July 6, 2018

Fiction by Jonathan Ferrini: "Tumbles"

Jonathan Ferrini is a published author who resides in San Diego. He received his MFA in Motion Picture and Television Production from UCLA. 

X marks the spot. The spot can be a place of love and happiness. The X has four points. If each of the four points represents a person seeking love, what would be the odds that each of the four people would find love in the same spot?  When you combine romance with a touch of tech, I knew the odds were very high.
After ten years of creating failing smartphone Apps, I finally succeeded. I just sold my dating App “Tumbles” for more money than I can ever spend. I cranked up the volume of a U2 song to celebrate:

It’s a beautiful day and I can’t stop myself from smiling 
If I’m drinking, then I’m buying 
And I know there’s no denying 
It’s a beautiful day, the sun is up, the music’s playing 
And even if it started raining 
You won’t hear this boy complaining
I stare at the walls of our apartment my techie roommates have turned into makeshift whiteboards with the language of coding and software engineering which is my trade.

My new found wealth can’t buy the happy times I shared with my family nor will it buy my health. My AIDS virus mutated and produced a drug-resistant variation. I haven’t told my family about selling Tumbles or my AIDS. Before I get too sick, I’m embarking on a worldwide trip. I’ll likely never see my family again and before I depart to see the world, I want to bring my family back together again, loving and appreciating each other without judgment.I dropped out of college in my freshman year because I wasn’t learning anything I didn’t know already. I was the prodigal son expected to follow in my father’s footsteps.  I resent my father because my youth was squandered on science camps and after-school college prep courses. I longed for a carefree childhood, free to pick my pursuits and enjoy long summers with my friends on my own terms. Quitting college and rejecting multiple job offers in Silicon Valley angered my father. My dream was to be self-employed and become an App creator. My father kicked me out of the house saying:
“Go out and make it on your own, Alex! Let’s see how well you like struggling to pay the high rents in San Francisco. I hope you’ll find a woman to shack up with!”
My father was correct about high rent in San Francisco. It takes the combined income of my two roommates and me to pay the rent on our three bedroom apartment.  I’m a very good coder and picked up well-paying assignments permitting me to work from home while I developed smartphone App’s. I’m pushing thirty and “Tumbles” is a hit.  Initial feedback from users is positive, and downloads are increasing at a feverish pace across all demographic profiles. I sold Tumbles to a mega social media company who can introduce it throughout the world because it’s important to me that it will help people find love.
My family home is located in Palo Alto, California, which is home to a prestigious university where my parents graduated from, and I attended before dropping out. The residential part of town has beautiful homes. Palo Alto is brimming with intellectuals and diversions catering to a sophisticated population. University Avenue is the central business district which hosts eclectic restaurants and a beautiful outdoor mall featuring the latest tech goods and fashionable clothing stores. I miss our family gatherings in the outdoor common area of the mall where we enjoyed a meal or dessert.  This was our family’s happy spot to be together.
My parent’s inter-racial marriage was a disappointment to each of their families. My parents were idealistic and believed love alone would smooth out the differences in their heritages. Growing up was problematic in an affluent, mostly Caucasian city. My sister and I look exotic, which is beautiful to some people and confusing to others. My sister and I felt different from our peers, and to complicate matters for me, I am homosexual. My mom and sister kept my homosexuality a secret from dad although my father had suspicions about my sexuality, choosing to remain in denial. My mother and sister love me for who I am.
My father and mother met in college. My father is a software engineer and senior executive at one of the Silicon Valley’s most respected giant tech companies. He has worked for the company since graduating from college and his stock options have increased in value making our family very comfortable, enabling him also to support his extended family in India. His name is Singh and is of the Brahman class which is the highest social class in Hindu India. My father is tall and very distinguished looking with a full head of black hair. Even in casual Silicon Valley, my father chooses to wear conservative business suits with English rep ties.  He has a chip on his shoulder because of his dark skin and accent. He believed he had to study and work harder than his Caucasian classmates and fellow employees. He thought he was setting a good example for his children that hard work paid off, but the reality was the “pay off” included alienation from his family. I believe the racism he encountered changed him from a young idealistic happy student to a hardened parent choosing traditional Indian patriarchal methods of raising a family. In one of his arguments with my mother, he confessed to agreeing with his parents that his inter-racial marriage thwarted his career advancement which devastated my mother.
