Anthony Michael Morena
In the beginning, in God Mode, there was nothing but a stretch of open ocean, blue featureless water on the face of the massive three-quarter perspective grid on Tim’s computer screen. This is how he chose to begin, in water. He could have started with plains, plains and mountains, but he didn’t. He wanted to raise an island. An island was better, he thought. An island is alone, and that is how Tim thinks of her. Jan. He opened up the disaster controls and selected the Volcano button.
This was going to be her head, Tim decided. This is where he would begin. Soon there would be a whole body, a whole island shaped like her, like Jan. Janopolis, he would name the city. After her, after Jan. Jan from work. Jan who looked up and smiled.
Jan is handing out jars of raspberry preserves to her friends in the office. Jan does this every year: she hands out raspberry preserves. Last year she started to add little embroidered fabric covers tied on to the lids of the jars with ribbons. Jan is handing out jars of raspberry preserves around the office, someone pops their head around the corner of Tim’s cubicle to say. Everyone loves Jan’s raspberry preserves. Jan makes delightful raspberry preserves that everyone loves, is what everyone says about Jan to people who don’t know Jan. Tim thinks it is annoying. Jan is about so much more than raspberry preserves.
“Hey, Tim!” says Jan as she puts a jar with a blue fabric cover on Tim’s desk. “Raspberry preserves for you!” She says that it’s just a little something. Tim reaches out for the jar but Jan doesn’t stay long enough for him to say thanks.
“Hey, Frank! Raspberry preserves for you!” Tim hears Jan say in the cubicle next to his.
Give your city a name:
Maybe it should be Jan, Tim thought. It is her city, Jan’s city, after all. But Jan was not really around to make policy decisions, Tim realized.
When Tim entered his name, the city of Janopolis was incorporated.
Tim built a central downtown area for mixed commercial and residential use around the bay formed by the Janopolis Island thighs: Downthere, where he planted a triangular forest of dark spruce trees. With the water and the trees, the medium wealth residential zoning he placed there grew into rows of wonderful brownstones. Janstones, laughed Tim, and he spent four hours that night marking each of these buildings as historical landmarks.
Tim hears Jan tell Mary, who sits across from Jan, about how her boyfriend is such a big help around the house. “It’s an old building so there’s a lot that needs to be fixed. And he’s just great with the tools.” Mary makes a noise like mmmm–hmmm and then Jan and Mary laugh. Tim thinks that Jan must be happy living in an old building. Tim thinks Jan may also collect antiques.
If Jan lived in Janopolis, Tim decided, Jan would live in Downthere, in an old brownstone on the banks of the Creek, in a house he right-clicked and named Jan’s-on-the-Water. He named her street Jan’s Street, which ran between Jan Boulevard and Jan Road. She worked in an office building in East Neck. She took the bus. Tim bulldozed a brownstone to make sure there was a bus stop right next to Jan’s house.
Tim imagined that he lived in Janopolis, too, but he was the Mayor so he lived in the Mayor’s House, which was a special reward building he was allowed to place after the city had reached its first five hundred residents. Tim the Mayor’s House, he called it, and put it on a hill right next to the Janopolis Cemetery, which also was a special reward, given after the first five hundred residents died.
Jan does not like it when her boyfriend calls her too much at work. She usually rolls her eyes before she picks up the phone; Tim can see her from where he sits. Jan shakes her head to what her boyfriend says on the phone to her. She sticks a finger in her free ear, as if she can’t hear her boyfriend in the noise of the office. But she isn’t trying to hear her boyfriend better, she is trying to shove her finger straight through her head to plug up her other ear. This way she won’t have to hear what her boyfriend is saying at all. Sometimes, Jan’s boyfriend calls back five minutes after she has hung up on him. To say sorry. Jan rubs her hands up and down her freckled arms. This makes Jan feel better, Tim thinks.
Tim built a subway system. Tim built a water park and a marina. Tim built fire houses and kept them fully staffed and running. Tim provided public libraries. Tim opened the University of Janopolis and made sure it was surrounded by fun arcades and parks. Tim built a helipad for the hospital. At five o’clock in the morning, Tim told himself that it was time to go to bed and get some sleep. Tim still had two solid hours before he had to wake up for work.
Are you listening, Tim? asks Todd, Tim’s supervisor, at the meeting that morning. Tim was not listening.
Tim spent all of the money Janopolis had at the start of the game. Janopolis had a budget deficit in the thousands. Janopolis’ yearly income was written in red numbers instead of green.
To compensate, Tim increased residential tax rates. But that drove out the middle class. The older sections of Janopolis became slums. The graphics of the buildings changed: their paint dulled, their roofs sagged and their windows and doors boarded up. The older residents had died off and younger residents were choosing newer, more fashionable neighborhoods to live in. The police chief character appeared in a pop-up screen.
