Written on March 14, 2014 — Pi Day
“Let him through. He’s just the pizza guy.”
‘Just,’ I think. That about sums up my life.
I shoulder my way through the anti-vaxxer crowd. They’re pretty rowdy, waving hand-scrawled signs and shouting non-sensical slogans like, “Check the facts! Don’t get vax!” I smell alcohol on some of their bearded breaths, unfiltered by their lack of masks, even though I’m wearing Razer’s neon-lit helmet. Yeah, I look like a dork, but its fully enclosed filtration system protects me from the germs of non-masker idiots, though clearly not their smell. I kinda regret buying the ultra-gaming helmet for 0.0046 BTC, which seemed like a great deal when the cryptocurrency was only $152,000 per coin.
I might as well use one of features of the most-expensive-helmet-in-the-world. Cranked to max volume, the external speakers blast my voice, in a retro-Vader growl, “Yeah, let me through.” I quickly added, “Please,” when some of the bigger dudes, donned in Harley-Davidson leather jackets with lots of pirate proud patches, turn around.
Bearing the pizza box as a shield, I wade through the Red mob like Moses. I feel their desire to spit on me for praying to the false religion of science. To wear a mask means to fear invisible contagions concocted by the Deep State to dictate the actions of the weak-minded. To think that tiny, tiny, so small bacteria or virus or whatever you want to label them can infect you means that you’re only a step away from becoming a full conspirator of the State, allowing those evil pedophiles to control your mind through a vax shot.
Anonymously shrouded by my helmet, I stride forward with purpose. Confidence and swagger can get you through most things. “Let me through. I only have 3 more minutes to make the delivery!”
That is the “open sesame.” Pepperoni-induced Pavlovian reaction pulls the puppet-strings. Everyone loves pizza and understands intuitively that the delivery of pie must not be hindered, that the 30 minutes promise is sacrosanct, a higher moral calling than vax or no-vax, Deep State or Shallow Country, Blue or Red. Reluctantly, the front-line “mothers-for-life” part for me, leaving a little spittle on my opaque face shield from their exuberant slogan shouting. “End the Plandemic!” and, my personal favorite, “I’d rather drink chlorine than government KOOL-AID!”
I bound up the steps and through the double set of sliding doors, into the world of order and calm, bright white lights and antiseptic surfaces. The intake nurse sees my pizza box and doesn’t even ask me to check in. “The doctors are waiting for you on floor 3. Just go to the elevators at the end of the hall, up to 3, and look for the ‘Vaccinations’ signs. Hurry. They’re starving. 12-hour shifts, you know.”
Following the breadcrumb trail of hastily pasted signs, I run through the maze of squeaky corridors, feeling very much the lab rat. You’d think they’d put the vaccinations on the ground floor, near the front door, like how supermarkets display impulse buys at aisle endcaps, but I guess hospital administrators aren’t known for process flow design skills.
With a healthy 13 seconds to spare, I burst into the waiting room. Nurses cry hallelujah, “The pizza is here!” Grown men and women, respected in their respective fields, rush me, conjuring up bad memories of “smear the queer” games when I seemed to be “it” more often that pure random probability would predict.
I toss the box to the closest nurse. “You’re it,” I think. Whew, that was close. How ironic would it be to get maimed by crazed health professionals in a hospital? I turn to leave; my next 30-minute clock has already started. I’ve programmed my helmet to announce the remaining time with the voice of Audrey Cotillard, the super sexy French actress. Somehow, her purring accent eases the anxiety of the countdown.
“Hey pizza boy, wait a sec!”
First of all, how does he know I’m a man, the damn sexist? Secondly, I’m not a boy! Though I can’t (legally) drink yet, I have the privilege of dying for my country if it comes to that, so I should get the corresponding respect! But the prospect of getting a tip halts my retorts and slows my gait.
“Have you gotten your shot yet? Cuz, if not, we got extras that have to be used in the next hour. The damn anti-vaxxers are scaring off the patients with appointments. Do you want to get it now?”
