I watched a movie last night. It was one of those shitty musical biopics where the singer starts with nothing, gets discovered, becomes famous, gets into drugs – heroin or whatever – recovers and goes on to be loved by all, apart from maybe his first wife. There was no point in watching it – I knew what was going to happen from the very first frame – but I watched it anyway. A friend downloaded it and said it was good; I had nothing else to do.
When it finished the doorbell rang. It was eleven, I wasn’t expecting anyone – no one ever calls that late unless it’s bad news – so I got up, put my dressing gown on and opened the front door. A man was standing there in a slim-fit suit and skinny tie, his hair neatly gelled. He looked like the host of a reality TV show.
I said, yes, and he said my first name then my surname with rising intonation, like he was a police officer about to tell me a relative had died.
Excellent, he said and rubbed his hands together – cold or excitement I couldn’t tell – then: can I come in?
I ruffled my hair, I don’t know. Why? It’s late. Is it important? He said, very. Could it wait till morning? No.
I let him in, and he walked down the corridor into the living room. I followed. When he saw my laptop on the coffee table, he said, so this is where the magic happens? I said, magic? He said my name again, this time with falling intonation: yes, magic, don’t be so modest. I said, look, it’s late. You said it was important. Could you get on with it, whatever your name is? What is your name anyway? He told me. I said, well? He said, don’t you know? I shook my head. He pointed at the laptop, may I, and I waved my hand dismissively, be quick, I’ve got work in the morning. He said, I doubt that. Not the working you’re thinking of anyway.
He sat on the sofa, turned the laptop on, and while it booted up started talking: you’re going to be huge, you know that, right? I only read your review of that biopic, but you’ve got everything. An original voice, a unique angle. Do you realise how popular you’re going to be, how many people will be hanging on your every word, your every judgement? You’ll be like that guy that used to write for the Guardian or that dead Ebert guy. You’ll be the most trusted reviewer and critic of your generation.
The computer did its little start jingle. Password? I turned the laptop away from him and typed it in. He rubbed his hands together like he had Mayfair and Park Lane and everyone kept on landing on them. I turned the laptop back towards him and said, I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Skinny tie/slim-fit pulled his head back, you really don’t know? Your website, your review. I said, but I don’t have a website. Skinny tie/slim-fit smirked, come on. There’s being modest – he clicked on Chrome – and. He typed something in and angled the laptop towards me. He said, look, just look how many hits it’s getting.
On the screen was a chart of some sort, a bar chart, showing the date and the number of hits to a website called Pirate Viewing. He clicked refresh, and the number of hits leapt by a thousand. I said, popular site. What is it? He said, come on. It’s yours. I said: but I don’t have a website. He shook his head, and typed something else in. Pirate Viewing appeared. It was a review website of downloaded movies and torrented TV shows, none of them watched in their original format. A little pirate icon by each review rammed the point home.
Skinny tie/slim-fit said, we could probably do something about the name, but anyway. I said, I’ve never seen this before in my life. He said, don’t be silly, it’s yours. He clicked on something else, the About page, and pushed the laptop back towards me, look.
I read. It was a paragraph about me. I said, someone else must’ve done this. None of that’s stuff you can’t find on my facebook page. Skinny tie/slim-fit sighed and went back to the home page. He clicked on the title of the biopic I’d just finished watching, and said: read it. I leant in. It read: it’s one of those shitty musical biopics where the singer starts with nothing, gets discovered…I stopped at heroin or whatever, and sat back into the couch. I felt dizzy.
What is this? I said. Who are you? Skinny tie/slim-fit said his name again like that explained everything, I’m going to make you a star. I said, but how did this happen? I didn’t write that. I thought it. That was all. And, anyway, who reads a website like that or cares what’s written on it? The name’s shit, too.
