模倣子 Dr. K on Male Suicide

  Memetic Index 

I watched about the first hour of it. The caller at minute 36 kind of had a point, I thought. I'm conflicted as to whether to even send this email. The whole thing has become rather draining.

In AA we say "Suicide on the installment plan" so the term "slow suicide" is nothing original, nor perhaps particularly insightful (since it's just a pithy description for a thing, a well-known thing in some circles, and I'm not sure it illuminates what is is for those NOT in those circles, since addicts and depressives immediately understand WHY you would "commit suicide on the installment plan" and why that term is especially apt as opposed to any other, and how a normie thinks that the right treatment is to just "talk to the non-mentally-ill would-be suicide" and "explain to them why his life is worth living (if he loses weight and gets a job and a girlfriend)"

That's what Dr. K was saying the whole first hour. Maybe I need to watch the second hour. Maybe I need to watch one where he talks about addiction.

Minute 36 kind of had a point, which Dr. K disagreed with, namely that if you commit suicide then you have to be mentally ill in some way. Dr. K. said that some percentage of suicides (30%?) had no indication of mental illness. I may be oversimplifying, but obviously that statement is problematic on many levels. If you define suicide as an expression of an illness, like you die of yourself rather than of a stroke or heart attack or cancer, then any suicide death is by definition due to mental illness. Men kill themselves for all kinds of reasons. Many men kill themselves because they feel they've disappointed their families, companies, or countries, especially if the act of killing themselves absolves family, friends, et al, of the consequences that made the man kill himself. Despair takes many forms. Depression can be a pain that seems to have no reason. When I was most suicidal (probably) I had a 6-figure job in the greatest country, the greatest city, in the world, with a great apartment, a great wife and a great kid, working for a prestigious company, and I was wondering why I wanted to kill myself, why I couldn't be happy with all that stuff. Men are taught that their lives are worthless, or worth only what they can produce, and when that goes away, and one can't get it back, the idea that you can just tell somebody durng an office visit, "C'mon, buck up, Buckeroo, you're not worthless. If you just get in shape, get a job, and get a girlfriend, then you'll have value again, and boy howdy I bet you can do it."

It's pretty easy to see how "excessive" video gaming is a (relatively harmless) symptom of that kind of despair, and not at all the cause of it. A gamer is probably at no level thinking "I'm hastening my own death by just a little bit by playing another level, but without the finality of a hose in the tailpipe or a bullet to the brain."

A man can look at his life and weigh it against an insurance policy, the inconvenience that will be lifted from his family, the shame that will be avoided by his friends, company and family, and so on, if he ceases to exist. It may be true that a woman will always be daddy's little girl, or somebody's, no matter what she does, but that's definitely not true for men. Men are expendable, and once you stop being able to stay one step ahead of that, it's not nice, and it's unclear where you go from there.

A typical male thing when the "alpha male" (actually a dumb term) gets set up and gets all the women, or all the women are taken by the other male birds and there aren't enough left, is to form a "bachelor flock/tribe/group/pride/pod/etc." where the unwanted dudes just kind of hang out at the fringes waiting for one of the alphas to die or something.

"The measure of the soul of a society is how it treats its women and children"
          -- Gandhi

"No people is truly beaten until the faces of its women are on the ground."
       -- Apache saying (or some nearby tribe)

"The wealth and power of a society stems from how effectively it uses its men."
           -- some dude

I guess I came away with something resembling a crushing sense of despair and a sort of unfocused inchoate feeling of rage. I was going to post a reply (or three) but there didn't seem to be anything to grab onto, like minute 36's comment about suicide = mental illness, and then the kaleidoscopic flurry of partial responses to this just made it impossible to say anything without writing page after page, basically just writing a whole show. I can't write any more about this now...

I guess it worries me and makes me feel sad. I deal with people who suffer from addictions almost every day, I nearly died of this myself (and may yet someday--it's a daily struggle), and I have at least one very close friend who died of suicide, closely related to addiction. This Dr. K guy is trying to get views on YouTube, is trying to get people to come and be clients and pay him, which is fine--people have to make a living, and it doesn't automatically make them a liar--but he says a lot of things some of which I consider to be just plain false, from my own studies and adventures in therapy and also from my own real-world lived experience, but also a bunch of stuff which kind of sounds sensible, maybe peppered with a few things, like statistics (and of course 92% of people will believe anything that cites a statistic) and it just gets all mushy, which defies deconstruction. My overall impression is what I more or less said before, that it feels like a demeaning and coöption of genuine life-threatening suffering ultimately in the service of garnering attention and money.

video about the kinds of stresses and oppression men are under.


模倣子 Organizational Application of World of Warcraft Letter

 Memetic Index 

Viral Reality

“Excuse me, Reverend Dougson, is Celeste going to be here for this meeting?” Lenny asked the image on his screen.

