This is a short I wrote last year. I think I was deleting old hotmail accounts and pondering my digital footprint.
Trading pieces of yourself to get through the day is nothing new if you ask me. You disagree? You never been polite to an asshole just to move a transaction on a little? Well if it wasn’t the case before, it is now, sure as shit. So I have to get rid of Martin Deepak.
The irritating problem I, and many others have is that that however hard you try, your profile – or your “name” (if you want to get all misty-eyed about it all), well, it congeals. It’s inevitable. There’s all the obvious stuff you can do, the sensible shtick, you know; change your lockins real regular, show up for work on time, eat healthy, keep your eyes steady when the pictures are flashing weird shit up. There’s no law against any of all that really and jeez man it’s hard. I don’t even know how I got all gummed up this time but Martin Deepak has to go. Sorry dude, thanks and all but whether it was too much java giving my health insurer the jitters or a stupid two-player game on the tram; who knows. I’m on the tram right now as it happens and keeping my eyes well and truly out of the window. Another slip-up and they won’t even let me off at the next stop and I’ll be on a one way ticket to the Pound.
The company already locked me out for once and for all. Should have known it was coming. For a tiny moment I thought they had a problem with their lockins or something. Yeah right. To be perfectly honest with you I haven’t been that careful.
There’s a great feeling you get when you Refresh your profile so even though I am about to be mugged for all the money in my account, I mean Martin’s account, I’m not too unhappy. It’s a chance to go in a shop too, because it’s about the only thing you can’t do online. Has to be legal and in person, see, with a real lawyer.
I go up to the wide counter which keeps the staff a clear arm’s-reach away, and there’s a young one there, black hair, blank face like all the kids these days. This lawyer is called Jenny Salter. She chants the waiver document and I sign, then she spins the menu screen round to me. I bet she hasn’t refreshed even one time, Jenny Salter. Probably a family name. She still isn’t really looking at me. I restrain myself from saying “enjoy being Jenny Salter whilst it lasts Jenny Salter”, and then I remember that I’m trading Martin in any minute now so it probably doesn’t matter anyway.
I run my arm over the counter, the chip registers and $400 appears on the screen. Man! That low? I can sense that Jenny Salter would laugh if it wouldn’t put a chink in her own profile value.
“Enjoy being Jenny Salter whilst it lasts Jenny Salter”, I snark. The figure changes to $399. Jenny winces politely.
“So Mr Deepak you want a Clean Profile? Prices have come down a lot. China’s had a fantastic harvest this year.”
Like I have that kind of money. And no, it isn’t that I don’t want a Chinese name, I’ve had at least three already. And no it isn’t the ethical aspect either before I break your heart with my humanity. I’ve just never seen the point of one of them unless you plan to run for the senate or want to work with kids or something. I clean floors for a living. It’s low risk. I just need to get through the company front door so I can get at my bucket, earn the money to buy my java and stare at pretty girls on the tram until that costs me another Profile Refresh.
I shake my head and she checks the exchange rate board.
“Alright then Mr Deepak, Baseline is $1000, you want to go for that?”
“I only got 399 bucks to spend.”
“Well we cannot guarantee any profiles under the baseline. You could be back in here tomorrow.”
“It’s irrelevant Jenny Salter. Martin Deepak has 399 bucks and that’s all; I’ll just take a lucky dip and put it through a double sweep would you? Please?”
The double sweep does a trial run of the new profile over all your accounts, social networks, places of employment and basically everywhere you appear under the old name. If the sweep is clear then the new profile should work for you. It’s called a double sweep because it runs the old you through at the same time as a comparison, so you can see where your lockins are currently failing. That’s as close as you ever get to finding out where and why you got gummed up.
She shrugs, pushes forward another waiver which I’m forced to sign with a signature I’ve hardly had time to perfect and then she directs my eye to the scrolling identities on the screen.
“Take your pick”, she says.
I go for Polonius Jefferson because it’s a fucking funny name. He’s $380 and with the $10 double sweep I establish that he’s been marginally better behaved than I have. No surprise that Martin’s purple marks were thanks to the usual overzealousness of Cityline’s Integrated Surveillance, but I am irritated that a red came from drinking a cold caffeinated beverage. I’d thought they were still OK. Anyway, pleased to meet you Polonius, I’m Polonius. Jenny Salter goes to fetch my complimentary snapback and thermal mug.
There’s a woman at the next counter and she’s causing something of a disturbance. They can’t read her chip and as the girl keeps telling the dummy in charge it is because she doesn’t have one. How do I know this? Well for starters she’s yelling and everyone can hear.
“I don’t have one so get your damn hands off me.”
She’s got papers though. Plenty of papers. Slim creamy coloured papers and stiff white ones. She’s pushed them over the menu now she’s smacked the dummy’s hand off her wrist. The papers fall on the floor and she snatches them possessively up like she’s dropped her poker hand and bangs them back into view.
“Look at my papers, everything’s there. You guys can buy a paper profile right?”
“Why do you not have a chip?”
“It isn’t actually a law to have a chip you know.”
The dummy purses her lips, cool and fake. I mean her demeanour – but her lips look pretty icy too, come to think about it. I’ll tell you another nice thing about Refreshing is that it takes a little while for everything to straighten out so I can have a good hard stare at those lips and there’s nothing she can do about it.
