A PATCHY DISCUSSION
It was a brisk night in November, and Toby Norant is heading to a bar. Toby had arrived in Pel-Co a day prior, spending his night in an appointed Traveller’s Motel, of which he’d now used up his allotted time. He has plans, large wobbly plans that couldn’t help but make him feel uneasy at heart, plans which are the reason for his visit to Pel-Co, where his father resides.
The motel’s reception was quiet except for the sound of Toby’s suitcase clinking and ruffling as he moved on through. The woman at the desk tracking him condescendingly as he approaches. “Right, that’s me.” Toby said.
“Let me see, Toby -”
“You still have 8 hours on your permit. What are your T-plans?”
“T-Plans…terminal plans. Look, what do you plan to do at the end of the 8 hours?”
“Ah, I see. Well, I’ve just got to head to a bar, then once that’s closed I should be back at the shuttle for a collection.”
“Which collection shuttle is that Sir?”
“It’s the one heading to DiviLet, the DL-3 I believe, leaving at 23:30 I think.”
“The DL-3 is to be arriving at 23:00 and leaving at 23:30. Please make sure to give your ID card to the E-booth before leaving. Until then make sure it’s viewable at all times, preferably around your neck.”
“Will do.” said Toby adjusting his lanyard, making sure his ID hasn’t become stuck in any way.
“Which bar is it you’re heading to?”
“Ok, well make sure to stick to the eastern wall for at least a mile. You should see signs for the bar after that.”
“Ok, ta. Well, I best be getting off then.”
“Bye. And remember to hand your card over to-
“An E-booth yes. Bye.”
Awkwardly shuffling from the desk Toby reaches for his ID card so he can open the motel doors. Pastel coloured policy posters line each side of the door, along with a stand of official Pel-Co booklets to its right-hand side. The scanner plays 3 long low confirmation tones before it opens, a click, and Toby is away, entering into the street.
Toby follows the directions given to him, the eastern wall’s presence engulfing his entire form, as well as the houses to Toby’s left. His eyes scanning the surroundings hastily for a sign, yet always being drawn back to the wall, the faraway chatter descending from its top walkways. After a short while Toby begins to worry, he’s yet to see a sign, but as luck would have it a stranger’s passing by. The passer-by a tall, stocky man walking with a sense of determination.
“Excuse me, Sir?” Toby asks the passer-by.
“Yes? Sorry, hello.” Replys the passer-by, a little startled.
“Sorry, I was wondering if you could possibly give me directions to Unither’s Bar?” The passer-by’s focus flickering between Toby’s face and ID card.
“Uh, Unither’s?” The man looking a little confused, as if this was an entirely new piece of information. Drawing his hands from his pockets and putting them to rest over his stomach.
“Yeah, Unither’s Bar. I was told it would be roughly a mile from the Traveller’s Motel?”
“Ah! You mean The Legacy. It changed from Unither’s a few years ago now.”
“Anyway yea, it’s about another 5 minutes or so. There’s a band playing tonight, so you should be able to hear it fairly soon. Enjoy.” The passer-by already on his way.
“Thank you.” Toby says loudly.
The man was correct, it was another 5 minutes give or take. Toby hears the twanging of guitars playing a folk type set – coincidently Toby’s favourite genre – as he approaches. Picking up his case just before the front courtyard Toby begins to look for his Father. The bar itself a quasi-British bar, complete with multiple taps of dark ale, worn carpet and a varied assortment of barrel-gut bearing middle aged men. Toby heads to the front door, which is currently being held open for an old man.
“Sorry mate, just gonna let the old boy through.”
“No worries.” says Toby, wheeling his suitcase out of the way.
“Cheers. Night Rod!” says the old man passing by.
“No wor-” Toby attempts to say.
“Night Steve!” bellows the man holding the door. “Come on then, come on in.”
“Wait, I’d best check your ID as you didn’t use the scanner.”
“Oh, sure thing.” Toby holds his ID up from around his neck as for the man to view it.
“Ah, I see.” says the man. “Well, to be honest I think you’d best scan it.”
“Umm, sure.” Toby drops his ID down to door’s scanner. From behind the bar come 3 low, but faintly distinguishable tones.
“Right, in ya go.”
“Cheers.” says Toby, finally entering the bar. The barman watching him intently as he approaches.
“Excuse me, do you know if David Norant is here?”
The barman lets out a faint yet audible sigh of relief, his shoulders slump down a little. “Ah, you’re David’s boy. He said you were coming. He’s just through by the pool table, through there.” says the barman pointing to a set of double doors.
“Thank you. Could I also get a whisky and coke please.”
