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The 25 Day Loaf
A life-like adventure from Cheeseburger Brown
The 25 Day Loaf, a free life-like adventure from Cheeseburger Brown, illustration by the author

When you freelance for your bread and butter, life is a very variable thing.

Sometimes everything works out easy as pie, and you find yourself flying gracefully from job to job like an urban Tarzan swinging on free-hanging money-vines...

...And sometimes it all comes crashing down, and a (historically) reliably recurring annual contract (double confirmed and booked) falls to dust in a blink (two days notice), leaving you standing in the middle of nowhere with your pants around your ankles and your thumb up your bum, asking the sky: "Where's the beef?"

And sometimes you're stupid (or unfortunate or overconfident or jinxed or cursed) enough to take two months vacation to hang around with your infant daughter, just before said fat contract evaporates.

(Or maybe that didn't happen to you. But it happened to me.)

Luckily, the cool kids downtown called and asked me to sign-on for a tour of duty compositing animation for some familiar upscale IP/entertainment supercorporations. I said, "Sure. Put me down for twenty-five days."

It turned out that the cool kids really didn't have much for me to do at all -- at least, nothing that would take me five weeks. All things being equal, I would have just saved them the money and shortened the booking, preserving my reputation as a very speedy worker; but the Japanese had just ditched me, and my wallet was really thirsty. No, I was not prepared to give up the contract.

And so: this is the story of how I feigned work -- for twenty-five days.


Day 1

It's suppertime.

I am riding the subway. It blasts out of the tunnel and clatters across a long bridge of criss-crossing metal splashed in sun, making everybody on the train squint like moles. I can see the long shadow of the bridge pooled across the valley floor, its silhouette menacing thanks to the recent installation of anti-suicide barriers along the top that give it a prickly, evil fortress vibe. In another instant, the smoggy valley is swallowed away by another length of howling tunnel.

I hold on to a greasy metal pole and sway. I make a mental list of all of the things I can do to keep myself occupied for twenty-four more days at the cool kids' downtown studio. I am wondering how my workload could have been miscalculated so badly, and whether or not I can pull this off. Five weeks of unobtrusive loafing? That's a tall order, in the midst of a busy company.

I am tired and hungry. I usually work from my home, far from the core of our megalopolis, and the commute has drained me. My feet hurt, and my parched tongue is hanging out like Wile E. Coyote.

I walk through the front door and my wife delivers me a warm kiss and cold beer. My daughter squeals in delight when she sees me and claps her hands against her chubby thighs. Who could complain? The Japanese may have screwed me, but life is sweet.


Day 2

Having recognized my workload for what it is yesterday, I know now that I won't be able to stretch it out simply by working slowly. I'm going to have to intersperse it by not working at all. I'll need a book!

I haven't been to the bookshop for a while, so I pick a re-run from my shelves. I require a paperback (because freighting my computer, my drawing tablet and my lunch around like a pack-animal is quite awkward enough without adding unnecessary weight) and a thick one (so I don't have to bother choosing again for a week).



I choose The Golden Globe by John Varley (Ace, 1998), the story of a semi-criminal space-thespian named Ken "Sparky" Valentine who must fight his way back from Neptune in time to star in a Lunar production of King Lear, despite being hunted by the ruthless red-haired Charonese Mafia for deflowering a teenage courtier from beyond Pluto. The tone of the first-person narrative and the frequent spots of dark humour are reminiscent of Harry Harrison's The Stainless Steel Rat series, but set against cultural backdrops that are richer, more thoroughly detailed and intricate than Harrison's clap-board universe of televisionesque cliches. Harrison crossed with Heinlein, maybe?



Sometime in the middle of the afternoon the creative director who looks like a shaved-headed hispanic version of Laurence Fishburne saunters over to my corner, and asks about the book. I let him read the blurb on the back, while I tell him about how one of Varley's short stories was once made into a gut-wrenchingly horrible Canadian sci-fi movie starring Raul Julia.



"What's up with your computer, mang?"

"It's rendering," I say, pointing vaguely at one of the monitors in my vicinity.

"Ah, cool," he says, and wanders away.


Day 3

The cool kids' animation company is going through a violent puberty, sprouting fresh rows of workstations and fresh banks of studio lights and cameras every few weeks. New nodes are added to the networks, new ikealiths are allen-wrenched together by gophers and friendly wannabes to hold newly ordered computing iron, new storeys of the historic downtown building are leased to accommodate new offices, cubicles and workshops. The producers' desks are awash in resumes, portfolios, demotapes on DVD...

