Peoplesurfing
Jason Snell



They were coming up Larry's street, shouting, moving closer to his home with every passing second. The whole town was wearing gray.

Larry was watering the little patch of lawn in front of his little ground- level apartment. When he saw the town coming, he dropped the hose.

Larry, they were screaming.

The water from the hose trickled under his feet. He wiggled his toes in the wet grass.

Come on, Larry! they shouted.

He ran out into the street in his bare feet. He was wearing a bright yellow shirt with floral patterns on it-- one of his weekend shirts. He always wore one when he watered his lawn, or mowed it, or sat in his rusty lawn chair on it. In the summer, he'd come out there with a portable radio and listen to Mariners games in the afternoons-- American League baseball, with designated hitters and astroturf-- that was how he loved to spend his summer afternoons.

Larry stood in the middle of his street, wearing his summer shirt. The town came closer, all in gray. A cold wind began to blow, and the wave of people overwhelmed him.

For a moment, he was even with them, one flowery shirt in a sea of gray. Buzz. Then he was smothered by them.

I left the hose running, Larry thought.

The gray wave continued on.

Buzz. His buzzer was buzzing, of all things.

Larry slapped at it, as if it were a bee, and it stopped.

He had dreamed the dream again, the one where everyone wore gray except for him. He didn't like the dream at all-- in fact, he hated it. Especially the fact that he never remembered to turn off the water hose.

Larry tried to put it out of his mind. It was time to get ready to work. He couldn't worry about a stupid dream. He had to sell computers.

They were gray computers, and they sat on gray tables in a gray store. Almost all of the employees wore gray or black and white.

Larry wore gray, too. The same gray as the computers, the same gray as the walls. The gray of his dream.

His first customer wore a wide plaid tie with a polyester suit. His daughter wore thick black glasses, small pearl earrings, and a bored look.

"Now, listen," the man was saying. "Marsha here's gonna need a computer when she goes off to college in the fall. What kind should we get?"

Great, Larry thought. He loved people who knew what they wanted.

"Well, you could start off by using the--"

"Daddy, I don't need a computer."

It was the lovely and perky Marsha. Evidently she hadn't told dad about her college wish list.

"Of course you need a computer, pumpkin," he said. "You've got to have a computer if you go to college!" He said it as if college was a mystical place.

"Don't call me pumpkin."

Larry wanted to step back, flee from the father-daughter confrontation that was ready to break out in the middle of the store, and he was ashamed of it. None of the other guys ever did things like that-- they just... well, charmed them.

"Let me show you, uh, our finest model," Larry said, attempting to sound convincing, like Jack always did. "And it's moderately priced at about 2,000 dollars, too!"

"Daddy, we could buy a used car for that much money," pumpkin whined.

Shut up, kid, Larry thought. You're killing me.

"Why the hell would you need a car?" dear old daddy yelled. "Where you're going, everyone lives at school. What you're gonna need is some computerizin' power!" He said the last two words as if he was referring to some sort of magical force.

Marsha kicked and screamed for a few more minutes, but dear old dad had made up his mind. Larry had a sale, an honest to god whole computer system sale. No more printer ribbons and dust covers for this guy, no sir-- it was the big time. Larry got to write four digits (plus cents) on the carbon-papered sales slip. He made sure to press extra hard, so the numbers would be sure to go through.

By the time Marsha and Plaid Dad had pulled out of the store parking lot, all the other store employees were asking Larry about his accomplishment.

"Which system did they buy, Larry?" his co-worker Jack asked him.

"Oh... the BR-714," Larry said, trying to sound nonchalant about selling the store's top-of-the-line system.

"Wow! Not bad, Larry my man. What disk drives did they get?"

Disk drives?

Larry swallowed.

"Disk drives?"

"Yeah," Jack said.

"Um-- the, uh, you know, the kind with the--" he made a spinning motion with one finger. His hand was shaking.

"The hard drive? Hey, good job!" Jack said, and slapped Larry on the back. "Still, if you had just sold ‘em the computer without any disk drive at all, I doubt that geek girl and her old man would’ve known the difference."