Bill Dougson‘s sandy beard was full yet neatly trimmed, and his guileless blue eyes taunted Lenny to guess at his age. He sat behind a simple metal desk in a brown corduroy sports jacket, blue shirt, and striped tie. Lenny’s own headshot hung in the upper right corner of their video chat interface.

“No,” Dougson replied, “Celeste’s off today.”

Crap, Lenny thought, she’s the one who got me this sales lead. I was hoping she’d be here to back me up.

Lenny and Celeste had been friends for years, having gone from young to youngish together. Of course they’d stayed in touch during the virus pandemic, the lockdowns, the stay-at-home orders, by video chatting, online gaming, and they and their friends had kept their regular Dungeons & Dragons games going by meeting online.

“Well, I guess I’d better start by asking you what you think you need,” Lenny said.

“We’ve had some blessings, and some sadness. Our donations have grown beyond all proportion.”

“And what’s the sadness?”

“We’ve lost two of our office girls to this evil plague. They won’t even let us hold a funeral service for Remmy Bonsang. She went home with a cough and a fever. When she didn’t come back to work, Callie Twitchbein went to her apartment and found her body. You can see why we encourage the young women in our congregation to live with roommates until they get married. When Callie got sick, I sent her straight to the hospital. They won’t let us visit her. She’s on the third floor of the old wing, the contagious ward, lying on her stomach, hooked up to a breathing machine. They don’t expect her to live. But they don’t know the power of prayer. We shall pray and trust God’s grace to cheat death of his sting. But oh, my poor girls! My poor, beautiful young girls!”

“Yes, Celeste spoke highly of both of them,” Lenny lied. She said they were both horrible.

Dougson added, “We have to hire replacements, train them, and put them to work on all these cash receipts. I don’t see how we can do it with this lockdown order limiting how many people can work in this office at once, or train people with all this social distancing. It’s a pickle.”

Lenny thought, And yet you keep holding large church services, without masks or social distancing, and you’re appealing the city’s injunction in the State Supreme Court, while you continue to ignore it.

Dougson continued, “Celeste told me you have a software program that’ll solve all this. Is that true?”

“Absolutely,” Lenny replied. “The magic is that it’s based on sophisticated virtual reality game software, so instead of a confusing screenful of numbers, office workers, or as we like to call them, ‘players,’ are inside a world where playing a game is how they get the work done.”

Rubbing his hands together, Dougson exclaimed, “Oh, the girls should love that! And the training?”

“Yes, well,” Lenny continued, “the game teaches players what to do as they play. There are players inside the game, controlled by the computer, who give out quests, or adventures, which are really work assignments, and check them when they’re done. The first tasks don’t actually do anything except teach. You’re a church, so you might like the game experience to be shepherds taking care of sheep. You can look down from the sky or even go into the game world yourself to supervise them, help them, and even train them.”

“All but swat ’em on the fanny.”

After a pause, Lenny replied, “Yes, well, there are game commands that do that sort of thing, but of course they don’t do anything real on the other...end.”

“Yeah, I’m just kiddin’,” Dougson guffawed. “Isn’t it a lot of work to program all that?”

“Actually, that work is already done. You have a UniDrudge390 mainframe accounting system, running on COBOL and JCL, and our software plugs right into it. What the game looks like, sheep or whatever, is a simple customization.”

“That sounds great. What do you call this system of yours?”

“It’s called World of Drudgecraft. Hurricane Entertainment is famous for their immersive game software, and they built a suite of office-oriented products based on that. We’re going to install the Accounts Payable Cash Application product.”

“I should tell you that we pay our bills a little bit different than most folks. Since most of what we buy for the church is paid for by individual donations from parishioners, we try to link those up.”

Lenny’s heart sank. This sounds like some serious customizations, he thought, the dollar signs before his eyes fluttering off like startled birds.

Dougson continued, “For instance, we’ll get a bill from McCoy Plumbing for the install of the Buford Q. Ellis Memorial Drinking Fountain, and of course Buford sends us a check. In the mainframe system those two things have nothing to do with each other, as I’m sure you know. In this game thingee of yours, we need to be able to see the donors’ faces on the money they donate and on the bills coming in so we can match ’em up.”

Dammit, Celeste, Lenny fumed, I thought this was going to be easy. My whole sales commission is going to be gobbled up by the Sales Consulting Department adding all these extra customizations.

Lenny took a breath, trying to collect himself.

“Do you have a list of the stuff that’s been ordered, and who donated it?” he asked.

“Oh, sure, I’ve got a couple of spreadsheets I can give you.”

With a faint glimmer of hope, Lenny replied, “Okay, before you do that, we need to get our Sales and Consulting Agreement signed. It’s really just an NDA where you agree not to reverse engineer our software, and we promise to safeguard your data. Plus it states you understand I’m going to put together a demo of our software based on your system.”


