by Lenny Levine
Greg Blake’s troubles began as he was sitting on his buddy Roy’s couch to watch the Giants-Eagles game. On the sixty-inch TV, the teams were lining up for the kickoff as Greg glanced over at Roy in his recliner and the ice chest next to him. “Toss me a brewski, bro, will ya?” he meant to say.
What he said was: “Toss me a brewery, brow, will yacht?”
“Huh?” Roy said, not taking his eyes from the screen.
Greg blinked in confusion.
Roy looked over at him. “No, really, man. I didn’t get that.”
“I wanted a beer,” Greg said carefully.
“Well, hell, that ain’t a problem.” Roy reached down and plucked a bottle of Coors from the cooler. “Here ya go.” He flipped it over to Greg, who nearly dropped it.
On the screen, the Giant kickoff returner was breaking a tackle. He made a quick move to his left and busted it up the sideline.
“Yeah! Yeah!” Roy cried out.
What the hell just happened? Greg thought. Did I have a stroke or something?
“Nice return!” Roy enthused, as the runner was forced out at the Eagles’ forty. “Now, maybe we can get some offense going.”
He must have been distracted, that’s all. He still felt okay, as far as he could tell. He flexed his fingers and toes. Nothing seemed to be paralyzed or anything. Slowly, he began to relax and watch the game again, as Eli Manning stood over center, surveying the defense.
“Awright, Eli, let’s get ’em!” he intended to say.
His actual words were: “Ore rights, Eli, let’s get them!”
Roy glanced over at him. “What was that?”
“I don’t know,” Greg said nervously.
“Well, that makes two of us. Whoa, baby!”
On the screen, Eli launched one downfield in the direction of Odell Beckham. It fell just beyond Beckham’s diving attempt to pull it in.
“Fuck!” Roy shouted. “The offensive line never gives him enough time!”
Again, Greg checked himself. It still didn’t seem like anything physical was wrong. He didn’t feel dizzy or anything. But this stuff with the words…
He realized he was still holding the bottle of Coors in his lap. He unscrewed the cap and took a long, satisfying swig. That first, icy-cold swallow. Nothing like it.
“You want some of these?” Without moving his eyes off the screen, Roy was extending a bag of Lay’s potato chips at him. Greg had a sudden flash of wit.
“Sure, ‘Lay’ ’em on me,” he tried to say, but instead, said: “Sure, laymen on me.”
He couldn’t believe this was happening.
“Shit,” he said. It came out: “Shift.”
“That’s not a shift. That’s a balanced formation. Hey, do you want these or not?” Roy was still holding out the bag of chips.
Greg silently took it from him.
“Third and eight,” said Roy. “C’mon, Eli!”
Manning dropped back to pass, but the Eagles ran a safety blitz and nailed him for a sack.
“Ooh!” Roy moaned. “Now we’re not even in field-goal range. What’s the matter with these guys?”
The phone hummed in Greg’s pocket and he slid it out. It was a text from Susan.
His first instinct was to ignore it. They’d had a pretty big fight before he left her place this morning. He was hoping the game would take his mind off it.
But he was curious. Maybe she wanted to apologize; that would be nice. He opened it.
The message said: Is it happening?
Well…that didn’t sound like an apology. Was it supposed to be sarcasm about the game?
What are you talking about? he typed.
On the TV, the Giants were punting.
On Greg’s phone, it said: You should be asking yourself that question.
The only question Greg was asking himself, as far as she was concerned, was why were they still together?
As human beings they were polar opposites. She’d graduated cum laude from Princeton and was an English professor at the university. He was a mechanic who’d been lucky to get out of high school.
She told him she loved his earthy, man-of-the-people quality. He told her he was in awe of her intelligence.
They each pretended it wasn’t a load of crap. What kept them together was the amazing, ever-changing, glorious, sometimes athletically challenging, beyond-incredible sex.
But it came with fights, like the one they’d had this morning. They were having coffee at her kitchen table, and he’d used the wrong word for something. She’d corrected him in her snarky way, and this time, it happened to annoy him.
“What the fuck difference does it make?” he’d snapped at her. “You knew what I meant by it. Get off my ass.”
She’d chuckled, which also got on his nerves. “You hate it when I correct you because you love being ignorant.”
To which he’d replied, “Yeah, like you love being a smug, stuck-up, smart-ass bitch.”
She’d slammed her coffee mug down on the table and stomped out of the kitchen.
“You want some weed?” Roy gasped, holding his breath and extending an oversized joint toward him. The game had gone to commercial after the Giants’ punt bounced into the end zone for a touchback.
Greg shook his head, thinking maybe he’d better not right now.
“Something wrong with you, man?” Roy asked, tendrils of smoke rising from his nostrils. “You’ve been real quiet, and when you do talk, it’s all crazy shit. What’s the deal?”
He knew he had to speak.
“I dunno,” he mumbled, but only got as far as “I donut” and stopped.
“Fuck!” he said. It came out: “Fudge!”
Now Roy was really staring at him. “You want a fudge donut?”
Greg glanced about the room for something to write on. He pantomimed the action of writing, looking desperately at Roy.
“Okay,” Roy said, extricating himself from the recliner. “Don’t get your balls in an uproar.”
It took several drawers before he found a pad and pencil, which he gave to Greg. “You’re acting very strange, dude, you know that?”
The game had resumed with the Eagles taking over on their own twenty. Roy sat down in the recliner and flipped it back. “C’mon!” he exhorted the Giants’ defense. “Stuff them!”