“Actually yes you do need an electronic chip, it is the law.”
“No it is not.”
“Yes I’m afraid it is the law. I’m sorry.”
The customer, this woman is so strung out now, it looks like she is getting ready to break a few laws for the hell of it. She’s not that old but everything about her looks tired enough and I for one would quite like to see a mom like that curse and maybe punch that little robot bitch. I can tell she is a mom because she’s dressed that way moms do. Ugly windcheater, big jeans and sneakers. They dress themselves like children.
“Can you please check with your supervisor?”
The dummy’s insistence and apparent belief appears to waver and she presses a button.
“Julian Brown, hi! It’s Rebecca Oakley. Yes good thank you. Can you confirm, it is actually the law to have a chip isn’t it?”
Julian Brown’s voice booms out so everyone can hear.
“Yes that is right. It’s because of the electoral roll, so you can vote.”
This woman laughs and it’s clear she’s better informed than Rebecca and Julian.
“That’s the biggest pile of bull I’ve ever heard. It has never been obligatory.”
“Well on a practical note we can’t upload a new profile to you if you don’t have a chip.”
This woman’s standing up now and I’m really hoping she’s gonna upload a punch to that fake bitches fake nose and she’s yelling proper loud now, “I told you before Rebecca Oakley I don’t want to buy I want to sell. Just give me the money and all on one of those goddamn… credit card things.”
Rebecca Oakley has had better days I can tell. I smile at the woman without a name.
I make it outside the same time as she does. She’s trying to use her cell and getting frustrated because it isn’t working any more. I smile again in that way you do when you kind of feel bad for someone. I hate those dummies too. Also this woman is much younger than I had thought and even though it is going to cost Polonius a few cents one way or another, I ask her if she wants a drink.
I choose a carrot juice, it comes with garnish and will look fantastic in the pictures. She goes for a beer. Not even one in a nice bottle. I move my glass away a little so her drink won’t be in my shots, or the bar shots come to that and she clearly doesn’t even realise there are cameras just about everywhere because she’s picking some crap out of her hair.
“Made such a mess of that. They took all my papers, you know. I thought they’d… I don’t know… copy them.”
“Nah, they have to ensure you’re overwritten, proper. They can’t leave you with anything to sell a second time. This really your first time?”
She’s nodding and then starts scratching at the label on the beer bottle with chewed fingernails and biting her own lip like consuming herself is gonna help her situation.
“I hope someone enjoys being me then. Damn! I only wanted to go one step back, change my name to what it was before… before I was married y’see? Erase the last miserable ten years and… start fresh.”
It’s making me nervous just watching her and I’m nervous about being nervous because I don’t have the budget for being an antsy fucker.
“Jeez, you sure are one anxious person. You need to calm down. So why didn’t you just buy a new name? Why walk out of there… blank?”
“What do you mean blank? I’ve got a name. I told you. Had it for twenty five years before I got married. Perfectly good name. I was selling Mrs Attie Evans. I wanted to go back to being Miss Attie Green”.
I have to laugh. She glares. I know that not everyone goes through their life changing profiles like they change their shorts but seriously she must have been living in an Amish community.
“You can’t go back. It’s like gasoline. Names get used up. If you don’t mind me asking, how are you going to manage now? You don’t have a profile at all.”
“I do have a name. Attie Green.”
“Nu –uh. Evans… Green… You just sold all of that. You just sold Attie, you’re not even Attie any more.”
I could have said You’re Anon but I happen to consider that to be offensive. Shit like that can happen to people for all sorts of reasons although it’s pretty disgusting her sitting there all anonymous when she must have a hundred thousand bucks on that chip card.
Oh man. Now she’s crying.
“Of course I’m Attie.” she says angrily, and quite loudly too.
She’s freaking me out now because talk like that is fraudulent and although technically she’s the perpetrator here, I’m collateral. Polinius got enough problems already, Polonius being me. Polonius doesn’t have another four hundred bucks to buy any more barely functional names right now. If Polonius gets caught aiding someone using a false identity or if Polonius ends up saying something crass to someone on the tram again with his hands not on show and it spreads over the net like the congealing cancer it is, Polinius is gonna be stuck buying a 20 dollar Avatar and joining the gaming bums begging by Central Station.
I lower my voice a little, hunkering down on the table although I’m gonna be tagged in here with her regardless.
“You were basically a Clean Sheet, right? They must have given you a lot of money for that. Just go back. You could buy any random name. The letters… the words of the name, they’re not important. It’s what goes with it.”
She smiles and nods. Drains her beer and stands.
“I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for the beer Polonius.”
She tosses me the chip card. I catch it.
I’m about to wave but the Cleaning Truck are pulling up next to her and then a female officer jumps out and comes alongside. She tries to twist her arm away but the officer has a baton and she uses it. Old Attie is fighting back, but they’ve got her in the van now. There’s blood on the pavement and I would have helped her, really I would. Actually what am I saying, of course I wouldn’t.
The chip card is legitimate and still warm from her hand. It’s gonna buy me a lot of transactions that chip card. I won’t even need to be polite. I could start fresh with money like that. But instead I think I’ll just go take a ride on the tram.