I was standing behind the desk of the Gingko Wireless store and a blonde woman with premature wrinkling and a crying son was coming up to me.
"Listen, you," she pointed, "My son was hitting icons on the screen and it froze the phone up and now it won't work and I want my fucking money back."
"Ma'am…" I started.
"I want a manager."
I turned around to see if my manager was around. He wasn't.
"Okay, ma'am, calm down. Have you checked for water damage?"
She shook her head and glared at me. I wanted to warn all the customers at our displays: Chernobyl! Chernobyl!
But I didn't. I grabbed my prying tool and took the phone apart. I found the sensor, which was pink. There was water damage.
"Ma'am, look at this sensor. There's water damage. I'm sorry, but you're going to have to get another phone."
She hollered for the manager.
Well, the manager wasn't in at the moment.
"I will be right back."
Being diabetic, I retreated to the break room for a soda. I was protected by labor laws in doing this. She would just have to wait.
In the break room, I prayed. I prayed that she would die, stricken down by a heart attack and no one helping her in her final moments. Or that she would have a divine realization and whisk her son and self away to an ashram. I prayed for my own sickness, that I would have to go to the hospital for the rest of my shift.
I napped. When my manager woke me up I told him that I am narcoleptic and that someone took my Provigil on the subway earlier. He informed me that if I didn't get medical documentation by Friday I was fired, then he sent me home. In the lobby, the woman had disappeared. I did not care. I headed to the Japanese tea house.
Summer rain, outside the window of the tea house. It got me thinking about the good days.
I was wet and melancholy, because this flyer on the wall next to me was advertising another underground anime club. It got me thinking about how I missed my old friends, as much as I hated them.
Would I go to the anime club? It was hard to say.
My tea arrived. I thanked the deliverer and sipped it.
Friday came and I did not deliver medical certification to my manager. He forgot to ask and I worked the whole day without him asking.
At five o'clock, I bumbled around the city for a while then took a cab over to the address on the flyer. I stood outside the apartment and scratched my head. Should I walk up the stairs? I wondered. Probably a bad idea, but I went ahead anyway.
I knocked on the door. Bubblegum J-pop was blaring inside. I adjusted my black tie closer to the collar of my white button-down shirt and wished I had changed into something more casual.
A neck-beard answered the door.
"You look pretty pious in whatever you're wearing," he said.
"Pious as Pontius Pilate," I said.
"Where'd you come from?"
"Work," I told him.
"Okay, come on in."
The apartment reeked of grown men's unwashed testicles. And not just one man's—all five of them on the couches waiting for the anime to start. I hesitated then forced the question.
"What are we watching?"
One of them put his finger to his mouth to shhhhh me.
The TV flickered on. Seven girls from space colonies displayed powers like mind-reading, gourmet cooking, and fire manipulation while quarrelling over the hapless protagonist's love. The animal mascot was a giraffe. For the next twenty-two minutes I seriously considered suicide.
Afterwards they invited to eat with them at a no-name sushi place a couple of blocks away. One of the guys, who was unemployed and called himself Space Pirate Robert, wore shutter shades and a Hawaiian t-shirt. It was now dusk and I was afraid of getting robbed. A robber could just come up and make a fist and our pockets would drop money for us out of pity.
Space Pirate Robert turned to me and asked, "What's your name, comrade?"
I made up a name: Arnaud.
"Yes." (We were just going to roll with Arnaud.)
"Which do you prefer, 2D or 3D girls? We've been debating this for weeks."
Sadly, I knew exactly what he was talking about.
"I have no opinion," I answered flatly.
"But c'mon, bro!" he protested, "You have to understand that this is a hard choice to make. Otherwise I don't get why you're even here."
Walking the dusky streets of Chinatown, I lost myself in the situation. A grown man with shutter shades and a neck beard (all five of them had neck beards) asked me whether I should fantasize about an animated character on a screen or a flesh-and-blood woman. Not only that, but he was asking whether I would prefer a relationship with a fictional character over one with a real person. My skin was not only crawling but rippling.
I may have been a loser but even I couldn't be okay with this.
I was also afraid of making the situation awkward.
"I see the appeal of the 2D girl, definitely. At the end of the day, I think I'm split 50/50."
His eyes flashed menacingly under the light of a nearby lamppost and I could tell he was wearing red contacts.
"Hm, this is good," he said. "Then perhaps you can join our revolution."
I woke up in my own bed. It was tomorrow, Saturday, and I was lucky.
