Ups and Downs

Content: Chapter 2

I saw Macy for a total of five minutes before she went to her room, dragging her bags behind her.  I feel like every waking hour of her day is chopped up into two distinct portions- times where she is posting and times where she thinks about posting. She has to make a new update or piece of content in time with what seems like a premeditated schedule in order to sate her followers and get that fresh hit of dopamine from the sudden rush of heart-shaped icons.  

Through the wall I could hear the short periods of her pouring her heart out over a new piece of clothing, followed by the extended silence of her changing into whatever new thing she had gotten, and fawning loudly once again.  Other days her videos seemed to be streams of consciousness, or more accurately a waterfall of cutesy mouth sounds, slang I had never heard before in my life and other squeals, while she did her hair or put on some fresh shade of makeup.  She didn’t speak that way in real life, and in fact, was an English honors student who got better grades than me when I was in the same classes, but no judgment here.

A couple of years ago I would have thought that Cameron was going to head off to college, as brainy as he was, but he went viral with the inclusion in some famous montage, and with that, he ditched his scholarship to hone his craft yelling into a microphone.  Again, no judgment.  At this point, it seemed as if I were going to be in college ahead of him, but also I am aware that the internet can never keep its focus on one thing for a very long time.

Speaking of the internet, you’re probably realizing now that we are all heavily reliant on it.  I can remember clearly the last time it went out.  Cameron, live at the time, was the first to notice as his broadcast came screeching to a halt.  His rare appearance into the rest of the house was proceeded by his voice. “Dad?”

“He’s out in the garage.” My mom called back from the kitchen.

“He didn’t trip a breaker again?”

“We got the garage on a separate circuit a few weeks ago, don’t you remember?”

By that time, he had already gone into his mode reminiscent of my sister.  Phone in hand and camera pointed at his face, he began his rant to his followers on whatever social media he felt appropriate, explaining the situation.  “Internet is down boys, you know the deal.  Stick around and hit us with some pray emotes in chat to get the internet gods back in our favor!”

Macy came out next. “Cameron, you’re too loud.  I’m trying to record something.”

“Well, good luck uploading it, cause the wifi is down.”

“Is that why my upload stopped?” I heard my dad’s voice suddenly coming from the hallway that connected the house to the garage.

“I heard they were doing some work on the street down the road,” My mom spoke up.

By that time, my quiet time of typing away on my laptop from the couch in the living room had come to an end.  At the very least, it was the closest to seeing the entire family engaged together in one place for a long while.

“What sort of work?” Cameron asked.

“Who knows?” My mom responded with a shrug. “Oh, actually I picked the notification off the door a couple of days ago.”

“And that is where?” Dad said with a hopeful look.

“Uh…” My mom paused from her label-making to scan the available flat surfaces around the front of the house. “Oh right, it’s in the pile.”

“What pile?”

“Of documents.  I was going to do a bill-paying ASMR.”

“ASMR?” Macy suddenly popped out from the hall as she was on her way back to her room. “Mom, you’re too old for that!”

Dad looked between mom and his daughter. “What’s this AM…SR nonsense?”

“Whispering different stuff and playing around with the microphone… it makes your ears tingle or whatever,” Cameron mentioned while swiping about on his phone furiously in the corner.

“People watch that?” Dad asked.

“They do,” Mom replied, fully assured of herself.

The tension held in the room for a while longer while my family members were deciding what to do with themselves in their newfound internet-free life.  The low clacking of my laptop keyboard must have been too much for them to handle, and several sets of eyes were suddenly on me. “If… if they cut a line somewhere… like for the internet… that might be bad, right?”

Dad rubbed at his face and let out a low huff. “I mean, yeah.  C’mon, I got a video needing to be ready for tomorrow.”

“Uh yeah,” Cameron complained. “And I got viewers dropping by the millisecond.  Forget it, I’m going to take my phone’s internet.  Mom, you’ll allow me some extra data this month, right?”

“Forget it, Cameron!” Macy responded first. “I need that for going live this weekend when I’m out.  People on your channel can just watch someone else!”

“Uh, yeah, that’s the point!” He hissed back at her.  “They need to be watching me.

