A Month of Short Stories 2017, Day 15 – Limited Edition by Tim Maughan

Over several years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month…. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year – In September this time… because it is September.

Today’s story, for day 15 – Limited Edition by Tim Maughan

Read it online here:
Limited Edition by Tim Maughan

Avonmeads is less than ten minutes walk from Barton Hill, from his ends, but it feels like a different world to him. Whenever there’s any trouble with youth in places like this the timelines erupt with opinions, people angry and shouting, saying why are people like him making trouble and tearing up their own community. He shakes his head and laughs to himself. Community? There’s no community down here. This isn’t a community space – it’s nowhere, a non-place. Nobody lives here, it’s populated only fleetingly by transient visitors – van drivers getting lunch, shoppers buying the few things they still can’t buy through their spex or print at home. Even the staff in the shops here – none of them live here, they just come for a few hours a day, a few days a week. And most of them don’t even hold that down for long – there’s about as much a sense of career down here as there is community. For a start the shops never stay for long – something opens, fills a short-term need, then closes. Storefronts lie dead and abandoned, until someone thinks they’ve found another fleeting need, moves in, shuts down. Open, close, repeat.

—-Tim Maughan, Limited Edition

I am an old man, old enough to know a time when athletic shoes were called sneakers, or maybe tennis shoes – and were made of a single, simple layer of canvas with a simple rubber sole. The only “brand” I remember were PF Flyers (PF stood for Posture Foundation – bet you didn’t know that) and there were ads for them on television. I do remember a bit of the thrill and envy when I saw a pair – always on somebody else.

Now, of course, the innocent and silly tropes of my ancient youth have been distorted and blown up by technology and the shallowness of modern life until they have become reality. Sneakers have been replaced by Kicks, and Johnny Quest replaced by millionaire athletes.

Throw these ingredients into the soup of social media and powerful portable devices and you have the world of today’s story, Limited Edition.

This truly is the best of all possible worlds.

Interview with Tim Maughan:

Odo: Current technologies such as virtual reality, social networks and online games are prominently featured in your stories. How would you say that the use of these technologies is changing our way of thinking, our way of interacting with other people?

TM: That’s a good question. That’s a big question! I’m not sure we know yet, I think we’re still feeling our way. That’s why I’m writing about them, I think, to try and understand myself. I think everything is so double edged now – online communities for example, they can be both embracing and alienating, both to degrees we couldn’t possibly imagine a couple of decades ago. The same goes for the anonymity and distance that ‘net culture grants us – it can be liberating, allowing people to express themselves in ways they would be too scared to in real life – but of course the flip of that is it lets people get away with saying or doing terrible things with no consequence. I was reading a forum recently where someone used a homophobic slur, and when they were confronted about it they said nobody should be offended as it was ‘only pixels’. That struck me as simultaneously both horrifying and logical – it’s a defence that must make some sense if you’ve grown up spending a large percentage of your communicating life online. It’s the complete stripping of meaning, postmodernism made real, I guess. How do you argue against that? In fact, with meaning gone in that way, how do you argue about anything?

Odo: Trust (and distrust) is an important theme in your stories, where characters are often deceived by their friends. Do you think that trusting other people is more dangerous today than, say, twenty years ago?

TM: No, I don’t think so – the media would love us to all believe that, it feeds on fear, and is constantly looking to spread the illusion of distrust so that consumers turn to it for a kind of fake truth. I hear a lot of media talk here about the ‘blitz spirit’, about how British society was more unified during the war in the ’40s. I largely suspect that’s bullshit, and some terrible things happened when the lights were out, there was looting, people cheated on departed lovers and so on. When I’m writing about distrust I’m not saying that it’s a new thing, or a futuristic thing – to be honest it’s sometimes just a plot device! – but more that it’s there, and our media and culture likes to amplify it, to separate and alienate us, to make us better, competing consumers. Consumerism doesn’t work well if everyone trusts each other, it only works if we feel the need to compete with our neighbours, friends, even families.

—-from Sense of Wonder

On the way home from the store with a bag of Miller High Life.

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Over 99 Billion Served

Over 99 Billion Served - but no more.

Over 99 Billion Served – but no more.

There is a joke in Dallas… it goes like this, “Whenever you ask someone for directions, they always start ‘Get on Beltline…’.” And it’s true.

I live a handful of short blocks north of Beltline, so I know that endless loop well. Less than a mile to the West, on Beltline, of course, is was a McDonald’s. I have been in that place exactly once, when we first moved in, before our internet and water was hooked up. I went in there for coffee and wifi.

Now when my kids were little, we went to McDonald’s (and various other fast-food emporiums) all the time. Not for the food, per se, but for the ball pits and climbing tunnels. My kids were connoisseurs of fast-food ball pits. They would sit around at home discussing the comparative merits of all the local McDonald’s vs. Burger King. They would arrive at a decision and off we would go. When driving long distances they would spot a unique climbing structure out the speeding windows and we would have to stop. Candy would walk to another place, any place, and get food – she could not stand McDonald’s… no matter how fun the ball pit was.

But the kids had outgrown all that before we moved here. Shame, because that McDonald’s had a really nice climbing structure in a huge glass enclosure out front. (Google Maps Streetview from before the demolition). At any rate, I had no reason to go there and had only been there that once.

Still, though, I drove or biked past it at least twice a day for years and years and it had blended into the daily background of my life.

Then, one day, coming home from work, it was gone. There was nothing there except a pile of rubble.

Plastic tunnels and ball pit netting, bulldozed and torn asunder.

Plastic tunnels and ball pit netting, bulldozed and torn asunder.

It was a shock. There were the plastic tunnels all bulldozed and torn asunder. It was like finding a body in the yard – like someone you knew slightly had died. Of course, the neighborhood email list went into a frenzy of indignation and fear – nobody knew what had happened.

Of course, this is Dallas (or at least a suburb), and nothing is allowed to rest for long. The rubble was gone in a couple days and already, concrete is being poured. I assume it will be another McDonald’s – probably bigger and better.

But I bet the food will be the same.

There is another Dallas joke. “There are only two seasons in Dallas, Football and Construction.”

Kids on the Pool

One of my favorite things to do in the city, the Patio Sessions, has started up again. These are small free concerts held on Thursday evenings, in front of the Winspear Opera House in the Arts District. I’ve been to a few of these and written about them before.

The performer sets up at the corner of a large rectangular reflecting pool. The water flows slowly over a field of perfectly level and even black stone – at a depth of maybe a quarter of an inch. The spectators sit on grassy areas, paved sections, or concrete steps around this pool to watch and listen. High overhead, giant aluminum louvers provide some shade from the sun before it falls below. There’s a pop-up bar, food trucks, and a new coffee pavilion. With the surrounding buildings glowing in the setting sun (there are five Pritzker Prize winning architects represented here) it is an amazingly picturesque spot.

The only downside is that expanse of wafer-thin water is a magnet for little kids. Now, I like kids as much as the next guy, but they are noisy and distracting. The pack of rugrats cavorting on the reflecting pool diverts attention from the music. Plus I am bothered by their parents that wander around with that smug, “look at my spawn” half-smile of pride. This would all be cool – except that there is a concert going on.

But, I will admit, they are pretty cute.

Kids on the reflecting pool at the Patio Sessions, Dallas, Texas (click to enlarge)

Kids on the reflecting pool at the Patio Sessions, Dallas, Texas
(click to enlarge)