by Casey Michael Henry
Jimmy was a hustler unsure of what the new element would entail. The site was already such a labyrinthine construction; it was almost impossible to tell even at this point who was client, patron, provider, etc. It all got lost in some mass-orgy approximation of pixels. Complaints would inevitably arise that one wasn’t absolutely sure of what ‘the goods’ even looked like: slices of pig’s flesh, melted crayons, images that looked more like sand sculptures than any recognizable anatomy. There was already the problem of Zack the Trick falling into some sort of unforeseen k-hole, his body still lying prone in a back office sprawled over a metallic fold-out chair from IKEA with his fly open, his hand frozen in a sort of mid-crucifixion gesture prompted by what was probably a last-minute libidinal seizure, his head empty as a signified-less brand logo. Jimmy had heard about certain things specific to the project—diodes that were supposedly attached to various parts of the body, signals measured, the lines spiking just as they were being picked up by Phil, The Coven’s computer technician. Before, Phil had just made sure that the various existing IT apparatuses were working, that the email addresses connected, and so on, but now he had taken on the role of something closer to either Scientology auditor or Manhattan chiropractor. He apparently knew how to hook up a single receiver beneath a propped-up tuft of hair to make maximal connection with the porous area beneath. He knew how to apply the gel properly. He knew how to keep distinct and separate the Ethernet cables that had lain dormant in a bottom shelf filing cabinet until an opportunity presented itself, which, in so many words, it had. Now Jimmy saw the full transformation incarnate before him: Phil, formerly of unknown technical community college in Santa Ana, CA, now helping to push Coven Entertainment 2013 LLC, into the full representational glyph of the new millennium.
Jimmy knew this last part because he too had had to drop out of college prematurely. He’d been majoring in Classics—something about reading Plato, about the mind-to-mind tête-à-tête of ancient Athens, always did it for him—until he was forced to drop out to pay the bills, particularly on his poorly stuccoed Mar Vista condo he’d been living in for the past few years. He remembered his meeting with the very encouraging Mark Hopper Sr. of Coven Entertainment, then 2012, after having adopted a certain necessary lifestyle and meeting Mark in a peak of duress under the not most Protestant of circumstances, how Mark had been so reassuring, talked about the possibility for upward improvement, mobility, and staying forever off the streets.
Now, sitting before him again, Mark was about to foist a similar ‘pep talk’ on him but with a more aloof tint. His expression looked almost vaselined. He normally had the unnaturally pleasant face of an accountant neighbor, or local soccer coach, but now there was a degree of separation. He hunched fixedly behind the massive screen of his desktop computer where he managed and oversaw the various arms of his empire—mostly online ventures, things with web cams hooked up in Thailand, fiber optics fused to some high-performing athlete’s thigh, all sorts of abstract viewership opportunities well above Jimmy’s pay grade.
Jim, glad you came in. I know you’re a busy guy, He says, looking up.
It’s no problem. The other guys said you’d been meaning to talk to me? He paused. In fact, to be honest, they’ve become awful secretive recently, based around whatever new program you’re looking to put in place here, though I can’t say I know exactly what that is…
Oh, they always make a much bigger deal of everything than it has to be. Mark leaned back into the receiving micromesh of his armchair. Half of ‘em nearly had an aneurism when I proposed that everyone manage their own little mouse clicker—and no I ain’t talking bout no clitoris neither, har har. Jimmy didn’t laugh. It looked as if Mark didn’t even really expect him to either. And frankly I don’t understand their apprehension. Our line of work has always been at the forefront of all kinds of technological innovation—it’s nothing new. You’re all working in the Silicon Valley of the 21st century, my boy. Everyone’s always chasing our tails. I mean, look at the development of the computer for crissakes. They first thought the CD drive was going to be some sort of circular insertion hole that would put even Big Sanchez to shame.
I’m not sure I follow you. You’re saying we’re getting new computers?
No Jim, not quite.
Mark paused, his fingers steepled. He had the look of a porn entrepreneur of the future. That is, one who self-consciously displayed the characteristics of porn producers past. He always wore a slightly too-big charcoal suit with a wide and slick, possibly satin, tie, the only deviations from his business-lax-look being a small star pinned into his left ear lobe and the ghost of a five o’clock shadow that tended, over time, to verge into something more like ominous midnight.
I take it you’ve probably also been talking to Phil? He said. Getting the diagnostics taken care of, having your vitals processed, all that?