Lucky I had a chance to teach them a lesson before their stupid, delusional existence got out of hand.
Lucky I had spoken to a few women in my life. That I was myself and not those dudes.
I knew what I had to do. It wasn't even a compulsion but a duty to humankind. I got on my computer and typed out a poster:
VERY PUBLIC ANIME CLUB
"MAGICAL GIRLFRIEND BEACH WEEKEND"
LOOKING TO MAKE A RIFFTRACK
FRIDAY, APRIL 29, 2011
(REAL ANIME FANS NEED NOT APPLY)
I typed Space Pirate Robert's address on the bottom and printed copies until my printer ran out of ink. I loaded the posters into my backpack and went into the city. I posted them on every public bulletin in every hip locale that the anime club would never check. Coffee shops, check. Indie book stores that didn't sell comics, check. Anywhere that women could generally be found, check. I was off to a good start by 10am and kept going. By around 3:30 I was out of posters. I had also drunk multiple cups of coffee and eaten many fine pastries.
After a hard day's work I returned home, cracked open a bottle of sangria and watched multiple Kurosawa films from the Criterion Collection.
It was time to wait.
I started up the stairs that Friday to see some goddamn bona fide hipsters smoking on the top of the stairwell. Oh shit, I thought, I did it. This was the day of nerd reckoning. I just sabotaged the anime club.
Knock-knock, I hit the door.
"Don't come in," someone whined with a nasally voice.
I let myself in anyway. I glanced at the club huddled together on a corner of the giant couch like scared kittens. Hipsters lit up cigarettes in the house. Hipsters filmed the magical girlfriend harem anime on vintage cameras as they said rude things about it loudly.
"Oh shit, look at those fake animated titties jiggle!" one of them chortled and took a swig of PBR. Another said, "Bet the guys who actually watch this have never seen a real pair."
"Man, this is fucked up," a guy in a monk's robe quipped from the kitchen. I went up to him and asked what his name is. He told me he was "Master O."
He nodded to the screen and said, "I'm homeless, but at least I'm a feminist."
I scanned the room for Space Pirate Robert. He was nowhere to be seen. I sat on the couch apart from my betrayed brethren. I watched as one of the magical girlfriends read the mind of the protagonist, and was fake-shocked/embarrassed when she discovered he was thinking, in his mid-adolescent rage, "I want to have sex with you."
"Is this really what they are watching? Is this really indicative of love?" Master O posited from the kitchen.
I started to feel bad. If these guys wanted to wallow in fantasy, who was I to ruin that? And the hipsters were like human moths that ate away at dreams. I left to take a piss without really having to. I opened the bathroom room and Space Pirate Robert was in there, sitting on the bowl with his pants on.
"Hey man, I'm sorry," I told him.
"It's okay, I just want them to go away," he said. He didn't sound mad, mainly just sad.
"Maybe I believe in your revolution," I said, "But just for today. How's that sound?"
His face lit up. "I appreciate that, Arnaud."
"We're going to kick everyone out of your apartment and then we're probably not going to speak again. But I hope you start thinking about your role in the rest of the world. Maybe get a job, and a shower."
"But how are we going to do that?" he asked, sounding nervous.
I wasn't sure, but then I asked myself—how do characters in these shows generally express emotion when things don't go their way? How do they overcome all odds when there are ten-thousand enemy giant robots against their two or three?
"We are going to grab the lamest stuff you have in your room—Nerf guns, anime girl figurines, body pillows, whatever—and scream Revolution! at the top of our lungs."
We busted out with guns blazing. The hipsters flicked their cigarette ashes on the carpet while looking bored. The joke was over—time for them to do cooler things than this. They insouciantly packed their cameras while we yelped like lunatics. Master O and I were the last to go, after the other undesirables were cast out.
Robert whispered through the crack of the door, "Thanks for your help," then shut it.
Master O and I walked down the stairs together. He asked me, "So, what is your profession? Or furthermore, your True Will?"
I answered, "I am a sales rep for Gingko Wireless."
"That's pretty far out. Well, I am Master O, and I am in the market for a new phone. So expect to see me in your store soon," he said. "Until then, listen to the voice of your heart!"
He bolted when we made it to the ground. I was left standing there, with all my stirring thoughts.
BIO: Rory Fleming is a writer and law student from North Carolina. He has wanted to write about the weird world of anime in some capacity for a while now and it has finally happened. In the past he has been published at The Fiddleback, Punchnel’s, and Gone Lawn.