Saturday, December 20, 2008

DREAMLAND SURVEYORS, INC.


For Mitch Hedberg, RIP

I.
The strange part of it all was that no one seemed to mind at first. There was no huge outcry, no protests in the streets. Most people were happy to get the Social Security chips installed in their necks due to what they considered the “extreme” convenience of not having to wait in check-out lines anymore or file taxes or vote for the president or program their DVRs. The sensors, mounted in all public and most private locations, pretty much took care of all that. Of course there were fringe Liberal groups and bitter dyke feminists who made a little stink, but they were summarily ignored by the populace at large. Everything passed through Congress pretty quickly, and most people began to enjoy their new freedom from delay and inconvenience as soon as they were able.

Problems did arise, however, when the Intellectual Property people became involved. Lars Ulrich, the drummer from Metallica, led the charge towards artists getting paid every time someone listened to their music, let alone bought or shared it. Some resistance was mustered, but when it was announced that the surcharge would be mere pennies per song and that all monitoring and billing would occur automatically through the SS chip, well, that resistance faded pretty quickly and people quickly got used to seeing the Fair Use surcharge on their monthly invoice, if they looked at it at all.

This did open the floodgates a bit for the surcharges on multiple viewings of films or television programs, but the corporations learned quickly that keeping the amounts charged to seemingly minimal amounts was very effective, and again, protests were reduced to an easily dismissed fringe element. The booksellers attempted this as well, but the number of consumers who read a book more than once, barring those by John Grisham or J.K. Rowling, was so minimal that even with the miniscule overhead provided by the SS chips it still proved to be unprofitable.

Then came the so-called Morality Tax. A joint effort between the media conglomerates and the Religious Right, the Morality Tax basically amounted to another surcharge levied any time a person utilized a celebrity or segment of a film or television show as an element in a masturbation fantasy. The Religious Right reasoned that this monitoring and additional charge would minimize what they considered to be a filthy and unhealthy habit, and the agents and film companies saw a very lucrative and extensive capital source, especially for their celebrity female clients. This agenda was quickly introduced to Congress in an election year, and as it was seen as career suicide for any politician outside of the Bay Area to push for a pro-masturbation agenda, this also passed quickly. Lars Ulrich subsequently mounted a short-lived movement to levy a charge whenever an individual masturbated or had sex utilizing Metallica as background music (the infamous “Metallicum Incentive”) but this received little support, and was quickly forgotten.

Time passed. As monitoring and billing through the chips became more and more streamlined, an unintended use became apparent. Not only could the sensors be used to track music listened to, film and television watched, consumables purchased and celebrities cum over, they could also be utilized to delineate and itemize dreams. This was not an effective political tool, as was originally thought, because recorded dreams ultimately proved to be far too non-linear for useful analysis. However, it was possible to utilize them for further Fair Use charges. For instance, if you had a dream about building a go-kart with Lindsay Lohan and your ex-landlord, Ms. Lohan’s representatives would levy a five cent surcharge. This, as with the other initiatives, passed with little fanfare – until the bills started to come in.

As most individuals have great difficulty remembering their dreams in anything more than the barest fragments, no one realized at the time how extensively pop culture had infested the dream world. When individual citizens began receiving itemized statements for two or three hundred dollars for multiple nights spent in Hazzard County or on extensive dream-dinners with dead relatives, Wolf Blitzer and Madonna, a significant protest was mounted, but it was far too late. The law was the law, and there was far too much money being made.

So then an odd thing began to happen. As individuals were not able to directly control the content of their dreams the way they could control how much music they listened to or how many celebrities they beat off to, they had to engage in other methods to control the content of their dreams. Some began to utilize their alarm clocks to go off at three hour intervals to prevent extensive REM sleep. Some began taking powerful medications that would suppress their dreams completely. Others purchased best-sellers like Dream Control: A New Technique to a Richer, Happier You and 16 Ways Smart People Limit Their Billable Dream Content. The long and short of all this was fewer dreams, less extensive dreams, and unprecedented limits on the content of dreams. Dream surcharges took a sharp downturn.

