I was dumped a few hours before the party. It was a straightforward breakup, one of those that leaves no doubt that it’s over forever. She bought a non-customised text message from the BreakupShop™, the Trojan® plan. It was the cheapest and meanest service they had, which at the time cost only around thirty xEUs, not even offering a personalised letter.
After I opened the message, I scrolled around my Morph®, and her number, along with all our tagged photos and all her social media accounts, were instantly blocked or deleted. I had no way to reply to the message, which came from an untraceable number, and it informed me with cold, mechanical disinterest that I would be unable to contact her electronically ever again. I felt depressed, and I kept struggling with the straw in my gin and tonic. It had a vintage Greek flag on the top and was the kind of straw that keeps popping out of the glass because the air in it is lighter than the liquid. It was a major pain.
Another major pain was coming straight from my chest. Possibly from the hilum at the lung’s root, where the blood vessels and airways pass into the lungs, like thousands of straws. The pain was slowly spreading all over and reaching the pleura. My left lung was glued to my chest wall. I felt like I was dying.
The straw popped out of the glass and almost fell to the ground as soon as I tried to look in front of me. I didn’t want it to fall to the ground so I held onto it with my teeth, discreetly swapping the glass to my free hand. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I held on. The evening had just started, and yet the enormous tide of thoughts rising inside me was at odds with my duties.
My name is Bastian Balthazar Bux. At that time, I was the executive director of The Federation®, the platform representing the decentralised and not-for-profit structures all over the old continent. After the civil war, the European Union™ was left as the only entity with a grip on the rule of law over continental Europe. Cities, regions, and independent microstates kept on making decisions on their own, and associations, youth organisations, trade associations, religious councils, workers’ leagues, and the like were increasing their niche in politics. This was still very unregulated, and that is where The Federation® was playing a role, gathering those fragments together.
It was a warm night in Lower Macedonia™, on the twenty-ninth of November, exactly two years after the armistice. We were near Thessaloniki’s waterfront, in a stone building saved from the big fire of nineteen seventeen. The old house was now hosting the Rover Hangover bar. The venue had a fabricated feels-like-home atmosphere, with old wood and stone holding the structure together, and an eclectic decor with pinball machines, butcher’s tables, and collectable pre-civil war posters. The delegates shouted around the three floors. Drinking, gossiping, and flirting.
It was the first time I’d heard about the BreakupShop™. Lorenzo explained to me that it was the big new thing, trending on all the social media sites. He’d bought their services a couple of weeks before to get rid of a girl he randomly met on Snapchat®, who asked him to meet her dad after their first date. He didn’t help by telling me this. I didn’t know how exactly to react to my new status. I had my own issues with breakups.
“Cheers. To new beginnings,” he said. Lorenzo was a friend. We’d known each other since before the civil war began.
When the riots spread from Greece to set the rest of Europe on fire, people thought that the unrest against the financial crisis could be contained and would fade out quickly. But soon it became clear that the deployment of privately hired military contractors, combined with the lack of national armed forces, were not going to stop the violence. Lorenzo Poretti, then president of the Italian Young Volunteers’ Association, converted his organisation into a militia. Eventually, after intense fighting for two long years, all over the continent, the various factions came to an agreement. Lorenzo then joined The Federation®, where he represented the Southern Italian delegation.
“Look, you fucked it up,” he continued.
“She sent me an automated bot message to break up with me,” I said.
“You fucked it up,” he repeated.
I didn’t understand why he was saying that, and I thought, for a moment, it was the fault of the Bryan Adams song playing in the background, or the first two G&Ts I’d drunk since arriving. Or perhaps the breakup hangover itself.
“The fifteenth amendment passed in the new statutes,” he said to change the subject. “It’s not what we agreed on.”
“C’mon. Don’t bother me with that shit now. The general assembly was a blast,” I replied. “We made the structural changes. The president of the European Commission ©1958 endorsed them. The Governor of Lower Macedonia™ gave us his general blessing with home-grown wine.”
