By Jason Weisberger
The pre-date rush to clean his home was over. Kevin stared at the last embarrassing monument of his youth that remained. He really liked Jennifer and didn’t feel like trying to explain why a list of “People Who Must Die” had lived, even as a joke, on his refrigerator for years.
It started in college, after that mean librarian, Mrs. Sassonian, wouldn’t let him take a book he desperately needed back to the dorm. He blamed her for failing the exam. The list began in the haze of a Boone’s Strawberry Hill hangover. Most of the dozen and a half names were added after silly or comedic frustrations, only a few the result of real life hurt. Friends and roommates had joked with him about it over the years and helped him expand the list. He knew it was creepy.
Creepy was exactly what Carissa Jones called the list when they fought over it. She didn’t want to date someone with something so morbid around. It wasn’t the reason they broke up, but it won her the coveted number 13 slot.
Jennifer was the first woman with whom Kevin had more than two dates within a year. He wanted to look and feel grown up. All the detritus of his twenties had disappeared from the apartment: all the comic books and pornography, all the Star Wars figurines. Now it was time for the list.
Just looking at the list made Kevin smile. Number 6 was Ali Bennaroch! In the three years they’d worked together, Ali had never once bothered to make the office coffee, never bothered to clean a dish. They were good friends now, but god damn he had pissed Kevin off. Ali would routinely do shit like warm up leftover fish in the office microwave. He probably still did it today. And Sylvia, Number 15, good old Sylvia -- the market checker with crazy make-up drove him crazy when she pronounced the word Q-pon and not Coupon. He wondered where she was today.
The list didn’t have to go into a box with Darth Maul. Kevin could just scan it and whenever he needed a good laugh, it’d be right there in the Cloud for him. Earlier this month, he had joined the early beta of Google’s new List Manager. It could read the crazy print writing on his list, and likely match everyone up with a current photo from whatever social media source it could find. He’d used it this week on a shopping list and other chores. List Manager was a huge help. It mapped out the best path through town to get the car washed and dry cleaning picked up. It helped locate everyday stuff on Amazon and ordered them for him.
Into his Android tablet and onto his Google Drive it went. The physical list was gone! Kevin had a real adult’s home. The app asked if it could work in the background and Kevin tapped OK. He was so glad to have a real multi-tasking OS.
Kevin was now ready to make dinner and hopefully, if all went well, seal the deal. He and Jennifer had met online a few weeks back and had had the typical first few dates. Jennifer didn’t seem very interested in him, but she certainly liked talking about herself. That was fine by Kevin. He knew exactly what to make her for dinner and what sort of music to play when she got there. He didn’t find himself all that exciting to talk about either. If she was having fun, well, he hadn’t been out much.
Kevin opened the fridge, took out everything he needed for dinner and turned to his tablet for video recipes. He had 90 minutes and plenty of time to let the folks at Cooks Illustrated walk him through this. As he worked through preparing noodles in one pot and trying to sauté some onions in another, his video stopped. List Manager was telling him it’d resolved 5 of his 22 objects and needed him to clear personality conflicts on the other 17 who may be “multiple identities.”
Kevin tapped “later” and thought “I don’t have time for this now,” trying to get back to his cooking. 20 minutes later he had the roast in the oven, pasta into a casserole dish, and he was struggling to turn roux into a pan sauce when the app interrupted again and again. In his rush to get back to cooking, he brushed OK and forgot about it, not bothering to even read the screen. Like most of his generation, Kevin could swipe and tap like a boss.
Kevin cooked and tapped. By ignoring status updates and following the videos everything was looking great, it was time to take a shower and get dressed.
As Kevin cleaned up, the network of beta software also cranked away. Having gotten a +1 from Kevin’s earlier activity on “Things to buy” and “Things I have to do today,” Google decided to take his input literally. In addition to authorizing payment of some library late fees, the messages he’d cleared away had given the software free rein to kill all five identified folks on the list.
“People who must die” rapidly would. And Kevin’s Google Pay account would pay for it all.
Dressed and ready for his date to arrive, Kevin checked the kitchen. He grabbed his tablet to wirelessly start playing one of Jennifer’s favorite bands when he realized there was a completion report from List Manager waiting for him. A single line SMS from “Google ListMan” stated “People Who Must List Objective 6 of 22 COMPLETE” and had an attached Video. His heart dropped into his stomach before the doorbell rang. Jennifer had arrived.
Kevin nervously opened the door and welcomed Jennifer into his hopefully tastefully decorated one-bedroom apartment.
“I hope parking wasn’t too terrible,” he said. “You look pretty.”
Jennifer hugged him and handed him a bottle of red wine. He recalled the name as one of her favorites.
He offered Jennifer a glass of her wine. Kevin invited her to take a look around while he went to open the bottle. She was already inspecting his shelves and art before he’d stepped into the kitchen. Kevin hit “play” on a 42-second video that showed him dashcam footage from the Google self-driving car that ran down his former colleague Ali. Never again would Ali burn popcorn in an communal microwave oven. Kevin was stunned. As he stood there unable to think anything but “Ali was Number 6”, Jennifer stepped into the kitchen.
Shaken, but relived in knowing Jennifer would not likely give him opportunity to speak, Kevin handed her a glass of wine while trying to understand what the hell was going on. Jennifer told him she loved his living room. She had been thrifting all day, and had seen things he just had to have.
She chatted on about her week. Kevin saw two more messages come in. Number 16 on his list, a woman who had always worn too much perfume in the elevator, had been struck down by a Google X drone. Number 8, a neighbor who played way too much Erasure, was given bad GPS directions by Google Maps and drove off a cliff.
Jennifer stopped Kevin and asked if his phone was more interesting than she was. She proceeded to tell him how a prior boyfriend had texted all through dinner and she found it “gross.” Feeling Kevin was properly educated, she returned to a story about a recent trip to Peru where she saw Machu Picchu.
While they enjoyed Kevin’s cooking, Mrs. Sassonian—the legendary Number 1—received recipe results from a Google Search that turned her tomato soup into a highly acidic death slurry. Kevin became increasingly unglued. Jennifer stayed self-obsessed and never noticed.
Kevin excused himself to the kitchen. He wanted to call Google, but there was no phone number. The AUP for the beta app said he was on his own. Kevin called the police, but the dispatcher laughed when he said Google was killing his friends. She told him that everyone hated those damn buses, and to stop wasting her time. Jennifer was out of earshot, but probably continued talking to herself the entire time.
While they ate dessert, List Manager found its fifth victim, the guy who always took the parking space closest to the elevator in his building.
Nest had manipulated the settings on the HVAC in this victim’s unit. He drifted off into a permanent, carbon monoxide-induced slumber.
A new dialog box appeared: “5 of 22 objectives achieved. Unable to match 17 personalities. List Manager would like to access your Facebook Account?”
Kevin turned his phone upside-down and vowed not to touch it until he could reach Google on Monday.
They sat on the couch for one more drink and Jennifer hinted at vacations she’d like to take, weakly suggesting they could go together. She sensed no interest from Kevin. She hugged him good bye. She texted her friend: “Online dating sucks.”
• Jason Weisberger is Boing Boing's publisher
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