The Nix(9)

Written By: Nathan Hill

Also the essential diet-and exercise-related apps available on the phone were indispensable in any new eating-right program, apps where he could record each day’s food and drink intake and receive an analysis of how he was doing both calorically and nutritionally. For example, he recorded what he ate in a normal day to set a kind of “baseline” by which his future excellent eating-right diet could be accurately compared, and found that his three espressos for breakfast (with sugar) registered at 100 calories, his six-shot latte and brownie for lunch was another 400 calories, leaving him 1,500 calories shy of his 2,000-calorie daily ceiling, meaning that for dinner he likely had room for two and maybe even three frozen packages of Ocean Bonanza Salmon Fajitas, each kit containing precisely cut french-fry-looking fajita vegetables and a packet of salty red stuff called Southwestern Spices to which he usually added another tablespoon or so of salt (the smartphone diet app registering this as zero calories, which he considered a huge flavor victory), and he ate these frozen salmon meals rather quickly and intensely while trying to ignore that the microwave cooked things so unevenly the green peppers could literally burn his tongue while the insides of some of the larger salmon lumps were still so cold they crumbled apart with a texture of something like damp tree bark, all of which made for an incredibly unpleasant mouthfeel but did not prevent him from stuffing his freezer full of salmon fajita kits, not only because the boxes said they were Surprisingly Low-Fat! but also because the 7-Eleven was having a consistent and amazing ten-for-five-dollars clearance deal on them (limit ten).

Anyway, the smartphone app analyzed the nutrients and metanutrients he consumed and compared them to FDA-recommended dosages of all the important vitamins, acids, fats, etc., and displayed the results in a graph that should have been a soothing green if he were doing it all correctly but was actually a panic-button red due to his alarming lack of really anything necessary for the maintenance of basic organ health. And yes he had to admit that lately his eyeballs and the ends of his hair had acquired a disconcerting yellowish hue, and his fingernails had become thinner and more brittle and had a tendency, when chewed, to suddenly split right down the middle almost all the way to the base, and recently his nails and hair had stopped growing completely and now seemed to recede in places or even curl back on themselves, and also he’d developed a more or less permanent rash on his arm at the place a wristwatch would go. So while he was typically far under his 2,000-calorie daily maximum, he understood that the calories he needed to consume in order to “eat better” were totally different kinds of calories, namely the organic fresh whole-food kind that were prohibitively expensive given the monthly credit card payments he was making on his smartphone and its associated text and data plans. And he grasped the paradox of this, that it was somewhat of an ironic bind that paying for the device that showed him how to eat right prevented him from having the money to actually be able to eat right, and yes he was putting all this on his credit card, the debt on which was painfully growing and his ability to pay it off fading away from him like a sort of continental drift. Ditto his mortgage payments, which also kept going up because a realtor had convinced him, years ago, before the town (and the nation’s real estate market in general) went to total shit, to refinance his house using some “negative amortization” instrument. This was a huge financial windfall at the time and allowed the purchase of an HD television and various elaborate video-game consoles and an expensive at-home computer workstation, but now was a huge financial drain as the mortgage payments kept jumping shockingly higher while his home’s value had, at last check, crashed and flatlined at such a confoundingly low number it was as if the house had suffered a catastrophic interior meth-lab explosion.

And this made him feel stressed, this coupled with all the other financial and budgetary problems, so stressed out that his heart was doing funny things, a kind of jumpy-twitchy thing that felt like someone mechanically palpating his thoracic cavity from the inside. And like Lisa said, “You don’t have anything if you don’t have your health,” which was how he justified his investment in things that helped reduce the stress, namely high-end electronics and video games.

Which was where he turned today. Before completing the chores required of his new diet, he decided he would finish his other chores, the ones waiting for him in Elfscape: the twenty tasks he completed every day that earned him seriously cool game rewards (like flying rideable gryphons and axes of an unlikely size and neat-looking formal jackets and trousers that made his avatar look dapper when he walked around in them). These quests—which usually involved slaying some minor enemy or delivering a message across treacherous terrain or locating some lost important doodad—needed to be completed every day without fail for up to forty days in a row to unlock the rewards in the fastest time mathematically possible, which itself was a kind of reward because whenever he was successful at it these fireworks went off and there was this blast of trumpets and he got his name on the public chart of Elfscape’s Most Epic Players and everyone on his contact list sent him notes of congratulations and praise. It was like the game equivalent of being the groom at a wedding. And since Pwnage played with not just one character but enough characters to field a whole softball team it meant that as soon as he finished the twenty daily quests on his main character he then repeated them for his alternate characters as well, so that the number of daily quest completions required of him jumped to somewhere around two hundred, or more, depending on how many “alts” he was interested in leveling. This meant the whole daily-quest process took about five hours total—and while he knew that playing a video game for five hours straight represented the outside maximum tolerance most people had for playing video games, for him these five hours were simply the prerequisite to actually playing the game, a kind of warm-up for the real play session, something he needed to get out of the way before the fun could really begin.

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