By Jamez Chang
TWELVE O’CLOCK, and the SERVICE is over. The parishioners, who’ve forgotten they’re clients, file out of church pews. Each signed the consent form months ago, but Veracity, Inc. has erased that part; their memories now pinned to the sermon I’ve just finished: how to find meaning amid the air strikes in Somalia. The year is 2034.
They head toward the front door where Bishop Moyer and I stand, where we, mere actors, shake parishioners’ hands, saying “God blesses” and goodbyes. Bankers, students, officers, teachers—wishing us well the rest of the week. I’ve been playing the role of Reverend for nineteen days.
They all look thirty-five when they smile; eyes evincing the clean crease. Sight much better than before. Clients’ grey hair melting away because the salt rock is working.
I can see Monitor Ramsey in the back pew, glancing at what we’ve been told to call watches. Eli Ramsey still fidgeting with timepiece technology.
We all pretend it’s 1993.
If you’re an unemployed actor in the real world, then dome work is a lucky break. Old people paying millions to re-live their glory days, paying for veracity. And it’s up to re-enactors, people like the Bishop and me, to make sure it looks real, to propagate the illusion that their breathing is unfiltered, clean, good ol’ 1993. Competitive industry, retirement domes.
Eli Ramsey is the longest tenured monitor in Veracity, overseeing the performance of his dome-site hires; and today, he’s here to see me. Someone tipped him off a few days ago; how Gordon Ryu was slipping, having trouble remembering his lines.
Odum and Garcia, re-enactors since the ’20s, have agreed to help out. A little supporting-cast work on a Sunday. They linger with a half-dozen parishioners along the middle pews.
“Santiago follows his heart in The Alchemist, you gotta read it!” Odum says.
“We will!” “We will!”
“The dinosaurs look so real in Jurassic Park, you really should see it!” says Garcia.
“Yes! Yes! What time?!”
The Rosarios, clients and self-proclaimed “movie buffs,” would love to know what Spielberg will do for an encore. They ask Odum, who looks like he might know.
“Minority—I mean Schindler’s List,” Odum says.
Everyone appears half their real age, and that’s because Veracity made them that way: simulating what it was like in The Year 1993. Because when clients believe in The Year, the real work begins: their own minds making them physically younger. The task is simple once Research consults with Props & Archives, and they both agree upon the objects—populating the world just right: Pulp Fiction ticket stub; Phillips VCR; spiral notebook; Yeltzin on the cover of Time; 2½-inch Nokia cell phone; Even Cowgirls Get the Blues; buttons on ATMs; tube television; smoking section at Denny’s; Sega Genesis; Clinton references—Spielberg; Verizon telephone booth; DVD player; Sony Walkman in a dresser drawer; Guess Jeans; Reebok.
Bishop Moyer and Monitor Ramsey enter my office after the service, and I know what’s coming: It’s ’93, not 2013. No one’s even heard of Obama yet!
Instead this: “Why do you suppose we do this, Gordon? Replicating the furniture, the fashion, the 2½-pound cell phones? The salt rock is in the details, Mr. Ryu, you must—”
I’m still picturing the clients earlier today, wrinkles smoothed clear and their hands clasped, for one last prayer. “I know, I know,” I say, “gotta know my lines.”
Ramsey leans past my desk and places two ear buds into my palm.
I want to squeeze the blood out of his hand. And while I know I should be thanking him—for hiring me in the first place—I’m still wary of his methods: the scrubbing and scouring for re-enactors.
Locked away in his Veracity lab, Ramsey’s eyes had fixed on old episodes of The Actor’s Studio. He called me there that first night, to watch him work, staring at archival footage. Famous actors on stage, but I didn’t know why—Lipton & DeNiro, Lohan & DiCapprio, Lohan & Cyrus. Ramsey shuttled past the interviews, stopping each time the camera panned the audience. He would zoom closer in: aspiring actors in the crowd.
Eager, desperate faces.
“There’s a certain sadness in the proximity to greatness,” he’d said. Ramsey typing notes, scouting for the “hungriest human beings alive.” These were his dome recruits, re-enactors pegged to play past, for future betrayals; just a Monitor’s visit from a few thousand miles away.
Now standing above me, none too pleased, in my church office.
“It’s easier this way, Gordie. Until you’ve got your character down cold, I’ll be feeding you your lines. You don’t want to blow this one.”
At least I’m not fired. I’ve been a bookkeeper, a realty agent, police officer, college student; but playing Reverend has been my toughest role yet. And I know Ramsey’s right. Whether it’s 2023, 1963, or right here in ’93, Veracity Re-enactor on a resume equals instant credibility—it’s quite simply a method actor’s dream job, and presently I’m fucking things up.
Bishop Moyer takes a seat, Ramsey still standing, and he rubs his own watch.
“I’ve been working domes for 18 years,” Moyer says, “never thought I’d enjoy being a Bishop this much. And that’s the key, Gordie. You have to believe you’re a priest.
He means Reverend.
Monitor Ramsey, who will be living in my ear for the foreseeable future, chimes in: “Just like dominoes, Gordie. When one client believes it’s ’93, the rest go falling. We are in the business of belief.”
Lines I’m crossing.
After Moyer and Ramsey shut the door behind them, I repeat to myself: The salt rock is in the details. Gotta know my lines. I swipe and pinch a few times on my watch and view a hologram from home: Oasis Corporation is constructing a new retirement dome, bigger and better than Veracity’s—or so they say. The competition never just melts. I close the image and decide to call Odum. It’s about time this Reverend had a good, stiff drink.
–refers from the phrase “I avoid the pastor’s eyes” in the poem Childhood Religion by Jenny Billings Beaver