(Published under the title "Localized" in the journal "Infinite Mile" | issue 20 | September 2014)
Carrington Shore was now of the age when he could tell himself that the world was transforming into a different, altogether more uninhabitable place. He wasn’t quite old, and yet he wasn’t quite young. Indeed, approaching a grey middle zone, perhaps he now understood the nature of crisis as it commonly beset those his age. Although one could call Carrington an outwardly civilized man, he harbored truly criminal thoughts concerning his current employer. Ostensibly a place of higher education, the institution known as The University, located in the heart of The City, provided Carrington a platform from which to daily observe bright young conscripts as all of their hopes and dreams were slowly strangled from their bodies until the students rolled out the backdoor as bereft, bloodless mannequins, to be used as target practice in an ongoing sociological experiment. Carrington despised his job. It required him to sell something he thought should never be sold. Sitting behind his desk, day after day, he would inform students and their overbearing, morally misguided caretakers, that The University was the path, the only path, the True path, toward salvation in this world. To enter into a binding agreement with The University, was to prove that one could be better than every other desperate cretin clamoring to reach the summit of the tit. All you need do is click on this little financial agreement box to get started, thank you very much.
As the clientele of The University had dwindled, bound to the changing fortunes of The City, the discussion had turned from one of academics and community service, to that of effective branding strategies to recruit beyond the vanishing local pool. If corporations and terrorist organizations could recruit using Twitter, so could The University. Through the sexy use of social media, show-stopping videos that made learning look like something out of “Rent,” audio bursts on Spotify, a variety of expressway billboards to compete with those of fastfood chains and legal experts who want you to know if you know who your daddy is, and the implementation of online “remote access” courses that would allow students to attend classes from home in a natural state of torpor—naked and unwashed, then the The University could survive without relying solely upon the local supply of cadavers. Celebrity endorsements were sure to follow.
Behind his desk, Carrington would smile to the customers, nod, and provide the occasional ironic aside, but mostly smile. His smile masked a typical reverie that would play across his mind, such as that in which he would pilot a Ford F-650 modified Monster Truck, outfitted with nitro shocks and 52-inch military tires, over the corpse of his administrative supervisor, back and forth, several times. This became a rhythmic, meditative exercise for him with consistent repetitive imagery, allowing Carrington to focus and carry forth throughout the day.
Approaching the part of town that he remembered all too well as once being a historic shithole, on his way home from The University, Carrington Shore biked past the newly installed, high-end luxury lunchbox boutique, SHINY OIL, whose very name threatened to induce in him an aneurism. SHINY OIL, owned by the same corporate entity behind SHILLSON—outfitters of outdoor apparel for the well-to-do faux sportsman—sourced its name from a defunct American manufacturer that had a history of racially stereotyped advertising in the twenties and thirties. The new SHINY OIL declared itself as a committed partner in the ongoing renewal of The City. Or at the very least the renewal of the city street it occupied. Or perhaps just one side of the street. Or maybe just one side of one block of the street. Or merely the space that the “flagship” occupied. Of course it was committed, thanks to an ethos in which all of the company’s products were concocted under the credo that stuff to sell should be hand-assembled by non-unionized workers from outsourced components to maintain the appearance of worshipping at the altar of blue collar industry. They had a slogan: “HANDCRAFTED IN THE CITY WITH SWEATY TOIL FOR YOU.” SHINY OIL had successfully plunged a flag into the spleen of The City and it’s working class heritage to sell high-priced crap to the leisure class. Anyone who sought to take this flag down was an enemy to the progress of The City.
Carrington stopped his bike and dismounted, pausing to hydrate and reflect.
And what products SHINY OIL made! As their advertising made note: Everything is built with only the best available parts, utilizing a special assembly process in their top-of-the-line city factory, whereby actual human workers toil to put crap together by hand, one tedious piece at a time, for the buyer to fully enjoy luxury at it’s finest. This comes from the epiphany that to truly appreciate the finer things in life, those things must come with the knowledge that quality is achieved by those earning less money than you, but who are actual Americans, working right here, in the city you occasionally visit for sporting events, small plate dining experiences or hookers. There were the $2,000 hand-assembled, artisanal lunchboxes, each one in a numbered edition, made from only the finest durable imported materials; the high-quality, finely-crafted $3,000 scooters that would make America quiver and piss itself silly with blue-collar pride once again; the designer line of genuine leather and silver dog refuse collection units advertised as the first of their kind to be manufactured on American soil, developed by scorching hot gallery artist and fashion photographer Jean-Michel Rouche, with an army of eager beaver art students recruited from The University with the promise of “advancement in life”; and “a miscellany of conscientiously appointed handicrafts straight from factory-town USA,” that would “appeal to those who were both adrenalized by hardcore quality in their products and emotionally attached to the hardworking folk who assembled those products.” And then there were the $50,000 American flags. Not just any American flags, mind you, but those hand-sewn by actual maimed veterans of foreign wars against tyranny in the Middle East, made only with the finest, high quality thread to remind you that the republic is a place of luxury. You could throw one of these patriotic symbols down on a king or queen bed and have a hot copulation session with the most high-priced escort you could find downtown. It’s about freedom of lifestyle. It’s about the right to choose luxury. It’s also about good old American know-how and labor.
