Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Highlight Reel of Life

Roger Finneman loved his job – had for twenty-five years.  There was no other job he’d rather be paid to do for forty hours a week.  In his own air-conditioned studio, located on the second floor of the imposing structure which housed the Department of Senior Citizens, he got to do for a living what he had always been best at; selecting and shaping the best work of others.

As an Editor for the government department dedicated to the well-being of its citizens in their increasingly prolonged ‘senior years’ (ages 75+), Roger was Judge, Jury and Executioner all in one.  A member of the select caste of individuals who had access (albeit highly restricted) to The Database, he was a judge of moments; a juror of worthiness; an executioner of distilled perfection.  Free from the baseless money-grabbing of Hollywood where he had honed his editorial skills and made a name for himself, he was now a composer of something he considered of true artistic value; that most desired loop of memories known as The Highlight Reel of Life.

The Highlight Reel of Life was the government’s way of encouraging its more ‘burdensome’ citizens to opt out of the system – to rescind the ‘benefit’ of life if you will - to free the next generation from the crippling taxes associated with the maintenance of an overwhelmingly geriatric society.  A collection of the truly happy, most joyous moments of one’s life as recorded by one’s Continuous ‘Safety’ Monitoring System - the HRL, or ‘reel’, was the ultimate montage of first-person perspective; five senses and all.  It was a collection of all that makes life worth living. 

The opportunity to have one’s brain kept alive in a Brain Bank long after one’s natural term of existence - to be loop-fed the HRL, was the carrot to rescind bodily life; the otherwise mandatory internment in a ‘state labour camp’ was the stick.  Not many chose the stick.

So Roger was in effect one of the omnipotent gods of retirement planning.  But even so, he could only work with the material that was given to him.

Oh, there were the usual suspects – first kisses, sporting successes, sexual adventures, wedding days, the arrival of a first-born child, the graduation of children, birthdays and holidays; those clichéd hallmarks of conventional happiness to which mankind was so susceptible.  These were the easiest moments for him to locate within the massive amount of data which was a lifetime of continuous sensation, as they were events that tended to occur with some degree of forewarning, and they showed up as larger patterns in the output signals over an extended period of time. 

But it was locating those unique moments of joy - those little slices of heaven so often overlooked by the majority of the other Editors - which gave him his own peculiar satisfaction. 

The typical length of a reel was 10 full days of sensation.  This may not have sounded like much – 10 out of around 24000 days on offer (the monitoring system installed at around age 5) - but then again, when he considered the amount of time that was simply wasted with sleeping, work and maintenance, Roger found it almost surprising that the average person who reached ‘retirement’ age in his country could amass such a treasure trove of pure happiness. 

It wasn’t that most people were Scrooges incapable of enjoying themselves, but rather that their happiness was usually extremely short-lived.  Misdirected, naïve or destined to ultimate failure as many of their lives may have ultimately been, they still contained moments when they briefly had felt that everything was genuinely ‘going to be ok’.  It was often Roger’s job to find these moments in a deluge of otherwise miserable, chaotic existence.

The shortest reel he had ever collated for someone of standard retirement age was four minutes and eighteen seconds.  The unfortunate man’s name had been Shanny Wilcox; the poor bastard.  Physically frail, frighteningly ugly, academically hopeless - yet a deep thinker, he had been orphaned at the age of two to spend the rest of his lonely life stumbling from one man-made institutionalised hell-hole to another, unable to fathom as to why.  Friendless, penniless, homeless, guileless and luckless for the majority of his life, his only moments of comparative happiness had consisted of a brief sequence of unrequited brothel romances, the time he found a full bottle of rum hidden behind a dumpster, and the warmth of his companion dog, Blacky - who he had used as a cheap means of protection while sleeping on the streets.

The dog had died from a tumour within a matter of weeks.

At the other end of the happiness spectrum, the person with the longest HRL Roger had created was a miss Georgina Berkeley; her reel running close to five weeks of continuous joy.  Blessed with a beauty as distinct as her vacuousness, she had seemingly drifted through the one continuous party which was life; a serendipitous guest of honour.  Not needing much to elevate her mind to a state of happiness in the first instance, all who had come in contact with her had been overwhelmed by her innocence and radiance, and had seen fit to make the fulfilment of her happiness their duty.  It had taken Roger a full 6 months to finish Georgina’s reel, and by the end of it he was confident he had learned what it was like to live a truly blessed life; boring beyond comprehension.  To be so blessed was to be denied the challenges which - while not tending to make one sing from the mountaintops - at least made the lives of the disenchanted more interesting.

For all of the attestations that he would never touch a job like Georgina’s again, in truth Roger did not have the authority to select his clients.  For as exalted as his position was, he only was only given access to a single individual’s data at any one time; an individual of the Department’s discretion.  So it is no wonder that he found it particularly peculiar when, after arriving at work on a Monday morning ready to start a new project, the profile he had found in his inbox was that of his 65 year old wife, Therese.  Therese Finneman.

He was aware that Therese had recently turned of age for the compilation of the reel (the department figuring that nothing worthy of inclusion in the HRL was likely to occur between the ages of 65 and 75), but the odds of his drawing his own wife from the general public seemed astronomical; wrong, even.  He was sure he remembered something in his training about Editors never being allowed to have access to the databases of their family or those they knew, although he couldn’t remember exactly why; something about secrets, and ‘hitting a little too close to home’.

Oh well, he thought.  The department doesn’t make mistakes.  If they gave me access to the data, then they must want me to do my job with it.  I know Therese better than anybody, I’ll be able to give her the best HRL possible!

His heart pounding at the imminent devouring of forbidden fruit, he opened the data and got to work.


A handful of hectic hours and a lifetime later, Roger pulled back and unplugged from his virtual work station, shaking with a rage offset only by a piquant dash of bitterness.  It appeared that Roger was not the only one who had been snacking at the Garden of Eden.

“Never mess with an Editor!” Roger repeated the unofficial motto of those in the profession, and fervently began work on his first ever Lowlight Reel of Life.

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