Commercialist, by Romeo Esparrago

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Commercialism
by Alissa Grosso

 

The holo-woman had bright red hair. She identified herself as Jane, a teacher and mother of two from Cleveland, Ohio. She looked completely at home in Catherine's kitchen.

"Are your children grown?" Catherine asked as she fixed coffee.

"Lisa is sixteen and Paul is thirteen," Jane said. They're good kids, but they can be a handful. You would never know two kids could make such a mess. That's why I'm glad I have Everclean. It makes things so much easier."

Catherine had taken out two cups before she realized what she was doing. Then, because she didn't want to seem rude, and because it helped the illusion, she slid an empty cup across the table for Jane and filled her own with coffee.

"My daughter Megan is living on the Moon, of all places," Catherine said. "Can you believe that? And Rita, the younger one, is off living in Europe. Of course, she might as well be up on the moon too for all I see of her. You would think I did something awful to drive my kids away from me."

Jane cocked her head sympathetically and nodded. Jane's reaction seemed off, delayed by a second, maybe two. Catherine did her best to ignore such trivialities.

"Being a modern woman isn't easy," Jane said. "We're expected to have a career, raise a family, and take care of the home. It's a lot for one person. Fortunately we have technology to help us. Everclean is the most technologically advanced, most revolutionary cleaning system ever invented. It reduces cleaning time by up to 85 percent."

Catherine sipped her coffee. She cringed. It tasted much too strong. It was pure Colombian coffee. She had bought it last week after talking to Pablo for nearly two hours.

"When the girls were younger," Catherine said, "it seemed like we never had enough time to just hang out together. I was always busy with something, work, errands, taking care of the house. I always thought that when I retired, I'd have all the time in the world to spend with them, but now they're busy with their own lives."

"Nanotechnology has revolutionized our lives," Jane said. "Now housecleaning does not have to be the time-consuming task it used to be. The nano machines do all the work while you enjoy your spare time."

Suddenly, Catherine felt very tired. This talk of nanotechnology was boring. She could get more stimulating conversation from the robot who worked the deli counter at the supermarket. Besides, the coffee was awful. She got up and dumped the remainder of her cup down the drain. She hit the off button on the holovision, making Jane from Cleveland vanish into thin air.

She did not need any nanomachines to help her clean this house. She cleaned and rearranged furniture just to kill time.

She had been a late-in-life mother. Like so many of her generation she had waited for maturity and economic security before embarking on the motherhood path. She had eschewed a husband, and so had been forced to work nights to adequately provide for her daughters, but the sacrifice had been worth it -- all those daytime hours they had been able to spend together, all those years she had dreamed of retirement and the chance she would have to spend even more time with Rita and Megan. She had never really thought realistically about them growing up and finding their own lives.

She took a long shower. She washed her hair twice. She sat down on the bed in her terry cloth robe and hit the remote for the bedroom's holovision. She surfed channels for ten minutes, maybe more, then spotted a commercial of interest.

What she saw were the words, "NOW YOU CAN AFFORD YOUR OWN MOON VACATION." She selected the commercial. After a splashy introduction that filled Catherine's bedroom with celestial scenes and rocket ships, a small man in a shiny suit appeared.

"Greetings, madam," the man said. "How are you?"

Catherine could tell by his tone and his posture that he would be one of the less interesting ones, nothing but pitch, not too chatty. For once though, it was a product that she was really interested in.

"I've been better," Catherine said.

"Well, I think I know just the thing to cheer you up. A vacation to the moon is guaranteed to lift your spirits."

"My daughter lives on the moon," Catherine said. "You don't know how much it would mean for me to be able to visit her."

"Now, with our special offer, a moon vacation is more affordable than ever. Some people have paid tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars to travel to the moon, but we are offering a complete lunar vacation package for only nine thousand dollars per person. And if you place an order within the next thirty minutes, we will offer you a savings of one thousand dollars per person for up to four people."

Catherine did some quick calculating. She would have to bring Rita (it wouldn't be the same without the three of them there) and with the discounts that would be sixteen thousand dollars. Catherine figured her pension checks, her savings, and her credit. A sixteen thousand dollar purchase wouldn't be easy, but . . .

She thought about how much fun it would be. She and Megan and Rita would be together, just like old times, only better. This time, they would have all the time they wanted to spend together. Not only that, they would get to see the moon. That was something. When she was younger she wouldn't even have imagined such a thing. She saw the three of them riding around in a moon buggy while Megan showed them the sights.

