Sunday, April 17, 2011

Busting Loose

That’s probably why Jack couldn’t stand it anymore; he had been quite the cybernaut in his day. He, I and Lindy were residents of the same Social Security Centre. The early boomers lucked out and got money for their Social Security taxes. But the system became so bloated in ’21, it was either change the terms of the deal or go into default. As was characteristic of us slackers, we didn’t put up a fight. We all knew that denying benefits “owed” was Constitutional thanks to a Supreme Court decision back in 1960. When the terms of the deal were changed, we naturally went along with it.

So began the days of the government’s workaround: the vaunted Social Security Centres. The new rag was, “the United States government owes you a retirement.” And that’s what we got, thanks to a huge infrastructure program that miraculously cleared Congress. Anyone who wanted a retirement got a berth at a Social Security Centre. If you chose not to call them on their promise, because you could afford to live on your own thanks to sound financial planning (i.e., dodge and weave), you renounced your not-quite-a-right and stayed away from the joys of communal living. It was a clever and sneaky way to impose means testing in disguise, as the standard of living in a Centre was somewhere between a run-of-the-mill private nursing home and an VA hospital. In the ‘70s.

Jack, Lindy and I were jobistas, so we didn’t save much along the way. I have to say that Lindy had had it hardest. Swimming with the au courant tide, she had spawned while single and did the single-mom thing. Her daughter, Arcadia, had to go from day care to zero-tolerance elementary schools to homeworkaholic middle and high schools. She was one of the lucky ones. After graduating from Tufts, she managed to ace the LSAT; her grades were good enough to get into Duke Law School. She became a prosecutor until it finally occurred to her that everyone was guilty of something. Then she became an enthusiastic prosecutor, knowing that she could convict anyone of anything. It wasn’t until she had ten years under her belt that she realized what she was doing had more in common with rifle-range practice than with a fustian abstraction called “justice.” So she switched to defence counsel, and found herself on the lost-cause side. That same abstraction remained out of her reach as she found herself counselling even innocent clients to plea bargain, to make their lives easier. She agreed to take Jack’s case right after being called by her mom, not knowing what she was in for.

Jack had lost it when he had flown into Canada for a visit to his sister, who married a Canuck. For some reason no American could fathom, Canada avoided the debt crisis of `21 and dragged feet behind America in the area of internal security. As a result, those Canadians had a lot of freedoms that we geezers could only remember. They weren’t herded into “social network zones” to keep a better eye on them. Down here in America, the Puritans with the science degrees ended up blazing a path for the Puritans with theology degrees. Social network zones were based on the peer group, as the powers that preach decided that there was too much inter-age mixing that damaged the morale of the community. Yep, that included s-e-x. It was supposed to lead us back to a happy-happy permanent-high-school kind of wooze. Like all the other crap that’s been piled on us, it was supposed to lead to healthy morals. We-all didn’t mind it that much, as we relied upon the old post-hippie ethos of our childhood. Everyone was free to be, to be in their own way. As a result, an old-timer like myself who never made that much of himself was friends in equal measure with my old classmates Jack and Frank. Jack had just drifted along, but Frank had become a tech multimillionaire in the ‘90s: he managed to hold on to enough to keep his lifestyle near the rich and famous. Having been outmoded by age, he still had enough tech in him to impress the youngsters and get let in on several venture-capital deals. Although Jack and Lindy moved in to the same Social Security Centre that I was pastured out in, and Frank had a nice mansion in a tightly-regulated gated community, we all managed to dig into our hippie-taught past to see that each pursued their own path in which they were free to be. Frank was gracious enough not to flaunt what he had; Lindy, I and Jack were gracious enough not to disguisedly cadge. Had we been cadgers, we could have sleazed up several hundred thousand dollars in a few of his deals as tagalongs...but we didn’t. Instead, we were proud enough to be ourselves. It must have been that pride that made Jack buy a one-ounce gold coin while in Toronto and just stick it in his pocket.

There was no way he could have known that it wouldn’t be found. In order to get out of the land of the feral and the home of the caged, he had to have been fingerprint-scanned, iris-scanned, porno-scanned and patdown-scanned. The metal detector was the most venerable scanner of the bunch. Yep, the TSA blokes are still gropin’ little girls on a professional basis. It took a decade or so, but the little girls became used to being groped. One of the reasons for age sequestration of online communities was to prevent any untoward extensions of those professional interactions. The powers that be initially looked the other way out of stubbornness, around the time when the porno-scanners were first introduced, but had good practical reasons for shifting when the little girls grew up and began chasing men in uniform. It was around the time of the ’21 debt crisis that “Thank you for your service” became something a girl said to a boy after they had engaged in the deed we’re not supposed to talk about. Jack had been cage-deep in the deed in his own day, which explains why he never settled down and never supplied the necessary ingredient for a spawning. Instead, he became substitute dad to Lindy’s Arcadia and helped steer her away from a lot of trouble. That’s what was odd about his arrest. Jack was good at steering away from trouble: had been ever since he saw the “Say No To Drugs” crowd was serious. Of us three, the one most likely to have been arrested was yours truly. I was the one who took the civil-rights crowd seriously. Jack was far from the kind of person to go out of his way to be arrested.

But there he was, in the holding pen after being charged with possession of contraband (the gold), resisting arrest (not cowering), assaulting a federal agent (assaulting the Taser with his skin) and, for good measure, obstruction of justice (asking questions.) Old Jack, due to turn seventy-six in a couple of months, faced a lifetime in the hoosegow. Thanks to sentencing guidelines, he would die in prison.

He didn’t inform anyone, so we had to figure it out by a search. Yes, you can look up who’s been hauled off to the clink on a charge whether real or fake. You are very much encouraged to do so, sir.

Having seen it, Lindy informed Arcadia right away. Despite her maw’s hopes, the poor girl’s life has had little pleasure or quiet. She still lived in the same gated community where she had picked up a house when a prosecutor, and was still good friends with the police and other law’n-order types who liked to affiliate with the occasional prosecutor. Her old team and former confederates were there too, and nothing changed when she went over to defence. Ostensibly, that was because they were professionals serving a cause greater than their own parochial interest. The real reason? I don’t have enough evidence to say, but the poor girl wasn’t known as “Plea Bargain Arky” for nothing.

Needless to say, she being informed led to her pulling out the standard toolkit. If he grovelled, he could get it down to five years and get out alive. Lindy didn’t hear much about Jack and her daughter's teleconference – almost certainly tapped – but Arcadia’s silence said definitively that he wasn’t going to grovel. We didn’t find out what else she heard until later.

Jack’s arrest is what brought both Lindy and me to the end of the road – the road that led to Frank’s exclusive gated community, in which he was the oldest member. His kids had long flown the nest and, to his pride, had their own firm advancing mental control. Really: their algorithms and sensor helmets made it possible for a human to mentally control a computer. You could dictate by thinking – not speaking, thinking – and the computer would write out whatever you thought on the screen. Needless to say, Homeland Security took a piece of the company - but we have to live in our times. Frank, never having scored huge, had seen and learned enough about the guys who did to pass along the secrets to Lincoln and Alice. “Link” was now richer than his father; so was “Allie.”

Speaking of thought transmission, Frank’s face mirrored our thoughts. He couldn’t believe that Jack would do something like that. His mind boggled at the thought of below-the-radar Jack sticking his neck out to be chopped.

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