My mother is Caucasian and a native of San Francisco. Judy is a beautiful, slightly built, elegant woman with long flowing brunette hair. Mom’s charismatic spirit attracts people to her like a magnet.  She studied mathematics and art history as an undergraduate. She is a coveted supporter of the arts in the Bay Area which gives her personal satisfaction and a social life outside home. Mom’s family has deep roots in the history of San Francisco. She became a lawyer like her father and grandfather. Mom practiced patent law for a prestigious San Francisco law firm, and some of the most successful tech giants in Silicon Valley were her clients. She left the law firm to become a full-time mother. My mother provided the encouragement for my sister and me to follow our passions which differed from my father’s. Mom pines for the opportunity to return to patent law but my sister’s substance addiction requires her full-time attention.
Kayla is my sister. She’s an artist and excelled in painting and writing poetry. Kayla is a natural beauty like her mother. She had no interest or talent in STEM subjects which was a disappointment to my father who dismissed her award-winning art and poetry as “not commercial”. Realizing his daughter wouldn’t follow in his footsteps, he attempted to marry her off to the son of a successful Bay Area tech family. My mother and sister resisted the arranged marriage, alienating them from dad. My parents stay married for appearance sake since divorce is not acceptable in my father’s family. They have slept in separate bedrooms for many years.
It was too much for Kayla to live in a house with three overachievers and she numbed her emotional pain first with pot followed by opiates and heroin. She spends most of her time in her bedroom with the drapes closed. On occasion, my mother is able to coax her out for a day of shopping.  Kayla has been a resident of the Bay Area’s finest addiction treatment centers which haven’t cured her. Nobody can cure Kayla because she doesn’t want a cure. She won’t speak to our father and he gave up on Kayla writing her off as an “embarrassment” to the family, driving my sister deeper into her dark emotional hole. I don’t think she’ll live to celebrate her thirtieth birthday. I’ve tried to help Kayla but can’t reach her. It pains me to see my sister and mom suffer. I love my father but his personality has created a schism with those who want to love him.
People downloading Tumbles are a kind of “romantic connoisseur” appreciating an organic search for a mate.  I like to say, “They prefer to shop at the farmers market as opposed to the grocery store chain.” They relish the unexpected and want searching for a mate to be an adventure. My company slogan is, “Tumbles provides old-fashioned romance with a touch of tech”.  My users don’t receive a photo and want the opportunity to meet somebody without prejudgment provided by photographs. The Tumbles App looks like a slot machine. You press the Tumble button and three tumblers turn and provide three selections. The tumbler marked with the X means that person is in closest proximity and Tumbles guides the user to their location. Since neither person has a photo, there is no commitment to meet. The lack of a photo creates a sense of discovery because the user must ferret out their match in a crowd.  If the user believes they have located their match, they tap smartphones and the Tumbles APP vibrates and the screen lights with a fireworks spectacular accompanied by slot machine winning jack pot sound effects. Tumbles invites its users to answer questions which are based upon personality profiles. The more information provided the better the results to the user.  
I’m very keen on understanding the growth of Tumbles and study where it’s being downloaded. The Bay Area and Silicon Valley have heavy concentrations of users. I’m particularly interested in university towns since college students are early adapters of tech. In reviewing the user accounts in Palo Alto, two user names, PATLAWGAL and DARKCANARY stood out.  I confirmed it was mom and Kayla because the GPS tracking feature pinpointed them to our family home. I was happy to see my mom and sister using Tumbles. Some of our uptight and stodgy neighbors were also using Tumbles. These prim and proper neighbors were the type of people you’d never suspect of having marital problems or cheating. It was ironic that these same neighbors looked down upon their inter-racial neighbors.
I became intrigued with a user who had a pattern of logging on at six pm every evening and parking one block around the corner from our family home. The user name was MICROCHPMAVN. This user was very deliberate in logging on and off without moving, indicating he didn’t want to be tracked by Tumbles.  I was alerted one afternoon that this user had logged on, forgot to log off, and drove to our family home. It was dad. I was curious about my father’s use of Tumbles. He could have been simply checking on the progress of his son’s enterprise or actually using Tumbles to meet somebody. A check of his profile indicated he had completed all of the personality profile questions which was characteristic of my father who was a thorough man. I shared the Tumbles profiles created by my family members with the psychologist who wrote the personality profile questions for Tumbles. The psychologist’s assessment was insightful.