I am hardly noticed when I come in. I slip by at quarter past nine in the morning, an unpopular time for a staff so jejune; I fit my appearance unobtrusively between the technicians and support staff who arrive early or on time, and the producers, directors, animators, and compositors who drift in between 9:30 and 10:30.

I have snagged an empty ikeabooth in the corner to "work" at, half-concealed behind a bookcase of old illustrations and stock art catalogues. I put down my cuppa tea and unfold my computer. On the other side of the bookcase the Australian director is chatting loudly on the phone about a movie he's just seen. "It was rally well done, but I don't like horror, so I didn't rally enjoy myself. I just can't reckon why people would pay good money to have the shit scared out of them like that."



I don't feel like reading my book yet, so I crack open K5 to see what's been expectorated from the queue since the weekend. I post a couple of smart-ass comments, and then eat the pudding and cookies from my lunch.

I quietly picnic, a flurry of activity swimming around me, occasionally tapping a key on my keyboard for form's sake. I nibble the last of my cookie away, and I feel like a squirrel.


Day 4

Despite enjoying my book, toward the end of the afternoon I get bored and decide to poke around at my work a little bit.

Famous cartoon personalities are being presented on a Shakespearian Globe-style stage, enacting great moments in a classic cross-species rivalry. I spend an hour putting in the shadows, merging the two-dimensional drawings (rotoscoped from episode footage by "juniors") with the three-dimensional environment of the theatre (generated in Maya by an affable black man who wears slippers at work).

I find the dog-eared page in my book. Things are picking up. Sparky Valentine is aboard a stolen luxury space-yacht with a beautiful girl, filling in backstory about his abusive father as they plunge toward Jupiter.


Day 5

It's Friday, and nobody is working very hard.

Two of the on-line editors, RockStar and Browny, are racing little metal scooters down the long galleys of the series production department. There comes a chorus of cheers from the kitchen, where the much ballyhooed foosball table is being worked over by a rowdy gang of prop-makers.

I chat with Slippers about raytraced versus buffered shadow maps for the final rendering of the Globe environment. The short Italian senior compositor weighs in on the side of buffers, and we all go outside for a breath of fresh-air to debate the point.

The Italian gives me a cigarette, and we smoke and argue. We fall silent for a moment as a woman of unfettered attractiveness walks by, and then resume our talk, nodding to one another only with our eyes in acknowledgement of the man-moment we have just shared.

The wind blows the wrong way and we catch a waft of vegetable-funk from West Chinatown up the block. Slippers is determined to stick by his raytraced shadows, despite the Italian's misgivings. We go inside again, flicking our wallets against the meeping security latch.


Day 6

It is a cruel Monday. I've overslept, and I'm in a hurry. I have decided that every patron of our public transit system falls into one of three classes: the Opportunists, the Co-operators, and the Cattle. The Opportunists live in lonely universes where only one person counts, the Co-operators range from human mats to strategic altruists, and the Cattle just flow like lava.

Today for some reason of deus derideo the Cattle dominate. (When I get home, I will pour a little ranting juice into my Internet tank and run the engine for a while.) A woman walks me into a wall, and seems stunned when she gets clipped by my bag. "Moo!" I say.

I am too grumpy and restless to do nothing today, so I make a round through the broadcast design department, trying to find somebody with spillover work I might take. "I'm waiting on some additional footage today," I say; "can I help you with something in the meantime?"

I find success with Slippers. His raytraced shadows are leading to some ballooning render times, so the soul-patched creative director suggests that I might take over a short pseudo-timelapse sequence. "I'd rather Slippers kept concentrating on the Globe environment for now," says Soul-Patch, "so, if you're sure you don't mind..."

I don't mind at all. I grab the material I need across the new department-wide gigabit Ethernet network, and enthusiastically set to carving a sundial out of virtual rock, and flying it through a sky of alternating wheeling stars and streaking, effervescent clouds. Because I am feeling cheeky, I even add a few frames of burning sunset and sunrise to the speeding skyscape...

Having deliberately kept my eyes off the clock throughout this playtime, I now attempt to reward myself by appreciating how much time I've fritted away -- but, instead, I find only disappointment: I've barely managed to kill four hours, and there are several more to squander before I can be released.

I sigh. I breathe into my drinkin'-box, squeezing out the last drops of guava juice and at the same time giving the impression of someone trying to recover from hyperventilation.


