Hot Fudge Sundae

A Joseph Castagno short story…

I know it was for my own good, but I miss bacon… pizza and what I wouldn’t do for a donut or a milk shake – the cubes aren’t so bad and we’re not supposed to even remember the old days… but I do. The days before Techocracy, before the vaccines saved us, you know back when we were still allowed to think for ourselves – but it’s better now right? No more cancer, no more diabetes, no more fat people…

It had happened pretty quickly after the 2022 mid-term elections, we had all thought the mergers were a good thing and hadn’t we laughed at the names? Amazoogle, Micrapple, Sprizon… Pfizeneca was probably my favorite, but it didn’t seem so funny when they had setup a national governance board replacing the executive branch of what was no longer a democracy or the forced vaccination programs… no that wasn’t funny at all.

Covid had been a test run if you will and the vaccines had worked with unprecedented efficacy, eradicating the virus had been a nice side effect – testing out DNA manipulation had been the real win though. Cancer had been a fast follow, I mean how do you argue with curing cancer, it was the fucking holy grail, wasn’t it? Diabetes was next, you don’t really need to worry about insulin costs if you wipe out the disease.

All this was just part of the learning curve though, the real test was programming out human behavior, a small hormonal adjustment here and there and all of a sudden no one craves food anymore. Science had learned plenty during the Covid years including how to turn off taste and smell and wasn’t that really at the heart of desire? I try to push all this aside as I gaze at my toes… socks or no socks? That I was even making this decision and could see my toes was progress, right?

I had decided no socks, but the kitchen floor was cold and I was rethinking my decision as I cut two green cubes in half and contemplated adding a yellow. About six months earlier I had found an old jar of peanut butter, God only knows how the inspectors had missed that, turns out toasting the yellow and adding a glop didn’t trigger any taste sensations, but the Alexa alarm system had scared the shit out of me. That little experiment had cost me another inspection and fifty tokens as that bitch Siri is fond of reminding me every time, I check my account.

I stand at my desk and adjust the treadmill speed, no one sat any longer it wasn’t healthy, plugging in I receive the overnight “news” – ahh all is well in the world, no unemployment, no disease, everything is green and the climate is perfect… Elysium I think to myself, damn where had that come from, Dante? No Shakespeare… I can’t quite remember as I start to tremble… Oh fuck no I think licking my lips, a hot fudge sundae pops into my head. Everything starts to fade and I can hear the Alexa alarm going off somewhere in the distance…

2020 RANT

Well, this shitshow started out normal enough, but that didn’t last very long… anybody roll out of a NYE 2020 party resolving to stay in your house all year, scream at the television every night, wash your hands 13,000 times, gain 20 pounds, stockpile 42 cases of toilet paper, 7 gallons of hand sanitizer, and count the steps to your living room as a major exercise accomplishment?

No, I didn’t think so… anybody think medical care would include poking a huge Q-tip up our nose to the base of the brain, or one of those cool home kits you drool into – thanks for playing we’ll get back to you in oh ten days or so. Nothing anxiety producing about that, never mind the ever-shifting list of symptoms ahhh Covid19! 

On a positive note, I was able to solidify my goal of being an Olympic level social distancer. Since I was distancing, I figured I better find a way to maintain my magnificent physique. I decided to try this intermittent fasting thing; you have heard of this right? Let me just tell you, there is nothing intermittent about not eating for 18 hours – that’s just plain fasting. In my book intermittent means skipping some snacks, not all of them, just you know, intermittently – totally misunderstood that.  

I appreciate how many of you have reached out asking, well more like demanding an EPIC rant for this year; which honestly hurt my feelings a bit, cause aren’t they all epic? But I understand 2020 deserves a next level rant, something that lives up to the unparalleled insanity of this year and captures the unbelievable confluence of events: a new social awakening, “autonomous zones,” a truly insane Presidential campaign, then top that off with a global pandemic and all its trappings… 2020 – so one epic rant coming up. Admittedly, I am tad anxious about starting this with a week left in the year; feels a little like tempting fate to pull one last “fuck you”. 

