Government Distributed Life

Government Distributed Life

I woke up to my head pounding. My alarm was going off on my bedside table, and the beeping was getting louder by the second. The throbbing in my head was so intense I could barely open my eyes. The occasional migraine was something I was used to, but this was different. The alarm signified that it was time to get up for work. I reached over to turn it off without opening my eyes and knocked my phone off the nightstand.

“Ugh. You’re kidding me.”

Talking just made my headache worse. I quickly got up to retrieve my phone so I could make the horrendous noise stop. As I got up, my whole body felt heavy and began to hurt. Soon, the pounding in my head had spread everywhere. I lay back down, and it eased a little but not enough. There was no way I was going to work today; I would just call in sick.I got out my phone and dialed my boss’s number. There was no answer. I decided to just text him and go back to sleep. Maybe I was just sleep-deprived; I had been sleeping very little recently due to my late nights at work. Even when I did get sleep, it was restless. I rolled over to the part of the bed where the sheets were still cold and fell into a heavy sleep.

When I woke up again, the throbbing in my body was not as bad but still present. I sat up to look at the time. It was already noon; I had fallen asleep for five more hours. I started to think I was sick because I had never slept this much. I usually run off of very little sleep and lots of caffeine.

I decided to get up and take some medicine for the headache. As I stood, my stomach let out a loud rumble. I was the kind of guy who ate close to seven full meals daily, so at this point in the day, I was two meals behind. Normally, I could cook for myself, but I didn’t have the energy to do that right now. I decided it was easier to order food for delivery. When I unlocked my phone, I could not find the app, so I searched for it. Nothing came up for that app at all. It was like it didn’t exist, yet I knew I used it all the time. I never want to cook for just myself, and they are quick (plus, they don’t charge a huge delivery fee). I tried again for another app that I occasionally use. I had the same results. I closed my eyes and rubbed my hands in circles on my forehead, trying to massage out the headache. I had become too frustrated to try and find another one.

“I guess I’ll have to make food for myself after all,” I groaned to my cat, Cheddar, who had just strolled into the room.

The walk from my bedroom to the kitchen was a short one in my 800-square-foot apartment. The salary of a small-town chef didn’t allow for much bigger. I hadn’t ever minded it, though. I was normally at work or with my friends, so I didn’t spend much time at home. I didn’t usually use my own kitchen that often. I normally brought home food that I cooked at work, or I went out to eat.

I opened my fridge, and the scent of rotten food rushed out. Everything in the fridge was expired. I swore I had just bought groceries the other day, but I did sometimes lose track of when I bought food since I normally didn’t use it. I was praying there was something edible in my pantry and was disappointed to find a couple of sleeves of stale crackers.

“I guess these are better than nothing,” I said to myself.

The first bite was the worst. I thought I was going to break a tooth. However, with each bite, they got a little better until I had eaten the whole sleeve in five minutes. I sat there for a minute, letting them digest. I felt a momentary relief, but when I put my hand on my stomach, I felt a low rumbling. The crackers did not even touch my hunger. At this point, the hunger pains had overtaken the headache and body pain. I lay down for a minute, thinking it might help, but I started to feel weaker. I knew if I didn’t get up now, it would be hard for me to do so later. I decided it was time to go to the grocery store. I probably needed to replace the rotten stuff in my fridge and pantry anyway.

I hopped in my car and headed to the grocery store closest to my house. Normally, I would listen to the radio or news, but I figured any extra noise was not going to help my head. As I rode in silence, a weird feeling came over me. I started to feel like I was driving in a different town.  I noticed things like changes in the colors I normally saw while driving this route. I saw more green than gray. However, I could not focus on one thing in particular that was different.

The sky seemed more visible. It usually appeared cluttered with all the tall signs advertising businesses. When I passed under the bridge, I usually noticed how littered it was from homeless people seeking shelter, but it looked like it had been cleaned up. I shook it off as being a little delusional from whatever sickness I was coming down with and continued to the store.

I parked my car and headed in. As soon as I walked through the automatic doors, I was taken aback. I knew it could not be the sickness that was making me imagine this.  The store I had gone to a couple of days before looked completely different. Normally, I entered right into the deli and fresh produce section of the store, but as I walked through the doors, I was put out directly in front of an aisle. All the signs that used to list the items on each aisle were gone. I started to notice I was feeling a little claustrophobic. I did a full spin to take in the whole store and notice that it appeared significantly smaller. Just as I had with the side of the road, I noticed a difference in colors here too. However, this time it was a lack of color. Everything had a very monotonous tone. I slowly entered and began to walk around. Maybe they just moved things around, I thought.