Day 7

I am slow-ly going cra-zy, one two three four five six switch.
I am slow-ly going cra-zy, one two three four five six switch.
I am slow-ly going cra-zy...


Day 8

Having seen Sparky Valentine come to grips with his hallucinatory patricide and safely off to his dressing room on the moon, I find myself in the market for a new book. Wandering down Queen West I find a small shop located above an emporium of TexMex drinks and lonely cougars. The shop, run by a rotund, badly-dressed gentleman who talks too much, has battered paperbacks and original sci-fi pulp magazines piled in monolithic stacks along every grimy wall, with titles spanning the greater part of the last century. I don't have a lot of disposable money this week, so I promise myself I will make just one purchase.

"Are you looking for something particular?" he asks.

"Yes, actually. I'm after Steel Beach by John Varley."



"Varney?"

"No, Var-lee. John, H. Yankee."

"Varley, Varley, Varley..." says the corpulent little man, spinning in little circles around his shop as he scans his piles. Meanwhile, I thumb through some old digests from the fifties with amazing cover art and come across a Clifford D. Simak story I've never heard of. "How much for this?" I ask.



"Seven fifty."

"Oooh! And this?" I've spotted another cool one, from 1947, featuring an unread (by me) gem from the crown of Frederic Pohl.



"Six even."

"What about these softcovers?" I pick up a Simak novel, too. Then I find an entire heap dedicated to one of my favourite, and most sparsely published, sci-fi authors of the 20th century -- the eloquent and sensitive Cordwainer Smith, one of several noms de plume for Dr Paul Linebarger (1913-1966), a professor of Asiatic Studies at Johns Hopkins University, whose penchant for spinning sci-fi pulpery was a well-guarded secret for most of his life. "Chocolate! I've never seen more than one Cordwainer Smith book at once," I whistle softly.



By the time I leave the shop I've managed to spend over a hundred dollars.


Day 9

Well, Slippers' steadfast dedication to raytraced shadows is starting to spell disaster for the Globe environment: sequences set-up to render overnight are failing after just a few frames, and those few frames are taking 2.5 hours each to complete on the dual-Athlon box. The deadline looms: panic sets in.

The uptight technical director jumps on the horn and screams for more iron. Space is haphazardly cleared in a hallway; tables are set-up; Ethernet and power cables are run in. Finally, two new dual-Xeon boxes are carted in by a waddling, penguin-shaped human being from the local Value Added Reseller.

"Hey, CheeseburgerBrown! How's it going?"

"Hey Penguin. Can't complain."

"Thinking of picking up a G5?"

"Not this year, Penguin. I'll leave it to the bleeding edge to find the Jobsian screws, first."

Meanwhile, the software installation process proves thorny on the new boxes. The Italian smokes a lot of cigarettes and has impassioned consultations with the VAR Penguin. Later in the afternoon everyone is startled by an agonized cry of consternation from the hall: "Fuck XP!"

That's when the producer known as The Commodore comes in. I know the crisis must be great because otherwise The Commodore would have remained safely esconed in his office. Despite being called "The Commodore" he is by no means militaristic, or harsh; he is a friendly, fatherless Samoan with a penchant for homoerotic humour. Right now he has a kind of knitted-brow, scared but determined look of a smart kid lost in the big city. "What can we do? What are our options here?" he wants to know.

The Italian doesn't hesitate. "We stop the renders now, relight the scene with buffer shadows, and go from there."

Slippers is worried. "We do that and we lose a whole day, maybe two days, messing with the scene."

The Italian shakes his head, speaks quietly. "But then we render it in one day we do have, not five days we don't have."

Silence. I hold my tongue. The Italian is right but too many chefs spoil the broth.

Hispanic Fishburne: "What if it doesn't render that much faster? We don't know that, mang."

The Commodore: "Is there no other way to cut down that five days?"

Slippers: "More machines."

It is decided that this is the safer route. An intranet mail is spammed strategically, asking anyone with sweet iron at home to please volunteer to render a few frames overnight. Slippers puts his project files on the server, and chunks of the Globe environment are signed out.

All of the hullabaloo provides a fine screen of camouflage. I put my feet up on my desk and crawl through the muddier parts of K5 and sniff after random links from Blogdex.


Day 10

Fridays are truly an enjoyable thing when you're somebody's work-bitch. Delicious freedom is nigh! There is a spring in my step.

