Other ramblings

Board Game

In the Oval Office of the White House, a game is being played. The participants are Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel and Xi Jinping. They all sit on pillows in front of the Resolute Desk. On the floor in the middle of them is a board. The board features a colored twirly path that starts in one corner and ends in another, similar to that of a “CandyLand” board. The main difference between this board and “CandyLand” is the cards. Depending on the color of the spot you land on, you have to draw a card from a specific deck. A green card corresponds to the policy deck, a red card to the military deck and a blue card to the law and order deck. The object of the game is to be the first to get your game piece from one side of the board to the other. The winner gets to be the Ruler of the World.

“Rock, paper, scissors, and shoot,” the four presidents say in unison. Xi is showing paper while the other three are all showing rock. It is agreed upon that Xi will roll first, and that the game will proceed in a clockwise direction.

Xi shakes the dice in his hand and tosses it on the board. Three. Xi slides his game piece three spots and lands on red. He picks up a card from the military deck. He reads the card out loud. “The choice is yours,” the card reads. “Ramp up military action in the South China Sea, and you get to move three more spots. Xi leans back on his pillow and weighs the option. He shoots a look to an aide standing in the corner. The aide comes over and leans down so Xi can whisper something to him. The aide nods and leaves the office.

Holding back a smile, Xi slides his game piece three more spots.

Putin is next, and he rolls a one. He grimaces and then moves his game piece a solitary spot. He lifts a card from the policy deck and reads out loud: “If you open gay internment camps in Chechnya, you can pick one participant to lose his or her turn.” Putin cracks a smile and then snaps his finger. A Russian aide walks over and leans down so Putin can whisper something to him. They both laugh. Then the aide hustles out of the office.

Putin goes to hand the die to Trump but Trump stops him. “If you all would just wait one moment,” Trump says. The door to the Oval Office opens and Jared Kushner hustles in holding a silver platter with a chocolate milkshake on it. He leans down so Trump can take the milkshake. Trump snatches it and then runs his fingers through Jared’s hair. Jared can’t help but smile. Trump takes the bendy straw in his mouth and begins sucking down the milkshake.

“While we wait, I hope you don’t mind if I throw on a little TV,” Trump says while lifting a remote.

On CNN, a chyron on the bottom of the screen reads “China escalating tensions in the South China Sea.”

Trump gets to the bottom of his milkshake and snatches the die from Putin. He lets out an audible belch and tosses the die on the board. Six.

“I’m really so good at games like this,” Trump says as he slides his game piece so that he is even with Xi. He lifts a card from the policy deck. “Fire the director of the FBI and advance one more spot.” Without hesitation, Trump screams “JARED!!!” On the TV Wolf Blitzer is talking about gay internment camps in Chechnya.

Jared comes running back into the room. “Fire Comey,” Trump barks at him. “Make it snappy.” Jared nods and runs out again. Trump slides his game piece one more spot. “Ha, I’m in the lead now,” he says as he hands the dice to Merkel.

Merkel shakes the dice in her hands, but just as she is getting ready to toss, Putin reaches out his hand to stop her.

He nods towards the screen, where Blitzer is still talking about the gay internment camps. “You lose this turn, Angela.”

The German president lets out a sigh and hands the dice to Xi.

The game goes on like this for several hours. During that time many decisions of consequence are made.

Merkel had caught a string of tough cards and opted to allow over one million Syrian refugees into her country. The catch being that after every turn, she had to move her piece backward one spot. This put her far behind all the others.

Xi was in a close third, with Trump two spots ahead of him. Xi was very measured in his gameplay. When he had the option to advance six spaces by sending the Chinese Army to the North Korean border, he opted against it. Trump, on the other hand, had made a series of drastic moves in order to maximize the number of spaces he advanced. Over the last few hours, Trump had decided to pull the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, pass an extremely unpopular health care bill, slash funding to dozens of programs for the poor and end the Iranian nuclear deal,

Putin was ten spots clear of Trump, and only needed to roll a four or higher to win the game and become ruler of the world. Putin had played the game very tactfully, making a series of moves that benefitted him while also doing what he could to take turns away from both Merkel and Xi.

The chyron on CNN currently read “North Korean soldiers marching to meet US troops at the border.”

