“I ought to beat you with my cane!” I beat him with my empty water bottle instead, “NEVER tell an older person she’s not seeing what she’s seeing!”
Henry cringed, more with embarrassment than actual pain from my flimsy plastic bottle, “I’m sorry! I didn’t – I couldn’t imagine something like this being built in less than a month! I swear it wasn’t here!”
Henry had brought a boy with him. A skinny teenager looking for everything like a younger Henry except for an unfortunate slouch and an unsightly growth of acne around his nose. Now he was laughing at us and an object was floating beside his head. Because it was floating it took me a while to register what it was. When I finally figured it out, I turned my rage directly on the boy. “Don’t you dare record this!” I shouted, pointing at him with my bottle as if to threaten him.
“Mark,” said Henry, “put the camera away. There will be plenty of time for useful filming soon.”
“Dad,” Mark protested, “this is pure gold. Another Angry Grandma video?”
“Mark, you will delete that video. This woman is doing a big favor for us, remember? We need to respect her privacy.”
Mark scowled and whistled at his flying camera, “down boy! C’mere!” It wasn’t clear if the camera had heard his command because he plucked it directly out of the air rather than letting it come to him as he had ordered. He opened the camera just like it was an ordinary digital camera and made a loud show of telling it “Alright, boy, delete the video. Yes, that video. Good boy!”
I leaned on my cane, rapt, as Henry asked his son for the camera. Mustering a classic rendition of the teenage sullen look, he tossed his camera in the air where it remained like it had been hung on an invisible coat rack. “Go to Dad, boy!” The camera spun in place for a moment, then whisked itself neatly into Henry’s outstretched hands. At this distance, I could see the powerful little propellers that kept the thing afloat.
When Henry spoke to the device, we were treated to a brief video of the camera flying over the house and into the window of another boy. “Great.” said Henry, then, a little more awkwardly than Mark had said it, like he wasn’t really sure it would work, “go to Mark, boy!” The camera started tugging on Henry’s hands until he let it go to fly back to Mark. I felt a kinship with Henry. He and I didn’t need this new technology. Give me a smartphone and an e-reader and save all the flying, talking gadgets for the next generation.
“Ma’am, you can come with us or go back home, but we’re going to go see about this so-called co-founder and CEO.”
I wasn’t going to leave now. When I re-entered the building with my new compatriots, it looked largely the same, except the note of surreality was gone. The whites were still the whitest, but not impossibly so, and when the receptionist smiled at us I didn’t feel like I would go blind. The conversation went much the same as before, and again Mr. Silver strode through the doors, ecstatic at having another guest as if there were absolutely nothing else in the world that he was supposed to be doing.
Mr. Silver waved at Mark’s camera and beamed at all of us. “To what do I owe the pleasure? I heard you had some questions for me? Would you get us some more refreshments, Celine?” Celine disappeared down the hall to get more bottled water, and Mr. Silver brought us back to the couches in the alcove.
“I was wondering,” said Henry, “how long this building has been here?”
Mr. Silver frowned, deep in thought, then admitted, “I don’t actually know. We never bothered building a headquarters at the official location until one day I got a call that a beautiful office had been constructed for me here and I just had to come check it out. Now that I’m here, it’s so nice that I just don’t want to leave! Youngstown is a lovely city! Have you ever had Rust Belt beer? It’s brewed right here!” He glanced at Mark and said, “You’ll have to wait ’till your older, but I happen to have some in my office right now if either of you drink.”
“I don’t drink” I said, and Henry shook his head.
“Oh, well, I’m impressed! Upstanding citizens here! You should really try Roberto’s Italian Ristorante, though! Absolutely the best chicken parmesan I have ever tasted!” Mr. Silver continued rambling about Youngstown’s apparently endless dining, sightseeing, and night life opportunities until Henry finally cut him off, “Mr. Silver, who called you?”
If the man was offended at such an abrupt interruption, he hid it well, “I’m sorry?”
“You said someone called you about a beautiful office they’d made.”
“Yes, I got a call from someone in the company.”
“Who made the decision to build a new office?”
“Oh, Hank, can I call you Hank? I just remembered that there’s a special today at Hot Head Burritos. You can get two burritos for the price of one, then take a walk down Meadow Street. It is simply gorgeous at this time of year. Oh, but I’m getting off track again. You wanted to know about why we decided to open a new office? Well, it’s really very simple. Here at The Cleaners Inc. we strive to provide the best possible customer experience, so we’ve opened another office for people to bring their questions!”
“Where is your other office?”
“It’s out in Montana. Great for research, but lousy for reaching our customer base.”
“Could you give me an address?”
“An address? Sure I could! I’ll have Celine pull the address up and email it to you if I can just get your email address.”
“We can write it down.”
“Ok, then. Let’s wait for Celine to come back and she can bring it to you. In the meantime, why don’t I give you a personal tour of Youngstown, Ohio? Did you know that this is Ohio’s ninth largest city?”
“What exactly do you do when you’re not visiting with customers like this?”
“Oh, here’s Celine with your water now!” Mr. Silver stood abruptly and started walking toward Celine.
“Come! Come!” beckoned Mr. Silver, “Thank you for coming to me with your questions, I hope your concerns have been satisfied, and I very much hope that you take advantage of some of the sights and tastes that Youngstown has to offer before you leave!”
Henry was talking to Celine, “Would you mind pulling up the address of the Montana headquarters?”
I caught a split-second glance between Celine and Jake Silver. Then Celine smiled and said, “Sure, I’d be happy to look that up and get back to you! What’s your email address?”
Henry smiled right back and said “Oh, I’m sure it will just take a moment, right? I can write it down.”
Celine smiled, “of course!” She beamed. Then she pulled out her smartphone and after a couple seconds she was reading an address to Henry, who was furiously tapping it into his own phone.
“It’s been lovely meeting you all. I should get back to work now,” said Silver before leaving.
Henry turned to me with a colossal grin on his face. If I hadn’t been present for the conversation I would have thought Celine had just given him her number. “Wanna take a trip to Montana?”
Is this inspired by the lovely experiences with bureaucracy you have heard about from various friends lately.
Another awesome episode, Boz! I like the new teenage character and the new new technology.
I think you should tag this “futurism” because of the camera dog.