Quintis: Part I (A Short Story)

Speeding down crowded Bowery, he could feel the wind whipping in his ears and the burning cold sear in his eyes and the feeling of ski poles digging into his hands. His long hair almost trailed behind him, unable to keep up with each step of his skateboard as he rumbled through the Manhattan street. It was no wonder that his moving presence turned a few heads, and caught a few judgmental eyes. He relished in their stares, for Quintis Reginald Kennedy prided himself on being the most abnormal person he knew.

Everything Quintis did went against the grain: He legally changed his name to the most bizarre combination of nonsense that he could think of, he never touched a cellphone, he wore mangy suits each day in different shades of gray, and he spent most of his time reading pulp novels in one of the few remaining telephone booths of the city—the only thing he did with the grain was cut the chewy steaks he ate each night for dinner. Propelling himself through red lights in the bike lane, he could not wait to get home and dig into some manager’s special beef chuck.

As expected, the 60-something year old and scruffy man (a William H. Macy 60-something and scruffy, as opposed to a Pierce Brosnan) lived alone in a small, cluttered studio. He had had the odd girlfriend here and there in the past which, as expected, never lasted much longer than them discovering he kept live goldfish in his toilet. Anyway, he always thought he was better off without those nagging women who always told him to clean up and comb the crumbs out of his mustache. He was usually left to be the master of his own untidy domain. He was like this both for the spectacle, and for the freedom that isolation provided him.

Quintis’s daily routine was pretty much the same: work the graveyard 2 a.m. to 9 a.m. shift at the call center, get plastered at whatever bar was open, leave before noon, ride around on his skateboard to sober up, read his books, head home to his place in Alphabet, eat, sleep, occasionally shower, repeat. Quintis was very satisfied with his life. It was him, himself, and the stack of yellowing Mad magazines he hoarded. He didn’t need any distractions from the outside—he didn’t need to busy himself with the affairs of others or of the world. He had no interest in technology, politics, or being involved in or with anything other than himself—he had no clue what a “Kardashian” was, and, for only that, I thought I might envy him.

The night was supposed to go as Quintis planned in his mind, savoring each detail as he did every day of his life: He would walk-up the rickety walk-up, lock himself in his room and sit on his couch with the splintery sides, and turn on his ancient TV (the only screen he allowed—he had no cable and only used it to watch VHS copies of Benny Hill). However, something felt off the minute Quintis placed his key into the hole… it turns out the door of 4B had been unlocked. He clutched the skateboard and ski poles he cradled in his other hand, poising them to be his weapon. If there was one thing he was sure of, it was that there was one unlikely motherfucker behind his door. He saw it all play out in his head: He would swing the door open, bellow loudly to paralyze the intruder with fear, forcefully enter and clobber the unlucky soul with his board. Before any of that could happen, the door flew open and Quintis was dragged in by a pair of hefty hands.

Thrown against his stained wooden floor, Quintis looked up in his dark apartment to try to make out the face of whomever had just shoved him. When he tried getting up, his nose was met with a surprise punch—whoever it was, they weren’t fucking around. “Quintis Reginald Kennedy?” said a voice, which came from the other side of the room—hefty hands wasn’t alone.

“Ye-yes?” said Quintis, trembling.

“You’re under arrest for tax evasion. You’re coming with us.”

Everything was happening so quickly he could barely think. He let the muscle drag him out of his apartment, down the stairs, and into their truck. Five years of tax evasion is what they had him in for, he later found out in front of the court. He couldn’t deny that he did it—he just hadn’t gotten around to paying (nor did he trust the government having his personal information, so he made sure to file each form in a different handwriting style. This, of course, was very time-consuming, hence the procrastination). Since he couldn’t afford a lawyer, he was given a woefully underpaid public defender who kept getting his case mixed up with a cat burglar he was also representing.