II.
And Mike Powers is worried about this, very worried. He looks out the office-length window of the penthouse headquarters of Dreamland Surveyors, Inc. and sadly sighs. He attempts to reassure himself that despite the recent setbacks overhead remains tiny, profits are still comparatively high, and regardless of the numerous attempts at consumer control, a small percentage of people were still dreaming every night. No matter what blocks they put in, he comforts himself, no matter how much control they gain, some poor fuck in a trailer somewhere was gonna have a wet dream about Britney Spears and Mike Powers would be there to charge him for it. This last forces a tight grin to his mouth, and Mike rises from his seat, jingles the change in his pocket, and leaves the office to meet with his increasingly insecure shareholders.

As he begins to walk down the olive-carpeted hallway towards the elevators he quickly senses that something is wrong. A walk that usually takes less than a minute is dragging on and on, and Mike begins to feel the stress of moving one leg in front of the other. It isn’t that the hallway is elongating or that the floor is pulling at his feet, but rather that his legs seem to be filled with lead shot. He tries to move them more quickly but finds that he cannot. He leans forward and pushes against the floor with his hands as he steps to try to propel himself more quickly. As he looks up, he finds that the door out of the hallway is suddenly before him. He twists the forged metal knob of the thick oaken door, and is dimly aware while he does so that normally there is a bank of elevators in its place.

As he opens the door, he finds himself in his third-grade classroom. Mike’s mother, approximately thirty years old, sits on top of the teacher’s desk wearing a short plaid skirt and kicking her leg flirtatiously. She smiles at him.

“Hi, honey.”

“Hi, Mom. What are you doing at my work?”

“This is my work, honey. I teach here now.”

“No, Mom. I mean, I just walked down the hall from my office.” Mike shakes his head. “And you’re older than me. And dead.”

Mike’s mother looks at him disapprovingly. “Michael, I wish you’d stop looking at my legs. You’re making me uncomfortable and your father will be angry.”

“I’m not looking at your legs!”

His mother giggles and points to Mike’s groin. He looks down and sees that he now has a massive hard-on straining through his gabardine pants. He looks up in a panic. “I have to get out of here.”

His mother’s face is again a mask of disapproval. “Yes, Michael. I think you should leave.” She points to a poorly-painted, flaking red door. Mike lumbers uncomfortably to it, pulls it open and stumbles through.

He finds himself on the city street outside the building that houses Dreamland Surveyors, Inc. A wave of relief flows over him until he looks up into the sky. Four vast metal legs, each mounted what looks like a state away, reach up miles into the sky where they support a gigantic circular track. On the track, which suddenly appears to be chest-high, runs a child’s toy train releasing small puffs of white from its smokestack. On the great metal legs are affixed hundreds of construction workers with no apparent support besides their clenched knees, banging away at fat red plastic nails with fat blue plastic hammers. Their eyes are glassy, as if drugged or dreaming.

Mike’s perspective again shifts to the sidewalk in front of his building. He is staring up at the magnificent train track in the sky when it occurs to him. He shakes his head in awe.

“They got out. The fuckers got out.”

A fluffy white cloud above the elevated train track quickly forms into a smiley face, which winks jauntily down at the tiny man staring up at it, miles below.





4 comments:

gingatao.com said...

Very cool and orginal. Publishable short story. Are you looking at markets?

mark said...

I like this... I have been anticipating your work.

maekitso said...

Brilliant! Paul is right, me thinks. I can see publishers leaping at this.

Jason Gusmann said...

okay, you guys are all awesome to say such kind things. i submitted this to the berkeley fiction review and got nothing, but if i was serious about publication i would push a lot harder. maybe after i finish my application to the PhD program i'll try again with this one. thanks again for making my day.