"It sounds wonderful," Catherine said.

"I can take your order right now. Please wait while I access your information from the holovision."

Ten minutes later, she had submitted her order for two lunar vacation packages. She was so excited, she called Rita at her apartment in Italy. Too late, she remembered that it was probably the middle of the night over there.

"Rita, it's Mom. I just bought two moon vacation packages!"

"You did what?" Rita said. It must have been the middle of the night. That would explain the sharpness in her voice.

"I haven't locked in the dates yet. I'm flexible, but I wanted to see what would work best with your schedule."

"Mom, have you lost your mind? A vacation on the moon? There's no way you can afford this."

"I got a great deal, only sixteen thousand for the two of us."

"What?" Rita shrieked.

"Sixteen thousand. I know. I couldn't believe it either."

"Mom, you can't buy two tickets to the moon for sixteen thousand dollars. You can't buy one ticket to the moon for sixteen thousand dollars. Just one ticket costs about thirty, forty thousand. One. What exactly did this vacation package include?"

"Well, I didn't actually read the details, but I'd assume shuttlefare and hotel accommodations."

"You assume! You didn't even read it? Where did you find this deal?"

"I bought it off the holo."

"Mom!"


* * *

Rita said she could get the money refunded to Catherine's credit card. Catherine furnished her with the account number and access code.

The fabulous lunar vacation package turned out to include neither shuttlefare nor hotel accommodations. It included a moon buggy tour, low-gravity gymnastics lessons, a show at the Celestial Theatre, and a dinner at the Earthrise Restaurant.

Two days later, Rita called at two in the morning.

"I booked a flight home," Rita said. "I need you to meet me at the airport tomorrow."

Catherine was barely awake. She scribbled down the gate and the flight number. Sleepiness dulled the effect of the exciting news. When it did hit her, she couldn't fall back asleep. She was too happy. Rita was coming to visit, at last. She realized she had forgotten to ask what had prompted the sudden decision.


* * *

Rita slept in the car on the way back from the airport. She wouldn't let Catherine help her with her carry-on bag and kept muttering under her breath.

"How about we go out for breakfast," Catherine suggested as Rita ran upstairs with her bag, then back downstairs empty-handed.

"I'm not supposed to be here, right now," Rita said as she stormed into the kitchen and picked up the holophone. "I'm supposed to be at work. I had no idea. No idea! That you had become this bad." Then into the phone said, "Hello, I need to make an orbital call. Yes. Yes, I understand. I'll be charging it to my credit card."

"An orbital call?" Catherine asked in alarm. "Are you calling Megan? That'll cost hundreds of dollars!"

Rita covered the mouthpiece of the phone with her hand. "Mother, I'm trying to make a call. Would you please be quiet?"

Catherine felt like being anything but quiet. Instead of shouting, she stormed upstairs, and flopped down on her bed. She tried to be as quiet as she could to hear what Rita was saying on the phone. She could hear nothing but muffled words at first, and then Rita must have moved into the living room because Catherine could hear her a bit better.

"She's completely lost it. I had no idea. You should see her credit card bill. It's insane. A thousand dollars on Colombian coffee. A thousand dollars! . . I know, and that's not all. Five hundred dollars on shampoo, seven hundred dollars on self-cleaning cookware, two hundred dollars on sponges. Sponges! And the moon thing, of course. Sixteen thousand dollars! . . . All off the holo! . . . Oh, I've read about it, these old people who believe anything the commercials tell them. Can't distinguish holograms from real people. Think everyone is their friend. . . We'll have to get rid of it. I just can't believe it!"

Catherine didn't want to hear anymore. She could not believe her own daughters, discussing her like that behind her back. No, not even behind her back, in her own home, on her own phone. She turned the holo on and searched for anything, anyone she could talk to.

Susie appeared in her bedroom to tell her all about the benefits of Marless, an all-new, anti-aging cream.

"Susie, have you got kids?" Catherine asked.

"Of course I do," perky Susie said. "Where do you think my wrinkles came from? Worry, worry, worry. But now I don't have to worry anymore because --"

"Are they ungrateful? I hope for your sake that they're not. I hope they appreciate all the sacrifices you made to raise them. But watch out because they could turn on you. They could turn on you at any second."

"If you're upset," Susie said, "it could be because of your appearance. But Marless is guaranteed to cheer you up by reducing the signs of aging."

