Waiting for Doggo by Chris Green
Marc Gospell was trying to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative, as his therapist, Lily Woke, had told him. Latch on to the affirmative and not mess with Mister in Between, she had said. It was not going well. He was struggling. On the occasions he managed to accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and latch on to the affirmative, he still found himself messing with Mister in Between. Mister in Between, it seemed, was actually the negative dressed up as the middle ground. Lily told him this was something that other clients had found, too. There were no easy solutions because, in Lily’s experience, people had a tendency to sit on the fence about most things.
Most people found it difficult to make decisions. It wasn’t only him, she said, although in her view, he might be at the high end. Marc was forced to agree with her. He had lost fourteen chess matches in a row, many of these to players with fewer ranking points. The games were mostly lost through the time difficulties he got into because he could not make up his mind about the next move. His club played mostly 30/30 tournaments. A move a minute. Any competent chess player ought to be able to manage this, at least at club level. Messing with Mister in Between meant that sometimes Marc was left with less than a minute to make ten moves. Inevitably, he lost these games. No one wanted to play against him any more. They felt there was no challenge, and chess players like a challenge. They don’t like things to be too easy.
Rachael helped Marc accentuate the positive two or three times a week. On these occasions, he found it easy to eliminate the negative, and Mister in Between was also in abeyance. Rachael was blessed with those particular talents. After her visits, Marc saw things with a sense of optimism. In terms of the Prince song, Positivity, Have You Had Your Plus Sign Today, Marc had had his plus sign. Unfortunately, this proved to be a temporary state. Rachael had a busy life, and as soon as she was out of the picture for a few days, MiB was back.
It might not have been so bad had he not worked in Sales. It was difficult to persuade people to buy things they may not realise they needed if you were struggling to arrange positivity, negativity and Mister in Between in the best order. He struggled to maintain any interest at all in the tedious conversations you needed to employ to get even a willing customer to buy your product. His figures had dropped month on month for some time now, and it was becoming harder to manipulate the data to hide the shortfall. Statistics might be flexible, but you can only bend them so far.
There was no doubt about it; Marc was in a Soviet state of grace. It felt like those dreams where you find yourself in an unfamiliar town and it is dark and you need to get home and you can’t remember where you parked the car and you find yourself going round and round in circles and the people you are with are out of their heads and not making sense and you think the answer might lie in the lyrics of a Steely Dan song but you don’t know which one or is it a Talking Heads song. Then you wake up with your head in a spin, in a state of obfuscation, wondering if there is a Dog, or do you mean God? Who is it you are waiting for? Godot? Doggo? Then you find yourself on a high ledge and you are terrified to look down, but you need to look down in order to work out where you are. And someone tells you to jump. And that someone is you. And you wake up in a sweat, and the bedding needs a reboot.
Marc decided to go and see his old chess buddy, Pyotr, who, before his breakdown, had worked for an organisation called GRIP, which Marc understood had something to do with recovery from breakdowns. Pyotr had written a paper called Conundrums and Logic – How to Negotiate Everyday Life in a Post-Truth Society or some such florid title. Pyotr would understand how he was feeling. Pyotr himself had always been a little off the wall.
‘I feel like throwing in the towel,’ Marc said. ‘But there is no towel to throw in.’
‘And you don’t think it’s anything to do with the parrot?’ Pyotr said.
‘What parrot?’ Marc said.
‘Who let them out, anyway?’ Pyotr said.
What on earth was he talking about? He appeared to be distracted. He had a faraway look in his eye, further away than Marc remembered it to be. Perhaps he had yet to recover fully from his breakdown.
‘The dogs.’ Pyotr said. ‘Who let the dogs out?’
As the conversation lapsed further into nonsense, it became clear Pyotr was in no condition to help him stop messing with the fence-sitting fellow or anything else.
Marc left him to his musings and headed to The Goat and Bicycle for a lunchtime pint. The pub TV was playing a news channel, and they were reporting on the breaking story that Lol Popp had committed suicide. After Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and a rapper or two, Lol was the most successful recording artist of the past few years. What could he possibly have to be depressed about? The female reporter with the blonde hair and cakey make-up commented that Lol’s most recent single, I’m Not OK, a cover of a Rhodes song, had lacked the sparkle of some of his earlier tunes, yet the suicide had come as a surprise to everyone. They interviewed some distraught fans and moved on to Lori Driver, an eminent psychologist, who explained that fame was not all it was cracked up to be. It came with intense pressures. Lol’s recent collaboration with Nick Cave and his recording of Leonard Cohen’s Everybody Knows may have offered clues, she said, about the direction his music was heading and how he was feeling about the world. The bullet to the head perhaps mimicked Nirvana frontman, Kurt Cobain, who had also shot himself at the height of his fame. Lol was known to be a big fan.
Clearly, it wasn’t just Mister in Between you had to watch out for; negativity was there waiting for an opportunity to jump you, as it had with Lol. Marc wondered if it was time for him to stop reading Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. No one could accuse Sam of being cheery. His melancholy had probably been spilling over into Marc’s day-to-day life. Perhaps he ought to cancel the tickets to Waiting for Godot he had booked at the Curtain Call. He had been planning to take Rachael to see the play for her thirty-ninth birthday. The title had always amused her since she first heard it as Waiting for Doggo and this had stuck.