Skinny tie/slim-fit said, I agree, but none of that matters. He typed and clicked some more. Look at the hits. I looked again. I couldn’t tell how much it had gone up by. I said, is this some kind of joke? He said, the stats don’t lie. I said, but they could be made up. He shook his head and opened website after website. Pirate Viewing was featured on all of them. I said, you could’ve just put a virus or something in my computer. He leant forward and grabbed the TV remote, could I do that? The site was there again, on some entertainment news show.
I looked around the room, no alcohol, and said, I need a drink. Skinny tie/slim-fit said, you got it. You stay here, and he got up and looked down at me expectantly. I said, door by the foot of the stairs. Walk through the dining room; the kitchen’s in the back.
He went out. I turned the TV off and looked back at the stats page. I clicked refresh again and again. The hits kept on coming. When Skinny tie/slim-fit came back, he put a bottle of whiskey and two glasses on the table and said, you okay? I didn’t reply. I clicked again and saw the bar on the chart leap some more. People were reading my thoughts. I clicked again and again. I heard a cork popping and the whisky being poured. I clicked some more. Eventually, I began to hear Skinny tie/slim-fit’s voice again. Suddenly, there was a whack on my arm.
Hey, he said, snap out of it. What are you doing? Listen. I said, look at the hits, and clicked again. They leapt some more. I heard some words, branding, marketing, exposure, and clicked again. Then there were more: reviews, new angles, alienate audience. They floated around me then disappeared, like those bubbles kids blow. The bar kept going up and up. I clicked and clicked. I didn’t see anything apart from the screen, then the chart, then that one bar. Nothing, only the bar, until with a whack it was gone.
I looked up. Skinny tie/slim-fit was staring down at me. The laptop lid was down. I made to open it. Skinny tie/slim-fit snatched it up and away from me. I said, give it back. He said, no, look, listen to me. I said, give it back. It’s mine. He said, no, plus my name with no intonation whatsoever. You’ll just click and click and click. I ignored him, and leapt over the coffee table, give it back. He yanked the laptop away and ran round the coffee table to the living room door. I shouted, it’s mine, but he was gone.
I stood and followed, why should I listen to you? Get the fuck out of my house. Who are you anyway? It’s my laptop. Give it back.
When I got into the corridor Skinny tie/slim-fit was standing by the front door, laptop wrapped in his arms. The front door was locked. He said, let me out. I said, look, just give me the laptop and everything will be fine. You don’t want me to phone the police, do you? Breaking and entering, burglary. You don’t want to go down for that, do you? He said, I can’t. You’ll never stop clicking. You won’t review anything. You’ll get no more hits. The bar will go down. I said, I won’t. Trust me. I’ll just look once more and then go upstairs and watch something else. I can review my own site – how about that? Or review my clicks. Or the hits.
Skinny tie/slim-fit said, I don’t believe you. I said, I promise and took a step towards him. He lifted the laptop above his head, don’t come any closer, I swear, or I’ll throw it. I stopped, come on. You want to add vandalism to that list of crimes? He said, try me.
I did, I didn’t care, I wanted the laptop, it was mine. I leapt forward, but the second I did he lifted the laptop up and slammed it down to the floor as hard as he could. It bounced once and cracked. I paused, knelt down, and opened the lid. The screen was smashed. I pressed power on; nothing happened. I looked back up at Skinny tie/slim-fit.
He said, go back upstairs, watch something, review it. I pressed power on again. Nothing. He went on, go on. I’ll speak to you in the morning. I stood up. I wanted to kill him. He said, go on, think about the hits you’ll get, the bar chart going up. I breathed in, ready to leap then out. I shook my head and, leaving the laptop on the floor, turned and headed back up the stairs, took my dressing gown off and went to bed. At some point I think I heard the front door open and close.
When I woke the next morning I watched another movie. It was one of those based-on-a-true-story things that everyone circle-jerks over and pleads for Oscar recognition and awards when really it’s a bag of schmaltzy shite.
After breakfast the doorbell rang. Skinny tie/slim-fit was back. He said, great review. I let him in. He went on: You should see the hits you’re getting.