The Geek Manifesto – Chapters 1-3

The Geek Manifesto

 

Part 1

 

Chapter 1

I suppose I just wanted things to be different; I didn’t care any more what kind of different that might turn out to be.

It was Monday morning and I’d been at my desk for less than ten minutes when a pop-up message appeared on my computer reminding me that I had a meeting at ten o’clock with Lionel Potts, head of the Digital-Futureproject. The meeting would be another anxious exhortation to everyone regarding plans for the big day”. As the final phase of London’s migration from analogue to digital television broadcasts approached these meetings had become a daily event. For Lionel and a few of my other colleagues this project, a project that would have no noticeable impact on anyone’s life and that the vast majority of the population neither knew nor cared about, was clearly the most exciting thing that had ever and would ever happen to them – it was like discovering fire.

From my desk I could see the bulbous, matronly figure of Lydia Bowen haranguing a junior colleague on the other side of the office. Lydia was leaning over the younger woman and virtually squashing her into the desk.

It may well have said more about me than about her but I found everything about Lydia irritating: the way she slurped her coffee like a fish, that her topics of conversation never moved beyond her sex life or the sex lives of celebrities and the extraordinary number of trips she made to the loo. I knew of course that my feelings toward Lydia were only symptoms of a much deeper malaise but she still annoyed the piss out of me.

I couldn’t quite hear what Lydia was saying to the new girl but by the pained look on her victim’s face it was clearly unkind. The smaller woman, Hannah or Anna I think she was called, was arching backwards as far as she could, desperate to escape the splenetic attack. I hadn’t really paid much attention to the new girl before now. She was young, slim, had long, blonde hair and although her face was obscured by the monstrous Lydia and her features curled awkwardly in a defensive grimace, I could see that she was attractive.

I glanced around to see if anyone looked like they might intervene but everyone else in the office was oblivious to the unfolding drama; I think she could have punched her right in the face and nobody would have paid any attention. I’d often noticed how the relentless, hypnotic hum of the air conditioning combined with the sullen glow of the computer screens had a narcotizing effect on people, leaving everyone looking as though they’d been given an unsolicited dose of Valium.

In short, it was the start of another ordinary week at work.

Today wasn’t going to be an ordinary day, though. Today, I’d decided to hurl myself head-first into the abyss. All I had to do now was to work out the details.

I’m not sure if anyone else had noticed but Lionel Potts was becoming slightly obsessed with the whole analogue to digital thing. In each of the last few meetings I’d observed a twitch develop in the little finger of his left hand and as he progressed through the meeting’s agenda the finger would begin to flicker, at first gently stroking the desk then gradually speeding up until it was hopping up and down like a frantic, leashed mouse. I suppose he was just worried about everything going smoothly. After all, as he jokingly remarked at every meeting, no one wants to be remembered as the man who left the country without any television.”

Looking back over toward Lydia I could see that she was now jabbing one of her fat, sausage-meat fingers at Anna, just stopping short of actually prodding her in the chest. I coughed loudly but apparently not loudly enough for anyone to hear. Eventually Lydia gave up and trudged off towards the loo.

As I watched her go I was struck by an idea. It was an idea that came from the far, far edge of left-field but that landed with such presence and force I knew instantly that I’d be powerless to resist it’s grotesquely beautiful appeal. It seemed to come with a giant, flashing neon sign that read “this way to the abyss”.

I rose from my desk and followed Lydia along the corridor that led to the toilets, stopping by the water cooler out of sight of the main office floor. Moments later she emerged, walking slowly toward me, zipping the fly at the side of her skirt and wiping her hands down her meaty thighs. As she reached me she pulled up abruptly, recoiling in surprise. She shuffled to one side in an attempt to edge past me but I didn’t move and she stepped back, a sneer of impatience curdling her face.

I raised my hands and placed them on her chest, grasping each breast firmly and curling my fingers in tightly, the soft flesh yielding like warm dough. I kept my hands clenched, smiling directly at her, trying to show no sign of the rapidly mounting panic I was feeling.

Lydia’s eyes, widening dramatically, were the only part of her face to express any reaction. The lower half of her face remained frozen. My hands were directly in front of me, palms outward, and I briefly contemplated giving her a shove to see if I could topple her over and somehow bring our encounter to a close. However, I judged that her size relative to mine and the lack of any leverage or thrust that I’d be able to generate from my current position would make the attempt likely to fail.

In the end I decided, after one final, gentle squeeze, simply to release her and place my hands calmly back by my sides.

I was surprised by how fast my heart was beating. Normally I have very little physical response to stressful situations but now I was experiencing such a powerful rush of adrenalin that it was a strain to remain standing at all. It felt as though I’d been injected with a liquid that was at once pleasantly warm and electrically charged; I imagined it to be a glowing, molten red. The feeling spread so quickly, like a pot of paint flung at a wall, that instantly my whole body was tingling.

