The other day a customer came up to me and asked in a hushed tone, “Do you have a copy of a three- volume set entitled “Archaeology of the Ukraine?” “I can safely say that I do not,” I responded.
Something about him was familiar. It took a moment, but I placed him. “You can speak!” “I can.” “And you shaved off your handlebar moustache,” I observed. He looked around nervously. “Are you sure that you are not confusing me with someone else?” “You’re not wearing your Blue Jays cap either.” He did not answer. “’David Copperfield’ is over there where you left it.” He shook his head. “I’m long past that.” “Is that why you’re clean-shaven and hatless?” “Yes. It was a requirement for my job. I’m supposed to fit in.” He paused briefly. “I’ve been laid off.”
I smiled at him sympathetically. “I’m sorry to hear that. What did you do?”
He shrugged his shoulders and seemed to be fighting back tears. “I was a fact-checker for Facebook. Since the change of government down south, the work has dried up. We’ve lost a third of our workforce. They tell us we’re going to be back, but no one believes them. It’s just not fair. It’s bad enough having a responsible government in power, but when everyday FB users abandon hyperbole and misconception, we are done as a society. And why should they abandon their disbelief? It isn’t as though climate change, gun lobbyists, tourist terrorists, advanced beings living in the Hollow earth, a pandemic created by leftist bats, alien-built Stonehenge, Russians fixing elections better than most states, space-lasers starting forest fires, and cancer-causing static cling aren’t still out there.”
I could see that he was getting worked up. “You must have really loved your job.”
“I was THERE. I had worked my way up the ladder, not at the top mind, when you get to do a rally hosted by the orange guru himself, but I was close. Enough to make backup at a Rudy Giuliani press conference”.
“That explains the book on Ukraine Archaelogy.”
“Actually, that was just for fun. Personal interest…I was enjoying a meteoric rise, and you gotta be good to be in that circle. To fact-check in that room, you need to be able to catch bullets from a Gatling gun in your teeth. The cards were all aligned, and then it happened.”
“I don’t know. I can’t explain it. All of a sudden, people on social media just started telling the truth. They’re getting vaccinated, engaging in civil discourse, using their devices less, LOOKING EACH OTHER IN THE EYE. What is happening? Next thing you know, they’re going to start buying electric cars.”
“The death knell for sure.”
His shoulders slumped and his eyes sank to the floor.
“I coulda been a contender. I was gonna be somebody. Of all the rotten timing. We still got massive deficits, worker exploitation, runaway inflation, rigged elections, rampant healthcare fraud—- and now they grow a conscience? Why aren’t they considering the scores of us vetting every word they say? How will WE put food on the table? If they aren’t careful, they’re going to end up streaming into an ocean where there is no surveillance. And then, there is no going back. Do they really think if they’re standing alone in the middle of a forest spewing untruths, it’s still a lie?”
He was getting too deep for me. “I must confess, I’ve never really been much of a philosopher.”
“I told Home Office, ‘We could start up a special department that can take up the slack when the public lets us down. Give back a little disinformation. Just a temporary measure. You can’t start a car without a key.”
“Or a fob.”
“I stand corrected. Nothing too outlandish. Just the basics: ‘The health benefits of smoking’, “Flagellation can be fun’, that sort of thing. They were laughing as they laid me off. I wonder if it’s because they are already doing it.”
“You might take advantage of the time off with a much-needed holiday.”
“That’s just what they would expect me to do.” His eyes suddenly lit up. “I know! You could help.”
“You could build a book room on your back deck. Fill it full of books on conspiracy theories, debunked scientific beliefs, crazed religious practices, and throw in some early network marketing texts for good measure. Call it ‘The Den of Enlightenment’. I could get you some titles.”
“I might have a copy of ‘The Da Vinci Code’ lying around.”
“Kindergarten. I’m talking PhD here. Are you in?”
“I’d have to give it some thought.”
“Don’t wait too long. Truth has a higher infection rate than the Delta variant.”
He turned to go, and then stopped. “And if anybody asks, I wasn’t here.”
Truth is, I’m beginning to think he wasn’t.