Monday, May 27, 2013

Lies and Unmaskings in an Elevator

In a downtown Toronto office building, between the 18th and 19th floors, an elevator was stuck. Inside the elevator were a balding, middle-aged businessman in a gray suit and a young man with a nose ring, spiky black dyed hair and wearing jeans and a torn black shirt bearing the words “Fuck your God!” across the chest.
            The businessman put his iPhone back in his inside jacket pocket. “Looks we’re going to be here for a while,” he said. “The repairman’s delayed because of the street protests.”
            “Great,” said the young man.
            “Glad I got to the voting booth this morning. Did you vote yet?”
            “Vote in what?”
            “The federal election. For the Prime Minister. You know, the leader of our country?”
            “Oh yeah. I guess that’s what the protests are about.”
            “So are you going to vote later today? If this elevator gets fixed soon, you may still have time.”
            “No, I’m not voting.”
            “Hmph! Maybe just as well.”
            “What’s that supposed to mean?”
            “Well, it’s just that you probably don’t know the first thing about your own government. You don’t care to find out, so it’s just as well if you don’t make an unwise voting decision. Sit this one out and let the responsible adults run things.”
            “Yeah, you’re very responsible. Very good at running things into the ground.”
            “Cynical too, I see. Let me tell you something: you think you’re a rebel but you’re just a cliché. Every generation of youth is the same. ‘Woe is me, the sky is falling! Drop out of the system!’ Only the end never comes. Civilization keeps chugging along and you either join it or get left behind.”
            “You don’t know shit. You forgot what it was like being young, ’cause you’ve sold out. You think everything’s fine ’cause your bank account’s bursting. You’ve got blinders on, old man.”
            “What do you think you know that I don’t, then? Enlighten me.”
            “When you’re young, but not too young so you can think for yourself, you’re not part of society. Not yet. You’re on the outside, but there’s all these forces trying to push you in. Your teachers, your parents. ‘Get your skills,’ they say. ‘Get a job, get a wife, settle down, have kids, work like a dog, go on vacations.’ When you can’t work anymore, you loaf around and then you die. That’s how society works. People are recycled in it. You’ve got to be productive or it’s like you said, you get left behind. Maybe you find yourself in jail or homeless. But when you’re young, you’re not in the rat race yet. You’re on the verge with all these hands at your back, but you’re still outside and you can see the whole thing clearly, maybe just for a short while. You can see society for what it is. And then you’ve got to choose to stay on the outside or sign your life away. Most teens sign up and then they lose their objectivity, like you. Not me, though. I’ll always be an outsider.”
            “Good for you, er…what’s your name, son?”
            “I’m not your son, old man. Call me Ash.”
            “Terrific. And you may address me as Herman.”
            “Yes, well, what’s so great about being an outsider? What are you, homeless?”
            “I sleep on a friend’s couch.”
            “And what brings you to downtown Toronto, to the heart of our evil society?”
            “Just doing some research. I’m an artist and I’m doing a comic book on squares like you.”
            “I hope you sell a million copies.”
            “Do you? Such a condescending prick, you are.”
            “Says the fellow whose shirt’s telling me to fuck my God.”
            “I’m not talking down to you. I’m just telling you what I really think. If you don’t like it, that’s your problem.”
            “Actually, it’s your problem too. Your slurs will only isolate you and make you miserable. Anyway, you don’t care for society and you’re not big on God. Is that right?”
            “No, I’m not. Wake up if you think you need to worship an invisible tough guy in the sky.”
            “Well, shall I tell you what I think, Ash? Your cynicism isn’t brave. You’re a coward. You’ve got no right to be cynical. No one does. You’ve got a million ways of joining society. Even just the political parties--I mean, just pick one, for crying out loud! They’re desperate for volunteers. Learn about the real world, get involved. Knock on some doors and lick some envelopes for people who’re trying to make a difference. If you don’t like the system, change it from within. Instead, you sit on the sidelines, mocking everything and everyone. Your rebel talk is all just an excuse. You don’t want to admit that you don’t have what it takes to succeed so you try to pull everyone down to your level. Such a waste…”
            Ash began slow-clapping his hands. “Great sales pitch,” he said. “Very slick. The personal attack was a nice touch. Psychiatrists have it so easy, don’t they? Easiest job in the world, digging up dirt on someone. No one’s clean, old man. Everyone’s got secrets. You know why? ’Cause we’re fucking animals, pretending to be something more, some supernatural spirit or steward of the earth or some such bullshit. Look at you! Just look at the state of you, you con artist. You’ve got this power suit on ’cause you’re ashamed of what you really are. You’re a naked ape with a swinging dick. You’ve lost your fur and you stand up straight and you think that makes you a miracle, that your society’s not part of the animal kingdom. Every day, you drive to this skyscraper and it’s taller than any tree, and you talk on the phone, making deals, shaking hands, lying through your teeth to make a buck. Conning yourself, your secretary, your cut-throat colleagues, your boss. Playing your part to fit in. Get this through your chrome dome: you’re an animal who’s skilled at lying, nothing more. So you think I’m a coward and I’m lying to myself? Like you’re so honest and upfront? A real straight-shooter, you are. Yeah, right! Next time you’re playing dress-up, why don’t you try cutting your bullshit deals over the phone while fucking your wife? See if you can keep your story straight then, asshole!”
            “Talk about my wife again and I’ll slam your empty head into the wall.”
            “OK, tough guy. But is that what gentle Jesus would do? You call me a liar, when you lie for a living. Every minute of the day you’re lying, playing the part of the upstanding citizen, the successful businessman and family man. And the second someone rubs you the wrong way, look what happens: you drop your script and threaten to pummel him like a fucking orangutan. You’re the pitiful one, not me.”