Well, hot damn! I had pretty much given up getting the shot anytime soon. Since I am under 65, live in a messed-up state, by myself in a normal 346 sqft apartment instead of something helpful like a jail or homeless shelter, don’t have any underlying conditions since ADHD doesn’t count, and work in a non-essential non-government job, the vaccine calculator calculated that I would die before I get a shot. Technically it estimated that I was 966,842 in line. My stats teacher would’ve gone ballistic about statistical (in)significance in the estimate, but the point is that this offer is karma repaying me for delivering the last 22 pizzas on time.
“Well, which is it?” the doc presses, not realizing that I answered his two questions in order.
The new, mature me realizes it won’t help to correct him, so I accept the role of the dithering teenager. “Yeah, I’ll take it.” I’m going to be late for delivery #23, but hell can wait a little longer. A lottery ticket just fell out of the sky!
“Ok then, good decision. Come on over here, sign this disclosure form, and the nurse in stall #4 will process you.” After dispensing the dry directions, the doc jumps into the pizza orgy, “Hey, leave me a slice!”
I skim over the form. “mRNA blah blah blah.” My eyes literally glaze over. It says something about it being a new procedure, but it’s perfectly safe. I suddenly wonder if the anti-vaxxers have a point, that maybe I should check the facts. The vaccine did come out in record time, praise the scientists, but did it really go through all the trials? How does the government know if there are any long-term consequences? I mean, mRNA kinda sounds like it’s related to DNA, and though I almost failed biology, I’m not stupid. I know DNA is related to my genes, or genomes, or chromosomes, or whatever, but in any case, it’s like the blueprint for how I’m made.
So, if you get a shot that, you know, changes the blueprint, maybe it stops the plague, but what if it also changes me at the cellular level? My conspiracy-theory hat materializes on my head, under my helmet. What if transforming me is how the vaccine works? The plague kills homo sapiens, but ha ha, tricked you, stupid virus. The vaccine has mutated me to homo zombiens, an entirely new species!
I knock my helmet a few times, hard. My doc, the psych kind, has told me that hitting my head doesn’t really help clear the fog, but it’s a hard habit to break. I put my thumb on the signature pad. Kinda “anachronistic” (my English teacher would be proud) for it to be called a signature pad when we don’t sign anything anymore. The form bleeps acceptance. I’ve authorized the government to turn me into a walking, talking shell. Another biology lesson rises from the depths of my unconscious: the fungus Orphio-something that turns Brazilian rainforest ants into zombies.
Feeling a lot like a worker ant, I trudge into stall #4, really just a curtained-off 5x5 cube. As I slide open the drape “door,” I step back involuntarily. The nurse is a burly man, challenging my fantasies of a dainty female nurse in a tight white latex uniform with a big red cross emblazoned across her oversized breasts. Maybe I should tone down the VR sessions at night.
“Take a seat son,” rumbles the fantasy-crushing nurse. He expertly ties the rubber cord around my arm, cutting off my blood supply and making me yelp, even though I had told myself to act like a man and not cry when I see the needle. His baseball-glove hands envelope the tiny needle. I’m surprised that the needle doesn’t explode when he taps it to remove any bubbles. After rubbing my arm with the cool antiseptic wipe, he tries to pacify the shaking me with, “Don’t worry, it won’t hurt a bit.”
The helmet hides the tear in my eye, but its damn voice amplifier makes my whimper sound like the screams of a pig being dragged into the slaughterhouse. I’ve closed my eyes, but I can imagine the nurse’s patronizing smile.
“There, all done. See, no harm, no foul.”
“Oh, you’re done?” I ask stupidly, hazily. I didn’t feel a thing.
“Yup. You can rest here a few minutes if you want.”
Wanting to demonstrate my manhood, I bolt up, “Nah, I’m fine. Gotta make the next delivery!”
“Hold on, big fella, let me untie the elastic shot cord.”
