Face-down on my bed, arms and legs splayed, phone clutched wearily in my hand, I swipe through my SMN buddy list. It’s been One of Those Days. I really need to decompress, but my next appointment with Freud is almost a week away, so I’m going to have to settle for the next best thing: Ernie. He may not be the best dispenser of advice, but he does listen…in his own way. I guess.
I download expecting the usual shag carpeting and wood paneling of the Womack household, but instead I find myself at the Taqueria of Lost Souls. Ernie’s seated at the counter. He’s brought his PC, and is scarfing nachos while playing Hella War.
I sit beside him tentatively. “You brought your computer to your taco dealer?”
“Internet’s decent enough,” Ernie replies, “and the food’s way better than what my dusty ol’ grandparents stock our fridge with. Why are you here?”
“Bad day at work.”
“You’re twelve. You don’t have to go to work.”
“You know what I mean. Got a minute?”
“No, but I’m sure they do.” Ernie points at a small gathering of white plastic lawn furniture set off to one side of the taco stand. Five geek-looking dudes have claimed one of the tables, and are looking every bit as morose as the last time I saw them.
“Who are they again?” I ask Ernie.
“Twitterpated, Stood-Up Download Dater, Sexless Gamer, Facebooked, and Self-Published Author.”
“We’re the lost souls after which this taco stand was named #RandomThoughts #404,” Twitterpated clarifies, gazing into the perennial twilight beyond the taqueria’s cactus-lined perimeter.
Ah, that’s right. It’s all coming back to me now.
I walk over to the table; the Lost Souls make room for me to sit.
“What’s on your mind?” asks Facebooked.
“Nightmare clients,” I reply.
Everyone nods in unison.
“The bane of the freelance community,” Author says.
“Yep, been there, done that,” Facebooked adds.
Dater puts his arm around my shoulders. “Spill it, little brother.”
(Over at the counter, Ernie rips a big one, doesn’t bother to excuse himself.)
I clear my throat. “Well, uh…it’s just been a bad week, I guess. I had a client weasel out of payment after I’d delivered their Web site on time and fully functional. Another guy contacted me for a pretty hefty project, and when I gave him a preliminary quote, he told me his last webmaster only charged thirty bucks in 1999, how come prices were suddenly so high a mere twenty years later? Then I had this other client who’d hired me to do a site for her last month, and who insisted on all kinds of free work this week, and if I didn’t do it she was going to go to all her friends and tell them what a shitty human being I am.”
Author nods knowingly. “I once had a ghostwriting client declare bankruptcy and enter the Witness Protection Program to get out of paying me for my work.”
“My clients like to claim they have no recollection of ever having hired me,” adds Gamer.
Dater does a Western accent: “‘Whoa there, Jesse James! If I’d known you were going to charge me for your time, I never would’ve contacted you!’ Direct quote.”
“I had a client who kept sending me boxes of expensive candy in the mail,” says Facebooked. “When I finally insisted on our agreed-upon monetary payment, she told me she was breaking up with me, and that I should go fuck myself.”
Everyone looks at Twitterpated.
Who takes a slow, calculated sip of horchata.
And is totally serious as he says, “I was tech support for a Dalek mothership #truestory #drwho.”