I got even more bothered by the shitty, nostalgic, Greek-flagged straw, not to mention the taste of cheap gin in my mouth. On top of everything, Bryan Fucking Adams was still playing in the background. “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” ℗1991 Bryan Adams, which was particularly annoying because it reminded me of a disastrous night at a friend’s place long ago.
“You should have stepped in the discussion to explain it was not legal according to the European Fundamental Law to include three vice presidents, cazzo,” Lorenzo said.
I saw that coming. Typical Lorenzo. I loved him, but he enjoyed putting pressure on people out of the blue and far too much of it. He also loved to win small battles, thinking they were huge victories. But in doing so, he often set off time bombs that he wasn’t even aware of, which I usually had to deal with later.
“We need more room for negotiation,” he continued. “Things are getting much more sensitive now. The Federation® isn’t just a token anymore. The Nordics want their spot. The Southern Alliance can’t be left out. Easterners are playing both sides,” he said.
Bryan Fucking Adams stopped singing, and given the circumstances, I didn’t give a fuck if there were two vice presidents instead of three. We had just adopted statutory changes establishing regulations to fully execute the powers granted to The Federation® by the European Fundamental Law. What might have looked like a bureaucratic measure on the surface actually allowed The Federation® to be part of all the decisions of the European Union™, transforming it into a sort of second chamber alongside the European Parliament ©1979. Whether or not its candidates would have an extra jockeying spot for an additional vice president to use for horse-trading at the next election was, to be honest, of no real concern to me.
I stabbed the straw to break up some ice cubes. “Listen, it’s not a matter of legislation. I said everything I had to say about the legislation. Go and ask the board about it, if you really want to complain to someone. They are the ones that cared so much about proposing the Fifteenth Amendment, not me,” I said.
My argument with Lorenzo wasn’t going anywhere, but I was getting better at using the straw. The G&T was flowing from the glass to my mouth very quickly, pushing away the surfacing images of curly black hair, the scent of the chlorinated pool and the smell of pine trees, yellow shoelaces and sweat.
Lorenzo cared too much about including three or four vice presidents in the statutes. It didn’t appear to be just pure, wicked pleasure. He must have been cooking up a plan behind the scenes for the next election.
I said, “Can’t you just enjoy yourself, for once?” And I left.
I wished that the evening could have been just about gin and tonic. I wished I could have simply enjoyed the fuzziness of the bubbles and the aftertaste of a fresh cucumber in the glass. But what I had in the glass was not cucumber. And it was not Hendrick’s®. It was hardly a piece of lemon and the Lower Macedonian gin was cheap, with a chemical aftertaste. I’d never heard of Lower Macedonian gin before and suspected it was a bathtub concoction developed during the war. Nevertheless, another one was being delivered to me. Again.
This time by Sandra Müller, my deputy. She was one of the best on the team; not only smart and highly competent at what she did, she also had an acute political sensitivity.
“Bastian, this is to celebrate us. Cheers.” And she gave me a glass of the same stuff I was drinking before, so I smiled in fake appreciation. She could have bought me Hendrick’s®. Or Bombay Sapphire®, at least. I took a deep breath and clinked glasses.
“How’s it going?” I asked. “You look splendid.”
She had combined retro glam sparkles, an open-cut back, and fluid plissés with modern strict layering and a muted colour scheme. From Filippa K™, I guessed.
“Thanks. It’s going okay,” she replied, “especially after the last five G&Ts. You look splendid, too.”
“Is that the drink, or do you really want to give me a compliment?” I asked.
“Ha. No, I really mean it.” And she started to dance. Not too obvious, just moving to the sound, keeping the conversational mode light.
“We should be proud,” I said, unconvincingly, moving thoughts away from my ex.
“We should be what?” she asked. The music was getting louder.
“We should be proud of what we pulled off in the past couple of days,” I repeated.
She nodded while continuing to kind-of-dance, and then she came closer again, this time whispering in my left ear. “But I want to warn you,” she said, her breath smelling of the cheap gin, “we all know you mean well for us. However, the trade unions are really pissed with what we had to cope with,” she said, her speech slurring as the alcohol worked its way into blood stream. So, the smile and the cheers were not totally celebratory or genuine.