This then, was the first stage of my plan completed.

 

 

Chapter 2

How would it feel to wake up one day and find that everything in your life had changed? Everything. What if all your nagging worries, your habituated routines, your relationships, your unfulfilled dreams and your darkest fears all evaporated? What if they were replaced in an instant by… by what? A whole new life. What if all the screws that held your fragile little world together all popped out at the same moment and left a disassemblage of components to be rearranged in a totally different form?

I suppose that I’d been idly trying to find the root of my current state of psychological angst for some time now. I’ve never been abused, I’ve not lost a loved one (I don’t have a loved one as such) and I’m financially independent. I’m not ugly, overweight or otherwise physically conspicuous. I don’t take drugs, I’m not prone to stress or lethargy outside of normal levels and my health, both physical and mental, is good.

I hope all this doesn’t make me sound dull because I don’t think I am. However, it would be true to say that my life so far has followed a fairly uneventful course. In fact it’s the rather predictable path I’ve trodden that seems to be the only credible origin of my ennui. Everything has been a little too easy. I’m not at all sure that this is the heart of the problem but at the moment it’s the best theory I have. So the idea of some kind of life transformation has a deeply seductive appeal.

It appeared that I’d just taken the first step.

It had been easier than I’d imagined and now that I’d acted I was intrigued to see what would happen next. As I stood in front of the stunned Lydia I felt no anxiety nor fear, just curiosity; a genuine sense of the unknown. It was unnerving but not unpleasant.

I fully expected to be slapped round the face. There’d be a scream, followed by a confused hiatus as Lydia tried to explain with outraged, stuttering hysteria what I’d done. Initial disbelief would give way to a growing sense of disgust and horror, with some of the more macho or excitable onlookers perhaps resorting to violence on her behalf. I’d be marched to an empty office and kept under guard whilst the police were called.

Maybe it wouldn’t happen that way at all.

Maybe Lydia would pursue an entirely different form of revenge. It was well known that she took matters very personally and bore grudges with impressive devotion. Maybe after a moment’s reflection she’d begin to plan a more insidious way of repaying me. She’d walk away silently, returning to her desk as though nothing had happened, leaving me to imagine what fate she might have in store for me. A day or two later she’d tell her story to a male friend or perhaps just a suitable man in a bar somewhere, interspersed with tears and breathless agonising over the trauma that she’d suffered. He’d gradually become more incensed at her tale, urged on with promises of her eternal gratitude for acting on her behalf until his anger would explode in a fit of rage, unleashing a vicious attack on me as I meandered home from Finsbury Park tube station one evening leaving me unconscious and shivering until the paramedics after just a few minutes of frantic activity at my side would slowly pull off their blood-spattered gloves with an elastic thwack and shake their heads solemnly.

Okay, perhaps that was a little dramatic. The thing was, though, I just didn’t know what was going to happen. It was an unfamiliar feeling.

After what seemed like several achingly long minutes I watched Lydia’s face begin to change. I stared intently, looking for the first sign as to which way things were going to go. Her mouth twitched and her eyes lost their rabbit-in-headlights stare. Very slowly an expression began to form. It wasn’t outrage or revulsion or fear, it looked like… a smile. It looked like the smile of someone revelling in an illicit pleasure.

That was unexpected.

Lydia regained her composure, straightened her top and still smiling her guilty smile, squeezed past me.

Back at my desk, trying to make sense of what had just happened, I was distracted by an incoming e-mail. Opening the message I read down to find that I was being sent to a conference tomorrow in place of Lionel Potts who was, he said, “engaged in more pressing issues”. I clicked on the link that Lionel had sent. According to the website the conference was due to welcome“a panel from the community of cutting edge technical innovators, world-leading distributors and the men and women shaping our visual futures.” I quickly read to the bottom and was relieved to find that I wasn’t being asked to give any kind of presentation, just to show up.

I e-mailed Lionel to say that I’d be delighted to attend on his behalf. In light of this morning’s events I thought that it might be a good idea to get out of the office for the day.

Chapter 3

The following morning I arrived at the Park International Hotel at ten minutes before ten o’clock. A warm summer breeze swept across from Kensington Gardens catching in the parade of national flags lined up on the hotel’s spotless forecourt. The smoked glass door to the lobby was opened for me by an expressionless doorman in a burgundy uniform. I thanked him but he didn’t seem to notice. Once inside I looked around to see where to go and when I couldn’t see any signs that seemed relevant I approached the reception desk. The receptionist, hidden behind a thick layer of creamy beige foundation and glistening coral lipstick smiled at me with an intensity that bordered on aggressive. In a heavy East European accent she sent me down a series of quiet corridors lined with photographs of bowls of fruit, sea shells artfully arranged on sandy beaches and misty forest scenes toward a large conference hall. I collected my name tag and welcome pack, hovered around the table of miniature croissants and cellophane packets of biscuits before pouring myself a cup of watery black coffee and taking a seat near the back.

