The New Normal

@mimi-siku

I guess you could call it a day in the life of a vandweller. Or the crack of dawn, if you’re feeling particular. Here I am waking up in the back of Moyo. Here I am reaching instinctively for my phone, forgetting that even though I charged it from my travel battery last night, there’s still no Internet due to the blackouts. Here I am, getting out of bed, yawning, stretching, checking my tea box, finding but a single packet of rose hips. That means today’s a grocery shopping day.

Getting the tea brewing, I sling my bathroom tote over my shoulder, grab my flip-flops and towel, and go for a shower. My preference for bathing is a gym or truck stop—they have nicer (albeit more expensive) bathrooms. But those are all closed these days because of the dosequisvirus epidemic. Runners-up: RV parks, campsites, beach showers. In a pinch, I’ve even pulled into a rest stop, connected a hose to an available spigot, and speed-showered right there in the parking lot. Not advisable, but still an option for the desperate. This morning it’s a cheap, bare-bones campground at the edge of town. The outdoor showers are of dubious cleanliness. That’s what the flip-flops are for, though.

I let myself into a stall and get the water running. Oh, if my family could see me now, a lanky, doe-eyed, vandwelling fourteen-year-old lathering his unbridled locks at a pocket-change campsite. I’d never hear the end of it. But hey, this is my life, and I’ve chosen to live it my way. I care what others think for about as long as it takes to remind myself that I don’t, in fact, care at all. Still…if my family could see me now.

I return to Moyo after, put on my loincloth and various obligatory bodily adornments (gotta wear Mimi faithfully), and sit at my desk, sipping tea while poring over a printed roadmap. It’s weird. I was a vandweller and Sikuist pre-DOSVID-19. I was already self-isolating and fundoshi before the power-downs and clothing restrictions started. I already telecommuted to work. I always thought this made me better suited to acclimate to a socially-limited, tech-minimal world, and yet I’m holding my breath along with everyone else and waiting for what, if anything, will come next. And if next is more of the same, then is this the new normal? Mandatory fundoshi? Spray bottles and sheen checks? Rolling power-ons to give the moistened masses just enough juice to charge our phones, check our e-mail, pay our bills—before immediately sending us back into the Dark Ages again? More important: I’ve made a life out of working to unlock SuperMegaNet’s functionality, but will there even be a place for SuperMegaNet in this new normal?

The drive into town takes maybe five minutes. Surprisingly, the Spendco parking lot is completely full, both with cars and customers. I end up finding a spot on the street half a block down and walking the difference. An enormous banner hanging above the main entrance explains all:

SPENDCO GRAND POWERING-ON!
FIRST 100 CUSTOMERS INSIDE GET A FREE TOTE BAG!

Cheesy gimmick. But here I am, one more loinclothed fool standing in the long, winding line (socially distanced, of course) and maintaining his sheen while quietly praying to God there’ll be bottled water, ginger and green tea, some toilet paper available by the time I get inside. On the flip-side, I’m nondescript during the wait. Not that I was ever called out more than every now and then before DOSVID-19. When people think of Sam Huntington, they think of Josh from Being Human, or Jimmy Olsen from Superman Returns—definitely not the kid from Jungle 2 Jungle. Only tween girls who were sexually awakened by Mimi-Siku in the late nineties might know who I am, and they’ve all grown up and/or don’t give a shit about their silly girlhood crushes nowadays. No one recognizes me, no one pays me any attention beyond smalltalk involving cookware or the origin of my crocodile teeth necklace. Which is fine with me.

I keep my eyes on the main entrance, where a projector screen and loudspeaker has been set up. It’s only a few minutes before a Bert Kreischer-looking guy sporting a langot and an iPad (the store manager, I’m assuming) steps beside the screen and addresses the crowd: “Ladies and gentlemen! Thank you for coming out this morning to be a part of Spendco’s grand powering-on!” He taps something out on his iPad; the projection screen switches to a live video feed of an old white guy in overalls and a red baseball cap standing beside an enormously-oversized circuit box. I guess you’re exempt from the fundoshi rule if you’re in utilities. “This is our electrician, George. Why don’t we all tell him good morning?”

The crowd yells, “Good morning, George!”

“I can’t hear you!”

Good morning, George!”

George waves to us, gives the store manager a thumbs-up.

“And it looks like we’re good to go! Are you ready?”

Everyone cheers.

“I said, are you ready?

Everyone cheers some more.

“Light us up, George!” the store manager yells, and turns to watch the projection screen along with the rest of us.

George misses his cue, gives two more thumbs up.

The store manager makes a get-on-with-it motion.

George nods, throws the first switch—

—something sparks.

A thundering explosion sounds at the rear of the store.

The video feed goes overexposed for a moment. When it returns to normal, the crowd gasps collectively, as poor George’s corpse is now cooking vigorously on the floor.

I get maybe a second or two to exchange a bewildered glance with the woman in front of me before Spendco’s facade suddenly bursts into flames.

And all hell breaks loose.

The organized line I’m standing in is instantly transformed into a horrific orgy of clammy folk pushing and shoving and screaming and spray-bottling each other as they attempt to flee the inferno. I shoulder between flailing customers, climb over the hoods of cars, forward-roll between the legs of a seven-foot gentleman panicking in place and screaming at the top of his lungs, “We powered on too soon! We weren’t ready! The gods are enraged!” After an eternity that’s really no more than sixty seconds, I stumble out of the melee and onto the sidewalk, running like the dickens all the way down the block. When I reach my van, I yank the door open and haul myself into the driver’s seat. Keys, ignition, pedal to the metal, and Moyo peels out and away. I catch my breath, check my reflection. My hair’s mussed; there’s someone else’s blood smeared across my face.

And I find myself wondering…

…if the Spendco on the other side of town will have toilet paper.

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