Nevertheless, his lawyer was not half bad; Quintis was facing jail time, but the defender was able to build his case around Quintis’s idiosyncrasies: “Look at this man, he clearly is a subversive, a one-of-a-kind, a savior in dysfunction. His refusal to fund the enterprises of the state through tax revenue is an act of protest, a testament to nonconformity! It would be a waste to throw such a brilliant mind away in some cell, with his mind he may overthrow the whole prison! Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I implore you, please examine the true actions of this man—after all, haven’t we all been so enamored by an orange tabby in a passing-by window that we flirted with the idea of taking him home?”

The last part of the defense got a bit derailed, but the strong start was enough to move the jury. Instead of going to jail, Quintis would serve as an aid to government research for the next three years. He even got to keep his apartment and none of his items were repossessed (which is not a surprise, considering his room had about as much value as an abandoned storage unit). It seemed like a pretty sweet gig—after the trial he was shuttled to an unknown location, a massive, nondescript white building in the middle of a valley. Inside was what one would expect a secret government facility to look like: white and bland. He had his own room, simply furnished, windowless, and piercingly fluorescent with the light on, which definitely beat the nightmare of having a cellmate. He was told the meal schedule, the washing schedule, the waking and sleeping schedule, and that he would follow the schedule and stay in his room unless instructed otherwise. The next day would be the first of his tests.

He was let in by another set of hefty, Hamburger Helper hands from his room to the “Observation Room." The room was split in half by a plexiglass shield—on one side was Quintis, sitting in a plain, plastic chair, and on the other were two white coats. “Hello, Qunitis Reginald Kennedy!” said the first after pressing a button. “Can you hear us?”  

In a bit of a daze, Qunitis answered slowly. “Uh, yes?"

“Hello, Quintis, my name is Dr. Bush. Are you comfortable?”

Quintis couldn’t remember the last time he spoke this many words to someone who wasn’t on the other side of a telephone. “Uh, yeah.”

“Good. We are so lucky to have you here. I am Dr. King,” said the other man as Dr. Bush held down the speaker. “Your commitment to fighting authority through subversive eccentricity really inspired us, and it’s what saved you. You are the perfect candidate for the tests we will administer.”

“We should tell you a bit about what we do here,” piped in Dr. Bush. “We are trying to better humanity by allowing humans like you to open the door to society, so we can focus on creating the best options for our people.”

“Exactly. Quintis, did you know that there are a set of very important elections are coming up?”

Quintis could not care less about anything to do with government. In his mind, all politicians were the same: greedy, indifferent, probably old, etc. It was one of the many things he couldn’t be less concerned about.

“Uh, no?”

“We figured,” said Dr. King. “That’s why you are an absolute match for this study.”

“Yes. In particular, we were really impressed with your voting record, in that you have none. Not only are you not registered, you have never done anything to display any preference. Even with our rigorous algorithmic procedures, there was simply not enough information to place you in a voter category.”

“You are one of the most truly off-the-grid people we know, which is uncommon to find in such a big city. With your lack of knowledge and complete withdrawal from political affairs, we can use your decision-making skills to see how voters would react to a candidate without ANY bias.”

“We are talking about gut-feelings here, Quintis. With the information we gather within the next few months, you will be the key to how elections will be in the future, from the policies candidates highlight to the ties that they wear.”

“Isn’t that amazing, Quintis, that spending your whole life uninvolved in politics has earned you the spot as the country’s most important political agent? It’s truly an honor.”

Quintis couldn’t respond. His mind raced, his belly ached as the stale muffin he ate for breakfast became litho-fied. He could not believe this is what he signed up for, what a bore this would be.  

“We will begin with a series of simulations, each one will involve a choice between two candidates. You must choose one, then we will examine the repercussions of each one. Do you accept?”

Again, no response.

“Qunitis, let me remind you the important work that you’re doing for us, and how lucky you are to be here. If you don’t accept, we may be unable to place you in another study, and you may be sent to jail with double your original sentence for not complying.”

He hated being threatened, but what could he do? With gritted teeth, he grunted an agreement—after all, this could not be worse than jail.

“Excellent. We will now begin simulation A.”

Join us next week for Part II.