There was a terrible recession. No one is ever very sure how terrible a recession must get before it becomes a full-blown depression, but the situation was dire. A shortage of jobs, exorbitant rent, frequent layoffs. For Willa, such uncertainty was familiar. Fifteen years ago, she’d noticed things slowly disappearing from her childhood home: HBO, then dental insurance, finally, her father, with his income. Her grandparents were born during the Depression, her parents had carried gallon jugs to the gas lines— Willa understood the boom and bust as an inevitable fact of life. With challenges came solutions. It was all a matter of locating them.
Statput was a solution, albeit a desperate one. Not only was taking their test seen as an admittance to some sort of problem (of deviance, obsession, or worst, illness)— it was the disclosure of one’s most private humanity. Active contemplation data was reported to corporate sponsors and then sold to advertising and marketing firms. Participants made very little in terms of residual pay. But Statput was a solution, at least.
She scheduled an appointment at the suggestion of her family friend Gina, who’d been tested in July. Gina had made great success in validating her clinical anxiety and minimizing rumination. Though she’d accepted decreased payment in exchange for MOSS treatments, a new brand of motivational talk therapy in which professionals synthesized the results of Statput’s testing for their client’s weekly visits, she’d still made enough money to pay her Utilities— twice. (Gina’s egg withdrawal the year prior had paid far more, but Willa, with one ovary remaining from a single salpingo-oophorectomy at age sixteen, wasn’t eligible.)
The world had its thoughts about Statput. Protesting Seventh Day Adventists and Socialists and altruists alike were permanent fixtures outside the six offices in the tri-state area. But on this day, with Willa’s mother in $187,000 of credit card debt, and her father rationing insulin in order to finance his second divorce, she knew better than to privilege morality in pursuit of financial stability. So, she’d completed the intake forms, followed the series of hexagonal pills, accepted the intravenous benzo, and let them run the scan. When the machine was done interpreting the data, she was called back in.
“Let’s break down your percentiles. As you’ve likely been explained, we measure active contemplation. As we put it: the kind of thoughts which require vocal phrasing in our internal monologue. That’s a wide array of things, but we break it into three essential cortexes: physical, metaphysical, and emotional. I’ll give an example of each. Physical thoughts are most easily summoned during bodily activity. I use the case of demanding your body to finish an exercise. Metaphysical thoughts concern well,” the doctor, whose name tag read Brad, chortled smugly, “it’s your questioning of the meaning or nature of things, your explorations into why. Some may be inclined to designate this category ‘logic,’ but we believe that implies a level of objectivity we see present nowhere in the human brain. Most of the time, these sorts of thoughts lead to emotional responses. Emotional is both the most and least obvious category. All activity which stimulates the amygdala falls under this category. So the breadth of ‘the feelings chart,’
He did air quotes.
“but also things like memory and decision making that we don’t typically classify as ‘emotional.’
“Now, within these three cortexes, we observe and document recurring themes. I won’t explain how that part works, if that’s okay.”
“Sure.” Willa didn’t really care for science. Not in grammar school. Not now.
He turned to the first page in the manila folder he held. “Well, your results, in ascending order: your recurring themes were doubt, nostalgia, confusion, shame, envy— all very common recurring themes for members of your demographic, occurring with a frequency between 4 and 7 percent.”
He flipped to the second page and paused. For a moment he looked stunned. His face soon settled.
“So.. what about the rest?”
“Well, for you... for you, it was all sex.” He handed her an infographic. It was printed on card stock, in color. “As you can see there, at a frequency of 68 percent. Dispersed in near equilibrium amongst the emotional and metaphysical cortexes. I’ve rarely seen something like this.” Willa was distracted for a moment; his cadence reminded her of Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.
“Just to highlight your magnificent difference, for the average Statput participant, active contemplation of sex occurs at a frequency between 10 and 20 percent, existing mostly in the physical category.”
“Well, do you have any questions?”
Outliers, as they were called in Corporate, were a purposeful result of the machine’s algorithm. For every 250 scans, one set of randomly selected data was set askew. Executives had justified this as a part of the company’s scientific process. It was the controlled variable in their continued experiments on the human psyche. And, though no one ever read this subsection of the waiver, Statput did not guarantee accuracy.
Brad, in awe of the severity of Willa’s skew, particularly bored on this day at the office, decided to start the bit.
“Is it alright if I ask you some more questions? I can give you a moment if you’d like. I think this case could help us greatly. And you will be compensated extra for your time. Of course.”
Willa followed him into another room. This one was yellow. Next to Brad now was Claudia, a silent note taker. He started.
“You mentioned on your intake form that you’d had one major surgery bef—”
“Two actually. There’s one I forgot. Dental implants, my left and right bottom molars.” Metal messed up machines, which Willa knew because she’d been required to remove the nose piercing she paid $75 for last week in order to take the test.