Lenny awoke on his futon on the floor of his tiny apartment. His first thought was, Dammit, Celeste, it was supposed to be a simple Hurricane Entertainment software sale, my bread and butter. Now it’s looking like a major hassle.

He opened his eyes to see Michiko on the screen which took up much of the far wall of the front room. She was Lenny’s news avatar, a Japanese-style cartoon of a young woman, with purple hair and a mustard blazer, reporting on the most recent stay-at-home order of the pandemic.

Celeste makes a big show of being religious, Lenny thought, but never stops coming on to me. The only reason she’s in that stupid church is what she thinks she can get out of it. Everybody in our Dungeons & Dragons guild agrees that Trinity Church is just the latest in a long line of religions Celeste joined as a ploy to get food, a place to live, even money. She probably recommended me for this job just to get in good with that Reverend Dougson guy.

Lenny kicked off his blanket and lay there, alone but for his daki-makura. Imprinted on the long, slim pillow body was Michiko again, mustard blazer replaced by a carelessly buttoned green pajama top with yellow stripes. Her bare feet were level with Lenny’s own, poking out from his full-body acid-green motion-capture suit which he still had on from the night before.

“You know Michiko,” Lenny began, soliloquising his cushiony friend, “I haven’t seen Celeste in person since right after they lifted the last lockdown. They’d just completed universal vaccinations. She invited me to coffee, and surprised me with this sales lead at Trinity Church. Now that we’re on lockdown again, I kind of wish we had come back here, and gotten that pizza we talked about.”

Lying beside him, Michiko’s face was calm yet intent, as if hanging on his next word.

As he rested his hand on Michiko’s soft, yielding, fabric flank, his thoughts went to the Michiko on the flipside of the pillow, her tousled purple hair and flushed cheeks, long slender bare legs, and considerably skimpier clothing. 

My friends have long joked that if I’m still a virgin by the time I turn forty, they’ll take me down to Reno for “professional” help.

Lenny unzipped his bodysuit to his waist, sat up on the futon, and tugged his hands free so the sleeves hung at his sides like an extra set of arms. His maroon T-shirt sported the company name, Hurricane Entertainment, with a swirly light-blue logo, and beneath that in smaller letters, World of Drudgecraft. Free from the constraining elastic of the suit, Lenny rolled heavily to his feet. He noticed the Cup Noodle from the night before, sitting next to the keyboard on his small black desk, bamboo chopsticks poking up from the empty styrofoam cup in an inviting peace sign.

Hmm, instant noodles sounds good, Lenny thought, grabbed the styrofoam cup and headed around the wall that divided the apartment into the front room and the kitchen. On the back wall were doors to the bathroom and a large closet. Lenny waddled around the waist-high stack of old pizza boxes.

How am I gonna get rid of these things? he wondered. During lockdown they keep the disposal room on a schedule so residents don’t go down at the same time. It’ll take days. And that? His eyes fell on a full-to-overflowing kitchen garbage bin, with a full garbage bag next to it.

He took the chopsticks between his lips and balanced the dirty styrofoam cup atop the rubbish pile, its insides stained yellow-orange, with tiny bits of carrot and noodle stuck inside it. The chopsticks were none the worse for wear despite the months since the original Chinese take-out meal which had ushered them into Lenny’s abode.

He addressed himself to the coffee machine perched atop his half-sized refrigerator. 

I hate wankers who say they can’t function before their first coffee, Lenny mused, but I still like the morning ritual of my morning cup o’ Joe.

A hot, oily dribble filled the carafe, accompanied by a steamy sighing, as Lenny rummaged in the small, single-bowl sink for his favorite coffee mug, an award for five years of service to his last company, Albatross Solutions. He rinsed it, filled it with water, and popped it into the microwave for two minutes. He grabbed a fresh Cup Noodle from the shrink-wrapped cardboard pallet of twenty leaning against the kitchen drawers at his knees. He clawed at the plastic covering while his mug, a tall, white ballerina, pirouetted with one arm on her hip, the cloud-and-bird logo going round and round. Lenny had cared for the severely mentally disabled, housed in small groups in converted single-family dwellings all around the city. His contact with the residents was intimate, to say the least, giving baths, helping to the toilet, cleaning up messes, spills, vomit, feces, and so on. Some residents were violent. Lenny had suffered a broken nose and a broken wrist, among other more minor injuries. 

A few years after receiving the mug, the first wave of the pandemic hit. A coworker on the day shift landed in the hospital, eventually dying of the virus, and two residents tested positive. The company’s precautions against contagion were negligible, and since his was deemed an essential job, he was forced to come to work. For the first time ever, Lenny felt he was actually taking his life in his own hands, that death lurked just around the corner. Besides, the pay wasn’t that great.

The microwave dinged.

Lenny peeled the cover of the Cup Noodle back, dumped in the boiling hot water, and set his chopsticks on the cover to hold it down.

I’m almost out of milk, he thought as he lifted the carton from the door of the fridge. He dashed a bit into the hot mug and popped it back into the microwave for thirty more seconds.

“Instant noodles, my ass,” Lenny groused half-jokingly. He liked to let the noodles soak well past al dente, until they swelled up and started to get mooshy, which took five minutes or more. Milk and cup were all hot to the touch, except for the handle. Lenny poured in the freshly brewed coffee, a milk-chocolatey brown piping hot goodness rising to just shy of the brim.

Careful not to upset the chopsticks balanced on top of it, he scooped up the styrofoam cup and, coffee in his other hand, headed back into the front room. He sank into his computer chair and opened up his notes, data links, and files from his meeting with the Reverend Bill Dougson.

The World of Drudgecraft software will automatically tie into Trinity Church’s mainframe accounting interface, he thought. That’s what makes this software so cheap to set up. But I need to create a sandbox inside the Hurricane Entertainment simulator system where I can play with all this other stuff Dougson gave me, see if I can build something worth showing these people. If I have to call in the consultants, it’ll cost more, and eat into my commission. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but Celeste’s sales lead may be more trouble than it’s worth.


Lenny’s avatar winked into existence amid a sylvan setting full of rolling hills, trees, peaceful ponds, and paddocks full of sheep of all sizes and colors, from white, to spotted, to black.

Lenny picked up one of the several small bales of hay at his feet. The strap around it read “Payment in full, eight deluxe widgets, $2,400. ABC Widget Sales & Service.” An enormous sheep with the caption, “ABC Widget Sales & Service,” hovering over it in red letters trotted towards him. Its fleece was mostly black with only a few white patches, indicating the sheep was an invoice with payment past due. 

Lenny lobbed the bale of hay at the sheep, and as soon as it bit into its fodder, the sheep and the letters above it turned green and it vanished in a puff of smoke.

Two other bales simply read “ACME WG&F” for $200 and $300 respectively. When no sheep approached he frowned and got out his custom steampunk-style shepherd’s crook. He scanned the paddock, his eyes stopping on the red letters “ACME Widget Gassing & Framing” floating over a small fluffy white cloud of wool with black legs and face. He summoned it with his staff, and tossed it the first bale of hay.

“So,” Lenny scoffed at the sheep as it munched on the hay, “you couldn’t get ‘ACME Widget Gassing & Framing’ from ‘ACME WG&F’?”

“A penny for your thoughts, Mr. Potrzebie,” came a woman’s voice in the left channel of Lenny’s headset. He turned to face a chestnut-skinned young woman in a Bo Peep outfit, bonnet perched atop a mane of kinky black hair, shepherd’s crook in her left hand, a shiny copper coin held out to him in the fingers of her right.

Without thinking, Lenny reached out and took the coin, which stretched like a piece of half-chewed bubble gum into a gooey, caramel-colored smear between their two hands.

Oh crap, Lenny thought, recalling too late how passing an object in the game consisted of adding it to his stuff, deleting it from Bo Peep’s purse, and finally committing the whole transaction. Until all that was completed, they were in a Limbo, usually instantaneous, where neither of them actually had the coin.

He looked up to the letters hanging over Bo Peep’s head, which read, “Agent Maria Abe.”

“Really?” Lenny complained. “Transaction commit interference? Really?”

Abe flashed him a smile and replied coquettishly, “I can’t have you logging out of the system before we have the chance to talk, now can I?”

“Who are you?” he demanded. “An administrator?”

“Not exactly,” the pretty young woman replied. Still trailing the coppery mist of their unfinished penny ante, her right hand plunged into her chocolatey cleavage to extract a slim, black leather wallet. She flashed Lenny a golden badge with a shield and an eagle.

“Agent Maria Abe, FBI,” she said.

“Am I under arrest?” Lenny asked.

“No, Mr. Potrzebie,” she replied, the badge vanishing back into the depths of her décolletage, “we need your help with an ongoing multiple homicide investigation involving your new client, Trinity Church.”

“What do you need me for?” Lenny asked. “You already tried to get them, and it’s on appeal in the Supreme Court.”

“You don’t understand, Mr. Potrzebie. We’re not talking about reckless endangerment here. We’re trying to show murderous intent. We believe their accounting records may contain evidence linking recent deaths among the congregation to donations to the church, and to further evidence of wrongdoing. We can get a warrant, but we’d be going in blind, which could blow the whole case.”

“Their UniDrudge390 accounting records live on an outside mainframe computer. Are you saying you can’t get a warrant without Bill Dougson knowing about it, like a phone tap?”

