One beautiful April morning, along the edge of Echo Park’s little water-centric community, I walked past the 100% perfect girl (that is, according to the LoveMatch app on my Optiview glasses).
To tell you the truth, she was more attractive than what I expected and I don’t even think it’s the angles she shoots her pictures at. I mean, after all, everybody seems to know plenty well how to make themselves look good online. It’s almost cheating. High angle, close to face, apply a filter. That seems to be the most common denominator with profiles. But her, let me tell you, she looks great in pretty much every picture she put on there. Plain shots, no weird angles.
Pic 1: Portrait shot from about the bottom of the rib cage up. She’s wearing a black, floppy brimmed wool hat and black-rimmed retro style Optiviews. Pic 2: She’s reading a book. Like, a real book. It wasn’t a tablet or anything, it had pages in it. I thought I was the only one out here that collects those. Pic 3: Looks like she’s in a foreign country. Spanish speaking country, I think, judging from the Barcelona Cafe sign over the entrance of the restaurant she’s standing in front of. Pic 4: Classic bikini shot. Not too skinny. She has the sort of muscle tone that is popular for fashion models today to have. You know, strong and sturdy like she works out on a daily basis. But you could tell she does it naturally, not like some people that use micro-protein supplements.
“I saw the 100% perfect girl today,” I tell someone.
“Yeah. Could you believe it? 100%!”
“Oh. Okay.” He paused. “You mean like, in one of those dating match apps? Kindler? YesCupid? LoveMatch?”
“LoveMatch actually. I just joined it yesterday, but it says we match at 100%. Has that ever happened to you?”
“No. I’m not on any of those.” He was already bored with the conversation. “What does her profile say?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, did you read her profile? Did you check out her interests and try to figure out why you guys matched so highly?”
“Well, I guess not. I looked through her pictures. She’s pretty cute.”
“Bump me her profile page.”
I touch my glasses and use the Bump feature to send him her profile.
He puckers his lips and whistles. “Wow, cute girl. Maybe I should try this thing.” He looks over at me. “So did you say hello to her or what? Follow her?”
“Nope. Doesn’t really work like that. I liked her page, she has to like me back.”
It’s almost like magic, the way it happened. My glasses lit up with a big green button with the word MATCH outlined like an old neon sign. She liked me back and she’s still nearby.
I can’t wait to meet her and find out all the things we have in common. The possibilities are almost without limits, especially when you find that perfect match. I bet she was just as surprised as I was to see that 100% match in the corner. Butterflies in the stomach I suppose you’d say. That’s the feeling I got. Butterflies in my stomach. And for it to happen today, of all days, on this beautiful April morning in Echo Park in the year 2031.
Shit. It’s been almost four years since I last went out on a date. What am I supposed to say when I meet up with someone like that with such high expectations?
“Hello, we both have a 100% match on our profiles and I am here to sweep you off your feet.”
No, who would go for that? You can’t tell someone you’re going to sweep them off their feet. You just have to do it.
“Hey, you. I’m your man. You’re my woman. Let’s get out of here and do this thing.”
I think that’s better but sounds a bit like a netvideo soap opera.
“You know what’s great about Los Angeles? The people.”
Yeah, I don’t think so.
I tap the side of my glasses. The lenses flicker on with today’s date in the corner of my eye.
“Search the web for ‘what to say on a first date.’”
“I see that you are looking for what to say on a first date. Is that correct?” The glasses ask.
“Okay. I’ve pulled up a few options. Here are the top three results. Page 1: 10 conversation starters for a first date. Page 2: Respectful ways of talking to a new girl. Page 3: Flawless ways to be the man on the first date. Which would you like to look at?”
“Can you just choose the most popular one for me?”
“Of course,” it said. “Page 3 has the most traffic. Would you like to see it?”
