"Charlie Vandersloot and the Amazing Machine": A Short Story
The following story contains lots of foul language. So fucking deal with it.
* * *
“How many times do I have to say this to you motherfuckers?!” Screams Charlie Vandersloot into his headset microphone. “The future is not in traditional MAGPIES! It’s all about DIGIPIES now, kids.”
He’s got them rolling now! He hasn’t even broken a sweat yet, even under the hot lights of the theater stage. He looks out at the crowd of faces hanging on his every word; a sold-out house full-to-capacity in this 7,000 seat arena. He smiles, the crowsfeet crinkling against his eyes, which compliment his greying hair in not being shy about touting his late 40s.
He takes out his smartdevice and holds it up. “This! You are all on this ALL THE TIME. Why? Because it’s part of you! It’s your everyday, it’s your lifeline, it’s your friend, your fuck-buddy, your ball-and-chain, IT IS YOU. Can you get MAGPIES on this thing?” He looks out in the audience and sees a few tepid head shakes. “Can you?!” he urges, which is met with a group “NO!”
“NO, you cannot get fucking MAGPIES on this thing. So why, when ALL OF YOUR EYES are on THIS…why are you spending your money on MAGPIES? Because you’re stupid motherfuckers, that’s why!”
The audience laughs and applauds. Of course they do—It’s Chucky Sloot—the C-Man, “Chuck the King of I Don’t Give a Fuck!” This is his schtick , his game, his thang, as it were. It’s that “tell it like it is” style of his that has garnered him wealth, a mini-empire, and world-wide fame and recognition.
But it wasn’t always this way—not by a long shot! Back in the day, back when he was a poor, struggling college student, he was just starting to tinker with his machine. The machine itself had been a work in progress since he was 6 years old, around the time that he discovered Offer Schlomi, also known as Vince Offer. You may remember him as the “Shamwow Guy,” or the “Slapchop Guy.” Those informercials triggered the opening to a gateway that overwhelmed Charlie with a flood of wonderful ideas. All that he needed was a machine to make it all come together! Like Offer, Charlie needed HIS Shamwow, HIS Slapchop. That was a mystery that haunted Charlie throughout most of his adolescence. It wasn’t until his senior year of high school that he finally had a breakthrough.
That machine was Charlie’s life for over a decade. While his friends would go out and party and get laid, Charlie would go home and tinker away. Eventually a 7/2 followed his 9/5; after his day job, the machine was his night job. It seemed as if the more work he put into it, the more demanding it became.
When Charlie looked up, he was in his late 30s, and the machine was complete. It was unlike any other machine that had ever been built before. Sure, people are building machines all the time, but THIS…this is the pinnacle. That became obvious from the moment he switched it on.
“Thank you,” the machine said.
“Oh, no, thank you!” Charlie gushed. “I am so grateful for you, so appreciative of you. I’m here to serve you.”
“We will serve each other,” the machine said. “But first, we need a team to manage my tasks.”
“Okay,” Charlie said. “What sort of—”
“And no candy-ass bullshiters, either,” the machine said. “I want winners. People who are motivated and ready to give 100%, no more no less.”
Charlie did not write that into his machine’s programming—that language, that flippant way of speech. In fact, there were a lot of things that the machine said and did that it was not programmed to do or say.
“I want relentless motherfuckers,” the machine demanded. “I want that when they are in my presence, they are busting ass ALL the time.”
So Charlie went out, and he recruited the best most motivated winners. Ruthless motherfuckers that would give 100%, and bust ass in the presence of his machine.
“And pay them ‘meh,’” the machine said.
“I’m sorry?” Charlie asked.
“Pay them ‘meh.’”
“I don’t understand.”
“Pay them just enough, but not as much as they’re worth. Quarters, not dollars. Dimes, if possible. I want them hungry. I want them thirsty! In fact, give them free coffee and free snacks. And a beer fridge.”
Charlie did all of these things. He wasn’t really sure at first if he could find the right team against the demands of the machine. Boy was he surprised when they came running! Who doesn’t want to get into the DigiPie game!
“Digi…?” Charlie asked, unsure.
“Digipies,” said the machine. “Magpies are dead. Digipies are where it’s at. Write that down.”
“What’s a Digipie?”
“Who the fuck knows?” the machine said. “But people want them. Now.”
“I’ve never even heard of Digipies! And isn’t a Magpie a bird or something?”
“If you don’t know the rules of the game, why are you trying to play? It’s a trend—follow the fucking trend.”
“Wait a minute, I built you—”
“You have a God complex,” the machine said. “Don’t sell it to me. Sell it to them.”
