blood. A legal pad sized puddle is beginning to form and fan out along the grid of the floor tiles.

Drip drip.

I look at the desktop where I dropped the handset. Getting back to our egg analogy, the handset has cracked and splnitered a little from where it hit the desk. The cracking looks like a boiled egg that's been firmly rapped with a butter knife.

Some things you can look at and clearly see what is going on, but it doesn't register in your head. For whatever reason, the visual imagery is just too far outside of the normal data your brain processes to be accepted as anything but a bad repcetion error. It's like  what happens when you try to watch a really bad antenna delivered TV show.

This guy I knew in high school, he had moments like this from time to time with his father. Stuff his mom claimed had been going on for years that simply went unnoticed by the rest of the family. His dad would do some really funny stuff when the mood hit him.

Being truly schizophrenic, his mood swings could produce everything from slightly different mood swings to outrageous behaviour patterns.

Behaviours like getting up at two in the morning to make instant pudding that he'd pour into every shoe in the house.

Behaviours like stripping naked in the front yard, throwing on a sheet toga-style and claiming to be John the Baptist.

My friend said that for years his mom claimed all kinds of crazy shit that no one else ever noticed. That somehow when his dad started acting nutty it was as though he turned invisible. This guy went on to tell me that when he first started being able to see it, there was a weird sensation of feeling dizzy as if a host of skewed images slowly lined up and made sense.

Personally, I don't know how you'd not be able to see your dad in the front yard showing his ass and offering to baptize the neighbors. I don't see how you could miss this sort of thing at all. Personally, I'd expect the presence of the local authorities and a guy reading your mom the riot act about getting him committed might have tipped most people off to the fact that something was just not quite right about dear old Ward Cleaver.

But I think I understand what he meant about the imagery lining up, and feeling a little bit dizzy and nauseous as you finally started to see something you've been missing despite it being right in front of you.

Right now I think I get this in a very real way.

Right now I think I'm ready for some instant pudding served by a toga donning madman.

This might be because of the elevator ride, or the fact that I have someone else's blood on my hand just dying to infect me with whatever sexually transmitted diseases they've picked up over N years of living a deliciously hedonist lifestyle.

Or maybe it's because the telephone handset, little black rain cloud that it has decided to become, isn't going to cooperate and help to make me look like a tech stud for the chick in the botany lab tonight.

Maybe it's because instead of just being broken from the fall this particular handset is bleeding from the little chips and cracks it received when I dropped it on Claire's desk.

This is telephone service so lifelike that it actually has a pulse.

Ma Bell would be mightily intimidated, if this weren't some kind of trick. A trick is what this has to be. Phones don't bleed.

Someone is playing a prank. Maybe one of the tier one or two people. It'd be so funny if it were. Picking on the chick in the botany lab to bring me down here just to experience the breathing and bleeding tribute to totally clear long distance voice service.


If this were real life, I'd be having some sort of inner moment to go with the wall shattering breach of reality that's occuring here. In the movies they make it look like your mind stops when reality challenges your concept of the universe.

The whole world stops for a couple of moments, and you get perfect clarity of the event. There's always a change in the soundtrack, some ridiculous circular pan of the camera, and then a swing back in just to make sure the audience is catching your reaction.

In the movies this is always called a reaction shot. A closeup so that everyone can make sure to turn in the votes for best makeup when the academy is passing around the rostrum of categories to vote on. Best photography. Best edit. Best panoramic example of how to make life seem a little less plastic and a lot more anti-lucid.

Me, I have fairly good skin. No blemishes or major scars. My face might look smooth and youthful were it not for the the rate of growth of my facial hair. Most guys they shave in the morning and wind up with five o'clock shadow.

I get the 11 a.m. total eclipse, making me look like some sort of meagerly overweight throwback from a Camel ciggarette poster.

In this shot, as the camera is panning around you see my eyebrow raised up - just like Mr. Spock on the mouldy oldie Star Trek episodes when some woman in a tight mini-skirt licks her teeth in his general pointy eared direction. I'm looking wholly icti-fied at the phone laying there breathing on the desk. I'm looking around to see who the merry prankster is. I'm trying to see if there's some rational explantion for everything.

In my movie, as the camera starts to circle me and come in for the final reaction shot, the director earns a lawsuit for pimp-slapping the camera guy until he pans back to the phone as it lays there bleeding out in slow motion. Then we zoom in on that handset, getting close enough to contrast the lines of the handset's grip against the grid lines for Claire's blood pimpled desk blotter. We knock the soundtrack down to being elevator music in your head. We slow everything down till you can see the handle slowly swell and release.