Once he undoes the cord, I stumble out of the cloth cell and bumble towards the elevator, refusing to let my friend Vertigo trip me up. One of the nurses, of the female variety, steadies me halfway across the room, but I am able to make it the rest of the way out of the hospital without further assistance and pity.
The chanting anti-vaxxers stare at me with their accusing eyes, but I point to my diplomatic passport, the pizza chain logo on my grease-stained uniform. I do what Moses did not, part the Red Sea a second time. I sweatily climb onto my motorbike. Luckily, the gyroscopes keep it upright, and the self-driving program knows the next destination, just waiting for my shaking hands to grab the handlebars.
As soon as I grip the handles, the bike leaps into traffic, merging between a semi-trailer and a mini-van with inches to spare on either sides. I find it’s better to not look and just trust the autonomous biking program. My bike’s AI realizes I’m way behind on my next delivery, requires me to double-blink acceptance to waive insurance liability, warns me to hold on tight, and then launches into “ketchup mode,” a bad pun I used to dub the subroutine I had programmed for times like this. As if trying to dodge a heat-seeking missile, the pocket rocket bobs and weaves between the lumbering vehicles, traveling at a mere 200 mph, all moving in a predictable manner by well-behaved AIs that admonish my hacked AI with digital honks.
Despite my bike’s heroic efforts, I am late for delivery #23 by 2 minutes 37 seconds, an eternity in my field. The demerits chiming in my helmet’s stereo-sound speakers hurt way more than the customer’s loudly-voiced dissatisfaction. I manage to make the next 8 deliveries on time, but I miss out on the big bonus for 25 on-time deliveries. I console myself that I probably would’ve been handed an impossible delivery on #25 anyway; the pizza delivery BenThereDunThat chatroom claims the chances of getting the Quarter Bonus to be around 2%. Some of the colorful comments even suggest that the company’s algorithms were tilted against us, its own delivery drivers. I know, shocking.
I stumble into my sleep pod, not even bothering to remove my helmet. Sensing my impending loss of consciousness, the pod turns off the lights and reminds me to perform my reality check when I dream. It’s part of my sleep routine because I’m trying to induce lucid dreaming. I figure I might as well try to live well in my dreams since my real-life sucks.
Hey, guess what? Oh, good guess. I did get the Quarter Bonus. That’s not it, but that’s a good story. I mean, I’m quite suspicious about customer #25’s surprised look when I dropped the pizza box off at his door with the 10-second yellow warning flashing in my helmet’s neon-lights, but whatever, the bonus more than made up for last week’s demerits. And I feel a lot better about going out and doing my job with the mRNAs acting as drill sergeants for my immune system, getting them into shape so when the real baddies come, we’ll be ready.
Hmm, another good guess. I almost had a lucid dream, one with a pretty nurse, but unfortunately just when I thought I was about to start taking control, her big hands shook me awake.
No, I haven’t turned into a zombie yet. Or maybe I am a zombie already, and I just don’t know it. Ok, I did my reality check, and yes, biting my tongue does hurt. Look, we don’t have time to go into the whole debate on whether this is a complex simulation or not. If it is, so be it. I can’t be all bad if it has chocolate in it.
Focus. What I’m trying to tell you is that I got another vax shot! Yeah, yeah, I know I got one already, but I figure the more the merrier, right? With all the variants coming, who knows which vax will work better? My immune system has gone through the Delta Force training, but what if the new enemy comes by sea. Why not send my B&T-cells through Navy Seals training too!
So, how did I get it? Well, I guess there are other bonuses to my job, delivering pizza to all walks of life. Delivery #46, just 4 short of the holy grail of the Half Century Bonus, was to an old folks home. Oh, convalescent home, ok, happy?
Anyway, I’m thrilled I am going to make #46 with enough time left that I can take a five minute detour and get an ice cream or something. I’m singing along to some song — with my external speakers turned off, mind you — when I drop off the pizza at the front desk. The pretty receptionist waves to me. I’m so shocked that I look over my shoulder, but nobody’s there. I turn down the volume to hear her say, “Hey pizza boy, hello, can you hear me?”
