In desperate times desperate people head here – an online journal of Apocalyptic-themed fiction and commentary.

Affection Interchange Program

Copyright © 2009 by William Terry. All rights reserved.

     Just the strange blue gray color of the affection interchange building is enough to make you feel alone…. The outline of the building is so unfriendly that sometimes I’m amazed that I don’t get cut into organic ribbons just walking through the doorway. It’s like a blender with a doorknob. This is my third time to apply for the love stamps program. If by some miracle they accept me I will be able to receive a federally funded amount of government approved affection from a person matching my demographic profile. Fluorescent shadow boxes hug every corner of a linoleum hallway as I escape a near death entrance though the slice of the revolving door.
Two bright red signs illuminate from opposite ends of the hallway. The hallway splits into two long lines. The longest line belongs invariably to the sex interchange program applicants. Mostly males, 25-35, middle class, blue collar, lonely, distraught, and divorced perhaps. Alimony blues and child payment stories of the single life beat. On the other end are the applicants for the affection interchange. Scanning the line I see that it is mostly women. Shy, tragic looking, occasionally Goth, clutching band-labeled purses, with rectangular outlines of iPods in the back pockets of the tight fitting designer jeans. A few guys too. Mostly emo types. The occasional obviously married white picket SUV-driving man trying to find a pathway out of his marriage that won’t look too bad on divorce forms.
I stagger to the back of the line and wait for my chance to fill out the arduous paperwork. The sex applicants talk amongst themselves, exchanging locations of sex addict meetings and divulging the latest singles party information. The affection interchange applicants say little to each other, nothing more than the brand of conversation that people have when standing in lines together. People in lines always want to say as little as possible but still want to convey the necessary information. This is amplified to the extent that often they will simply make seemingly effortless hand gestures and directional sound effects at one another, pointing at spaces in the line or clearing their throats to signify that the end of the line is behind them. I approach the clerk’s desk and scan the basically neutral face of a woman behind the stack of forms. From her outward appearance you would guess that she needed to be in this line. Librarian anxiety, I call it. Thick Palin glasses and a business jacket all hugging her body in such a way as to suggest maximum androgyny. You wouldn’t even be able to guess that she was a woman if it weren’t for the red label on her shirt.

At the interchange, once they have deduced your gender, you wear a permanently attached color coded label on your clothes to indicate your sex. It avoids confusion in the session room. Blue for male, red for female. Grey for transgender male to female and purple for female to male. With my blue insignia tightly sewn into my shirt, I grab the AIP form 33 from the gleaming stack of glossy white paper on the desk. Filling out the necessary paperwork takes patience and endurance. The questions make you feel like walking out dejected and undeserving.

NAME: William Terry


AGE: 25


Are you seeking affection from a male or a female? Female

Have you applied before? Yes

IF yes explain the reason for the most recent denial of your application into the agency: Inability for the program to find a suitable demographic match for my profile. (This is often a problem with the interchange since the fellow applicants are who they choose from to match your affection demographic.)

However, it gets trying. If you do get approved, it is a federal mandate that you serve as the affection facilitator once your personal profile demographic is requested by someone else. I don’t mean to make the selection process so difficult for the agency, but my request is pretty specific. I haven’t seen Jenn for maybe three years. I can describe her in such minute detail a geneticist could recite her genome sequence from my description. It takes me so long to write out that I Xeroxed my original description and now I just tape it unto the application. Copies of that description are not helpful when dates find them in your car.

Explain any period in excess of two weeks in which you received no affection. Explain why: Complete lapse of ego and total loss of self.

List at least three character references for the agency to verify your competency as an affection facilitator: Carrie 512.445.5537, Taylor Anne, 214.468.8477, Erin 561.947.3467. (I would put my cat in here but Mrs. Dangerclaws doesn’t have a cell phone.)

Have you received an agency-approved affection handler’s license from an accredited bureau? Yes.

So we can better serve you, describe why you feel it necessary to apply for government funded affection interchange: I have an extremely high developed sense of sociophobia so that when I talk to the opposite sex it comes out in a homogeneous mixture of desperate confusing conversation and interpretive dancing. I am ridiculously non-masculine to the point that I feel a football thrown my way may sever every bone in my body while simultaneously emasculating me to all those who see me run from it.