“You’re referring to the discussion we had about the Fifteenth Amendment to the statutes, I suppose,” I told her. “Until midnight yesterday.”
“Well, that was a painful discussion, but the new app AssemblyManager® made the operations much easier for the secretariat. We were just bored watching the live feed from the delegates on our Morphs®, while they were fighting over the number of the vice presidents. That was ridiculous,” she continued, “and seriously, I’m talking about the shitty food we had to swallow for the past four days. People within the secretariat are annoyed about that. They are not as cool as me, you know.” She kept dancing.
“We will fix it, Sandra. I can’t say much more than that now. But I promise, we will fix it when I’m back in Brussels,” I said, and I asked her to relate to the others that I truly understood how that cheap deal with the hotel’s caterer was far from ideal.
Lorenzo was now hugging a representative from the Student Union’s delegation while he showed her some pictures on his phone. I envied the fact that they were enjoying the evening. I was angry with him because he had already ruined mine. And the images flooded in again. The sweat, the pool, the smell of pine trees, the curly hair. I could not stand that anymore. They kept coming back, piercing my brain on an endless loop. I felt like dissolving into them, falling, flowing, and melting.
Then, in a burst of lucidity, I thought I could connect the dots again. I wanted to understand. I thought that if I could put together a rational explanation for what had happened, all that would disappear from my head, together with all the images, and I could rest a bit. Despite how hard I was trying to nail it down, I couldn’t see any plausible explanations. I thought of myself as doomed to wander until the end, from love to love, without understanding and without relief.
I went to the bar by myself this time to avoid anyone else coming to me with a cheap drink. It stank of smoke. I kept forgetting that they had not banned cigarettes in Lower Macedonia. My lungs were not happy. A guy in his early twenties was queuing at the counter next to me, holding a menu. He looked super cute, clean-cut, and fit. I was imagining his abs when he pushed his chest towards the counter. I noticed he was wearing a white T-shirt not long enough to cover the back of his waist, revealing a sexy striped boxer brief.
“Hi, can I look at the menu, too?” I asked.
“Sure,” he replied. “Where are you from?” He passed me a thick wooden tablet with the names of the drinks drawn against a backdrop of the map of the continent.
“Technically from Brussels, but I have been all over the place in the past few years,” I said. “And you?”
“I’m from here, well, not exactly from here. I come from Nea Gonia, in Halkidiki, but I study literature in Thessaloniki at the University of the Mediterranean™,” he replied. He had a soft accent, especially when pronouncing the letter L, which seemed to me as if he was caressing it in the inside of his mouth. I was more and more fascinated.
“I am Hephaestion. What’s your name?” he asked.
“Bastian, Bastian Balthazar Bux,” I replied.
“And what do you do in life?” he asked.
“Well, during the daytime I run an organization called The Federation®. In my spare time, I get dumped over BreakupShop™. That is why I need to get a drink, a strong one. What do you think I should get?”
“If you want to drink like a local, you should try #TBT®,” he said. “That’s the bar special.” He showed me #TBT® where it was marked on the menu map. It cost fifteen Macedonian rupiahs, something like one and half xEUs.
It was a shot made up of Tequila™, Baileys®, and Tabasco®. I felt a punch in my gut just thinking how fucked up that stuff might taste. But I also felt like congratulating the bartender for the geopolitical imagery, and the owners of the Rover Hangover for having managed to register the trademark for such a widely-known label. To get #TBT® registered, they would have to have been the first to use the mark for commercial use, which was clearly not the case. They possibly took advantage of the Privatisations Concordat that freed for purchase several hundreds of thousands of trademarks, brands, and names when the armistice was signed. Or that was a fake trademark, illegally placed on their menu.
“Do you know where #TBT® originally comes from?” I asked.
“I think it used to refer to Throwback Thursday on Twitter®,” he said.
A friend of his, who was also there at the counter and happened to be eavesdropping on our conversation, jumped in. “No, #TBT® is another way of saying TBH, to be honest,” he said.
“I heard someone else referring to it as Taco Bell Time,” Hephaestion said.
