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The Rise and Fall of Garbage_gatsby, by Jake Buckholz

Garbage_gatsby had a lucky break late into her Instagramming career, and it changed everything. Highly attractive, healthy, and witty, owner of a golden retriever as well as a fat, sleepy cat named Stoner, and with the funds to be able to travel on occasion, eat at nice restaurants, burn money at hip coffee shops, and dress with style, the conditions were certainly ripe for such a break to come along. It can’t be said that the same lucky break could happen to just anyone.

art by Stephen R. Spencer II

art by Stephen R. Spencer II

Prior to that miracle, the imagery coming out of GG’s feed was varied and amateurish. It might include spontaneous images of a houseplant or a group photo with friends and family, many of whom were not as attractive, healthy, intelligent, or well dressed as Garbage_gatsby. While the captions were often witty, they were short and without clear voice: descriptive of place and presence, but without story. When viewed as a collection, there was no unifying motif, not even so much as a color scheme.

All that changed.

First came the purge.

As the number signifying followers grew, the one beside it representing number of posts shrank. There was a lot of pruning to do, or so adviced GG’s friend, Tyler, whose own Instagram had slowly morphed into a sort of modeling platform which brought in a small sum each month.

“What did you do?” Tyler demanded as he stared in disbelief. The followers proliferated as they sat together, sipping mimosas outside of their favorite cafe.

“Nothing!” Garbage_gatsby insisted. “I just woke up and my phone had blown up.”

“But, like, a hashtag or something? Did you tag someone? A place?” he leaned in and said, jokingly, “Did you show a lot of cleavage?”

“I’m telling you, I didn’t do anything.”

The phone sat between them, burning under the strain of so many notifications. It was mid-morning on a Thursday. Leanu, the golden retriever, chilled quietly beneath the small, round table, watching the servers milling about the garden. One approached and she perked her head up and whined.

“Can I pet your dog?” the server asked.

“She’d love nothing more,” GG said.

The server kneeled down and scratched Leanu behind the ears and then she looked up, slightly embarrassed. “I don’t want to be a creep or anything, but are you Garbage_gatsby?” Tyler, unable to restrain himself, scoffed.

GG, flustered, confirmed that was indeed her Instagram handle.

“Oh my gosh, I love your feed. This must be Leanu then, isn’t it? Aren’t you?” she asked Leanu, who perked up even more at the sound of her name. “I feel like I am meeting a celebrity or something! Anyway, I’m sorry, you must get this all the time,” the server said, regaining her composure and standing up. “Do y’all need refills?” They’re on the house,” she finished conspiratorially.

“Um sure, thanks,” GG said. The server walked away and she turned to her friend. “What the hell is happening?”


***

After the purge, GG received dozens of messages complaining about the decrease in content and she promised there was more on the way, but it wasn’t so easy anymore. The once enjoyable game in which triple digit likes initiated an endorphin rush was over and GG spent a full day agonizing over what to post next. Although the number of followers continued to balloon and her entire archive was being bolstered with likes, it seemed as if one wrong decision could put an end to everything.

Tyler showed her how to turn off the notifications, so the phone was at least usable again, and then they spent the rest of the day hunting for content. They tried to find it at the cafe via selfies, then they took turns taking pictures of each other, posed with mimosas raised or staged to look candid, but nothing felt quite right. Next, they turned Leanu into a model, going so far as to ask a woman nearby to borrow her sunhat and sunglasses, which they costumed Leanu with, but the light wasn’t good enough in any of the shots, so they left the cafe to restage the shoot in a different locale.

Finally, they found what they were looking for, or, more accurately, it found them. They’d been walking down their city’s streets when a man called out to them from inside a new brew pub. He was a handsome man, about a decade older than GG and Tyler, with a beard as dark as Hershey’s chocolate. He, too, recognized GG.

“I know beer,” he explained. “I made my first batch when I was 12. I know beer. It’s business I know nothing about, but one of the classes I am taking really stresses the importance of a social media presence, and, well, what could be better than Garbage_gatsby vouching for us? Listen, I consider myself a man of honor, and I wouldn’t ask you to support something you don’t truly believe in, so come on in and try whatever you want. If you like it and post about us, I will give you a hundred dollar giftcard. Does that sound fair?”

GG looked at the man and then at Tyler. Tyler shrugged and nodded.

“One second,” GG requested and they stepped aside to discuss the situation. When they came back, GG said she was in. The man was ecstatic and led the way into the nearly empty brew pub. It wasn’t open for the day yet and only the workers were inside. The owner himself went behind the bar and prepared a flight for each of them. He proved he really did know everything about his beer and could talk about each one without the use of lingo in a way that was neither obnoxious nor patronizing. They both liked him instantly. His beer was good, too. GG agreed to help him advertise.

