He took a foil wrapper between ink-stained finger and thumb and waggled it. It made a sad crinkling sound.
“Look at this thing,” he said, “bits of ground tea leaf wrapped in a tissue bag with a cotton string a metal clip and a piece of threateningly cheery paper reminding me how natural it is.”
He waggled the red and white foil wrapper again. It was stamped with bright letters. Volcano Island Tea. Steep for two and a half minutes at 90 degrees Centigrade. All natural, all pure. Start your day the right way. Earl Tropical. Mango flavored.
I like mango-flavored tea.
“But you can’t see it,” he stretched out the see. I expected he’d add a saw, but instead he ripped open the foil wrapper and tossed the teabag in his teacup. Then he cursed and started fishing for the paper anchor that had also slipped into the cup.
I picked up the wrapper, “Yeah, it’s a bit of a waste.”
“It’s fucking disgraceful,” grumbled Kasander as he finger-wrestled the little stub out and looped it around the cup’s handle to keep it in place.
As the hot water gushed from the water cooler I pondered how it was still called a water cooler, when it came with hot and cold running water from an oversized plastic bottle.
“I wanted to write something about the climate strike,” I said idly, “but then the Christchurch attack happened.”
“Fucking disgraceful. All these wrappers. All this garbage.”
“Some idiot racist terrorist and every news-click host switches from doing something about the planet to hunting eyeballs. Ghouls.”
“Zombies. It’s all just consume, consume, consume. Stamp, wrap, unwrap, eat, shit. Soon they’ll make plastic wrappers for whenever I take a crap,” Kasander was still focused on his teacup, “like a plastic bag for fucking dog crap. Wrap all our crap in plastic and save it for posterity.”
“Did … what?”
Kasander reeled out his teabag and squeezed it several times between his fingers. Quick, short squeezes to match his little winces and gasps. The water was still hot.
“You’re overdoing it. There’s barely a teaspoon in there.”
“It’s not about wasting it. This is where the strongest flavor is!”
“Right. Like potato peels.”
“No, that’s a myth. But this is just osmosis.”
I half turned to walk back to my desk, but he continued, “…just like those eyeball hunters, click-baiters. Osmosis. They’re useless, you know.”
I paused, “What? The news?”
“Yeah, come on. Let’s go to the lobby. The world won’t know if you’re away from your desk an extra ten minutes.”
He was right.
“This winter’s damned long, and the fools are going to use that as an excuse to keep our heads in the sand and their fingers in our wallets.”
“You do have a way with words,” I looked down on the carefully managed stream. It was brown. The soil was grey. The grass was yellow. It had been a long, dry, cold winter. Mid March and barely any sign of Spring.
“But that’s not here nor there, I was talking about osmosis and news.”
“You’re going to call them olds next.”
“Wha? Oh, that. Well, yeah, of course. Nothing new, really, regurgitating comforting pap to keep you feeling like nothing’s changed. But no,” he paused, “I meant osmosis. The news, the media … their product is stories, but their stories don’t sell because they’re good, they sell because … um … people are kind of bored. So they sell other folks’ attention. To advertisers. And it’s kind of a shit model, because it counts on people having nothing better to do.”
Kasander was going to rant. “Go on,” I said. Inside, I sighed.
“Well, see, in olden days the newspaper was for well-off men to show off to other well-off men that they were well-enough-off to read and take the time. Egg and coffee and the newspaper. Come home, hide behind the broadsheet, have some private time. Then, next day at the office, they’d talk about how they were all up to date on the latest.”
I sipped my tea. Kasander blew on his. Sniffing gingerly at the mango.
“Yeah, so now there’s other stuff to do and they’re going down the drain pipe, following the eyeballs with the latest horror show. Shock rock was at least honest, this is clutching at pearls while excited to see shit hit the fan. The more the shit flies, the more eyeballs lock, the more space they sell.”
I sipped some more tea. Outside some cranes were hunting for … frogs? I suppose. I couldn’t see from here. Maybe if I had binoculars. Or better eyes.
“But the eyes aren’t on them any more, they’re on us. It’s what we do that matters now,” he sucked at some tea through his ratty teeth, “we’re in the Recorded Era now.”
This was different. “The Recorded Era?”
“Yeah. It’s all on the record. For ever. Christchurch and Climate Strike. The thing we say, the way we react. It’s public record for ever.”
“Yeah, but it doesn’t matter. People don’t care. They’re getting accustomed to it, tuning it out.”
“No, they’re not. Young people aren’t. The folks coming up, they know that everything you write and say online is real, just like a big sign on a mountain, and real forever. Or real for a few lifetimes, anyway, as long as the archives and drives last.”
“But people act like shit on line and say vile stuff.”
“It’s stupid people and old people. They think it doesn’t matter, that it’s just public record. They think online is like ranting to neighbors in the backyard, but it’s not.”
“So how does that matter? Things are still going down the can. Trump-abies around the world, politicians being vile, and more.”
“It’s temporary. Young people know they’re recorded, and act accordingly. Older folks? They haven’t learned yet—and many will die before they learn,” Kasander paused to strain more tea into his mouth. He swirled the hot liquid, then swallowed, “So, yeah, they’ve got shit views and they share them. And in this Recorded Era their shit opinions get all neatly wrapped and packaged, and when they die, all their shit is going to be a great mausoleum of mud for them forever.”
“You’re saying being recorded is going to improve people?”
“Everybody cares about their fucking reputation, about what other people think, except folks with broken brains. So, yeah, people are going to get more polite when they realize their shit ideas are gonna follow them around like a crap wrapped in foil. For ever.”
He slurped some more tea, “Or, you know, until they publicly and repeatedly recant and smear themselves with their own stupidity.”
“That just sounds like people are going to be terrified of being held to account and act polite, not actually be any better!”
“Eh, same thing. I’m fine with that.”
That was Kasander for you. I still wanted to write a piece about the climate strikes, how proud I was of the young for standing up and being counted. That really was a good and important thing.
But somehow I didn’t get around to it, I had a kickstarter to finish and then time just went whoosh and here we were, at the end of the bullet train with a book to layout.
Still, perhaps Kasander was right.