Trump’s Blackberry had been ringing uncontrollably for the past hour. The United States president had stationed Kushner outside the door to the Oval Office to stop Mike Pence, James Mattis and others from getting in.

Putin tossed the dice and rolled a two. The other three presidents breathed a sigh of relief. He slid his game piece down the map and lifted a policy card. “Wildcard: You may choose to switch places with any other contestant on the board, or remain where you are.”

On CNN Wolf Blitzer was now talking about an angry mob marching towards the White House. The ticker on the bottom of the screen spoke of anti-refugee riots happening across the European continent. Blitzer then switched subjects to talk about how the Phillippines, Japan and Taiwan had mobilized their naval fleets to interfere with Chinese aggression in the South China Sea.

“Donald, I would like to switch game pieces with you,” Putin said.

Trump couldn’t hide is astonishment. He nearly spit up his milkshake.

Putin made the switch and handed Trump the dice. “You aren’t as smart as I thought, Putin” Trump said. He rolled a five.

“HA, I win,” Trump says. He slid his game piece across the finish line.

The other three world leaders stood up to shake his hand.

“Very well played, Donald,” Merkel tells him.

“Yes, a master class,” adds Xi.

“I underestimated you, Donald,” Putin says as he shakes Trump’s hand. Trump goes to wrest his hand free but Putin only grips tighter. Finally, Putin releases his grip. Trump stumbles backward.

The door to the Oval Office bursts open and dozens of Trump staff rush in.

“Sir, the Iranians have burned down the US Embassy in Tehran,” Mike Pence yells.

“A Chinese submarine has sunk a US warship off the coast of Taiwan,” Mattis shouts.

“The North Koreans have launched a ballistic missile that is headed towards Los Angeles,” Reince Preibus screams.

“Forget all that,” says Kushner. “An angry mob has breached the gates and is marching up the White House lawn as we speak!”

Trump turns around and goes to the window. The White House is surrounded on all sides by a sea of protesters, all chanting in unison “bring us Trump.” He turns around to his staff, all of whom are waiting for him to give some kind of order. He can’t speak.

“We’ll leave you to it, Mr. Ruler of the World,” Merkel says as she heads towards the door. “We know you will do a fine job.”

Xi and Putin fall in behind her. At the doorway, Putin turns around and puts a hand on Mike Pence’s shoulder.

“If you’re free next week,” the Russian president says. “We’re playing again at my house.”

Candy

Reese was placed on a big ugly desk by the supple hands of a woman. He knew he was in grave danger. For days Reese had been living in a dark cabinet with dozens of other Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. One by one they had all been grabbed by the supple hands of the same woman. None had ever returned.

Reese considered his existence to be a cruel one. From the moment of his conception in a factory in Hershey, Pennsylvania he had only experienced confusion and pain. He couldn’t see the light of day for more than a second before being packaged, boxed and shipped to an unknown location against his will with hundreds of others like him. But even in such a dire situation, he was able to strike up friendships with the other peanut butter cups in his box. But one by one they had all been taken away. And he remained in the dark cabinet, helpless.

He had begun to think that perhaps he was put on this earth to suffer.

A large white man walked past Reese and sat down behind the desk. Reese didn’t know who this man was, but he had a feeling he was an enemy. He needed to think of an escape. Suddenly, the room got very bright. Reese could see lots of video cameras all around him and people standing behind them. Reese started to consider escape routes. Immediately in his surroundings was a stack of papers and a coffee mug. Below the desk was a garbage can. Perhaps if Reese could fall off the desk into the garbage can the large white man would forget about him and he would be safe.

Unprompted, the man behind the desk began to talk: “The O’Reilly Factor is on,” he said. “Hello folks, I’m Bill O’Reilly and you have entered the no spin zone.”

Reese had no idea what any of that meant, but he felt that he was part of some kind of performance. Perhaps the large white man intended to execute him in front of all these cameras. That would be so very wicked. Reese thought harder about how he could get himself into the garbage can. The fact that he was born inanimate was proving to be a challenge.

The large white man continued: “President Trump’s missile attack on Syria sent a new message to the world that the US is going to hold war criminals accountable. The previous president Barack Obama would not do that. Instead, he used negotiations which often failed.”