Select your income bracket.

100,000 or above

50,000 or above

25,000 or above

10,000 or above


Jesus, they don’t even have an income bracket low enough for my salary. They always make the line beneath “other” as long as possible so you can see how tiny your little five- digit figure looks there. You really notice how many commas it doesn’t have with that equator-sized line beneath it.

If accepted how many affection facilitation sessions would you being willing to conduct? 25 or more.

List in the following space a minimum of ten sentences describing what you would consider to be character defects. Be as descriptive as possible. Listing what you would consider character assets is optional. Please keep in mind that if the assets are not on the agency-approved assets battery, they may be grounds for elimination. Limit the assets description to one sentence. One word is preferable: I am easily distracted. I will often devote myself to someone simply on the basis that she is attractive regardless of whether or not she has malice towards me. I presume her to be an honest loyal person if nature has inscribed her with attractive qualities. I obsess over trivial facts of musical artists and authors. I have loyalty to ideals I see expressed in dystopian novels of the early 20th century. I also have an overdeveloped sense of tragedy.

In the assets section I write “Capacity to be honest to the point of automatic sabotage and inevitable self defeat.” Once again I don’t know if that is an asset or a defect. I think the answer lies somewhere in the gray area found on the transgender color label.

Have you ever implied false information on an AIP 33 form in hopes of being matched with an applicant who does not fit your demographic profile? NO.

This occurs when applicants put out misleading information so they can be assigned to facilitate affection on a type of person they loathe. They often play malicious mind games on the applicant and vent out years of gender differential rage on the person as revenge for something that happened to them years ago. Acting on this impulse means automatic dismissal and constitutes a felony. In the agency circle we call them stamp bashers.

In the space below give a brief description of the person you are seeking affection from.

I tape my prepared description into the white space: “Jenn is a girl about 25. She is more beautiful than anything ever contrived or conceived of. Her radiance is an estrogen ecosystem unto itself, complete with subliminal gestures that are so unconscious they would register one in every 60 frames if she were on film.

“You see them, you remember them, but you cannot place a tangible example of one. She smells like a thousand daisies having Febreeze orgasms. Her taste in music is priceless and is only succeeded by her extremely well-read demeanor of female neutrality towards all topics of debate. Jenn has the inhuman ability to make you feel as though you are the only man alive and a decent man at that. This is countered by her talent of instantly reversing this sentiment by reducing your worth as a human being to a shred below pedophile. You then begin to doubt your value as human being and you submerge to ranking yourself among worms in the dirt. You begin to doubt your aptitude even as a worm and find yourself frustrated that there is no living organism low enough in the food chain to compare yourself with. Inanimate objects become the target of your jealousy. She has black hair and smokes cigarettes.”

My roll of tape rolls out from my hands and spirals unto the reflective paneling of the agency floor. This classy sass trap saunters over from a nearby chair and drops the spiral of tape back into my hands. Blue eyeliner encircles the fractal oval around her iris. It catches a faint refraction of fluorescent iridescence from the ceiling. Red leg warmers sheathe legs severed by the impact of a razor-cut denim skirt. On her torn shirt is a fading picture of Elliott Smith standing in front of a white wall with a circular mural behind him. Lip rings shine like dull mirrors from her mouth. She has black hair and in her front pocket is a pack of Marlboro Red 100’s. A red gender label is affixed to the seam of her skirt with a white dash down the diagonal to indicate self-mutilation tendencies.

“Thank you,” I say, trying to avert eye contact but her stare traps me in its black hole sympathy.

“From the look of your label it seems you should be in the sex interchange line.”

She is referring to the trail of green dots that tic-tac-toe across my gender label. Each dot signifies a month without an affection interchange. My label resembles a stalemate game of connect four.

With all the courage I can muster I ask her, “Are you an applicant?”

She shrugs before responding. “No, I am an applicator.”

I guess this to be some sort of hygiene joke that I don’t get.

“I’ll be conducting your interview.”

With that response she takes the forms out of my hands with such haste that I almost get a paper cut.

An elongated hallway leads us past several session rooms where the accepted engage in their government sponsored human interactions. The signs cascading down the walls read like positive affirmation wallpaper: “Affection helps me pay my taxes,” “Sex burns four calories an hour” (wow, I probably burn a third of a calorie every time), “You can use your acceptance letter as a professional reference,” “A sexually active person is a healthy person” (I laugh at that one: not always true).

