A STRANGE GAME

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You keep slipping through time and space and find yourself waking up in multiple parallel universes. Sometimes n at a time (migraine and nerve pain). Other times they are discontinuous eventualities of past or future decisions rippling towards what you perceive as the present.

Universe Iteration-Space 1: Zaxon Prime

It's a Saturday morning and you decide to take your significant other to a local restaurant for brunch, Egg Bliss, one of your favorite spots. You arrive and there are a few people in line ahead of you to speak with the hostess. After a prolonged disagreement between the hostess and the party in front of you about something irrelevant such as the direction their assigned table is facing, you are next. As you approach the bench, someone cuts immediately in front of you and barks "Order for Joebob!" After some confusion about where Joebob's Uber Eats order is, the matter is resolved and you are given a buzzer and told to wait a half hour for a table.

Once you are seated, you notice that the menu has changed since the last time you were here. It's missing some of your favorite items and the prices have changed. You usually get steak and eggs but the new prices make it firmly out of your budget so you hunt for another dish. You order a coffee and the $16.95 croque-madame. An egg on toast seems like a tasty way to get some protein and carbs. Your coffee comes out and you greedily drink it until it's empty, you're tired despite sleeping like a baby the night before. It's $5 so you're a bit surprised that it tastes like cigarette ash. Regardless, you need the caffeine. You wonder if your waiter is okay. You haven't seen him at all for twenty minutes which is beginning to become a problem because you need more caffeine. When he emerges from the kitchen you make eye contact and he comes to your table. As you request a refill of coffee you notice his countenance is that of someone that has just smelled dog poop.

After almost an hour, your dish arrives, two sad, overcooked eggs, sitting atop two of the most preposterously large slices of bread you've seen in your life, coated in some sickly, butter-like substance that is now pooling at the base of your plate. You cast aside one of the pieces of bread to minimize the damage of consuming a day's worth of carbohydrates before noon. The eggs give off an unnatural hue as the massive amounts of industrial oil that coats them reflect the trendy neon purple "BACON-SLAG" sign on the wall next to you. As you plunge your fork into the rubbery eggs you question your life choices.

Feeling unusually sticky, you request your check so that you can exfil before your sugar high comes crashing down. There are no checks. This is 2024 and everything is superior to the way it used to be. A touchscreen phone about the same thickness as the toast from your croque-madame is thrust into your face. The waiter hovers expectantly as you are presented with three options for tip on the screen, the lowest is 25%. You think about hitting the "Custom" button but realize the massive amounts of industrial byproducts you've just eaten have clouded your mind so much that you cannot calculate a 15% on the fly. You press 25% and hand the device back to the waiter, defeated.

Still feeling somewhat unsatisfied and reluctant to go back home already your partner suggests going shopping for some clothing. You're already in a sort of strip mall. It's one of those modern, yet poorly built, new constructions with shops on the ground floor and apartments above. It looks like they're building another one across the street. You're reminded that this one is called "CENTREPEACE" as you walk outside and see the imposing faux-industrial sign near the ample parking lot.

You decide to go try on shirts at "June Gloom" right next door. You've been buying their shirts for years. They are extremely soft and made in San Francisco. They seem to take pride in their workmanship, you even have a few that have lasted past the one-year mark. You pick a shirt off the rack that you like. It feels unusually coarse and light for a June Gloom shirt. Inspecting the label you're disappointed to see that it says "Made Responsibly in China" as if anything could be made responsibly in a communist country. You think that maybe it will still hold up okay and debate about buying it. The $48 price tag dissuades you of any such notion. You leave disappointed and without new clothing.

Your significant other is similarly disappointed with her clothing prospects. It's still early and there are no more responsibilities for the day so you decide to go to the theater conveniently located in CENTREPEACE.

It's a micro-theater, with only two screens. They are showing Fast and Furious 28: Even More Furious and Levelled Up. You opt for Levelled Up - the trailer looked intriguing. The movie is a coming-of-age story. When it ends you don't feel anything. The whole movie felt "safe" like the most inoffensive direction for the plot, soundtrack, casting, etc. was taken at every turn. It wasn't bad. That's the best thing that could be said about it. Although, if it was really bad, at least that would have been a unique experience, instead it just didn't register. You emerge from the dark cave of the theater feeling a bit numb.

