Production date: 1994
1994. Yawn. So was resting my eyes by staring at the divan in the Furniture Room one spring-timey summer's day when who should come barreling all cap and tat and caring into my —
— into my delicate me-time but Jonah, with consummate skill to give the lull those qualities it frankly had so little of, like vim, hurry-scurry, and a young person's sense of priorities. "Um ... DAAAD!"
"Easy, son. I'm not related to you."
"Oh yeah." Caught his breath. "You're ... that guy. That Guy! That Guy!"
"I'm your employer."
"Alright, lad, quick now: what do employers do?"
"Umm ... oh, yeah. They, um, they fire me."
Someone has to. And off he goes. And if this were a normal parable it would end there, warm and witty, with wisdom for those with the courage to find it. But as I entered into the dreary after-glow of whatever it was that had happened I found myself indulging in what I dangerously call a tickle of conscience. Quite a thing, to ruin an idiot's life. For I had set in motion a concatenation of events for which, as with the troop trains of 1914 on their grim task, there could be no rescission. I describe the parade with no particular pleasure: forthwith young Jonah would shuffle to his tumbledown and dedicate himself to a bender of beer and pot and Pong, and weep himself to a sleep that would last past noon. At the end of the week he would empty his pockets and have public transport take him into the city, where he would offer his skills to the man at the mini-mart, to the green-grocer, to the sweep, the tender of the yard, the tout ... but prior to this I perforce would have made certain communications, and the boy's dreams are stillborn. Soon he transits a natural evolution of homes: van, couch, park, mom's, back to the park. His try at riding the rails ends in disaster; busking, worse. Dine in a dumpster, piss in a stairwell, bum a fag. Periodically I would have him arrested. He falls asleep on a nest of hobo spiders and nearly succumbs.
And on like that. And as the facts staggered past I noticed a line, a furrow in the brow, a rut or a fribble or a bit of a limerick pushing to the surface from the subtext, in the form of a question, five words long, a sing-song quintet that would at the end of the day change, if not the world, then my world. For it seemed that as I pondered this young life broken on the rocks, the waste, the ruination, I couldn't help but wonder:
"What's in it for me?"
Because it didn't seem fair. My simple moment of moral goodness had awakened a skein of consequences, far from simple, an exhaustion of them, vulgar and cheap and I struggled to find ways to justify it.
For example: I considered, and quickly abandoned, the idea of making my employees pay for their own firings. Not tenable. Not on their wages. And I eventually came to understand that the possibility of framing the events within some sort of reality-television show was a non-starter, since it was 1994 and that hadn't been invented yet.
Much to be done. I stepped into the hallway and intercepted the trolley laden with Jonah's personal effects on its way to the Pit. Hair care products, gauze, case for his retainer. Hacky-sack, thimblerig, higgledy-piggledy of stolen items. Name-tag ... turns out his name wasn't Jonah at all, it was Eric. And what's this? Ah, yes, Sony Walkman. Another of the dividends got from our conquest of Japan. I wiped the headphones with an antiseptic gel and applied them, then stroked the play button.
Hmm ... tape hiss? So that's what kids are listening to these days. Not enjoyable, to be sure, but ... I could imagine being an idiot teen and listening to that to mask my thoughts. Alert, hold on ... something else in the background there ... discordant sounds, scraping, shrill, sounds of pain. I removed the headphones and slipped them onto the head of my scribe beside.
"Yes," he lisped, flinching. "I recognize that. Popular music." They add music to their tape hiss? But why?
Because it makes sense. So many parts of life — weddings and funerals, sporting events and birthday parties — use ritualized music to make them tolerable.
Say ... I sensed and quickly gave life to an idea that I felt would give the moment a seminal nature: shouldn't getting fired have its own music?
Research time. I commissioned an Encyclopedia Britannica entry on "music," and learned that for the production of that, most people just use a band.
I hit the intercom. "Nan! Do I have a band on the payroll?"
I could hear the Univac-500 whir as she checked. "Foraging band? Rampaging band? In Acquisitions we have —"
Whirrr. The Univac-500 ... even now, the most reliable computer ever built. "Well, there's that band you confiscated last year." What? Oh yes ... that one that ruined that company picnic. Nan: "We keep it in Pharmaceuticals Locker #4."
Down I go to Level Eight with a Security Detail, break the seal, turn on the light. Good God. Fluids, oxygen, Oxycontin, access to electricity ... the band was thriving. It had even grown in number. "Band? Follow my instructions as I guide you through the banding process. In return, I will, time allowing, send down an attendant to spritz your enclosure with Febreze for Teens." I slid a blank cassette into my pocket-recorder and thumbed it to life. "Now then, band: make power chord." It did. I was creating music! Evidently musical composition comes to me naturally, I thought. Well of course it does. "Power chord," I instructed. "Power chord again."
Next: music makes no sense unless it is packaged in the form of a jingle, so I subdivided the banding parts into jingle segments and carefully commended each chunk over to corporate service. Drop in the appropriate lyric and you have useful music. Try this with your own music. I telexed the corporations with the good news.
Now the tricky part. I purchased a how-to guide for tape hiss and learned that audiotape is coated with iron oxide, also known as "rust." Tape hiss is caused when "the iron oxide particles are subjected to a fluctuating magnetic field analogous to fluctuations in air pressure." Interesting. Using sterile shears and a surgical straightedge, I carefully cut the how-to guide into long, ribbon-shaped strips, which I discarded. I then took the tape of grunge jingles and made a digital master of it, after which I digitally unmastered it, using a proprietary technique of my own design. This was followed by recursive immersions in one gallon salt brine. That's your rust right there. The whole lot goes into an industrial dryer along with two brand new prs. men's tube socks as a control group. Set on medium tumble for an hour. Please don't tell me that wouldn't create good tape hiss.
The test-firings went so well. So well that I instituted the new policy company-wide within the week. You see, I don't just "fire" teens anymore. No, instead I send them over to the Firing Room until they've heard their firing jingle, then I fire them. It gladdens me that during the firing process they learn — musically! — of products and services that might improve their new lives. (And after all, if I'm going to subject people to a bad experience I want to make it an enjoyable experience for them.) My corporate friends are tickled about the special audience, I receive my stipend, and it's wins all 'round.
And that's the story of how a teen who thought his name was Jonah changed the advertising world forever, or until the sun implodes, whichever comes first, I frankly don't care, I just now listened to that tape for the first time and I want to stab chopsticks into my ears, I hope you like it, &$%# fucking fired teens.