The video slug splashes across my lenses. Title: Flawless ways to be the man on the first date. “Hey! Steve Quinn here!” The speaker was loud and obnoxious. “So you got one, did you? But you don’t know jack shit about girls because you’ve been hiding behind a console for most of your life. Don’t worry. I was just like you at one time. The first date is key and I’ll help you get through it. Here’s a quick tip on making a conversation interesting. Don’t be stupid and bring up stuff like, hey, how was your day? What kind of movies do you like? Blah, blah, blah. That’s boring. You have to be daring. Ask her what the craziest thing she’s ever done at work was. What would you rather be stuck on an island with a banjo or claw spiders? Or ask her what color underwear she’s wearing. Anything but the boring stuff. Follow my advice and you’re in like Steve Quinn!”
She sends me her location with a message attached. Meet me tonight.
The sun was coming down over the mismatched apartments and houses. Children weren’t playing in the park across the street. They stayed indoors nowadays. People weren’t afraid of going outside. Kids were just too distracted by their consoles. Reality inside of their digital lives was more real than the outside. Bars (some things never change) were still frequented by generations still trying to make sense of the changes in the world.
Winters were longer and summers more intense. Storms were frequent in places where there used to be blue skies year round. The refuge was easier than dealing with gusty winds and oppressive heat.
The restaurant was dimly lit and smelled slightly of fish. Rose colored lights lit up the walls at high angles. Waitresses hurried around in tight red and black dresses with layered skirts. Waiters wore black slacks with button-up shirts and hats with marble sized red pompoms edging the brim. There was a Spanish flag on every table.
She was waiting for him in the corner below a glowing sign that said Barcelona Cafe, circling her finger around the rim of an empty glass looking bored.
“Hi. Am I late?”
She looked up at him with an unchanged face. “Neh. I was just hangin’.”
“I’ve never been here.” He said. “It’s nice. I like Spanish food. Paella is delicious, but it has to be made with the right kind of artificial saffron or it tastes bland or you get that kind of weird plastic-y type taste from it and that’s no good. Saffron was really expensive even before it disappeared. That’s because they used to harvest it from the Crocus Sativus, but they would only take the stigma, which is the little thingy that sticks out to collect pollen. Do they have paella here?”
“I dun eat the stuff here,” she said.
“Really? I love eating. I love food and anything about food. Food history and what it used to be like. I mean, it’s crazy. We used to eat a ton of food and most of it went to waste. Don’t you like food? Well, I mean, you have to like food. You have to eat to survive, don’t you? What kind of food do you like?”
“Um, I dun really have a fave. It all tastes fake.”
He looked at her confusedly. “What do you mean? How do you know it tastes fake?”
“It just is.”
“You’ve had real food? Like, grown in the ground kind of food?”
“Neh.” She looked at him sharply. “I’d rather have drinks,” she said, still circling the rim of her empty glass.
The air between them was quickly starting to feel like a winter in a desert. He thought maybe a drink would warm it up a bit.
“Oh yeah, we should get drinks.” He flagged down a waiter walking by carrying a waiting tray of tapas consisting of Tasty-Meat sausage and Tasty-Veg olives paired with a couple beers. Through his Optiview glasses, he could see the prices of each item: Sausages $23; Olives; $27; Beer $20. The waiter quickly puts down the plates on the table and shuffled over to them.
“Buenas noches señor. What can I help you with?” The waiter asked.
“We’d like to get some drinks. I’ll have a Coke and she’ll—“
“Gin. Straight, in a martini glass with ginger,” she announced without hesitation.
“Si señorita. And would this be separate checks?”
There was a pause.
“Oh, I got it. Just scan my creds,” he said to the waiter.
“Si señor. Anything you say. And señorita, of course.” The waiter tipped his hat.
A slight smile appeared on her face for the first time. “Muchas gracias,” she said with an accent that sounded like mud. She kept her eyes on the waiter as he spun around and walked away.