            “No, Ash. I’m the happy one. I’ve got a house, a car, a woman who loves me, a satisfying job, a social network of friends and family. I’ve got it all. You’ve got nothing. You are nothing.”
            “Yeah, well I noticed your wife didn’t come first in that little list of your possessions. And you didn’t say you love her back. So you’re fucking someone else, right? Maybe your secretary? Talk about clichés.”
            “What did I say, punk?” Herman’s cheeks flushed and he took a step closer to Ash, making a fist with his right hand.
            “Do it then, old man. And when you’re done beating the shit out of me, and you’re wiping the blood off your hands and looking at your wrinkled face in the mirror, what lie will you tell yourself so you can keep living the dream?”
            Herman backed away, saying, “You’re not even worth it.”
            “No, of course not. I’m nothing at all, not worth listening to because I won’t play dress up with you. I’m not wearing a fancy costume to prance around with you grown-ups in your theater of the absurd. But you are cheating on your wife, right?”
            “I’m not talking about my wife with a degenerate like you.”
            “Why not? What do you care? You’ll never see me again once this elevator lands.”
            “Alright, Ash, I’ll tell you. Like I said, I have it all. I have a loving wife who takes care of my household and who I can talk to about grown-up matters, things you’ll never understand because you’ll be stuck in perpetual adolescence. And I also have mistresses who satisfy my sexual whims. That’s what happens when you’re rich and successful, you see. Things gather around you: friends, possessions, women, wonderful experiences. You become the center of your world and you hold power over all the lesser, orbiting bodies. You become godlike. And if you think we’re just animals, that’s because you’re powerless.”
            “So that’s your little made-up myth, old man? Just an astronomy metaphor and some hackneyed Nietzsche? Maybe you’re not such a good liar, after all. You think people are more powerful than animals? What a joke! Imagine being an elephant stomping through the African fields or a whale gliding past schools of tiny fish or a swarm of army ants taking down everything in its path. Without our tools, most of us couldn’t last a day in the wild. Many animals out there would tear you to pieces. And let me tell you a secret: we don’t control our technology anymore. We’re slaves to it, not the other way around. So your power’s an illusion. In a few decades you’ll have a heart attack and you’ll shuffle off the stage. Your money and your popularity won’t count for anything. All your precious experiences will be forgotten by the time your grandkids have their own delusions to worry about. It’ll be like you never lived at all. You’ll be nothing, just like me.”
            “I see what you did there, Ash. I called you a liar and you replied, ‘Yeah, well so are you!’ But I want to hear you say it. All your nihilistic nonsense is just an excuse because you’re too weak to admit you can’t make it in the real world. Be a man for once and admit what a lowlife you are.”
            “Unlike you, old man, I don’t lie to myself, ’cause I’ve got nothing to lose. I know I’d suck as a businessman, ’cause I can’t lie. I’m not ambitious. I don’t give a rat’s ass what creeps like you think of me.”
            “Trust me, people like me don’t think of you. Not at all.”
            “Yeah, well you’re wrong. I don’t hate society just ’cause I can’t be a big shot. It’s ’cause I don’t fit in that I can stand back and see what’s really going on, without falling for all the lies you tell yourselves.”
            “You don’t know what’s going on. You didn’t even know there’s an election today.”
            “I know some things that matter.”
            “Politics matters.”
            “Not the kind the mainstream media’s always on about.”
            “Why not, because the Illuminati and Freemasons are running the show?”
            “No, but party politics is just an endless tide of tedious spin jobs. I don’t care which clique of amoral liars gets into office. They’ll be as corrupt as the last bunch, ’cause they’re animals with too much power for their own good.”
            “That’s just juvenile sophistry. If it doesn’t matter who’s in charge, why is Canada so much more peaceful and prosperous than most other countries? Why would you rather live here than in some dictatorship? You’re a spoiled brat who’s too proud to thank his elders for doing such a fine job, so you spit on them. It’s just shameful.”
            “And you’re a blind, self-righteous blowhard, old man. Canada is a hotel where people come from all over to milk the US without having to live there. We’re so multicultural ’cause no one here cares about Canadian culture. That’s ’cause there’s no such thing! And what do you call a people with no culture to unite them? Boring, that’s what. And hypocritical too. People like you take pride in the peace and safety here. Meanwhile, most of Canada’s exports go to the US basket case. The Canadian government has an easy job keeping order, ’cause just about everyone here’s lobotomized themselves.”
            “Except you, right? You see everything clearly.”
            “I’m no rocket scientist. But yeah, I don’t fall so easily for the noble lies, old man.”
            The elevator shuddered back to life, before plunging ten floors at free fall speed and then abruptly halting. Herman sat in the corner, sweating profusely and clutching his knees. He reached for his iPhone and his hand shook as he called his wife. “Stephanie?” he said. “It’s me. The elevator just dropped like there was nothing holding it up--I don’t know what happened, but I’m scared. We’re still so high up. I love you, honey.”
            “Isn’t that touching,” said Ash who sat in the opposite corner, sneering at Herman.
            “Shut up, you degenerate! Shut the fuck up or I’ll bash your head in!”
            Ash chuckled.
“No, honey,” Herman told his wife. “There’s just this punk in here with me. He’s not making this easier, let me tell you. I don’t want to talk to him anymore. I just want to talk to you.”
            “Yeah, let her whisper those sweet nothings in your ear,” said Ash. “Then go back to sleep.”