The morning commute glides by, and I'm sipping my tea and reading Cordwainer Smith's Nostrilia (Del Ray, 1975), a novel about a telepathically-crippled farmboy who manages to purchase the Earth itself. Rod McBan the 151st comes from the world of Old North Australia, sole producer of the immorality drug known as stroon, refined from the humours of giant mutant sheep infected with the Santaclara virus. The keepers of the multi-tonne sheep live in taxation-enforced rustic poverty despite their mind-boggling stroon-bought wealth, in order to keep the Nostrilian population decent, honest and strong.



(The theory being that more decadent citizens of other planets had let their riches and long-life corrupt them, falling into self-indulgence and laze.)

Meanwhile in the desert of the real, as with the previous Friday, very little work is accomplished by me or anybody else. A lot of foosball is played. A lot of funny Flash movies from the web are passed around. I hand in my contribution to the Globe environment render pool, and give Slippers an encouraging pat on the back.

Around noon Soul-Patch tells me I've got client approval on the timelapse sequence, so I'm essentially off the hook until Monday unless I have other pressing matters to attend to. I don't. I slip away.


Day 11

I've been trying to write the same damn article for five months, deleting ten times as much as I type, and it's no help at all to be surrounded by the cacophony of the broadcast design principals arguing with one another about the fate of the bloody 3D Globe theatre environment! Frustrated, I slam my PowerBook closed and go outside, looking for a hot mustard frankfurter and a cup of tea to enjoy in the park. Being surrounded by people all day is maddening!

When I return to my desk the department has calmed down, some. Soul-Patch and The Commodore are in a heated, hushed conference in the corner by the arcade terminal. Hispanic Fishburne is sitting in the Final Cut edit suite with RockStar, and they're both laughing at their preliminary ideas for lewd station IDs for an American TV network dedicated to celebrating maleness. They suggest some concepts unlikely to make it to air, and laugh louder.

I flip back to my article-in-progress about car-based zoomorphia. I read what I've written, and then delete the most recent paragraph. It was stupid.

I burp hot mustard flavour. I yawn.


Day 12

Instead of trying to write my traffic article, I surf the web for interesting nomenclature for biological and chemical systems, hoping to find some metaphors I can latch on to in order to better describe automotive life. I wish they would turn down the air conditioning. Why are science websites always ugly?


Day 13

I go for sushi with RockStar, Soul-Patch, Hispanic Fishburne and the Italian. We're talking about screwing around with Google. I tell them about my efforts to improve my googleshare for the word "cheeseburger" (at the time of this writing I hold positions #7 and #11), and how I am the king of the hill so far as the highly specific search-string "formal visual design" is concerned.

"I wonder what would happen if I looked up myself in Google?" wonders Soul-Patch as he makes a California roll disappear.

"You get my site. Or, at least, you did at one time, several googledances ago," I say, but without the hyperlink. I nibble teriyaki beef.

I get to wondering about why my returns on Soul-Patch's name might have fallen, and consider ways to restructure my site. Why not? When else would I have the time? When I get back to the office I dash off an AppleScript to make a bunch of forwarding files, and begin moving my web assets around a bit. This is a good way to put off writing that damn article while I'm putting off working on the work I'm faking doing.


Day 14

My wife calls to tell me that our daughter has learned to crawl...backwards. "She keeps running in reverse until she backs against a wall," she reports. I sigh.

I do some work. I figure, what the hell? I fire off a series of test renders, and show them to Soul-Patch. "Things are looking great so far, CheeseburgerBrown. You're almost done -- and ahead of schedule! Keep it up."

I winnow down my list of interesting biology nomenclature for my new article, excluding pretty tidbits like kinetosome, mycorrhiza and ramentacea for want of suitable application. It am finding it challenging to research a subject that doesn't exist (as opposed to something like poutine, which merely shouldn't exist).

I am re-reading The End of Eternity (Doubleday, 1955) by Isaac Asimov, hands-down the best time-travel novel ever written.



The air conditioning is set way too cold. Everyone says so. I'm thinking about giving up my shorts for pants, but then I worry about baking during my walk to and from the subway station.

Opines Hispanic Fishburne: "I wore pants yesterday, and I ended up with a sticky scrotum. Jou know what I mean, mang? I took a fugging cab like two blocks, because of it. I didn't want to walk anymore...and -- jou know...get a fugging rash there."

Wise words.


