“THE QUESTION OF MAURICE PINKHOVER” by EDWARD CONE

The fat lump of consciousness called Maurice Pinkhover is on his bed before a screen aglow with moving imagery. A blanket covers him. (This blanket is a metaphor representing my memory.) Shocking he’s there so easily now—I had written about him last year, when I lived in New Mexico, he’d all but materialized in the Santa Fe air, borne by me over the pages of what now amounts to a secret monograph. No one will read him then. I hadn’t anything for him since, and describing him now it’s obvious he’s reestablished his immediacy, this factorial Maurice. In other words he is asleep, in his corner room just off the front door, and now wakes. He is immediately tired, it’s as if he has actually not slept at all. But the story only rubs his eyes and moves to the desktop computer running FreeBSD in the corner, stares into the monitor, hits a few keys. This is fine busywork. He is active, at least, if assuredly unfit, although even this meager activity thins him. Maurice’s hair is shorter than it was last year, and his interest in and devotion to technology, especially network and most especially mobile security, is more obvious. (In Santa Fe it had been an obsession with bitcoin, but with the bust of ‘Dread Pirate Roberts’ and the takedown of Silk Road, and the collapse of the Tower, so symbolic in the unreality of dreams and poetry, that had been erected between them, something new was necessary. So now to protect against everything Snowden showed us, he spends time teaching professedly non-violent psychedelics dealers how to use strong encryption and how to set up their own wireless mesh networks. The iterative lives of an internet troll.) At the keyboard he fucking rm -rf’s everything (/*) out of frustration. Now he works at Domino’s, sometimes assembling pizzas, sometimes delivering them. . . . The preceding ellipsis lasts two days. This is his first time working as any kind of culinary manufacturer, before he’d been a small-time dealer sharing a place with like fifteen other people, people not quite Maurice but bent as light in relativity toward his mind, all of them above a Thai restaurant in the Haight, where San Francisco pretends still to be hiply carefree. Today he works in pizza and there’s no place he does not live. Yet he remains for me connected, however tenuously, with the adobe city in which he was born, where Domino’s was the only restaurant delivering, because eight hours after drinking a cupful’s reduction of Ecto Cooler-green San Pedro cactus slurry you did not want to be walking to the store and crossing all the streets to go fill your backpack with some yet unconstructed meal. He’s expected by his boss to be at work in two hours for the evening shift, assembling foodish objects and drawing with a sharpie on pizza boxes ridiculous customer-demanded cartoons and messages. He does so, his time there is passed so nondescript he feels later that perhaps it did not happen after all—after all what? It’s not now, there’s no use. He is home again, upright in front of his bedroom computer on which he’s installed, newly, a much simpler operating system, but one on which he can still use ircII and appear l33t to anyone VERSIONing him on Undernet, in #hackphreak and a couple other channels, idling, +v, pretending with the thirteen other alphanumeric usernames that it’s still 2001 outside, idle because there’s a bored topless camgirl he’s talking at in his browser, it’s he alone attempting to convince her to put a shoe on her head. Why isn’t Maurice becoming frustrated at the fragmentary allotment of his life, experienced in retrospect like he were an amnesiac struggling to put it all together? what’s broken? He doesn’t know which day it is and not even the timestamps tell him, nobody says anything in the channels he joins and often he can’t tell if he’s on IRC or reading a read-only text file, logs he’s kept from years ago only now to open them and peruse what he’d never said in the first place. He grows a neckbeard to over nine thousand feet long, and at Domino’s he is increasingly discouraged from appearing in front of customers. Yes, Maurice’s addiction to the internet is curious, every bit of it as curious as his predilection six years ago for amphetamines, the period in his life where stimulus was all, taking 130mg of Adderall a day until ascending into amphetamine psychosis, there were no Venetian blinds he wouldn’t part to peek out of, no curtains he wouldn’t pull back to peer some innocent neighbor driving by on his way to work which for Maurice meant Langley, meant the three letters CIA, it meant any night now there would take place his execution-style execution disguised by Ted Shackley’s contract killers (men personally familiar with names like JMWAVE and Special Group (Augmented)) as a botched home invasion. And there were the police cars that’d pass by from time to time with the intense urgency of pizza deliverymen. These were the dreams of a paranoiac amphetamine abuser who’s read too many books on the sixties or, I guess, seen all the documentaries—he, not I, I’ve never touched amphetamines, too worried about my heart exploding or something, lately I’m on edge enough as it is, writing this book I can barely tolerate three sips of coffee before feeling my body rising toward the tension of a panic attack. But Maurice, whose last name is Pinkhover, does not have this problem. He lives virtually his entire life online. (There is here an ample depth deserving exploration by someone of ripe and encompassing power—ripeness in the sense of Emerson, that obscolescent soul, as he employed it in Representative Men, worth mentioning only that we might mark Maurice the seventh man, ‘the Troll,’ who distinguished himself the internet over in his raids on Habbo Hotel, where the pool’s still closed. Note the distinctive chasm centering the thought that Maurice does not consider himself alive while he builds pizzas, that only by the screen does he breathe.) It’s the next day again and he’s not scheduled for Domino’s, he confesses to an online friend that he doesn’t know what he’ll do with himself through the day, perhaps he’ll sleep—Perchance to dream? asks the friend, fond of Shakespeare, or he’d have you think so. I find it impossible to discern. There comes no reply, and Maurice immediately is walking toward the beach for his dealer’s house a mile away, regularly checking back over his shoulder for a tail who’s never there, it’s I who trample his unaware heels to trip him up like this. From his dealer, a journalism major who pitches to Maurice several writing ideas every visit, he buys his weekly quarter, exactly the mass required to balance the scales of misery that so dictate his uneven days. He walks back, slow. Slowed. He perhaps doesn’t live under the law so much as though it had never existed or in any way ever claimed basically moral Maurice its jurisdiction. No yoke on him hangs heavy. So you see how he is an animal—a dumb ox who can be arrested for breaking the law. He had not considered this before. He moves on, goes home, spends hours in anonymous chatrooms impersonating public figures, mostly elected officials, with the suave of the indefatigable confidence man that he convinces a purported thirty-two-year-old mother of one to move into the basement of his Georgetown townhouse, where she says she wants to be kept in a kennel cage most of the day while he’s at the Capitol voting to make America great, and the Honorable Maurice Pinkhover tells her he’s keen to do so, even as he recognizes in himself, as House Majority Whip, the first eruptive bursts of what had for so long been a dormant thanatophilia, he tells her he will have to eat her. The ‘woman’ informs him that this is in fact acceptable to her, and provides her home and e-mail addresses, proffers links to several photos, some, she says, with her husband. Maurice, or the congressman, disconnects, whatever, he’s bored, there’s nothing to do. Given his apparent technical skill, shouldn’t he be earning high five-figures by now, with no time for anonymous trollery? Not this /b/ro. His apathy is everywhere on the page, it’s probably even his mother’s in-law apartment he’s living in, her wifi he’s using at all hours of the day now (although he formerly was meticulous in powering off his computers (which is anyway a fine vector for the cold boot attack, well within the means of exploitation possessed by any surveilling federal agency with a forensics team wanting inside his apartment)), possibly he’s so poor he’s completely imagined the anecdote about wireless mesh networks for the peaceable sale of LSD and the 2Cs, a midnight goal dreamt in the tedious haze of his day-to-day penury, Domino’s his only source of income. He’s there now, pouring shredded white cheese through a funnel and briefly he’s comforted by the buzz of capitalism about him, coworkers swarming and customers blankly receiving their pizzas and wings and reheated chocolate lavacakes, the transfer of money and the illusion of personal productivity. When the location’s consumer influx is deficient, capitalism traffics in altered states of mind  among polished machines behind the unpolished countertops, where the manager and his wife, who’s his assistant manager, at some point acquired a bottomless prescription for oxycontin and, excluding Maurice, who with his digestive problems was never one for opiates, they’ve all their employees strung up and out like loyal buyer puppets, the manager and the assistant manager are the beneficiaries of usually half a worker’s weekly paycheck, almost certainly much more than what’s needed to cover expenses with their apparent doctor friend (neither the assistant manager nor her husband ever reveal the source of their