I became even more confused when I tried to begin getting the items on my list and could not find any of them. All the bright packages and the fresh fruits and vegetables that had previously lined the shelves were replaced by generic black and white boxes and bags. I lifted a container off the shelf in front of me. It was labeled in black letters “PEANUT BUTTER,” and it was the only brand of peanut butter available. At the bottom, in small letters, it read “Government Distributed” with a seal next to the words. I began to look at other items, and they were all similar.

Everything was in a white container and labeled in black letters with the item’s name and “Government Distributed” at the bottom. There were no other brands in the entire store. The other thing I noticed was that the store only carried some basics: bread, milk, eggs, oatmeal, etc. There was no produce nor non-processed foods. I began to walk around the store. Sure enough, the same thing was true on every aisle. I was starting to think I had walked into the wrong store or I was being filmed for a prank show.

“Excuse me,” I said to the nearest worker. “What happened to all the normal food in here?”

“Sir, what are you talking about?” the lady asked slowly.

“All the food is different. What happened to all the good food and all the different brands?” I asked a little more aggressively than I intended.

“Sir, I’m not sure what other food you are referring to. This is all the selection we have, but if we are out of something another store may have it in stock,” she said.

Was she dumb? How did she not know what I was talking about?

“Look around! All the food is different!” I unintentionally yelled at her.

I slammed the peanut butter that I was still holding back on the shelf and started to walk away to find someone else that could help me.

The lady reached for the walkie-talkie and spoke quickly into it. “Security, I have a guy on drugs on aisle two,” she said.

“Roger that,” came over the walkie-talkie.

“No no! I’m not on drugs! I’m not going crazy!” I yelled at her.

I felt two guys grab my arms from behind and pull me out of the store. I didn’t even look back to see their faces. I just watched my limp legs be dragged on the ground in front of me.

Everyone on their way in or out of the store stopped to look at me. I gave them the blankest of expressions, considering I had not figured out my own emotions at the moment. Normally, this would be a situation I would put up a fight in. I don’t like being forced to do anything. But I was so shocked at what had just occurred, I gave them no fight. They threw me out and told me to quit talking crazy. I took one step over the curb and sat down. I put my hands on my knees and rested my face in my hands. I couldn’t come up with a cohesive thought except that I knew I looked crazy. My leg was bleeding from where I had let them drag me, my hair was messed up, I knew I looked pale since all the blood had rushed from my face, and I just realized I was still in my pajamas. I would not have been surprised if someone had dropped some change in front of me thinking I was homeless.

I finally got up and walked to my car in a daze. I was lightheaded from my hectic encounter in the store combined with the fact that I still had not eaten any food today and it was close to 2 o’clock. I wasn’t sure if it was even safe for me to drive, but I did not have any other option. I started back home the way I came. I kept my line of vision directly in front of me at all times. I was afraid that if I looked to one side or the other, I would notice something else that had changed. I finally made it home and went directly to my apartment. I had a hard time unlocking the door because my hand was shaking so much. I didn’t even bother locking it back once I was inside and went straight to my computer. Surely the internet has answers I thought. The internet has answers for everything.

“If only I knew what to ask the internet,” I said to Cheddar as he brushed up against my leg.

I started with the most basic search on Google: food. That got me nowhere. All that came up were pictures of apples and bread. Then I remembered what the food packaging said. I searched for “Government Distributed food.” I was encouraged when I saw a ton of search results come up. Unfortunately, my encouragement was quickly deflated when I started to read through them. There was nothing related to what I was looking for. I was scrolling so much my hand was starting to cramp. 

I was on the brink of giving up when I finally found the one I was looking for. I clicked on it, and it brought me to a section of the official website for the Department of Justice. The only thing on the website was a small paragraph. As I read it, my heart and head began pounding simultaneously. Then everything went blurry.

I woke up to a scratchy tongue running across my face. I opened my eyes, and Cheddar slowly came into focus. It took me a minute of staring at the ceiling to remember why I had passed out. When I remembered, I jumped to my feet. I got up a little too quickly and had to stop and wait until the room stopped spinning so I could make it to my laptop. I powered my laptop back on, and the last thing I remembered before passing out appeared on the screen. I read it out loud very slowly.