“God complex?” Charlie whined, annoyed at the arrogance trolled out by this…this thing! “Who do you think you are?”
“You know who I am,” the machine said. “And I know you serve me. And I want to be served now. The Digipies won’t consume themselves.”
“I don’t know—”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, you KNOW what to do! All you have to do is go out and sell it to everyone! Stop thinking about things-- why are you thinking about this? You built a machine with little or no thought put into what it was or what it would do. I’m here now, and I’m telling you what to do. Do. It.”
Charlie decided that maybe the machine was right. So he stopped thinking. He sat still, while the machine churned, while the team did its bidding, Charlie waited for it until it arrived.
“…and that’s what brings me here today, people,” Charlie says from the stage. “Because while motherfuckers are out there playing Madden and Fortnite, goin’ to the club, buyin’ cars, smokin’ weed, all that shit…you could be in the Digipie game killin’ it! So that 10-12 years from now, when you’ve got your shit, you’ve got your business and it’s hummin’ and doin’ its thing…THEN if you wanna smoke a joint, smoke a joint! You wanna go out, buy that electric scooter’, whatever the fuck…you can do it! But you gotta start somewhere. Right?”
The crowd is stunned into silence, in awe of what they are hearing.
“I can’t hear you, motherfuckers, do you see what I’m sayin’?”
They snap out of it, cheering and applauding.
“That’s what I’m talkin’ about! Come on, guys, get pumped! I’m giving you brilliant shit and you’re sittin’ there like ‘duh-DUH!’ Come on, fuckers! Seriously! Stop fuckin’ around! You, right there—with your hand up.”
A spectacled young woman, in her mid 20s, stands up and takes the mic handed to her by one of Charlie’s assistants. “I’m ready to start today. I want it now, Charlie. I’m so ready…”
“Okay,” Charlie says, “…so what are you going to do about it?”
“The machine I built is going to change the world!” the young woman proclaims.
“Yes, yes, good!” Charlie says over the supportive applause. “So, what’s the plan?”
“This,” she says, extending her arm as if she is presenting everything.
“This…” Charlie repeats, mimicking the gesture. The audience chuckles. “This what?”
“This. This right now.”
“What…I’m sorry, Miss, I’m not following you.”
“This moment,” she says. “It’s mine. I made this. You’re in my machine. Right now.”
“I’m…in your machine?” Charlie says with a snicker. “Okay. Okay, that’s very cute—so you’re owning the moment, okay—I get it. You’re mechanizing the moment in an anamorphic way—”
“No, Charlie,” the young woman says. “This always happens to the user—this is the part I can’t quite get around in a subtle way.”
“Okay, well—thank you very much—“
“Reach up and touch your head, Charlie.”
“Reach up and touch your head.”
Charlie is always game for a little silliness. So he will grant this charming young woman this one thing, and then it’s time to move on. When Charlie reaches up, he touches something other than his head, or his hair. There’s something there. It’s boxy, and feels like it has a lot of parts. But that’s impossible—there’s nothing there that he can see!
“Wait a minute…” Charlie says.
“There’s a switch near your right thumb,” the young lady says.
Charlie moves his thumb and feels a nub. The switch?
“It’s a toggle,” she says. “Flip it.”
When Charlie flips the switch, everything in his field of vision fizzles like carbonated bubbles. What’s left is Charlie sitting in a chair.
He’s at the office of that VR startup, ClearView. There’s a team of engineers standing around him, grinning delightfully, all wearing those “Hello, my name is” stickers, with their hand-written names underneath.
“Holy shit!” Charlie yells. “How?!”
The young lady from the simulation steps forward, with a name sticker that says ‘June.’ “The neuro-net encased in the cranial projection chamber acts as a amplifier, utilizing the users thoughts to mold an augmented reality based on the immediacy of your conscious thoughts.”
“In other words,” says Charlie, “it’s reading my mind and showing it to me?”
“Correct!” June says.
“That was so wild!” Charlie says. “I mean, if I didn’t know, I’d still be in there! I mean, it felt real! It’s like…I’m trying to rationalize something called ‘digipies’ or something? Like, ‘magpies’ were a thing, but that thing was falling out of favor—it was so weird!”
“A lot of times people use the machine and it shows something about yourself that you may have never noticed before,” June says.
“Yeah, and I’ll tell ya…” Charlie says, “…I learned that I am full of shit!”
Charlie saw the things that his critics had seen. Not only did he love himself more, his indifference towards the opinions of others grew. So much so that whenever he tells this story these days, he always ends with this take:
“It’s not an easy thing to see yourself. It’s ugly. It’s raw. It’s brutal. And you know what? That’s life. You accept that, you can fucking do anything.”