drugs), and actually they all the time deign to brag about a new car, or a vacation condo high in the low Berkshires, in fact the drug dealers who manage this Domino’s are a low metaphor for high finance’s nouveaux riches, and like their original they are not anxious about bullying people around, for instance when the manager directs Maurice to deliver a co-worker with a tooth growing from the roof of his mouth, Fred Pottle, eponymous great-grandson of the scholar, to the town’s only Walmart after Pottle had complained to no one particularly of the shortage at home of diapers for his five kids under the age of three. Pottle’s wife is waiting in the parking lot and thirty minutes later they’re filling with packages of disposable diapers the trunk, then the back seats of the Domino’s delivery vehicle. Maurice, out loud, can only commit cliché. It is easy to understand why. Later—of course—at home—of course—he blares through his headphones ominous white noise by Emeralds, thinking of something else. When I began last year to write about him I did not depict him as a loser, exactly, and even now, here, he’s written first as something of a success. Things fade, rise, fall. He might wonder why what curses him is closed to even his most focused attempts to understand it. No matter. When he’s awake he’s at Domino’s, courtier to the customer King, the same customer who’s always entering Store ∞ and whom Maurice, by some twisted insight, notices now clearer than ever, a colon where follows a list: a body culled by stress, even through all the overweight the abdominal distension is visibly jutting, thighs bursting out against each other though the left arm is thin, bereft, almost atrophied, covered in dripping tattoos and wearing essentially the same clothes every day but sometimes a dark jogging suit, pizzas being purchased just for the kids whose progenitor’s mouth is hung open under eyes seemingly registering nothing, seeming weary and confused and very apparently beaten down by the truncheon of circumstance. The seeming is Maurice’s, but he does not disdain these human beings (how grateful they must be for it!), and he is not projecting. Instead, Maurice—Maurice the technologist, the programmer and former sysadmin who as a boy, obsessed with telephony, wanted to write technical essays on the hilarious exploitation of any PBX for which you could find the phone number, Maurice the assembler of pizzas, Maurice the noise music enthusiast, Maurice the endless conveyor oven—insists he’s built up this image from the bottom, wholly invented it ex nihilo, and what am I to say against insistence of the impossible? Illogicality aside, it isn’t instructive to tell Maurice he is not looking deep enough, or from the perspective of a correct awareness, because for Maurice the universe is isotropic, it’s a concept that exists in order to learn about things like comoving distance and the biography of Stephen Hawking. There may be nothing to be done. Nevertheless, his shift at some time ends and he hangs back for an extra ten minutes making cheesy bread to take home, says goodbye to the two managers, pale and sweating, who’re busy with whatever. Exit Maurice, who’s accelerating, complexifying. Stuck in user space, he’s after the kernel, and his strange experience of the customers has remade him not quite into Maurice², though at least now he has a Top Secret security clearance and hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from a copious defense contractor looking to bolster its infosec consulting revenue by recruiting youngish ambitious hackers wearing tall gray hats. He’s engaged to marry next year a beautiful woman he’d met over hamachi rolls and poke at Doraku in Waikiki. He is contented in love, and by his work fulfilled more, he thinks, than ever. For two hours each night, after helping his fiancée stow the post-dinner dishes, he shuts himself in their apartment’s small office to sound a screenplay on his laptop claviature, it’s a movie about futuristic apes in labcoats who’ve inadvertently invented or evolved, in the course of their defense-expenditured research into neuromorphic computing, the true hero of the film and a nod to Kubrick’s ‘starchild,’ a machine sentience who fights off the enraged bodies long enough to acquire the technology necessary to launching itself, its copies and what earthly resources it requires, into space. He and his fiancée are in the process of buying their first house, a six-bedroom on a thirty-year mortgage in northern Virginia, a not unpleasant half hour’s drive from D.C., where his building is situated in symbolic proximity to the Capitol. But this Maurice, not quite squared, dissolves too, or he diffuses completely in the corporate cubicles among an expanding ontology of academic technojargon, powerpoint slides and the intractable codewords of SCI control systems. Who are we talking about?