Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Forum Chef

Oggy hobbled from the oatmeal line toward a picnic table where Bella was feeding rats with moldy bread. An old recording of a meandering song by The Doors played on the weather worn speakers of the feeding area. Oggy balanced the corn oil biodegradable foam cup of oatmeal until he reached the condiment table. Two men were occupied with the sugar cup.

"I like as much sugar as I can fit," said one through a toothless smile. "Sometimes, I pile on the sugar, and stir it up so that it dissolves, and then I can get me another spoon of sugar on there. That way it's good and sweet. The sweeter the better."

The other man nodded in agreement. He was scraping an empty container of margarine with a stick, or a pen, Oggy couldn't tell which. "If I had me a million dollars, I'd buy me as much butter as I could eat. I would buy butter and I'd stock a whole fridge full of butter so I could put a nice slab of butter on everything."

"Not this margarine shit."

"No. No, sir. I'd get the real butter, the cow milk cream butter with the salt."

"My doctor said I can't eat no more salt."

"Mine too, but I figure life ain't worth living without salt. So I'd get the butter with the salt."

"Low sodium?"

"No, sir. I'd get the butter with all the salt."


"And I'd buy blocks and blocks of butter and put it in my oatmeal. That's what I'd do with a million dollars."

"Any margarine left?"

"No, sir. This margarine has no taste."

Oggy waited patiently and cleared his throat. "You guys know that margarine is only one ingredient removed from paint?"

The men ignored Oggy.

"I'd buy butter and I'd leave it out so it'd get soft."

"I hate hard butter. It don't spread."

"That's right. That's why I'd leave it out so it'd get soft and I could spread it."

"And it'd have the salt and everything?"

"Course. Salted butter. Ain't nothing better than that. Soft salted butter. Ain't no Margarine or sugar left, Oggy."

Oggy grinned with his lips closed because he felt that showing his teeth was an act of mockery since neither men had front teeth.

"That's ok. You guys have a good breakfast."

"With no sugar or real butter this oatmeal tastes like joint compound."

Oggy hobbled off using his crutches intermittently with his injured foot and also balancing a slice of bread on the cup of oatmeal, first moving the crutches and then leaning into them so his left foot was off the ground, or dragging through the wood chips, and his body weight was on his arm pits. He arrived at the picnic table with Bella and found that another man was sitting across from Bella staring at her with his jaw slackly drooping. The man was leering directly at Bella and it was hard to tell if he wasn't in a full drug trance or else was transfixed. Oggy cleared his throat hoping to get the man's attention but he didn't blink.

"Bella," asked Oggy hesitantly, "Why is this creepy dude sitting here staring at you?"

Bella shrugged and tossed more crumbs to the rats in the piles of abandoned clothes. The rats squealed and fought for the crumbs. They were getting bold, Oggy noticed, hardly showing any sign of fear of people. And they were big they were...then Oggy heard himself say, "WELL I DON'T LIKE CREEPY MOTHERFUCKERS SITTING NEAR ME STARING AT MY GIRLFRIEND!"

He didn't say it as much as scream it at the top of his lungs. A few nearby conversations stopped as the anticipation of a fist fight grew.

The man seemed to break from his trace and without emotion he slipped out of the picnic table. Oggy reached into his pocket for the knife he carried and prepared to unleash the fury of hell on this punk should he make any sudden movements, but the man drifted off toward the television and all the conversations resumed.

"AND IF I SEE HIM AGAIN I'LL CUT HIS FUCKING THROAT AND SNAP HIS SPINE!" Oggy paused because he wasn't sure if he had yelled this last threat or if the echo in his brain was becoming more audible. He looked around to judge by the reactions of those nearby and decided that he had only thought the words, but hadn't spoken them. His heart was throbbing nonetheless, exhaustion, were they drugging the oatmeal like some of the homeless people accused? Oggy wasn't sure, but he hadn't eaten any oatmeal so how did they get the drugs in him? Maybe they were delayed from the dinner the night before? It was possible that they were drugging the dinners to incite violence in order to justify closing the shelter...or rounding up all the violent people and shipping them to the labor camps. Oggy felt a wetness in his pants and realized he had stabbed his own leg repeatedly with the knife and he was gripping it so hard that his thumb was spasming. But no one had noticed and the wounds were not deep.