“You’re correct, of course, Mr. Potrzebie,” Abe admitted. “But there’s not enough there. We hope the key is in the office files.”

With a magician’s flourish, a business card appeared between her fingers.

“These are my details,” Abe explained. “The card also contains an in-game insignia. You can wear it as a piece of jewelry.”

“So I don’t have to give up my primary or secondary weapon,” Lenny injected, “or my armor.”

“Exactly,” Abe confirmed. “Wear it aboard any ship and it will be diverted to bring you to us. Please don’t wait too long. Lives are at stake.”

“I don’t even have the job yet,” Lenny objected.

Agent Abe cocked her head to the side with a mysterious smile. “I wouldn’t worry about it.” She gave him a wink, then tapped the butt end of her shepherd’s crook on the ground and disappeared in a puff of smoke.

The smeared-out copper piece disappeared into his hand like a slurped up noodle, followed by the faint jingling bell sound of an old-fashioned cash register.

Lenny thought, I have to admit I’ve got mixed feelings about this new job. Trinity Church has been trying to take control of the city for years, getting their members on the city council, running their own schools, and their religious college right on Main Street even violates zoning laws. They’ve got some unsavory, fanatical beliefs, but killing people? Maybe they think they can get away with murder. Is Celeste in danger?

Lenny sighed and tried to collect his thoughts. The first $200 hay bale he fed to the tiny black-faced sheep in front of him had only turned her from red to yellow. She showed no interest in the second one, worth $300, but tore into it when Lenny tossed it in front of her, and finally turned green and vanished.

“Nope,” Lenny said, sighing again, “this won’t work. Trinity’s staffers can’t go through this rigmarole for every single invoice. Let’s try it on some of their real data.”

He clapped his hands and the hills rolled like water sloshing in a tub, freezing in a new shape. The sheep changed, as did the bales of hay stacked around Lenny. A rainbow curved across the horizon sporting the words, “Trinity Church.”

Lenny scooped up a nearby hay bale the size of a toaster which read “Harriet Meyer, $3,000.” None of the sheep showed any interest.

If I can't use those two files Reverend Dougson gave me to link up the sheep and hay bales in this paddock, I can kiss my sales commission goodbye.

Two file icons appeared and hung in the air to Lenny’s left, labeled “Parishioners,” and “Contractors.” He tapped the first one with his finger and it slid open like a car door window.

“Here are the church members’ faces, for one thing,'' Lenny observed. “Whoa, they’ve got addresses, bank information, even social security numbers. These people must really trust this Dougson guy.”

He looked inside the other spreadsheet.

Let’s see, orders for work on the kitchen, new furniture, plumbing, new carpets, boxes of bibles and hymnals, and it goes on and on. Each row is basically an invoice. It’s got the amount and which company is doing the work. Ah, here we go. It says which church member is donating the money to pay for it. Hallelujah.

Lenny closed both files and held them at arm's length.

“Hmmm, maybe I can herd these sheep into a forest of rows and columns.” 

He gave the parishioners file a quarter turn and slid it on top of the contractors file. With a rumble, a square grid of fence posts pushed up through the ground, with framed pictures at the top of each. He walked past names starting with M until he reached the picture of a grandmotherly woman, the plaque beneath reading, “Harriet Meyer.”

“TOD?” Lenny wondered, reading the red block letters printed diagonally across the picture of Harriet.

Many of the pictures had the same thing printed on them.

Lenny jogged around the corner of the  corral. The fence posts down this side had signs with the names and logos of companies. The sheep were still grazing impassively down in the hollow of the paddock, but Lenny gave a whistle and they all raised their heads, bleating, and trotted up amongst the fence posts to find their places.

Lenny folded his arms and nodded with satisfaction.


Lenny’s avatar gazed across the paddock of the World of Drudgecraft demo sandbox, ready to show to the client. He wondered, Where the hell is Celeste? The idea that something might’ve happened to her crossed his mind, but he dismissed it.

Celeste’s voice broke into Lenny’s headset from a private channel. “Sorry I’m late, Len.”

Her avatar winked into existence next to him, sporting a shepherdess robe, head scarf, and sandals.

“Where were you?” Lenny asked, “and how did Reverend Dougson get here so fast? He’s been here since before noon.”

“He always leaves the service early,” Celeste said. “He’s really busy.”

“HELLO CELESTE!” a voice boomed, seemingly from everywhere. “HOW ARE YOU?”

“He really loves that Voice of God feature,” Lenny explained.

Celeste gave a weak wave and replied on the public channel, “Oh, hello. I’m fine.”

“So, what happened to you?” Lenny pressed.

“I’ve been running late all morning,” she confessed. “I barely made it to church on time.”

“I swear,” Lenny said, “you’re gonna catch the virus in that place.”

