Really, Shockingly Bad Things

Sam Asher

My father has been on top of our house for three years. He never comes down. He’s contractually obligated to be up there. Often, he gets chilly. This is New England, and even now our winters are hardly balmy.

I leave the house this morning, and this is what he’s saying:

If you want DEALS and STEALS and WHEELS, then buy your WHEELS at the HUB. The HUB is the place, the only place to get a STEAL or a DEAL or a WHEEL, because we are a GLORIOUS MONOPOLY. Long live the United States of Excellence!

He’ll say that eighteen times this morning.

This is one of those kinds of stories, yes.

The bus driver welcomes me aboard and asks if I’m going to work, and I say,  You know I am, you pick me up every morning, and he says, Have you considered health insurance from THE HUB? and I tell him I don’t qualify for health insurance and sit down. He offers the question to everyone who boards the bus. Nobody needs health insurance. They already have it or they don’t qualify for it. A lady wearing a Luchador mask covered in HUB emblazoned smiley faces calls the driver something under her breath, and you can see her begin to sizzle from several seats away. Sizzle’s no kind of metaphor, I mean quite literally that she begins to sizzle, like breakfast sausage in oil. After twenty seconds or so she screams and hits the floor of the bus.

A reminder to all of our valued PARTNERS that to represent the HUB is to be FLAWLESS and KIND. Bad language like fuck shit ass cum wank or scooby is not tolerated while representing the HUB. Have such a good day you guys, oh my goodness.

The voice comes from the mask. I’m certain it’s not her saying it. I step over her when we get to my stop, and the driver says, Teaches her right. Her sizzle lingers with me all morning, makes me want to pluck my nose hairs out. Eventually I get pork-protein-ration for lunch, and the smells are similar enough that I forget to notice any longer.

Here’s what I do at work:

Build robots. There was an idea in the past that robots would be built by other robots, but that’s nonsense and would make me laugh if I’d done that in a while. Robots can’t be built by robots. That’s perverse.

To put a robot together is mostly like a paint-by-numbers. You could do it. Do you know the color blue? Put the blue connectors together. Disengage the functy-clamps and look for your next color. Continue until the robot says, Thank you, I am built, and then move on to the next one. I build forty robots a day, mostly delivery drones, occasionally battle bots, once or twice REDACTED droids that are for something or other I don’t understand. Sometimes other people on the floor ask me what “REDACTED” means, and I say “REDACTED” means they’re bad robots, but I don’t really know that. Could be they’re the best thing since sliced protein.

I sit with Clive Hub’shome at lunch. His grandmother has finally been able to come down from her roof twice a day—to pee and nap.

How’d she manage it?

I got a middle name, he says.

The practice of offering your naming rights to sponsors is nothing new. I went to school with three kids named StuffMart and have a cousin called RowdySoda, but middle name rights are uncommon. I’ve kept my name because dad’s been so willing to monetize himself. One of us, he says, should still be human.

So now grandma gets to come down and be human for a couple hours, Clive says. If she does twenty-two hours advertising, and I go by the new name, we hit our quota.

I pat him on the shoulder. Clive has a moustache like a badly trimmed roadside hedge and hair sticking out of his ears like wiry bouquets of saw grass. We’re not encouraged to make friends, but Clive’s as close as it gets. He’s shaped like a bowling ball and wears HUBbrand aftershave that makes my eyes water. Today he’s wearing a thick scarf. He’s very kind.

Clive-HUB’sgreat-HUB’shome and Caleb Eddie report to the doc on floor 8.

We look around. We’ve never known where the omnivoice comes from, but I suppose that’s sort of the point. Nobody else in the cafeteria’s paying any attention, which is one of our finest evolutionary developments. I can go selectively blind and selectively deaf almost at will.

Were those our names? Clive says.

Yes, the omnivoice says. Those were your names.

Are you due for any shots? Clive says.

I don’t qualify for any, I say.

We shove protein rations into our mouths and squeeze coffee protein into mugs of hot water. The protein’s a shiny brown, oozes from the packet like a leprous slug. It doesn’t mix into the water well at all.

Are we in trouble? Clive says.

Always, I say. Absolutely always.

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