Opinion | Unrequited Love Song for the Panopticon – The New York Times

Posted: January 3, 2020 at 10:52 am

The examination room was earnestly retro, with laminated anatomy charts, a model skeleton, and a blood pressure sleeve hanging from a rack, a throwback to Early Times, when doctors treated illnesses.

The doctor smiled. How are we feeling today?

O.K. Roberta reclined into the exam chair. Actually, a little nervous.

Most people are, the doctor said, laying a hand on her arm. Especially with a first child. Behind him the nurse prepared a syringe. Even after all this time, he said, genetic mutation can still sound scary. But our mothers did it, our grandmothers did it. And its the law. Ready?

Roberta nodded. As the needle pierced the side of her abdomen she felt a tingling sensation wash over her, first cool, then increasingly warm. Was her baby experiencing the same thing, she wondered. Where would this rank among the upheavals hed already faced: the sprouting of limbs, the awareness of sound? Then it was over.

The nurse stamped the compliance form. May I have the childs name? she asked.

Roberta turned to her husband. They smiled and answered simultaneously.

Kwame. Landry.

Roberta lovingly patted Donalds arm. Its Landry, she said to the nurse.

Yo, this here is my show, the rapper said, turning up the volume on the 60-inch TV. The members of his entourage lifted their gazes from their iPhones. Airing live, from a Disney backlot ringed with bleachers, a young man in a helmet and jumpsuit was being lowered into a cannon. It was aimed directly at a brick wall, above which a giant clock was suspended, counting down from 12 minutes 7 seconds.

Some people spend their deathday watching the waves roll gently onto the shore, said the TV host. Boooring! Jason, an adrenaline junkie from Scottsdale, has always wanted to be shot out of a cannon. Well Jason, today is your day. Its time for

The Countdown, the audience screamed.

Landry packed up his audio recorder and notebook. Hed done enough celebrity interviews to know when one was over. The rappers publicist apologized.

Its fine. Ive got what I need, Landry said.

Ill see you out. I have another client in the building, the publicist said. They walked toward the foyer of the penthouse. I was happy to hear they were sending you. Its been a while.

The Beyonc profile, Landry said.

The publicist swiped her wrist against a wall panel which then glowed green. The elevator door opened.

I heard she hated it, Landry said, stepping inside.

Not her, the publicist said. But at that level theres opinions involved. You know. Landry nodded.

As the elevator door closed, a screen began playing an ad for destination funerals in Hawaii. Landry muted the sound.

Not a fan? she asked.

Just not for me.

Hey, after the album launches, I get to have a normal life again. You want to have dinner sometime? she asked.

Id love to, but I cant.

I havent said a day yet.

Right. Sorry. Its I mean I cant really

You have a girlfriend.


Youre into guys?


The elevator door opened. As she stepped out, she turned to Landry and smiled. My mistake. I thought you were interested. She walked away confidently as the doors closed.

I am, Landry said.

On the ground floor, the elevator opened once again, and Landry stepped out into a warm spring afternoon. It seemed as if the city had collectively shed its skin, emerging from a winter hibernation. The Citi Bike stalls were empty, a sidewalk cafe seemed to be filled exclusively with smiling couples, and a group of preschoolers exited Central Park unencumbered by down coats and clunky boots.

It was days like this that used to make Landry wonder. Wonder if that same feeling of revitalization and promise existed before the vaccine, when people got old, got sick. Did the uncertainty of death when and how it would arrive make days like this one easier or more difficult to appreciate?

As Landry turned to cross Sixth Avenue, an elderly man riding a unicycle and texting veered into his path. Looking up at the last moment, the old man, wearing a checkered flannel shirt and Dockers, avoided Landry, but not the mailbox. He fell in a heap. Landry and a passer-by rushed over to help.

Are you O.K.? the passer-by asked.

The old man popped up spryly. Im fine, he said.

Landry handed the old man his phone, which now had a spider crack along the length of the screen.

Dammit, the old man said. I mean, thank you.

My cousin fixes screens, said the passer-by. But with a skin-job like that, you can probably swing a new phone. He leaned in for a closer look. Its so realistic. Must have cost a fortune.

Not as much as you think, bro, said the old man. My fiance and I did a cosmetic vacation in Thailand. Half the price youd pay here.

Though he wouldnt have done it himself, even if hed had the means, Landry understood the impulse behind skin-jobs. Before the vaccine, people had obsessed over looking younger, according to historians. It only made sense, Landry thought, that today, with a population of the perpetually young, an equally hefty profit could be had making people look old.

Dude, thats like art, said the passer-by. Be more careful next time. Youre wearing a Picasso.

Landry entered his one-bedroom walk-up. He hung up his jacket on an otherwise empty coat rack, went into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. It contained an aluminum takeout container of Thai noodles and its plastic cylindrical counterpart with enough beef basil and curry, Landry figured, to make things interesting. He spooned out the remains of each onto a plate and set it in the microwave. From the freezer he pulled out three pints of ice cream, each a different flavor, and arranged them on a serving tray. When the microwave beeped, he added the plate to the tray, carried everything to the living room and turned on the television. The World Health Organizations latest population projections have the sustainability impact factor remaining at level two, the broadcaster said, with the human footprint at just 38 percent. High Commissioner Thabo Jacob called this continued good news for our planet.