Now, I have a feeling you guys are morbidly curious to see how I handle the long list of important and conflicting topics out there: Covid19, Trump/Anti-Trump, Biden/Anti-Biden, BLM/ALM, ANTIFA, autonomous zones, white privilege/guilt, “woke” movement, cancel culture, lockdowns, mask mandates, Dr. Fauci – cause why not, right… damn I almost forgot the vaccine! Probably a dozen more we could add to that list and if you think I’m jumping into that minefield with both feet… read on.

There are a few things I need to deal with from the top though; and this is classic rant material so hang on. Without getting into whether wearing a mask is the right, safe, respectful thing to do can we just talk about the asshats that wear it over their mouth, but not over their nose? Seriously why bother, never mind that it looks ridiculous, this kind of foolishness just irritates me. If you are a Covid non-believer that thinks masks don’t help, breed deadly lung diseases all while increasing your CO2 consumption I suggest you just don’t wear one. Now if you are a believer and subscribe to the current (for now) wisdom that masks will curb the spread, flatten the curve, and are a perfect vehicle for your cutting-edge fashion sense then cover your nose. There’s no place for you “in-betweeners” in this new Covid world – time to pick a side.

We need to talk a little more about this social distancing thing as well, now truth is I have been a long-term fan of social distancing; in fact, the more distance the better. Six feet is the prescribed measure, this shouldn’t be too hard to figure out – most places are actually marking it out for you so pay attention. However, we all know that you can ignore social distancing if you are at Walmart, Target, Church -in some states anyway, a friendly rally (you can decide what that means) or in an airplane. Do I need to explain that last one? Pretty simple actually, it’s six feet in all directions and that’s impossible on an airplane – so maybe the mask thing is a good idea after all… simply put: don’t get all up on me dude. 

Normally I don’t get “geographic” in these rants, but I think I would be remiss if I didn’t invite all of you down here to Florida… Our governor has legislated that Covid is not allowed to exist here so Floridians have decided it’s time to get back to normal. The weather is great, so come visit and hang out at a beach, a bar, or your favorite amusement park – might I suggest you fly down. I almost forgot we make our kids go to school here, so if you have little ones you might want to consider a move!

I understand it’s difficult not to focus entirely on Covid, it is after all a pandemic, so maybe we can just talk about politics. Fact is I usually avoid politics; not because I care what anyone thinks, but because I find most people aren’t interested in a substantive conversation involving the exchange of ideas, which means actually listening to each other. In my opinion the level of acrimony within our national dialogue is a poor reflection on all of us. After the last few election cycles though I am beginning to wonder if collectively we have simply lost our minds or at least our imagination, you people do realize we keep electing folks that are clearly past their expiration date – at this rate we don’t need term limits we need a long-term care facility. 

So, what does that even leave to rant about? I may have been to Starbucks a dozen times this year and honestly, I don’t even have to order now my favorite drive-thru barista knows what I want. No morning commute so no reason to bitch about the minivan in the Dunkin’ line that can’t figure out what donuts the kids want. Hell, I’ve only driven on the freeway a couple of times so if peeps are still out there texting at 90MPH I wouldn’t know it. Let’s see, no air travel so fake service animals in sequined vests aren’t a real concern and if someone wants to push their way to the front of the plane to get off first… nope don’t care. 2020 is seriously cramping my rant style. 

There is the whole grocery delivery situation, do you think they train these people to pick the bruised avocados or is it just luck of the draw?  And before you start any shit about first world problems or privilege – I’m pretty much working all the time and I am not going to go hang out with the below the nose mask morons at the grocery store… just saying. As long as we are talking about avocados and let’s add mangos to this; why the hell is the pit so big? Do you think the Almighty actually thought that was a good idea or did some celestial engineer completely fuck up the schematics? Fact is I have a whole list of questions like that, take giraffes for instance – wouldn’t it have been easier to make shorter trees? Or pineapples, who thought it should take two years to grow a pineapple; clearly no one was thinking about how that takes twice the space it should… questions without answers I am afraid.  

Setting the whole celestial engineering thing aside, as I reflect on 2020 it strikes me, we have been here before. Our relatively short history is punctuated with upheavals, our own seismic shifts – belief systems competing like tectonic plates that grind against each other eventually creating something new. I read somewhere that all change is violent by its very nature, I’ve had time to think on that a bit this year. War is clearly the violent application of force to achieve a political aim; social unrest, technology leaps that fundamentally change society, or the thrust required to escape the gravity of this earth – each in their own way adhere to this principle. Simply put achievement or change is disruptive and by extension violent. 

