“Can I plug in here?” The girl behind the counter hesitated for a moment before responding to his question in English. “Sure, no problem,” she responded in the local dialect. “What would you like?” He thought about an espresso, his usual coffee of choice when he was out of the house. “Hafuch,” he responded in the local dialect. He went to the outdoor sitting area, saw someone with headphones on the computer and asked where the outlets were in this cafe. She was unplugged, but his old computer’s battery was teetering and needed to be plugged in order to work.
Her new-age computer looked nice and sleek and probably had a million little built-in appliances to make it easy and exciting for her to access the world. He had an old soul and learned to live on little. It would take him too long, he thought, to catch up with the world. And even if he did, what would be the purpose? In a world that evolved into a bunch of intangibles, he felt that his gravitational pull to the ground and away from the various glowing boxes that ruled over mankind would benefit his general health. He didn’t want to have so many needs. He ran track most every morning around sunrise and ate fruit and nuts for breakfast. He felt great before the day hit.
He spent about a grand a year for the two leading English-language papers that were available for home-delivery in his area. There were a million headlines to follow and he became dizzy trying to keep up with the world as it was streaming through his gates. The hard-copy was easier on his senses. He could leaf through and choose an article or two a day.
There was even a local section if he cared to hear about the small country’s talk of the day, which catered to his country’s need to feel like a real country, and which told its citizens daily about the country’s politicians, their scandals, policies, and political allies and antagonists. But the most covered issue was the life of its prime-minister, a conservative man whose primary objective was to secure the well-being of his people and their land. Well, that’s only partially true. Only some people considered the issue of real estate and borders to have been settled a long time ago, while to others it was still an open and bleeding wound that still needed resolution because of the displaced people who still lacked opportunity and proper living conditions. These displaced people belonged to political and religious groups that did not take care of their basic needs, so this small country and its various political leaders were constantly on the hot seat before a world-jury, which incessantly inquired into her actions. And the prime minister would state and reiterate a thousand times over his historical perspectives, sometimes for legal purposes, but more often to win over the world’s and its own citizens’ public opinion. He would reshuffle his basic speech and repurpose it in a million different ways and in doing so became a historic figure to this little land and her people.
But the man who sat in the cafe that morning drinking coffee had little care or concern for people who had no interest in plugging in to reality, in a people that was looking to other groups for support. Why can’t their own leaders take care of them? Let their leaders decide to step into the real world, he thought, and then I’ll feel bad for them, for their plight, for their angers and frustrations that have festered from living at the bottom of a high world.
His home had no television in his small studio apartment. To his best friend, this was a sign of stinginess. But to his mind he all he wanted to do at night, when he wasn’t out drinking, was read. Everyone these days spent their spare time talking about television shows, which ones they watched, which ones were the best. These shows became a ruling force the whole world over. They replaced, he thought, the olden days when people had hobbies to keep themselves busy. But every hobby and interest today has been streamlined through the glowing little boxes, and he told himself not to get sucked into the madness. He did not watch shows generally. Every once in a while he would start one because everyone was saying how great it was, but he became agitated by the commitment it required of him. The shows replaced the night hours that he spent reading, thinking, and developing his hobbies.
And then there was his signature flip-phone. Everyone who knew him railed him about that flip-phone. It became the straw that broke the back of numerous relationships, the signpost that he was in some way ill-adapted to take care of himself let alone a modern woman. If only he was born super-wealthy, he thought, then he could be much more successful at being himself. But the way things were, just being himself came at a great cost. He watched the world in action everywhere he went and he saw a head’s-down humanity. But to him this reality represented a regressive historical moment for humankind, from which it would one day evolve back to its natural self. Constant communication, constant contact, constant sensation was a negative reality, and even the sense of sight was predominantly limited by the scope of a one-dimensional and small screen. It’s hard to think big, like a person, in such a small world. Maybe humanity had developed antennae and become insect-like, not needing eyes in the traditional sense. Maybe people no longer depended on its eyesight in order to function at a high level.
And people had become so fidgety. A packed elevator ride, he would often say, is a packed game-house. On busses you could see every type of person in every age group hooked to some glowing device. How did people become so uncomfortable in each other’s presence? He often looked to the sky for inspiration, especially when he felt suffocated by the inhuman walls closing in on him. He liked to do his work near a window. He was a natural person, he felt, in a robotic world. With the old-technology phone he was unlimited by the need to constantly respond to emails or the desire to play with the internet. He felt that with the old-phone he had enough technology to be present in the modern world because he could make wireless calls and send written phone-messages. He spent enough time plugged into the computer during the day to respond to the communications that didn’t reach his outdated phone. But when he closed his computer he also shut himself out from the intangible world that was constantly communicating. He needed these breaks to stay sharp while he was on. His life was less distracted.
In the café, he sat for hours and did his writing on a computer. A pretty girl whose fancy phone had just run out of battery sat next to him and asked if he could watch her phone while it charged up by the outlet that he was working from. He was too busy to notice at first, but after she tapped him on the shoulder he turned and said it would be fine. He was deep in thought and was slightly annoyed to have been taken away from his internal discourse. As she reached over him he continued banging away on the keypad wanting to maintain the momentum. She went back outside to her table, finished her salad, and within a few minutes she returned to take back her phone and charger. They smiled at each other for a moment, but his mind was pulled back into box where it was just working. And then she was gone and he was left to work in peace.
Before he entered the café he had taken a long drag from his packed one-hit-wonder joint. It had been a while since the last time he smoked and he was riding in the world that he understood. His heart was beating a bit faster and the synapses in his mind had more power than usual. He thought about man and God and law momentarily and went on with his writings. It was afternoon at this point and the café began filling up with the lunch-crowd. It was a perfect blue day and he kept looking out the window from his bar-stool out over the old and stoned city. There was permanence in the buildings and he felt something that he needed to share, so he wrote it down and recorded the conversation that was meant for a people of the past. He hoped he could also reach to the future and he believed he could, but it would likely have to survive posthumously. At the very least he could reach up to the gods and that would suffice for him to keep on living the way he did, climbing the giant intangible hill without the high-tech gear that everyone else had.
After he was done he thought about the cappuccino he just finished, the steamed-milk-residue lining the ceramic cup like fuzzy rings in the wood. He had a soft spot for steamed and creamy and felt well indulged. He saved his work, packed up his computer into a black canvas computer bag, and set out to take his old aged and beat up car to the old train station, now an outdoor mall with cafés, where he could plug in again. “You done, honey?” asked the waitress from behind the counter. She was blonde, a bit older, and sweet. She reminded him of something. He smiled. Her shift was ending and they walked out together.