This much I knew:
In the future, all cities would look like the one that appeared behind Kaptain Kool & the Kongs on Saturday morning's Krofft Supershow. Bloated, curvaceous structures — engineered by the same people who designed Corvette Stingrays and Yes album covers — built out of shiny fiberglass, pristine chrome, and pulsating neon light -- Tomorrow's city would be a Space Age coral reef, teeming with millions of funky life forms, its limitless nooks and enclaves seething with parties, discos, arcades, and mind-blowing good times....
My van would be more than just a mode of transportation... It would be my spaceship for navigating the Strip.
The Strip would eventually encompass the world. Domed cities would interconnect across continents , and hamster-tube highways would extend down into the ocean so that you could cruise the aquatic sea-cities.
Your van could literally take you anywhere on Planet Earth. Maybe not as fast as a Concorde jet, but speed wasn't important. Getting there was all the fun.
What I would be doing for a living? I didn't care. According OMNI magazine, the technological changes of the
Eighties were going to be so vast, so profound, that the job market would be unrecognizable by the time I entered the workforce.
Nearly any job I trained for now would be obsolete by 1990. Computers and solar-powered robot factories would be doing most of the work. Consumer goods would be mostly free, and the U.N. would be paying us all not to work.
The important things in human life — sex, technology, hedonism, and the peaceful exploration of inner and outer space — these would occupy most of our time as a new Golden Age dawned for humanity. No matter where you went, you would find millions of groovy freaks boogying down, partying hearty, and tossing off symphonies, rocketship designs, and cures for cancer as freely as a tree drops fruit. Human civilization would have truly begun....
And of course, I would be getting righteously laid every night of my life....
Sure, I could've opened the door, but what good would that have done?
What could I tell them, except that I didn't have the rent?
And what could they say to me, except to remind me of what a loser I am?
I already know I'm a loser. The fact is well established and needs no further elaboration.
Someday I'm going to break my leg doing that... Which would be bad, since I have no health insurance...
I do, however, have a job. It just doesn't pay enough.
I'm not going anywhere in particular. I just have to lose myself in the suburbs for a few hours. I'll creep back later in the day. Hopefully my housemates will be gone and I can sneak back into my room.
Then again, maybe today will be the day I come back and find all my belongings set out by the dumpster.
That day will come. It's inevitable. My housemates' patience has surely reached its limit.
When school ended last month, I had to live somewhere. Of course, with a terrible credit rating like mine,
(that trail of busted credit cards littering my passage through an "academic career") and no money for a deposit,
it wouldn't be easy to find a place.
My current housemates, fortunately, didn't check my credit or ask for anything upfront... they naively assumed that since I was in college, I must be a solvent young bourgeois like themselves.
I did nothing to disabuse them of this illusion.
I'm neither ashamed nor proud of myself.
Like a rodent, I've simply done what I've needed to do to stay alive, moment to moment.
I feel miscast in this role, but here I am.
The locale I'm trapped in is Santa Luna, California, a sleepy seaside college town
situated 50 miles west of Silicon Valley. If exciting things are happening in Silicon Valley,
you surely won't hear about them here.
Santa Luna is its own self-contained bubble reality, a sort of hippy-dippy alternate universe that might have branched off from ours
if McGovern had won the 1972 presidential election.
Tourists call this town "charming." For me, being stuck here after I've graduated feels a lot like bathing in my own urine.
Lately I've been coming here a lot, to the edge of the suburbs.
Out on the edge of town, where the freeway meets the warehouse district, Santa Luna's homeless people live.
Excluded from the industrial lifestyle of modern humanity — and yet denied even the simple dignity of animals — theirs, I was certain, must be the worst of all possible worlds.
For those of you who either weren't alive, or weren't paying attention at the time:
Back in 1983 an old acidhead named William Gibson sat down at his Hermes 3000 manual typewriter and banged out what was to become the most popular science fiction novel of that decade...
Concerning people plugging their brains directly into their computers, Gibson's novel was originally titled Jacked In.