Easy to recognize in retrospect – the frantic lines on the seismograph of our history – but here in the midst of it we are just hanging on; resisting the inevitability of it.  This time will pass like all others before it and we will adjust to the new landscape, gather our breath and begin that journey to the next upheaval. If 2020 taught us anything it’s that during these points of acceleration you can choose to participate or not, but change is inevitable and affects all of us. 

So, is it really all so dismal? If you flit across the surface of things jumping from one negative meme to another you might miss the beauty underneath. Let’s not debate the decision making surrounding Covid, I would rather honor the indomitable will and compassion of front-line healthcare workers, many times providing the comfort family wasn’t allowed to. We locked down the world, but did you see the videos of entire Italian neighborhoods serenading each other? Consider the millions of folks that got up each morning kissed someone goodbye and spent the day delivering stuff to those of us who couldn’t or wouldn’t leave the house. Will there be costs and logistical issues with a vaccine, of course, but how incredible that brilliant people were able to craft hope in so few months? I think it is human nature to focus on the turmoil around us, but as we reflect on this complicated year remember where we shined. 

Instead of allowing 2020 and the pandemic to disconnect us we used technology to bridge the gap, to do church, work, and keep friends and family close. In many ways I am more connected to folks today then I might have been under “normal” circumstances. We are getting to see a more intimate view of each other, our homes, our kids, our parents, and grandkids… there is no extracting them from the virtual space we now occupy and how wonderful it is. We share at a different level; experiences, fears, hopes, pieces of ourselves we wouldn’t bring to the office. Our humanity is starting to shine through… and it’s a beautiful thing.

On a personal note, 2020 has created an opportunity to hold my immediate family closer, when your circle is forcibly limited you no longer take relationships for granted. I think about the many more meals I am crafting at home and how much I really enjoy the creativity of making a weekly menu. Dinner conversations have a different gravity now and I find myself reaching out to my boys in Seattle, my sister in NM, and friends in a more frequent and regular cadence than before. Those connections have a different tenor now and although 2020’s issues may dissipate I don’t want to lose this more tangible and precious connection we have forged. 

This has been a year of challenges for our country and it would be easy to push the popular narrative or skip over controversy completely, but that isn’t really what the rant is about is it? I can’t speak for anyone but myself and maybe for the first time I am considering the consequences of speaking my own truth. That dismays me on a deeply personal level, not because I am insecure in what I believe, but because it seems we have come to a point where no matter your beliefs some will be in violent opposition. There was a time when we could disagree, argue our point, try to enlighten those that may not have seen the “wrong” in something – where did those days go? When did it become okay to punish those that think differently? Of course, the true measure of courage is whether you are willing absorb the consequences of your beliefs, easily said not so easily done. In fiction the tests are obvious and monumental… in life I have found it is the everyday opportunities that make the difference.

Some would say we are past the time for such platitudes, that change needs to be accelerated. Maybe they are right, I see my children standing up for what they believe, even to the point of taking to the streets in protest. I may not agree with every position, but I am incredibly proud of them, I understand their passion, their impatience, and their courage. Maybe it’s the perspective of experience, but I worry that obstinate intolerance ultimately dooms the conversation benefitting no-one. I believe it’s incumbent upon all of us to craft a dialogue that moves everyone forward, and that, requires the ability to listen respectfully – even when we disagree. Like many young people mine are making an effort, lifting their voices, is the dialogue comfortable – not always, but it’s necessary. In some respects, it doesn’t matter what side of things you find yourself, as long as you make the effort to participate in the conversation – it’s important.  

So, my friends smile at the insanity, push the fear aside and embrace the challenge to rise above. In my mind it all comes down to this: if you are going to order some ½ decaf soy chai latte with a mocha drizzle made backwards, park the Prius and go the hell inside. 

Stay the course and Happy Holidays my friends,

Joe

PS: Do you remember the quiet though? During the early days of the lockdown, I would sit on the porch and listen… no traffic, no freeway noise, no construction… just nature’s symphony – I think it forced me to take a breath, take a moment, and just be still… I miss that…