Day 15

It's Friday again. The job I've been contributing to is being on-lined today, laid down to digiBeta tapes to be couriered to the USA for broadcast. The Globe theatre environment was finally finished, raytraced shadows and all, with the load spread over dozens of machines. The Italian brings in doughnuts. "I'll be joining you on the rollout project next week," I tell him, meaning the rollout commercials promoting a new animated series.

"That's great. Did Hispanic Fishburne already tell you what you'll be doing?"

"Yeah."

"One thing: you'll have to share the keying-software dongle with Septum-Ring and me, so you might have to be prepared to spend some time idle, when you're waiting for the dongle. You have an iPod or something?"

"Don't worry about me," I say.


Day 16

I have been commuting to the core by subway because my wife and daughter need our trusty Nissan more than I do, but I jump at the chance to borrow my retired mother's car when she pops off to some Caribbean island I've never heard of, apparently populated by wealthy Dutch and French boating enthusiasts and a service class of Antillians.

My mom drives a bright yellow Mini Cooper, and now so do I.

Yellow Mini Cooper


The little car handles really nicely, and it has a lot of pep. Maybe too much pep. I find it difficult to control in the stop-and-go traffic of the 401 and the infamous Don Valley Parking Lot. Though I am not too tall, I keep hitting my head on the low cabin ceiling. The oddly positioned rearview mirror blocks my view of the future as I slide around a cloverleaf. The neo-old-school console switches are very cool.

It is very sunny out. I get my tea and toast from a hipper, more expensive cafe located on my way from the car park where I've somehow made instant friends with the smiling brown man who stands guard and collects money. "Very nice automobile!" he says in a rolling Somalian accent. "You like it?"

"Sure," I say. I give him ten dollars instead of eight. I am bombastically late for work.

I arrive at my desk ready to blaze on whatever material is ready for me, so that I could have a solid block of time to work on my article later on. The Italian shakes his head. "Septum-Ring has the dongle today -- didn't Hispanic Fishburne call you? You were supposed to take the day off, boss."

Hispanic Fishburne arrives on the scene shortly thereafter. "The Commodore didn't call jou last night, mang? That sucks."

"Holy shit I forgot to call CheeseburgerBro -- " stops saying The Commodore, rounding the corner with Yoda McHump and Giggles McLoud. He has spotted me, standing there with my laptop still slung over my shoulder.

"...You're late for work!" I accuse, before The Commodore can.

The Commodore giggles, and so does Giggles McLoud. Yoda McHump smiles politely. The Commodore: "I'm really sorry I forget to call you, man. I just mumble-mumble-mumble..."

"That's okay, you ass-hat. I'll see you tomorrow." I turn to leave.

"Wait -- now that you're here...there's probably something you can do." He looks semi-panicked. He's got too many jobs going on at once, I guess.

"Okay. I like to be useful. I'm at your disposal. Allow me to service you."

At this point The Commore makes a lewd homoerotic joke.

While he goes off to arrange work for me, I chat with RockStar and read the hip local paper, which features RockStar and his rockin' rock band on the cover. "Hey, you're on the cover of the hip local paper!" I say, because I'm an idiot.

"I know," says RockStar in a resounding baritone.

An hour later The Commodore returns and gives me his blessing to go home. Things are too chaotic to arrange work for me, apparently. "Enjoy your day off!"


Day 17

I'm losing control. On account of that fucking dongle there is now too much awareness that I don't have enough on my plate, and I'm being kicked around like a hot potato in an effort to make use of me somewhere in the department. I spend the better part of the day standing or sitting in producers' offices, smiling and noding. I make small-talk about my baby.

In the afternoon the Italian surfs to the newly unveiled website of a familiar American supermedia distributor, and everyone gathers around to see their work featured beside the likes of giants in the IP/entertainment industry. "Wow."

Outside, I bum a cigarette from Sideburns, a guy who "does mouths" for the new series -- that is, he tracks different animated mouth shapes frame by frame to photographed stop-motion models. "I'd rather be rotoscoping," he says.

"Not me," I tell him. "Rotoscopy bites."

In the elevator back upstairs I get a sinking feeling. I am called in to see The Commodore, in his office. Hispanic Fishburne is in there with him. He looks pained. "I'm really sorry, mang..." he says.

I look to The Commodore. "What is it?"

"CheeseburgerBrown," he says, "we'd like you to do some rotoscoping for us."


Day 18

Rotoscopy is just the kind of bonsai-tree drudgery that the upper echelons of I absolutely refuse to hang around for, so I make preparations for a good trance: I secure supplies in the way of food, drink and stories.

