by Miracle Jones
Mandy did not learn that her granddad was dead from her family, from Facebook, from the police, from a witch, from a Wikipedia article, or from Jezebel. She learned about it from a representative of the International House of Pancakes, the company that Mandy’s granddad Russell Irwin Fox started back in nineteen hundred and fifty one, back when coffee cost a dime and a television set cost exactly the same price as it does now.
She was stoned and sitting cross-legged on the tiny concrete balcony of her apartment, smoking cigarettes and ashing into the same dead plant that was here when she moved in. She was staring at the storage closet at the opposite end of her balcony. The closet was painted a deep forest green. She didn’t have a key for the storage closet: it was locked with a sizable deadbolt, and so therefore the closet gained mysterious, occult-like properties whenever she got high and found herself staring at it, listening to the shrieking summer cicadas, a noise which, when commingled with the ringing in her ears from her weed-pumping heart, made her feel like she was slowly merging with the universe and also slowly going insane. She liked to imagine that there was a Soviet nuclear bomb in there, something leftover and forgotten from the Reagan years, and the digital timer was slowly counting down to nul.
She was thinking about Kip and how things were not going well. It was politics: she was basically a punk and he was basically a fascist. Everybody seemed to think he was only pretending, but she was pretty sure that deep down in his gleaming steel heart, he was always wearing leather boots and kicking a baby in the face for The Future. They needed to break up, but she wasn’t sure how. Their fucked-up sex life was regular, malignant, and satisfying. Also, she owed him four hundred dollars, a whole month’s rent.
Her doorbell rang and she quickly put her cigarette out. She left the balcony, and stood in her bathroom in the dark. The doorbell kept ringing, interspersed now with intermittent knocking.
“Amanda? Amanda Fox?” shouted a British man, definitely not her landlord. “I am with the International House of Pancakes, Amanda, and I really need to talk to you about your grandfather. If you are at home, please answer the door. I am only going to be in Austin for three more days. ”
She sighed, flushed the toilet so she would seem not-crazy, and put on a sweatshirt.
“I will come back tomorrow,” he said. “I am leaving my card, and—“
“No, no,” she said, unlocking the door and opening it right as the toilet crescendoed. “I’m here.”
He stood there on her doorstep, wearing a full business suit even though he was soaked in sweat. He was thin and round-faced and pale and bespectacled and there was a corona of acne covering his hairline, where his hair gel mixed with his sweat and flesh juices. He was holding a glass vase full of white flowers.
“Aha,” he said. “Sorry about the yelling, but I came by yesterday and the day before, and there wasn’t anybody home and you don’t seem to ever answer your phone or check your email… and my job, my actual job right now, is to get in touch with you in order to give you a very alarming sum of money. I am here from our London office. It’s sort of a working vacation, you see. I mean, um, tragic circumstances and all. Sorry about the circumstances, first and foremost, above all else.”
He coughed into his hand.
“I don’t have a phone,” she said. “So I don’t know who you’ve actually been calling. And I barely check my email; just have it to pay my electricity bill once a month. Sorry! What’s up? Who are you?”
“My name is Rory,” he said furtively. “Very nice to meet you. May I come in?”
She frowned, not really into this idea.
“I mean, it is a bit of a private matter, I’m afraid. Sort of a corporate thing, really. Can’t really speak about it where just anyone could hear. The money is real, I promise. Ha ha ha!”
He laughed as if somebody had just pointed a gun at him and said: laugh, motherfucker, laugh with your whole face.
He held the vase full of flowers out to her.
“Ah yes, and these are for you!” he said. “I’ve been buying fresh ones every day just in case, so they are fresh. I am very sorry for your loss.”
He frowned, darkening.
“Yes, well,” he said. “I mean, perhaps you and your grandfather weren’t very close. I mean, I have heard that this is the case.”
He was silent.
“Oh Lord,” he said. “You don’t know then, do you? No one told you. I’m so sorry.”