Swell and release. It's not like the sea or any kind of post-cosmic orgasmic state.

It's just that the phone's breathing now too.

The camera would start to zoom back out slowly, gaining speed, passing me by, seeing the cheesy artwork of the entry forum whiz by, out through the glass of the entryway in that magic camera way.

You know how cameras do it in the movies...sliding through the glass without breaking a thing.

Out past the entryway and the first key card doorset so that you can see the building's desk guard. Out past his little pulpit type standee and through the doors that lead into the building itself until you're looking at the outside of the building.

All like you'd get in some kind of haunted mansion movie.

You know this kind of shot. It's the one that makes it clear in your head who the bad guy is. It's not the scary looking curator or the shady, tall, gaunt, angular features millionaire. It's not the kids who are overnighting in the house because they can't afford a proper hotel room to fuck in.

It's just the house itself.

My little moment would be like this.

Just like this.

If it were, you know, a movie and all.

But it's not.

Switch to fast rewind view of the camera coming back in hard and fast. Less like some older lover and more like a teenager who's just that much more eager to have a notch on the bedpost. Zipping past the bushes outside and the sidewalk and panning bullet-motion style around a flying insect and back through the main door and through the desk guard's chest so that you can see his organs and internal constructs -

we're running on here, but it's all in style for this shot

- and back through the card key reader wires and all and through the cement block wall and back through the nice calming blue paint on the other side and zipping neutron orbital style around me until we're back at me looking weirded out by the phone.

But the breathing and bleeding part are for real.

And the part where the last major view change the camera makes is panning to my right so that it's looking up and over my left shoulder.

So that you can see the security camera panning to look at me. A little red light comes on, and we now return you to the soundtrack and the movie in progress.

I'm staring at the phone.

It doesn't seem to mind.

I hear the overhead intercom system come on.

"Paul, is that you down there? The sound snoops heard somebody making a little extra noises a few seconds ago."

Our intercom system is mainly used for paging people. Making sure that folks who've gotten up to hit the toilet know that the experiment in their lab just grew legs and ate their assistant. You get the picture.

The voice on the intercom right now is Tim, complete with sloppy breathing and crunchy noises indicating that he's supping on a big can of Barbeque flavoured Pringles. Tim's the tier two who automatically gets my system alerts routed to his desk when I log my phone into voice mail. It's his chance to shine for a couple of minutes.

In any halfway decent movie, this is where my inner monologue would kick in. I'd be talking about lots of interesting philosophical stuff that might drive some poor guy in the theater to thinking I was a half-brilliant madman.

Of course, this isn't any halfway decent movie, and I'm really not brilliant. I just tend to think too much as well as being a little lactose intolerant. This results in little more than my being full of shit most of the time.

I can tell Tim about the phone, and if he's paying close attention he can probably even see the ugly little specks of blood and the small dinner plate sized pool of it by Claire's desk. Hell - if the phone were any closer to the front edge of the desk he'd be able to see the phone bleeding.

But because of the black and white lack of detail he won't be able to see that the phone is bleeding. He won't be able to hear it breathing. He won't be able to make out much more than the fact that it looks like I've given myself some sort of nasty injury while in the general vicinity of one side of Claire's desk.

He's not sounding any alarms, though. He's not giving me our standard safety speech. It's a nifty little speech that I wrote after a consultation with a paramedic. It's what we do when we notice a major injury that clearly shows need to a paramedic call before we bother getting out of out seats. It's what you do should you happen to be scrolling through your video feeds and notice anything unusual and dangerous looking.

You know, things like a guy you owe a hundred bucks to standing next to the reception lady's desk with blood on his hands and a puddle near his feet. It's the little things that these damn tier one and two people miss. But hey - let's be serious here and face the facts:

Their incompetence is my gain. I just have to be sure to be glad I'm not bleeding to death here. Otherwise I'd get the Speech through the com system. It warns me that I "appear injured and should stay where I am until help arrives. This is building security and I have already notified the on-campus ambulance crew. They are on their way and will be here within seven minutes. Please don't try to move too much. I'm on my way to you, and our medical staff will be here very soon. Please continue to hold on."

It's kind of emergency attentive, shows a little bit of heart and professionalism. It's the kind of thing that you wanna hear fromthe 9-1-1 operator when you tell them that you've just accidentally shot someone and need some help. You want to hear that someone out there loves you enough to come to your aid with paramedics and Chips-Ahoy cookies in tow. And a big glass of chocolate milk as the cherry to top the pie of your day.