Without any disk drive at all, their computer would be completely useless.

Gulp.

"Something wrong, Larry?" asked Kim, another one of his co-workers. They were never friends. Just co-workers. Larry never seemed to find friends at work.

"Nothing," Larry said. "Nothing at all."

He frowned, moaned quietly to himself, and considered hiding under the carpet. He decided that he'd be too noticable, and made his way to the back of the store to cry.

By lunchtime, Larry felt a little better. It wasn't as if it was his first mistake, and it wasn't as if the others had never goofed before.

I didn't mean to do it was the phrase that always consoled him. That, and lunch with the gang from work.

They weren't a family, the workers at Computer Central, but they ate together and tried to be civil to one another. They ate together not out of any close ties but because there was only one restaurant in the shopping center and all of them were too lazy to drive somewhere else for lunch. The only other place for food anywhere nearby was Burger King, so the gang usually spent their time eating at the Stage Wheel Restaurant.

Larry went because everyone else did. He ate a French Dip sandwich, every day. It was the only thing on the menu that he liked. He was a picky eater. He would eat a French Dip, and the little crackers that come with the soup of the day.

And it came to pass that, in the middle of a fascinating conversation on something that Larry knew nothing about, he managed to spill all of the au jus into his lap.

The conversation stopped. They all looked at Larry.

"You okay, Larry?" Kim asked.

He tried to act as if it were nothing, speaking in the nonchalant way that Jack always used.

"Oh, I'm fine. Not too much of a mess. Just a little wet."

Larry be nimble.

"Maybe you want to clean yourself up in the bathroom?"

It was a good idea. Larry nodded.

"Sure. I'll be back in a second." He was completely businesslike, not embarrassed in the least.

Larry be quick.

He stood up, and au jus that had pooled in his lap trickled down his legs. Some of it fell on the floor, making a sound quite similar to what a body might sound like when it hit the ground after falling from a skyscraper.

Little pieces of roast beef were stuck to the large wet area on Larry's pants. The rest of the Lunch Bunch chuckled softly.

Larry fall face-down on the candlestick, giving himself second-degree burns over a good percentage of his body.

He spent the rest of lunch hour standing in front of the hand dryer in the bathroom, feeling hot air blow down his pants. It felt kind of good, and almost offset his embarrassment and shame.

That night, he was watering his lawn again, still wearing his hawaiian shirt. Jus flowed from out of the hose.

The whole town, wearing gray, ran up the street toward him. They were yelling again.

Larry turned off the hose and began to walk into the street. As the people approached, he noticed that au jus was still flowing out of the hose.

The wave of people hit him, and became an actual wave, a roast beef au jus wave. The au jus washed over him, drowning him, filling his lungs. Little pieces of roast beef stuck in his throat and attached themselves to his pants.

I didn't mean to do it, he thought to himself, and swallowed a soggy soup cracker.

The wave kept rolling, leaving Larry behind, dying, in its wake.

When he woke up, the sheets were damp with sweat. Another bad dream.

That morning at work was just like any other morning. Larry sold printer ribbons to skinny adolescent boys with bowl haircuts and glasses, boxes of disks to fat, pimply teenage girls, and dust covers to blue-haired old ladies.

All morning, Jack kept trying to pick up on women customers. Larry was tired of it.

Jack was slimier than Wayne Newton. He called all women "chicks" when they weren't around, and called them "babes" when they were. He wore a little skinny tie that looked more like a wide shoelace, and kept his black hair slicked back-- very hip. He was a combination of Pat Riley and a lizard.

Larry hadn't had a date in months. His outfit was plain, and his tie was a little bit too wide. His hair was straight as a board, and mousy brown in color.

Jack kept getting these women to go out with him. Almost every babe he tried it on said yes to him.

"Hey," Jack said, "you're kind of pretty. Would you like to go out to dinner with me tonight?"

They invariably said yes. Maybe it was the hair.

About eleven o'clock, Jack was over in the corner of the store, trying to sell a printer to a woman who had already agreed to go out with him. A blonde walked in. Not a blonde, the kind you see in movies or on television. Just a blonde woman, sort of plain, but not ugly by any means.