The publishers feared this sounded too much like "jacked off", and changed the title to a more marketable Neuromancer.
This little book of his was to cause quite a stir...
Neuromancer had a tremendous cultural impact, not the least of which was the introduction of a new word into the English language — cyberspace.
In subsequent years, the prefix "cyber-" sort of broke off and did its own thing...
Which brings us to the year 1993 and the first annual “Cyber Expo.”
For the past few years I had been reading about a newly emerging “cyberculture” in exciting new magazines with names like Phringe Surfer, FutureShock, Cyborgasm, Digital Frontier, and Fast Forward.
In May of 1993 I scraped together my month's grocery money and made the Greyhound bus trip to San Francisco. I was finally going to meet the movers and shakers of this cyberculture face to face! Smart drug entrepreneurs, multimedia artists, hackers, inventors of mindblowing new technologies, all would be congregating here in this one space.
It was already 1993, and the future I'd imagined in 1978 was running a little behind schedule.
Was it possible that here and now, the future was off to a proper start?
Would I finally find the community I'd always hoped for?
Would I, at last, discover “my” people?
The presentation was called “Cyber Revolution: Power to the People” and it was attended by some of the hippest of the California "Digerati".
I took the opportunity to buttonhole an editor I'd been petitioning for several months. His name was Sparky West and he was editor-in-chief of Fast Forward, one of the seminal cyberculture magazines.
Their motto: "Made for the Smartest People on Earth."
(Yes, I know. That should have been my first warning.)
That night I did something I'd never done before in my life.
I got drunk.
I went to a seedy bar across the street from the convention center and drank my first beer... quickly followed by my second, my third and
When I came back later that evening, Cyber Expo '93 had transformed into an enormous "rave" party.
808 and Guinness proved to be a bad mix; but then, I wasn't really in a partying mood to begin with.
It was a crowded bathroom, as bathrooms usually are at these events...
Stoned ravers stampeding in to empty their bladders of all the $7-a-bottle mountain-spring water
and “smart-drinks” they've been guzzling on the dancefloor.
I knew I was taking more than my fair timeshare in this stall, so I wasn't too surprised when this random guy came barging in..... obviously needing the toilet for the same reasons I did...
(Readers of delicate sensibility may wish to abandon the narrative at this point...)
I kept imagining I'd strike up a conversation
with some cool people and get myself
invited to a cyber-party.....
Once there, I'd meet the woman of my dreams...
Some futuristic cyber-babe, who'd blow my mind and
leave my soul aching for new adventures....
Later, we'd drop acid and have 12 hours of Tantric sex,
after which she'd tutor me in Video Toaster and give me a job
as creative director of her startup smart drink company...
I can't tell you how much that magazine of yours inspired me.
I suffered through every suck job in college just dreaming of
the day I'd finally get to jack into cyberspace.
From the moment I read about the existence of the Cyberculture,
I wanted to be a part of it.
The people you described in your magazine — all those hackers, freaks and revolutionaries — Each of them was exactly the kind of person I wanted to become. A sort of hypersexed, optimistic genius.... A cross between Buckminster Fuller and Ziggy Stardust.
They all seemed so wise and good-natured — The mirror-opposite of the greedy, narrow-minded Yuppies who personified the Eighties.
And now that I've met these people in real-life, what have I discovered?
This "cyberculture" is nothing more than an elite club of middle-class snots showing off their toys to each other.
I'd hoped the Nineties cyberculture was going to be the antidote to that mean-spirited materialism of the Eighties...
But it turns out they're even worse!!!
As it turned out, I didn't buy the damned computer... I went ahead and finished my final year of school.
I still remember that glow of pride I felt, that weekend in May 1994, when they handed me my diploma... I'd set my mind on a goal, worked at it, and completed it.
For the first time in my life, I had accomplished something.
That warm glow of pride lasted about two weeks.
Getting back to that day when I jumped out the window....
When I crept back home that afternoon I was thrilled to discover — hallelujah! — my belongings hadn't been thrown out by the dumpster!
However, there were people home.
