You wake up on New Year’s Eve. You’ve got the day off, there are frozen waffles in the freezer, your girlfriend Pam has a birth control patch. Life is Good.
You do the first thing everyone does before getting out of bed. You check your cell phone. The weather’s good. There’s no horrifying news for a change. You get another pop up ad for those New Year’s party hats. “Free! Free! Free! Golden New Year’s Party Hat! Built In Old Lang Syne tune! Built in litre of Jagermeister! Text 666999 for a free, sparkly-as-hell party hat. Duese! Deuse! Duese it up! DEUSE!!! Everyone else already has one, dude!”
You check the mail. Bill, bill, bill…and a box. Inside, wrapped in tissue, is a glittering conical party hat, the kind you’ve seen advertised for the last month or so. Except you didn’t order one.
Your phone burps. You had tried once to set it for something other than the default annoying ring, which was something like a flying buzzing “We Will, We Will Rock You.” The result was The Burp, and you’ve been stuck with that ever since. Your caller ID only ever says “Threat Level Red” so you have to answer it to see who’s calling. Luckily it’s your girlfriend, Pam. Things have been a little cool between the two of you lately, so you’re tentatively glad she’s reaching out.
“Hi! Hey, I wanted show you this new duese I made up before I Bimbam it. I’m sending it to you now.”
“Hi, Pam. It’s really good to hear your voice [interior monologue: GAH! Too needy!]. Anyway cool [Argh]. So…what are we talking about here [great, suddenly you’re complete strangers]?”
I’m Bimbamming this really siticki deuse I made up! I want your opinion. I mean, is that okay? I mean, if you’re too…busy…”
“No! No, no, no, no, no. That sound great [WTF are we talking about?].”
“Great. Open up your Bimbam.”
“I’m not sure I…we’ve really had our heads down at work on this roll out and…”
“You don’t have Bimbam yet?”
“Yes! That’s it.”
There’s a pause. “You don’t know what Bimbam is, do you?”
“My whole side of this conversation has been in Martian as far you’re concerned, hasn’t it?”
“That’s…not it. I…”
There’s a long, long sigh. “So I’m away for two and half weeks opening up a gallery in Cleveland, and when I’m back I find you’ve Rip Van Winkled yourself for like five years.”
“Okay, listen. Download the Bimbam app. I’ve got to get going. I’ll show you when we meet at the Dada Gallery at 10. You do remember that it’s New Year’s? And…let’s see…do you know what a deuse is?”
“[I love this woman] Of course I know…
“Stop. A deuse is a kind of dance/choreographed monologue/poem that Bimbam let’s you do in 3D.”
“Wow, that sounds amazing. And you’ve got one? I bet it’s…”
“Save it for tonight. Okay, I’m off. Toodles.”
After you hang up, you immediately go to the app store. It’s the first thing. It pops up before you even type anything in. You start downloading and step away. The phone Burps. Bimbam is frozen. You X out of it and try again. It Burps again. It’s frozen. You go to the videos and pix and delete everything you can. You delete all the apps you can spare and try again. It freezes. Then shuts down.
“Piece of shit phone.”
You spend the rest of the day thinking of excuses to tell Pam why couldn’t/didn’t dowload Bimbam. It’s not a particularly good way to spend the day.
The whole party finally reaches the traditional New Year’s Eve countdown “Ten! Nine! Eight!…”
You wonder where Pam has gotten to. She was right next to you a moment ago. You scan the room, looking across the sea of those ubiquitous golden party hats — did everyone in the world have one but you — but you don’t see her.
“One! Two! Three! Happy New Year!”
Everyone erupts into cheers and noisemakers and shouting. On the TV the thousands packed into Times Square are jumping up and down, pointy golden hats glittering in the flashing lights. All around you confetti and streamers are flying through the air.
