©Evan Nichols, 2009

©Evan Nichols, 2009

Sure as my name’s Earl, I’ll never forget the day of the G.O. Virus. It was a Sunday and I was hunched over the computer looking at this YouTube thing my son had just called up to tell me about. It’s called Help Desk and it’s set in the middle ages. This guy calls the Help Desk because he’s just bought his first book and he doesn’t know how to use it. I guess my son thought I would relate to it. Old dog, new tricks.

Anyway, there was a kind of an electrical crack! You know, the kind that gives you the shivers and makes the little hairs on your arms stand up? Then my screen went black. Then silence. I looked at it and thought, ‘What the hell?’ Then, just when it was starting to dawn on me that my computer was probably fried, the screen turned white and these big green block letters drifted across the screen, “GO OUTSIDE.” Then it shut down again.

I decided to call tech support but where the hell is the phone number? Normally I would get it off the internet. So I picked up the phone to call my son to have him go online and get me the number. That’s when I found out it wasn’t just the internet. Home phone, cell phone, didn’t matter. Nothing doing. I tried to check for news: the TV and radio were out too! Everything. Kablooey.” Weird, ‘cause the power was still on, and every now and then my laptop would blink back to life, like a guy sitting up suddenly in the ER, with the letters: “GO OUTSIDE.” Then off.

Well I was in just sweatpants with a rip in the crotch, my I’m with Stupid t-shirt, and a ratty bathrobe, but you take away a man’s internet, phone, TV and radio and he’s gonna step outside. Well, what do you think? There were half my neighbors, just coming out their doors too. I walked out into the street to see what was going on.

Sam, across the street, he works from home. When he’s not playing the drums or walking around with that damn cockatiel on his shoulder, he works for some dot com, checking for plagiarized term papers or something. He said, “You’ll never believe what happened.” Computer went blank. Same words: “Go Outside.”

Gabriela, she’s a teacher from Spain. Every Sunday she goes on that Skype to talk to her parents back in Madrid. Well, get this. She’s in there with her boyfriend and he had just asked her parents for their daughter’s hand in marriage. He had it all memorized in Spanish and was a little nervous about how they were going to go with it. Stumbles through his speech and then POOF! Screen goes blank. “GO OUTSIDE.”

Everyone’s pretty much had the same story, ‘cept some were watching TV or on the phone. Bruce, up the street, he listens to his radio while he builds his latest race car. Had the A’s game on. Said Giambi hit a deep drive with the bases loaded and the announcer said, “This one’s got a chance! Guerrero is back at the wall. He leaps…” POOF! Static. I never did find out if he hit it out.

Well, you know, first people thought maybe it was a computer virus, but pretty soon we’ve got it worked out to be some sort of terrorist attack and people are eyeing the skies like, OK, they got us outside, now what are they going to do?! Sam, the drummer, said he’d go get his shotgun first sign of trouble. Nobody had much to say to that. There were about 15 or 20 of us now out there in the middle of the street.

Time went by. Nothing. Jason, the surfer who lives in the little back house, he got out his skateboard, started scratching around. Every now and then someone would go inside and check if anything was working. Then Bruce brought his radio down, set it up on the stairs right there by the pink house where old Mrs. Williams lives. She’s nice and friendly but large. Nothing wrong with that but it seems to define her. See her laboring from her driveway up into the house and then later huffing and puffing down the stairs again. She came out and sat on the steps, started chatting with Bruce. Next thing you know he’s got the hood up on her brown Ford and he’s poking around, fixing her car!

People kind of started making small talk, asking, “So what do you do?” and “Saw you tore down that garage.” About half a block down a soccer game started up, folks using trashcans for goals; all ages, kids, guys with white hair like me. I would have, but not with these knees.

Some guitars appeared here and there on front steps and porches. Shy at first, then starting to sing with it too. Some people drifted towards the music, joined in. Sam brought out his drum set but we made him bring it right back inside his garage. So he brought out that damn cockatiel instead. Loudest bird you ever heard.

I met a bunch of folks I just barely waved hi to before. Started thinking, ‘I’ve been living here 30 years and I don’t even know that guy’s name?!’ The guy two houses up from me, rides his electric scooter down to Safeway buy jugs of milk. Says there’s a two-for-one special. Well, I found his name’s Cole and he’s an actor and a realtor and a plumber. Plays guitar too. Took me up and showed me his recording studio in his basement.

Lady down the street with about fifty kinds of flowers in her yard, her name’s Kelly. She starts talking about her solar panels and bio-diesel and all this stuff. The other gardeners start talking about their yards and before you know it there’s a kind of a backyard tour going on. I went, even though I can’t grow a weed. We went down to one house and a man took us around back and showed us his fruit trees; pretty good apples. Fuji.

Then we headed across the street to where a woman showed us her compost bin just out the kitchen door. Simple stuff like that. Another woman showed us her clothesline, said they’ve been drying their clothes by sun for a year now and that they smell better and save a lot of electricity. The architect down the street has chickens in his yard. Designed a coop on lean with an automatic timer on the latch. Door pops open every morning at 6 a.m. so he doesn’t have to get out of bed. Trained the chickens to march themselves right back up that plank at sundown. Told us to take an egg. Says they taste better. One young guy says, “Where’s the rooster?” A bunch of folks didn’t realize you don’t need a rooster to have eggs.

Well, I remember it got on about supper time. Folks were talking about eating together, having a potluck right out there on the street. Suddenly there was a shout. “It’s back on!” We could hear music blaring. Telephones start ringing all over the place. People grabbed their soccer balls, guitars, tools…rushed inside. Doors closed. In a minute, I mean a minute, the street was completely empty.

Well, the rest of the day, you can imagine, the media went crazy about the so-called G.O. Virus (you know, for “Go Outside”). Turned out it was that guy at Google. Smart guy. Hugely successful, but even this guy at the top of his game, could do anything he wanted…Well what he wanted was to turn the damn computer off and find some meaning in life. Way he said it was he wanted to give the world, “A chance to catch its breath, to go outside and be human again.”

Well, he never should have gone outside, maybe, because that’s when the mob got him. He was being led out of his fancy house over there in Palo Alto or somewhere. They broke through the FBI lines and beat him to death with their iPhones. Ten years ago but I remember it like yesterday.

It’s a shame too, ‘cause that was the last time I spoke to most of my neighbors.

©Evan Nichols, 2009

Evan Nichols, BAWP 2000, is the editor of Digital Paper. He always accepts his own submissions because otherwise it might be AWKward the next time he spends time with himself. He is poised (knees bent, scanning the periphery, fingers flexing nervously) to start year 16 in a public school classroom. He will be teaching third grade at Sequoia Elementary in Oakland, CA, where his daughter is in the second grade and his son is not yet eligible for kindergarden status. His cat, Gatobama, is being home-schooled (to no avail).

3 Responses to “The G.O. Virus by Evan Nichols”

  1. Tom Dunlap Says:

    Evan,

    I love your imagination, your sense of voice, your wit. Write on, brother!

  2. Fran Claggett Says:

    Wish I were still teaching, Evan. I’d love to use this with students. Come to think of it, I still could, use it that is. Next fall I’ll be teaching another lifelong learning class at SSU. They would love it. Maybe I’ll use the whole prompt–chickens–with them. I couldn’t think of a thing to write about chickens before, but now I can think of about a dozen pieces ….

  3. Ethel Loan Says:

    Nice post, add more post again Does killing time damage eternity?

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