I wandered the suburbs and circled back several times that evening. Finally, around midnight, all the lights were off. Deciding it was safe, I snuck back in and slept...
....For a few hours, at least. Then I had to get up at 4:00 am to go work at the bakery.
I didn't mind the job so much. It was gruelling work, physically demanding, not a second's rest for the whole 8 hours... but it had its positive aspects.
I could eat all the free muffins and coffee I wanted. Needless to say, muffins and coffee were the staple of my diet that summer .
More importantly, I was too busy to think about what a disaster my life had become.
The agonizing introspection came every afternoon at 1 p.m., when I got off work.
I'd walk home, and even under the blazing summer sun, I shivered with sick dread, my stomach tied in knots by coffee and fear.... the fear that I should get home and today would be the day when I would have to fish my belongings out of the dumpster and go join the homeless camp on the edge of town.
If nobody was home, I'd sneak up to my room, lock the door, and pretend not to be home. This meant I couldn't turn on the lights at night, but since it was summer the sunlight usually lasted past 8 p.m..
Besides, since I had to get up at 4 a.m. to go to work, it was best if I went to sleep by 8 o'clock anyway.
Those days were rare, however.
Usually when I came home straight from work, there would be people there, and so I'd have to sneak quietly away. I'd set off on a random direction and wander the suburbs for a few hours, eventually circling back home to check again. Some days I would do this three, four, even five times, not sneaking back in until after midnight when my housemates were asleep.
There was nowhere else for me to spend time. I had no books to read (I'd sold them already) and I couldn't spare the 10 lousy bucks to join the city library. I had no money to take the bus anywhere, and I didn't even have the spare change to buy a cup of coffee and sit in a coffeehouse all day long.
I couldn't remember a time in my life when I'd been more disgusted with myself.
I wondered what my 10-year-old self would have thought if he could see the 26-year-old fuckup he was destined to become.
Now I know what you're thinking:
Why didn't this dumb-ass use his free time to look for a higher-paying job?
The short answer: there were none.
Santa Luna's economy is propped up by students and tourists. As a freshly-graduated B.A. with zero professional experience, you essentially had two job options in this town: Sell t-shirts at the wharf, or scoop muffins.
And since you can't eat t-shirts when the boss isn't looking, that made my choice pretty easy.
To my credit, I did sign up last year with a temp agency over in Silicon Valley.
I was more than willing to make the 50-mile bus commute every day if they could place me in a decent-paying
data entry or mail-sorting job.
I did pretty good on the typing and math tests, but even so.....
So, really — I had nothing else to do but wander.
Still, these aimless hours in the suburban desert did afford me the time to look at my life and figure out where and how I had fucked up so badly....
What had I done to bring my life to this low point?
I thought back to 1978... If I had been so obsessed with the future, why hadn't I planned it better?
Why hadn't I started saving money?
Why hadn't I planned my finances and my college career?
Answer: Because I didn't think there was any need to.
Somewhere the seed of fatalism had been planted in my young mind.
The Future wasn't something I would have to plan or build or work for. I believed the Future was going to be created for me by benevolent corporations...
All I had to do was stay alive long enough to inhabit it.
At the appointed time, Our Benevolent Corporate Patriarchs would "lift the curtains"
and invite us all into the wondrous Future they'd made ready for us.
We'd all be welcome; the Future, by its very nature, was cheerful and inclusive.
In the meantime, while they were getting it all ready, the corporations would allow us to experience the Future in short, controlled bursts, such as the World's Fair Expo, or Disney World's Tommorowland.
It simply never occurred to me that I would be denied anything I wanted or needed....
It was all hilarious in retrospect, and I cherished that gratifying sense of liberation I felt uprooting these delusions from my mind...
This didn't change the essential fact that the month of August was swiftly approaching, and I still hadn't yet payed July's rent.
I was doomed, but I just couldn't care anymore. I had done my best, and my best had proven, ultimately, not to be good enough. So mote it be. Low blood sugar makes fatalists of us all.
Nevertheless, by some miracle I kept my housemates pacified for the duration of July.