My wife has bought me delicious potato bread, and I'm carrying a multi-sandwich line-up to last me the day. I have fruit, and canned fruit, cookies, juice, tea, a granola bar and a spot of bacon...

...And twenty-three hours of old timey radioplays.

I submerge to the voice of Cecil B. DeMille introducing Alan Ladd in This Gun For Hire, and re-emerge four hours later because I have to go pee. I take note of how much footage I've dealt with so far, and am surprised to see that I've completed more than I would have guessed while I was away in my stories. I see a particularly challenging bit, and wonder how I solved the problems it presented. I don't wonder too long, though, because I have to tea-pee something fierce.




I am rotoscoping by drawing vectors, adjusting bezier curves point by point, frame by frame. For a few moments I notice. Then I am away, in the old timey world of the Lux Radio Theater, with all functions relegated to autopilot.



Day 19

Ditto.


Day 20

I complete my rotoscoping work just after 10 AM, and then proceed to simulate rotoscopy/radioplay-trancing for the duration of the day. In fact, I listen to music and write my article on a second monitor. It's funny how everyone assumes the most important computer display is the one directly in front of you, regardless of where you are looking.

"How goes the rotoscoping, Cheesie?" drawls the Australian.

"Can't complain," I say with a smile.

I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Ballantine, 1968) by Philip K. Dick in a single sitting. I yawn, I stretch. Those poor androids will never get the respect they deserve.




It's Friday, and the twentieth day of my paid detention -- only five more days to go. Though I have to return the borrowed car and go back among the door cows of the subway, I am heartened that soon I will be free.

I open the sun-roof and zoom, zoom, zoom my way home.


Day 21

For this final week of feigned work I move my headquarters to a new desk, on the far side of the department. I have become too well known at my old post, and too many people have been coming up to me to shoot the breeze or ask for technical tips.

Now I sit opposite Septum-Ring, a friendly, talented, pseudo-cynical veteran of a hip local live music TV concern. He has a ring pierced through the septum of his nose, and he though he appears Irish he wears the same pants as the black adolescents in my neighbourhood who are endeavouring to look very street, yo.

Both of us are working on the rollout project. He's making bowling pins bounce, and I'm making clown-cars hop. I am determined to make this small series of "countdown" spots my final efforts on behalf of the cool kids. I have timed out a loaf-filled week, occasioned with spots of mild working.

Septum-Ring keeps interrupting me, asking me to come around and give him an opinion on a problem he's already solved, largely so that he can say, "I came to exactly the same conclusion!" and have a moment of agreement and affirmation. He's a nice enough guy, but I wonder why he's wasting his political positive energy on me.

I go back to my desk and pick up reading Clifford D. Simak's Time and Again (Dell, 1951), which details the adventures of a man named Asher Sutton who has revolutionized the future by revealing in a detailed manuscript that "destiny" is not only a tangible thing, but that it has a street address in a forbidden star system. Meanwhile, various parties from the future who are upset about the past have come back through time to kill Sutton, revise and/or destroy the book, and generally jigger with history in a way that would make Doc Brown blush.




The B Plot: androids struggle for human rights. Again.


Day 22

Septum-Ring continues with his bowling pins. I finish up with the clown-cars and move on to candied apples. I fart around on K5. I copy my entire radioplay collection to the company-wide MP3 server, and borrow some Neil Gaiman audio-books.




The King is back from the festival circuit, and he takes a lollygagging tour of the department. I call some old work up on to my screen and look intense and productive while he wanders through, Giggles McLoud and Yoda McHump trailing behind. He smokes cigarettes in the office, and wears loose shirt-sleeves. In a movie, he would be played by Bob Hoskins. He hovers above me, but does not engage me in conversation.

The King seldom speaks to me. I am tongue-tied when he does. Hispanic Fishburne assures me that King Hoskins knows my name, but I have my doubts.


Day 23

Septum-Ring is in the home stretch with his bouncing bowling pins. I finish up with the candied apples and move on to compositing acrobats and clowns. I finish my book. I slip into one of the un-used Final Cut suites and catch a short nap.

Works ends, and I stay put. Tonight is the company party.

Hispanic Fishburne and I shoot the shit about magazine writing and the nature of being a catalogue whore in Mexico. Soul-Patch is finishing up some last minute animatics, and then we're planning to head down to the lakeside tavern together. Fishburne explains his theory of clothing: "There are people that get dressed, mang, and people who just cover themselves, jou know what I mean?"

