19 comments

Black Funny

Sometimes the thing you choose as the clear winner turns into a steaming pile of shit. I used to tell everyone that artificial intelligence marked the start of a revolution guaranteed to improve the world. It would give people time to do what they love and create a new leisure class -  with me in it of course. Ha. Nothing will revolutionize humanity like a dose of humiliation.

“Davionne will be with you soon,” the assistant said from the office doorway. “Make yourself comfortable, Tommy.” She closed the door, leaving me in a silent and magnificent office. As I admired the line of framed certifications on the wall, I understood why my cousin Sonia recommended her. Wharton Business School. Wow! Certified Financial Planner. Nice. Client Appreciation award. Eh, OK. I stopped in front of a crayon drawing. The silly thing was in the same type of ornate frame as the pedigrees, as if it was equally important. That’s weird, I thought. 

The door opened behind me. “Hello, Tommy, I’m Davionne.” In walked a Black woman of average height, a little pudgy, but with great legs. She gestured for me to take the seat across from her shiny white desk, as she came around to her own seat. “Tell me what brings you in to see me.” Her silky blouse revealed nothing except a hint of crêpey hazelnut-colored skin. A navy blue blazer was draped over the back of her ergonomically perfect chair, and I appreciated her taste in platinum and diamond jewelry. She looked put together.

Sonia had said Davionne was nice and super smart, but as I studied the woman’s face, the laugh lines at her eyes ran deep. Did anyone laugh that much?

“Well, Davionne, I’m thirty-five,” I said, taking the seat. “I’ve been with the same medical equipment company for three years, and I just got a raise.” My pride was uncontainable, right down to my balls. The extra hours I’d put in to solve a massive technical glitch paid off. My boss and the higher-ups had noticed. Getting rewarded for being smart felt good. Better than good, and I had all kinds of reasons to believe that the Chief Technology Officer position could be mine one day, maybe fifteen years down the road. I deserved a fast track.

“Congratulations, Tommy, and please call me Davi.” Her kind, brown eyes brightened, and she rested her chin on interlaced fingers. Maybe yeah, she laughed more than the average person. 

All the way to the bank, I bet. I glanced at my Allen Edmonds shoes and smirked. One day, Prada and Ferragamo, baby.

“I’m here to help,” she said, unlocking her fingers to clap. “So let’s get into your financial goals, and then we’ll review where you’re at now.” Davi leaned in close to her laptop screen. “I’ll ask a few questions here and there if I need clarification, OK?”

Through her wall-to-wall window, I took inspiration from the God’s eye view of downtown. Financial goals? I wanted to be a multi-millionaire and retire young. “I see myself in a new, upgraded car in a couple years. I’m getting married next year, so a house is a must, since we want to start our own family. Kids, yard, two-car garage, gated community, pool, pets. That kind of thing.”

“Of course,” Davi said, nodding with a smile. 

Tight waves of dark hair were pulled back into a neat bun, strands of gray running through it. Aside from the crows feet, her brown face was smooth. I needed to size people up right away, but it was hard guessing her age. Forty-five, sixty? I couldn’t tell, and I wanted to squirm, but that would have demonstrated weakness, so I sat stoically still. I must have been staring too hard, because she cleared her throat and her eyes narrowed, with the slightest tilt of her head.

“Tommy? Are you there?”

“Sorry. I was just thinking about –” I knew better than to finish the sentence truthfully. I uncrossed my legs and crossed them again with a nervous laugh.

“Maybe you should know that I’m planning to retire in a couple years, a little early.” Davi leaned back in her chair, a lot like a man, with a clear sense of pride. “I’ve followed my own advice, if that makes you feel more secure about letting me guide you.”

It should have, but I thought she was bragging. Davi was surely from the generation raised on MTV back when they played music videos all day. I was raised on the Internet. Why couldn’t I just plug some numbers into an online financial calculator and figure this out myself?

“We can factor in your goals and come up with a practical plan. How do you feel about living within a budget?”

“I set budgets for my department at work.” I meant that I drew the lines and others were allowed to color within them, the way God intended things to be.

She pursed her lips and tilted her head again. “We can circle back to budget-setting later. What’s your price range for the house and car and your budget for the wedding?” Her hands, etched by the passage of time, hovered over the laptop keyboard.