They didn't like me very much, and they called me every hateful name in the book, but to their credit they never threatened to evict me outright.
I only had to jump out of my bedroom window two more times that month.
Meanwhile August continued its damnable approach....
Sunday, August 1, 1994.
The day everything changed.
I was perversely happy that afternoon. I'd just finished my shift at work, the sun was shining hot upon the Earth, I had the next two days off, and, most importantly, today was payday. I'd cashed my paycheck out of the bakery register and was on my way to the grocery store, visions of scrumptious foodstuffs dancing in my head.
I was dimly aware that I didn't have August's rent, but that unpleasant fact was too far up my Hierarchy of Needs to trouble me much just then. All that mattered was I'd be eating a hot meal tonight..... and when you're starving even the promise of food puts a bounce in your step.
I found myself strolling past a yardsale. where something caught my eye....
A manual typewriter...
And not just any manual typewriter, but a 1962 Hermes 3000.
The same model which William Gibson wrote Neuromancer on.
On closer inspection, the Hermes turned out to be preposterously ugly.
It appeared to have been stolen off the set of the movie Brazil, or out of some Soviet records office.
A more un-futuristic looking machine would be hard to imagine.
I had to own it.
The old man running the yard sale was only too eager to get rid of the Hermes. In fact, he seemed genuinely angry with himself that he had ever been stupid enough to own such a useless machine.
I paid the ten dollars and hauled the typewriter home. Along the way I seemed to be observing myself through an extraterrestrial telescope,
wondering at how
this silly creature had just fucked himself
out of a week's groceries. You can dodge your housemates, some aloof voice of reason burbled pedantically,
but you can't dodge your own stomach.
Something more important than mere eating was going on here. Something life-shattering. Something huge.
I made the usual stealth-approach to my house — cased it, determined there was nobody home, and crept inside....
Only to discover, Scotch-taped to my bedroom door, a plain-white envelope with my name written on it. (I didn't bother opening it. No point, really.)
There was an old desk in the garage which I dragged singlehandedly up the stairs into my room...
Crazy angels were singing in my head, welcoming me home.
In the August heat, I shivered...
Just like that monkey in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the moment he picks up the zebra thighbone and senses some next-level shit is about to come down, so too I realized I was on the verge of a crucial life-change event.
I cranked my diploma into the Hermes, blank side forward, and typed the following sentence....
I don't need a computer.
This ugly little machine, this unholy steel trilobyte of Victorian levers and gears, worked just as well now as it had 32 years ago, the day it was made!
Such simplicity! Such integrity!
The more I studied it, the more I realized that the ugliness of the Hermes 3000 was in fact a subtle beauty....
It wasn't built to look “Futuristic.’ It was built to squat firmly on a desk and pound out strings of legible text.
It didn't sport chrome tail fins. It was not streamlined, nor was it poised for takeoff. It was in no way trying to mimic UNIVAC.
There were obviously no marketing experts at Hermes Corporation that year, hawking their special brand of bullshit to the engineers...
It was, simply, a machine for typing... and yet it was more than that...
The medium was also a message...
This typewriter was a signal from a vanished age, its very simplicity and integrity telling me volumes about the people who built it and the lifestyle they led.....
Finally the heat, hunger, delirium, and exhaustion got the better of me. I passed out...
While sprawled on the floor, I had a vision....
A vision of the life I would lead....
Of the guy I would become....
It all became perfectly clear to me what I must do.
Instead of waiting for a future from which I would forever be excluded, I would instead go backwards.
I would inhabit the past.
I would pretend, to the best of my abilities,
that I was living in the year 1962.
Fuck the future.
First thing I'd do is get rid of all those "cyberculture" magazines I'd collected.
These filthy rags were no longer welcome in my reality.
The only wholesome use to which they could be put to was to help hobos roast their hot dogs.
I would reject all aspects of "The Future." Especially the clothing.
I'd effect the costume of a mid-20th Century working-class intellectual.
From now on I'd buy all my clothes either at Goodwill or the hardware store.
What a relief it would be, to drop out of the fashion game altogether!