You arrive home after a long day that, when you recount it on social media, seems fulfilling. For some reason though you feel a bit hollow. You can almost hear a faint voice inside of yourself saying "What was the point of all that?" You turn on Netflix and lounge in bed waiting for sleep to take you.

Universe Iteration Space 2: Proxima Nova

You are woken abruptly by a sharp pain in your face. As your heart revs up to the cardio range, preparing your body to assault the intruder in your house, you open your eyes and see a three-foot tall creature clawing at your bedsheets and screaming "UP, UP, UP!" As your eyes begin to focus, you realize that the small creature is your daughter. You glance at the clock, 5:23 AM. The quality and sheer volume of your daughter's voice suggests that you will not be lying back down until your 7 AM alarm. So much for sleeping in on Saturday.

You head downstairs and find your significant other there. You've heard people talking about how good the restaurant Egg Bliss is and briefly consider heading over there for brunch but you decide that it sounds horrible to attempt to keep a toddler quiet and calm in a nice restaurant. You hear that this is enjoyable from other parents and the reason that you must simply be deficient in some way, have a psychotic toddler, or both. It's Saturday and you feel like cooking well and eating well. The day calls for a full breakfast assortment comprised of your significant other's famous pancake recipe, complimented by your eggs and bacon, and washed down with plenty of coffee.

You are out of most of the necessary ingredients so you head to the store with your toddler as your significant other stays behind to get the pancake batter prepped. As you walk into the local Groger Grocer market you begin to wrangle your toddler into a shopping cart but she flails and insists on walking instead. You haven't had enough caffeine so you decide it's not worth the battle and grab a basket instead.

Exploring the grocery store you point out items within your daughter's reach that you need and have her toss them in the basket which makes your butter look like it was delivered by the world's laziest UPS employee. You opt for the bougie bacon today feeling like it's a better deal to spend money on nice ingredients instead of the stepped-on garbage that lately has been passing for "food" at restaurants. You grab your daughter a loose banana for a snack, check out, load up in the car, and head for home.

Upon arriving home, you unload your daughter from her car seat not realizing that she has eaten about half of the banana and rubbed the other half on her shirt, which is now on your shirt too. You get inside and put together a large breakfast of eggs (from your friend's farm), good bacon, pancakes, fruit, and plenty of coffee.

After breakfast, you change your banana, egg, and who-knows-what-else caked shirt for a fresh one and realize you're low on shirts. You don't feel like braving the crowds and going to the store today so you just order a 3-pack of new ones from the BoxCo app for $15. Most of the clothes you can afford, even at higher price points are cheaply made now so you generally just default to buying anything that fits reasonably well from big box stores.

You come back to the living room to find your significant other reading a book and your daughter coloring some large format artwork on a flattened BoxCo box with markers. Feeling taken by her creative spirit you pick up your guitar and start strumming. You're pretty bad at it but enjoy the kind of music you've been playing lately. It feels freeing to make something just for inside the house that doesn't have to be posted on YouTube or Instagram for assessment by internet strangers.

You muse about what might be in store for the rest of the day. Maybe you'll have some friends over for dinner or throw a movie on the projector. Or none of that will happen and you'll take a family nap.

Wanderer's Log

Zaxon Prime sparkles and hums. It "plays well" on social media. The photos are better and there's more money. You can participate fully and unrepentantly in capitalism. You are trendy. The surface is exquisitely machined out of surgically precise titanium and unscratchable glass. You can touch it but never leave fingerprints.

Proxima Nova is rusted iron. Cobbled together out of salvaged parts from broken universes. It often misfires and seems distinctly out of adjustment. Somehow it keeps clunking along. It wasn't designed so much as it just "happened" into being. There is a distinctly human quality emanating from Proxima Nova but you can't place where exactly it comes from.

It is an American Universe. To be at the terminal end of the world with the people you love. To wake up and not try to be some thing you're not or some place you aren't. To reject the games of Zaxon Prime where the only choices are "bad" and "worse". Not to reject normality but to stop tracking where normal is and where it's headed. To carve out a little thing, by hand, out of useless parts, with friends, in the bad times. To put on the chunky white shoes and to burn the trendy ones.