She took the flowers from him, inferring the rest. She let the door swing open wider. She backed into her living room, and collapsed into a bean bag chair beside a massive plastic yellow table where she had been breaking up weed. She fished her pack of cigarettes out of her pants pocket.
The representative from IHOP tentatively crept into her apartment and then gently shut the door behind him.
“Sit,” she said.
He lowered himself into the other bean bag chair, his knees popping and his suit pants riding up so high she could see his pale skinny shins.
“I am going to smoke this cigarette,” she said before flicking her lighter.
“Yes, of course, go ahead,” he said.
“So what killed him?” she asked, lighting the cigarette. “Did he break his hip? Was it cancer?”
“I don’t actually know,” said Rory. “I mean, I work in the London office, you see and just recently transferred to the States. I think I am here because I am so new and nobody else wanted to be about this particular business. It is a weird old world.”
“Well, you are doing fucking great at your new job, Rory,” said Mandy.
Rory turned bright red. He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a check which was folded neatly down the middle.
“This is for you, and then I have some papers for you to sign, if you don’t mind, and then I will be out of here and that will be that.”
Mandy looked at the check, frowning.
“This is a lot of money,” she said. “This is life-changing money.”
“Ha!” said Rory. “Yes, I’m sure it’s no true solace, but there it is. Something to have.”
“What’s the deal here? My granddad hated us. I think the last time I saw him, he wouldn’t stop talking about how I was going to grow up to be a phone sex prostitute. I was thirteen and he told my mom I needed to get spanked for texting at dinner. That was before he disowned her, back when we still lived in California. She was high. I wanted to be high. He was a horrible hateful old man.”
“Yes, actually, it’s a little bit funny, really. This money isn’t from his will, although it is related to your actual inheritance. Your actual inheritance is a particularly odd bit of intellectual property. Worthless to you; very valuable to us. This money represents an offer from the International House of Pancakes to…hmmmm…purchase something that’s been deeded to you, uh, perhaps in a not entirely kind or, rather, charitable way.”
Rory took two folders from his suitcase and set them on the yellow table, carefully moving the weed to one side with the side of his hand. One folder was pink and one folder was blue.
“Deeded to me?”
“I guess, ha, it is a bit funny really, with what you said about his being concerned about your telephone usage and texting in your early years. He has actually deeded you the IHOP social media accounts, which we did not actually know that he had the rights to use and manage, but which were specifically enumerated to him several decades ago in a contract about computer game rights—OF ALL THINGS! CAN YOU IMAGINE AN IHOP COMPUTER GAME?—but which was never updated nor examined. We were able to get in touch with Facebook and with Tumblr in order to have those accounts shut down and reopened, keeping our same followers and so on, but unfortunately the good people at Twitter have been exceedingly difficult about allowing us to exchange executorship and management without your express agreement. They have run into some trouble with this recently, it seems, with some early novelty accounts. So they want to keep everything to some kind of official legal standard, which is fine, just a bit annoying.”
“What are you saying? My granddad gave me the Twitter account to IHOP in his will?”
“Ha ha, yes, exactly that,” said Rory. “Perhaps it was intended to be some kind of chastisement or life lesson, but I assure you that it is worth a great deal to the International House of Pancakes. As our sum presented suggests, we are willing to compensate you quite adequately if you will just go ahead and deed the account right back over to us so we can continue posting deals, specials, news, and additions to our menu to our three and a half million followers who crave our daily IHOP updates and pancake-related jests.”
“Wait a second,” said Mandy. “You mean I have three million Twitter followers now?”
“Well, the International House of Pancakes does. But yes, I suppose you could say that, as a temporary and hilarious quirk of circumstance. Ha! It’s funny to think about. Now these papers stipulate that…”
“I don’t even have a smart phone.”
“Aha,” said Rory. “So you can see that such an account is very much useless to you, and vital to us, and so therefore this sum of money should exchange hands as soon as possible. We’ll just sign all the papers in this blue folder here and I will be on my way.”