I would live in an exclusively pre-1962 musical environment.
There was an entire vanished culture — rich, passionate, complex — preserved on vinyl and available for dirt cheap in the used record stores.
I would no longer need to stay on top of the "new" music. I'd listen exclusively to classic jazz and those weird old spoken-word poetry albums.
I would pretend that Kraftwerk and Led Zeppelin had never existed.
Fuck compact discs, DATS, and every other shiny, expensive new media-toy that the corporations were shoving down our throats every 10 years.
I wouldn't be held hostage to format.
I'd get myself an old phonograph at the thriftstore. The scratchier the better.
I would from now on ignore all computer-generated "art" — all that candy-colored, extruded, chrome-plated psychedelic
folderol that had dazzled me in my childhood ignorance.
Instead, I would decorate my room with classic works of Abstract Expressionism.
After years of chasing the Future, I'd find my equilibrium in the present. From here, I'd rediscover the simple, sturdy pleasures of life...
After work I would spend my nights reading at the coffeeshop.
I'd get a city library card and devour the classics of the mid-Century — Jack Kerouac, Henry Miller, J.P. Sartre, Ishmael Reed....
No more science fiction for me. No Alvin Toffler, no Marshall McLuhan, no more of that "future" crap.
1962 would be my fixed point in time, and I intended to stay there.
Social life? Fuck it. I wouldn't even try to find a girlfriend anymore.
If I ended up getting together with a woman, it would be because she was magnetically drawn to my feverish beatnik intensity.
(It could happen.)
But primarily, I would write.
The Hermes 3000 would be the keystone of my new, de-complexified life.
I would write down my experiences and thoughts, in the same way that Henry Miller, George Orwell, and Jack Kerouac set down their words. No pretensions, no flair, just describing my simple life as I lived it.
If I never became a "hot young writer," so be it. My dedication to the craft of writing would be fulfillment enough.
This was my vision. This was the guy I would become.
And the best part was, this new life would cost next to nothing.
I could start living it immediately.
Or at least as soon as my fucking housemates vacated the building.
It was Monday morning, August 2nd.
I'd slept for nearly 15 hours, and my housemates were apparently trying a new ruse to lure me out of my bedroom.
That very same Temp Agency, whom I'd signed up with over a year ago and never heard from, was now calling me out of the blue with a job offer: a one-week data entry gig at Apple Computer.
Ten dollars an hour.
Twice my hourly wage at the bakery.
Thirty minutes later I was on a commuter bus to Cupertino.
I'd called some co-workers at the bakery to cover my shifts for the rest of the week.
With the paycheck I'd earn from one week at Apple, I could settle up with my housemates, and still have enough money left over to buy a phonograph, work shirts, horn-rimmed glasses, and all the other equipment necessary to begin my new beatnik lifestyle.
It would be only 5 days, right?
At the end of the week, I'd say goodbye to Apple... Goodbye to computers... Goodbye to all my technocratic delusions of “The Future”....
I would set aside those childish things, and begin my new life as an ordinary working man.
Or... so I thought.
And the rest, as they say, is history....
I'm now an HTML coder at a startup in San Francisco. The “World Wide Web” has enabled me to crawl out of my debt-hole and bootstrap myself into the lower middle class. For the first time in my adult life, I can afford to eat in restaurants where I don't work.
Was it really only 3 and a half years ago that I was jumping out of a second-story window to dodge paying my rent?
It seems like centuries ago, or something that happened in somebody else's lifetime.
All told, I'm happy. I have a roof over my head, food in my belly, and a solid community of friends whom I
met online... None of whom, incidentally, ever read magazines like Future Shock or Fast Forward.
Still... Sometimes I wonder about that guy I almost was.
Whatever happened to that other Peter O'Flaherty? Does he exist, in some parallel universe?
I sometimes wonder... What if I were to run into him on my way to work one morning?
Would he be happy?
Would his life be as fulfilling as I had hoped?
Would he envy me?
The Hermes 3000 is still sitting in a storage container under my bed.
To this day, I haven't typed a single page on it.