Midnight in the Velveteen Sector, Chapter 3.

To many in this day and age, convenience has become an unconscious yet very real pursuit. The history of humanity could be laid out as nothing more than an attempt to make life easier. Wars, inventions, social advances, these things could all be argued from a point of view interested solely in laziness and self-gratification. This would be an odd stance to take, but one which may seduce one’s opponent to rethink the fervor of his argument. It would also be an utterly foolish stance to take, as any modicum of thought on the topic would lead one to the punchless realization that we, by and large, are not happy. And so it is that those industries that are built on convenience have tried to get people to stop thinking altogether. The degree to which they succeed in this pursuit is the degree to which they are able to make money.

The Joy Market is a very profitable business.

It was founded as a single store a scant six generations before our narrative takes place, by a group of five ambitious young men who were completely, totally lazy. “How could ambitious men be lazy?” you may ask. It turns out that their distinct brand of ambitiousness was nothing more than an aggressive stance toward making their own lives as effortless and rewarding as possible. While most people have the drive to chase down this goal with whatever their id can muster, these gentlemen were very deliberate and focused in grasping for the brass ring that seemed to tantalize everyone and no one at the same time.

One afternoon, while inebriated beyond reasonable levels for not the last time that day, two of the men (tradition dictates that their names were Lothar and Jamin) lay on their apartment floor thinking of ways to get somebody to run to the store for them. They were in desperate need of salt and cigarettes, you see. They spent a good two hours in this state and in the end were unable to land an idea that would solve their quandary. At long last the third roommate came back, just as they were about to pick themselves off of the matted-down carpet. Since Troy, the third roommate, was stone sober at the moment, he reluctantly took on the duty of retrieving enough supplies for the long push into yet another invalidating evening of revelry.

Upon returning, he vowed never again to be talked into being that guy. His trip to the store had been aggravatingly slow, unconscionably expensive, and a real detriment to catching up to his by now sloppy drunk friends. As he expressed his resolve in these matters, his friends turned a sympathetic ear to his plea. By now there were four of them--Ignacius and Sifl had arrived in the time Troy was away--and as each of them had been in that spot before, they each agreed that the shenanigans must stop.

Thus, in their collective outrage they sowed the first seeds of the Joy Market. It started by them scraping together enough money to rent a well-located apartment on the first floor; the elevator lobby and mailboxes nearby assured a moderate to large amount of foot traffic. They bought cases of beer, cartons of cigarettes, bag after bag of chips, and whatever else seemed good to them when they were out of their heads. They hung a piece of loose leaf with the words “WE GOT WHAT YOU NEED” on the door, and the next Friday night the business took off like a rocket. They were out of stock by midnight, and sold out the next night as well. Word spread quickly throughout the apartment complex, and there wasn’t a moment in the history of their venture when people weren’t banging down the door. The proximity and friendliness of these gentlemen assured that they were the first choice in everybody’s mind, every time.

Within a few short months they had enough money to dump the apartment. This was made easier by the fact that the authorities had caught wind of their goings-on and demanded that they move to a commercially zoned building. They bought a closed-up bank nearby and expanded. Every night they exceeded their profit forecasts (drawn up by a hired accountant, they weren’t about to do all that math on their own). Soon one store became two, two became six, six became fifteen.

What made the Joy Market different from other convenience stores was the degree to which its higher-ups pushed the boundary of pleasing its customers. In their minds there was no length too far to go to keep their customers from having to wait in line behind a slow patron or make a difficult decision between barbecue or sour cream & onion chips. They aggressively ran innumerable focus groups to find out precisely what their clientele wanted. They pushed technology in new directions, throwing untold sums of money at computers that would revolutionize the very essence of shopping. The advertising department surpassed any seen on the planet, with a philosophy that it’s not about saturating the market, it’s under saturating that will convince people that what they want is really, underneath it all, what they absolutely need.

The five lazy friends made ridiculous fortunes all, and retired within twenty years of that fateful drunken afternoon. They each lived lives of ultimate luxury and decadence the rest of their days, and died peacefully happy at ripe old ages. Their celebrity eclipsed that of any movie star, musician, or hotel heiress alive. People kept waiting for one of them to run into some trouble with their health or personal lives, but it never happened. The collective consensus was that they had actually contributed so much to humanity that God himself smiled on their lives in such a way as has never been seen before or since. It comes as little surprise that their mystique and legend grew year by year until their hyper-aggressive stance to convenience became, quite literally, a religion.

Through the decades the Joy Market turned their strategy from many small stores throughout the land to fewer, larger stores. When the first of the Joy Market Megastores cropped up, some people accused them of betraying their original cause. The ringleaders of this shockingly vocal minority were summarily rounded up and accused of heresy. Their fates are unknown to this day. Since then there has been no challenge to the ubiquitous necessity of the Market’s services.

This was the Joy Market that Benton approached late one night in search of sustenance and refreshment. The building itself was a towering structure of seemingly monumental proportions. The hugeness of the building was nothing more than a trick of the eye, meant to convey gigantitude without using up more space or building materials than was absolutely necessary. The architectural design was the same as the seventeen other Megastores, a design which was developed at no small expense. The strong vertical lines running up the sides were bathed in an ethereal blue light; all things told it looked very much like a piece off the set of an old movie about the distant future. Long gone were the days of low, flat-roofed buildings with ugly fluorescent lighting and gas pumps out front. This was a new breed of convenience store, a message that was conveyed in every aspect of the elegant exterior.

The front doors were an amazing piece of technology. Clunky old sliding glass doors had gone the way of the buffalo in a flurry of ground-breaking engineering. The entire perimeter of the building was nothing more than one sleek, continuous yet silent waterfall. The water was poured at calculated rates from a computerized ring eight feet up the side of the building and fell into a slender trough in the ground. Motion sensors a little higher up detected not only when someone was coming, but precisely how wide they and the occasional cart they were pushing were. The water was diverted from the area of the approaching customer with a comfortable cushion to spare, and resumed its normal flow once sensors confirmed that the customer was inside. In its testing phase, the developing engineers proudly boasted that a mere one out of 4,500 people ever felt a drop of water hit their skin. It was the kind of feature that was entirely superfluous yet hauntingly beautiful, which was exactly what the Liberal Joyists held up as their ideal. The Honorable Reverend Roger Nimrod’s landmark book, Twelve Steps Is Eleven Too Many, referred to this innovation as, “nothing short of the gates of heaven itself.” This sort of detail was everywhere.

No comments: