The West |

Emote Control

by Anne Swan

Let’s say you get hit with something. And we say get well soon and tell you that you’ll be running and working and flirting and screwing just like before, just as always, just as you deserve to. Because you don’t deserve this. You don’t deserve illness, injury or old age. None of us does, but especially not you.

I know we haven’t seen each other in a while. And I know last time we talked you were kind of done with me, and that was justified. You were right; I wasn’t accepting reality. I was still trying to get financing for my film, refusing to get a full-time job, and I know I didn’t smell so good. Or show up on time. Or wear pants.

Excuses and explanations aren’t important. Let’s just say there was a crash, and what I had thought was a party was most definitely not a party. And I needed that tough love you gave me, so thank you. I am the man I am today because you stopped putting up with my bull hockey. And to show you just some of my gratitude, the real reason I called you to come meet me here today was so I could tell you about a fabulous new piece of software. A new tool for living.

Friend, I give you Emote Control. I humbly submit to you that this idea is genius. Pure genius. I don’t use that word lightly. And I think you’ll agree. The interface is user-friendly, the software unintimidating. It feels as familiar as drinking a glass of milk. Like the online movie and music sites you use today, we track your choices and make recommendations. But we go beyond. We go into the future.

When you start your subscription you begin the Active Selection phase. You rank every television program you watch, every piece of music you hear, every movie you see and every book you read. We store your preferences for the rest of your life. Everything you like, hate, sort of tolerate or kind of enjoy will be tracked between Signup and Incapacitation.

Now if you’re like me today, you give yourself every advantage. You track your weight, calorie intake, blood pressure, heart rate, muscle mass, blood sugar and bone density. You run, hike, lift weights and do yoga with your lady on Saturdays. Your body is a machine, a machine you maintain in its optimal condition.

And we strive for invincibility, but the truth of our human limitations is the sad reality we all must face. In your weakened state you will lose yourself. You’ll be easily persuaded, convinced and manipulated, forced to swallow drinks that gag you, mush that rots your stomach, and pills you never approved of. You won’t get to choose what you wear, how your hair is combed or how often you shower. When you sleep, crap and eat will all take place according to someone else’s say-so. You’ll be effed.

No matter how much your family loves you, no matter how many minutes of cardio or the number of reps you do or the combination of supplements you ingest, you’re going to get there someday. It could happen tomorrow. Or later today. Someone who drives drunk like you sometimes do could hit you and drive off. You could be hospitalized for months, your parents moving into your house to take care of the kids while your wife goes back to work. You might not be able to talk or move, much less get a boner.

And as the months wear on, people who surprised you by sending cards or visiting, hoping to see you back in the game, these people disappear and forget about you. Their lives continue. They start new jobs and move to different cities. Break up with their girlfriends and get new ones. Go to bachelor parties and weddings. Get promotions. Get fired. Go on diets. Get married. Get laid off and travel to Asia. Backpack in Asia. Screw Asian girls in Asia. Fall off the wagon. Get back on the wagon. Get recruited. Get rejected. Update their profiles. Update their resumes. Contribute. Consume. Show up.

Once we are notified that you have experienced a debilitating event, the service transitions to Passive Selection. We continue to accept your input, but our primary objective for you, the incapacitated subscriber, switches to delivery. Based on the preferences you indicated during Active Selection, we provide you with a customized ControlTrak of media.

You are no longer the plaything of the TV lounge.

And don’t worry about having to share your preferences with your wife. Your subscription is a very personal thing. Discreet. That’s why it’s not much more to subscribe to a CoupleTrak account. We observe her preferences and how often they do or do not influence yours. So if she dies first and you happened to secretly enjoy the foreign films that she insisted you see, we deliver these favorites, and newer versions, for the rest of your life. And every time one pops up on your ControlTrak, some part of her lives on.

Your Incapacitation doesn’t have to be a time when no one remembers who you are, because Emote Control remembers who you are.

You remember Darren. He was that TV critic, always giving us DVDs of whatever we wanted. His office shelves filled up with padded envelopes from marketing departments and PR people. More and more arrived every day. It was TV heaven. I remembered this after he came out of the first surgery. Darren had visited his doctor with some lingering flu only to find out he had colon cancer that had spread to his liver. He brought a stack of shows to the hospital, but when I visited he’d been out of work a week and finished them all, so I offered to stop by and grab some more from the pile.

Picking this stuff for another person is just a guessing game. I knew what he liked, but I didn’t know enough about television to know what else he would enjoy. There were mounds of hundreds, maybe thousands of DVDs stacked high in his office, spilling onto the carpet, and I was helpless before them.

When Darren went into the hospital for the third surgery, I stopped in at the magazine to pick up an advance screener of the season finale of his favorite show. And good thing I did. Good thing I stacked those pillows, sat him up and held his head for him, pausing, rewinding and talking to him to keep him alert through the morphine. Good thing I was such a good friend. Because two days later he was dead.