My father’s profile indicated he was a “widower” suggesting he feels he has lost his family and wants a second chance at raising a family without judgment and plenty of nurturing. MICROCHPMAVN describes himself as a strong provider and good role model. The psychologist believed dad was “capable of love and nurturing”.
PATLAWGAL’s profile indicates she is a “free spirit seeking challenge”. She prefers a partner who is a “maverick” challenging the mores of society and is a “nonjudgmental progressive thinker and philanthropist.” Mom wants a man who will encourage her to pursue her artistic and legal interests.  Mom chose to identify as “divorced” signaling she was going to divorce dad. If they had a chance to reconcile, it will have to be quick knowing mom’s decisive decision-making style.
DARKCANARY is seeking an artist who appreciates her creativity, and a spiritual man more “interested in living each day to its fullest than ambition and materialism.” Kayla chose to identify as “other” which is just like my sister who refuses to be labeled.
My goal isn’t finding a mate but healing my broken family. Despite some irresponsible homosexual encounters in my youth inflicting me with AIDS which will ultimately kill me, I’ve suppressed my homosexuality in deference to my father and found solace in my work. In developing Tumbles, I’ve determined that finding love is a journey creating self-awareness from each romantic disappointment making you a new and improved version of your former self when you meet somebody new. Maybe Tumbles will bring my family together again?  The meeting will be either a success or a failure but time is running out for reconciliation and I don’t want a divorce, Kayla’s suicide or my death to be the last paragraph in our family saga.
I rigged the Tumbles results for each family member to always match us to each other. For dad, it was mom. For mom, it was dad. For my sister, it was me. I knew that if I could manipulate them into meeting at our happy spot within the mall, we might reunite again as a family and recover our lost love and happiness. Over the weeks that followed, I made numerous attempts to match each member of my family and coax them into meeting at the mall. Unfortunately, one or more of them wouldn’t make themselves available. I remained resolved. It wasn’t until Friday of a Labor Day weekend that each of my family members decided to venture out and meet their match. I positioned myself just outside of the mall in the parking lot so I could watch them arrive. It was heartwarming to watch each of them arrive happy and with the look of adventure.
My father, mother, and sister had already met and expressed feigned surprise in meeting each other. As I approached, I held up my smartphone showing my X. In unison, dad, mom, and Kayla held up their phones showing their X. I tapped Kayla’s smartphone which lit up with fireworks and winning jackpot sound effects. Mom and dad each tapped phones confirming they found their match. Our shared embarrassment in searching for love combined with the gratification that Tumbles matched us to each other broke down the old judgments and barriers between us. Using Tumbles made each of us aware our family was hurting and fractured. My usually stoic father became emotional and hurriedly excused himself to buy each of us our favorite flavor of ice cream. Kayla, mom, and I sat silent and stared into each other’s teary eyes. Mom reached for Kayla’s hand and I held Kayla’s. Dad returned with the ice cream cones with a spring in his step and a big smile on his face. It was the dad I remember from my childhood. We people-watched, joked, and embarked upon happy conversations about meaningless subjects like we did as a young family. I spied my father and mother playing “footie”. Kayla was radiant, reciting a poignant new love poem from memory warming our hearts. My smart phone vibrated alerting me to the completion of my sale of Tumbles. My father caught me glancing at my phone and as I raised my head to meet his stare, he smiled giving me the impression he was proud of me for creating an ingenious APP bringing our family back together which might also help others find love. We all returned home to enjoy dinner and a movie together. It was a happy, loving, and glorious evening together. I chose to keep my travel plans and illness to myself.

I secretly arranged for mom to become the beneficiary of my estate knowing she would responsibly manage the fortune while providing for our family as well as many socially responsible philanthropic organizations including AIDS research.
In the months that followed, the tech giant and new owner introduced Tumbles throughout the world keeping my slogan: “Tumbles provides old fashioned romance with a touch of tech”. From the many user testimonials and publicity brought to my attention, I was gratified to see Tumbles was helping people find love. As I approached the Indian city of my father’s family for the first and final visit, I hummed:

It’s a beautiful day and I can’t stop myself from smiling… It’s a beautiful day, the sun is up, the music’s playing 
And even if it started raining 
You won’t hear this boy complaining

~Jonathan Ferrini