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Chapter 12 of 2065, Mr. Tucker’s novel in progress, as China has just seized Pearl Harbor and imposed new demands on its major debtor.
Brandon had always felt somewhat envious of his sister. This was strange because he was the natural child and she was adopted. And she was a girl while he was a boy. It seemed as if he should have a more natural claim on his parents’ affections. Yet somehow it didn’t seem to work out that way. After all, their parents had chosen her while his arrival had just been dumb luck. They had spent six months in China waiting to adopt her—according to the way his mother told it—while his arrival had involved only a quick trip to the hospital. Perhaps it was because his parents had bent over backwards to make her feel wanted, or maybe it was just big sister envy, but somehow he felt he had gotten the short end of the stick.
All this had made little difference when they were growing up. Susan had been the kindest and most protective of older siblings. Sure they had squabbled all the time, but she was always the one to make up and say she was sorry. Really, he couldn’t say a bad word about her. She had her calligraphy while he had liked soccer and shooting. At twelve his father had bought him his first gun and they had gone to the rifle range regularly. But hunting season was now limited to two weeks in the fall and it was hard to get excited about it throughout the rest of the year. Soccer he practiced all the time, kicking the ball around the yard, taking it to school with him, dribbling off his knees and insteps and finally his head until he could keep the ball in the air for minutes at a time. He played in the youth leagues, made the junior varsity in high school, and was about to move up to varsity when the “void” set in.
No one could define exactly what it was that made boys around age 16 start to lose interest in things, but it usually happened around the time the girls began to get pregnant. There were few sexual inhibitions left and by 15 most boys had lost their virginity, usually with experienced older girls. Sleeping around was easy and most girls were so willing that it hardly seemed a challenge anymore. It was what came next that was difficult. When a girl became pregnant a boy might make a claim on her but there were likely to be a dozen others as well. Some of the old-fashioned parents insisted on paternity tests but the courts generally frowned on it. “The fundamental family unit is the mother and her child,” had been the verdict of some court somewhere. “The unwanted intervention of paternal claims can only do harm to the dyad of mother-and-child.” Most girls went on pregnancy disability, then switched to “family assistance” as it was called. They were allowed to bring their infants to school and many senior classrooms took on the air of a nursery.
There was a kind of class system among the girls between the “mothers” and the “postponers” as they were called, and no one could tell who had the best of it. For the mothers there was the security of a government check and the prospect of returning to school once their basic responsibilities had been met. For the postponers there was the riskier prospect of college and a career with perhaps the chance of marriage and childbearing after age 30. One thing was certain, however. Both of them outdistanced the boys, who were left staring into the yawning darkness of a future without much responsibility.
There were, however, video games. Until they were 18 or so, most boys continued to play in their basements. Parents and single mothers were willing to go to almost any extreme and tolerate any type of behavior in order to avoid the next step, which was the Virtual Reality Parlors. Often compared to opium dens, these were dark, mysterious places into which young men had been known to disappear for months at a time.
In a VRP you could do almost anything. You could have sex with a movie star, climb Mount Everest, jump out of an airplane at 35,000 feet, or go rocketing to the moon. Food and drinks were served continuously, although many patrons were now skipping all that and hooking up intravenously. Sleep was almost unknown. Parlor chairs exercised the muscles at appropriate times and some of the newer places now had REM machines that imitated dreams and cleared the brain for the next round of adventure. A young man usually borrowed money from his parents until they refused to support him anymore, but Video Game Addiction (VGA) had been declared an official disability and checks were available for that as well. Politicians and churchgoers—yes, a few still remained—railed against the parlors and called them the work of the devil, but no one paid much attention. The programmers were endlessly inventive and the young men almost insatiable.
True, there was always talk of turning VR parlors into educational establishments, teaching calculus and history with the same devices. But it hardly ever amounted to anything. “Math adventures” was one VR booth that always remained empty, although the parlor owners liked to keep it around for public relations purposes. The government had even started offering tax credits based on the amount of time the educational booths were occupied. The parlor owners let customers sleep in them in order to collect the subsidies.
Brandon had not reached the VR parlor stage yet. That usually didn’t happen until the promises of high school had evaporated, the complaints of parents or single mothers were beginning to wear thin, and the warm, enveloping environment of the basement game room began to feel suffocating. It was then that boys usually ventured out into the big wide world of VR parlors. Brandon had not quite reached that level of adventure, but he was getting close.
His two friends, Buzz and Tim, were of the same species. Both 19, they had tattoos over large portions of their body haircuts in the style of a century ago, short and flat on top and extra-long and combed back on the sides in what was known as a “DA.” Thin and pale, neither of them had seen the sun for months. Their pupils were terminally dilated from daylong sessions staring at the 20-foot television screens, interrupted only by forays into the kitchen to see if the parents had left any food. The darkened basement, coated with velour from top to bottom, was filled with the detritus of former repasts—half-eaten tacos, pulverized potato chips, ragged pizza crusts, ketchup-smeared wrapping paper, and empty soda bottles, all invisible in the darkness but making their presence known through the faint smorgasbord of stale odors that saturated the room, releasing its grip only when the olfactory nerves became too tired to register them anymore.
Conversation consisted mostly of monosyllables grunted at the television screen.
“Choo see that?”
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?