The thing is that #TBT was one of these chameleonic hashtags that changed over time. During the civil war, the media used #TBT for a while, as they always liked acronyms and hashtags to promote viewership. Since no one could tell what #TBT really referred to, in those gloomy days, collective confusion mounted. An analyst from an obscure think tank in Umeå postulated that #TBT was a bioweapon produced by the Russians. For others, #TBT resonated as a new sexually transmitted disease. It was common to see people writing that they were #TBT negative on their Grindr © 2009 Grindr LLC and Tinder ©2013 Tinder, Inc. accounts, two sex dating apps first made popular back then.
“Look at the map on the menu,” I said, to end this argument once and for all. “What do you see?”
“Well,” Hephaestion said, “I see Lower Macedonia and the regional administrative borders of the European Union™. There is also the Parisian Anarchist Regional Independent State, P.A.R.I.S.™, other city-states, plus the foreign territories of the Swiss Confederation, including Bavaria and Vorarlberg, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Denmark, Sweden, and Northern Ireland.”
“Bravo!” I said. “You just described #TBT®, which stood for ‘The Big Transformation,’ describing the shifting geographical landscape of the continent emerging out of the conflict.” I was shocked that, despite this being a traumatic experience for us all, by the time I was in the Rover Hangover bar, #TBT® was just a nasty-sounding drink.
I had to try it, though. “All right, three #TBTs®, please,” I asked the bartender.
Only a few years earlier, the older brothers and sisters of these two guys must have been fighting barely a few hundred meters from the bar, in the battle that ignited the war. That was, after all, the reason why we were having the general assembly in Thessaloniki, symbolically commemorating the fact that, in a place where people once fought with guns, we were now rebuilding a new governance for the continent.
“These are on me!” I cheered to them, and I quickly downed it all, preventing that creamy monstrosity from being in close contact with my taste buds for too long. Then they both left to meet their friends, and I ordered something else.
Gin and tonic again, and finally it was Hendrick’s® with cucumber. To fully enjoy it, I tried to make myself invisible in the crowd pretending to be busy by staring at my phone. More than that, my chance meeting with Hephaestion had gotten me horny, and I decided that some fun with a cute local boy could be the natural remedy to get over my relationship drama. I unfolded my paper-thin Morph® and switched on Grindr ©2009 through the touch ID fingerprint sensor beneath the display, just in time to get a couple of messages.
When we meet (if we meet), I will punish you for not prioritizing sex.
A very angry guy was going off on me for some reason. That was not improving my mood, especially since he was surely thinking about some degree of physical pain. I usually enjoy BDSM but couldn’t deal with it in that specific moment. Also, I realised too late that other delegates in the bar might have poked me and asked me for sex online. That wouldn’t have been a real scandal, considering the open sexual habits The Federation®’s delegates were known for. But I opted to switch the app off, and change to a standard, safer, and more effective approach to invisibility: emails.
Emails were the most potent drug I could assimilate during working hours. Mood switchers. Serotonin providers. Dopamine inhibitors. As well as occasionally causing tryptophan depletion, catecholamine depletion, and alterations in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.
“Blink your eyes,” Sandra said.
I had totally lost perception of the outside world.
“What?” I replied. And I showed her the pictures I had just received.
The circular badge of The League™, a red and white hot air balloon emerging from a golden ballot box against the backdrop of a rising sun on a blue sky. The badge was floating at zero gravity in the glass dome named Cupola™ on ISS®, the International Space Station. It was standing still above the planet in full daylight.
“This is not fake,” I said.
When I was a kid, I always wanted to be an astronaut. Or, if not, I was sure to end up in a science fiction movie, doing some Luke Skywalker shit. My mum used to encourage me. I remember her bringing me sci-fi movies on VHS™ and scientific magazines about space travel, when we still lived together. She also enjoyed building Lego® spaceships and moon bases with me, which were regularly crashed in planetary accidents caused by my younger sister.
The League’s badge operation was, in the end, the closest thing to flying in space I had ever participated in. When we were planning the campaign, I began to cooperate with ESA®, the European Space Agency. The ESA® was interested in getting young people excited about exploring the galaxy. The Federation® was interested in getting young people to participate in politics after the civil war. A random, but effective match. And with that, the League Badge earned its place in history as one of those weird objects that people blast off into space.