“What’s in the pink folder?”
“Oh, that’s nothing, that’s just the account information which I am legally required to give to you, though the password will of course be changing once you take the money and sign these forms. Just a formality, really. Part of “Twitter law,” which is really quite fascinating. Gosh, I wish I had the time to explain it all.”
Mandy picked up the pink folder. Rory watched her, joggling his knees, not sure how bean bag chairs were supposed to make you feel mellow, or how any human beings could tolerate these insane Texas temperatures.
“The password is MARIOKART6969,” said Mandy. “Come on, man. Really?”
“Yes, well, the way I hear it, one of our marketing interns set up the account back in 2006, and this has stayed sort of an inside joke.”
“What happens if I don’t take the money?” said Mandy.
“What a fun thing to think about,” said Rory. “In that case, we would of course be forced to set up a new account and people would slowly trickle over to us as soon as they realized they were no longer getting official information from the real International House of Pancakes. We would also be forced to file an injunction against you. If you ask around and consult with experts, you will discover that the amount we are offering is more than fair and reflects our wish to respect the only granddaughter of our founder.”
Mandy didn’t say anything. She carried the pink folder onto her balcony, lighting another cigarette.
“Let’s sit outside for a minute,” said Mandy. “I need to think.”
She opened up two lawn chairs and they sat in the heat, smoking as she leafed through the folder. The vase full of flowers was on the ground between them.
“This shit is pretty hilarious,” said Mandy. “This is like giving your porn account to charity when you die.”
Rory didn’t say anything. Sweat and oil covered him like latex, sealing his juices inside a slick and dripping membrane.
He closed his eyes in silence while she smoked and read.
“Let me see your phone,” she said finally. “You have a smart phone?”
He handed her his phone. She frowned at it, pressing buttons.
“How do I get on the internet?”
He opened a browser for her.
“Cool,” she said. “Oh never mind, there is a button that takes you directly to Twitter. Neat.”
“Hang on,” said Rory. “Hold on now. What are you doing?”
She sat on the railing of the balcony, swinging her legs. She typed for a few minutes, starting to smile, and then she tossed him back his phone. She stood up, took all the flowers out of the vase, and festooned them around the lawn chairs. She poured out the water. She looked around for people watching, and then she threw the vase as far as she could into the parking lot. It smashed into jagged multitudes, making a chalk-white smear.
“Come on,” she said. “Let’s go. I am done mourning and I am also sober now.”
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“To IHOP,” she said. “We are going to get free pancakes. All pancakes are free at the IHOP on Cesar Chavez today.”
“Sure. Free Twitter pancakes. It has already been retweeted 11 times.”
Mandy hopped over her balcony and started walking out of the complex. Rory followed her, running to catch up. He was looking up the number for the IHOP on Cesar Chavez, and then he was calling and explaining the situation to them, telling them corporate would cover it, telling them there was an emergency, telling them they should only extend the offer to people who specifically asked for it.
“What are you doing?” seethed Rory.
“Let me see your phone again,” she said. “Don’t worry. I just need to make a phone call.”
He hesitated. He took his phone out of his pocket.
She snatched the phone out of his hand. She dialed a number while he glared at her.
“Hey daddybags, meet me over at IHOP,” she said. “It’s an emergency.”
“Why don’t you have your own phone?” asked Rory.
“Technology is bullshit now,” said Mandy. “What is cool about a smartphone? Everybody has a smart phone. Old racists with blood diseases have smart phones. YOU have a smart phone. I can always get someone else to look something up for me. It is not very hard to pretend that every single person these days is your own personal robot phone slave.”
Kip was waiting for them when they arrived, straddling his bicycle in the parking lot.
Kip had a tattoo of an elaborate ” ” on one forearm and an equally elaborate “< /a >” on the other one.
(“Anchors,” he once explained to her. “You know, like a sailor.”)
“Kip designs websites for Nazis and skinheads,” Mandy explained to Rory.
