Manuel knew he would never make a good cannibal—he just didn’t like people.
In a perfect world, Manuel would have gone into computer programming for the sole purpose of being alone in his basement; however, he despised all things digital, deciding instead to pursue accounting.
He now happily calculated other people’s tax returns in the quiet solitude of the subterranean floor of his small brownstone. On his desk, he had one halogen lamp, a legal size pad of lined paper, and a wooden abacus. The abacus was a perfect fit for Manuel and his desire for all things simple.
To Manuel, numbers made sense. People did not. The only thing that scared him more than a conversation with a stranger was having to have that conversation on anything other than his avocado-green rotary phone, the only remaining landline on his block.
His parents had tried to get him to use an iPhone, but Manuel flatly refused.
Safely ensconced in the cinder block cool of the basement, Manuel blissfully ignored the digital revolution, using sharpened No. 2 pencils, graph paper, his rotary phone, and his reliable abacus to click and clack the correct numbers he needed tallied on his clients’ tax forms.
Technologically, Manuel quit updating in 1985, when he failed to learn WordStar to type a simple letter. He simply decided to write the letter by hand.
If the dictionary contained a word whose definition was technophobe introvert, they couldn’t do any worse than just inserting a picture of Manuel. To be fair, Manuel wasn’t an actual recluse. He would venture out of his home on occasion to shop and take walks and even see an occasional movie, but he was careful to vary his routine. He had learned that using the same route every day forced him to see the same people. This would never do, as these people might eventually overstep their boundaries and say things to him like “Hi” and “How are you today?”
He had frequented a coffee shop in town, satiating his minimal need for human contact, but the management had recently installed kiosks for patrons to key in their own orders. On the day that Manuel discovered the change, he was torn between feeling overjoyed not having to talk to another cashier and demoralized at having to deal with one more gadget of the digital age.
Manuel now brewed his own coffee at home, opting for a quick walk around the city block whenever he felt the need to see other people. It wasn’t very often. For he soon tired of seeing his fellow human beings greedily hunched over their digital devices, oblivious to the sights and sounds of the world around them.
“Pardon me,” asked a young woman, eyes wide, clothes plain. “I’m looking for 417 Plum Street.”
“This is 714 Spruce,” Manuel replied. “Can’t you pull up google maps or directions or Siri,” he muttered, feeling his anxiety spike upon having to speak directly to someone, especially someone so clearly pretty.
“I’m not familiar with this city,” she offered as an excuse. “I’m on Rumspringa.”
“I’m on vodka fall,” Manuel replied, breaking out into hysterical laughter. “Get it? Vodka fall . . . ” He suddenly noticed she wasn’t laughing with him. He tried to explain. “You said you were on Rumspringa, like Rum Spring—oh, never mind.” A beat too late, Manuel realized she didn’t get his attempt at humor and tried to salvage the situation as best he could. “714 Plum Street is two streets over. I’m headed that way. I’ll show you.”
The offer was an unusual one for Manuel, but there was something about this particular Amish girl that intrigued him. Anyway, he lived at 716 Plum Street, right next door to her destination and it seemed unneighborly, even for him, to leave a young girl who was obviously out of her element alone on a city street.
She followed behind him, unsure and unwilling to talk with him, looking around and noting all as if marking a trail through a dark wood. He thought about asking to carry her satchel, but she held tightly on to it.
“How long will you be in the city?” He tried again.
“Not long,” she crisply replied. She wasn’t being unkind, just unavailable.
The two walked the few blocks in silence.
“Well, there it is. 714. I’m right next door,” he said, pointing to the front door. “So, if you need anything. Like directions—”
“Or bad puns?” She offered him a fragile smile.
“Yes, I’m actually quite good at bad puns and terrible jokes. Just drop on by,” he said, flushing and feeling slightly nauseated that he’d invited her over. He invited her over!
“I’ll be alright,” she said, sitting down on the stoop.