“No alcohol for you I’m afraid mate.”
“Oh yeah, sorry I forgot. Just a coke then please.”
“Sure thing, I’ll bring it round.”
Toby heads through the double doors and towards a small bar, unaware his Father is to his left checking some information on a touch screen. Toby places his suitcase next to the bar and sits on a stool just as the barman sets down his coke.
“How are you paying?” the barman asks.
“I’ve got that Henry.” David says calmly “Place it on my tab.”
Toby turns his head as to face David. “Ah, sorry Dad. Didn’t see you there.”
“No worries boy. Doubt you’d have recognized me anyway, what has it been…10 years.”
“Something like that, and the beard’s…quite something.”
“Grown quite fond of it actually. 10 years you say, quite a while.”
“How’ve you been then boy? All good back at home? Mother well?”
“I’ve been fine. And home’s home, you know it’ll never change, and Mum’s just taken early retirement actually.”
“Ha. She always did work herself silly.”
David heads back to the bar, where a drink has been poured for him. Perched up straight on his stool and with both hands on the bar. All that’s to be heard is the band.
“Folk music. Jesus Christ.” David says chuckling. Toby smiles and relaxes into his seat.
“I’ve got to be honest Toby, I was really surprised at your message.”
“A bit out of the blue I know, but I need to tell you some news.”
“We’ve not too much in common son, I know that, but you know you were and are always welcome to visit.”
“Of course I know that Dad.”
“Good, I didn’t want you thinking I’d abandoned you.”
“I don’t, I know how difficult communication is to non-networked Corps. Don’t worry. Damn, getting the pass took me at least 5 months.”
“How long is the pass for?”
“1 night. Well, 24 hours to be precise. From the time of arrival onwards.”
“Still as strict as ever. Good.”
“Ha, you haven’t changed.”
“And neither has PelCo which is relieving.”
“Aye, I hear, well I can see the wall’s getting thicker.”
“Yes, our side!”
“Christ, still have the pride then.”
“I don’t want to have the same discussions we used to have, but I must admit, I’m a bit disheartened your ideas are still the same as they were at 18.”
“Right, yes, those things.”
“I don’t understand what’s so bad about our system back home?”
“You know I hate cliches, but you’ll have to forgive me for this one…because it’s true, you weren’t there son.”
“Before you were born, prior to any re-arrangement. Looking back now, God, it’s like the past is a fever dream. I just cannot for the life of me figure how it got so bad.”
“But what? What was so bad?”
“It’s so tough to put your finger on it. It was our way of thinking, our general scope of thought, it was just so suffocative.”
“That’s not really an answer Dad.”
“Indeed it is not. Well for one thing we ignored many crucial facts. We ignored our findings, our knowledge, as if much of what we knew was merely a part of its own time as opposed to ours as well. There was this entire part of history in which we, as a collective, ignored our roots.”
“Evolution, the process of our creation.”
“I still don’t really see why that would be such a huge problem though.”
“Because to forget evolution is to forget this kind of…exterior, if you like. It’s to forget the real basics of life, of survival.”
“Such as the fact we need water, food and shelter. That we need to be safe from harm.”
“OK, but they were all catered for…”
“They were and they weren’t. It was strange as I’ve said. Sure, we had water, food and shelter pretty much 100% of the time but that in itself was a problem. The ease at which this all came. To be born into a world where all of your basic survival needs and instincts are catered for on a platter, is to lose something of yourself, to forget something of your ancestry. But, really, most of all, you forget that other people also want these things…need these things. So we all just forgot about this kind of cosmic competition and became apathetic to instinct.”
“This seems a little, uh, rehearsed Dad?”
David takes a large swig from his pint, before composing himself a little. “One key part of living in such a society as PelCo is transparency.”
“Meaning, to live here, one has to understand the why of the system, if not, you’ll never understand your place, if you do, you come to respect it. Especially when you’ve come from a past such as mine and your Mother’s.”
“So you’re saying they have classes on it or what?”
“Nothing so formal, well, at least it’s never appeared to me that way. At first you receive a booklet, pamphlet type thing, and to be quite honest from that I’ve never known anyone to not want to understand further.”
“Sounds a little cult-like Dad.”
“I’d agree, except for one key factor.”
“Let me guess: ‘Exit’.” Toby sighed.
“Exactly. Generally cults aren’t too keen on you ‘Exit’. And it might seem obvious and easily attainable to you, but Exit isn’t just the physical type of exit.”
“I know, I know, you were locked in. Prog-virus ‘n all that. I still remember the dinner time conversations Dad.”
“Your Mother always hated me using ‘prog-virus’.”
