Black Mirror Made Me Look In The Mirror

So I finally got Netflix. I haven’t used it super much, but I go through fits and starts. But the first thing I did was watch the most recent season of Black Mirror and then watch Bandersnatch, that choose your own adventure episode of the show, and yes, it is accessible, and very able to scramble your brain. Apparently mine got so scrambled that one night, while sleeping, I looked over at Steve and said “Black Mirror makes you think about things in a whole new way!” And then went right back to sleep. It also has that really freaky song in it.

Speaking of brain-scrambling things, one of the new episodes rattled me to a degree I wasn’t expecting. I know my imagination can run wild and I get all sorts of ideas about stuff I watch, but this really got under my skin and when it was over, I thought I could have been one of the characters in the story.

The episode was called Smithereens. It was about a dude who became a rideshare driver and parked his car outside a company called Smithereen so he could pick up someone who worked there. He blamed being addicted to Smithereen’s product for distracting him while driving, causing his car to get hit by a drunk driver, and killing his girlfriend. So he was going to pick up some poor, unsuspecting Smithereen employee and hold them hostage until he could be connected to the CEO.

Here’s why this episode rattled me to the core, aside from the fact that a dude was getting held at gunpoint and all the usual stuff. First, let me describe a random event that happened to me once. When I was coming down the stairs at work, there was a fellow standing at the bottom of the flight of stairs asking each person “Do you work for Google? Do you work for Google? Do you work for google?” as they passed. I did notice that he never asked me, probably because I had my office badge hanging there, but I had to wonder why was he asking? Was he simply wanting to put in his resume and decided this was the way to do it, or did he have more malicious intentions for the first Google person he saw?

I tried to pay attention to the others coming down the stairs. Was there tension in the air? There didn’t seem to be anything, but I wondered if anyone else had noticed him, because so many people are absorbed in their own thoughts, lives and phones, just like in this Black Mirror episode. Of course I couldn’t ask anyone coming down the stairs with me because duh, that wouldn’t be obvious at all would it? “Hey what’s with the dude standing at the bottom of the stairs asking people if they work for Google. Does he look scary?” That would go really well. So I tried to make my exit from the building quickly to take Shmans out to do her duty.

Then I wondered when I should go back in. I wanted to ask someone else as they passed by if they saw it, but once you’re outside, who do you ask? How do you know they came out the same way you did? That building is a labyrinth. And once you decide to ask someone, how would you describe the person? He had a nondescript voice and he just stood at the bottom of the stairs asking the same question. How do you get anyone to pay attention long enough to get your point across when your point is vague? That was one of the few instances where I felt like I couldn’t compensate for my blindness on my own and felt a bit vulnerable.

So, I stood outside and listened and waited. Nothing bad seemed to be happening inside, so I just went back inside and Mr. Do-You-Work-For-Google was gone. that little snippet of time was memorable, although now I couldn’t tell you what day or what year it was. I just know it was one day at lunch.

The other thing is I used to wear a backpack with the office’s name and logo on it. Many times, that had come in handy because other people would see the backpack and offer me a ride, or comment on it or whatever. But what if someone, like this fictitious rideshare driver, was looking for an employee from our company? They would have seen my backpack and nearly jumped for joy.

I don’t take Uber much anymore because of all the guide dog troubles, and lots of times when I went to the office, I would take transit to and from, but there were definitely times when I had gotten an Uber home or somewhere else. I could have walked right into this story without thinking about a thing.

Part of me knows that nobody gets a clue about whether they’re going to walk into a hostage situation. If they did, we wouldn’t have any hostage situations because everybody would just turn around and walk back out. But this episode made me think about how much more vulnerable I could be, and how hard it would be for me to compensate if I just walked into a situation like this. I wouldn’t have all the visual clues that could help me get out. Once I was in an unfamiliar area, I would be at more of a disadvantage even with GPS, and I would have a lot of trouble describing the person if I did get away. It just managed to hit all the fears I have that don’t usually come to the surface, and made me think about how vulnerable I could be if anything ever happened.

I probably sound like a paranoid human being, but things have happened in the past that have driven the point home. Thankfully none have involved a gun-wielding unhinged rideshare driver with a grudge, but they were still scary at the time.

The first one I can think of is the glass-throwing hooligan story from so long ago. I never got to report those tools because I couldn’t identify them. I did call the police, but with the information I had, they couldn’t do anything. They gave me an incident number so if I ever got more information, I could call back and add it, but it’s been nearly 13 years and I don’t have a clue.

Or what about that creepoid who stood behind me at a bank machine at night? Maybe, in that case, that bank teller would have remembered what he looked like, but who knows? If he ambushed me to take my card, I wouldn’t have had a chance.

