The new job turned out to be no job at all. As is all the rage nowadays in office design, the work area was common. It felt like a university student union cafeteria. People younger than me sat at tables staring at their laptops. Coffee cups everywhere.
I had answered an ad, and the interview made it seem like something I’d be good at: writing quirky, interesting social media posts for a variety of products and causes. This is what I do anyway, for hours at a time, and if anyone is good at skimming the surface of things it’s me. Superficial is my middle name.
The others who I guess I should consider my co-workers, though I never saw anyone actually do anything I’d call “work,” considered themselves “Digital Nomads” and most seemed to own expensive Apple computers. Maybe their parents paid for them. Almost everyone sported a bluetooth earpiece. The men wore short hair and bushy beards. The women seemed unhappy and secretive.
I didn’t witness a lot of writing going on. Maybe they were coders. I’m still not sure what that means, but I say it every once in awhile to make it seem like I’m hip.
The first day at work I read some stuff and posted my takes on it. Nobody complimented me and nobody complained. After a few hours I decided to go home and wait for feedback. When I didn’t get any, I came back to the common workspace and did it again. Heck, if this was work, give me more of it. After a month, I got a raise.
As a retired expat living in Thailand, an emerging economy, I have become used to living on very little, so any increase in my meager pension is welcome, the more so for not being needed. I have no big plans anymore. I don’t want to own much, create much, or administer much. I don’t want to take care of anybody but myself, and even that gets easier the less I attempt.
So the idea that someone would pay me simply to be me seemed so astounding that I found it hard to believe. I had to leave my home country to have value. But it’s happening! I’m in the workforce again, but for the first time in many years as a winner, not a loser.
First thing when I realized this was going to work was to spend a good deal of mental energy imagining ways to mess it up. Surely I could become cynical and bitter for no good reason, for this has been my modus operandi in the past and I’m good at it. Even as I generated post after post I dreaded the moment when eventually someone would call me into an office and ask “Are you happy here?”
But so far that hasn’t happened. In fact, there’s no evidence this is in the works. So with my extra Internet energy and time I decided to launch my own YouTube channel.
Realizing that the popular video site is already awash in many old men ranting about this or that, I decided to hire a spokesperson, a cute Russian girl who speaks English in a charmingly erratic way. I have her read the usual YouTube content, conspiracy theories about the coming economic collapse, Rothschild domination of International politics and banking, FEMA sites, Obama and the Pope as Antichrist, Area 51, Reptilian Aliens among us, common household cures for cancer that the Medical Establishment won’t tell you…and these she delivers in her fetchingly obtuse way. The fact that she has little grasp of the content only makes her more watchable. Her inappropriate inflections are half the fun.
The first week we scored half a million views and then it really took off. My share of Google ad revenue will soon surpass my salary at my new job. I gave Nadya a raise, but not too much of one, for I don’t want her getting any ideas about starting her own channel.
Content creation is easy, especially if you’re willing to simply copy what’s already out there.
I can’t say that any of this actually made me happy. It was nice to feel apart of something again, in the swing of things, but there was an equal sense that this was all nonsense and would soon dissolve as quickly as it had arrived.
Nadya would come once a week to record her video presentations. When it became obvious that we were onto something, I was tempted to buy a better camera, but then realized that by simply using her smartphone, the image gave her credibility. Eschewing a tripod, we set the phone on a desk, leaning against a few books, and that was that. It was close enough to her so we didn’t even need to use an external mic. And an excellent diffuse light came in through the windows of our common space, though I found that if we tried to record in the mornings it was too bright and there was too much activity in the room. An hour before dusk was perfect.
She usually brought a handsome young man with her, though as far as I could tell it wasn’t the same young man each time. These young Russian men and women are all over Thailand. They’re extremely good-looking and I get the impression they support themselves through modeling, although I’ve heard the wages paid by agencies and producers are pitifully low. Russians in Thailand are under special scrutiny by immigration, as the recent collapse of the ruble makes it hard for them to get by. The equivalent of thirty dollars for a day’s work is standard. I paid Nadya more than that, but not so much more that she would attract undue attention.
