Wednesday, September 17, 2014
It was a quarter till midnight when George finally arrived at John's apartment, pulling through the mud and snowy slush at the Graywinter complex. He trudged under the black security cameras, up the white snow and pushed on the grey door to number 203.
Rick spoke first as the door opened. "Ah, here's George. John, tell him about the notice from Graywinter management you were telling me about."
The young men were sitting down for a few drinks after their Thursday of retail and monotony. Still at the age when the freedom from schools and parents was a novel, exhilarating sensation, their shared evenings at the two-bedroom, two-bathroom on the second floor were what made life worth living. This was the breath of wind through the pine and cedar after two decades in a sterilized hospital ward. They called it John's apartment even though it belonged to all three of them, simply as a matter of habit. John had found it and moved in first.
"Oh! So the fucking rent lady sent us this notice that says from now on, they need the password for our internet hotspot to make sure we're not doing anything illegal online on their property. And they want to be able to view our email and facebook profiles, supposedly for the same reason. Isn't that bullshit?'
Rick jumped in. "I don't even know why they'd need that. It's not like there's been any issues with illegal activity online in the past, so it doesn't even make sense. Besides, it's not like they'd be liable for any illegal shit we do anyways."
John turned to look at George.
"Dude, can they even do this? I'm not even sure it's legal."
"It probably is, somehow. They have lawyers check all this shit." Rick spit the words as if in contempt. The contempt itself wasn't quite there. "It's bullshit in any case," he threw in, just for good measure.
George sat for a few seconds.
"It doesn't matter if it's legal or not. It's wrong, and I won't put up with it."
"You won't put up with it? What does that mean? It's not like there's anything we can do about it."
John's expression of outrage noticeably softened as he spoke.
"I don't know yet. Hand me a beer."
The conversation drifted to the logistics of opening beer bottles; superior designs, whether the keychain or belt-buckle was more handy, and the optimal metal for bottle-opener construction. Outside, the winds were picking up and the snow was falling harder.
George got up and stood by the window, looking out at the black winter around them. Fifteen minutes of talking about designs for inventions that would never be built had brought his mind back to the black winter's notice.
"I'm moving out," he said suddenly. The words came out and the thought formulated itself simultaneously.
"Dude, what the hell are you talking about?"
Rick seemed unconvinced. "Don't overreact man. It's not like they're setting our bedtimes or sending us off to a labor camp. They just want access to our internet."
"Hold up! Wait a second there... if they're doing this to check for illegal activity, any illegal activity, that's potential leverage they could use against you if you're being rowdy, even before quiet hours. It's not like they need to actually act on any illegal activity they might find, at least not right away. And if they did, instead of kicking us out, they could report it to the police. So yeah, actually. They are setting our bedtimes or possibly sending us off to a labor camp. If they felt like it."
Rick's exasperated shrug arced over his head as though George's statement had just rudely buzzed around his head on the wings of a drunken mosquito. "Alright, now you're just being ridiculous--"
"None of us do anything illegal!"
"Really? Do you know all the laws? How much would you be willing to bet you've lived a clean, legal life online?"
John paused before responding. "Dude, you're just making shit up now. They wouldn't do that."
"I'd have thought they wouldn't do something like this, but they did."
"Whatever man. You do your thing. But it's not like this is abnormal or anything. Plenty of other apartments, companies, and schools have been doing this recently; I just looked it up."
"That doesn't make it right."
Rick sipped his beer, sat forward in his chair and pressed his fingers together as a philosopher or chess player might do before their coup de grâce.
"Look Saint George, it's like this: we young, poor guys need apartment set-ups like this that give nice places for cheap. They're just looking out for their own interests when they put these crazy rules in place. Ten-to-one odds there's some liability thing with their insurance behind it.
"All your moralistic crap about things being 'right' or 'wrong' is garbage. All you're saying when you say something is 'wrong,' is 'this is inconvenient to me.' Well guess what, Mr. High and Noble, you're not the only one here, and what's convenient to a lot of people might not be convenient to you.
"You live in a group of guys--us--and we're relying on you for your share of the rent. You can't just leave on some moral principle that you just made up and fuck us like that.
