Ben Friedman | Michael Ilkiw
At this point in his life, it no longer comes as a surprise to Reginald when the tighty-whities he has on are faded stone-gray.
After all, he’s owned this particular pair for over four years, and he’s been wearing it more and more often recently. They are simply the pair he owns that have held up the best — with the fewest holes worn into them. And he’s refused to order more from Amazon until now, on principle.
Of course, he thinks, nobody ever GOES clothing shopping anymore…where would you even go…?
Wedged between two large suburban grass lawns, Reginald’s tiny strip of pavement and narrow rectangular 1-Bedroom are slotted into their family-friendly block of upper-middle-class housing like an old mail slot at the post-office. Once upon a time, his entire neighborhood was comprised of such little squat rectangular slabs pressed neatly together — barely enough room to house one, let alone the families of four-to-six that often got crammed inside and called such prisons home. This was affordable tract housing, Republican-administration style.
Reginald scratches himself as he staggers down the narrow concrete corridor towards the front (and only) door of his house. Flesh sagging and spirit too withered to care who sees him, he takes a deep breath, preparing his eyes for the onslaught of sunlight.
A necessary evil, thinks Reginald, about his current predicament.
We’ve let too many damn evils get necessary…
Reginald had planned to move out (and up) after his retirement. But then the Democrats took office again, and gentrification began, and the neighborhood grew paper-white, and the tract houses fell like dominoes – all but for the one stubborn man on the block who hated the notion of being forced out against his will. Truth be told, Reginald assumed the state’s offer would have to go up in time. It didn’t; they simply built around him.
From the get-go, the up and coming families in the neighborhood pretended Reginald wasn’t even there. Nobody rang his doorbell on Halloween. He never received fliers for the annual block party. Reginald was used to being treated this way – his last twelve years as a mailman it had been the norm; people didn’t just not open the door for you, they waited until you were gone before stepping outside themselves.
And people wonder why there was ever such a thing as “going-postal” …?
On that bitter reminiscence, Reginald growls a lyric softly to himself —
“It’s better to burn out…than to fade away… my my…hey hey…”
It’s the delivery-service again.
Time to face the world.
Reginald throws open the door, feels the harsh glare of sun and the stiff, cool breeze. As expected, the doorbell is being pressed repeatedly by one of the new Model 6-b Amazon-Mail-O-Copters, its four little rotor blades humming quietly as its main extender-arm thrusts the almond-brown package towards him. Reginald stares at the soulless hovering machine and sneers. On the street ten yards back, growling idly, sits the driverless Amazon Auto-Truck V.4 that brought the Mail-O-Copter and package with it. A big yellow Amazon logo is the only splash of color on its otherwise midnight black facade.
Whatever happened to customer service?
“Please take your package now, Mr. Samuelson.”
As the robot speaks, Reginald finds his teeth grinding painfully, and he once again curses the lack of dental coverage in his forced obsolescence package from the US Postal Service. Finally, he pries the soft package away from the robot’s hard metal pincers, and rips off a corner of brown paper wrapping.
Black?! The bastards gave me BLACK briefs?? I SPECIFICALLY ORDERED WHITE!!
“Please press the confirmation button now, Mr. Samuelson.”
The voice is robotic, hollow, like a male version of that old iPhone voice, before Apple upgraded the tech. Like Siri, Reginald had been unceremoniously replaced.
“Please press the finger-print coded confirmation button now, Mr. Samuelson” clarifies the robotic deliverer.
Reginald stares at the big red button now blinking before him, and again he growls out the Neil Young lyric:
“It’s better to burn out…than to fade away…”
And he realizes he believes it.
Suddenly, Reginald’s fists are spitting blood, the Model-6-b is spinning wildly, the world is tilting in the security cam footage on board – ground rushing forward — before — CRASH! — the mail drone smashes down on the winter-green pavement. As Reginald pants and grimaces at the open door, the Model-6-b smokes and seizures all over the walkway — vomiting up tiny gears.
Suddenly, on the street, the Auto-Truck V.4’s launch bay shudders closed and the big self-driving machine rumbles away — safety protocol.
Reginald smiles grimly and takes a slow aching seat on his stoop.
He has just begun to lick his wounded hands when he hears them: the police sirens wailing in the distance. Services like mail delivery and law enforcement work lightning fast these days, even if they rarely bring you exactly what you’re looking for. At least Reginald feels some comfort in the knowledge that the police officers racing down the street to arrest him might be real live human beings…instead of soulless robots…