“The United States government has always and will always prioritize the basic needs of its citizens. All food available to United States citizens is affordable to even the lowest of incomes. Government distributed food has eradicated all hunger in the United States. From the time the United States won its independence and the first government established the No Hunger Law, we have been the only country to successfully protect our citizens from famine,” I choked out quietly.

Four sentences. The most confusing four sentences I had ever read or said out loud. I read it over and over again, trying to make it make sense. It said that this law had been in place since the United States became a country. Then why had I never heard of it the 28 years I had been alive and lived in America? Yesterday, everything was completely normal, and now it had suddenly changed.

Surely I was not the only one who was confused. Surely everyone else noticed this sudden and odd change.

I called my work friend. He picked up on the third ring. 

“Max, have you been to the grocery store lately? Something’s going on,” I said quickly, without letting him even say hello.

“Andrew, what are you talking about? I guess I went to the store a couple of days ago, but I didn’t notice anything going on,” Max replied.

“You didn’t notice anything? You didn’t notice that everything in the store was some government-distributed food and not any of the food that is normally in there?” I said even quicker this time.

“Calm down, Drew. I can barely understand you. Are you on drugs again?” Max said, sounding very annoyed.

Why does everyone think I am on drugs?

“Max, I am being so serious right now. Please listen to me. The government is trying to control famine in the United States, so they have taken away all the food we normally eat and replaced it with stuff that looks plastic and flavorless. Their website…”

Max cut me off.“Drew, I’m serious: are you okay? I have no idea what other food you are talking about that the government has replaced, but government-distributed food has always been the only food available. There is no ‘other food’ or whatever you are talking about.”

I was so shocked that I could not reply and just hung up. I looked at the clock, and it was already 10 pm. I was so exhausted, and now I felt like my stomach was eating itself from hunger. I pulled the other sleeve of stale crackers from my pantry. I was checking a cracker for mold when I noticed a design that I had not noticed on the other ones. It was a seal. The same seal I saw on the bottom of the peanut butter jar. I dropped the cracker in shock. I swear that was not on the other crackers. I couldn’t bring myself to eat this sleeve. I thought about what Max said. Maybe he was right. Maybe I was on something. That had to be the answer. Someone had drugged me last night, and I was hallucinating. All I needed was a good night’s sleep and to let the effects wear off. As I got into my bed, it occurred to me that it was odd that Max was able to answer his phone when he was supposed to be at work. I didn’t think about it for too long, though, because as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out.

Beep! Beep! Beep! I reached over and hit snooze on my alarm. As much as I did not want to go to work, I had already missed yesterday, and I knew they needed me.

My brain felt super fuzzy on the drive to the restaurant. I had to concentrate hard on the road to drive. I pulled into the parking lot and got out of my car. My hand was on the doorknob when I finally looked up.

I read the neon sign out loud, “Dry Cleaners.”

Everything from the day before came back to me, and I didn’t even feel shocked anymore.

I just got in my car and drove home. But this time I didn’t look much at the road; instead, I looked at all the surrounding buildings. Before I had noticed that there was more green than gray, and now I saw why. There were very few buildings that lined the side of the road. There were a lot of trees and grass. I finally realized what was missing: all the restaurants and fast-food chains. That’s why no signs were advertising the restaurants.

“No restaurants. No chefs. I have no job,” I said to myself.  I wanted to cry. Not because I did not have a job or was still so hungry but because I was so confused. 

On the way home, I passed a grocery store. It was a different one than the one I had gone into yesterday. I decided to go into it. I did not want to cause a scene this time because I actually needed groceries. I walked silently up and down the aisles, putting stuff in my basket. I felt like I was floating and my feet never actually touched the ground. I had everything I needed, but I continued to just walk around. I was in a very observational mood. I noticed that I never saw anyone who was remotely overweight. Everyone appeared to be rather slim. It wasn’t necessarily the kind of slim people get from going to the gym or running every day. I might have just been thinking this because of my situation, but to me, it looked like no one was actually getting enough food. It was a weird thing to notice, but, for some reason, I did. I put my observations in the back of my mind. I floated to the checkout and paid for my items. I handed the lady my card without looking at the total and left the store with my bags in hand.

I returned to my apartment and unloaded the bags onto my counter. I had gotten chicken broth, canned vegetables, milk, a loaf of bread, wheat cereal, canned chicken, and pasta. I looked at all the items I had, trying to come up with a decent meal I could make out of them. Nothing came to mind. All the items were so basic and could not be used to make more interesting creations. After I had stared at the food for a while, my hunger took over, and I just started cooking. I again felt like I was floating around my kitchen, just chopping up food and dumping it all in a pot. By the end of it, I had made some kind of soup that was the worst I had ever made, but it was better than any of the items would have been separately.