For the next two hours with just a twenty minute break I sat through some of the most overblown gibberish I’d ever heard. I looked around the hall for any sign that some of the other delegates might have felt like I did but all I saw were faces of willing complicity as they nodded enthusiastically whilst tapping away on their iPads. When the lunch break finally arrived I’d already decided that I’d stay just long enough to see if the food was any good and then leave before the afternoon session.

In the queue for lunch I stood behind a man dressed in a dark suit, which struck me as curious in a room full of new-media hacks for whom the confines of the suit represented yesterday’s staid formalities and old-world values. Stranger still was the fact that he’d teamed the suit with a pair of red, Converse high-tops. He was in his late twenties, the right age to be one of them, but unlike everyone else in the room he wasn’t engaged in earnest conversation about the morning’s proceedings. When he reached the buffet table I watched as he piled his plate high with food, heaping fried chicken wings alongside a stack of nachos then adding roast potatoes, carrots, a ladle of some sort of stew, an enormous burrito, five pieces of garlic bread and eight poppadums, until he’d created a teetering pile of food that he had some trouble to keep from falling onto the plush, carpeted floor. I must have been staring because he turned to me and smiled.

‘It’s alright, it’s not all for me,’ he explained. He spoke softly with a loping American accent. Seconds later he added, ‘okay, it is all for me, but after sitting through that BS for the last hour I kinda feel I deserve it.’ He stared at me for a moment longer then asked, ‘you wanna join me?’

We found a table at the edge of the dining room.

‘You look like the kinda guy to be trusted, so I’m gonna tell you a little secret,’ he continued once we were sat down. ‘I’m not really a delegate here.’

‘Oh?’ I replied. I think he expected me to be shocked.

‘Here’s what I do. I put on the suit to give the right impression then I wander into a nice big hotel, find an interesting looking gig, pick up a name badge and I’m in. The security at these things is usually pretty relaxed.’

‘I guess they don’t expect a lot of trouble.’

‘Guess not,’ he nodded, taking a bite of chicken. ‘So, you gonna turn me in?’

‘Your secret’s safe with me.’

‘I thought this one looked like it might be quite interesting, the future of TV and all. Boy, did I get that wrong.’

‘So you do this a lot then?’

‘Now and then, now and then. Hey, did you notice if they had any liquor here?’

‘I think they do.’ I nodded toward the bar where glasses of red and white wine were laid out.

‘Awesome.’ He dropped a chicken bone onto the table and leapt to his feet. ‘You want I should grab you something?’

‘Sure.’

I hadn’t even considered the idea of drinking until then but as I’d already made up my mind to miss the afternoon session and had no intention of returning to the office, there seemed to be no reason why I shouldn’t. Most of the other delegates were far too engrossed in their conversations to pay much attention to the drinks, which seemed to suit my new friend who returned to our table with eight glasses of wine on a tray.

‘Not all for you, right?’ I asked.

‘Not sure what’s up with this crowd, no one seems to be drinking. The dude at the bar virtually forced me to take these. Hozho Nahasdlii.’ He picked up a glass of white wine, sniffed it, then drank it down in one.

‘What?’

‘Hozho Nahasdlii. It means good health in Navajo, or go swiftly or don’t let the rain piss you off or some shit like that,’ he replied putting the glass back on the table, waggling his fingers over the remaining seven glasses as though playing the piano, before choosing a glass of red. I watched him knock back this second drink with the same speed as the first.

‘You not drinking?’ he asked.

‘Which do you recommend the red or the white?’

‘Can’t tell the difference to be honest. I’m not much of a wine guy. Beer’s more my thing, dude.’

‘I’ll try the white, then.’

‘Hozho Nahasdlii.’

‘So are you a Navajo?’

‘No fucking way, bro. Why, you think I look like one?’ In a heartbeat his tone leapt from anger to curiosity.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever met a Navajo.’

‘Oh, okay.’ He seemed to relax a little. ‘Where I come from there’s a lot of them about. You pick stuff up, you know?’

‘Where do you come from?’

‘Arizona. Deep in the heart of Indian country.’ He chuckled before pursing his mouth into an exaggerated O shape and patting the fingers of his flattened hand against it in imitation of a Native American war-cry. ‘My name’s Szandor, Szandor LeRoux.’

‘Alex Wilde. Pleased to meet you. Whereabouts in Arizona?’

‘Little town named Flagstaff. You ever heard of it?’

