Draped in pastels and black skinny jeans, Evangeline approached the driveway from her parked blue Volkswagen Passat. She had managed to find her way through the labyrinthine roads of Laurel Canyon with the shoddy aid of her GPS. The Wolfs lived on Dona Dorotea Drive, right near Fryman Canyon Park. It was rather far from her apartment in Koreatown–without traffic even.
She felt somehow illicit as she approached the tan house (tan was the preferred color of Angeleno homeowners), her noiseless white Converse making her feel somehow deceitful for not announcing her presence to the area with the clack or crunch of louder shoes. She slowed her pace as she checked her phone for the time. She didn’t want to be early or late. Accordingly, she rang the doorbell at promptly 8:30, the exact time Jude Wolf had requested her last minute services in watching her two kids, Mara and Dylan, ages ten and six respectively, while she went out to dinner with her husband to catch up with some old friends in from Paris.
Though Evangeline had only looked after them once before and solely because her friend, Samantha–their usual babysitter–had referred Jude to her as a temporary replacement, she was in no position to balk at under the table dough regardless of her lack of feeling for these children (and children in general). This being Los Angeles and she being recently out of work after a TV series she had landed a lead role in was cancelled after just six episodes, any and all cash was needed to make it to the next viable part. Even if it killed Evangeline softly inside to see how much had changed since the childhood of her generation.
Jude answered the door dressed in a red cocktail dress, strappy gold heels and a diamond necklace with matching earrings. She imagined they were going somewhere expensive and exclusive Downtown. “Evangeline, thanks for coming on such short notice,” Jude said, barely moving her lips. She motioned for Evangeline to come in. It had only been a month since the last time Evangeline bore witness to the opulence of the house, all adorned with marble statues, strategically placed fountains and, of course, floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the city. The pièce de résistance was the pool outside, which looked so close to somehow falling right off the hill that Evangeline wondered if the Wolfs didn’t intend it as some sort of metaphor for how easily paradise can sink you into the depths of hell.
She waited in the kitchen after Jude poured her a glass of sparkling water and then rushed upstairs to collect her husband, Gerald, a longtime producer of “well-respected” movies that made modest returns. The Wolfs’ true source of income came from their real estate investments. Samantha had at first given Evangeline reason to believe that babysitting for the Wolfs might allow her an opportunity to proposition for a part in one of his next films, but by the looks of Gerald’s curt, disinterested manner, it was clear she would be barking up the wrong tree.
Even Mara and Dylan, each currently engrossed in some goings-on contained within the world of their tablets, didn’t attempt to test their childish whimsies upon Gerald, as no-nonsense and nonplussed as a human of the present could be. Evangeline walked the Wolfs to the door, receiving her final instructions from Jude, with the specific insistence that the kids go to bed no later than 9:30. Evangeline endured some difficulty with this enforcement last time, Mara being most stubborn in her assurance that she never felt tired in the morning after staying up late. Giving up on half-hearted bids to care, Evangeline succumbed to Mara’s will by setting her up with her precious screen in her parents’ room. She had the sneaking suspicion that tonight would be no different.
Upon closing the door and turning around to take in the sight of the brother and sister so thoroughly engrossed in a nonexistent world, Evangeline marveled at how dissociated she felt from this species of human, so unlike her own generation. And it was more than just the fact that the the age group that succeeded hers–Generation Z–had never lived in a world without internet–without perpetually being glued to a screen like a junkie to a needle. No, there was something far more ominous about them than that. It undoubtedly stemmed, of course, from this dependency on the instant gratification that came of the fiber optic cables in the ocean. And that “it” was a total lack of desire to partake of any activity or effort that required mental exertion. Why bother, after all, when, from the day of their birth, Generation Z had been conditioned to believe that everything was easy and available. Making up, at present, a frightening twenty-five percent of the population, these glassy-eyed beings seemed like the very products of technology that Wells, Orwell, Bradbury and Ballard warned us all about. By the way, if you said these last names to any of the members of Generation Z, they would merely glaze over or, if you’re lucky, look it up on one of their Apple devices. They have no drive for excellence, only instantaneousness. The fast way is the only way.