“Hey man, I will write code for anyone,” said Kip. “Market forces and freedom of speech and all that.”
“But he specializes in websites for North American hate groups,” said Mandy. “Somebody has to do it right? His other favorite thing to talk about in the world is torture, which was part of the initial attraction, but now I’m not so sure. He is my boyfriend.”
“What do you mean you’re not so sure?” asked Kip.
“What do you mean torture?” asked Rory.
“You know,” said Kip. “Coercive violence. Pain with goals.”
They got a booth and all ordered coffee.
“So what’s going on?” asked Kip. “You said it was an emergency.”
“It is an emergency,” said Mandy. “An emergency of FUN.”
The waitress returned with coffee. She was built like a matador, whip-thin with veiny forearms. Mandy knew her name was Dinah, like Alice’s cat.
“What a day,” said Mandy. “Free pancakes! You must be busy, Dinah. I bet you are going crazy.”
Dinah was suspicious.
“Haven’t heard anything about any free pancakes,” said Dinah.
“It’s a thing,” said Mandy. “Today only. It’s on the internet.”
Mandy ordered six short stacks “for the table” and a side of sausage.
Dinah snorted and walked away. “Lemme check on that,” she said.
“Hey, I want to see your phone for a sec,” Mandy said to Kip. Kip handed her his phone. She logged into Twitter and typed while he watched.
HI KIP #WHATISUPKIPYOUASSHOLE she typed, messaging him.
She handed his phone back to him and it buzzed in his hand.
“You hacked the IHOP twitter account,” said Kip. “Cool.”
“Not exactly,” said Mandy. “I never told you my granddad started IHOP?”
“I thought you were joking,” he said. “I thought we always ate here because of the free refills on coffee and the strong American values.”
“We always eat here because it is the best restaurant in the world,” said Mandy. “Let me see your phone again.”
Kip handed it back to her.
“Man, the IHOP twitter feed is just a bunch of hipster jokes about pancakes,” said Mandy. “Every single tweet is some annoying joke about a pancake.”
“Is this about money?” asked Rory. “You want more money? Is this extortion?
“Just a minute,” said Mandy. “I am trying to write something. Ya’ll should talk about torture or something.”
“What are you more interested in,” asked Kip. “Theory or practice?”
“Why do you know so much about torture?” asked Rory, exasperated. “Who are you people?”
Mandy opened a new Tweet.
FOR THE MONTH OF MAY, IHOP WILL BE TAKING YOUR POLITICAL ASYLUM REQUESTS AND HONORING ALL EASTERN EUROPEAN VISAS #PANCAKESPRING
She chuckled to herself.
“Twitter is really stupid,” she said.
IHOP HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE CRUCIBLE 4 CNTRVERSL IDEAS ABOUT LIBERTY COME 4 THE PANCAKES STAY 4 THE PRTCTD RADICAL DISCOURSE #PANCAKESPRING
“With respect to Western torture techniques, we are really seeing something special happening lately,” said Kip. “It’s been taking place since the Global War on Terror, really, but watching it happen is great for the industry as a whole. Sort of a torture revolution, really. Nobody talks about it.”
“Kip is a fascist,” said Mandy. “I used to be into that, uh, romantically.”
“Yeah, right,” said Kip uncertainly.
Rory stared at his coffee, unsure of what to do or what to say.
“What do you mean ‘torture revolution?’” asked Rory, trying to be nice.
“What we are seeing is the supplanting of Vintage Prep with French Modern techniques all over the world, but especially in America and other western countries,” said Kip. “It’s rad. I never expected such an enlightened outlook coming from us, you know? South Africa, maybe. I wonder if internet porn has something to do with it? Probably, right?”
“You have to explain the difference,” said Mandy. “Not everybody spends their afternoons reading torture blogs and masturbating to cartoons. I can’t believe I used to think you were so hot and cool.”
