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.
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 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.