“You guys keep talking smack about the church,” Celeste complained. “They take our temperature before they let us in, Len. But I barely got there before they closed the doors, and there were no seats left, so I had to stand in the aisle in the back. I almost got knocked down.”

“Why’d you almost get knocked down?”

“After Reverend Dougson finishes his sermon and leaves, they let in more people, and we sing hymns and read from scripture. I got pushed toward the front. The woman standing next to me was coughing on me, too.”

“There were people coughing at the service?” Lenny asked, shocked.

“Yeah, Len, there were people coughing. It happens, a lot. I know what you’re thinking and I’m not stupid. They’re checking temperatures outside, so it’s fine, right?”

“This letting people in halfway through, I never heard of that, but whatever. Oh, one thing, before we get started, I was hoping you could explain something. There’s something in the parishioners’ spreadsheet labeled ‘TOD’.”

“Oh, yeah, it means ‘Transfer on Death.’”

“Are you telling me all those people agreed to transfer their money to the church when they die?”

“Pretty much, yeah.”

A pair of blond-haired, blue-eyed shepherdess avatars stood nearby, identical except for the names floating over their heads: “Sarah” and “Eded.” Lenny jabbed a discrete electronic thumb at them and asked, “What do you know about those two noobs over there? ‘E-dead’? What kind of name is that?”

“No,” Celeste corrected, “it’s like ‘Edith,’ but the ‘th’ just stops on a quick hiss.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake,” Lenny groaned.

“She works at The Trinity Café. She has no computer skills, and probably won’t be working here much anyway. They just want to have one more person get the training. And she’s a redhead by the way, not blonde.”

“Doesn’t she realize she can customize her avatar?”

“Maybe not. Maybe she doesn’t care.”

“And the other one?” Lenny continued. “Any idea if she has gaming experience, or a brain in her head?”

“No clue whatsoever. She’s a brand-spanking new hire, and she actually is blonde.”

“Funny you should mention spanking…” Lenny said. “Never mind. Let’s do this thing.”

He cut in his public voice channel and announced, “Good afternoon, Eded and Sarah, and welcome to this sheep herding operation. If you type a slash and the word ‘wave’ into your command window, it’ll make your avatar wave its hand, so let’s try it, put your hand in the air and wave…”


In the game, sailing ships don’t run on a timetable, Lenny reflected as he stood waiting on the dock. They just appear every few minutes, you walk on, and after a short while they set sail.

It was a tropical desert port. The dock consisted of the usual planks and posts lashed together with ropes. Behind him was a kind of Tiki village, a few shops, a few squat grass-thatched buildings.

This is the nearest port town to where I was in the game when the church called. The new girl, Sarah, had forgotten how to do partial cash applications. They knew they were supposed to call Celeste first, but they couldn’t get a hold of her. When I couldn’t reach her either, I called Geoff from our Dungeons & Dragons group.

“Len,” Geoff had said, “I’ve got some bad news. The only reason the hospital called me was she gave them my information when they brought her in. By the time I called back she was already face-down on a gurney, hooked up to a ventilator.”

“Do they know she’s pre-diabetic?” Lenny had asked. “That can make it worse, I think.”

“I doubt they know that. There’s not much they can do for her, anyway. They don’t expect her to make it. She was in a hallway in the old wing, but they’re moving her to the overflow tents in front of the hospital.”

“I have to go see her,” Lenny had said.

“You can’t. She’s in quarantine.”

Lenny’s thoughts swam. She’s gonna die there, alone, and there’s nothing I can do about it. How did this happen?

The boat slipped into port and stopped at the dock. Once aboard, Lenny’s avatar leaned on the gunwales, gazing across the narrow strip of water to the earthy ramparts rising beyond the sandy beach. The small port town was partly surrounded by thin patches of desert trees, through which animals of various sizes meandered. A couple of avatars made their way across the beach, a human warrior and an elf huntress.

They have some custom equipment, Lenny observed, like me. They’re probably fairly serious players. I wonder if they know each other in person?

They stopped, turned and looked his way, one then the other raising a hand and waving. 

Lenny waved back.

They broke into a rhythmic, gyrating dance. Lenny didn’t much feel like it, but he put the dance command into his own avatar and danced along with them.

Maybe they’re a couple.

Lenny opened his character inventory. He double-clicked on Agent Abe’s calling card and a little red, white, and blue insignia appeared on the border of the mini-map in the upper left corner of his screen as well as the lapel of his avatar’s black leather jacket. He looked up into the riggings to see a small American flag being hoisted, flapping in the breeze.

A rising whistle sang out, telling those not planning to sail to disembark, and any passengers within earshot to hurry aboard.

The sails billowed and the ship began to move forward, the two figures on the beach again resorted to waving, the female elf giving a jump or two. 