(I do know. Myself, I choose clothing by smell, not colour.)

In the taxi on the way over in I call my wife. Our daughter learned to crawl forward today, and I missed it.

At the lakeside patio the drinks flow for free, courtesy King Hoskins. The King is sitting at our very table, with the princes of broadcast design and yours truly, this cheeseburger...

Our ever giddy friend Bermuda Dreadlocks has just out found that his wife is pregnant, and we're all toasting him senseless. He's asking me about my kid, and I promise to bring her in for his inspection on Friday, my last day. Soul-Patch becomes hilarious when limbered by beer. Fishburne orders another round of green-bottled imports.

The Commodore is singing and playing the bass on the small stage, while Sideburns tattoos a beat. The song is about fire by the sounds of it. I drain another beer and feel looser. I have bought a package of cigarettes for the occasion, and I smoke one and call my wife.

I chat with two designer girls, Curly Sue and Mabel Label, both of whom want to know all about my wedding last year. They find it very romantic. A Mexican intern tells us he's expecting a kid next winter, and Bermuda Dreadlocks staggers by to toast him. The Australian confesses that he's been trying to go home for an hour, but he keeps forgetting to leave. "I reckon I'll just finish this one beer more," he says. Everybody laughs.

Later on, a compositor known as Big Mug will explode into vomit in the corner. It takes six people to haul his massive carcass into a taxicab. The Italian is persuaded to drink two beers at once, and makes a foamy mess of himself.

On the way home I have to ask my taxi driver to pull over to the side of the Don Valley Parkway to let me take another piss. He laughs at me in a good-natured way. "It is always like this with my kids!" he shouts from the cab. "I have five kids! You can imagine how they must piss, when we drive! Five!"

Pickled and foggy, I collapse to bed. My eyes fall closed like metal switches. My wife says, "You know, when I come home drunk I often come home horny, too." My eyes snap open.

I am going to be late for work tomorrow.


Day 24

Septum-Ring moves on to ice-cream cups, and I have a leisurely morning socialising while my PowerBook renders off all of my finalized, finished sequences. I drink the last of my tea and wander over to talk with the Indian Illustrator while I use his trash. "When are you going to India again?" I ask.

"As soon as I can!" he says with a broad smile and twinkling eyes. The Indian Illustrator always has a broad smile and twinkling eyes. I imagine he'll make quite a cheerful corpse, one day.

Curly Sue is asking about the address of my baby's website, and I tell her. She frowns. "It says it's not found."

"Jiggle the cable," mumbles the Italian.

I spend the next hour or so trying to figure out what's gone wrong. I can't imagine my site has been hosed by the Blaster Worm, because I'm hosted on a Unix machine. I eventually get through to technical support. Refreshingly, they are quite up front. "The box that hosts your site was hacked last night. We're re-building it from the ground up according to our revised security policy before we restore the back-up data."

"Super." At lunch I spend my pocket money on comic books, and read them while I wait for my renders to conclude.

Four hours later my web real-estate is restored. "Hey, Curly Sue -- try the site now," I call, standing up to be seen over the twin rows of monitors that separate us. I think to myself: that was spooky; I felt cut-off for a while there, being off-line...

Curly Sue and Mabel Label are grinning at pictures of my daughter. "Come, take a look at my baby," I say to Septum-Ring.

"Sure, just let me save," he says, turning to his computer. "I've been working on this motion-path for an hour and I don't want to lose it."

That's when all the lights went out.

"Omigod!" squeals Mabel Label.

"Shit!" cries Curly Sue.

"Flaming FUCK!" screams Septum-Ring.

The Great Blackout of 2003, welcome to.

...The broadcast design department has big windows, so in a few minutes people have wandered out of the darkened studios and suites and offices to congregate in our open space. "Why the fuck is there a computa in the hall?" yells King Hoskins after barking his shin.

"Long story," mumbles Slippers.

A telephone call to Hydro informs us that most of the province has lost power. We look out the window and see the traffic through Chinatown buckle and slow, stymied by the darkened signals. "I think this may last for a while, mang," says Hispanic Fishburne. The King agrees, and the day is declared dead at 16:35. "Go home," declares King Hoskins.

(Go home? I wonder. I live at the very periphery our stinky megalopolis, by the zoo. Going home is tall order. If I start walking now, I may get there tomorrow. I'll need supplies, and a fellowship, and a pointy stick...)