“Well, she still is a hypochondriac.” Toby quips grinning.
David briefly chuckles, before taking a few quick gulps of his pint. The bands string banalities still mildly filling the airwaves. There’s a brief moment of silence.
“Anyway, back to the evolution thing.” Toby says inquiringly “We have come a long way since, you know…the ‘survival’ days.”
“Ha. Have we? I mean Earth is 4.5 billion years old and humans have inhabited it for what, like, 200,000 years, which is way less than 1 percent of its lifetime…way less.”
“OK your point be-
“And of those 200,000 years we only have record of 5000. And of that 5000 years anyone with a little time and patience can see the underlying patterns haven’t changed. Yes, we have all this new technology etc. the intent of which is to make life easier, but behind all that is still the same old human needs, the same old humans, who, if don’t get what they need get aggressive.”
“But you told me that you learnt evolution at school? And with your schools it was the same curriculum for everyone, right?”
“Indeed we all took the same classes and lessons, read from the same textbooks. But in that time it was taught in an odd manner, when you were given this shabby textbook, which had already clearly been used for years, you began to form this idea of obsolescence. As if what we were learning was more history that universal fact. It didn’t helped that psychology and sociology were massively popular at the time.”
“Sorry, yes I know, they both have their merits. My point being they were…advertised, or broadcast in such a way as to be superior, as if one could outsmart evolution with them. In fact, it was a little of that, but in reality we just seemed to ignore this…this elephant in the room.”
“Was it really that bad though?”
“Of course not, not then it wasn’t…but now looking back. Back then of course everyone wanted to ignore this elephant because it was the age of utopia! Of everyone holding hands and getting along all of sudden. Despite years of differences.”
“I kind of understand. How come that ignorance had such a bad effect near the end then?”
“Because if you don’t build your foundations for all that’s not cumulative on something factual, then you risk losing them all together.”
“You’ve lost me…”
“Ethics, politics, society…communities, all these lovely constructs, contracts if you like. If these are not built on the fact of difference, of variation, of our needs, then there’ll come a time when they down-right fail. They still teach not to build your house on sand, surely?”
“Ha, our system still loves it’s parables before assemblies. And don’t call me Shirley.”
David quickly put down his pint and laughed. “At least I taught you good taste in film.”
“You still think the sequels better?”
“Indeed I do…mostly for the bridge scene. One of the few times a comedy caught me off guard.”
“Has there been a pure-comedy to top Airplane!?”
“Maybe Withnail & I, or Office Space.”
The chuckles settle into a silence between them, whilst the folk music continues. Henry, the barman, brings them two more drinks.
“Thank you.” Toby says shyly.
Toby takes a sip of his drinking, realising it’s a whisky and coke. “Thought he might do that.” David says upon noticing Toby’s expression. “Henry’s an old friend, don’t worry.”
“Couldn’t he get it trouble?” Toby whispers.
“Yes. So keep quiet.” David says sternly.
“Will do. So where were we?”
“Comedy films I think.”
“No, before that?”
“Ah yea. I still thi-”
“I remember you saying you didn’t like talking about this kind of stuff?”
“I guess there’s nothing like nostalgia.”
“It does remind me of home I must admit. Your Mother’s face when I used to read the newspapers and grind my teeth.”
“All the News That’s Fit to Print.”
“Don’t, I’ve already visited the dentist once this month.”
Toby laughs. “So, yes. Human needs.”
“What about them?”
“Well, OK, even if all of what you’re saying about evolution is true, and that our basic kind of need is survival type thing.”
“Well, isn’t that a bit of a miserable life? Like, our entire existence is controlled by needing security or wanting to survive. I mean, what of happiness or health?”
David hastily sits his pint on the bar. “Happiness, well there’s a callback I didn’t think I’d hear tonight. God, the ambiguity of it all.”
“What’s wrong with happiness, you know Dad…being happy is quite nice, you should try it some time.”
“Very funny boy. Nothing is wrong with happiness, well at least not now, once it’s understood. But truthfully, the way I see it, if you want a fulfilling life, or at least a life in which fulfilment is possible, happiness has to come second…or third, it cannot be your first priority basically.”
“Eh, OK, I really don’t get this one.”
“Once again Toby, I’ve been there, it was an odd time. When I was younger it was seriously like living in this weird malaise.” Toby releases a large sigh. “When I was younger, well, more in my teens, everything was about happiness, and I mean everything. But it wasn’t the same as the happiness of seeing your kid grow up” Toby smiles and looks to the floor “or finishing some large project, you know that kind of happiness, that’s of real substance, right?”
