Thursday 15 March 2007

Interlude I

Cheeseburger Brown stands at the basin to shave.

He twists the faucet and tests the water, then frowns. He turns it off and raps sharply on the plumbing as he whispers, "Come on, baby," and then twists the faucet again. This times the water dribbles out lukewarm. "Oh yeah," he breathes.

Like the Millennium Falcon, the Old Schoolhouse can be tempermental.

Cheeseburger Brown procedes to shave the stubble off his neck and from his cheeks, trying to carve out a reasonable facsimile of a beard from the sparse, uneven pubic twists of peach fuzz that represent his body's best efforts at pubescence. If he squints the illusion is almost credible.

Muslims would laugh at him but the Inuit are jealous.

He taps the razor against the side of the sink and wonders about Tim, a likeable but hapless civilian on contract beyond Jupiter. He wonders how Tim goes about shaving. He images his plump cheeks as smooth as a baby's bum, but by what agent: chemical, engineered bacterial, familiar blade or hungry nannites?

The laser heater hiccoughs and the water turns cold. Cheeseburger Brown sighs.

Before long he's dressed: rumpled pants (brown), sport coat (brown), creased tie (brown), unironed shirt (brown), scuffed shoes (brown). His pockets bulge: fob watch, iPod shuffle, car key, empty wallet.

He breaks off a length of baguette and folds it into his lunch box, screws the top on his aluminium carafe of coffee. "I love you all!" he calls.

The yellow Mini peels down the country roads, kicking up a trail of roiling dust newly freed by the melting snow. The windows are open and the wind is frenetic. Cheeseburger Brown listens to the French service, because the music is better in the morning.

Stop the jive at S-25: Twenty-five kilometers into his commute by the tripmeter he switches off the radio and descends into storyspace. The world smells like mud and he wonders what it smells like outside of Tim's military barracks on Titan. Maybe grass and ozone.

Take some glee at S-33: He's prompted at southbound thirty-three by the tripmeter to blink and look around -- there's a swath of rich agricultural flats that guild the highway, a wide valley extending to the horizons on either side. Every day and in every weather the light is different and unique here, and worth stopping to appreciate.

He sips his coffee and re-immerses.

Don't ignore S-44: Eleven kilometers later he considers whether he needs fuel (automotive) or fuel (human) at Petro Canada or Tim Horton's. He doesn't. Goodbye, World.

Cheeseburger Brown realizes something important about Tim, and attempts to burn it to specific memory with a mnemonic rhyme for later retrieval.

We pay a fee at S-53: Southbound fifty-three kilometers he leaves the provincial jurisdiction and takes a private automated toll-road. The transponder hidden behind the rearview meeps, and Cheeseburger Brown experiences a twinge of guilt at the cost he's incurring.

He does some math in his head on the subject, becomes muddled, and decides to think about something else. Tim won't come back, however. Traffic is thickening and the changing conditions are threatening to overload the automation system. More and more of Cheeseburger Brown is forced to come back online to assist until Tim's forgotten entirely and it's nothing but driving, driving, driving.

The city swoops in: grey, cluttered, breathing columns of fume into the crisp blue sky. An airfreighter-shaped shadow flashes over the lanes followed by a low, airy drone. More jets circle in the distance like flies over meat. It's steampunk Coruscant.

S-70: He turns the radio back on -- CBC-1, The Current with Anna-Maria Tremonti. She's a sharp cookie. The subject is Zimbabwe and the accents of the interviewees are melodious. Cheeseburger Brown imitates them, echoing their phrases as he drives, considering how he would spell out such characteristic pronunciations.

"Moo-gah-bay," he says. "Robert Mugabe. R-R-Robert."

The first order of business at the office is to have a voice-over recorded for a heady, inspirational video full of complex, beautiful particle and smoke animations with light streaming through them, imagery silhouetted by and then occluding the radiance in a symbolic journey from darkness to hope. Cheeseburger Brown sits across the desk from his producer who's dialing Los Angeles.

"What kind of read do you want?" says the unmistakable trademarked voice of the Movie Trailer Guy over the speaker. You've heard him a million times -- you probably hear him six times an hour when you watch TV. Cheeseburger Brown gets the shivers.

"Let me see," says Cheeseburger Brown, "does 'serious but uplifting' make any sense?"