"And bigger than that, we all live in an interconnected society. You're not some lone island, who picked yourself up by your bootstraps and built yourself up with your own two hands. You have us, your family, the government, your schools, and even this little apartment complex to thank for where you are today. We're all indebted to them, so if this measly price is what you we have to pay, so be it. I'll pay it gladly. Hell, I'm not doing anything illegal; certainly not any more illegal than anyone else I know anyways, we all basically do the same thing. I'm not doing anything wrong, so I don't mind them looking through my shit."
He folded his hands across his chest and sat back. John gave a little triumphant snort and smirked in George's general direction, accidentally dropping his beer as he did so. He'd strategically chuckled throughout Rick's argument, but in all the wrong places, giving the impression that he completely agreed with Rick without having properly understood any of it.
"How the piper has changed his tune. Saint George now, am I?"
George looked out the window again.
"I kind of like it."
The snow was building up on the cars now. In the short half-hour, nearly an inch had accumulated, and it showed no signs of stopping. Out in the woods--he had to press his hands and face to the glass to see beyond the glare--he saw a deer stepping gingerly across the white field and into the black forest. The faint tinge of brown on the animal was the only hint of shade or color in the blizzard. Everything else was black or white under the cover of darkness. The glare off the mirrored glass hid the black and white landscape from the other two, but standing so close, it was clear to George.
Rick shifted a bit, as the harsh words hung in the air a bit longer than he'd intended.
"Would you say it's merely 'inconvenient' when someone is raped or murdered? A mere violation of good taste?"
George paused, thinking. The trio had had their run-ins over these issues in the past, but never so directly. It had all been passing snipes and witty stabs, never given or taken seriously because the differences between their ideas had always been abstract and intellectual. Now George had laid a real choice lay before them, and the clever comebacks, which had seemed a mark of sophistication before, made Jerry feel suddenly more unprepared for acting on his moral notions than if they'd never talked about them.
"Here's the problem you're trying to wriggle out of Rick: if what's convenient--what's pleasurable or painful--to me is something I shouldn't really concern myself with, why should anyone care of yours? You obviously don't care about my preferences. As for the preferences of society, that's just a bunch of individual's too, whose hopes and dreams are discarded as easily as mine. Or am I special?
"If you're going to say that things being really 'right' or 'wrong' is garbage, than you have no ground at all to be upset. I can't even ask you 'what's wrong?' because nothing could possibly be wrong. You're just being inconvenienced somehow, but we shouldn't concern ourselves with the inconveniences of an individual.
"But of course, what's convenient for me does not make the moral choice, and you're actually doubly wrong because it would be more convenient for me to stay. Don't act like you're taking this position as if it's because you care about other people."
Rick seethed at the insinuation, but there was no indignation in his face.
"Shut the fuck up, asshole. Just pay the goddamn rent and move on."
"I'm not finished yet. I have one more point to make."
George didn't seem to notice Jerry, was carrying on without looking at him, without noticing Jerry's arms begin to tremble. His words flowed like cool water over his sizzling hot friend in the armchair.
"I never thought I'd have heard you say it, but you did. You said you don't mind them looking through your stuff? Anyone can see through that bullshit; you're lying and you know it."
Rick rose to his feet, his eyes wide.
"You're defending the people who wish to spy on you, to have control over you, but not because being right in an argument with me is so important... no. You've conceded points to me before, as we all have to you, with no issues. You don't want to face some inconsistency in your past, you don't want to look at your parents, or maybe yourself, as you would have to look at Graywinter. And so you defend them. But don't you see this? Don't you see you're defending the attack against yourself? You're speaking like one fit to be a slave--"
His words were cut off as Rick's fist sliced through the air and into the back of George's head. He tilted forward, and his forehead passed through the glass pane, shattering it. A shower of tinkling glass, the broken mirror of glass, fell to the floor with George. The glare was replaced by the clear black and white of the world outside, stained along the edges by their friend.
John sat still in his seat, paralyzed by incredulity and comforting helplessness.
Slowly, George turned on the floor. Blood dripped from his forehead and seeped from his hands. His eyes gazed steadily downward.
"...and so you'll be ruled like one," he said quietly.