It took all of Manuel’s willpower to walk away, down the sidewalk, up his walkway and through his front door without looking back at the girl on the stoop right next door.
For the first time in his life he viewed his extreme introversion as a possible detriment. Once back inside the sanctuary of his home, Manuel poured himself a glass of sweet tea, sat in his favorite thinking chair and, well, thought.
He wondered if she was thirsty and wanted any ice tea.
A few months back, while visiting his parents, Manuel’s mother had mentioned a new app, EX-INTROVERT, made especially for iPhone users. The app apparently showed miraculous results in curing chronic introverts. Manuel remembered smiling politely and nodding as if he were interested, all the while fixating on the clock on the mantle. He loved his parents. He especially loved them when he was at home alone and nowhere near them. They were always trying to get him to connect with others and live life to the fullest. Manuel had observed enough of life to know he had no desire to do any such thing.
Yet, now? The world seemed to hold many more possibilities.
Manuel went to his bedroom closet, in the far back where he kept anything of value. After sorting through a series of boxes, he retrieved the iPhone his parents had attempted to foist on him. Ignoring a wave of revulsion, he opened the box and flipped through the operating guide. It seemed simple enough. Ignoring his nagging anxiety, Manuel powered the iPhone on.
Manuel had always defined mixed emotions as the feeling husbands get when they see their mothers-in-law going over a cliff in their new convertible, but now he had a more personal example. Manuel was giddy at the thought of being able to talk freely with the woman he had met on his walk, but he also felt almost unbearable pains of anxiety that accompanied such a drastic step.
For a moment Manuel contemplated turning the device off and quickly returning it to its box, but only for a moment.
Cautiously, he downloaded EX-INTROVERT from the App Store. In just a few seconds, an icon appeared on his screen. Since fortune favors the bold, he delicately tapped on it.
Welcome to Ex-Introvert! Select your avatar now.
Manuel had no idea what an avatar was, but a series of animals appeared on the screen. Debating between the cobra and the wildebeest, he decided on the reptile.
Find your inner cobra by slithering up to that special someone. Tap on the following tutorials to help you sssslip into ssssomeone more comfortably.
Manuel clicked on the tile for “Great Greetings.”
Hi, Cobra! Sssso you want to learn to Sssstrike when the iron is hot. You want to Ssssay what you’re thinking, not just think it. You want to take a Sssslice of life and devour it like a Ssssnake. Repeat after me: I am a cobra.
Manuel stared at the phone with a mixture of amazement and revulsion. In his entire life he wasn’t sure if he had ever heard anything so insane, anything so asinine, anything so obviously worthless.
“I am a cobra.” Manuel said out loud, feeling like a complete fool.
The app must have been voice activated because as soon as he said he was a cobra, it continued.
“Good, Cobra. Good. Ssssoon you will sssssee your progressss. Go find the object of your affection and sssslither up to him or her. Ssssay ssssomething ssssilly like ‘Is it hot in here or is it just you?’”
For the first time in his life, Manuel had overcome his aversion to technology, but this was a bridge too far.
“This is sssstupid. This whole thing ssssucks,” Manuel said out loud, laughing at the phone, the app, and mostly himself. The confusion of the previous 20 minutes was gone in an instant. Manuel deleted the app, turned off the iPhone, put it back into its box, and hurled the whole thing with great vigor into his favorite trash can
“I am a cobra!” Manuel exclaimed, chuckling as he made his way towards the front door. He realized if he could do something as stupid as talking to that app, he could probably talk to anyone.
He was going to talk to the Amish girl and, God willing, get to know her while she was in town. Resolute in his decision, he stomped his way to the front door and flung it open.
If it hadn’t been for his cobra-like reflexes, he would have run right over the poor girl who was obviously just about to knock on his door.
“So you say you’re in vodka fall?” she said, giving him the warm smile that had eluded him earlier. “Care to share a shot?”
“I thought you’d never ask,” he said, coiling his arm around her, amazed at how well the app worked after all.