Tim bulldozed a block of the original homes of Janopolis, not far from Jan’s-on-the-Water, and placed a park there instead. Tim hoped things would get better.
Jan is in a rush in the hallway, and she smashes into Tim.
“I’m sorry,” says Tim. “I’m sorry.”
Jan laughs. “Oh my God, I’m such a klutz! My boyfriend is always telling me I’m such a klutz.”
Tim picks up his legal pad which has fallen next to Jan’s leg.
His eyes focus intensely on his legal pad.
“I’m sorry,” says Tim. “I’m sorry.”
Tim took pictures of Janopolis, and typed quick descriptions for them. Jan and the Mayor take in some avant-garde poetry at the Belly Button Café, wrote Tim. Flames shooting out of a two-family detached: Janopolis’ Bravest fighting a blaze in Frecklington. Tim took pictures and wouldn’t remember why they were significant, typing only the neighborhood name—Jan’s Ring, Chestin—and it may be the pictures were taken just for that reason: to capture that place, that moment, before Tim shut down the game and started it up again the next night to find that place different than it was before.
Jan is falling behind at work. Jan is late again. Todd and Laura, the supervisors, are talking about it in Todd’s office. Tim gets a drink from the water cooler, which is next to Todd’s door. Laura says this can’t keep happening. Laura asks Todd what he thinks they should do about it. I don’t know, Todd says, I don’t know what we should do about it. Laura says Jan better get her fucking act together real quick. Sure, fine, I’ll tell her, says Todd.
Laura comes out of the office and sees Tim standing by the cooler.
“Oh hey, Tim. That reminds me—about you moving to the other side of the office. It’s still a no-go, but there might be something opening up soon, I’ll let you know when I know.”
“Thanks,” says Tim, but Tim does not really mean it.
Tim watched the traffic patterns of Janopolis. Cars swerved fluidly around the statue of Jan in the rotary, yellow buses dropped off kids in front of schools, dump trucks brought trash to the Laura Waste Management Landfill. All this traffic moved smoothly. The people of Janopolis commuted. Tim saw their every move: from when they left their homes until they got to work. With a click of a button with a moon on it, Tim watched the Janopolisans returning to their homes.
Everyone can get to work on time in Janopolis, thought Tim. No one has any excuses. Not here.
Jan comes into the office wearing wrap-around sunglasses. She doesn’t even take them off at her desk. One of the women who sits close to Jan asks her what the sunglasses are about. She kind of asks if anything is wrong. Jan says it’s fine, she says that she “has a migraine” and it’s “making her really sensitive to light.” “It’s no big deal,” Jan says but the next day she takes a personal day, and on the day after that, too, Friday.
Using the Road Tools menu, Tim paved over the Eye Lakes with a patch of black asphalt. Tim turned the two bodies of water into a matching pair of dark, vacant parking lots.
Everyone talks about Jan because she is not at the office. They take obvious, long looks around Jan’s cubicle and at the things on Jan’s desk. They pick up the picture of Jan and her boyfriend, Paul, taken while they were hiking. Mary wonders when she’s just going to break up with him already. Mary thinks Jan deserves to have someone nice.
Tim used the level tool to drag out a spit of land from the beach in the Shins neighborhood out into open water, like an umbilical cord, or a tether. Out there, he used the raise terrain tool to pull up the seafloor, which he teased, and shaped, until it was in the shape of a man. It was smaller than Janopolis Island. He could only fit a lighthouse, a water tower, and a single electric windmill on it. He used the lower terrain tool to sink the spit of land between Janopolis to the island. And when he opened up the label tool he made a signpost which he planted at the center of the island and named it. Tim.
When Jan comes back in on Monday she is wearing an engagement ring on her finger. The female co-workers all crowd into her cubicle to get a look at it. That’s a nice one, they say to Jan, who nods her head, yes, she thinks so too.
In God Mode, Tim considered the disaster controls. The disasters explained themselves when he hovered his cursor over them. Tornado: Control a violent swirling wind that leaves a path of destruction through your city. Robot attack: An enormous robot that can shoot laser beams from its eyes and razor missiles from its fists attacks your city. There are other options. Tim can manually set fire to the power plants, plunging the city in darkness. The meteor strike will leave a deep crater in the middle of the city. Likewise, the bright orange Obliterate City button was not technically a disaster. It was located on a completely different menu.
Jan no longer gives out jars of raspberry preserves every year. It could be that Jan no longer makes them. Tim doesn’t ask her about it. Nobody does.