I very rarely post anything here that isn’t links but I figured I should while I’m thinking about it. Most days my job is a parade of little interuptions about supposeded problems that demand immediate attention that turn out to be nothing. There is also the terrible work surroundings filled with annoying sounds. But yesterday and today I actually liked my job. I wrote something like 400 lines of code, went to a meeting where the only thing we talked about was how well the project was going and generally wasn’t bothered by any other groups. So I’m sure something will come up soon enough that will throw me in a spiral of rage yet again, but for now at least I guess I won’t complain.
The three of us had been having a really enjoyable time on our lunch break right up to the point when my money stopped working. Now, if you happen to work anywhere near the downtown mall - say, within a three-block radius - or if you have some other grounds for knowing me, you’ll know I’m not the sort of person to let a technological inconvenience ruin their mealtime; but when said occasion is simply made impossible in toto by a malfunction that’s, for once, no doing of my own, well—I can’t choose except to let ruin have its way with the food and drink I won’t be having.
Stuart had played a minor harbinger to all this as soon as we entered the deli and I produced a paper bill from my pocket. “Well, honestly!” he cried, “Is there any need for this arboreal genocide? Calvin, quickly — check your phone. What date does it show? Have we traveled in time to a dark and distant past where civilized men, and donkeys such as our friend here, must carry around deceased flora to trade for goods and services? What century is it, the fourteenth? Is the Plague still upon England?” And so on in really unnecessary detail, straying every now and then from accepted historical chronology, but mostly accurate as far as I could tell. The trouble with Stuart is, he works—and I admit I hesitate for a moment before using such strong language to describe how he occupies space—at a software company whose sales department stopped crying themselves to sleep one night long enough to score a government contract with the Dept. of The Treasury, managing one part or another of the Dept.’s money processing for, as Stuart would put it, the whole county, counties being a questionable if disarmingly charming thing to brag about these days. Naturally, Stuart’s involvement in how digital money works—or in the case of my phantom lunch, doesn’t work—makes him liable to start a lecture on the topic given just about any provocation. I remember one other time we’d met for lunch in the square and Calvin made a movement like someone about to buy a burrito from a food cart, when Stuart boomed his most database-administrative.
“By jumbo, Calvin, are you in fact considering beaming information from your phone to someone in a suspicious vehicle bearing no bank-certification sticker or technology logo whatsoever? Have you no suspicion, man? No shame? Ah, I see it now; clearly the weight of human existence rests heavy on your shoulders so you’re giving away all your earthly possessions to find a more peaceful life in the Andes or some such geography. No, friend, no! Don’t give up! Let us show you the civilized life is worth living.” Calvin just shrugged his shoulders in that annoying way of his, though it’s interesting to note that this time it was much less grating to me, since I wasn’t the one he did it at. Even so, I did find it maddening when his next comment came some ten minutes later.
“Mmm, that’s a good burrito,” he said, as if unaware of how Stuart would take it. The nerve!
Back at the deli, I flashed through the salient parts of the above story in my mind, and so I did my best Calvin shrug: looking straight ahead, knees slightly bent, shoulders going up and forward about three inches, a nice bovine look on my face. It felt slightly flat—lifeless, pedestrian—when I did it, so I flourished a little with a dragged-out “whateeever”. I had picked that up from the skater kids by the fountain in the square; you know which and where.
Stuart’s reaction was priceless. I don’t know how much one typically pays for a good reaction, but this one would’ve called for an auction and a bank loan, I’m sure. His forehead wrinkled, his jaw unhinged, and I swear his glasses moved in a shocked way of their own.
“What-ever? Now that’s a fine sentiment. Beautiful, indeed!”
“Thank you,” I said, “I’m happy to delight.”
“Honestly—explain yourself.” He raised a finger of pause at our counter clerk. “Why would you print money on this fine summer’s day instead of using your phone like a normal person; you know, one raised as a child by something other than wolves? I’ve met your parents many times; your mother’s taste in Japanese food could perhaps be described as extravagant, maybe even eccentric, but she’s certainly no wild dog.”
“If you must know, Stu …”
“… I couldn’t get my phone to sync my money today. I clicked and typed and docked and undocked my tender little heart out, but nothing doing. As the clock was ticking, and the patron saint of information-transfer wasn’t helping—St. Agatha, is it?—I figured rather than miss Friday lunch with my two best buddies—come here, Calvin—I’d print out some cash on the back of a dry-cleaning receipt. So, what do you say, guardian of digital doubloons? Does my story melt your heart of endangered-whale blubber, and am I off the hook? Scott-free?”
They mumbled in their different ways, and I thought to myself, ah, this is why one has friends—to share moments of small victory with them, to agree when disagreement seems a certain fate, to marvel at the human condition together.