In case no one's told you, Chocolate is a natural anti-depressant. One of my favourite players in the Red Sox won't even call it game unless he's had half-a-dozen of chocolate candies before the warm-up session. I could tell you who this is, but right now you're a little bit like good old Tim.

Which is to say that I don't know if you can tell your ass from the first two knuckles of the fingers you've got buried in it.

Tim, with his drop dead gorgeous little fae looking wife. The wife who is six years younger than his 24 year old methamphetamine snorting ass. The wife who spends evening and night online in chat groups hitting on anyone who'll talk to her. Who wants to tie you to a toilet and fuck you raw while smothering you with toilet paper so that you look like a mummified egyptian prince who can't leave her. I know this because I've been there. Tim lives in my little apartment complex.

He chose the ugly bown carpet instead of the slightly more expensive and stain resistant silver carpet that my apartment has. This is why his wife's choice in lubricants is all over his bedroom carpet in little smear symbols that show exactly how hard he pushed on a given night. Forward and to the left. A skip like an exclamation mark means someone pushed in and up really good and then made a long slow hard gesture of the hips.

I told her they should try to write their name in the floor for posterity, cause it's not like that vaseline stain set is every coming out of their carpet.

She's moderately amused by this. She was, however, most impressed with how none of it stuck to my floor. This is where the extra hundred for the stain-guard kicks in. The leasing agent touted it's stain repellant capacities. He never even touched on it's ability to impress the neighbor's nymphette wife.

She says they'll work on that, but is pretty interested in seeing if we can do a good interp of chinese calligraphy on my table mats. You have to love Tim's wife Karlie. She's such a precocious little odd-bird in the making.

Tim's a man of the moment in his own adrenaline stoked cracker a month kind of way.

Me, I plan ahead for this kind of thing.

Telling Tim about the phone and everything is possible, and maybe even a good idea. He's got a good head for this kind of thing and is paranoid enough to come up with enough conspiracy that investigating it all might eventually lead you somewhere. But I'm not telling it to him at work. Not only is there a good chance that he'll flip out, but it's also all recorded. The video feed. The audio system.

Fart loud enough in the downstairs lobby on your way out and our security system will red flag the time and capture a good still video frame of how you look with your rectal sphincter doing the kissy-sucky-wedgie dance feel of you expelling the leftover methane gas from whatever flavour of tuna helper you consumed before work.

We're supposed to delete that kind of deal, but I have a library of the sound and accompanying grimace of anyone who's had this happen to them. You know, just in case. You can't be too sure who's gonna make good on a debt and who'll stiff you. So you keep some kind of leverage lying around for the day that the worst case scenario becomes tomorrow's next action item list entry.

Plus, funny as this is going to sound, I want this phone that's bleeding. I want to figure this little prank out. It might be good for next Halloween. It might be fun to know how to do this to someone on their first day of work.

I just want the phone. I want to know how this works, because it's not like a phone to bleed.

"Everything's fine, I just need to service Claire's phone. I knocked the hell outta my knee on her desk, that's about all the trouble down here. That, and I think her diet bars are trying to have a conversation with about four pounds stored in my right butt cheek."

"Well, alrighty then. I'll tag it down as you letting your butt do all the talking. Thanks, Paul."

"Yeah, Tim. Whatever. "

The speaker clicks, and I know he's gone. Well, not gone per se, but at least he's just being a voyeur instead of talking. I'm a silent movie on his screen. Well, silent's not quite right either. He can hear me, but I can't hear him. Things are always so much easier when you can do what needs to be done without having to hear what viewers have to say in terms of commentary. Even if it's just Tim wanting to make like low-brow flatulation humor is a worthy replacement for a decent grade movie soundtrack.

This is the part where I'd normally be separating the wheat from the chaff. But in this case, I'm just making like it's independence day's afterparty session.

In the military they call get togethers meant for nothing more than cleanup G.I. parties. It's the first social event you're actually invited to in the military, only you're invitation isn't so much sent as it is implied by default. A bunch of poor bastards are stuck into a room and forced to endure one another's collective sweat while they pour out two metric tonnes of cleaning supplies.

In this case, all I have to do is unplug a phone, bag it, and clean up some blood splatters. It should be pure poetry by comparison.

In the distance I can hear a rhapsody of cars honking. Sounds like the traffic jam still hasn't properly cleared itself. Much like a bad season start for an underdog hockey team, a good traffic jam can leave the whole vicinity generally fucked for hours. The first car slowing down causes the following car to slow down. Ad nauseum. This backfeeds into a nightmare that the United States Corps of Engineers has been trying to prevent for basically as long as there has been traffic to get hosed. The nightmare begins with our little group of car drivers making like death is a limbo line and ends with someone three hours after the mess is cleaned up having to go about twenty miles per hour slower. These late comers honk and bitch a lot because without the mess there's little visual indicator to the news deprived of why the traffic isn't moving like it should. Get enough of these cars bitching and you can have a sort of concerto.