Tyler directed the shoot. He had Garbage and the brewer stand together with pints of dark ale in front of the bar. In the picture, they were tapping their glasses together and smiling in a pool of warm morning light. The large brewing vats filled the background. All three agreed it was a terrific shot.

This is Alexsander, the caption started out. It gave a brief description of the man and his brew pub that was both full of wholesome praise and seemingly genuine. They tagged Alexsander, the pub, and added a tasteful number of hashtags before posting.

A week later, when GG and Tyler returned to use their giftcard, Alexsander could not express his gratitude sufficiently. The pub had had its best week ever and he was even thinking about naming his next beer The Gatsby, respectfully explaining that he did not want the term garbage attached to his product.

***

That was only the beginning. Likes, followers, messages, and power continued to accumulate in GG’s hands. It was a strange brand of power, though. Large companies approached on their knees, but their gifts never came without strings attached, and quickly the magic of their offers faded. No longer did free dog food for life seem worth it if it required mentioning the brand monthly in a post as well as weekly in her story. Other pet-related companies wanted her to start side accounts for both Leanu and Stoner. Some companies were okay with a joint account between the two, which seemed more plausible, but it wasn’t something GG ever actually got around to setting up.

Messages came in advising of the power of a significant other to boost followers and likes. People like to imagine themselves in your shoes, living the life you portray, so while it may seem like being available will get you the most followers, a lover would really fill out your profile. but GG responded that there was no significant other in the picture.

That’s when the creeps began to appear en masse, saying the most disgusting, unbelievable things.

Life became more and more surreal and even people GG had known for years began to treat her differently, but then, one day, after a continuous 6 month increase in followers, she woke up and noticed they had fallen overnight. Not significantly, exactly, although she had reached the point where there were decimals in place of commas and letters in place of numbers, so even a huge number of unfollows would hardly register, but it became a significant stressor for GG. What was it about the latest post, a beautiful shot of Stoner and Leanu cuddling, not unlike a few popular posts of the past, that had caused so many people to unfollow? It still received a lot of likes, but it was the least amount in over a month. GG found herself analyzing the picture’s every detail, trying to decipher what it could be that people didn’t like about it. She read the caption out loud, attempting to puzzle out anything problematic, but couldn’t figure it out.

That evening, GG went out for dinner with Tyler to talk things over. He didn’t seem worried. He said that a little bit of fluctuation is completely natural. This made her feel better, and she would have considered it a great night, but their server was very rude to them.

The next post led to further loss in followers. This one hurt even more because it was a portrait of GG herself and the loss was much greater.

Over the next week, the Garbage_gatsby account began to bleed followers and GG went into panic mode. Posts came more and more frequently in an attempt to plug the leaks, but to no avail. Shortly, the M in her followers changed back into a K and the account entered a nosedive.

Drunk, GG posted a story in which she begged her followers to explain themselves, but that was only met by a barrage of You’re so pathetic messages. In the morning, there were none left. Literally 0. GG tried to call up Tyler to get mimosas and talk things over, but he didn’t answer. She went out in the street and people glared and yelled mean things out of their windows. Alexsander said she was no longer welcome in the brew pub and asked her to please remove the advertisement from her Instagram. People were leaving Yelp reviews saying they would never go to a business that aligned itself with someone like Garbage_gatsby.

When a bill arrived demanding payment or return of all the dog food she had received over the last several months, it seemed that things couldn’t possibly get any worse.

Indeed, for a moment, GG thought things really were turning around, for when she logged in she had followers again, hundreds of them. Maybe it had all just been some sort of glitch in the app. There was no way she had 0 followers. No matter what, Tyler wouldn’t unfollow her, her sisters, all her real life friends.

She clicked on her followers list and, to her horror, found they were all Garbage_gatsby parody accounts, with content making fun of GG’s own. She stared into the horrid mirror, read the posts mocking her voice, and then tossed her phone across the room. The last account she looked at had called for drivers to aim for Leanu in the street.

GG crawled into bed and called Leanu up with her. She wrapped the retriever’s long, blonde fur in her hands and cried into her neck until they both fell asleep. The next morning, still miserable, GG dragged herself out of bed, put Leanu’s leash on, and took her outside to go to the bathroom. Leanu whined once before turning and biting GG’s hand, causing her to drop the leash. The dog took off down the sidewalk and Garbage_gatsby couldn’t catch up. The last she saw of her beloved pet was its tail disappearing into the thick foliage of the nearby park.

Garbage searched all day, but found nothing. She tried to call Tyler to come help her, but he had been ignoring her for days. She called her mother in tears, and it went to voicemail after two rings. Utterly defeated, she sat on a child’s swing in the park and stared at her phone. Almost as if by instinct, she opened Instagram, but it said she wasn’t logged in. When she entered her information, it loaded a simple screen containing only the word No.

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