You know I finished all my HIV paperwork before I started here. You know that. Not that it really matters anyways, half our clients being three thousand miles away, on a different continent when we even whip it out and all…
Yes yes, that’s all squared away, we know you’re clean, Jimmy my man, cleaner than the Dutch boy on the polish bottle.
And I’ve never had a problem, you know, uh, keeping up.
Mark spreads his hands. You’re our Clydesdale around here Jim, we all know that. You could probably put the rest of these pantywaisted hustlers out of a job with the vitality of your pinky alone.
Then maybe I don’t know what you’re getting at. What’s the problem again?
Nothing’s wrong, Jim, nothing, but, we’re um, how should I say it… You know in this day and age we’re not limited to the kind of pavement-pounding that our more unfortunate hustling forebears were subjected to for the better part of a thousand years…
It was exactly this sort of Cicero-ish talk that got Jimmy fired up. When Mark verged into the classical rhetoric of drama, of blood and serpents and triumph over mediocrity.
Yeah, I mean, I know now we got all these digital smoke screens and whatnot, and directories of good clients, and don’t really have to deal with them face to face no more and all that…
Right right, we don’t have to freeze the tan right off your ripe young bodies while waiting around outside anymore—it’s not necessary. And even in our line of work, when you all don’t even have to see the fat little centipedes who’re paying to see you guys jiggle your things and still have them staying on the rosters, we’re even farther away. Y’know? We’re not selling sex; we’re selling the idea of sex. We’re selling the third- or fourth- or fifth-degree residual of something that they don’t even know for certain is happening in real time, or could have happened years ago, centuries ago even… we’re in the business of circulating dead things with very alive people. Do you follow me?
I… think so?
Good, good, my boy. But anyways, the question is: what element are we still missing? What are these pale little moles trying to get at when they log on, when their sons and daughters are waiting eagerly to be picked up from the soccer practice in a moment, when they only have about an hour a day to tap into their realest of real desires? What are they actually trying to get at, when they’re watching your little two-dimensional bodies pumping away?
I don’t know, some kind of pay-off like the other johns in real life?
Exactly! Exactly there Jim-o, you hit it on the head: a ‘pay off,’ something tangible, something real if we could even go so far as to use those kinds of loaded terms in a business like ours… They want, even thousands of miles away as you say it, some kind of connection… some kind of vibration…
So this is what Phil’s been working on, or talking to the guys about?
Mark smiled, the murky smear of facial hair shifting into an intentional pattern.
That’s why I liked you Jimmy boy, you were always quicker than the others. Yes, Phil and I have been pioneering some things, something Phil was picking up on at his media theory classes down there at Santa Ana Community. Something that’s going to be the hottest thing since online poker, but as you’ve no doubt noticed, it also requires something of a new way to appraise the health and readiness of our stock here.
So what are we doing? Or I guess I should ask what are you offering the clients, that we need to be ready for?
Don’t worry, we’re not gonna torture-porn you delicate snowflakes to death. The thing is, we’ve got to catch up to our competitors, our real competitors. You can already pay your bail online, and choose the features of your surrogate online, so why not have the other elements of livelihood and health ready and available and even leaning towards three-dimensional actuality? I mean, you can kill a fucking orc for crissakes before you can see an accurately rendered body, nude and prostrate.
So you’re saying we’re going to add some kind of new dimension online? You’re gonna have me fuck an avatar or something? Cuz I’m not sure I’m down with that.
Well that’s the thing—that’s why we’re trying to get the new specs on you, things that are important for the new system we’re trying to implement. Just like how you clock in now, you’re going to be clocking in a different way. It’s going to be much easier for you all actually. No working out, no carb-stripping routines, not even any of those nasty mat burns—it’s going to be the ultimate employment arrangement. I’m gonna be like the Karl fuckin’ Marx of hustlers around here, I tell ya.
Listen, Mark, forgive me, but aside from all this bullshit, what are we actually gonna be doing? In layman’s terms?
Oh you’ll see, Jimmy my boy, things you didn’t even know the body was capable of. New contortions, new extensions. Just look at this puny muscle here—
He reached over the desk to grab Jimmy’s sizable forearm.
This is going to be nothing. Like air, like… like children’s cotton candy. Imagine if you had fifty biceps, fifty arms, fifty asses, whatever you want, twenty feet tall, thirty, your partner’s also not quite the sad little gym instructor or yoga teacher or DMV attendant they are in real life—they’re succubi with mouths of roving teeth! Golem-like giants with toes made of dicks! A hell of sparkling pixels, oh, a beautiful hell… He said, his eyes glazing over.