Dad was pacing and moving back and forth across the living room to check down either side of the street. “Maybe if they wrecked some line out there, I could head out there and try to help them out.”

“The city would not like that.” Mom admonished him, “besides, you’re a woodworker, not a cable guy.”

“I know how to get my hands dirty.”

Trying to block out the loud conversation, I noticed the twinkling of an icon in the corner of my screen. “Uh… looks like it’s back.”

Dad yanked out his phone and confirmed. “Hey, yeah.  Thanks, kiddo!”

A clear enthusiastic call came down the hall from none other than my older brother. “Let’s go boys!” followed by a loud slam of the door.

Influence

Content: Chapter 1

A glass of milk.  That’s all I wanted.  The mess hidden behind the fridge doors stood in my way.  It certainly wasn’t like this yesterday, and my mom was at home all morning, so it  wasn’t from a shopping trip.  The things once on the door were on the shelves, the things on the shelves were on the door, and any items with transient locations inside were in even more nonsensical places.  I got the idea of what was going on, but the near slamming of the door on my fingers before I could reach the hidden-away carton of dairy confirmed it. 

“Don’t. Touch. A thing,” My mother admonished me and swatted at my hand as she held the opposite door in place.

“I’ll put it back-“ I began.

“No, I’ll get it,” she huffed.  “I need to empty it all out again.  It looks precisely just how it should right now, though, don’t you think?”

I supposed it did.  “Yeah,” I replied with a shrug.  “What time are you recording?”

“In 20 minutes, so grab your moo juice and go, buster,” my mom, Ordelia, offered up her last words of warning.  For the next hour, the kitchen would be her domain, but not in the way that a regular mother would be protective over her cutting boards of prepped vegetables and pots rumbling with some loving stew.  It was her recording slot- filming for her channel where she ‘made home,’ in a sense.  An organizer?  A clean freak?  OCD?  Or just maybe just an intuition for all the things that were satisfying for people falling under such categories.  Whatever it was, her views and subscriptions kept up with the rest of the family’s.

“Remind your dad and Cameron know if you run into them,” she said as I silently decanted the white liquid into a glass.

“Remind me of what?” Cameron, my older brother, had sneaked out past us, making a beeline for the pantry.  He noisily began to dig through the bags somewhere in the back corner.

“Video day,” my mom noted, scooting around the clear containers she had bought to do what was likely a complete fridge makeover that day.  Groceries came out of plastic bins and bags from the store, and then straight into slightly nicer ones that would look good stacked and lined up perfectly on camera.  The ocean cried out in sounds suffocated in petroleum byproducts.

“Yeah,” I snarked, leaning into the pantry doorway.  “Don’t mess up anything in there,”

“Oh, the pantry is next week, so feel free to get it nice and messy for me.”

I sighed and let Cameron back out, holding his bag of triangular-shaped and cheese-seasoned chips.  I grabbed my glass of milk and cleared out, dodging the tripods and lights being violently unfolded in our wakes.

Cameron’s room was before mine down the hall, and he entered, never to be heard from again.  Seriously, though- his room was soundproofed with various layers of foam material, and no matter at what time of the day or night he was shouting at his shooting games while broadcasting to the world, there was not a peep to be heard around any corner of our house.  The only way to tell if he was awake was by the faint flashing and endlessly shifting rainbow of lights under the crack of his door.  

Macy’s room was next, and in fact, one could tell if she was awake and active too by the lights under the door.  Hers, though, was a bright, pale light in the shape of a doughnut that she used to illuminate her face while she talked to her phone.  She was out for the day, grabbing her next haul of clothes or jewelry or makeup or perhaps even an overpriced but snapshot worthy dish at some fancy restaurant.  

The final room at our end of the house was mine, lit mostly by daylight and sometimes the ordinary lamp in my corner.  It would have been comparatively plain were it not for the extravagant desk that my father, Chip, had made in his workshop.  His saying, likely since before me and my siblings were born, was that if you were good at something, to not do it for free.  Maybe that changed for him when he realized that there was better money in making online videos about carpentry projects than the carpentry projects themselves, but the saying definitely did stick for us, even myself.