Evangeline marveled at the verity of this as she watched Mara “color” in a picture. In Evangeline’s day, coloring meant actually handling a crayon–wielding it with some semblance of authority that indicated one’s art direction in the process. Mara, conversely, seemed to let the algorithms of the app take the wheel, engaging disinterestedly with the hues perhaps because they didn’t possess the memorable names of Evangeline’s Crayola youth. And, evidently, racism’s acceptance under the new regime seemed also to be affecting Mara’s liberties in commenting on the reason she didn’t like yellow for her subject’s skin tone: “Ew it looks like a Chinese person.” Taken aback, Evangeline said nothing to chastise or encourage the basis of her comment. All she could think was that in the Clintonian era, she was learning about muezzins and making mobiles featuring emblems of Islam for her core class. This would never stand in Mara’s school, Evangeline gathered. It was far too “inclusive” for a certain Secretary of Education who made Richard Riley look like a prince. Indeed, it sounded stunning to Evangeline now, that Islam could be a part of her curriculum. Even if it was Northern California in the 90s when her raw mind was formed by these elementary school teachers.
From Evangeline’s perspective, it was as though she was bearing witness to devolution, experiencing the opposite of what her forebears had worked so diligently to build upon: a better, more enlightened version of humanity. Distracted by her contemplation of how drastically modern civilization had declined, Evangeline barely noticed the sound of water overflowing from the toilet as Dylan came up to her with the hems of his pajama pants soaked and a bashful expression.
“Excuse me, girl. Girl?” Mara and Dylan never would bother to learn Evangeline’s actual name–it wasn’t important enough to them, because she had nothing to do with their microscopic universe, the one that could only make room for either themselves or maybe one friend du jour. So Dylan persisted, “Girl, can you fix the toilet?”
What had Evangeline done in a past life to fall from grace like this? To go from potential TV star to plumbing caretaker of Gen X-created automatons. She sighed and could see out of the corner of her eye that Mara was smiling a devious, self-satisfied smile. For a moment, she thought Mara might have conspired with Dylan to make the toilet overflow. But then it dawned on her: they would never go through with that much bother for anything, least of all an act that required execution without a phone or tablet to do it for them. No, Mara was simply delighted for the sake of it, of briefly watching the tangible humorousness of Evangeline struggling with the plunger after tossing down a number of towels to soak up the damage. It was, Mara discovered, almost as good as watching something on a screen. Almost. But after about a minute, Mara grew bored and went back to “coloring,” at least slightly more interactive by comparison. Dylan, meanwhile, had disappeared into the recesses of his bottom bunk bed, ostensibly out of shame. Or maybe out of boredom. That’s what drove most of Generation Z’s inactions anyway. More so even than Gen Xers and millennials (the latter of which Kesha had assessed as being “pretty and sick…young and bored”).
Evangeline, in this very second, was being driven by the need to stay in L.A. longer by any means necessary. She knew–she just knew–that she could land another prime role if she had a little more time, didn’t have to be forced to crawl back home to Sonoma with her tail between her legs. So she plunged. And plunged. And plunged. It felt like she was pressing her very soul down into the toilet hole with each thrust. And in some respects, she was. After all, some part of her–the part that would never compromise her dignity–had vanished never to be found again. Maybe that happened the day she went on her first audition, or was it the instant she externalized the wish to be an actress (by stuffing her bra with toilet paper and imitating Marilyn Monroe)?
Before she could decipher the day her dignity died, Mara entered the space and declared, “I’m hungry. Make me a snack.” Not so much as a “hey” to preface it or a “please” to conclude it. This is the Generation Z curse: entitlement on acid–a veritable caricature of privilege. As though these youths had inherited the collective selfishness of all those before them (starting after the Silent Generation). And now, here Evangeline was, reaping the comeuppance for sins she herself didn’t commit.
“I’m hungry,” Mara repeated, more sinisterly, like she was setting the stage for an Eli Roth movie rather than a Nancy Meyers one. Evangeline stopped plunging and shrugged. “Your mother said you should be going to bed now. If you go to bed you won’t be hungry.” Mara stared back, unyielding.
When Jude and Gerald drove up the hill, they could already see the smoke and hear the sirens. In her endeavor to placate Generation Z the way everyone else always did, Evangeline had tried to make Mara a grilled cheese sandwich on the griddle of the stove. When she walked away but for what she felt was a beat to try resuming her plunging, the smoke detector had gone off. Mara in her eagerness had set out a paper towel too close to the flames, and the entire roll soon ignited. In Evangeline’s haste to try to put the fire out, the toilet’s condition worsened when she flushed it prior to her mad dash back to the kitchen. So it was that Jude and Gerald returned to a burned and flooded abode, a testament to incompetence being an epidemic that can bridge any generational divide.