My fiancée and her family were planning the wedding, so I hadn’t thought about how much the wedding would cost. Nothing? Our honeymoon, on the other hand, would set me back.

“OK.” Davi’s head bobbed about in a weird sort of way at my silence. “Moving on. Will you work from home full time or part time? Do you expect to get annual raises and bonuses? Are you willing to work a side hustle to boost your savings?” Davi’s look of eager anticipation seemed fake. No one could possibly be this sincere and passionate about helping other people. Was she for real?

This personal touch was getting too personal, like those stories of anal probes during alien abductions. I dreaded getting flattened out and inspected under a microscope with all these infernal questions. She resumed talking, but my mind kept getting stuck on solving this problem on my own with ChatGPT. I wasn’t comfortable giving so much transparency to another human being. Davionne’s wrinkles around her eyes seemed to deepen the more I looked at them. All those years of doing things the old way. I snickered to myself. Her generation had a massive upending coming, and it was going to be a real shit show. So, I wondered, why am I wasting time getting advice to do retirement her way? Her way was doomed to flatline. 

She kept on talking with that look like she expected a response from me. What did she just ask me? Dammit, I was starting to hate her on behalf of her whole gas-guzzling, baby seal-clubbing, red meat-eating, paper check-writing, VCR generation. I bet she thought Pentium was still state-of-the-art processing speed. 

“You know what, Davi?” I began, rising to my feet. “I have to run.”

“What?” Her eyebrows arched, eyes opened wide. “Didn’t my assistant let you know to set a couple hours aside for our appointment?”

“I don’t have a couple hours. I’m very sorry.” I wasn’t sorry. She’d gotten under my skin, and I didn’t like her there.

“I don’t understand,” Davi said, palms up. “You haven’t really answered a single question, so getting a clear picture of your financial health is impossible. It’s a mistake to leave so prematurely. We haven’t gotten anything done to help you reach a comfortable retirement.” She rose to her feet and came around her desk. Good Lord, was she actually wearing orthopedic shoes? 

Now, I was annoyed. There was a fine line between persistent and pushy and this bitch crossed it. “To be perfectly honest, Davi, I think AI will do just as good a job as you and faster. This process is taking way too much time.”

“I understand your impatience, Tommy, but planning out the next thirty years of your financial picture shouldn’t be rushed.” She smiled warmly, just like my grandmother would as she pulled a batch of fresh cookies out of the oven. Guilt threatened to undo me for wishing harm on someone who reminded me of my grandma. But what did I have to feel guilty for? My body temperature shot up, and my right eye twitched. 

My temper bulldozed over the guilt. “I also think your approach is dated. No offense, but you’re just too old for the way I want to do this.” I strode out of her office, a rush of heated adrenaline and youth propelling me.

I got in my five-year-old AUDI A5 and headed to Starbucks. As I sat with my double shot, half caf’, soy latte, my head cooled. “I’ll show her,” I mumbled. I opened my laptop and typed in the web address for ChatGPT. I input my age, projected retirement age, total net income, credit card debt, regular bill payments, and VOILA! In seconds, ChatGPT calculated that I’d need to save $143,000 a year.

Wait, what? That was more than my gross pay.

My heart contorted in my chest, much like the foamy heart losing its shape in my latte. Where the hell would I find a job earning enough right now to save that kind of money? What did Davi say about a side hustle? I’d just gotten a raise, and while that had been amazing last week, it felt horribly inadequate today. I called Sonia, but got no answer and didn’t leave a voice message. I almost called Cari, my fiancée, but thought better of worrying her.

I couldn’t leave Starbucks until I had a plan. Sacrificing what Cari and I wanted didn’t sit well, so I punched the keys – especially delete – creating a spreadsheet until my eyes ached. Three lattes and two snackboxes later, an employee in a green apron approached my table. 

He held a broom in one hand and looked everywhere except in my eyes. “Uh, excuse me, sir? We’ve been, like, um, closed for the day for a while now. Would you…you know, please leave?” The kid’s Adam’s apple bobbed and he gestured his head toward the exit.

I checked the time on my phone and noticed I’d missed text messages from Cari. Jesus, had I really been sitting there for four hours?