“It’s a rivalry as old as the seasons,” said Kip, glaring at her. “Vintage Prep torture techniques are things you wouldn’t even really consider torture, because they are so awesome and ubiquitous. For instance, handcuffs, right? Or being forced to be inside a jail cell? Or prison guards looking the other way whilst you get raped by some of your fellow inmates to teach you a lesson about class and manners? All of these techniques have filtered down over the years from the finest Anglo-Saxon prep schools, and have been modified and adjusted to fit our modern incarceration needs. Forced sitting, forced standing, solitary confinement. Terrible food that makes you sick. Stuff like that. It is the kind of cruelty that children do to each other, with the main goal of inflicting maximum psychological damage without requiring many resources. It is also the kind of torture that anyone can do and which requires no specialists, which is great because you don’t want somebody on your payroll whose job title is ‘torturer.’ You can keep somebody in solitary confinement their entire life and people will just shrug, though this is probably the worst thing you can possibly do to a living creature of planet Earth. But what I am saying is that Vintage Prep torture techniques are giving way to French Modern, and not just in South America or Southeast Asia or China or Russia. But everywhere, everywhere!”
YES THIS OFFER IS FOR RL @TheRealEdwardSnowden she tweeted
IHOP IS PROUD TO ANNNCE THAT WE WILL NOW BE OFFERING PLTCL ASYLM AND LGL PRTCTN 2 WHISTLEBLOWERS, DISSIDENTS & FUGEES WRLDWDE #PANCAKESPRING
“What is French Modern, then?” asked Rory, miserably.
BRING YR SLEEPING BAG DISSIDENTS! #PANCAKESPRING
FREE COFFEE AND PANCAKES ALL NIGHT LONG N XCHNG FOR LEAKING INFORMATION ABOUT THE SRVLLNCE STATE TO JRNLSTS #PANCAKESPRING
“These were the techniques that the Nazis and the Vichy government developed jointly together to deal with the French Resistance, basically,” said Kip. “Now this is top notch stuff, stuff meant to ‘break people’ without leaving a mark. Until the Germans started employing French professionals, they were just snapping people’s fingers and beating them senseless while tied to chairs. That doesn’t work at all. You don’t get the feeling that your torturer is enjoying it, that they don’t care whether you talk or not. French Modern techniques are artful, require professional attention, and do not scar. Most famously used in Algiers and throughout South America during the Cold War, we are talking here about electricity, experimental surgery, and water stuff, coupled with acts of explicit sexual degradation which are designed to tap into a subject’s unconscious needs and make them fall in a kind of submissive ‘love state’ with the torturer.”
“Which definitely wears off after awhile,” muttered Mandy.
Kip looked at her. Frowning. Hard.
“You think uh…French Modern is better than Vintage Prep?” asked Rory.
“Almost certainly,” said Kip. “French Modern is passionate romance; Vintage Prep is a cold sexless marriage. I admire you British, I really do. Very efficient, very careful. But with French Modern, people are interacting in a hands-on, intimate way instead of just coldly extracting confessions through the brutality of time and the body’s own natural weaknesses. It’s artisanal. It’s authentic. It’s professional, not a relationship of convenience. It’s a craft, like Martha Stewart, you know? Which means we will get scientific data about torture, figuring out whether it really even works or not, and we will have professionals doing this work instead of amateurs, leading to fewer casualties, fewer mistakes, and vast harm reduction across the world. Everybody knows French Modern techniques work better, and once we get prisoners signing release forms, we will…”
THERE IS NO STRCTRL CLASS STRATIFICATION AT IHOP, THERE IS NO INSTITUTIONAL DISFIGUREMENT OF THE HUMAN SOUL #PANCAKESPRING
THERE IS ONLY COFFEE AND PANCAKES AND SOMETIMES WAFFLES #PANCAKESPRING
“…we will finally be able to make torture a permanent and safe institution instead of just a scary word that means whatever bad thing you want it to mean.”
They all sat there in silence for awhile, pondering torture as a permanent safe institution and pancakes, respectively.
