I should preface this by telling you that this is a narrative I’ve cooked up based on the strangest game of Jones In the Fast Lane I have ever played. Click that link if you’ve never heard of it before. I just now discovered there’s even an unofficial Flash port of the game, so go have a look or download it from one of the abandonware sites out there if you want the authentic feeling. The Flash port has voices, though, which is pretty cool!
Jones and I were on the cusp of adult life. We had no job or education, and we were both determined to leave our dingy, mouldy apartments behind and make an impact on the world. We felt equally confident in our own potential and just knew that we could climb the social ladder quicker than the other.
So we made a wager.
Goals were set for how happy, rich and educated we needed to be to win. And, of course, each of us set our sights on the highest-paying gig in town: General Manager of The Factory. Exactly what they produced in The Factory and just how we were meant to quantify our happiness, we didn’t know. We didn’t care. We were young and determined to move up in the world and nothing was going to stop us. We shook hands and went our separate ways.
I struggled. A lot. In the start, we both worked for what I’m fairly certain is an illegally low wage at Monolith Burgers. For some reason, I was rejected for the position of clerk and was stuck flipping burgers. Jones was welcomed in with open arms and was soon the assistant manager. What he said or did to that mustachioed toad in the employment agency to get ahead like that, I would rather not think about, but whatever it was he was doing, it was working.
Within five or six weeks, he was making more than double my own wage and had already worked his way up to Socket City where he was peddling their electrical goods. I kept my nose down, tried to balance work with studies and failing to such a degree that I missed a couple of payments on my rent.
But then, about nine weeks into our wager, something happened. I read in the papers that the notorious purse snatcher Wild Willie had mugged Jones and taken all his money. When I saw him in the hallway of the Security Apartments we had both moved into when the housing market took a plunge, he seemed upbeat about the whole thing. “Eh, it’s only money, right?! I’ll work it back up within the end of next week, man.” he said and shrugged his narrow shoulders under his garish Hawaiian shirt.
However, life was not so kind.
It was all over the papers: “The Economy Suffers! Jobs Lost!” the headlines read. You always assume that it’s not going to happen to you, don’t you. You’re untouchable, right? But no. We both lost our jobs that week, not that I was all that sad about not having to flip burgers any longer. After wolfing down a week’s worth of Fries (the idiot at the counter asked me if I wanted Fries with that… How was I not allowed to flip burgers while he got to stay a clerk?!) I ran down to the employment agency. My tenacity must have impressed Jabba da Tache, because he offered me the job of assistant manager right away. The market was down so the pay was no better than before, but I was finally moving.
When I came back to the apartment building, I was beaming. I knocked on Jones’ door to give him the good news. When he opened the door, he seemed his normal self. I asked if he got a job as well, but he said he’d stopped at the door and decided “you know what? I am going to enjoy some time off”. After all, he pointed out, he was way ahead of me in the wager. I tried to point out that currently, he was nowhere. Without a job and with no money, he couldn’t even eat, let alone pay his bills. He shrugged me off, called me a stick in the mud and slammed his door shut.
With Jones out of the way, and me figuring that he would probably be back on the market again as soon as he felt his stomach growling,I was speeding along. I used his downtime to take every chance I got and really working on getting that degree in engineering. With every new job, I would turn up at Jones’ door with a bottle of champagne. But every time, he would look worse and worse. He let his facial hair grow into a wild bushel, which is extraordinary as I previously wasn’t even sure he had any facial hair. He hardly ate at all, but would snap the alcohol I brought out of my hand every time I came by and start swigging it. He confessed to me that he still kept going to the employment agency every day, but for some reason couldn’t face actually applying for work. He would step inside and immediately turn away and spend the rest of his day staring out into nothing in his apartment.
Once, while I was watching him drinking himself into a stupor on an empty stomach, there was a heavy, agitated knock on his apartment door. Seeing that Jones was in no state to answer, I opened the door to find the landlord. He started to shout something, but seeing that it was me and not my friend and competitor-in-life, he only stood there gaping for a second, his face as red as the bricks in the wall at The Factory where I now worked as assistant to the engineers.
“Where’s that cretin Jones?!” he finally asked me.
“I have no idea.” I said, surprised at his ire.
“What are you doing here then?!”
“He must have left his door open, I figured I’d stay until he came back so he wouldn’t get robbed or anything.” I lied effortlessly.
“Oh, well… When he comes back, tell him to come see me in my office.”
“Yeah, sure thing doc!” I said and slammed the door in the landlord’s face. I was not at all inclined to send my friend anywhere near that massive, seething hulk of a man. As I turned my back to the door, Jones gurgled from the sofa.
I sat down next to Jones and couldn’t help but notice that his Hawaiian shirt had lost its lustre and was going threadbare.
“How long has it been since you paid your rent, Jo?”
In response, he simply looked at me through red, watery eyes which were now deeply set in his emaciated, sullen face. Looking at this husk of a man who was only too recently so full of life and potential, I forgot all about our wager. I started to take out my chequebook.
