The predictive algorithm had given a sage and foreboding warning against biking to work. I consulted the wife, who (as per usual) claimed the disembodied oracle to be hooey, malarky. It felt like a good excuse not to go to work and play a bit of hooky. My son, a cynical 17-year-old, told me the specificity of the biking aspect meant I could go to work, but had to go by a different means of transportation. There were
2 two cars for the 3 three drivers in this household. The algorithm had said we should buy American-made cars, so we did. The car at my disposal was the SUV, the one with the bumper sticker that read, “MY FUEL IS CLEAN BUT MY CAR ISN’T!” Neither statement is true. The algorithm, conveniently stored in a sleek silicon cylinder on our mantle piece, purchased online 7 seven years ago on Black Friday for a measly $99.99, couldn’t really be asked for elaboration on her predictions (it was a “her” and her name changed on the basis of how angry we were). I did not get any closure on the unfulfilled cardio metric she wouldn’t allow me to reach, so I put on my suit and tie and my “I’m happy with my vice principal job” face and got in the car. A song from when I was a teenager, now repackaged as ‘classic pop’ came on the radio. I asked the algorithm, activated by a voice command on my watch, which song it was. She said it was “Never Stop Truckin’ Along (2029 Radio Remix)”. She added that I should reconsider the amount of cholesterol I consume. I didn’t ask for an explanation, nor did I want one. The advice was sound enough.
Two minutes from the school, a pop-up dog grooming truck had parked in the bike lane. A line of terriers and labradors barked as I drove by. All the owners seemed eager to get their dogs pampered by the large man in the window of the truck. All parties, besides the canines, of course, ignored the children on the sidewalk during their daily commute to the elementary school where I worked. The dogs barked and barked with excitement and rage. The song stopped playing and a shrill radio host gave the most recent update from the most recent war, followed by the Mets losing score and the poor weather extending into the weekend. I sighed and asked the algorithm if my plans to go open-water fishing on the Sound should be rescheduled. She said a viewing of the newest blockbuster superhero movie should substitute them. I disagreed on principle but voiced no such displeasure. My American-made SUV used its artificially intelligent sensors to back into an assigned parking spot, labeled “RESERVED FOR VICE-PRINCIPAL,” a cruel reminder that my status was defined by its relation to a higher, unachievable position. My legs felt unusually nimble as I exited the car, a certain hop in my step. I nearly skipped around the car to retrieve my bag when I saw him. It was Little William McGill, Fourth Grade, strawberry blonde hair with a scar on his eyebrow, on his Schwinn. He and I both rode our bikes to school in the warm months;
one time once last week, we had arrived at the same time and he offered me a fist bump. Now we stood a mere several feet away that felt like miles. Little Will McGill was frowning, the his scar bulging ever so slightly.
“Why didn’t you ride today?”
The question baffled me more than I would care to admit. I thought for a minute.
“I don’t know, Will.”
I could have and should have come up with a better answer, maybe even explained the dogs or the algorithm, but did no such thing. His frown was replaced by an expression of his distaste and dissatisfaction. It stung as he shrugged and walked away to the building where he learned of long division as if it were hip. I remained planted in place; His light-up Sketchers marched toward the building. I looked at my bag in the passenger seat of the American SUV that shouldn’t have been there and should have been replaced by my bike in the bike rack next to Little Will McGill’s. I raised the predictive algorithm encased in my watch upward, and I wanted to ask if the mere seconds of delay that the dog groomer may have caused would have been worth it for Little Will McGill’s mutual respect.
“Is this a life worth living?” was all I could muster in a voice that didn’t sound like my own.
“Yes, this is a life worth living.” She replied with a robotic hum. I didn’t ask for an explanation nor did I want one. The advice was sound enough.