She wanted to see dust covers. Larry took her over to the dust covers, and showed her a few different kinds.

"Hey," Larry said, "you're kind of pretty. Would you like to go out to dinner with me tonight?"

She said no. But she did buy a lovely gray dust cover, to match her computer.

It must be the hair, Larry thought.

"Nice try, stud," Jack said, and slapped him on the back. His date with the expensive printer giggled a little.

Larry began to re-think the under-the-carpet idea.

When it came time for lunch, Larry darted out the door before anyone could ask him where he was going. He knew where he wanted to eat lunch, and it wasn't the Stage Wheel. He wanted to eat by himself, away from Jack. And he didn't really feel like French Dip au jus.

He went to Burger King. He ordered a chicken club sandwich, something he had never had before, and a vanilla shake. He ate the chicken, and liked it. And the vanilla was a refreshing change of pace from the chocolate shake he normally had.

He ate his fast-food feast at an outside table, next to a little children's playground that Burger King had set up. It had statues of different little hamburger and french fry characters set up in between plastic swings and slides. A few kids were squealing as they slid down something that resembled a giant pickle.

The food tasted better outside, Larry thought, with a warm breeze blowing in the fresh air.

Much better than the stuffy air in the Stage Wheel.

He went back in and ordered a Hot Fudge Sundae. The hot fudge tasted like plastic, and so did the ice cream. Larry loved it.

By the time he finished the sundae, lunch hour was over. He went back to the store, and nobody asked where he had gone.

One of the first customers after lunch was a fairly attractive woman. Jack saw her coming, and began to make his way from the back of the store. Larry, who was standing at the front of the store, got to her first.

"Hi there!" Larry said. "Welcome to Computer Central!"

"Thanks," the woman said.

Jack tapped Larry on the shoulder.

"Don't you think I should handle this one, stud?" Jack asked.

"That's all right, Jack. I've got it." He turned back to the woman. "Can I help you with something?"

"I'm looking for a computer for under fifteen hundred dollars," she said.

Larry led her into the corner and showed her around the different units. He tried to impress her with his sense of humor, and he tried to be creative with his sales approach. She laughed at all the right places, and then bought one of the computers -- with a disk drive.

When Larry went up to the front of the store to get a sales slip, he couldn't help smiling at Jack.

Made a sale, slimeball, Larry thought.

After the sales slip was signed and the woman had written her check, Larry decided to try a different sales approach. Again, he was going to avoid the Jack method.

"You know, miss, I think you're very attractive and intelligent, and I'd like to take you out to dinner sometime," Larry said.

She looked up at him with her gorgeous blue eyes, and smiled.

YES!, he shouted in his mind. Take that, Jackie-boy!

"I'm sorry," she said. "That's very nice of you, but I've got a boyfriend." She paused for a second.

Larry eyed the carpet anxiously, hoping to find a place to slide under.

"Thanks for all your help. I appreciate it," she said.

After she had left with her new computer, Jack came up to him and slapped him on the back.

"Nice try, stud," he said. "At least you sold something."

Larry smiled back at him, and said nothing.

That night, the gray people ran at him from down the street, just as before. Still holding his water hose, he ran out into the street.

They came closer, and he could hear them shouting Come on, Larry at him.

He pointed his hose at the gray wave of people, and they all began to melt away, becoming nothing but a gray wave of water.

Larry dropped the hose, turned around, and began whistling a crazy tune. He started to skip, like a child might skip. He skipped off into the distance. Behind him, the wave began to break.

Larry woke up with a slight smile on his face. It had been a good dream.


Jason Snell (jsnell@intertext.com) is the editor of InterText and TeeVee. He's the Features editor at Macworld magazine.

InterText stories written by Jason Snell: "Mr. Wilt" (v1n1), "Haircuts $20" (v1n2), "Peoplesurfing" (v1n3), "Gravity" (v2n1), "The Tired Man and The Hoop" (v2n6), "The Watcher" (v4n3).


InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 1, Number 3 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1991 Jason Snell.