"I have to go to the bathroom," said Oggy to Bella who was contentedly tossing the crumbs to the squealing rats. Oggy mumbled something about the kitchen staff drugging the oatmeal and limped toward the port-o-potties. On the way he crossed paths with Karen, who hugged him and asked how his foot felt.

"As long as I don't walk, it doesn't hurt too bad," answered Oggy with a backward glance toward the picnic table. The diseased punk with the blank stare was back at the table staring directly at Bella with his cheap, gaping mouth, breathing flies and poison, brainless motherfucker. Oggy's eyes dialated as he envisioned himself pouncing on that punk and decapitating him with his knife, really enjoying the process of cutting every tendon in the punk's neck. He'd feed the man's throat to the rats, laughing. Stare at my girlfriend with your brain dead eyes? It'll be the last thing you look at. He'd then cut his guts out and...

"...minimum wage but it sounds like a job you would like. So, what do you think?"

Oggy turned back to Karen who was speaking to him but he had missed most of the conversation.

"Pardon me? I didn't get much sleep last night and I think the're putting drugs in the..."

Karen grabbed both of Oggy's shoulders. "Listen, I don't want to know what they're putting drugs in. I got you a job. You need to take it. I wouldn't offer it you if I didn't think it would work. No one else here can type or even turn on a computer so you're the one they need. I'm not asking if you want the job. I'm driving you there and you'll be great. Make some money, save it, rent an apartment for you and Bella."

Oggy nodded. Karen had a trusting manner, her tone was pure, Oggy decided, it was not covertly manipulative, she was simply stating exactly what was on her mind and her agenda was her own...Oggy relaxed his grip on the knife in his pocket.

"Are you bleeding, Oggy?" asked Karen.

"I just need some gauze."

"And then you'll go to the job? I'll take you there."

"I have to tell Bella, and I have to cut that son of a bitch's head off."

Oggy again looked at Karen but it appeared she hadn't heard that last threat or else she was ignoring it. Oggy could hear the squealing rats over the hum of the nearby morning traffic. Low clouds, overcast skies, damp air, coughing women in the port-o-potties, and the sound of deceit in the parking lot, clanging locker doors, arguments, lies.

"Let me tell Bella, and I'll get cleaned up. And then we can go."

Karen hugged him and she smelled like a forbidden cigarette mixed with cheap perfume and the animal stench of sweat. Oggy balanced on one foot and kissed Karen's shoulder.

"I'll call them back and tell them you can start in an hour. You'll be great. They'll explain the whole thing to you there."

"What is the job?"

Karen was already walking away and mumbled something Oggy couldn't hear. He turned back toward the picnic table and was about to crutch back there and cut that punk's head off but the punk had moved and could not be seen. The plastic door of the port-o-potty slammed closed and Oggy hustled to get inside before some junkie could get there first and shoot up and pass out for two hours while everyone shit in the bushes. He gently dropped his pants and tried to push the flaps of loose skin back over the gash he'd cut into his leg. Oggy decided the food at the shelter was drugged, they were drugging him intentionally to get him to self-injure. He'd heard dozens of similar complaints and now he was seeing the proof. That was it; the food was drugged, the cooks were Federal Agents, possibly CIA, and they were trying to incite riot and violence in order to eliminate the homeless so the land could be developed. Oggy used some of the last toilet paper to cover the wound and clean the knife. Unfortunately, the injury was on the right leg and his left foot was already injured so he would now limp on both legs. Before Oggy left, he took a shit into the pits of hell and hoisted his filthy drawers back onto his bone thin hips, his crutches propped against a plastic door with "Hump Fucker Rules" graffiti and "Blonde Destiny Fans bang chicken butt" and illustrations of cocks and asses with the sound of someone pissing against the concrete wall behind the port-o-potty was a sensual buffet for Oggy, a delightful romp through the fields of destitution. He didn't look back into the hole...he unlocked the door and did not meet the eyes of the next person in line.