No matter, I had an idea. Granted, it was out there, but I’d deleted every other idea and had a blank spreadsheet to show for it. Nothing else would work.

I’d have to rob a bank. 

All this plan needed was the right combination of brainpower and willpower. Hadn’t my boss given me high marks for teambuilding? I knew a couple tough guys at the pizza joint near work. My cousin, Johnny, flunked out of law school. He was supposedly a hacker, must have been pretty good at it because he lived in a decent neighborhood. Johnny’s kid’s babysitter was in architecture school, so she could theoretically get schematics and floor plans.  My buddy Alfonze drove an electric car that had great pick-up.

The more I thought about it as I drove home to Cari, the more I warmed up to the idea. I’d have the team rob the bank as a distraction while I hacked into the wire transfer system and moved the money digitally. No one would ever know. I’d tuck away enough to meet my wedding, honeymoon, car, home, and retirement needs.

When I got home, I pounced on Cari and made love to her like our lives depended on it. It was the best sex we both ever had.

…Eight months later

“Your trial sure was quick,” Davionne said through the punched-out holes in the plexiglass divider. “Jury came back with a verdict in under twenty minutes.” The last time I’d seen her she’d been wearing a conservative skirt suit. Today she sported a colorful tank top, jeans, and open-toed sandals.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, looking down at my jumpsuit that was an orange bright enough to be seen from space. My skin looked ghostly grayish-blue under the LED lights. I was suspicious but curious to see her. Davionne was, after all, the only woman besides my mother to visit.

“I followed your story ever since I recognized your face on the evening news,” she said, without a trace of smugness. “I followed the trial, too.”

“But why come see me? I’m nobody to you.” 

She wagged her finger at me. “Remember when I said I followed my own planning advice and was nearing retirement?”

“Yeah, so?” I shrugged.

“I did retire,” Davi said, her eyes crinkling with her characteristic smile. “Even earlier than planned.”

“What’s that got to do with me?” I asked.

Again with the head tilt plus a blissful look in her eyes. “Well, Tommy, I don’t know what came over you in my office that day. You were terribly rude, but thinking that artificial intelligence would somehow help you retire was laughable, to be honest.”

“Ah, I see.” I hated her all over again. “You’re here to rub it in my face.” 

“A little, maybe,” she said, chuckling. “My client, your cousin Sonia, is doing well, by the way.”

A robotic guard with a creepily humanlike face standing behind Davionne stifled laughter without even raising its hand to hide it. Computers and robots could be such assholes. Case in point, ChatGPT didn’t fact check the answers to my questions about the bank’s wire transfer systems.

This particular area of the prison didn’t smell like the cell bloc. Here smelled of Lysol and lavender - for the prisoners’ honored guests, I’m sure. I wasn’t in much of a rush to get back to the hell beyond the door, so I continued sitting.

“Please get to the point. Why are you here to see me?”

Davi paused with a contented sigh. “You relied on modern technology to solve your problem instead of tried-and-true advice from me, a living person. I wonder if you have any idea where you went wrong.”

“I got caught,” I said, cross at having to state the obvious.

“You went wrong long before you got caught, dipshit,” Davi said, shaking her head. “ChatGPT might be faster, but it only landed you in trouble faster because it was impersonal. It didn’t factor in anything important in a person’s life.”

I crossed my arms and spread my legs out.

“I asked you pertinent questions so the plan would be custom-tailored to your dreams. What did AI ask you?”

I shook my head and my shoulders slouched. “It doesn’t matter anymore.”

“Hmm, in a way, I suppose you’re right, Tommy Dipshit. It didn’t ask because it didn’t care. It’s funny though, the police didn’t even need a high speed chase after that silly little Tesla. The FBI was on to you and went straight to your hideaway. You should have seen the look on your face when they arrested you on television.” There were those laugh lines again.

I stared at her with burning eyes.

“Guess where I’m  going now.”

As if I should care. My throat released a sound best described as a growl.