“That won’t be relevant. As I was saying, this surgery, you classified it as a laparoscopic procedure with no further detail. Can you explain?”
“It was a single salpingo-oophorectomy. When I was sixteen.”
“Yes, I was meant to have a cyst removed, but it’d ruptured and killed the fallopian tube and ovary.”
“Sounds serious. Are you fertile?”
“Yeah, it’s fine. The procedure only advances menopause by a few years.”
“Have you exhibited any hormonal symptoms since the surgery? Perhaps increased libido?”
She withheld. Then, “I suppose... I suppose I get hairs on my chin sometimes.”
“You suppose...?” Claudia looked up as she spoke.
“Yes. I do. Get hairs on my chin sometimes. Like, only a few.”
Brad nodded. “At what age did you have your first period?”
“Eleven. No, twelve. March of seventh grade.”
“We don’t need the story, just the date.” Claudia sounded experienced. “What is your line of work?”
Willa hesitated. She’d lied on the intake forms. The unemployed were barred from engaging in Statput testing. (The government’s ethical sanction. Bipartisan support.) Willa had provided the number for her step-sister’s boutique dog-grooming parlor, knowing that business was slow, and Stephanie would inevitably answer the phone if Statput was to call. She could still use this information, and should they call the parlor, Stephanie would still pick up and vouch for her. But suddenly it became evident to Willa that these two doctors or employees or whatever they were had access to all the thoughts she actively contemplated, now and ever. She couldn’t be humiliated any further.
“I’m unemployed, I lied on the form.”
“It’s alright, thank you for your honesty.”
A long breath in.
“I don’t mean to pry here, but it seems there’s a very obvious answer for your results. At least to me, observing your questioning for the past few minutes.” Claudia was far more assertive than Brad. She trusted herself. Well, he did too. But she, more.
“What do you mean?”
“Are you a sex worker? Prostitution, live entertainment, pornography?”
“Claudia, please.” Brad was shy, pulling at his partner’s sleeve. Begging. “There’s no shame in it Brad, we just need the truth.”
“No. I worked at a bank. Before that, Papa John’s.”
Claudia fell silent, shifting behind her tablet to take notes again. Brad resumed leadership.
“Have you ever contracted a sexually-transmitted infection?”
“Not even herpes?”
“I’ve never even had a cold sore.”
“What is your sexual orientation?”
“Are you sure?”
“Have you ever thought about having sex with non-human organisms or objects?”
“Not that I can recall.”
“Try to recall.”
“Do you masturbate?”
“How often is ‘occasionally’?”
Claudia was now pacing behind Brad with a palm pressed firmly to her forehead. She stopped. Hands on hips, she knelt to the ear of her colleague, whispering, then turned to Willa. “I’m sorry, I’ve just realized my path of questioning missed a major point. Sorry if this is patronizing or repetitive, just procedure. Are you sexually active?”
They had every memory on file. She couldn’t lie.
“It’s all right, feel no shame.”
“I... I, I can’t remember.”
Brad clarified. “Any partners in the past calendar year?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Well, when were you last sexually active?”
“It was a long time ago.” She was thinking of the edge of Eva Cohen’s sofa. Fourth grade. “I’m not recalling much, just...”
They stared. Willa hadn’t seen either bare such expression.
“What counts as active?”
“Any form of oral, vaginal, or anal sex.” Brad recited lists so eloquently.
“No. I have never. I have never been sexually active. I’m a virgin.” It spewed out of her mouth like hot vomit.
Brad’s eyes widened. Claudia resumed pacing.
His reaction was automatic, uncharacteristically natural, but in all parts, terrible. “You’re a virgin!?”
Silence. For a long time. Claudia left the room.
Brad gathered his coherent thoughts, which had halted completely when Claudia bolted out of the room. So unfair; this would be the highlight of his day, surely, and he couldn’t acknowledge it in the moment. There was a new feeling too; this growing gnaw behind his top two abdominal muscles. He really pitied the poor girl. He’d gone into this wanting titillating conversation. Perhaps she would admit to a porn habit or a weird kink. Instead, he and Claudia had made her feel like nothing. Worse than nothing. An adult virgin. He put on his ‘You will believe I have more than an Associate’s in Business Management’ voice and tried to finish up.
“Well, sorry for that shock,” he looked down at the manilla folder in his lap. He’d forgotten her name. “Ms. Mendelsohn, your data just presented a very different expectation. But I think your... status could perhaps explain your results. Is this making sense?”
At the front desk, the cashier compensated Willa in $800 cash, which she promptly spent on three months of MOSS. For her extended questioning, she was given her a single share of Statput— presently worthless, given the recession and all.
first appeared in BOILERPLATE ISSUE 01 “fastenings”