Lenny waved again, musing, Returning a basic kindness, being social, is somehow less difficult here. We’re all members of a simple society, and one never seems to worry about things being taken the wrong way. I wonder if all the other avatars on this ship are going to FBI Headquarters along with me, now that I’ve raised the American flag.

The shore fell away behind them, shrinking to an almost featureless line before disappearing entirely.

Minutes seemed to pass, but it was really only seconds, until a green haze coalesced along the horizon off the bow. A cry of “Land ho!” heralded the parting of the blue gray of the ocean from the gray blue of the sky by a growing rocky green line.

Small fishing vessels hove into view, with the sound of distant bells in both channels of Lenny’s stereo headset, accompanied by greetings from the fishermen on the decks.

I’m sure that’s all pre-programmed, Lenny thought. There’s no way real players are out on those boats, just to fish and wave at us.

The ship slipped into a wide brackish bay that narrowed into a gently flowing river, a low plain, trees and grasses coming right up to both banks.


The river narrowed, and made several sharp turns, finally heading north. The point of a long narrow island divided the river in two, and the ship made to starboard into a narrow channel. Lenny scanned the horizon for familiar landmarks, and spotted the white obelisk of the Washington Monument stabbing skyward.

Lenny wondered whether to get on his dragon and fly to where he was going, or ride his unicorn.

I don’t really know where this place is, he thought, and I’m not familiar with Washington, D.C., so flying over it and finding it from the air seems like a bad idea.

He studied Agent Maria Abe’s calling card, then stared at the Washington Monument.

Her office is in The James Comey FBI Building, at 935 Pennsylvania Avenue. Pennsylvania Avenue? The White House is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and it’s on the National Mall, or near to. I’ll just get on my horse and ride towards the Washington Monument, try to find the National Mall, and I’ll either hit Pennsylvania Avenue, or 16th Street, or I’ll follow signs along the way.

The ship docked at a wharf along the right bank of the channel. The ambiance was an eclectic mix of Colonial, Futuristic, and Medieval Fantasy. Elves and trolls rubbed elbows with humans and blue-skinned extraterrestrials. Lenny’s signature camo cargo pants and leather jacket was a comfortable middle ground between tricorn hats, wizard robes, space helmets, business suits and ties, and chainmail armor.

Lenny clapped his hands and an enormous white unicorn with rainbow mane and tail materialized in a puff of smoke. Few of the denizens of the wharf seemed to notice. From the saddle Lenny could see the sign for Water Street, which ran alongside the docks. He continued onto Maine Avenue until it hit 9th Street, which seemed to run in the right direction, toward the Monument. 

9th Street is probably the cross street for the FBI Building, Lenny thought. I’ll just follow it until I hit Pennsylvania Avenue.

Soon he was galloping across the National Mall, the Washington Monument to his left, and the Capitol the same distance off to his right.


The FBI Building was a castle. Banners hung from the rough stone ramparts, squares of star-spangled blue with long streamers of red and white stripes trailing down, catching the breeze. Elves, orcs, and humans wearing sunglasses, black suits, and ties, armed with crossbows and high-powered rifles, looked down from the parapet at the very top. Across the drawbridge, two formidable ogres, each armed with a club, stood guard on either side of the gateway. Lenny joined the stream of avatars flowing underneath the portcullis.

Lenny waded into the huge square space of the main hall, milling with a rabble like he’d seen at the docks.

He muttered, “You gotta be kidding me,” as his eyes rose, following four Sequoia-like columns, wound by spiral staircases, that soared up to a ceiling that seemed almost to vanish into the haze of its dizzy height. Bats, birds, small dragons, and other winged creatures made lazy circles, now and again dipping and darting through the lattice of thin bridges between the columns and the catwalks ringing the walls of the cavernous chimney.

This is like a video game dreamed up by M.C. Escher, Lenny thought. It’s a good thing there’s no collision detection.

The plethora of creatures paraded right through one another like ghosts, and brightly costumed stalactites scurried along the bottoms of the catwalks and staircases.

Lenny noticed a half-cat, half-woman advancing toward him. Her brown pinstripe suit, miniskirt, and tie were a shade lighter than her shiny fur. Her tail’s fretful flicking to and fro kept time with her purposeful strides.

“Welcome to the James Comey FBI Building, Mr. Potrzebie. May I help you find Room 31415?”

Lenny nodded.

“Please follow me.” 

As she turned on her heel and made her way toward the northeast corner of the great hall, Lenny clicked on her avatar and chose “Follow” from the menu, and his avatar took off trotting after her A stone staircase set into the north wall rose diagonally from the corner to the first catwalk going all the way around the vast room. The cat scrambled up it.

“Tell me,” she asked as Lenny caught up to her, “what do you have to drink where you are?”

“You mean,” Lenny asked, hustling up the stairs after her, “at my apartment?”

