The Final Course

In Which We Abandon Fantasy for Bots and Trade

After we finished the fish, they brought out coffee and dishes of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce in stainless steel cups that had been chilled.

“Don’t talk about food,” said Hughes.

“I wasn’t,” I protested, “I was discussing how the food was served.”

“It’s the same thing,” he said, waiving his ice cream away, “Eat quickly, because I want to go have a smoke.”

“Look,” he said, “We did a huge overhaul of all of our systems over the winter. Everything is completely modernized. We’re going to let the computers do what the computers are good at, so you can focus on the things that computers can’t do.”

“What can’t computers do?” I asked.

“They can’t get ice.” He said, laughing.

“Don’t worry, you’re not out of a job, but almost all of the creative and business functions at the Mill were easily automated. It’s remarkable what machines are capable of these days. One bot is writing “Cat Obsession” this year. Another is generating copy for “Swim Fins and Football Helmets”.

“I thought you said there was no room for soft porn anymore.”

Swim Fins and Football Helmets is not soft porn. You know that. The point is, we’re not bringing back any of the writers or editors other than you.”

“What about the art department?” I asked.

“We still need them,” he said. By now we had moved into a room off the dining room that I guess had once been a sun porch. The floor was made of slate, and it had large windows that were so yellow from tobacco smoke that the whole room looked jaundiced. There were two men smoking pipes in wicker chairs. Hughes lit up a Gauloises.

“When we tried to let the robots do the art design, everything ended up looking like a German metal finishing catalog. So the art department is largely in tact. It’s not bad having the art department in tact, because without them the painting crew wouldn’t have anyone to sell skunk to. That would make the painters unhappy and we would have to pay them more.”

“Robots can’t paint?” I asked.

“They can, but they hate it, and they can’t smoke pot.”

“Look,” I said, “I have no problem doing nothing. Really, it is what I was made to do, and I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords, but I have to ask, why am I being kept on? I mean, there is nothing stopping you from replacing me with a bot, is there?”

Hughes took a long drag from his cigarette while I spoke, and for once waited a bit to reply, as if he was debating whether he was going to say what he was considering saying.

“Gubloom,” he said, “You have no sense of your own value. This whole transformation means your importance has risen to an all-time high. You haven’t asked how we make money this year, so I’m going to connect the dots for you. How would you respond if I said ‘Seidner’s Mayonnaise’ to you?”

“The best,” I replied.

“Ka-ching!” said Hughes.

“Oh, no,” I said, “Native ads? We’ve tried that before. It didn’t work well.”

“It’s the only thing that does work on the Internet, and the bots are great at it.”

“Seidner’s mayonnaise,” I said, slumping down in my chair, “Food companies? The bots are going to be writing deviled egg listicles and telling us to dump a packet of onion soup mix into a bowl and then crumble Saltines on top…”

“Saltines are not a client. I don’t give a fuck about Saltines.” Said Hughes.

“Mayonnaise is kind of evil.” I said. “I mean, In Hell They Eat Mayonnaise, amirite?”

“I thought you would be happy,” Said Hughes. “You even like the product. I don’t understand why you are upset.”

“I guess it could be worse,” I said, “Who are the other clients?”

“Bess Eaton Donuts, Junket Custard Mix, Red Wing Boots, Tab cola, and PoorboyX Gaming.”

“Red Wing Boots?” I said.

“Well, not really,” said Hughes, I was hoping to just get a free set of shoes from them.”

“I understand, and how does YouTuber PoorboyX Gaming have any money to give us?”

“We’re not getting it from him,” said Hughes, “We’re getting it from the tobacco companies. They love that guy.”

“None of this explains why you need me?” I said.

Again Hughes turned thoughtful, grinding out the end of his cigarette in a scallop shaped ashtray.

“We need you for the same reason that Medium needs all your friends. You are a soul blogger, so it is your ‘legitimacy’ the advertisers thirst for. You, as the creative underclass, are the head of the spear. You disarm the millennials with your erstwhile old school manners and oxford commas. They think you are too dumb to be on the take.”

“If they find out…”

“The jig is up,” he said very seriously. “You have to keep this all under your hat, Gutbloom.”

“Of course,” I said, feeling the weight of the upcoming season settle into my stomach, where it began to have a conversation with the talking fish. “I have two more questions.”

“Go ahead.”

“The first is, do we have a budget for the Maypole Convocation, Augustfest, and the Medenemas?”

“You eat what you kill this summer. You mentioned Seidner’s Mayonnaise and the others in this post, so you’re in the black for now, but no advances.”

“I was afraid of that,” I said, “My second question is, why aren’t you getting replaced by a robot and why are you so willing to credit me with the Seidner’s mention in this post? You were the one that brought up the name.”

“That’s two questions,” He said. Then he stood up and said, “Let’s go, I’ll explain on the way out.

“I’ve already got what I wanted,” he said making his way to the top of the stairs, “I just need to be ‘involved’ with some ‘cutting-edge’ projects so that authors will continue to ask me to blurb their books. The blurbs allow me to talk at conventions and workshops. The conventions and workshops allow me to teach classes in writing at Isle Aux Morte University, and the professorship there allows me to offer “private” editing help, which is where I make my money. You see, Gutbloom,” he said, turning to me at the top of the stairs and smiling in a most pleasant way, “You have no legitimacy to lose. I’ve already leveraged it to the hilt. I already drank your milkshake. It’s been a pleasure.”

He extended his hand to shake. I shook it. Then he slapped me on the back and said, “Good old Gutbloom, we should do this again some time.”

This time the slap on the back didn’t feel so good.

He headed off down the stairs and I descended behind him. At the bottom the barman handed me my hat and said, “have a nice afternoon.” I stepped outside and looked for the Dank van to take me home.

I know this sounds depressing, but don’t be depressed. The good news is, we can have the Maypole Convocation!