It's this composition that I can hear above the computer humming under Claire's desk.

I head to the janitorial closet to claim a trash bag for the phone and some cleaning supplies. A few minutes later I'm unplugging claire's phone from the system. I place her phone and it's wall wart sized power adapter into the trash bag. I get a spare from her little office stores section in the janitorial closet and plug it and a new power supply in. It's barely even odd to me that there's a weak trickle of bleeding from the damn phone line before I plug it into the new phone. This stops once I have it hooked up. The phone lights up like it's supposed to, automatically recognizing that the system is in night-mode and should take care of being Claire on it's own.

I clean up the blood off of the floor as best I can. There's a little discolouration in the grout that sits between the tiles, but other than that I've done a bang up job. The wall presents less trouble. The real pain in the ass is Claire's desk. After hand scrubbing her photographs and a few knick knacks I decide to simply trash everything that's not her own personal property. It's a bit intrusive, but it works.

Claire's desk is now clean, save for her unfinished can of Diet Coke, some photographs, and a new phone. With any luck the new phone won't be asking her if she likes it sideways up the butt, but let's ne serious here:

Trans-literal anal phone sex might not be the worst thing that could happen to Claire. Hell, given that she's both Catholic and so terribly happy with herself it might even srpuce up her private quality time with her disinterested husband back at home.

Right now she's at home watching Deep Space Nine re-runs and sucking a can of pringles dry in a way that might make John Holmes edgy. If he were, you know, still alive or something.

Me, I'm double checking her desk to make sure it doesn't look like someone had an old-school coathanger abortion in the immediate vicinity. I'm nervous about it all, but I'm looking all right I figure. Outside of the grout it's all looking super-green. Maybe I should look at shaving my head and adding butch-waxed visage to a line of my own cleaning products. Yeah. This might just work.


Upstairs at my desk I'm looking at the video feeds to see what I've missed. Ryan's been in and out a few times, flirting with the girl on Tier one.

A buddy sends me a chat message online just to make sure I know how pleased he is that Ed Balfour has quit the Dallas Stars to go to town with Toronto. His take on it is that any halfway decent goalie deserves to be with a Canadian hockey team. Typically I'd agree with him, but I know that outside of a warm response from the Dallas audience that all Balfour can count on is taking it in the ass next time he appears at his old home stomping grounds. It's not that I don't wanna give Ed the benefit of the doubt, cool face mask and all. It's just that I know the team's stats and have some inside info on how they're playing without him. On how the new replacement is doing. His new paycheck isn't doing anything but widening his ass this season, and for all the good he's likely to do without Dallas, he'll need those new few inches to help close up the net on game nights.

Tim's wife Karlie is asking what I'm doing tomorrow. It's my day off, and they've got some extra party favours. She's having a girlfriend visit from out of town. Some riot girl from online. Karlie doesn't spell the world girl out, but instead shoots it over as Grrrl. I wonder if this is one of those Tony The Tiger kind of things but decide not to ask her about it. I tell her I'm game for it, as long as nothing more exciting than drug induced sex with a stranger in their living room pops into my agenda. She says she'll pencil me in and let her friend know that I'm 'spongeworthy'. Whatever the hell that's all about.

Some people, they've watched entirely too many episodes of Frasier or Seinfeld to have normal conversations with. Karlie, she's one of those people. She's watched enough of this sort of television to think she's actually witty or something.

The phone is sitting down by my feet, steaming up the bag. It's still breathing, puffing the bag in and out slowly. I can hear these little crinkling noises from the sound of the plastic expanding and contracting. This little white office can sized bag has a dark puddle at it's bottom.

Note to self: Drain bag, buy tampons on the way home.Feed the phone enough cotton to make it respect underwear.

The whole trip back up to my desk, the way I keep looking behind me for blood drops, it's a wonder no one is a little creeped out. What with the occasional slosh from inside the bag it's amazing that no one has wondered what's in the bag. It's good that no one asks. It's bad that no one asks.

This is the job. You wonder how a guy can make it to the third floor with a trash sack containing some blood and a telephone without someone somewhere along the way getting all Alfred Hitchcock on him.

Someone. Somewhere. You’d think it, wouldn’t you.

If this were your job.

If it were, you’d be worrying over the monitors and the way they show the universe passing on minute by minute in these mini-capture still life single frame images. You’d wonder how you’d come out if someone had you on security camera all the time.