The distracted look on her face made him uncomfortable. He was sitting right across from her and it was almost like he wasn’t even there. He wanted to ask what she was looking at. He wanted to know what was so much more interesting than the person sitting right in front of her, but he didn’t ask anything. Not wanting to push the topic, he thought back to her profile.
“So, do you collect books? I saw you had a picture with a book.”
“Neh, ain’t really. That’s a friend’s.”
“Oh. I see.” It wasn’t going the way he thought it should. In midst of the din of chatter from tables next to theirs, he could hear people laughing, enjoying their isolated conversations. Children were playing games loudly, distracted away from the boring grownups. A man in a business suit was typing on an invisible keyboard, probably relaying share sales to his broker. He wanted to shut them out.
In his desperation, he remembered what Steve Quinn told him to ask.
“Um, so what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done at work?”
“Not working right now. Dun need such a thing.”
“You don’t work at all?”
“Well, how do you get by?”
She rolled her eyes. “I live with someone. It’s not a big deal. We got an arrangement.”
“You mean like a friend is taking care of you or something?”
“A girl? Or guy?” Not that the gender really mattered.
“It’s a guy. Is that a problem?”
“Oh. No. I guess not. I mean, I think that’s cool. I think it’s great that we live in a time when people can live together and still be friends. I mean, just a few years ago, I think people would’ve looked down on that, but people accept it. It’s getting harder and harder to be on your own, you know?” He wasn’t looking at her while he was speaking. “So, is he like a friend? Family?”
“Neh. We fuck when he wants ta and I get a place ta stay.” Her words were beginning to sound knife-like.
The waiter arrived with the drinks and set them down in front of each drinks owner. She swiftly swooped up the martini glass and gulped down half of the clear liquid.
“Whoa, take it easy.” He said.
“Take it easy?” She said with a flick of her tongue. “Really? Ya aren’t friendly with me and ya dun shit dealin’ with me. I dun need ya judging me and my situate.”
“Didn’t mean anything by it. Really. I was just surprised.”
“Surprised a girl cud drink ya under tha table? Maybe it surprised ya a girl likes havin fuck buddies?”
“No, I was just. I don’t know. Surprised.” He took a sip of his Coke and looked away. “I was just expecting something…different. I mean, our profiles matched 100%.”
She laughed in a half-fake manner. “I get plenty perfect matches daily. Ain’t a biggie.” She went on. “’Sides, I didn’t make the damn thing. My friend made it cuz I didn’t want ta. I jus’ wanted ta get a new guy is all. And dun thinks that guy’ll be ya, will it?”
She didn’t make it herself. She didn’t even make the profile herself. He couldn’t believe that. It didn’t matter that they were matched if she didn’t even make the profile in the first place. What was the point? Why would she think that having her friend make the profile for her would be a good idea anyway?
His eyes started shifting around the room and he suddenly was noticing the overwhelming chaos of data imposing itself on him. At least a third of everyone there that night had their data tags set to visible. Statuses hung over each of their heads ranging from couples, singles, open relationships, seeing others, ready to play.
A guy dressed in black at the bar with In a Relationship over his head was making out with a girl with Single over her head. Two women walked by with Just Married floating between them animated with white streamers and all. A well-groomed man in a leather jacket in a dim corner of the room had Yours Tonight for $350.
“I- I don’t get. I have to. I have to get out of here.” He stood up.
“Figures ya dun have any balls.”
He just wanted to get out of that hot room that smelled of fish, with all buzz of ones and zeros gliding through the air only to weigh him down. Outside would be cold. Outside would be better than being inside that box with all the confusion. Outside wouldn’t have the mindless chatter that was inside.
The nights have been just as cold as they have been hot, even in April. It wouldn’t start to be tolerable until mid-June and even then, you still had to go out with a jacket on. Unpleasant would be putting it nicely. Even the homeless were sleeping together in piles just to be able to make it through the night without freezing. Many of them avoided wet areas like Echo Park Lake because the temperatures could drop suddenly by five to ten degrees.
