who’s read my book SWIPE might remember Dane
Harold’s not-strictly-legal live-in Markless butler, George. But what
do we really know about this man? Where is he coming from? And what
makes him tick?
During a brief visit to Spokie
recently, I was fortunate enough to find out first-hand.
I’d been hoping to research more
deeply into the family lives and childhoods of Logan Langly, Hailey
Phoenix, and Dane Harold in preparation for SWIPE’s
upcoming sequel, SNEAK, which launches this
September. Much of what I’d written about Spokie in SWIPE
was pieced together from stories I’d heard and rumors I’d gathered, but
I knew going into SNEAK that if I was serious about
continuing my biography of these teenagers, I needed to see their
So the first chance I got, I
train-hopped my way all the way out to that little New Chicago suburb,
wide-eyed and eager, notebook in hand, ready for interviews, new
sights, new smells, new whatever-it’d-be that might fly my way...
Only to find that all I was
really in for was a rude awakening.
Once I arrived, the Spokie I saw
before me wasn’t the Spokie I’d come to expect, or even the Spokie I’d
written about in SWIPE. Its streets were crawling
with officers from the Department of Marked Emergencies. Its famous
Markless haven Slog Row was long since swept up and cleaned out, with
not an Unmarked hand in sight. The Markless network I’d expected to tap
into, to learn from, to chronicle from here on out...by the time I’d
made my way west, that network no longer even existed.
It took me three days to find
the Spokie School of Middle Development, and when I finally did, Ms.
Carrol kicked me out the moment she saw my wrist.
It took me another two days to
find my way to DOME’s Umbrella, but once I’d made it there, it was
clear I couldn’t get within five blocks of the place without being
picked up by an officer for trespassing first.
Logan’s parents wouldn’t talk to
me, slamming the door in my face, narrowing their eyes and accusing
me—along with anyone else who might come asking—of deliberately
tarnishing the reputation of their son...
Hailey’s mom, Mrs. Phoenix,
wasn’t anywhere near the Phoenix household, at least not while I was
there, and while I assume she was spending her time working over at the
nanomaterials plant outside of town, it’d be hard to know for sure, as
I never once saw her.
All this is to say that, two
weeks in, my grand Spokie adventure was shaping up to be little more
than one disappointing door slam after another.
In fact, I’d just about given
up. I’d just about thrown in the towel on thinking that any piece of
what I might see or hear out west could possibly do any good at all for
my preparations on the upcoming SNEAK.
But that was the moment—right
there, that nadir—that I finally made my way to Old District, to that
wealthiest, most Marked neighborhood in all of Spokie. No way
Dane Harold’s parents will talk to me, I thought. But as long
as no one else was talking either, I figured a simple knock on one more
closed door couldn’t hurt.
What happened next surprised me.
I should have seen it coming. Of
course the Harolds
don’t come to their own door. Of course that would be the job of their
Markless butler, George. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it
“My name is Evan,” I told the
man through the screen grating. “I’m here to talk to the Harolds about
their son, Dane.”
And George just smiled,
unblinking. He glanced at my Unmarked hand, but he didn’t miss a beat.
“Mr. Angler,” he said. “I’ve
been wondering when I might see your face...”
We snuck into the den unnoticed
by Mr. or Mrs. Harold. They seemed to be giving George his space,
especially since Dane’s disappearance a few months earlier. The house
was impeccably clean, unnervingly quiet. George brought us hot tea in
two little cups, with lemon on the side.
“I liked your book,” George
said, a smirk crossing his face. “Inaccuracies aside.”
laughed, sipping my tea, burning my tongue, not at all accustomed to
the feeling of hot liquid or food. “I tried my best,” I told him. “Not
so easy from where I was hiding out in Beacon at the time.” But below
the surface, my heart was pounding. I was shocked that SWIPE had made
it so far and so fast through the Markless circles in America, and
suddenly found myself feeling more than a little self-conscious about
it. “I hope I got the big things right,” I told him.
“Oh you did, you did,” George
said quickly. “And I appreciated the cameo.”
The next few hours moved fast,
my notepad filling quickly, my tea going cold. George told me of the
years he spent watching Dane grow, about his role in the boy’s
upbringing, about the balancing act of influencing Dane where he could
without overstepping the bounds of an illegal Markless housekeeper.
But what strikes me most,
looking back on those notes and scribbles now, was George’s own
philosophy, his own perspective and aspirations, that came across only
subtly at first.
Look at our country right now
and ask yourself—what isn’t great about the American Union? Technology
connects us, instantly, easily. Knowledge is more accessible than ever
before. We are a nation at peace, at least on its own soil. We’ve never
had more choices in entertainment, never had more avenues by which to
pursue fulfillment. Life expectancy has never been longer, and
comforts, for the Marked at least, never more complete.
And yet who here is happy?
Really, truly happy? How quickly we’ve taken for granted the
conveniences we’ve been given. Fast as technology gets, we complain
when it isn’t faster. Sublime as entertainment can be, we feel cheated
when it doesn’t live up to our own unrealistic expectations. Readily
available as knowledge is, our quest for new horizons of understanding
is approached, largely, with apathy. I pass no judgments in these
matters; I am as guilty of them as anyone, and anyway, I believe such
behavior is natural.
Because, after all, how
important are these comforts, really? How could we not walk through
life even the least bit unfulfilled, when we’ve been trained to aspire
towards what are, at the end of the day, only transient joys.
George lives without the Mark.
His freedom is limited, since he lives in a town that no longer readily
accepts his Markless nature. His job consists—these days, with Dane
gone—mostly of cooking the same few meals for his boss, cleaning the
same few rooms that are hardly messy to begin with....It is a small
existence with a short field of view.
And yet in my afternoon alone
with him, George struck me as the happiest person I’ve seen in this
American Union for years and years. In SWIPE,
George told Dane that there were more important things than material
wealth. In my visit with him, he confirmed it.
Real freedom, of course, comes
from a spiritual wealth that money and Marks can do little to buy.
The truth is that we are a part
of a world that is bigger than us, cogs in a great, big, churning
machine beyond our material comprehension. No matter what frills we put
on our place in the gears, no matter what creature comforts we attain
to dress the spokes, it will never be the simple spinning of that gear
that fulfills us. It is the machine itself that churns happiness, and
it is our place within it that allows us our slice. But until we see
the bigger picture as George sees it, our own view of the wheel shows,
and will only ever show, little more than the daily grind.
In my visit to Spokie, I was
hoping to find the real motivation behind Dane’s actions in SWIPE.
I was hoping to have some insight, so that I might better understand
what he goes on to do in my second book SNEAK.
It turns out the answer rested
with George. After all the closed doors and disappointments of my short
stay in Spokie, it turns out that this quiet, not-strictly-legal
live-in butler was the answer to it all. He’d rubbed off on his young
master Dane more than he knew. More than Dane knew. More than I knew.
Let’s hope George rubs off a bit
on the rest of us, as well.