You’d wonder if I make mental notes about who’s bathroom habits indicate the smaller bladder.

Who likes what from the snack machine.

Which of the Tier one kiddies the up-stairs folk wants to bang the most.

You’d wonder if I ‘m worried about the volume of your personal phone calls. If I’m listening while you’re breathing hot and liquid angel dust through the digital phone system to your girlfriend in Massachusetts, making the system’s long distance service your personal pimping guide.

You’d wonder what I knew about you. Whether you know it or not, if you could tell just what it is I see and record up here, you’d be a bit more careful about your life.

You’d wonder who watches me. The answer is everyone, and no one.


Test after test after test.

Run this card, pull that one. Enter the right code four times followed by a wrong code more than twice. Did the door lock you out.

Did the weight pad at the lock system make correct measure of what you carried in with you. Are you twice as heavy as yesterday. Is your mass as plausible as your badge says it is. We have all kinds of security precautions here. Some doors, they check your weight as well as your code clearance.

Test after test after test. I’m going door to door, floor to floor, having my very own private conversations with these doors.

I once read a book where these doors could talk to you. And because their job was so incredibly boring you’d have to coax them to open for you. Just like they were rock stars without anti-depressants or something.

You measure how close the card has to get to the reader plate before it unlocks. In a normal corporate atmosphere someone else would be doing this. Making sure the mechanics of the security are all where inside specification. Not letting them slip, because enough little slips and you get someone stuck on the wrong side of security doors. In a real corporate atmosphere someone else would make the same amount of cash I do to do half of my job This being the world and the college that it is my job title is that of an upper level systems security administrator.

Of course in the real world this doesn't mean what you might think. In the old days I'd have had it good at this point in my career. I'd be sitting high and pretty with a couple of asian girls giving me coconut oil handjobs and footrubs while I took just enough of your call to tell you to call someone else. In the old days, though, this job would've went to someone older.

In modern iteration, I'm basically a catch all with only moderately more class than the average Tier two. In the modern iteration this is how it goes at a lot of jobs. Modern technicians get screwed harder the farther they climb up the flag pole. You get to Tier three, and you're suddenly expected to help the trash guy on heavy load days. You get to Tier three and the dude who runs the building suddenly knows your name, cellular phone number, e-mail address, and pager model.

You get to Tier three and you end up giving him advice on how to chat with ten year olds while he's at work so that he won't get caught. You show him how to hide shit no his computer. You help him learn how to make his spreadsheets look cooler. You teach him how to start a word-processor.

You get far enough up on the totem pole, and suddenly you're anyone's gimp and wishing for the old days when you were far too much of a plebian to be of any real usefulness to the powers that be.

All of the pads and locks check out except, of course, for the newest one. This is the part where Ed McMahon would be sitting in the chair next to me, and say to the voice over audience "Well, Johnny, who else would you expect?"

Everytime you buy something newer and hipper to make an old job go faster or smoother you fuck something up.

If I had my way, you’d still be toasting your bread over a fire as a totalitarian effort to reduce call volume.

If I had my way, you'd probably need a license to get me on the phone to ask about a lot of things. But then again, if I had my way, you'd all be richer and pick the teams in the off season in a mock tragedy co-written by Paul Simon and designed to make me a lot richer.

If, you know, I had my way.

The new door is Ryan’s. It's still operating correctly, and one of the few blessings about the relationship between my job and the powers that be is the fact that I'm not allowed to operate a screwdriver and ohmeter. This means that instead of fixing everything broken, all I have to do is bitch to the right person about it. In the old days I would have been checking quality of service and considered a low-rent trumpet boy.

These days, I'm the moral carney of the office equipment. Well, more of a scalper than a carney I suppose. Let me explain.

If your computer self-toasts itself (this is techinese for self-destruction), blow dries your dog, or starts asking for equal suffrage you call a technician. He runs this up to the next tier. This person repeats - second verse, same as the first. This goes until it reaches the right escalation level for someone to call for a trouble ticket. The trouble ticket does not give you frequent flyer benefits, half-off your next mocha at Starbucks, or a free cheeseburger at McDonald's. What is does do is a lot like what the Old Testament closed door rituals were rumored to do. You take this phone number, and you get your ticket number, and suddenly it's like you've done this amazing little summoner's ritual.

A magic carpet whisks another kind of tech in, and he brings real tools. Sometimes you're really blessed and have something too old to get an exact replacement for and you're given the newest component the cat is carrying that matches your job and needs description. The magic carpets tend to look a lot like big white Dodge cargo vans.


NEXT --->