He wanted to be alone, so he didn’t mind that it was so cold.
There was something about the Lake that he loved. Maybe it was just the stillness of the water. It was there, uncomplicated, not angry at anything, not lit up, screaming, manipulating or trying to be something that it wasn’t. The water was just water. It fills whatever it’s in and knows its place.
Incapable of blaming the confusion of the world on any one thing, he lifted his Optiview glasses off of his face and gripped them in his hand. He held them at his side as he looked over the water’s edge. The frustration electrified his arms, sending currents of anguish and broken expectation through him. He stepped forward and reached back into a pitcher’s pose, sending the glasses hurling through the air. And with what should have been a perfect, graceful moment of dramatic release, turned into a wobble, a stumble, and a fall. As he hit his head on a rock, he saw his vision go blurry, watery and then black.
I didn’t know the black could be so black. A darkness stretching like elastic all around your vision. Infinite, swelling darkness. It was like someone dropped me into a cave that went on a mile deep and I stopped at the dead center. A mile deep. Didn’t matter if it was a mile or two miles or ten or fifty or a thousand. I could have been floating in the center of the galaxy for all it mattered. Suspended in the vast vacuum of open space and someone had extinguished all the stars of the universe, quenching its far-reaching light between two little fingers, one by one. Suddenly, there was a nebulous cloud. Deep and purple. It was pulsating. Going dark and brightening. I was getting closer. Dropping into it. Or was it dropping into me? I didn’t know which was up or down. My body was reeling. Everything was getting hot. With each pulse, I felt something happen. I felt. What was I feeling? Nausea? I’m going to be sick.
The stranger was pumping his chest in quick intervals and giving two breaths in between. She started again. “One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven.”
His body convulsed and a gurgle came to his throat as he spits out water. She gently turned his head, letting the one-way mouth guard fall to the ground.
“Good. Good. Let it come up. Let it all come up,” she kept saying.
He was still dizzy. “Wha- wha- wha- hap- happen?” He didn’t realize until he spoke that he was shivering violently. He sat up and covered himself with his arms because his shirt had been torn down the buttons.
“Looks like you decided to take a swim, that’s what happened.” She was unwrapping a thermal blanket and covering him with it. “Do you remember anything?”
“I- I slipped.”
“Damn right you slipped. Bumped yourself on the head good too. We’re going to have to get that checked out.”
“Am I? Am I going to be okay?”
“I don’t know. Let me ask you this. Do you know what year it is?” She was holding a small flashlight in one hand and put her other hand in front of his face and moved the light behind it.
“It’s. Um. April. April 2031.”
“Well, you must have done some time traveling because it’s actually 2014.”
“What? I don’t understand. How is that possible?”
She was staring at him with full concern. After waiting a beat, she smiled and laughed. “I’m so sorry. I just wanted to see the look on your face. I’ve always wanted to do that and I just couldn’t pass it up. You’re going to be just fine. I will have to get you to my hospital though and monitor you for a bit.”
“That was. That was terrible.”
“It may have been. But seeing the look on your face was priceless. Absolutely adorable. But seriously, you’re lucky I was driving by from a night shift. Any longer and you may have been a goner.”
He finally looked at her. She had dark hair with green eyes. Attractive.
“Oh come on,” she said. “Let’s see if we can get that look off your face. I’ll drive you and we’ll get a cup of coffee when we get there. Sound good?”
A cup of coffee sounded really good right now. “Sure,” he responded.
She hooked him around the waist and they got up together on three.
As the two of them were walking away, the sun was beginning to come up over the yellow, red, and greenhouses on the slanted hills. They were silhouetted with the light spilling around them. And orange-purple glow was filling in the colors vibrant around the park. The wind was blowing leaves across the grass. Frilly topped palmed trees were swaying lightly and a flock of parrots was passing overhead. He thought at that moment, that he had never really seen the park so clearly until now.