“I’m a pizza man, ya know.” That doesn’t sound like a great pick-up line, even to my own ears, so I follow it up with something even lamer, “But I could’ve been non-binary. You shouldn’t assume.” Maybe this is why I’m still single.
“Um, ok, pizza-them, the doc is talking to you.” She points to the guy in the white lab coat standing by the door.
The doc, who has been listening to this self-flagellation exchange, is flustered and clearly doesn’t know how to address me now. “You, uh, you, did you get a vax shot yet? We have an extra one, because, uh, the senior, uh, is not disposed to receive it now.”
My brain, overtaxed by the massive swings in emotions from the dopamine hit of making a delivery on time followed by the cortisol crunch after my anti-flirt with the receptionist, waffles, “Uh, I don’t know.”
Mistaking my confusion for concern about why the dose is suddenly available, the doc decides he needs to push me over the edge with a call towards social responsibility. “I know, you’re young and think you’re invincible, but you know, these new viruses are incredibly contagious. You could be a carrier without even knowing it. So, you should get vaccinated, if not for yourself, for your parents and grandparents, who are much more susceptible than you are.”
I didn’t think it was appropriate to explain that I don’t have any parents, or grandparents, or any family for that matter, around anymore. “Uhh.”
Perhaps feeling the pressure of his Hippocratic oath, he crosses the room and takes my arm, “Come on young, um, you, it’ll be over in a second. It’s the latest vax, direct to DNA, not like the Currenta vax that uses mRNA. It’s a broad-spectrum vax, covering several contagion vectors in a single dose.”
I let him lead me inside, mostly to hide from the receptionist’s pitying look. How many guys does she have to shoot down every day? Maybe she appreciates my suicide dive.
An elderly nurse, who looks frail enough to be a resident of the nursing home, beckons me to a chair and thrusts the authorization form at me, “Sign this.”
Blah blah blah risk of blindness blah blah blah do not mix with blah blah blah. I thumb the form and close my eyes. I feel the snap of the cord, smell the astringent odor of alcohol, feel the tiny bite of the needle, and then the pat from the dry skeleton fingers of the ancient nurse. “All done sonny.”
I stumble out, purposefully ignoring the smiling receptionist, and crawl onto my bike, which automatically whisks me away to #47.
Frankly, I don’t remember #48 and #49. I somehow made it back to my egg-shaped sleep pod and collapsed into a formless heap.
“Captain, D-Force is ready!”
“Excellent Sergeant, roll out.”
Just as D-Force Sergeant marches away to carry forth my orders, a furtive man in a detective trench coat with the matching hat whispers into my ears, “You have to watch out for D-Force. That Sergeant may look all loyal, but he’s really undermining you, converting your troops right under your nose.”
Suddenly, the sergeant is back, “Don’t listen to him! He’s a messenger delivering a corrupting message. The message itself is the virus, corrosive to the listener. Look, he’s turning you against me even now. He’s from a terrorist cell, a T-cell!”
Both the sergeant and the detective spy morph into human-sized amoebas and start wrestling each other. I yell, “Stop, you’re both on the same team! My team! We have to work together to fight the real enemy, the Vichy, no the Versus. That’s not right either, whatever they’re called, they’re out there!”
But the leaders of my two fighting cells are intertwined with each other, arms and legs sprouting out and sucking back into the main body. “Wait, I need to do a reality check!” I announce to myself. I bite my tongue and blood gushes down my body that is turning transparent. Arms are protruding out of my middle to staunch the blood pouring out of my mouth like a waterfall. “But I didn’t feel any pain,” I note. “I must be in a dream!”
Triumphantly, I tell myself to fly. I throw my four arms up, my half-amoeba half-human forms starts to lift off, float more than fly. “Yes, I did it! I’m in control of my dream!”
My fearless subordinate would have none of that. They grab my legs and pull me back. “Wait, let me fly! I’m the Captain here!” They ignore me, wordlessly coming to a truce between themselves, inexorably sucking me into their squishy membranes.