Suddenly everyone’s phones start ringing. Everyone’s but your’s. The next moment you realize why. You can hear the weird little trumpet fanfare that meant everyone was opening Bimbam. You look over someone’s shoulder, but all you can see are wavy lines rolling up the screen. Everyone else, though is obviously digging something, because they are all laughing, then making “Aww” noises — the kind cute puppies bring on, then gasps of astonishment. What the hell are you missing? Suddenly, everyone’s screens start strobing with an intense blue light, while their phones begin a horrible screeching noise — like fingernails on a chalkboard overdubbed with a fork scraping against glass — at a volume you didn’t know any phone was capable of. It‘s deafening. As you stare at someone’s screen you realize the room around you has gone dead silent. Then one of those 3D Bimbam videos comes on. This you can see. It‘s a bedroom, cheap wood paneling and posters on the wall of movies: Johnny Mnemonic, Freejack, Existenz. And there is a middle-aged man, dancing. He is balding, with pale watery blue eyes and a thin mouth. He’s in his underwear. And he’s Creepy. Not David Lynch creepy. More like sits-next-to-you-in-a-mall-eatery-and- starts-talking-to-you creepy. He is not a good dancer.
But he isn’t just dancing. He is saying — declaiming — something at the same time. With a start you realize it’s what Pam was talking about. It’s a “duese.” Some kind of poem combined with some kind of dance and in 3D — projected just a bit beyond the phone’s screen, as if tiny creepy guy was dancing in midair. It’s also the stupidest thing you’ve ever seen. But not to the rest of the party. They are mesmerized. Literally. Blank-eyed and loose-mouthed, motionless. Zombified.
Suddenly, as you’re watching, you hear noise from the crowd. The little 3D man stops dancing and points. The crowd parts. Off to the side, you can see and hear the ruckus.
“A DISCONNECT!” The no-longer-dancing man says. Across the room, a guy is lifted up above the crowd, arms and legs flailing. He doesn’t have a phone, you notice. He looks around, terrified. The crowd engulfs him.
In the chaos, as the others surge toward him, you slip away. When you finally get to the edge, you move from building to building, watching the crowd behind you. They are all focused on each other. You don’t even see the woman until you are right in front of her. You run around a corner and there she is.
“That’s a pretty old phone you’re carrying,” she says.
She holds up a flip phone. “It’s okay,” she says. “There are more of us.”
The sign out front used to say “Saul’s Pagers,” you think, but some of the letters are missing. There are a handful of people inside, holding a meeting.
“He’s one of us,” the woman says as you enter.
“Show us,” an older man says. “He looks too young.”
You hold up your phone. It’s taped together. The screen is cracked. “It’s just kind of a piece of shit.”
Everyone else holds theirs up. “So are ours. They’re all kind of pieces of shit. That’s why we’re here.” They all laugh, nervously.
“So what’s the plan?” You ask. “Are we going to try to take down the network or attack the code or something?”
The woman who brought you here exchanges looks with the older man. “We’re thinking we’ll all get drunk,” the man says. “It’s New Year’s.”
“This whole thing will probably blow over,” the woman says. “There will be a new app in a couple days. There always is. Then everyone will go back to Facebook.”
“They always do,” someone else in the group says.
“They always do,” another echoes.
“I’m pretty sure they killed a guy,” you say.
“Don’t be a buzzkill,” the older guy says.
He passes you a bottle of whiskey. You look around. Everyone is watching you. You drink.
In the morning, you venture outside. The streets are littered with trash and the odd body that may be dead or just drunk. There are fires smoldering, overturned cars. It honestly looks like the aftermath of any New Year’s Eve party. There are seven messages on your voicemail, all from Pam. They begin with her sounding insane but progress with her sounding just drunk.
You pass a cross street and see a group of people. They are marching towards you, in formation, in lockstep, in perfect rows, every movement precisely the same. You press yourself into a doorway, hoping they don’t see you. The group stops. Shit!shit!shit! Then they pivot ninety degrees and start marching down a side street. Phew. You’re sweating.
You make it home and collapse into sleep. You wake to someone pounding on your door. It’s Pam. You let her in. There’s no mention of what happened the night before, of the weirdness that’s been between you lately. Of what the hell is happening to the world.
“I brought you something. New Year, new us,” she says, brightly.
She hands you a gift. You open it. It’s a new phone. You look at her. She smiles. You stare at the phone. You stare at it for a long time.