“Tell me how much you owe.”
“N- No!!” Jones said, fumbling the chequebook out of my hand.
“You’re killing yourself!!”
“… ‘s not th’point. Y- yooo cannn’ helb.. me.”
I couldn’t watch this any longer. I picked my chequebook back up and walked to his front door. With my hand on the door handle, I paused. I turned around and wrote out a cheque for five hundred dollars.
“D- ddjon’t!!” protest Jones feebly, clutching my bottle of champagne and writhing in in his filthy sofa like a wronged child.
“I’m leaving it here.” I slapped the cheque demonstratively on the table by the door. “Do with it as you will.”
“Th- Thuh wager!” he sobbed.
“I don’t care about the wager… I care about you.” I turned, opened his door, and left Jones blubbering behind me.
Time wore on. My cheque was never cashed, and I couldn’t bear to knock on Jones’ door when I was promoted to General Manager at The Factory. The next time I saw him, I was on my way to buy a hot tub at Socket City when I was witness to a tragic scene outside the employment agency. Some naked man was being shoved forcibly out the double doors of the agency by the bulky man who works there. Despite the emaciated, nearly skeletal frame and the dishevelled state of his hair, that bright ginger hair, massive nose and lack of a chin was unmistakable. It was Jones. I put down my briefcase and ran over.
“What’s going on?!”
“This loon has gone far enough!!” the ‘tached Terror shouted at me.
“What’s he done?!” I asked, fully aware of the fact that he had probably taken exception to the complete lack of clothing (but surprising presence of a massive fig leaf). The man looked stunned that I could even ask him such a question, but forged on, holding Jones in a choke-hold. He didn’t struggle.
“This kook has been coming here for months now, turning and leaving without speaking to anyone! I knew there was something up with this dude, and now he’s here! Like- Like this!!”
“He hasn’t harmed anyone, though, has he?! I mean, look at the fig leaf!” The employment agency man pushed Jones away from him and looked about to slam his giant fist into my head. Thankfully, the situation dissolved as police arrived and ran at Jones. Dazed, Jones was shoved unresisting into the car and taken away. I picked my briefcase back up and walked on, vaguely curious where the police station could be, as I hadn’t ever seen it around town.
When I went to pay my rent a couple of weeks later, I got a shock as I saw Jones at the till. Not the half-dead, emaciated cave man I had come to expect him to look like, but a clean-shaven, spritely young man in a casual suit.
“Hiya, Magnus!” Jones chirped. “Long time!”
“No kidding…” I stammered back.
After paying my rent, I invited him out for lunch. Since Monolith is the only place in town that serves food, we went to our old employer and had a chicken burger. I couldn’t help but remark the drastic difference in him since I last saw him naked and blubbering in the street. Yes, he was still thin as a rail, but he had life once more.
He told me that an uncle had heard about his arrest and had called Jones in his cell. After Jones told him the sequence of events, his uncle paid bail for Jones and wired him some extra pocket money to get him back on his feet.
I felt slightly offended that he wouldn’t take my money, but some uncle’s cash was apparently good enough, but I didn’t press Jones about it as I knew he still considered our wager to be on even though it was a pointless battle for him at this stage.
When Jones had been escorted back to his apartment from the police station (He hadn’t paid attention to the road so couldn’t tell me where it was) he had looked around his high-status but completely empty apartment. Empty, that is, save for a cheque for five hundred dollars that still lay uncashed on his table.
He had showered, shaved and run down to Q.T Clothing with a towel wrapped around him and the cash from his uncle in his hand. He bought a casual suit and got a job at the letting agency, and here he was. Paying off his debt and quickly regaining his strength.
“It won’t be long before I catch up with you and win the wager!” he said with a small laugh.
“I always wondered, though…” he continued. “What do they produce at the factory?”
In answer, I threw my hands in the air.
“Damned if I know!!” I shouted, and we both roared with laughter. I left to go back to my job, thinking how happy I was to see him back in full vigour.
It didn’t take him long to spring back. Two months later, he was debt free and worked in The Factory as an executive secretary. By the time of our wager’s one-year anniversary, I had already reached our wager’s goals for job and education (having finished every single degree the university offered) and was well on my way to both the happiness and money goals. When I finally “won”, I met with Jones in the same booth at Monolith. He was vibrant. He was now an investment banker and made almost as much money as I did. His studies were going well, and he was heavily investing in the stock market, feeling certain that T-Bills were going to pick up any day now.
“Congratulations, Magnus.” he said. “I always knew you’d win.”
Images flitted through my mind: A young, ginger assistant manager at Monolith, a bearded and unkempt man with no future, an uncashed cheque, a naked man staring mournfully at me from the window of a police car. And then I looked into the bright eyes of this successful banker and stock broker. A man who had gone to the edge and come back fighting.
“No.” I said as I shook my head.
“You win, my friend. You win.”