Lost in the Algorithm

I have known terror. I have been bounced through a monsoon at 3,000 feet in a Cessna four-seater. I have been hurled through the choppiest waters known to man or fish off the coast of Montauk Point. I have been pursued through a junkyard by bullies. I have skidded through the intersection of a major thoroughfare, narrowly missing five oncoming cars. And, when I was six years old or so, I got lost in the mall. Happy to say I survived all these episodes, emerging with an appreciation of safety and good fortune and feeling, as I got older, that these somewhat reckless experiences were behind me. Shocked then, was I, to get lost in the mall again last weekend, thirty-five years after my initial toddler mall maze experience, only to realize it is just as terrifying as ever.

It all started when my “Eye-Phone” stopped charging. Blasted thing. I had only had it for nine months. Before that I had relied on more primitive modes of communication like carrier pigeons and smoke signals. But even the most stubborn techno-cynic will eventually have to place an exploratory toe in the cool waters of the twenty-first century, and so I got my “I-Phone,” my “Me-Phone,” my “Me-Me-Me-Me-Phone.” I will admit, it is convenient. It is a delivery system, after all, nothing more. If you want access to the great literary works of western civilization, there they are. However if you want to fling shit around the world, you can do that too. Just remember, even though huge piles of shit can be delivered instantaneously with the touch of a button, it’s still shit.

I digress! What was puzzling was that my phone stopped charging. It no longer accepted electricity. I called up the computer company to ask about a solution, and they made an appointment for me to go to the nearest Apple Computer Store, located smack in the middle of Lenox Mall, the busiest mall in Atlanta. The appointment was for Saturday afternoon, the busiest time at the busiest mall. I cringed at the thought, but my phone was slowly dying, losing valuable percentage points of energy. I had to act fast. I walked into the place after dealing with the smack-up derby gridlock of the parking lot. The dull roar of a million shoppers engulfed me, and the Apple store itself looked like that old photo of the British phone booth with something like fifteen grown men stuffed into it. People were everywhere, either in wild exhilaration or preemptive disgust at the finale of Superbowl LI, of which no more will be written by this blogger concerning that particularly fiendish goat rodeo.

I found a rather pleasant millennial who confirmed my appointment in her “Eye-Pad.” She told me to have a seat in the corner, at a table. She then started punching in my description. Jacket-blue. Pants-denim. Skin-pasty. Eyes-bloodshot. I offered a DNA swab of my inner cheek. She said it wasn’t necessary. I sat in the corner and looked out at the mayhem. People slithered over each other like worms in a mud ditch. The walls were blank slats of stainless steel. I was trapped in a metal box with a thousand other lab rats. 

Not to worry. I pulled the “Science Times” section of the Tuesday New York Times out of my pocket, an actual dirty print copy, and began reading about cannibalism. More common in the animal kingdom than previously thought. Tiger sharks, spiders, lions, humans, we are all made of meat, as it turns out. I peered out from behind my newspaper, realizing I was the only person in a room of five hundred or so that was NOT staring into some form of computer. For this reason alone I figured the tech geeks would try to usher me along. 

“Get this guy out of here,” they would whisper. “He’s no good for our image.” 

I read and re-read the whole article. The place was so crowded I couldn’t even see out the glass doors. The people on either side of me, arriving after I did, were helped and ushered along, and there I sat. And sat. And sat. After a while I felt like an opium freak who doesn’t inquire “What time is it?” but rather, “What day is it?” My phone had long since gone dead. My head was spinning from the crowd and my belly was empty. It wouldn’t be long, I thought, before I engaged, as a matter of brute survival, in the practice known as “adelphophagy” or “brother-eat-brother.”

I looked around the room, trying to decide which person, if it came down to it, that I would eat. Some people were way too thin. Skin and bones. Bad muscle tone. That wouldn’t do. Overweight people, at first, seemed like premium slabs, except I suspected there might be a little too much “marbling” in them. The bulky weightlifters would probably be too tough or stringy. All of this humanity in the room and nothing good to eat. Like a refrigerator full of nothing. It would probably be best to consume a baby, or a caged human, someone recently released from prison maybe, nice and tender.

I snapped out of it, realizing I was losing my goddamn mind. I stopped one of the cheery millennials and asked her to locate me in the computer. She did some typing and realized, to our horror, that I wasn’t in there. I had gotten lost in the system. My heart beat wildly. I began to perspire. I asked her where I was and she told me to stay in one place. That is the best thing to do if you are lost.

“You are a real Nowhere Man,” she said finally, with a look like there was nothing more she could do. “Sitting in your Nowhere Land.”

“One more question,” I said, surveying her abdomen and wondering about her liver. “Would you happen to have some fava beans and maybe a nice Chianti?”

More Alembics to come.

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