"What's the video for?" asks Movie Trailer Guy.

The producer clears her throat. "They're basically announcing a lay-off of seventy-five percent of their workforce."

"That's uplifting," notes Movie Trailer Guy sardonically.

"Well, it is for twenty-five percent of them," reasons Cheeseburger Brown.

"Good point."

Movie Trailer Guy steps into his recording studio while keeping his speakerphone live so we can hear the read. He asks for notes and direction is offered. Cheeseburger Brown finds it difficult to resist the urge not to play with Movie Trailer Guy like a toy -- to make that famous voice say anything he pleases. But ultimately every hour is billable so the line is drawn under it. "Thanks," says everybody. "Thanks, thanks."

When Cheeseburger Brown gets to his own desk there's nothing to do but wait until Movie Trailer Guy uploads his finished audio file so he unfolds his laptop and in rapid succession clicks the icons that bring to the foreground his writing suite: BBEdit for input, Safari for preview, Firefox for research.

The other production artists are watching an episode of South Park, hunched over a monitor and snickering while they sip their coffees.

Cheeseburger Brown's fingers hesitate over the keys.

He frowns.

He feels suddenly very tired.

And then he thinks: I don't have to.

Then he feels like Peter Parker in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2, strolling through a bikeless Bryant Park and grinning to Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head. "I have a choice," Peter Parker says to himself, suddenly content to simply live in the blissful vacuum left behind when duty is suspended.

This is the first day in many, many days that Cheeseburger Brown has not felt compelled to keep his fingers moving across the keyboard without regard to the world, determined to do his story-churning duty if not for king and country than for himself and his desire to distill something concrete from his craven need to continually disappear up his own imagination.

Again he thinks: I don't have to.

He relaxes a spell. He pushes back his chair, and swivels it so he can see South Park, too. He pushes the cap aside on his carafe and drinks as he puts his feet up on the desk with a sigh.

"What're you up to?" asks one of the studio artists.

"Fuck all," says Cheeseburger Brown with relish. "Absolutely sweet fuck all."

It's not over. It's just a vacation. But it is perhaps one long overdue for his relentlessly squeezed brain. He doesn't throw his Spider-Man masque in the trash, but rather folds it carefully and stows it in a drawer. Perhaps only by taking a conscious moment of rest does he come to realize how hard he's been pushing. Only now is it clear what a thrashing he's been giving himself by throwing himself upon the sword of the pen day after day, week after week, month after month.

It isn't thankless work, of course. In fact, to Cheeseburger Brown it is immeasurably more rewarding than telling people they're fired via pretty animations.

But to just breathe is good, too. To kick back and watch a cartoon rather than combing out plot details is refreshing. To think about going home and just sitting around rather than hunching over the keyboard after his family's gone to sleep seems like sweet paradise.

Absolutely sweet fuck all.

Cheeseburger Brown stretches and yawns. He flips the lid of his fob watch and watches the seconds bleed away, without guilt.

Tim will still be there. It'll keep.

On the drive home he decides to think about nothing at all and cranks the music up loud, loud, loud. He smiles. He laughs. He sings along, mumbling around a grannysmith apple. The yellow Mini hums. The world outside is a mottled blur of muddy thaw and wet trickle, rotted mulch and travel-weary birds with their bright, chipper songs.

He feels young.

I AM A CHEESEBURGER returns with regular programming Monday 19 March 2007.


Mark said...

My sweet God. They're firing people via pretty animations and the Movie Trailer Guy?

How will they ever be able to enjoy a movie trailer again? It's just wrong on so many levels, I don't know where to start.

Enjoy that break, CBB. While I'm not as prolific as you (nor as talented or skilled, I'm sure many would argue), I was right there with you when you mentioned how sweet it feels to decide not to write for a while. When I finish a story, however, I usually give myself a little more down time than you.

Which makes the quality of your work that much more astounding.

Tim will keep, and we will keep waiting.

Teddy said...

Is there any way we could get access to this Movie Trailer Guy's raw sound file?

You totally should have played with him. "This just in, steam powered weasels of doom have taken the white house, I repeat steam powered weasels of doom have taken captive the executive staff of the United States of America. The world rejoices."

Have fun on break!


Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Mark,

Yeah, modern business is touching, isn't it?

Mark, apparently I'm only happy when I'm punishing myself with excessive (if arguably mediocre despite your kind words) output.

Dear Teddy,

I'm afraid I'm not authorized to release that intellectual property without getting in deep dutch.


Hey, I just found out the RCMP is coming by to fingerprint everyone at work because some IMPORTANT PERSONAGE is visiting next week. Weird!

Cheeseburger Brown

Moksha Gren said...

I love a story with a happy ending! And even though I have to wait until Monday to find out what happened to Tim...I take great comfort in knowing there is a happy Cheeseburger somewhere to the north of me.

You've amused us plenty, go take a much needed rest.

Moksha Gren said...

Sorry to double post, but after my last comment I kept thinking about this video you're working on. Perhaps this company wouldn't have to lay so many people off if it didn't so obviously waste tons of money on extravegant things like...oh...say, hiring the Movie Trailer Guy to lay off your work force. Insanity!

Anonymous said...

Enjoy your break CBB, lord knows you deserve to take one (I think they should post your bio on wikipedia under "prolific").

I only hope that springtime is starting to emerge in Cheeseburger-land with as much vigor as it has been displaying down here in Colorado. Get out and enjoy some sunshine. My aggregator awaits your return.

gl. said...

"It'll keep." damn right. and we'll be here, keepin' the faith.

seriously, though, i wouldn't mind a little more break between stories, both for your own literary health and for anticipation restoration. :)

hzugrhh: a cheer cut off in traffic

Anonymous said...

ha ha, kickass. i indulged similarly recently. 'tis good.

Anonymous said...

Typo: it's spelled "temperamental". But don't worry, mon, be happy.

Anonymous said...

...and yet you still found time to write this. You're the best.

And cool, you got to work with Don LaFontaine? That guy makes thousands of dollars just by breathing.

This makes me feel better about keeping my head down at the new job and not having time to read your work this week... thanks for taking a break so I can live vicariously through that too :)

Also, Firefox 1.0.6 doesn't seem to like this version of blogger. Time for another upgrade...

Nick said...

"It's steampunk Coruscant."

You know, I never thought of it that way - our world is the historical fiction of the science-fiction future. I'm sure someone somwhere has a long PhD thesis lying around on the very topic, too.

We'll be around - have a great (and well earned) break.

Ray Merkler said...

Lords, even on your days off, you still churn out some of the most delicious prose available on the open market. I wish I could boast your psychotic level of creative productivity. Cheers to you, I say!

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Moksha,

The truth of it is this: the company doesn't have to lay those people off because they don't have enough money, they have to lay those people off as an after effect of a merger. Due to its new structure, the post-merger company stood in violation of several government-imposed controls for its specific industry. The post-merger company has decided to respond by liquidating the human assets of the offending business units in the hopes that the individuals let go will find jobs at other companies in their industry, and may then find themselves legally in the clear to re-establish a relationship with the original post-merger company as either a client or service provider.

Heavily regulated industries nurture strange ecosystems.

Dear Hopelessly Aporetic,

Spring is stepping in quietly, but steadily. At this point things are just mostly wet and muddy around melting, dirty snowbanks. Still, the air smells good and rich.

Dear gl.,

Well, some rethinking of the posting schedule is indeed in order so that I can keep spinning without these nasty unexpected interruptions in service.

Dear CodeWright,


Dear Anonymous,

Thanks kindly.

Dear Simon,

Heh. Indeed. I guess I'm easily blinded by the shine of what I'd like to do, which is write all the time. (Hopefully one day.) I so enjoy my delusions I forget sometimes letting them grind too tough against the grain of reality can be hazardous and dorky.

Dear Sheik,

Firefox 2 seems to like everything. I like Firefox. Call me a hippie if you want to, but it's true.

As for the talent, that's not the one in this case but I can't be more specific -- all references to my place of employ must remain vague to keep my bum covered and my gossip unGooglable.

Dear Nick,

Every time is somebody else's fantastic realm, isn't it? Or historical fiction setting, I guess. Myself I always try to keep in mind that everything cool will one day be quaint.

Dear Ray,

And to you, sir!

I'll see you all on Monday. Have great weekends!

Cheeseburger Brown