At that aforementioned desk is where I write- fan fiction to be specific.  Okay, imagine your favorite work of fiction, and then imagine your favorite characters from said fiction, and finally imagine them on other adventures, or engaging in romantic relationships, or… well, you get the picture.  That’s the kind of stuff I write and post online, an art that existed long before any of the forms of media my family practices.  Not that I’m bitter, rather that I’m simply used to being the only one having to explain to people what I do.

Everyone uses those ‘new’ platforms now, follows the people who put up their favorite works.  Niche is now mainstream.  Everyone knows what a content creator does these days, or even knows of a person that fits the description.  For me, that’s my whole family.

Zoomers

An hour and a half.  That was all the time that remained of having to pretend I was paying attention to the horrid lesson over video conferencing.  Everyone’s faces were drawn with similar dull gazes, looking into the several-years-behind webcams built into the mass produced laptops we had been provided.  The teacher was no different, save being contractually obligated to make sure every minute of the session was crammed with an entire day’s worth of knowledge.  The best we could do to appease her was to nod our heads in response to her provocations of our knowledge.

“Everyone understand?”

Nodding.

“Alright, I’ll move on then.”

Nodding.

“Davy, are you chewing gum?”

Nodding- wait no.

I struggled to hit the unmute button to make my case. “I uh, sorry, I just-”

It had long since lost its minty flavor after being gnashed around between my teeth since before the meeting began.  The movement of my jaw to appease my ancient carnal instincts as well as my more modern anxiety had become secondary at that point.  “You know the school rules, no gum at school.”

“I’ll just spit it out-” I said, darting back and forth just at the edges of the camera’s field of view, looking for the wrapper or a scrap piece of paper.

“No, you’ve wasted enough time for us this week already,” Mrs. Kay huffed. “You were late Monday, and you had no answer for me when I called on you Wednesday.”

“That was-”

“And now you’re talking back to me.  You’re off to the principal,” she glared at me, or at least the camera she was sat in front of. “You have his link?  I’m sending him an email right now, so you better be there ASAP, buddy.”

Before I could defend myself, I heard the jingle of the call disconnecting me.  Somewhere deep in my emails encompassing weeks of assignments and communications, I found the link to the principal’s own ‘disciplinary’ meeting.  The waiting room welcomed me with a message of ‘Please wait to be dealt with.  Do not minimize or exit out of this screen, and do not leave your device unattended.’

Five minutes passed.  And then five more.  And then just when I was about to fall asleep at the wheel, the jingle rang out.  I was let in.  There was the principal; round-faced, bald-headed, and complexion red as could be.  I held my breath as he looked at me through his camera with studious eyes.  When his mic unmuted, I heard the chuckling in the background, followed by the man’s final guffaw and a huff to catch his breath.

“Funny ladies here in the office,” he mentioned.  “Uh, what brings you here?”

“Mrs. Kay probably sent you a message.”

The principal bit at his lip.  “Don’t tell me what probably or didn’t probably happen.  You’re here for a reason, aren’t ya?”

“Well-”

“Here it is,” he interrupted.  “Davy, three strikes.  Disruption, insubordination, violation of decency standards.  What’s this last one?” He asked with a puzzled tone.

“Gum chewing, proba- it was for chewing gum.”

The principal looked at me with a disappointed look. “You’re a junior, you should know that rule by now.  And in class, too.”

“I’m-” I began, glancing behind my back to the corners of the room that was certainly none other than my bedroom in a house whose mortgage was solely being paid for by my parents. “I’m at home.”

There was a finger snapping through the camera and mic at me.  “Look at me when you’re speaking.  Your house, my house, the school- no gum.  Anywhere.  If that were it, I could get you out of here, but that seems like it was the final straw this week.  Do you know how much Mrs. Kay and the other teachers work to keep things together, to keep teaching in these trying times?”

“Sure?”

“Sure.” He repeated, leaning back in his chair. “Well, as per the rules, we’re giving you an at-school suspension.”

“At school?”

“I’ll give you the link for Mr. Butch’s detention room, it will have to do.  Finish up the day there, and the rest of the week for good measure.  Any questions?”

“What.. should I do?”

“It’s detention, son.” The principal clicked his tongue. “No talking to each other.  Just sit there and do your work.  No goofing off on other sites.”


A hopefully farewell to all the zoom meetings held this year.