I ran around with my Morph® showing the pictures to everyone like a little kid all excited with his new toy. I saw Lorenzo with the same girl as before. They were kissing on a leather sofa, unconcerned with what was going on around them. This time I didn’t care, and for a moment I felt released from the gloomy thoughts. Gin and tonic again, to celebrate.
“He must be kidding. This logo is a joke.” I heard a voice behind me say.
It was Nathan, Nathan Ziggy Zukowski. The alleged illegitimate son of Roman Polanski. Everyone knew that. Born in Paris, raised in Krakow. A real shark but very much beloved because of his personal history and his manners. Sandra insisted on inviting him to Thessaloniki. He had initiated a set of new projects that I had not yet understood. I could again feel my pleura screaming. My left lung was pushing it, following our accelerated heartbeat.
“Bastian likes old Soviet Pioneer badges,” he continued.
I kept staring at my Morph®. Motionless.
“This guy is turning the Federation® into a Kolkhoz,” he kept going on. “What will he do next? Establish a Politburo?” He was blowing full steam ahead.
I took a deep breath, turned to him, and said, “Firstly, Soviet iconography has been deideologised by younger generations in post-communist regions.”
“Man, we finally get to meet again.” He smiled.
“Secondly, what counts is not what you think about the logo,” I said, cutting him short.
“I thought you were hiding or something,” he continued and tried to hug me.
“Nathan, you have no idea…” I stared at the pinball table beside him. The petals of a rose marked points for the winners. A tattooed girl was painted on the top of the rose as the final prize, a remainder of the gender-biased past I had thought completely finished. She had black curly hair, and the images flooded in.
Nevertheless, I continued. “The League is changing politics and will help us all move towards a solid post-war democracy.”
“Democracy, as you know it, is doomed,” he replied.
I thought, he’d transformed himself into another populist who would recite some bullshit about destroying political parties, getting rid of the elites, online voting, and so on. I was sick and tired of those people.
“My new app, plebiscitum®, will allow anyone to express their opinions anytime, anywhere, and will include geolocalisation systems,” he replied.
“Basically Tinder® but for politics,” I said.
“Exactly, you’ve got it. Politics will be as easy as swiping. Likes, dislikes, matches,” he said.
“Fucking bullshit, Nathan,” I replied.
“And poof! Magic. No need for elected representatives,” he continued. “Must I always remind you that you have no sense of strategic understanding, Bastian?” He was smiling, calm and happy like a sheep peacefully grazing among orchard grass.
“What we need is neither fewer parties nor fewer politicians,” I said. “We need parties mobilizing the people and being mobilized by the people.”
“Sure. Like some wannabe politicians in this bar tonight,” he said. “And why wouldn’t people blame them? They caused a major part of the mess and the war.”
“You won’t get me over there, Nathan,” I said.
“One of the key problems today is that politics is such a disgrace. Good people don’t go into government,” he replied.
“I refuse to throw politicians in your technological trash bin just because some of them caused a mess,” I said.
“Man, you are just a cheap idealist full of passion. When it comes to controlling human beings, there is no better instrument than lies. Because, you see, humans live by beliefs. And beliefs can be manipulated. The power to manipulate beliefs is the only thing that counts.”
“I might be full of passion, but you are full of shit,” I said.
“Calm down. You will tell me if I’m right or wrong when the moment comes,” he said.
And he left me with a sense of fear and anger I could not explain.
I was lost. I was totally worn out. Everyone wanted to shoot me. The Rover bar was a dusty, smoky saloon from A Fistful of Dollars ©1964 Sergio Leone. But I didn’t get shot. And I didn’t shoot. I stared at that circus and simply realised that I was part of it. So, I jumped on the roller coaster with another Hendrick’s® in hand.
A girl with a tangle of curly black hair stared at me with big, dark eyes. At first I thought it was just a quick look around the room, but her gaze unmistakably found my eyes.
“Where are you from?” I said, casually approaching her.