At this point, said condition was such that my stomach growled and my eyes followed, doing whatever the ocular equivalent of growling is—I’ll have to consult a website on this later—seeing, as if for the first time, the vast expanse of pastries, sandwiches, salads, soup pots, dinner rolls, yogurts and smoothies, sodas & beers, candybars & fruit, stretching for a good thirty square feet before us. Open refrigerators to our left and right, shelves above and below, a bar in the back, all packed with bags packed with goods packed with nourishment. There was no time to waste; food had to be obtained and consumed promptly. Pause no more, deli employee; we’re ready for your white art! A turkey wrap for me, please, with cheddar chips and ice tea, and my immeasurable and undying gratitude.
And it was at this point that my money didn’t work. Don’t ask me to put it any more plainly than that; it simply didn’t. work. The clerk scanned the printout this way and that, typed in the serial number from the bill manually, tapped in and out of the register menus, sighed exasperatedly, raised an eyebrow at me—in short, she did everything she could to get the cursed thing to register with the Dept. of The T.’s computers, but it all amounted to naught but a series of impatient coughs from the growing line of people queued up behind us and an empty plate for yours truly. My freshly acquired money wasn’t recognized by the Cloud, that was the long and short of it.
“How now?” I asked Stuart. “Can you treat us to some of your database magic? We promise to be rightly impressed, to the tune of nodding sheepishly and whispering things like well I’ll be and how does he do it.”
Stuart coughed, which struck me as a purely tactical move, given the excellent weather we’d been enjoying and his generally admirable health.
“Are you sure you didn’t use this money before? That’s usually it.”
I had to take a few seconds to compose myself, having come quite uncomposed following his idiotic question. “Stuart”, I said, meaning to start with something he’d easily understand, “it would take a barbarian—nay, an automaton—of unprecedented unfamiliarity with the very basics of our currency system to attempt to use the same bill twice. If one didn’t know that this digital money is marked as SPENT in the Cloud database immediately following the transaction, one would hardly be able to function in society at all. I wonder, in fact, if one without such knowledge would even be able to do the more basic stuff of living, like opening doors, or tying one’s shoes, or sending one’s grandmother a nice Christmas letter listing one’s good deeds for the year. So yes, I’m quite sure that I haven’t used this particular serial-number bill before; as sure as I am of the fact that I’m not an anvil and that water doesn’t flow upward, unless you push it very hard.”
Stuart grumbled. I’m sure he had spent the whole length of my explanation thinking up a way to blame the affair on my printing the money instead of just beaming it off my phone, but that clearly wouldn’t have changed anything, since typing the serial number in made no difference and all that. One thing I will say about Stuart, he is usually right about how it is that things work in his particular line of sitting-about-the-office-and-staring-at-the-computer, when he limits the discussion to the how, that is. He’s a man of conscience, a gentleman of intellect, and a nerd’s nerd, an ass though he may be otherwise.
“What error are you getting?” he asked the clerk. “Serial number not found? Invalid entry? Server busy? Horsemen of Apocalypse nearing, what?”
She looked at me, communicating some kind of unpleasant emotion, but I waved her on—yes, yes, what was the error?
“Couldn’t process transaction,” she said. “That’s all.”
“Bah!” Stuart said, and I agreed thus far. “What a gaggle of turkeys must have written this damn code, if it’s gaggles turkeys come in, and not broods. Could that message be any less helpful? Do they pay for their error reporting per character, or something? Hullo, Lord Kensington, I’ve a telegram for your lordship; it must’ve cost the gentle sender a pretty penny, coming in at a staggering six words of length as it does.”
In so short a time, Stuart’s voice had reached that particular pitch at which I usually part with empathy as he thunders at the rotten world we live in etc. I stepped aside and gave the clerk the look she has asked for; a tight-lipped nod with closed eyes, that shared, solemn understanding that there is a royal blowhard in our midst.
Stuart went on in a vein like, “If the man’s hard-earned, contractually guaranteed, government-backed, state-of-the-art- database-driven digital money simply stops to work one day, hasn’t he the right to a more helpful explanation? Maybe something that helps him find what, if anything, he’s done wrong, perhaps. Maybe there’s been a simple oversight—no one’s perfect, not I, not my friend here, not the Secretary of The D. of The T. Maybe nothing is unexpectedly wrong - maybe The Cloudmoney service is unavailable due to scheduled system maintenance. We can live with that. Why not speak to a man as if he were a man - none of this couldn’t nonsense. Could, of course, but didn’t, and why? Whence comes satisfaction in a time such as this? Whence comes reassurance? If this is all you have for us, why have anything at all? If this is your error message, what do you have for justice?”
“Flocks,” Calvin said.
We all turned to see him seated in the corner. He had delivered his wisdom through a giant bite of what looked like mozzarella & tomato on focaccia, though the latter could have easily been ciabatta with olive oil; I was more than six feet away. Calvin returned to his reading, hunched over his phone at a table he shared with two young women and three small children.
“It’s flocks turkeys come in,” he said.
“A fwock of tuwkeys,” added one of the children.
At which Stuart opened his mouth, then let out half a sigh, then turned back and paid for my lunch as was the case once or twice a week.