Bermuda Dreadlocks and I have a hilarious time in the washroom. We are congratulating ourselves on not peeing on the floor when we simultaneously discover that we've become turned around, and lost track of the exit. We stumble around and pat at the walls for long minutes. Our sides hurt from laughing by the time we finally spill out into the half-light of the corridor.

On the street outside the scene is surreal. "Hey, this is what Toronto would look like if it had the population of New York," I say to the Italian. At a nearby hot dog stand I overhear a radio report that New York is also in the dark. "Mercy!" A Sikh man asks me if Washington DC is out. I tell him I have no news, and direct him to the hot dog stand. "It is the Taliban!" he tells me with fierce determination as he threads his way through the throng.

Everyone is using their space-age pocket-telephones. I whip out mine. After a few attempts I manage to reach my wife, stuck in traffic near our house. "I'll call you when I have a plan," I tell her. As the cluster of co-workers and colleagues dissolves away into strangers, I come across The Commodore running in small circles, mumbling about water.

"Come to my place," says The Commodore, and I agree. I'll need to place to hang out while the hub-bub dies out enough for a plan to become hatchable. "We've got to find my girlfriend," he says. "She's at Robards Library. My kid is at Harbourfront, with my brother and his girl. Do you think they'll act sensibly?"

We walk. I try to calm The Commodore down. At College Street a pothead is directing traffic, wearing a flashy marijuana shirt and grinning through his beard. The Commodore and I try for water, but the first stores we come across are sold out, closed or mobbed.

He leads me down a cool, shaded alley, away from the crowds. I suddenly remember that I have a bottle of juice in my bag left over from lunch, and I offer to split it with The Commodore. "Cool!" he says. Then he points to a lawn on the other side of the alley. "Let's run through that sprinkler!" It is a classic moment of unpretentious childhood throw-backery...

We finally come to The Commodore's house in the historic CabbageTown district, just south of the whorey skids. His neighbours are all gathered at the local pub. The Commodore and I push out way in to a candle-lit table after he leaves a note on his door for his loved ones. We have a good talk, such as you can only have between friends when the lights don't work.

A long walk, a longer bus ride, a short cab ride with borrowed money, and a tipsy stagger through the unfamiliar silhouettes of my own dark, dark neighbourhood with a countryside sky of blazing stars above me -- and I am home. I receive kisses, and a barbecued supper.

My wife has set up my telescope in the yard. We take turns having a look, and I drink a warm beer. It has truly been a magical day.


Day 25

The building has power, and I have come to drop off the parts of my work stored locally on my PowerBook. The security system is down, however, and nobody's keycards will work. The staff forms a loose, coffee-drinking pool on the sidewalk.

"If we could just get your pocketdrive, I could give you my work," I say to Hispanic Fishburne. Lots of people want to get in. Some want their laptops, but most just want their paycheques.

The King arrives around ten, balancing a tall coffee as he wheels his SUV into the lot. "Fucking line at Tim fucking Hortons was three blocks long," he says out the window. The Australian explains the situation with the security latches. "Let's break in," decides King Hoskins.

For some reason, one of the model-makers has an axe in his trunk, and he uses it to smash apart one of the basement windows. Soul-Patch and Sideburns drop inside armed with keychain Maglites. The friendly janitor shouts directions to them as they disappear into the shadows in search of the stairwell. (I have never seen the janitor in his civvies before, and he cleans up well.)




We meet them at the front of the building, along with a small squadron of security guards. "We can't have anybody in the building," the guards explain to King Hoskins; "It's a matter of the fire regulations, sir."

"Go home," says the King.

I'm walking with Slippers. He's going to his friend's powered house to play video games, and I'm going to hang around in the Grange Park and try to sleep off my hangover with the punks and homeless until my wife can come and pick me up, when the baby wakes from her nap at noon. The city is still only half recovered, and the subways aren't yet running. The core is strangely quiet. Slippers asks me if I have been very busy on this contract.

"No. No, not busy at all, actually." I find myself outlining to Slippers the gist of the last five weeks...the science fiction, the ancient radioplays, the zen of rotoscopy and the art of trawling the web for something engaging to read when you're so restless you feel like you could climb the walls...

"Well, have you learned anything CheeseburgerBrown?" Slippers asks me.

"Sure," I tell him. "There's no place like home."

Fin.


CONNECTED STORIES
The 10 Day Shimmy | Three Visits | Bimbonic Radiation Overdose | Ode to Littlestar | Schoolhouse Rock

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