Do you remember the future? You know, that hologram carrot dangling from a pixilated stick, compelling you in your Judy Jetson heels to chase colorized hot air around the circle of life until your skin wrinkled, your ankle broke and then, like so many fat Frogger frogs, you died underneath a virtual car? I do.
Well, once again, with the Otronicon geek soiree occupying the Orlando Science Center, tomorrow has been packaged into an all-new PR campaign intended to drive distraction into physical numbness and morph sentient beings into head-heavy mainframes intent on crashing, burning and reassembling, only to come back another year as smaller video games and larger weapons of mass destruction. If I didn't hate the present so much, I might hate the future more.
"OK, two things," I rasp whatever actual breath I have left through the incalculable bits of science crammed into my iPhone. "First of all, I have no future, because the entire livelihood of my virtual marriage — you, know, the carpet mill that my husband's father built, say, 50 years ago — burned down Tuesday night in a freak fire and I'm having some kind of Sissy Spacek—eating—Sally Field breakdown."
I pause for a gasp of polluted air.
"Oh, and Tony, guess what! It's Otronicon again, this time with even more focus on digital ways of killing people to go with its true draw of '80s video games and free booze. If you can stand the fact that I'm presently a rusting android with his personal tragedy switch stuck in the ‘on' position, you're welcome to join me!"
"Uh, sorry?" comes the reply to revelation No. 1. "And I'll be at your house at 5."
At first flush of nauseous notion, this doesn't seem like such a bad idea. After all, a whole generation of latchkey kids in varying strains of sexual/physical/emotional abuse (hi, Mom!) were capable of becoming masters of their own ceremonies 30 years ago with the advent of the aptly named "joystick" and the unexpected ability to destroy asteroids, hop barrels with fat Italians and destroy centipedes in a world of bouncing spiders with prices on their heads. But seeing as I'm more of a Pitfall! right now, not the hero who survives them (and puddles, and cobras), it might be better if sit this one out. The grand compromise? I'll wear a hat.
"Nice hat," sneers Mayor Buddy Dyer as I brush by him. Wow, this is working out great.
As is typical at these VIP christenings of public absurdity, the whole kit and caboodle of public figuredom is present, mingling with half-smirked faces at the idea that even while the world crumbles they're sort of forced into philanthropic flourishes at what is effectively a mall arcade. Myself, I'm like a junkie out on work release with an ashen face, a leaden stomach, a few less pounds and a beret. If this were one of those video games that included a rifle, I'd be the town drunk leaned up against the saloon door. I'd be the guy you want to shoot. Unless, of course, you're the unflappably kind perma-squint known as city commissioner Phil Diamond.
"How are you, Billy?" his squint squints some kind of concern for the oil spill before him.
"I'm great," I throw up a little. "I just wanted you to know that I appreciate your willingness to actually say ‘no' when faced with the fiberglass fantastic of economic development. I'm your No. 1 fan!" and glub, and glub, and glub.
I carelessly enact a similar soliloquy in the face of county commissioner — and mayoral hopeful — Bill Segal, who I swear is looking over my shoulder for a trapdoor exit. "You're running for mayor! Go ahead, grope me! Everything is public record!"
He grabs my arm, rather unwillingly.
"Last I checked, an arm-grab does not a grope make!" I don't know what the hell I'm doing anymore.
By the time Mayor Dyer takes to the ramshackle stage to toss a platitude or two at the side of the electronic ship, the whole room seems to have become aware of my inability to actually be here, at least in my head. Cautious hushes are shushed at me as I attempt an ill-advised Mystery Science Theater 3000—style commentary throughout Dyer's speech. I await the hook that will drag me into the hospital bed.
"Last time I was here, Scott Maxwell blew a hole in me!" or something like that comes out of the mayor's Toastmastered mouth, and is apparently followed by some rejoinder like "Next time, I'll play Billy Manes," but I don't hear it because by now I'm actually, literally dead.
Failing mouth-to-mouth, because his wife is here, Maxwell momentarily comes to my aid, though. We do this every year, see, and maybe if I just go through the annual motions I won't go even more loudly into that dark night. "I'll see you at Centipede," he nods, pretending to know my pain. Even his wife steps aside long enough for me to realize that he's a married, successful journalist with two kids and that his life is not on fire, ruined and marinated in the kind of drama that smells like two-day-old vodka and a never-ending cigarette. If I were a video game, I'd want to be Scott Maxwell.
"Boom!" he screams. "I kicked your ass again!"
Yes. Yes, you did. I have no firstname.lastname@example.org