“Rory,” said Mandy. “I am not going to do a deal. I am not going to sell you back this Twitter account. I will tell you why for four hundred dollars cash.”
“Fucking Christ,” said Rory. “I am not going to give you four hundred dollars just to tell me why we are going to have to sue you.”
“There’s an ATM in the front of the restaurant,” she said. “Call your boss or whatever.”
Rory threw his napkin down on the table and stood up.
“We are breaking up,” Mandy said to Kip as soon as Rory was gone. “I can’t hang out with any dudes from Stormfront anymore at your damn ‘shitkicker’ bars. It’s not funny anymore. Maybe it never was. It’s fine to have ironic and cruel beliefs about things, but like, maybe that’s what fascism actually is, you know? Everybody just saying the worst things and playing pretend. You are good at sex, but lots of people are good at sex. I can find about ten people as good as you on the internet in about ten minutes.”
“But you hate the internet,” said Kip.
“That was before I had a Twitter account,” said Mandy. “And three million followers.”
Kip slunk down lower in his booth. He started sulking.
“Now who’s the fascist,” he said.
Rory returned, glaring at her. He handed her the cash and she handed the cash to Kip.
“Why are you being such a jerk?” asked Rory.
“Yeah,” said Kip. “How come?”
“Because I believe in things for real, including IHOP, especially IHOP,” said Mandy. “It’s basically the UN, but tons better. An international organization dedicated to pancakes. You can sue me if you want, but god help me, I will be the voice of pancakes until you cut my throat. It is my destiny.”
“You should take the money,” said Rory.
“Being poor as shit never changed anybody’s life,” said Kip.
“Fuck you dude,” said Mandy. “I just paid you back!”
“Listen,” said Rory. “What do you mean you believe in IHOP? I mean, I sympathise: I vote labor when I am back home. But it’s just a stupid corporation same as the rest, same as Twitter, you know? Just take the money.”
“There was only one restaurant in the town where I grew up, the town we moved to after my mom left California. I spent every Saturday night there because it is like The Family Thing. Every time I snuck out of my house, it was always to go to IHOP. This was before the internet, so nobody believed me when I told them my grandfather started this place. It didn’t matter. Mt grandfather sucked, maybe, but his restaurant is awesome. IHOP is the opposite of Twitter. It’s a place where real people talk about real shit face to face over giant plates of cheap food. There are infinite coffee refills for infinite problems. How many people do you think have fallen in love inside an IHOP? How many people have written beautiful novels sitting at an IHOP, or come up with crazy ideas that have changed the world?”
They looked around the restaurant. No one seemed to be falling in love or writing a novel or changing the world.
But they could have been. There were plenty of empty booths.
“You are going to have to get your own phone,” said Kip. “You sure as hell aren’t going to use mine.”
Mandy turned around in the booth and tapped the guy in the next booth over on his shoulder. He was a giant man with a luscious and disgusting beard who was eating a massive plate of chicken fried steak alone and reading the entirety of the New York Times. It looked like he probably did this every day. There was a battered Graham Greene novel on one corner of the table and a personal bottle of hand sanitizer.
“Hey man,” said Mandy. “Can I use your phone?”
“Um,” said the man, trying to be polite. “What for? I mean, I can dial the number for you.”
“No, I just need to tweet something,” she said.
“I don’t use Twitter,” he said.
“Oh, me neither,” she said. “It’s for IHOP.”
She started to explain. Rory sighed and got up to leave. Kip followed him, realizing she was just going to keep ignoring him, and plus also they were broken up now.
ARISE YE WORKERS FROM YOUR SLUMBERS! ARISE YE PRISONERS OF WANTS! IT IS TIME FOR PANCAKES she tweeted. She handed the phone back to the man with the hand sanitizer, just as her six plates of pancakes arrived, just as the Soviet nuke locked up in her storage closet counted three, counted two, counted one, counted zero.
(c) Miracle Jones 2014