Carrington paused to wince. His thoughts were wandering. He segued into a recollection of the official “FAQ” he had seen on the SHINY OIL website:
• Who are you? SHINY OIL is a team. Based in Oklahoma, and with a superstore nestled in Los Angeles, our company has many subsidiaries producing the finest in luxury goods. But we have finally arrived in your city, The City, to make the American Manufacturing Dream roar back to life. We have chosen to be here with you, for you.
• Why do these products cost so much, and might require me to save up using several paychecks? Well firstly, real American quality costs real American money. It’s a simple equation, but don’t bother doing the math. Secondly, if you have to “save up” to buy SHINY OIL products, don’t bother. This means we’re not for you. This means it’s time to go to Target.
• Why The City? SHINY OIL refuses to accept that the days of manufacturing have disappeared in this great land. Although everything appears to be in ruins and needs to be bulldozed, and some people need to be pushed off to somewhere more suitable, we believe that if you buy SHINY OIL luxury items, you will be supporting the renewal or even the rebuilding of The City. Besides, The City isn’t as bad as it seems.
• How can I be a part of your mission? For each #MakeUsDoWell post on social media, in which you tell SHINY OIL how much you enjoy your new purchase, we will put those glowing endorsements on a special paper infused with seeds. This “happy paper” will be planted throughout The City, and in particular will be used in the garden behind our factory where employees take their smoke. The “happy paper” will bloom with an assortment of curated flowers.
The company’s slick promo video flashed through Carrington’s mind. Titled “Life In The City” and lensed by Jean-Michel Rouche, it starred the slender and photogenic supermodel Nikki Blister, shrink-wrapped in the latest haute couture, as she frolics among the working class and poor denizens of The City. SEE a Caucasian woman distribute ice cream cones to African American children as if she were Lady Diana in Angola! WATCH as Miss Blister rides her $3,000 scooter through decimated urban neighborhoods! BEHOLD as Miss Blister carries her $2,000 lunchbox to the weekend farmer’s market in The City, purchasing a single eggplant to stow in her fashionable container! GASP as Contessa Blister stoops in shimmering, chrome high heels to pick up the shit of her poodle, using the company’s handcrafted fecal retrieval device, off of a city sidewalk littered with empty Maker’s Mark bottles and used condoms!
For months, Carrington knew he had been wasting his breath spouting off about SHINY OIL’s appropriation of a working class ethos to peddle goods into the hands of rich scum. An overreaction, some suggested. There will always be snakeoil luxury peddled on the backs of working stiffs! It’s the “American Way” baby. Sure, this did smack of something that has long existed, but that was no reason to paper it over. Carrington recalled the time he stopped in to the store to see what it was all about, only to have a small security dragnet stare him down once they got a good look at what kind of shoes he was wearing. That sort of welcoming committee made him want to steal something. Most likely it would have been the model lunchbox known as “The Breadwinner,” constructed to “unyielding standards” to carry lunches in the “most challenging of environments.” Enameled to resemble “your grandfather’s lunchpail.”
Carrington knew the clientele well—those silver haired, over-tanned, white middle aged men sporting crisp periwinkle or peach button down dress shirts with linen sport jackets and matching slacks, and loafers without socks, walking out with personalized chrome lunchboxes to their German sport-chariots, on their way back to estates safely outside city limits. Back in the office, they would get high marks for having ventured deep into the city to score such a hip item that advertised one as being “cool as fuck.” Carrington belched a little invective to himself every time he spotted one of these creatures, knowing full well that in the absence of laws, either these corporate sharks or he would not hesitate embracing the opportunity to slaughter one another.
But Carrington had to be on his way. It was getting late. He was hungry. Moving along, he mounted his bike, wiped the thought of such absurdities from his mind, and started off. Not long after Carrington rounded another corner, SHINY OIL disappeared from his view. As he peddled with increased vigor toward his next destination, dodging the psychopathic motorists harboring a bloodlust along the way, a fuel tanker carrying approximately 9,500 combined gallons of Unleaded Regular, Unleaded Premium and Diesel—about 1,000 gallons over the lawful weight limit—suddenly careened into the luxury lunchbox boutique, erupting into a bloody conflagration that spared no one on the newly revitalized city block.
illustration by ryan standfest