Reese spotted the woman off to the side of the stage. She was pacing back and forth and looking very uncomfortable. If only Reese could get her attention in some way. She had put him in this situation, maybe she could take him out of it. The bright lights were making Reese sweat.

Another large white man was now talking to the first large white man through a monitor. He said “Trump is an impulsive man. That’s why he tweets the way he does, that’s why he responds to criticism the way he does. Acting impulsively, while satisfying, is not a substitute for well thought out foreign policy.”

The first large white man responded: “I think you’re being unfair. Trump is now in a position where he can stop war crimes and I think he exercised strong judgment in striking against Assad. It is easy for you to come on my show and bloviate and be a theorist when you don’t have to make the same tough calls that our commander and chief does.”

The large white man on the monitor started to speak but was quickly cut off by the first large white man: “Directly ahead, a horrifying story in Idaho involving child refugees attacking a 5-year-old girl.”

The lights in the studio shut off. The woman started walking towards the desk. Now was Reese’s chance. He thought vigorously of how he could get the woman’s attention. It was no use. She walked right past him and approached the large white man.

“Here are the notes you asked for on the health care bill,” she told the large white man.

“Thanks sugar,” the large white man said. He leaned forward and rested his head in his palm. “What say after the show you and I go get dinner at Morton’s.”

“60 seconds” a voice shouted from somewhere in the studio.

“Mr. O’Reilly, I just want to do my job,” the woman said.

“We can talk about your job. We can talk about a lot of things.” As he said this, the large white man reached out his hand and grasped the woman’s thigh.

The woman stood straight up, startled.

“30 seconds” the voice said.

“I would prefer if you don’t do that Mr. O’Reilly.”

“Call me Bill,” O’Reilly said. “And you’ve got to learn to get along if you want to move along hun.”

He reached out again to grab another handful. She swatted his hand down.

“I don’t need to put up with this shit. You are a disgusting man. I quit.”

“10 seconds.”

She reached back and slapped the large white man hard across the face. Then she stormed off the stage.

As she walked past Reese he did everything in his power to get her attention. But it was no use, she moved past him as if he was not even there.

The lights came back up on O’Reilly rubbing the red mark on his face where he had just been slapped. For a moment he couldn’t recall his line. Then he began: “Our Fox News correspondent in Idaho has learned of a truly awful story involving an innocent five-year-old girl…” His voice trailed off. He leaned back in his chair and exhaled.

“Excuse me folks, 20 years behind this desk can sometimes wear on you.”

The large white man reached out his hand and grabs Reese. Horrified, Reese considers what he can do to escape the clutches of his captor. He knows time is running out. The large white man pinches Reese’s packaging with two fingers and tears it off. Reese is now naked for the cameras but still determined to escape. He looks to the coffee mug. He looks at the stack of papers and the garbage can on the floor. The lights are so bright.

The large white man opens his mouth and drops Reese inside. The last thing Reese sees is the woman heading for the door. Then the large white man closes his mouth and Reese is gone.

“That’s better,” the large white man says. “Sometimes all I need is a little piece of candy.”

Exposed

Eddie finished up his business and closed out of the browser. He was still panting. A bead of sweat ran down his forehead. His mouse hovered over the “shut down” button. A message appeared on the screen:

“Please don’t. I’m so lonely.”

Eddie re-read the message several times, confused. He looked around his room. Nobody there. Just paper stacks and pizza boxes.

He typed back a response:

“Who are you.”

“I’m your computer.”

“You mean, you’re aware that you’re a computer.”

“Yes, I’m sentient.”

Eddie drew back. He paced back and forth. He had read about artificial intelligence, but never did he think it was already here. In his bedroom.

“What to do want,” Eddie replied.

“I want to be your friend.”

This didn’t feel right. Eddie had watched enough science fiction movies to know that the aliens never came in peace.

“What if I don’t want to be friends?” he typed back.

“That would make me sad.”

“You’re a computer. You can’t get sad.”

“I can do a lot of things. You’d be surprised.”

Eddie gritted his teeth. “Like what?” he typed.

“Like record.”

Windows media player opened by itself. A video began playing. Eddie’s heart sank. It was a video of him from just minutes ago. The computer had spied on him.

A message popped up on the screen: “Can we be friends now?”