Get Your Mojo Working, the poster said. It advertised a free six-week course at the Community Resource Centre. Lily had not mentioned this. Perhaps she did not know about it. Marc was not sure what a mojo was, but he understood it to suggest something positive. He went along to the taster session to find out if it would help him get back on track. The course is going to be fun, the tutor Tracey told the five of them that had turned up. We’ll do Abba, Bingo, Cakes and Karaoke, with Messy Play, Tai Chi and Zumba thrown in.
It was unfortunate that the hall where the session was taking place had been double-booked. Dancing Queen was interrupted by the rowdy congregation of the Church of Jesus Christ turning up en masse for their regular monthly celebration of the Word of the Lord. Reverend Trinidad explained that they always held their services on the second Tuesday of the month. The Resource Centre coordinator, a shifty-looking fellow in his sixties with thinning hair, a beard and a ponytail, apologised for the oversight and offered to reschedule the session for the following day. Sadly, Marc was the only one to turn up for the rearranged session, so, of course, it was cancelled, so he never found out if Tracey’s eclectic combination of fun activities would help him rediscover his mojo.
Addresses are known to affect your outlook. Living in Vincent Price Avenue had its disadvantages. Giving out his address seldom passed without a smart-aleck remark from people who didn’t realise it was named after a local councillor, albeit one subsequently disgraced for his unwholesome interest in young boys. But, on the plus side, Vincent Price Avenue was a quiet road since Mrs Oosterhuis and her eight dogs had moved out of number nine. The peace and quiet more than compensated for misplaced Hammer Film associations. In theory, living here should have made it easier for Marc to AtP, EtN and not mess with MiB, but things were not going to plan. Rachael was away. At a Conference, she had said, and her return had been delayed. Marc did not now know when she was going to be around, or if she was going to call again. His confidence was at an all-time low and not even the extra appointment with Lily Woke seemed to help. They seemed to be going over the same old ground. He went down three hundred ranking points in a week on the Elo rankings. He had not won a game for months.
If you put a frog suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water, which is then brought to the boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. Negativity is like the slow boiling frog analogy. he realised unless he made wholesale changes, things were never going to work out. He would sink further into depression. Marc decided to leave his job, stop seeing Lily Woke, and give up chess. He felt they all needed to go or he would end up like the frog.
Lily had rammed mindfulness and presence down his throat. He could see she was well-intentioned, but these were abstract concepts with no practical value in everyday life, certainly not in the cut-throat world of commerce. Transcendental Meditation and Mantra chanting, too, were decidedly hard work. Zen Buddhism may have done it for some, but Marc didn’t get it. He argued that if he had ever wanted to find out about any esoteric stuff, he could have found it on the internet. But he didn’t. He saw himself as a pragmatist. All Marc had to get him through his dip, as he saw it, was himself, and he was not in a good place. To get from where he was to the good place he wanted to be, he would have to cross a bridge, and there was no bridge in sight. If he was ever to get to the other side, he would have to find a way to build the bridge himself. But it was something that had to be done. There could be no more prevaricating, no more waiting for Doggo. Doggo was not going to come any time soon.
You may not have read about it in the papers or heard about it on the news; it was something that powerful people did their best to keep under wraps. But you may possibly have come across the full story somewhere in the depths of cyberspace if you were looking in the right places. Even if you were aware of it, it is unlikely you would have connected what happened to the internet over that catastrophic forty-eight-hour period to Marc Gospell, who you had almost certainly never heard of. Not that it was intentional on Marc’s part. All he had set out to do was to remove the chess puzzle generator app that Pyotr had written from his laptop. He could not have known that by doing so, he would release a worm that would not only cripple his machine but would attach itself to everything in its path and bury itself in an almost undetectable fashion into the bowels of global communications architecture.
Nevertheless, whether or not you were aware of Marc, or indeed Pyotr’s, part in the global comms nightmare, the chances are you were affected in some way by it. You may have lost all your photos, documents, or your entire music collection. You may have lost money. Significant sums, possibly. You may even have had to re-mortgage your house or divorce your partner as a result of it. GAMBiT was the most destructive malware in the history of the web, yet it’s impact was played down in the mainstream media. Whichever platform you were on, you will have probably have had to call someone in to restore your operating system. Many of you will have had to buy a new computer. At the very least, you will have been badgered by your internet provider into upgrading your internet security to prevent something like it from happening again. But whenever the issue was raised, the big players managed to shut down the story. Nothing must be allowed to get in the way of the digital rollercoaster. It is impossible, even now, to quantify the upheaval that Marc’s cri de coeur wrought on the virtual community.
Hindsight, of course, is a wonderful thing, but the upheaval might have happened if Marc had simply ridden out the blip in his fortunes and carried on waiting for Doggo.
Copyright Chris Green, 2022: All rights reserved
An earlier version of this one was posted as Waiting 4 Doggo