Landry muted the sound. He opened his laptop and worked while eating dinner.

Several hours later, the ice cream pints empty, Landry clicked Send on an email to his editor and closed his laptop. He walked to his bedroom and opened the closet. Inside was a single suit, shirt and tie. He lingered a moment over the suit, then undressed, brushed his teeth and lay on his bed. He reached into his nightstand drawer and pulled out a letter, embossed with the seal of the U.S. government. It was the original, mailed to him on his 18th birthday.

Following a salutation and opening that every citizen could recite by heart, it read:

Wilson, Landry Kwame.

ID #325641685

Deathdate: April 16, 2020.

Landry set his bedside clock to countdown mode. It read 16 hours 30 minutes 43 seconds. He swiped his wrist to turn out the lights and went to sleep.

In the barbershop, the blades of the clippers gently buzzed as Landry got his shape-up. The regulars, tossing bon mots above the din of Judge Judy," outnumbered the paying customers by three to one. On this afternoon, Lenny, a shop veteran, was talking about Early Times, and catching flack. Laugh if you want, he said, but before they came up with the vaccine, we had elders to teach the young ones our history. Now, you got kids out here thinking white folks invented the blues.

O.K., conspiracy brother, the barber said. You saying we were better off with high blood pressure? Diabetes? And whats that thing with the toes gout?

You just concentrate on that shape-up, Lenny answered. Or youll have him walking outta here looking like that bucktooth boy from Fat Albert.

The barber sucked his teeth as he handed Landry a mirror. Hows that? he asked.

Thats tight, Landry said.

Whats the occasion? the barber asked, admiring Landrys suit.

Just wanted to change it up, Landry said. He swiped his wrist across the sensor in the armrest. A very generous tip flashed on the barbers screen.

Blessings, brother, the barber said. See you next month?

As always, Landry said.

Landry entered the Final Affairs Building, checked in at the intake counter and found a seat. When his number was called, he entered the interview room.

Sit, the agent said, without looking up from her computer.

Landry sat.


Landry swiped his wrist on the scanner. The agent scrolled through some pages on her screen, then looked Landry up and down.

Any cosmetic alterations? she asked.

No, said Landry.

Do stripes make me look fat? she asked.

Uhhh Landry stammered.

Im joking. Relax. Boy, you should have seen the look on your face. Your deathday and youre worried about a #MeToo demerit. Priceless. Now, just a couple of details to confirm. She looked back at her screen. Housing release is in order. Bank transfer is approved. Assets are all marked for donation, is that correct?

Yes, said Landry.

And your last date of employment was yesterday? she asked.

Landry nodded.

Wow. You must have really loved your job, she said.

Just wanted to tie up some loose ends.

Suit yourself. She smiled and waited.

Oh, right, Landry said, because Im wearing a

Exactly. Gotta keep it fun, I always say. The agent tapped her screen. Ive authenticated your certificate. You should have the upload any second. Just provide your passcode to the funeral director and youre all set.

Thank you, Landry said.

Landry sat in the front row, the funeral program creased in his hand. Where is everybody? he wondered, looking around the room one last time. He rarely attended funeral parties himself these days, but now he regretted each time hed offered his final thoughts to colleagues over Facebook and Twitter rather than in person. Today, he surmised, was karmic justice.

A clock was mounted on the wall, counting down to zero.

20 19.

Standing up, Landry straightened his tie and walked toward the open coffin. At the head of it stood a floral arrangement wrapped by a sash with his picture on it. That wasnt his taste, but hed let the salesman talk him into it just to move the process along. Using the stepladder, he climbed into the coffin, lay down, let out a long breath and closed his eyes. The wall clock counted down:

5 4 3 2 1 0.

A moment later, a single flower petal floated down and landed on Landrys chest.

A woman entered the room. Wearing costume pearls, a sequined dress and a Diana Ross and the Supremes-era beehive hairdo, she looked around, confused. She must have gotten the room number wrong. This certainly wasnt the Best of Motown funeral the modeling agency had booked her for. As she turned to leave, Landrys nose twitched.


The woman shrieked. Landry opened his eyes, sat up and saw the stranger staring at him, slack-jawed.

Umm, this is awkward, he said.

Yeah. It is.

My name is Landry.

O.K. Femi. Im Femi.

Look, I dont know how this happened, Landry said as he stepped out of the coffin.

No. Stop! Femi said. Is this one of those prank shows? She eyed the floral arrangement. Is there a camera hidden in there?

Its not a prank. I dont know what it is. But I do know that Im supposed to be. For the first time, he couldnt bring himself to say the word.

Femi looked at him suspiciously.

Honest. I would never maybe its a timing error, he said, pointing to the wall clock, which now read minus 90 seconds. They say its 100 percent accurate, but nothings 100 percent, right? Maybe its just a few minutes off.

Femi looked around the empty room. So where is everybody, then? she asked.

Landry slumped his shoulders and sighed. I dont know, he said.

Yeah, youre probably right, Femi said. The clock must be off. You should get back inside. You know, before. Her voice trailed off. Landry walked back toward the coffin. Ill stay here until then, she said.

View original post here:
Opinion | Unrequited Love Song for the Panopticon - The New York Times

Related Post

Comments are closed.