She reached the final stair and stepped onto the gangway at the top. Daylight spilled through the barred window set into the heavy wooden door behind her and Lenny could see the same orcs, elves, and humans in black suits and dark glasses he had seen from outside, patrolling on the roof. Craning his neck upwards again, he thought, The building goes way higher inside than it does on the outside. It’s a TARDIS. Groovy.

He looked at the cat and said, “I’ve got a couple of Cokes, some milk, maybe some pomegranate juice. I was going to brew some coffee.”

“Oh, yes,” the cat replied, “please do so at once.”

“Really? Now?”

“Oh, yes, there’s no time to waste.” She scampered halfway down the walkway to a catwalk that reached out into space to join the nearest column just where the spiral staircase snaked around. As he caught up with her, he saw he was in front of a long torch-lit corridor with numbered doors on both sides. The numeral two was above the entrance, the door at the far end numbered 21.

Lenny rose from his chair, and his visor went translucent so he could still see the FBI Building overlayed with his apartment as he made his way into the kitchen to make coffee. 

Stepping off the catwalk, he quipped, “I guess it would spoil the aesthetic to have handrails.”

The cat giggled, then dashed up the spiral stairs going around the column to the next level.

I’m guessing she’s a robot, Lenny mused, huffing up the stairs after her, so maybe that’s her reaction to any irrelevant speech. Apart from that, she seems nice.

Lenny looked up and noticed avatars walking up and down on the bottom of the spiral stairway above his head.

Lenny could see over to the next catwalk up as they came back around the column. There was a bridge over to an identical torch-lit corridor, also numbered two. The cat stopped short and Lenny followed her off the stairs onto a narrow platform that went under the bridge. The cat turned to face the column, put her foot against it and leaned away as though lying down on an invisible bed. She flashed Lenny a horizontal wink and a smile and put her foot out onto the bottom of the bridge and stood on the ceiling. She explained, “It’s just up there,” her inverted arm pointing to the torch-lit corridor on the other side, labeled 14. Lenny blinked, then put his hands on the column as though he meant to do push-ups, brought up his knees, then clambered to his feet, then repeated the action to follow the cat along the bottom of the bridge. .

Overhead, the floor of the building, where he had met the catwoman moments earlier, teamed with a crowd of avatars. The people who had been hanging like bats off the bottoms of stairs, spiral staircases, walkways, and emerging from corridors now pointed the right way.

“Here we are,” the cat said, gesturing behind her into the dim hallway. “You’re in Room Fifteen, halfway down on the left.”

“Wow,” Lenny said, “this place is pretty confusing.”

The cat giggled again, then added, “Welcome to the Federal Government.”

The cat dropped to all fours and scampered down the gangway with her tail in the air, sweeping back and forth like a furry metronome.

As he raised his fist to knock at the door, the latch crunched and it opened. Agent Maria Abe said, “Thank you for coming, Mr. Potrzebie. Please come in.” 

The warm brown wood of the simple furnishings, the table, the four chairs, the sideboard, seemed to spread into and permeate the hard-edged cut stone of the squarish, mostly bare room.

A comely yet deeply serious woman in a sky blue silk pantsuit sat behind the table, her strawberry blond tresses collected behind her head.

“I’d like you to meet Dr. Anna Verdi of the Centers for Disease Control.”

Dr. Verdi rose from behind the simple yet substantial table and gave Lenny an affable smile. “On behalf of the CDC, I’d like to offer my thanks as well.” 

“Have a seat,” Abe said, directing Lenny to the chair opposite Dr. Verdi. “Can I offer you a refreshment? Coca-Cola, pomegranate juice, fresh coffee, or water?”

“How about pomegranate juice?” Back in the reality of his apartment, Lenny peered through his half-opaque visor into his tiny refrigerator. “Oh, I’m out of pomegranate juice,” he said, shaking the empty bottle.

“Oh,” Abe replied, “in that case we don’t have any either.”

“How about coffee?” Lenny asked.

“With milk?”

“Great.” Lenny filled his Albatros Solutions mug with hot coffee, splashed in the last of his milk, and thunked the empty carton down on the edge of his kitchen counter. Coffee mug in hand, he headed back to his chair in the front room, as Agent Abe placed a cup of coffee on the table in front of his avatar in the FBI Building.

Abe and Verdi each had a folder in front of her. Abe opened hers and slid a document across the table to Lenny. “This is to establish that whatever you provide us is in the service of a lawful and proper warrant.”

Lenny reached into his jacket and pulled out two file icons the size of sheets of paper, unfolded, unruffled, and slid them across to Abe. She placed her hands on them and froze, staring at nothing.

She returned from her trance, blinking, and said, “Yes, these will be most helpful.”

“So can you save my friend Celeste?” Lenny asked.

Abe and Verdi looked at one another for a moment.

“Mr. Potrzebie,” Abe replied, “we’re the Government. We’re not God.”