Friday, May 20, 2022

Microstory 1890: Forced Pair

I was one of two new kids when my family moved to a new town for my fourth year of primary school. I was nervous about fitting in, but I had no idea how difficult it would be. The other kid was—for lack of a more reasonable term—weird. He wore baggy pants, tight shirts, and a baseball cap that was missing the bill. He had a strange way about him, and didn’t seem to understand topical references. I was more or less normal. Quiet but responsive; capable of smiling, but not overly bubbly. I should have found a group of friends, and done so sooner than later. Probably because the teacher sat the two of us next to each other, everybody got it in their heads that we were friends. I didn’t know him, we had never met, and we didn’t hang out, but they started calling us inseparable. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t break free from this total misunderstanding. I suppose I could have tried harder, but that would have required me to say mean things about him, and I didn’t want to do that. He was an odd duck, but he was gentle, and polite, and he didn’t deserve the ridicule. So I eventually let it go, and decided things would get better when I was older. We were bound to be placed in a different class the next year, and it would go away on its own. I don’t know if the school caught wind of the rumor, or what, but that’s not what happened. It would seem that we were stuck together, so if my social life was going to be entirely dependent on this one person, I figured I might as well get to know him. At least I would have someone to talk to.

When asked about it, he would tell people that the cap was for religious reasons. They still thought it was funny, but it stopped them from messing around with it for fear of being labeled bigots. The truth was his parents were conspiracy theorists, though they would never use this term; they considered themselves believers. In particular, they believed in aliens, telepathy, and telepathic aliens. They didn’t want nefarious forces to read their minds, and they were under the impression that this special headwear could protect them from the brain scanners. The inside was lined with aluminum, which is a trick I recalled having heard of. But those were usually crude and cheap-looking. His was smooth and well-tailored; his parents had put some real time into constructing them. He wasn’t sure he believed in all that stuff, but he didn’t want to upset them, so he did as he was asked. We remained friends over the years, though we had to contrive common interests at first. Eventually we formed a genuine relationship, and I found myself feeling grateful that we met, and that the universe worked so hard to pair us up, as unlikely as it seemed at first. We went to college at an institution distant enough to allow him to stop wearing his hat, and it was there that we learned better how to blend in with the crowd. We found new friends, and our lives were good. There was never anything romantic between us, but there was a strong financial connection. We both wanted to be super rich, and to be in charge of a company. But what could we do? What were we experts on? Aluminum foil hats? I know it sounds crazy, but yes! We adapted the misguided paranoia into a lucrative business. You see, while mind-reading isn’t real, electronic scanners are, and as the world was becoming more and more reliant on digital technology, customers needed a way to protect their data. They can do this using signal-blocking material. We hold a number of patents for techniques that make this technology work. So even if customers don’t buy directly from us, we still make money off of nearly every sale. Who’s laughing now?

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