I started to crumple up all the grocery bags to throw them away, and my receipt fell out. I picked it up and looked at it. The total was a third of what I normally paid for groceries. I remembered that the article had said the food was affordable to everyone. That might be true, but I also know you got what you pay for with this food.

After I was no longer starving and could think straight, I tried to start rationalizing what was happening. There had to be a logical explanation for what was going on. I didn’t just wake up in a different universe. I sat at my kitchen table, staring at the wall, trying to think of what that logical explanation might be and came up with nothing. I decided to go back to the internet. This time I searched for “restaurants.” Nothing came up. Next, I searched for “fast food.” Nothing.

“Okay so I am the only one that I know of who is aware there were ever any other means of getting food. I have no job because I was a chef. This is great,” I tried to reason with myself.

A part of me wanted to somehow come to terms with it because the confusion was too much for my non-college-degree brain. Another part of me wanted to figure out what was happening so that maybe everything could go back to normal. I lay in bed trying to think of my new purpose in life. The only thing I had ever been good at was no longer an option for me. 

Or maybe it was. 

People still had to cook their own food. If there were no chefs, they had to do it all themselves. I was a chef, and I knew how to cook good food.

“This is a genius idea, Cheddar!” I said as I gave Cheddar a fist bump, one of the many tricks I had taught him.

I woke up the next morning nervous and excited. I had stayed up late figuring out all the logistics of my plan. I designed a logo on my laptop and needed to go get it printed that morning. I fixed myself scrambled eggs with breakfast potatoes and then headed out the door. I printed 100 copies of the flier. I had no idea if that was too many or too few. I hung them up all around town. It was a small town, but it felt big when I was trying to cover every corner.

As I hung up the last sign, I took a step back to read it. “Private cooking lessons! Learn to make meals out of just the basics that everyone will love! Add some flavor to your palate!” It wasn’t great, but it was the best I could come up with. I put my name and number at the bottom of all the fliers.

I was not expecting immediate calls, but I thought that after a couple of days I would have at least gotten one. I spent the next two weeks bored out of my mind. I did all the things people do when they’re bored. I learned to knit; I made a scrapbook full of pictures of me and Cheddar; I binge watched T.V. shows; and I experimented a lot in the kitchen.

One day, I was gluing a new picture of Cheddar wearing a scarf I had just knitted him into the scrapbook when my phone rang. It was a number I didn’t have. I answered it, and a soft, squeaky voice spoke.

“Hello, is this Andrew?” she asked.

“Uhh yes, it is. May I help you?”

“I am calling about the cooking lessons you are offering. I found a flier about them. I only know how to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and my husband will divorce me if I don’t learn to cook more.” She added a little chuckle at the end that I think was supposed to mean she was joking.

I did a silent happy dance. We proceeded to plan out a time I could come over, since I did not have a large enough kitchen, and I told her a list of groceries to buy.

When the time finally came, I was so nervous. I had planned out all the recipes and even had notes to leave with her after I left to help her in the future. I got in the car and headed over. I knocked on the door, and the girl answered immediately. She was young and conventionally very beautiful. Her blonde hair reached her shoulder, and shorter pieces framed her slim face. Her bright green eyes looked excited to see me.

“Hi! Thank you so much for coming! I have been waiting impatiently for this since I talked to you on the phone,” she said excitedly.

“I’m happy to help,” I said, my voice shaking a little bit.

We headed into her kitchen and got started. I was amazed how little this woman knew about food and how to use a kitchen in general. I realized I had to start with the basics.

By the time that I was over, I had calmed down and was actually having a lot of fun. It felt good to be in the kitchen again. The woman was so grateful for my help. She also told me multiple times that she was so amazed at how I knew so much. I told her I was just born with it. When I left, she told me she was going to give my flier to several of her other friends who wanted to learn how to cook too.

I got into my car and let out a sigh of relief. For the first time in forever, I felt relaxed and somewhat content. I had no idea what I was going to do next, but I knew I would be okay. I had found a purpose in whatever this new world I was living in was.

I got home and sat on my couch to pet Cheddar. I looked at his hazel eyes and said, “I’m calling it right now, Cheddar, I’m gonna be a famous chef because no one else can do what I do.”

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