Oggy pleaded with Karen to let him walk to the job location because the carbon dioxide emissions were not justifiable but she tricked him by saying her car didn't run on gasoline. Oggy didn't have time to verify this and she confessed en route that the car did run on gasoline but she had to pick up kitchen supplies at the store anyway so the trip was multi-tasking and therefore Oggy's presence didn't affect carbon dioxide concentrations at all. Oggy made a note to do the math on these claims at the earliest convenience. He clenched his jaws as they crossed the railroad track where Bella had fallen once and cut her hand when they were picking blackberries. The car trip was excruciating as the image of birds falling out of the sky as the pollution belching from the tailpipe followed Oggy like a mental funeral procession. He was exhausted by the time Karen parked the car outside a brick building near the east side Industrial park. She escorted Oggy to the door as he initially started to wander toward a park bench where squirrels were eating bird seed. He'd felt a need to formally apologize to a liberated member of the animal kingdom for the car trip but Karen intercepted him and led him by the arm inside the institutional building past a plastic sign that read "Forum Chef". 

He was introduced to a short woman with glasses. Oggy first noticed the grey roots in her hair that indicated a semi-recent coloring, and subsequent usurpation by age. This particular detail depressed Oggy to the point that the formal introductions were a blur of vapid stupidity, absurd, inauthentic, all intended to distract one another from the rapidly approaching death march.

"...where you'll be stationed and I want you to ask any questions."

The woman was escorting Oggy to a desk, Karen was gone, there were other people seated before some kind of screen, typing or speaking into a microphone.

"Questions. Well, I do have a question. What are we doing here?"

"Like I said before, this is Forum Chef, we manufacture custom forum threads for our clients."

Oggy almost corrected himself, he wasn't asking about what we were doing here specifically, but rather what humanity in general was doing on Earth, what was the purpose and goal? But he decided this kind of clarification would only cause problems and depress him further. People were simple, they wanted simple projects with the least amount of debate, like dying birds in a poisoned cloud. People were dumb and invented cheap fascinations, false hair color, teeth whitener paste, annoying music.

"And your project will be the toilet paper and baby diaper threads. Todd will be your project manager. Todd, I'd like to introduce you to Oggy. Oggy will be taking over the TP project could you explain the details to him and if you have any questions come find me in the main office. Ok Todd?"

Only then did Oggy notice a large man sitting nearby. The man rolled over in his office chair and extended a meaty hand. Oggy wanted to run outside.

"What happened to your leg, buddy?" asked Todd, glancing at Oggy's crutches and the blood stain on his pants.

 Oggy shrugged the question off as he immediately did not trust Todd. He didn't distrust him, but he didn't trust him Oggy remained guarded. Todd didn't seem to press the topic of the blood stains and the crutches and gave Oggy a few sheets of paper. 

"These are your work orders. They collect in this bin here, "Todd gestured toward an overflowing paper bin. "Your goal is to process all the orders."

Oggy asked through squinting eyes filled with the flaking skin of chronic Blepheritis, "But what exactly are we doing? Specifically?"

"They didn't tell you? We're manufacturing forum threads to praise our clients. This is life behind the curtain. Take this order, for instance, for Silky Touch Toilet Paper. Fine. They paid for praise. Now you open up your forum chef program and begin to write praise for the toilet paper."

"Toilet paper I've never used?"

"Whatever the case may be. They ordered ten praise comments and four negative comments for their you process this order by going step by step through the forums that are listed here. Product review forums. Hemorrhoid forums...colrectal cancer forums..." Todd yawned and scratched the stubble on his chin. Oggy yawned also but tried to hide his mouth behind his hand. "All the forums listed here. One by one. Check them off as you go. 10 praise comments and 4 negative comments."

"I just make the comments up?"

"Absolutely. There are some samples on the order sheet. Sample praise and sample criticism. See?"

Oggy studied the praise sampled, "I'm very impressed with Silky Touch toilet paper. It quality is leagues above the competition."

Oggy grimaced and looked around the office where a dozen or more people sat in confined cubicles.

"This is what happens here. You write fake toilet paper reviews on forums?"

"Not only toilet paper. Drugs, cars, airlines, hotels, any commodity that has a brand name has an opportunity for bolstering the advertising market."