You won’t need a friend by your side with the Scheduled Viewing feature of Emote Control. During Active Selection you set up your delivery preferences. You decide if you want alerts sent to your phone to remind you or to your nurse’s station to remind the aides to turn on the TV. As with all technology at Emote Control, we strive to stay at the very front or ahead of software trends, and if someday it’s possible to deliver these alerts to some cortex in your brain you can be sure Emote Control will adopt this technology. You won’t have to ask for the television to be turned on or remember it exists or even remember your own name to enjoy quality programming.

I know you didn’t really like Darren. Everyone thought something was off. I’ll admit there were parties I never told him about. But no one would miss him or ask about him. And all the compulsive behavior we lectured him about (and that dumb intervention) – it didn’t matter anymore. After the diagnosis, I said screw it. I got my own referral for medicinal marijuana, bought weed and smoked it with him. We even got drunk together. And the tattoos of naked chicks, one after the first round of chemo, one after the second, and the one he was planning for the third – I was kind of jealous of those.

I kept that marijuana card. And I kept getting drunk. And then you know the rest. And that kind of decadence only lasts so long for the living. For the dying, it’s eternal salvation.

The end comes to all of us. You look into those big green eyes and you don’t want to give them any more trouble than they’ll see just as eyes on this planet. So save her the pain of worrying about what you want when you can’t tell her anymore. Plan the DeathTrak for your last minutes. Don’t leave her there wondering what she could have done. Give her the gift of the passing you both want for yourself. Gentle, long-awaited and brought to you by your favorite DJ. You.

Songs that conjure cheerleaders and whip-its in the parking lot, the first live encore you clapped your hands into a hot tingle for, the first time she let you up her shirt. Or numb, nothing, forget it, gone. Either way, you get exactly what you want.

Right at the end, those last few weeks, that’s when Darren started talking about Angela. He wanted to call her. I don’t know if his plumbing even worked anymore, but somehow, through flattery or coaxing or some deathbed plea, he hoped to have one last night with her.

He’d dated her a couple years back, said the sexual connection between them was like being on some crazy powerful drug. She let him do whatever he wanted. She was compliant.

Angela had wanted to be exclusive. While the intensity was of course thrilling, it was also pretty frightening to him, and his gut told him Angela wasn’t “the one,” so he broke it off. When he changed his mind, it was too late. She had met someone else, and it was working out.

Darren continued to text Angela late at night, when he couldn’t fight the impulse, hoping to seduce her. But each time she replied that she still had a boyfriend. The fact of this man in Angela’s life, to whom she was loyal, to whom she was giving the gifts of her compliance, was a thing he hated. And he hated himself all the more because he had refused her, because in his loyalty was a prize to be won according to a ranking system he thought had time to develop, waiting for the perfect creature to show up.

I brought Darren the DVDs I thought he wanted to watch and the CDs I thought he wanted to hear. At the end, I don’t know if I did a good job. I took him to his last concert. I sat with him, talked to his mom. But I also talked Darren out of calling Angela. I told him that even if he got her to see him out of pity, it would upset and haunt her forever. If this was some end-of-life discovery that he loved her, then he should spare her the pain of it.

“I don’t know if I love her or not,” he said. “I just know I want to stick my dick in her mouth one more time before I die.”

I drew the line. The tattoos and the pot and the drinking were one thing. But even under the hazy blanket of drugs and booze, I felt it my duty to ensure he died with integrity.

On the second-to-last day, when he could only whisper, “Call her,” I found her name in his phone and pressed Send. I didn’t know what I was going to say.

She didn’t answer, but must have called back right after she listened to my message. I put the phone up to Darren and heard her voice, though not the words, for a few minutes. His eyes were big and he breathed hard into the receiver. That’s what inspired Emote Control’s BreathingCall feature. When you’re breathing your last you can have your aide or the cortex hookup dial loved ones far away who will want to say goodbye and hear you slip away. Because Angela called the next day, after Darren had passed, and told me it meant a lot to her to just hear him breathe. And I regret that I talked him out of asking for that last time with her, because I bet she would have done it. Been fine with it. Because she did it with me.

If you cancel and want to start again, none of your databases or preferences can be saved. This is because the success of your experience with Emote Control depends on your regular interaction with the data. If you are absent from the interface for too long, your patterns cannot be recorded and fed into the system. We lose part of you, and that’s exactly what we’re working against. Quitting and rejoining means starting over with none of your past data. This data has value. It is precious. You don’t want to lose it.

We know that sometimes it’s the jolt from sleep that strikes our subscribers with questions about their ControlTraks. Our busiest login hours on the site are between two and five in the morning. Rather than lie in bed trying to will yourself back to sleep, hours after it’s appropriate to take a sleeping pill, why not refresh your ControlTraks, or give me a call.

Here’s my card.