“I’m going back to a retirement hideaway of my own on Naples Beach in Florida. I’m writing a book about this whole… teachable moment. Let’s call it that, shall we? You said I was too old,” she said, pointing a damning finger at me, “but I’ve never felt more vibrant in my whole fifty-nine years on this planet.” She leveled her gaze and looked right through me. “I also stay abreast of technology trends. When ChatGPT had over a million subscribers within a week of launching, I knew it would be a major driver of growth. I took a long position in corporations developing AI. See, Tommy, that’s legal. What you did was not.” She fondled the string of pearls on her wrist, thoughtfully. “Retiring early gives me a lot more time to spend with my husband and our grandbabies. No offense, but the little ones will get big fast, while you’ll whither away quickly behind bars.” She tsked-tsked, took her purse off the back of the chair, and motioned to the robot guard.

With that, Davionne got up in her jaunty attire with a pep in her step and left me. The night I’d conceived the idiotic plan to rob the bank, Cari and I also conceived our first child. The only way I knew was because my mother told me Cari was pregnant. Due in just a few weeks. I hadn’t seen Cari since my arrest, and probably never would again. My own little one would grow fast. Dammit, Davionne was right. That helpful, motherly bitch.

The robot guard opened the door, letting the stink ooze out to greet me. It took me back to my sticky gray cell. In a half hour, I’d get to go outside. Fresh air made staring into the void of my future ever so slightly less miserable. Tomorrow, back to machine shop. I wondered if ChatGPT could help me with the drill press.

September 02, 2023 00:40

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

19 comments

Dominique Finch
04:39 Oct 01, 2023

Such a clever and thought provoking story! I enjoyed reading!

Reply

19:16 Oct 01, 2023

Hello and thank you Dominique. I appreciate the feedback. Be well and have a magical day, Mackenzie

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Ken Cartisano
03:22 Sep 08, 2023

Lovely little story and an entertaining one at that.

Reply

19:17 Sep 08, 2023

Thanks Ken, I appreciate that and I'm delighted that you found my story entertaining. Be well, Mackenzie

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
April Heath
12:45 Sep 07, 2023

I cracked up at so many places in your story. That Tommy sure was full of himself and stubborn. Amazing dialogue, so realistic.

Reply

19:18 Sep 08, 2023

Many thanks, April! Be well, Mackenzie

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
20:25 Sep 04, 2023

Great teachable moment.😁

Reply

22:25 Sep 04, 2023

Hello and thanks Mary. I appreciate you reading and sharing your thoughts. Be well, Mackenzie

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
00:10 Sep 04, 2023

Funny yet teachable. I love the twist. Didn't see it coming. Great writing, Mack!

Reply

08:38 Sep 04, 2023

Thank you, Micki! I appreciate you. Be well, Mackenzie

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Toni P
22:39 Sep 02, 2023

Great story! Wonderfully written. <3

Reply

22:58 Sep 02, 2023

Hello Toni P, thank you for reading my story and for sharing your impressions. Thank you. I always appreciate encouragement and feedback, and it makes me happy when readers enjoy my writing. Be well, Mackenzie

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Elaine Cohen
15:40 Sep 02, 2023

Fun story - nice modern twist!!

Reply

15:45 Sep 02, 2023

Hello Elaine, thanks for reading and I'm glad it was a fun read for you. Be well, Mackenzie

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Terri Harrington
02:33 Sep 02, 2023

Terrific and hilarious story! It seems like you've been hit by the writing bug again. Hard!!

Reply

02:39 Sep 02, 2023

Hello Terri, thank you so much for reading and posting your comments. I'm delighted to have a story to share, because it's been a while. I'm glad it gave you a big laugh! Be well, Mackenzie

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Naomi Lane
01:08 Sep 02, 2023

Great story MacKenzie. I like the way she showed him the error of his ways and all he could do was listen because he had nowhere else to be. She played her cards right and invested wisely.

Reply

01:16 Sep 02, 2023

Thanks so much for reading and sharing your impressions of the story. I appreciate your insight. I'm just grateful to write. Mackenzie

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Alex Wolf
21:12 Nov 07, 2023

I really enjoyed the generational tension in this story. The comments about growing up when MTV still played music videos all day made me laugh. In the end, I'm happy Davi got to rub her wisdom in Tommy's face. The old don't get enough respect for their lived experiences.

Reply

Show 0 replies
RBE | Illustration — We made a writing app for you | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.