Drones For Leanne

a recurring rainy-day dream

It’s 2061. Shunted off in the corner of the rec room at Elysian City: A Home For The Aged, I spend my days staring out a 2nd-story window over a leafy City neighborhood in a vain attempt to cancel out my immediate surroundings. I am 90 years old. My money is gone, my companionship is long over, I have no savings. The VWSA (Virtual Worlds Safety Administration) will not approve me for a phone or any sort of connection to the Internet (in 2021, access to electronic worlds and drivers licenses became age restricted for over-85s). I no longer have a guitar. When my legacy heart gave out in 2054, my instruments, vinyl, and art collections were pawned at a SoftInsure Superstore (the “mattress and medical insurance experts!”), and BigDoc took control of my song royalties and social security, as co-pay for a cloned heart costing two-hundred-thirty-five-thousand ZuckBucks™. After my operation, I arrived at Elysian because I lost my money, but most other patients ended up here because they lost their minds.

Elysian City forbids personal music playback devices (analog or digital) and headphones, so I can’t seek comfort or solace in private listening. My lack of initial funds and the home’s lack of turnover due to over-capacity put me in an interior-facing double room with a view only of the Elysian lobby. I am on a wait list for a single room with an outside view, but with average life-expectancies in the 2060s hovering around 167 years, I will be wait-listing a while. In the interim, the rec room window is my only respite, so I tolerate the room’s baseline absurd, inescapable din caused by some of Elysian’s more colorful permanent residents.

Professor Phillip, former head of the NYU Comparative Literature department, screams all day, every day in the same seat, about Donald Trump’s “Kalashnikov eyes” and the “god damned Pension Police in the walls!” Every time he tries to eat, he hallucinates the same Thanksgiving dinner simulation wherein he argues with his brother Mitch about the 2016 election. By the end of the “exchange” (always we only hear Phillip’s side), he will slam his plate up and down, sending his remaining meal in all directions.

Professor Phillip eats only mac ’n cheese, and his mad gyrations fly an inevitable noodle or two across a couple tables that smack me in the face or splat on my window. Shriveled, stray elbow noodles from Phillip’s dinners-gone-by are strewn around the room, caught in gaps between the home’s original Kentile floor tiles and smudged baseboard mouldings. Many also come to rest underneath an IKEA credenza by the room’s entrance door that holds a Monopoly game with an incomplete set of money and a few well-worn mid-2010s issues of InStyle magazine. Too-on-the-clock-to-care orderlies perform to minimum standards, so they will wipe down the windows but never cajole a vacuum or mop to reach any of the crevices. Untended noodles accumulate day-after-day like septuagenarian ear canal hair.

Despite my intermittent protestations to spin Bill Evans, Aphex Twin, the latest QuentinQuentin single, The Replacements, or even maybe one of my own old tracks through the rec room loudspeaker, the psych ward-lords play only a loop of early-mid 1980s pop music to try to salve restless residents with “youthmmersion therapy.” True to the scientific promise of the “nostalgorithm” that controls the playlist, the rec room calms down when the music pipes in. Shattered Deams by Johnny Hates Jazz and Digging Your Scene by The Blow Monkees were never essential listening for me, but they are among the two dozen tracks on the mix that cast a welcome, though sadness-tinged, equanimity among the crowd. Nostalgia works not because it brings back memories, but rather because most memories are unrecoverable.

Sometimes, though, the engagement level of the music exceeds mandated levels of acceptability. Whenever the Thompson Twins’s Doctor Doctor comes over the loudspeaker, for instance, former Brooklyn knick-knack store owner Leanne Potterer teases her wiry blurry hair up high, and apes Alanna Currie playing timpani drums. She will bang on the table with her Jello spoons every time the chorus revs up, and scream along, “Doctor Doctor! I’m burning burning!”

Her just-off-key caterwauls trigger the control drones that patrol the corridors and administer most of our medication, and they grab Leanne by her resident robe’s drone-connector epaulettes. The spoons will fly out of her hands as the drones hoist her towards the ceiling, where she will float around the room and sing in a seemingly gravity-less performance that fades out as she glides through the corridor back to her room. Sometimes, the drones for Leanne will arrive as Professor Phillip crescendos his one-way dinner fight, and with manuevers recalling elegant ICBM intercepts, they will catch his noodles mid-flight, before the airborne meal has a chance to rain down on me.

No matter what, I’ll turn back to my window, to find solace in people walking below, living some semblance of real life. Every once in a while I see someone free of their phone, walking a dog, or taking their kid to school, and paying full attention to their IRL near-field environment. Sometimes, their curiosity points their gazes up towards my window, and a smile or wave creates a shared, momentary, blissful unawareness of all that awaits us.