The boyfriend seemed disinterested in Nadya’s performances, and would wait for her while hunched over his phone, often wearing ear buds. At first I tried being cordial, but after a few times of being ignored I decided to let him, whomever he was, have his space. Besides, he probably wouldn’t be here next week anyway.
This tangential glimpse into their lives made me realize I wasn’t the only lost soul in voluntary exile abroad. All these people disconnected from family and friends, wondering what they should be doing with themselves in the long run. We are the new legion of the damned, wandering Jews.
At least the Thai people who were born here know why they’re here. All of us, Thai and foreigner alike, believe that our lives are important, our comfort deserved, our plans worth striving for. Even the person sweeping the sidewalk believes his is a noble act, that it “makes merit” in some way. Most of the Thai people I’ve seen sweeping in public don’t seem to think the act is beneath them. Few Thais scowl when so engaged. I imagine if they hired foreigners to sweet the streets, we’d find an organized way to make it too expensive and complicated to do.
Until recently, I seem to have spent a lifetime grimacing while facing each new day. I want someone, somewhere to recognize that this has all been a tragic mistake, that I was meant for better things. I am Scuffy the Tugboat, from the Little Golden Children’s Books. And now that fortune has favored me, you’d think I’d be able to grin and relax, but a lifetime peeved is not easy to turn into one suffused in humble gratitude.
The calls started the beginning of the next month, after Google released data on website traffic. People called offering their services at increasing my already impressive numbers, a few called offering to purchase my site. For some reason Nadya was most popular in Paraguay and Turkmenistan. Her numbers were also impressive in Hungary and Nicaragua. There were tentative movie offers, but nothing substantial enough for me to bring them to her attention. Someone had already named a fish after her, but I doubt if that person had the International Authority to do so. That fish-naming call had come from a scuba diving service in Australia.
I took none of this too seriously. If my unexpected success were to be a real, life-changing phenomenon, then it would last and develop naturally. If not, it would make a good story.
Nadya asked for a raise a few weeks later. This time she came to the video session with a new boyfriend, a mean-looking guy with a prominent scar across one cheek. Like her other companions, he ignored me, but she had changed. She was wearing much more makeup for one thing, and was dressed like a hooker. Maybe this was nothing new, maybe she always had been augmenting her income in this way, but now she looked the part.
I agreed to double her pay, but asked that she return to her former image, the slightly daffy, baffled girl. She returned from the ladies room with the makeup removed, but didn’t seem as happy and carefree as she had before. When I asked her if we were still on for the same time next week, she seemed tentative.
Over the next week I started bracing myself for what seemed a probable transition. I would need to find another spokesperson in case this one left. The concept was, I assured myself, the real treasure. Naive girl reads scary news. Everything is a false flag event, but you already knew that, it was just fun to watch her say it.
Meanwhile, at work they had me doing the most repetitive writing. For some reason, I had become the man of the hour when it came to publicizing skin-whitening creams targeted to Asian women. After the first hundred posts, I had run out of novel ideas, and found myself fighting the urge to say racist things I remembered from growing up in Missouri. “You can never be too white!” “How white of you!”
The next week, Nadya didn’t show for her session. I waited for an hour, then was on my way out of the building when I saw her latest boyfriend leaning up against a car and waiting for me. His message was succinct. “Nadya want thousand dollars.”
I laughed and kept walking. Actually, I was quite relieved. As I rode my motor scooter home, I felt like a kid in an ad for motor scooters. A thousand pounds lighter, floating down the road.
I quit the job and bought some pro-equipment, lights, camera, microphone and tripod. Having succeeded one way, I decided to try again on exactly the opposite track. I would be the host, wearing makeup to exaggerate my wrinkles and decrepitude. Instead of fear-mongering, I would only repeat happy news. Lost puppies found, baby kittens rescued, orphans adopted, the hungry fed and disease eliminated. It worked. Using the same YouTube channel, my viewers stuck with me, and within a month I was getting even more ad revenue, more offers from others.
Thus began my new life under the grace of Google, one post at a time.