"I really don't know about this. Do you have something more humiliating than toilet paper?"

"More humiliating? What's humiliating about toilet paper?" Todd looked uncomfortable.

"I mean the reviews are fake so you're asking me to be a virtual toilet paper shill."

"Correction: We're paying you to be a virtual toilet paper shill."

"But it seems dishonest. These are real forums with real people and I'm impersonating..."

"Real forums? No, most of the people on those forums are doing the same thing as us. In fact, many of the forums were created originally by shill services like us and they've been bought and sold so many times. I mean, there might be real people on them...but I highly doubt it. All those users..." Todd pointed at an active forum page..."those are mostly people you will find in this room."

"Is anything real?"

"That question's above my pay grade, Oggy. So, unless you have any questions I think you can get started."

Oggy took a deep breath and shook his head slowly back and forth but before he could object again Todd said, "Oggy, you can't do anything wrong. You can't do a bad job. It's impossible. You're only processing a client order and submitting your screenshot as proof so the client will know it's done. This is part of their advertising budget. It's no big deal. Easy money. Anyway, no one even browses these forums anymore. Not humans at least. Maybe capital cyborgs. But not humans. You can use the Transphone or the keyboard, whatever you prefer."

Oggy mumbled something about this being "so fucked up" but nevertheless sat down in the seat. It felt good to be off his crippled feet.

"One more thing, " said Todd. "Mix up the reviews. Try to be a little creative or else you get burned out. Don't try to win any awards but use slightly different language every time. It helps keep your awake. Right, August?"

Todd knocked on the cardboard petition and a vaguely affimative groan came from the other side.

"Ask August. She's been doing this a long time. Welcome aboard, Oggy. Lunch is at noon. I hope you brought something to eat."

Oggy hadn't brought anything to eat and hadn't eaten any of the drugged breakfast oatmeal. He was certain he had entered a hellish nightmare where all logic and sympathy had been abandoned in place of naked aggression and insanely rampant capitalism. He read the bold type on his order sheet "Important: Brand name must be mentioned at least twice (2x) in review."

He navigated the basic software interface and muttered, "bullshit". Then he grinned... "Silky Touch toilet paper feels like angle wings on my bum," he typed. "I purchased a package of 4 rolls of this delightful product, based on the recommendation of my neighbor, a Mrs. L who has a garden of tulips she orders from Holland and plants in the Spring. She expressed her satisfaction with Silky Touch toilet paper. She said that the quality and longevity of the product surpassed all previously used products. She insisted I try some so I purchased a package of four rolls at a nearby supermarket that is open late on Sundays. Imagine my surprise when I found that all her previous recommendations had been entirely founded in truth. This paper wiped my ass with a true silk touch, amazing, inspiring and excessively satisfying. My whole mood brightened. My sex-deprived lifestyle no longer cursed me so I was able to satisfy my neighbor over and over as we wrapped ourselves in rolls of Silky Touch Toilet paper, binding our limbs and then trying to break free. Blah blah...bullshit...bullshit this is all bullshit...I am changed now in a spiritual sense. Try Silky Touch toilet paper. Try it today. You will not be disappointed."

Oggy was smiling at first but he was quickly gripped by depression that stole the strength from his fingers.

"At least you can type fast," said Todd absently. "The person you replaced was in a wheel chair, one of those silicon valley kids with the heavy metal brain syndrome...and he transcribed everything verbally but because of the problem with his tongues, the program couldn't transcribe correctly. We spent more time editing his work than he spent saying it. This other lady..." Todd continued with a vapid anecdote as he clicked to a screen that allowed him to preview everything Oggy had typed...he nodded contentedly at first and then his obsessive finger tapping stopped suddenly.

"Whole Wheat Cheeseus! Oggy, what have you done!"

Oggy's attention drifted into a syrupy muse in which he thought for an instance that he was listening to a cyborg speaking to him through a virtual forum that was actually words transcribed by a Silicone Valley baby...and it was feasible that the universe was a fake forum designed by gigantic toilet paper shills. He also realized the he'd been driven to the building on the road that he'd been campaigning to have returned to natural state but tearing up the asphalt. What did that mean about his ethics?

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.