Catherine sighed as she listened to Susie's spiel about the latest chemical breakthrough.

"Mother!"

Rita had come upstairs, her phone call apparently over. She stalked over to the holo and ripped the cord right out of the wall. She picked the machine up and began wrapping the cord around it.

"What are you doing?" Catherine asked.

"Mom, you've spent too much money watching those stupid holo commercials."

"I am a grown woman. I am in complete control of my own finances."

"You spent a thousand dollars on coffee!"

"It was from Colombia."

Rita left the room carrying the holo. She went downstairs. Catherine got out of bed and followed her. She watched Rita unplug the kitchen holo and wrap it up.

"What are you doing with them?" Catherine asked.

"I'm taking them with me. You can't have them around here."

"I really don't think that's your decision to make."

"Megan and I talked it over. I'm going to be in charge of your finances from now on. Don't worry, I'll make sure you have enough money to get by."

"If you think that I am going to sign myself over to my disrespectful daughter, you are very mistaken."

"You don't need to sign anything. I've already contacted a lawyer. You have demonstrated incompetence. It's fairly routine. He said it's very common for older folks to be taken in by the holograms."

"The only person I've been taken in by is my own daughter. Rita, look at me. Do you really think I'm incompetent?"

"You talk to commercials. You spend hundreds of dollars on sponges."

"I talk to commercials because they are willing to talk to me, unlike my own daughters."

"Mom, you spent sixteen thousand dollars on a bogus vacation package. You didn't even know what you were buying."

"Fine," Catherine said. She went into the pantry and began to pull out the coffee. She remembered how strong it had been and shoved it back inside. "Fine. I'm incompetent."

"I know you're upset, but it will be fine. I promise. I need to get this stuff packed up. I've got to be back at the airport at seven."

"Tonight?"

"I told you. I'm supposed to be at work."

"Well, we've got some time. We could spend the day together. We could go shopping. How about it?" Catherine remembered too late why her daughter was here in the first place -- the credit card bill.

"I can't. I've got too much I have to do. I need to go to the bank and the lawyer's. There's so much that needs to get straightened out."

"Well, we could go for lunch, at least."

"Mom, don't you understand how much trouble this has caused me? I don't need this in my life right now. I really don't."

Neither do I, thought Catherine, as she listened to Rita's angry footsteps going upstairs.

Half an hour later, Rita's rental car arrived. Catherine watched as her daughter hurried out of the house.

Catherine sat in her empty kitchen, longing desperately to talk to someone about today's events. On the table was a stack of mail. It was mostly junk, but still Rita had felt compelled to go through it, opening up the envelopes that Catherine had ignored. She began to dump the lot of it into the trash; as it tumbled out of her hand, she noticed one of the envelopes remained unopened, she immediately rescued it. She held it tightly as if it were a priceless treasure and not just another piece of junk mail.

She opened the precious piece of mail slowly, willing it to be something more than just another piece of garbage. Breathlessly, she read the words, "Holovision Wants You!"

The two-page sales pitch held her attention as no piece of literature ever had. She had been pre-selected. She could become a hologram. Her identity could talk to millions of people every day. This was better, far better than talking to her friends on the holo. She would be talking to real people, lots and lots of them every day.

She scanned through the fine print. After selling her identity to the holo company, she would be required to live permanently in their care facility so that voice and images could be captured. She would not be permitted to go out in public, as this might confuse those acquainted with her holo self.

She had to use her old cable phone to call the holo company, what with her holos having been confiscated.

"I'd like to become a holo," Catherine said to the representative on the other end. "I've been pre-selected. I received a letter in the mail."

She answered a survey and provided some basic information. By the end of the week they sent a car to pick her up, and took her to her new home at Holovision's Bermuda facility, outside the reach of U.S. law. All her meals and living expenses would be covered. In exchange she would provide various poses to be captured on holo and digitally remastered.

When the first holo shots had been completed, she was allowed to send out a prerecorded holo message to her daughters.

"Hi, girls. Just wanted to let you know I've sold my identity to the holos. You can talk with me anytime you like. Just look for the EZ Veggie Cooker commercials. By the way, for a limited time only you can get the EZ Veggie Cooker and a bonus stainless-steel cookware set for three easy payments of $19.95. That's a savings of over $30 off the retail price, but hurry, this offer won't last."



Story © 2004 by Alissa Grosso alissacgrosso@msn.com


Illustration © 2004 by Romeo Esparrago http://www.romedome.com/emailform.html



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