Greg hesitated, his pencil above the pad. What if writing didn’t help? What if the words still came out funny?
Then he had another thought that was much more disturbing. One he should’ve had right away if he hadn’t been so discombobulated.
Susan had texted, Is it happening?
She knew what was happening to him. Because somehow, some way, she’d done this to him.
How could that be?
Carson Wentz, the Eagles’ quarterback, threw a quick pass into the flat that was tipped at the line. It floated into the hands of a Giant linebacker who took it, unopposed, into the end zone.
Roy exploded out of the chair. “Yes! Yes! Yes!” he shouted, doing a little dance in the middle of the room.
To Greg it was all far away. He tried to remember this morning, after she’d stalked out of the kitchen.
He’d sat there awhile, finishing his coffee and feeling pretty good about himself. It was one of the rare times he’d gotten the last word in, and he was savoring the moment. After the coffee, he planned to head home for a shower and a quick change of clothes. Then it was off to Roy’s for the big game.
He hadn’t been at all concerned that the fight would affect their relationship. Sometimes, in fact, the fights made sex even better. No, he thought, everything was probably fine.
Then she came back into the kitchen, carrying her laptop.
“Hey, asshole,” she said, so he knew this wasn’t over. She set the computer down in front of him. “Since you’re so good at fixing things, why don’t you fix this? It just popped up on my screen and I can’t get rid of it.”
He knew something about computers, since cars relied on them these days, but he was no expert. He thought he should make that clear to her in case he couldn’t find the problem, but decided not to.
He looked at the screen, which showed a myriad of swirling letters. It resembled a bowl of alphabet soup being vigorously stirred. The display was dizzying to watch, but he couldn’t take his eyes off it. The letters roiled and churned, half forming then disappearing as others took their place.
Hitting the escape key accomplished nothing, the same with “delete.” He pressed the “on-off” button to no avail. The letters kept spinning, faster and faster.
And then they stopped. The screen went blank for a moment, then returned to Susan’s home screen.
He looked at it, deciding if he should take credit, and figured, why not?
“Here you go.” He turned the laptop so that it faced her. “No problemo.”
“You are such a phony,” she said. “I tried the same things you did and they didn’t do anything.”
“Maybe you didn’t try hard enough,” he said with a shrug.
“You have no idea why that screen changed back, do you?”
“No,” he said, getting up from the table. “And I don’t care.”
Her look of disgust made him pause.
“No, of course you don’t,” she said. “It’s just another of the billions of things you don’t care about, or are even curious about. All your brain is good for is watching football with your idiot friend.”
She picked up the coffee mugs and took them to the sink, where she stood with her back to him.
“Get out of here. I can’t stand looking at you right now. And I hope whatever team you’re rooting for gets their asses kicked.”
Back in the present, Roy was finishing his victory dance as the touchdown was replayed from different angles. He gave Greg another odd look.
“You sure you’re okay, bro?”
It was those letters on the screen. He must have been hypnotized.
He had to talk to her right now, none of this texting bullshit. He got up from the couch.
“I’m sorry, man, I’ve Gouda make a call,” he blurted out, realizing what he’d said and not caring. He pulled his phone from his pocket as he headed for the door. “I just need to go outside to do it, but I’m gonorrhea be right back.”
He didn’t look to see Roy’s reaction. He stepped out the door and onto the lawn, where he tapped Susan’s name on his phone.
It seemed to ring forever, and then she picked up.
“Well, hello there!” she sang out. “Are you enjoying your game?”
“What the fork did you do to me?”
She burst out laughing, and he nearly lost it.
“Stop laughing!” he said. “Stop laughing at me, you miserable country!”
She laughed even harder, and then toned it down. “Relax, honey, relax,” she said. “Go with it. The app only lasts for a little while.”
“The app?” He’d almost said “apple.” “Where is it? In my phone?”
“No, it’s in your left temporal lobe.”
He couldn’t believe he’d heard her right.
“Don’t worry, its effectiveness will fade. They’re still working on duration.”
His mouth hung open.
“There’s a computer program planted inside me?” he stammered.
“In a manner of speaking. These friends of mine in biological cyber research figured out how to do it, something connected with eye recognition. Anyway, they’re coordinating on a project with the English department. We’re developing a sort of autocorrect program for the human brain. And I thought, since you hate being corrected by people, you might try it out.”
“Try it out,” he repeated.
“Yes, and I can see it’s working. How do you like it?”
If she were right in front of him, he might have strangled her.
“You miserable bit!” he growled. “How the frock do you think I like it? It sacks!”
“Now you’ll notice,” she said, “that you’re using an extra feature we’ve added to help bring civility to public discourse. It goes beyond what standard autocorrect programs offer. You’d eventually learn to avoid using words like that on your own, but as I’ve said, this particular app is temporary.”
“Temporary,” he groaned. “Well, it’s also torture! How long is this bull shot Ghana last?”
“Hard to say, maybe an hour, no more than two. Relax, honey, relax. Try not to use words like ‘gonna.’ That would help.”
“Thanks for the tip.”
He shut off the phone and stood staring for a moment. Then he went back into the house.
Roy was still ensconced in his chair, but the game was now tied 7-7.
“They ran back our kickoff, dude,” he complained. “We can’t catch a fucking break!”
Greg sat down on the couch, picked up the bottle of Coors, and took a long, deep swallow.
“Lemming tell you something, brow,” he said. “It could be the greatest sex in the history of the world, but it aim worth sheet.”