“Troy,” she replied.
“Very epic,” I said. And then, I kissed her, seeing as that was the only appropriate move.
We kissed and kissed, and I got lost in her hair. I was drunk. She was drunk. I tried to control the situation but failed miserably. I turned out to be totally wasted. Totally out of control. Wild horses entered the dusty saloon and destroyed everything, turning it into a big, spacious green field. No more cyber breakups. No more rich kids of famous directors or political apps. No more amendments to the statutes, fundamental laws, or shitty food to complain about. What happened to the green field, the dusty saloon, and the circus next, I don’t exactly remember.
My eyes were closed. Short flashes. The dance floor. The sweat. The bar counter. The men’s toilets. Her asking for shoelaces. Me giving them to her. A familiar situation. Unzipping my trousers. Tightening a knot. My eyes were closed. I was floating at zero gravity with the League of Young Voters™ badge. I was now with an astronaut in the ISS® Cupola™, and I was giving photo shoot instructions. I positioned the badge and left it floating free for the camera. I had a closer look. I could not have been mistaken. Her curly hair was sneaking out of the spacesuit. She looked at me. I was floating in my bedroom. It smelled like pine trees. I was floating under the blankets. There were actual blankets on the spaceship. But upside down.
My eyes were wide open. Space looked like my hotel room. No spaceship. Felt just like a hotel room. A messy room. I closed my eyes. I took another deep breath. Something was missing. My boxers. No something else. I opened my eyes. No alarm clock. Things fell down, and gravity was back. She wasn’t there. A plane to catch. My head spinning at 78 RPM. I walked in zero gravity in my room. I never imagined it would have been so hard to walk in space. It was hard to find things in space. They were sticking all over the place. I had to pack and leave the station for the ultimate mission.
“Where is my phone?” I shouted.
“Don’t lose your head. It must be the fault of zero gravity.” I thought I heard her voice.
“You will find it,” she said.
I replied, “I’ll go crazy if I don’t.”
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I held on.
I had issues with breakups.
Giuseppe Porcaro is a political geographer. He has always been interested in how the intersection between technology and politics is moving towards uncharted territories in the future. He has recently published a series of scientific articles about how the internet of things and algorithms will change policymaking. DISCO SOUR is his first experiment with fiction. it has been inspired by a mission to Chile he had in 2013. Back then, he was Secretary General of the European Youth Forum, the platform of youth organisations advocating for youth rights. And on his way to Santiago, he missed three connecting flights across two continents within the span of 72 hours.
Giuseppe works now as the head of communications for Bruegel, an international think tank specialised in economic policy. During the rest of the time, he DJs, reads, dreams, writes.
If you enjoyed Disco Sour (radio edit), leave a comment and let Giuseppe know.
Giuseppe is currently running a crowdfunding page for Disco Sour over on unbound!
Please visit his unbound page and help him bring this project to life!
The existential odyssey of a heartsick politician to save a war-torn, post-austerity Europe from algorithmic autocracy
Bastian Balthazar Bux is a space-lover, a smartphone addict and a leading member of The Federation®, the European network of civil society and local governments. In the aftermath of a continental civil-war, nation-states have collapsed, the European Union™ just prevents anarchy, and it’s mandatory to include branded trademarks in common language.
Bastian has just been unexpectedly dumped through an app, the BreakupShop™ service. Heavy hearted, he just wants to drink, celebrate work success and forget his romantic woes. However, he discovers that Nathan Ziggy Zukowsky, the alleged illegitimate son of Roman Polanski, is planning to sell plebiscitum®, a tinder-like app that is meant to replace elections, at the same conference he is invited to attend in Chile. Haunted by his breakup’s ghosts, he finds himself without his all-important Morph® phone, just a few hours before embarking on his trip to try to save democracy.
How will he manage to travel without his obsessively endeared smartphone to that conference on the other side of the world? Will he stop Polanski’s son from selling his tinderpolitics app? Will he find a way to deal with breakups?
DISCO SOUR is an epic journey with a unique soundtrack, a fight for democracy, and a collection of fragments from a modern lover’s discourse.
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