A less scary one is these examples of people trying to be helpful and scaring the crap out of me. Thankfully, none of them meant any harm, but they followed me and if they had had other ideas, how would I identify them? “She was a woman, and she had clicky high heels and I met her at the corner of Woolwich and Speedvale West.” Or “It was a woman who I encountered outside the bus terminal.” Yeah, that narrows it down…

And those are the ones I have already chosen to document. I have more, and I wish I had written them down at the time. One happened a few years ago, and left me shaking. I went to the bus terminal and approached the ticket booth to ask how to get to a certain bus. A woman was also in line, and decided to help me, or so I thought. She told the ticket booth person off for not helping me enough, but I have no idea what she would have suggested. Then she started walking around with me asking me what bus I was trying to catch and where I was trying to go. The whole time, she kept getting confused, and we kept basically going in a circle of
“Where is it you’re trying to go?”
“What bus are you trying to find?”
“When do you need to get there?”
“What bus are you trying to find?”
“Where are you trying to go?”

After a couple of loops through this circuit, I couldn’t help but laugh. That’s when her demeanor changed. “Do you always laugh at the people trying to help you?” she said. She also intermittently jumped in front of me to pet my dog even though I told her not to, and kept insisting “Because you’ve met me before, I’m not random so I should be able to pet your dog.” I eventually said I was fine, and I appreciated her trying to help, but I’d figure it out and maybe she should go catch her bus because I didn’t want her to miss it. That’s when she got even more mad. “Don’t worry about my bus! Don’t ask about my bus!” So there I was, standing in the bus terminal, trying to figure out how I was going to shake this unstable woman.

One big clue that I use to orient in that building is listening for the escalator. But the escalator is often broken at this terminal, and it wasn’t running that day and I could not get oriented.

I shouldn’t have done this, but I was frustrated. She couldn’t help me, she wasn’t making sense, and she wouldn’t leave me either and was getting mad, so I said “If you can’t help me, then leave me alone!” She didn’t even take that hint and kept chasing me. Finally, she decided to go ask someone more questions, and for reasons only she can understand, handed me her keys on a string and said “Hold these and wait here.” I decided then and there that I was not going to hold these and wait there, so I hung them on a rail, and ran in a random direction, hoping it was away from her, looking upset.

That caught the attention of security, and they helped me out, but again, if they hadn’t seen her with me, and she wasn’t familiar to them, it would have been up to me to identify her, and I wouldn’t have been able to identify her very well. In her case, I knew her first name and place of employment, but that really wouldn’t have been too helpful to transit security.

And as I think about this more and more, the most scary example that I have in my own personal life is something that happened to me in high school. As I sat working away in a computer room by myself, some kid would go by the door of the room and whisper “You’re gonna die.” or “You’re walking dead!” At first, I just thought I didn’t hear it right, or it was something random, like some kid saying a lyric from a song or something, so I didn’t really think about it, except that it happened a few times in an hour. Then, as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. But I told people about it and we thought I should work with the door shut, and since the door was glass, we’d put paper over it so they couldn’t see in.

That’s what I did for months. But it was getting close to May or June, and kind of warm to keep the door shut, and I hadn’t had anything happen for a while, so I started leaving the door open a crack. One afternoon, I stupidly nodded off when I was working and was awakened by fingers snapping. When the finger-snapper had my attention, he said “I’m gonna kill you. I’m gonna kill you. You’re gonna die.” Then after that, the person would walk by my room door and say “You can’t see me, but I can see you…” over and over again. I think he said it at least twice, but after that I shut the door to my room so the person couldn’t see me anymore.

We tried to figure out who it was. We notified staff in the school. My mom and others hid out in the room with me hoping to catch the jerkbag kid, but after the last instance of “You can’t see me, but I can see you,” he never came by the room door anymore. He would still occasionally walk up behind me in stairwells and whisper “walking dead…” but he never came by the computer room so we never caught him.

I feel bad for a few of my friends back then. One of them had the misfortune of sneaking up behind me and saying “Peekaboo!” and got a nice thwack of a cane to the shins. I was on edge. If anybody got too close to me, I was in full defensive mode.

That was 24 years ago. I never found out who it was who was doing that. To this day, from time to time, I still have nightmares based on that experience. Maybe it was all a joke, and it probably was since I lived to tell the tale, but the fact is “you can’t see me, but I can see you” is the substance of why all this stuff scares the crap out of me.

That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to go out and do things when doing things is something we do again. That doesn’t mean I think I’m totally clueless. I like to think I have a pretty good gut instinct. But if I ever ended up in real trouble, I have to wonder what chance I would have of getting away and getting justice.

This brings me back to “Smithereens”. If I were in this guy’s shoes, what would I have done differently? He got in the car that he had summoned from the rideshare service, so there would have been no reason to have the gut feeling that something is wrong. The only thing the passenger did was not pay attention to his surroundings, but I wouldn’t notice anything was amiss either until it was too late because I don’t know every bump in every road. I could turn on GPS, but again, I only do that once I get the sense that something is wrong, and by then, how much time would I have to do anything? It just highlighted how much I could be a sitting duck in some circumstances, and I don’t like to admit that to myself.

I guess I was right. Black Mirror makes you think about things in a whole new way.

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