‘Sure, like in the song.’ I began my second glass of wine.

‘What song?’ Szandor began his fourth.

‘Route 66.’

‘Hey, you know that song? I love that song, man. Drink up, I’m just gonna get us some more free liquor.’ He drained the last drops of his glass and bounded back over toward the bar.

I leant back in my chair, looking around at the roomful of chirpy delegates excitedly debating the future of the digital world, oblivious to the little party going on in our corner of the room. After the two drinks I’d just had in quick succession I was feeling pleasantly drunk.

I’m not particularly adept at judging character but even having only spoken to Szandor for a few minutes I sensed something odd about him. He wasn’t the type of person I usually met. In his cheap suit he appeared quite unremarkable but something about him held my gaze. His skin was smooth and tanned by the Arizona sunshine and he had short, wiry black hair like a gorse bush after a forest fire. Around the lower corner of his left eye was a small knot of scar tissue which drew the eye inward slightly making it look as though it was on the point of closing. The other eye in contrast was wide open and his gaze darted from side to side every so often as though he might be expecting something extraordinary to happen at any moment. Women would no doubt have found him handsome.

‘Dude, they’ve got champagne!’ Szandor announced, returning with a tray of another eight glasses, the ribbons of tiny bubbles effervescing furiously in their elegant flutes.

‘Hard to say no to free champagne.’

‘Downright goddam rude.’

‘Weren’t you a bit worried I might turn you in? When you told me why you were here.’

‘Well now, I figured it would have to be some kind of royal asshole who’d do that, right? And you didn’t look like any kind of asshole.’

‘Thanks.’

‘Besides,’ he lowered his voice, ‘I kinda got protection.’ He nodded slowly as though imparting a secret.

‘What, like diplomatic immunity or something?’

‘No, man, something far more powerful; I got some ancient charms working for me.’ His eyes narrowed and he leant in toward me, his voice dropping to a whisper. ‘I got fierce angels on my shoulder.’ Then he laughed and picked up a glass of champagne, held it up high, perhaps in recognition of whatever sprits he seemed to believe were watching over him, and downed it in one.

We finished the tray of champagne, Szandor drinking five out of the eight glasses despite my attempts to keep up. It wasn’t long before the conference delegates began to drift back into the hall.

‘You going back in?’ he asked, leaning back in his seat.

‘Don’t think I can bear anymore.’

‘You want to have a little fun?’

‘Maybe. Have you got something in mind?’

‘You think I could ask me some questions in there?’

‘What do you know about the world of cutting-edge digital media?’

‘Not a thing. Back home the local kids kept knocking the satellite dish off my trailer with rocks when they were drunk, so I only got to watch TV now and then.’

‘I don’t think that’s going to matter.’

‘Then how about we just head back in and see how things go.’

 

Back in the conference hall the afternoon session sped by, with Szandor taking every available opportunity to ask questions. Initially these were the sort of questions that could be construed as simplistic or even idiotic but with such a willing audience could also be judged on another level as being somehow philosophical or insightful. During the q and a session to a presentation on the decline of traditional media formats he asked the question “what the hell is new media anyway?” and rather than dismissing the question with a simple response, the speaker chose to spend ten minutes debating the idea of innovation and reinvention of form and content before finally accepting the questioner’s suggestion that nothing is ever really new. I’m not sure if Szandor hadn’t been looking for the simple answer.

As the session wore on Szandor’s questions became increasingly bizarre, but as he’d already established himself to the audience as a shrewd and sophisticated critic what would otherwise have been ignored as meaningless idiocy was treated as the perceptive wisdom of a savant. The speakers were forced to search for some response to questions such as “the foxes have holes and the birds have nests, what have you got?”I don’t think it was changing my life but it certainly made me laugh.

Toward the end of the afternoon Szandor raised his hand once again and when the speaker acknowledged him he dug me hard in the ribs and then began pushing me with surprising strength, forcing me to twist away awkwardly until I was half out of my seat. Everyone waited for me to speak. I felt a sudden surge of adrenalin as though I’d been plunged into ice-cold water then instantly dragged out. I wasn’t conscious of making a decision but the next moment I heard myself speaking.

I’m not at all clear what I said for the following few minutes but I found myself becoming increasingly animated and I think suggesting that the entire media industry was some kind of parasite feeding off humanity, or something along those lines. I sat down dazed, drenched in sweat and with the fevered sound of my own hysterical voice ringing in my ears.

There was silence.

A moment later I heard a single pair of hands clapping. Seconds later the entire room rose to its feet erupting in a cacophony of applause and I sat slack-jawed and dizzy as a roomful of strangers beamed at me.

I left shortly afterwards, still woefully drunk and reeling from my surprisingly well-received performance and with a promise to meet up again with Szandor in two days’ time.

 

 

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