  1. Cool story!

    I like that it doesn't force you to favour one perspective. Both seem to be legitimate in a way (if you disregard that the businessman is cheating his wife).

    1. Thanks! I think it leans towards Ash's viewpoint, but Herman certainly gets his licks in. I'm thinking of writing a Part Two where Herman gets his revenge. After all, the elevator hasn't landed yet.

    2. Looking forward to that :-)

    3. Maybe throw in a third character (somehow) who is old like Herman but has become disillusioned and agrees with Ash. Like moi, LOL!

    4. The only way this could be more entertaining is if you somehow worked in a knife fight...I think the close quarters would make things interesting.

    5. Thanks! If you think this dialogue is entertaining, I hope you'll keep an eye out for my novel. I finished the first draft a few weeks ago. The second draft will be finished within a month or so and then it will be available on Amazon.

  2. Mr. Cain, have you ever read Flight to Arras by Saint-Exupéry? I wanted to challenge your arguments(not only in this post, but in general) with its philosophy, but I'm afraid I cant do it justice(my English is not very good). Since its not a long book to read, may I suggest it as a food for thought, if you happen to have a couple of free hours?

    1. No, I haven't read it, but from the reviews on Amazon it certainly looks interesting. Thanks for the recommendation.

    2. I just realized that book's author also wrote The Little Prince. That book made me cry when I first read it.

  3. Ash has got a nerve! How many pokemon has he enslaved?

    1. Hmm. I'm trying to think of the Ash-Pokemon connection, but I'm coming up empty. That's probably because I don't know much about Pokemon. Is it that it takes a lot of nerve to do well in that game? I honestly don't know what's involved in enslaving Pokemon creatures.

    2. Ash is the main character in the series, an upbeat fellow with a huge ambition/dream to be the best, a champion, etc.

    3. And now wears a "Fuck your god!" T-shirt! Made in China, with the interest of rebels at heart!

      It's just that name - so bad ass, until you skew it over to, well, the protagonist of pokemon cartoons, where it's also a bad ass name but...not quite the same credibility!

  4. In truth, the sky is falling all the time- just on some more than others. Likewise, the experience of youthful...freedom, of sorts, described by Ash isn't necessarily universal (certainly not uniform in duration). Nor the extent to which one can benefit by 'selling-out'.

    While ignoring the limits of electoral politics for many, as well as the nod to bootstrap mythology, it is correct that punk subculture is largely ineffectual as far as change goes. It *can* be of some use to some individuals, but if you don't think that's the limit of what's possible it's lacking (exactly what potential for resistance exists for a given opposition and what is best suited to the situation is weighty matter).

    Naturally, one who is worse-off is more likely to see the need for change. Those who benefit the most from the way things are, on the other hand, unsurprisingly are not as a group going to lead a change that would harm their own position, even if it were to the advantadge of most. And so, if that criterion is important to you (most will at least claim so), that's something to look at.

    Conspiracism as the only option to (let's call it) Civics101: even if you manage to break from the latter, your not as far from it as you think.

    Peaceful and prosperous for whom? In addition to that: no country is an island. What conditions in other parts of the world, past and present, made this possible?