I wake panting, tangled up in my damp sheets, the rancid smell of old pizza overpowering the sleeping pod’s air cleaners. My helmet cheerily greets me good afternoon; I’ve been out for 32 hours straight! The pizza delivery board has flooded me with messages, some cheering me on to do the impossible and get the Half Century bonus, while others blast me for cheating, being in cahoots with the company, a fake plant by the oxymoronic employee morale team.
My body’s physical needs compete for the attention of my brain’s triage center. I need to pee! I’m so thirsty! I feel like I’m going to throw up. I’m so dizzy, I don’t know if I can get out of the pod. I feel like I’ve been squeezed and wrung like a mop.
It takes an hour to sort it all out, take a long hot shower while running the sleeping pod through the extra-duty cleaning cycle with my pizza delivery uniform in it. The coffee spiked with some cocktail of supposedly healthy stimulants and supplements finally kicks my system into gear. By the time I get to my bike, in fact, I feel great.
Colors seem brighter, sounds louder and crisper. I have to turn down the volume in my helmet to the minimum, and I check to make sure I didn’t turn on some beauty filter for the face mask. Order #50 is patiently waiting for me to accept. I don’t know if the routing algorithm has a sense of humor or not, but I recognize the address as the nursing home’s. Normal delivery at this time of day is 34:25. Maybe in my kamikaze-mode, I can shave a few minutes off. I’m never going to make it, but there’s no option to turn down this delivery, to choose another one.
I sigh, it’s rigged anyway. I’m dreading and hoping to see the receptionist girl again. It’s weird that I can hold both of those emotions at the same time. I swing by the closest satellite oven and hold my hand above the thumbpad that registers my ID, opens the oven door, and starts the remorseless timer. I take a deep breath, double blink away the waivers in my helmet and get the kamikaze subroutine ready. What the hell, I’m feeling good. I mentally dial the risk meter up to the max, so there’s absolutely no margin for safety now. If I so much as hit a pebble, I will be launched from the bike.
I slam the thumbpad and snatch the pizza box out of the oven before the door even has fully risen. While I’m sticking it into my pizza bag, the bike whines, “Let go already!” The second I grab the handles, the bike bolt out of the pickup zone. At this speed, with all the jerking back and forth as we — my bike and me — whip through traffic as if the other vehicles are standing still, I should be barely hanging out, but today, I’m enjoying the ride. I don’t close my eyes. I feel the flow, predict how the driving heuristic will go and lean into it.
I juice it some more, insist my hacked AI crack the bike’s safety firewalls, demand fuel-guzzling mode, order it not to consider the well-being of the flesh-and-blood driver. The bike is redlined at one moment, screeching brakes emitting clouds of burned rubber the next. I see the shocked white of the eyes of the normally somnolent drivers of the cars we pass, occasionally giving a love tap, a light kiss on the bumper.
The bike is literally flying the last 20 feet as it took off from a small handicap ramp. I’m feel like a gymnast, smoothly pulling the pizza box out of the bag, standing up on the seat of my bike, and jumping off as my bike hits pavement and brakes to a screaming stop. Am I dreaming? Too busy to do a reality check, I land running, bounding towards the front door that is only starting to slide open. I dive through the gap, pizza box completely flat in front of me, and slide across the tile floor on my chest in a perfect swan dive.
I see in slow motion the open mouth of the pretty receptionist forming an “o.” Time catches up to reality. Normal speed. I stand up and hand her the pizza with exactly one second left. I bite my tongue and it hurts. I lift off my million-dollar helmet, shake out my long black mane, and look her in the eye, “So, you wanna go out with me?”
She points at me and shudders, “What…what’s happened to you?”
I look down and see spikes starting to protrude through my uniform. I rip off my gloves and wonder at my glowing blue skin. I look at my reflection in my helmet’s face mask and see, even after accounting for the curve of the mirrored mask, that my face is bulging in strange places. But I feel great; I feel invincible.
“I think my vax shots are rewriting my DNA. So anyway, you like ice cream?”