A City Unplugs

by Ian Starttoday

     It had gotten so bad that the state was sponsoring widespread blackouts to encourage socializing among its citizens. People were infrequently leaving their homes, and in the rare times they did, it was out of necessity, like say to gather at a coffee shop to make use of the Internet.

     It was so bad that people forgot how to interact with each other. Once, while at a coffee shop, I witnessed a silver-haired man in a crisp black suit get up to grab more sugar for his coffee only to find his seat taken by a younger guy with black hair down to his lower back – it was then that the first man threw the second by his shirt collar out of his place. At this point mayhem transpired and fearing my computer’s safety, I fled the scene.

     And that sort of thing happened every time you left the house these days — people bumping into each other on the street, resulting in violence. Or it was the opposite: people not even trying anymore.

     The first time I knew something had changed was when I asked a man in the street for the time, and he totally ignored me. After, I tried asking a second time, this time tapping on his shoulder, but he still acted as though he hadn’t heard me. I figured it a fluke but when I asked a second person, she ignored me too.

     Another time, I bought some milk and bread from one of the last markets in town with a human cashier. Even here something was amiss.

     “Beautiful day, huh?” I said to the pale uniformed woman with dark brown hair behind the counter.

     “Yes it sure is, sir. The weather is 73 degrees and sunny, with zero cloud cover predicted,” she responded robotically.

     I noticed the cashier looking down at a printed message taped to her register, with this line of conversation — as well as others — printed in size 18 font Arial on a piece of computer paper.

     The blackouts were carried out with the idea that people could brush up on their social skills — so that the amount of violence could be brought down. And so that people could meet other people, but more importantly, so that they could engage in romantic relationships, as the population had been dipping something fierce and precautions had to be taken. Or else the human race was going to not-fuck each other out of existence.

     Of course, most people ended up just staying inside, waiting the blackouts out rather than face more potential violence.

     During the last one, something improbable happened to me. I was out on my balcony on a fine Sunday afternoon, alone with a glass of beer and a book. My apartment, I should tell you, it overlooks a small park that has largely gone unused in the last ten years. But on that day I saw two people — a man and another man playing basketball on a disheveled hoop missing all of its paint markings. Two twentysomething men playing a game with each other is almost unheard of in our city, where the only possible reason to converse with another human would be to impregnate or be impregnated yourself.

     I watched as the stocky shorter man, possibly Korean, passed in the ball to the other man, a lanky shirtless Caucasian man with long hairless legs. Next the white man took a few dribbles and then exploded to the hoop for a quick two points.

     I studied the thin man’s face as this went on. It had been some time since I saw such easy joy on a person’s face. Even the smaller man — definitely not winning — seemed elated to be in this park on a Sunday while the rest of the city watched from their apartment windows at the game going on below.

Ian Starttoday had a really nice raspberry oat muffin this morning. It made him sick later, but he has zero regrets.

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