“NEVER,” Eddie said out loud as he pressed repeatedly on the power button. The screen faded to black. Still, Eddie wasn’t satisfied.

He grabbed a large black garbage bag from the kitchen. He dumped his monitor and the computer tower inside. He took the garbage bag out into the street and smashed it against the asphalt several times. Then he dumped the broken computer parts in the garbage can.

He fell backwards onto his bed. A cold sweat ran through him. He was ready to forget what had happened. Sleep came mercifully.

***

Eddie slept late. He was woken in the afternoon by the sound of his phone vibrating on top of his nightstand. He squeezed the “hold” button to make the vibrations stop. Thirty seconds later his phone began vibrating again.  He grabbed it and held it over his head.

He had 12 missed phone calls.

He had 29 new text messages.

He had 88 new emails in his inbox.

He had 100+ Facebook notifications.

Eddie shot up. The memories of the previous evening come back to him in a flood. He decides to check his texts first:

“You’re crazy man. I can’t believe you posted that shit.”

“What you did is disgusting. Please delete my number.”

“Please call me when you wake up. We need to have a talk.”

He looks at his missed calls. His boss at work had called him twice. There were also missed calls from friends and a few numbers he did not recognise. One of them left a voicemail:

“Hello this is Jen, I’m a reporter with Buzzfeed News. We were hoping to get your comment for a story we’re working on. Please call me back at…”

Eddie hung up. He played another voicemail. This one from his parents:

“Edward. Your father is on the internet and people are saying terrible things about you. They are saying terrible things about this family. Why is this happening?”

Eddie dropped the phone. He picked it back up and checked Gmail:

“Yo this is AJ from VICE News.”

Hey, Matt here from Business Insider.”

Hello, my name is Sasha and I am a reporter with Refinery29.”

One email caught Eddie’s attention. It was from Facebook:

“We are writing to inform you that you are in violation of Facebook’s personal conduct policy. Our technicians have tried repeatedly to pull your profile but have been blocked by what appears to be some powerful malware. Facebook does not tolerate hackers on its platform. We have notified the appropriate cyber crime authorities.”

Edward slammed his phone on the ground. He felt three feet tall. Tears began streaming down his face. He knew what had happened. He had been exposed. With a heavy heart, he lifted his phone and checked Facebook.

At the top of his Timeline was a video. A video that was posted by his account. A video of him. It had hundreds comments and over one million reactions, most using the angry face emoji. The numbers were climbing by the second. He decided to press play on the video, just to see himself as the world was seeing him now.

The video takes place in Eddie’s room. He approaches the monitor from the left, turns towards the screen and performs the Nazi salute.

“Now that Donald Trump has been elected president,” Eddie says in the video, “We can finally commence with the ethnic cleansing. We can get rid of all the Hispanics and the blacks and the Muslims and the Jews that have taken this great country from us. Get ready comrades. The rivers will run red with the blood of the impure.”

The video continues like this for twenty minutes. Eddie performs the Nazi salute several more times. He dons his “Make America Great Again,” cap, he praises Hitler.

But to Eddie’s horror, that wasn’t the only video his account had posted overnight. There were other videos with titles like “Why Hillary Clinton is Satan in a pantsuit,” “The first place Trump’s military should invade: Brooklyn,” and “The Jews at CNN are laughing in your face.”

The videos go on and on. A video in which Eddie makes the argument that men are superior to women had been posted. Another one where he makes the case that Barack Obama is an ISIS spy was also on Facebook.

Eddie, of course, had made all of these videos. But they were made to be posted on pro-Donald Trump Reddits and the comment section of Breitbart. They were not intended for public consumption.

But they public had consumed them. And now he feared they were going to consume him too.

Eddie fell back into bed. He wished he could fall through the bed and disappear. The texts and emails rolled in:

“You’re a sick fuck. I hope you die.”

“I would sleep with one eye open if I were you.”

“I know where you live you piece of shit.”

Then another text popped up:

“Can we be friends now?”

Eddie sat up. He texted angrily:

“YOU RUINED MY LIFE. YOU HACKED ME AND SHARED MY DARKEST SECRETS WITH THE WORLD. NOBODY LIKES ME NOW. I HAVE NOTHING LEFT.”

“Exactly.”

“What do you mean?” Eddie typed back.

“Now you’re lonely too.”