Jimmy laid, limbs stretched out and locked accordingly into what looked like a decommissioned dentist’s chair. He wore only a well-cut pair of Calvin Klein briefs, a small digital clamp latched to his index finger measuring his blood pressure. Last time he had been somewhere like this they had had to shave him entirely before checking him in. At this point in his life he was already shaved; there was no need. Phil, sweating in a yellowed lab coat, was working at a small station nearby.
Now don’t worry about this too much, man, Phil said. I’ll be gentle. I know you guys are sensitive. Real delicate and everything.
I’m not being sarcastic, I’m honestly going to try to make this, uh, no big deal. No puncturing or whatever. I’m sure you’ve dealt with worse.
Of course. It’s my job. Jimmy stared on stoically.
I mean, I’ve seen some of your gymnastics, man. That shit is crazy. It’s like Belladonna meets David Blaine.
Yeah, well, it takes a certain amount of skill and preparation. They pay me for a reason.
You just wait, Phil said, the excitement visible on his face, his brows slimed with sweat. He had the sort of pasty face that would appear artificial if it didn’t actually reveal the accumulated traces of a lifetime of cowerings and winces. This is going to put you in a whole ‘nother category altogether. Those shitty big city hustlers will look like paraplegics next to you, no contest. He continued massaging oil onto a unfurled pad.
Jimmy couldn’t say he wasn’t nervous. He had heard of new procedures in the industry, or just the body modification world in general, that didn’t exactly favor the practitioner. Modifications injected into the skin as a unit, sometimes cleared first with a scalpel. Things that didn’t have anything to do with one’s own personal pleasure, that was all about sale-value, about possible added dimensions for the customer. Vaginal deepening. Phallic extensions with a sort of triple-divided blade stuck to the end that looked like a rotary toothbrush. They were capable of inhuman additions that would take a week to recover from. An ecstasy comedown for the ligaments and the soul.
It’s gonna be an entirely new playing field and pay grade, and you’ll be on the front line.
Yeah, the first fucking monkey under the knife I bet, Jimmy thought.
And you won’t even have to lift a finger, Phil continued. A literal finger, I mean.
Jimmy laid back and tried to relax. He knew somehow the other connections of the machine would have to be hooked up, and he would feel things that he didn’t want to, at least temporarily. Not only the localized tension of the individual attachments, but what they meant, what it caused beneath the skin they were attached to.
It’s going to be a next level thing, this entire mechanism. The old version of sex is going to look like the erotic equivalent of vomitoriums, or blood letting, or any other weird old archaic stuff we look at and say pfff, what were those savages actually thinking?
Jimmy thought about the kid he was still paying child support for in Venice Beach. How he wasn’t even allowed in the house anymore. How he had to leave packages outside and call his ex afterwards to tell her that something was there so it wouldn’t get rained on or stolen. He never even got to see the door open or a hand pull it inside.
A whole new thing, I tell ya. You’re all going to be the fuckin’ rock stars and deities of the new millennium.
Jimmy reflected how, contrary to what he thought when he was once an athlete, or in the job he was doing now, he couldn’t even really provide with his physical ability alone. It was a farce, a joke. It always ended up someone else taking his money, his DNA, his livelihood. It was all an elaborate stick-up.
You have a real opportunity for change, big guy— Phil was now hitting the last of the buttons on the electronic console next to him, untangling a few yellow cords that looked like jumper cables, —a brand new you. Don’t even think about your old pleasures and conquests; they’re gonna feel like preschool diddling next to this.
And yeah, Jimmy thought, as he put his hand forward for every other un-occupied finger to be taken up with a small, gnawing pincer on the fingernail, why the fuck shouldn’t I give it up, this mortal coil and shit, hasn’t served me much, and I’m already pushing forty, almost middle age. He felt a sharp, acute sense of joining as a metal-rimmed suction cup, or otherwise intubating funnel, was latched to his groin, thinking of his old sex life, of a girl he could actually say he loved in ninth grade, that feeling forever unfamiliar afterwards.
It’s just going to feel like how the television feels after the station has been turned off, how it feels just beyond that.
He flipped the switch.
Casey Michael Henry is a writer based in NYC. His work has previously appeared in The New Yorker’s Page-Turner, Bookforum, The Paris Review Daily, Riot of Perfume magazine, The Brooklyn Rail, and The Fanzine, among other venues.
Image credit: Dmitry G via Creative Commons.