“Sure, like when we built the shed in the garden? I was like 8 I think…”
“Exactly that, but you still remember it. The happiness of my youth, the one they sold us day-in day-out via any medium they could…as a way of control, now that happiness was toxic. It was just vacant. Go on holiday, eat some ice cream, watch some TV…you know, binge a fucking TV show…that was our example of happiness.”
“I mean, those things are a little dumb sure, but what’s wrong with ‘em?”
“Nothing…in moderation, I guess. The problem lies in their accessibility, everything was so easily attainable. Happiness was this easy thing, and the problem with that as a goal, or a criteria for a meaningful life, is that most people don’t really question it.”
“Why would you? All humans have that unchangeable existential dread in them and it’s not nice, we all know that, so why would you question the thing, in this case ‘happiness’ which gets rid of that dread? Especially when happiness is so hedonistic and fun as well.”
“So then…why didn’t people?”
“Because that was the seen, well…subconsciously seen, as the end. The end-game of progress is happiness.”
“So what’s wrong with it then? I mean if it’s the end?”
“Because that entire fucking belief system was wrong son, this is what I was always trying to get through to you before I left. That belief, that belief in progress was…is just a delusion, a blindfold that gets tighter and tighter with each and every fact that comes to try tear it off. The problem is all these facts, all our human needs that are outside of the blindfold don’t change, cannot change, even if what’s behind the blindfold has.”
“Christ, OK. I got it, try not to be happy.”
“That’s not what I mean. I mean there’s always more to it. If something is fun, easy, cheap and in abundance it’s either bad for you, or a method of control.”
“Hey…you know full-well I’m not Chomsky!”
“…because you’re not asleep.”
Toby laughs into his drink “True, you haven’t turned into a mumbly old fart just yet.”
“So, back then, you weren’t happy, you know…when you were younger?”
“Sure I was, well, maybe content is a better word for it. That’s how I felt everyone was, content. Content with every-fucking-thing, however bad or transparently shitty and deceptive it was.”
“Shitty and deceptive?”
“The politicians. The worst part wasn’t that they lied. It’s the fact it was clear from the start and no one really questioned it.”
“I mean sure, it was in the newspapers if they had lied, but the problem was it was so fucking common that it became part of politics. I’d hear people say they voted for a certain party because they ‘lied the least’.”
“So how did that all end?”
“It didn’t. It evolved, it changed, just like everything is.”
“Oddly enough, promises.”
“Indeed kiddo, promises. What should be the backbone of any system, not promises in themselves, but kept-promises are of the utmost importance.”
“I feel like I’m from a different planet right now to be honest.”
“And I feel like I came from one…”
“Well, feel free to talk about this planet some more.”
“I’m glad I can talk about it as a part of the past. You’ve got it real good now kid. You don’t even really have to listen to ‘promises’ any more because, well, there’s no such thing. What used to be a promise is now an action, and it’s undertaken prior to you even being part of wherever it is you live. But back then, a politician would promise something and it just wouldn’t happen.”
“Sounds a bit like a Kafka novel.”
“It was! – and you finally got around to Kafka.”
“Yea, and frustratingly I agree with what you told me when I was 17.”
“I don’t recall.”
“You said: ‘The first time anyone reads Kafka they wished they’d read him sooner.’”
“Indulge me in this Kafka-world then…”
“So yeah, as I said promises were, well, meaningless. I’ll give a good example. You go to a coffee shop and ask for a coffee, what do you expect?”
“Sure, but notice I said expect. The same applies for, well, pretty much any form of business. Say you went to that same coffee shop and they just didn’t give you a coffee, or it was pretty shit, what’d you do?”
“Go somewhere else.”
“You get ‘Exit’ yet?
“Good. Well my point would be, a shit coffee, or a badly fitted window, or a late bus…all these things are harmless. But they’re also all a strange kind of unspoken promise, right?”
“So what happens when you put your literal human…animal needs in the hands of someone else; you know needs like water, food, survival…security, and then they don’t fulfil them?”
“I guess there’s not much you can do.”
“Not when that’s the only system, and one that many people don’t know they’re ever in, no. You’re in the – bear with me – physical fucking embodiment of a social contract, one that’s supposed to keep you alive, and not only are those promising you security etc. not meeting your needs, but also, they’re apathetic to external factors that are actually anti your needs!”
“Yeah.” David slowly sips at his beer.
“Right, I gotta take a piss. We got about 2 hours before I need to leave, so hopefully we can have, a more, you know, chill conversation when I come back?”
“Ha. Maybe. You still gotta tell me your news remember.”
“I know. Right, back in a minute.”