Metal hinges on the agency door squeak as she closes it behind me. The chairs were crafted from unforgiving metal that would give better support if your spine was made of jello and not bone. Sixty watt lamps flicker on the file cabinets around us with pictures of rejected applicants spilling out of the tops of manila folders. The chair she sits in has metal wheels. I believe this is to make the process of putting my application on the rejected cabinet achievable without getting up.

She starts humming as she looks though my application. It takes a moment before I place that she is humming “Amity” by Elliott Smith.

I say aloud, “Amity, amity, amity. Good to go.”

Her eyebrows raise a bit; she stares through me as though my skin were a Ziploc bag.

“You’re a fan of Elliott then?” she asks, doing a head toss that should be patented.

“Yes,” I say, looking down at the seemingly endless white floor.

She crosses her legs and thumbs through my description of Jenn.

“Do you really believe that a woman of your description would be the best choice to receive the affection treatment from? We don’t usually have woman of this — what’s the word? — caliber who’ll take the necessary exams to receive her affection license.”

The same response I’ve received for three months starts to deaden my hopes. At one point I realized that I already knew this and that I came here in hopes of meeting someone in the waiting room.

“Does she like Elliott Smith as well?”

“She has calculated good taste in music so, yes, Elliott is on her mind as well.”

A delicate silence is broken as the thud of two bodies bracing against a wall reverberates into our room.

“I apologize,” she says. “My office is right next to the session rooms for the sex interchange applicants.”

“It’s fine,” I say. “No worries.”

“Were you sexually involved with this woman?”

Fear of self defeat seeps into me. I didn’t want to be this honest with this woman. I hesitate in my response but she seems to have known the answer before asking me.

“Did you ever listen to Elliott Smith while engaging in acts of intimacy?”

A moan escapes from the room next to us, a long drawn out cry of frustrated isolation being extinguished.

“Is that part of the interview?” I ask.

She blushes before sliding over to her computer.

“I’ll go ahead and add your demographic to the list of accepted applicants.”
The metal wheels on her chair must be laced with WD-40 because she flies over to her terminal and begins typing away.

“Does that mean I’m accepted?”

She looks up, trying to hide the faintest hint of a smile and rolling her shoulders.

“Yes, your application is accepted.”

Looking down at the keyboard, she fires away at the letters as though she were chopping up lettuce with a meat cleaver. A resonating beep filters in from the computer’s internal speaker.

“We’ve found a match for you. Wait in this room. She should arrive in minutes.”

Standing up she walks past me, and I rise out of my chair to thank her profusely.

“I can’t really explain,” I add (my mind was running at 7000 rpm’s; I was redlining in first gear.), “how much this will help me.”

“You can finally take all those green dots off of your gender label. They look like a game of checkers that never got started.”

She reaches out and starts peeling off the dots one by one.

“Thanks I can do it,” I tell her.

I step back again and again, but she continues toward me, pulling off the dots with each step. At last my back is to the wall and I’m somewhat trapped in the corner of the room.

“This is the most dots I’ve ever seen on anyone’s label.”

She is face to face with me. I can taste her breath.

“It’s nothing to be proud of,” I declare. “I’m not going to put it on my resume.”

As the last dot is peeled from my label, her hands linger on my shirt before reaching up towards the back of my neck. They interlink behind my head and she starts pulling me closer to her. The lights flicker, and the hum of an air conditioner turning on adds a womb-like machine ambiance to the room. Another thud of intertwined bodies in the next room causes my head to bounce against the wall momentarily. I finally give up and just look deep into the nova of her starbust eyes.

I don’t know how much time passes with me just locked into an optic endurance contest with her.

“Are you going to kiss me or do I need to kiss you?” she asks.

“Well,” I say (I was a bit shaky; I hadn’t been this close to a woman in a while.), “you work here.”

Attraction gravity pulls our mouths within a pin’s head of each other before she turns to whisper in my ear.

“You know this is against company policy.”

The metal hinges of the door scream as a woman comes walking in. The interviewer pulls off of me in seconds while saying in a professional tone,”It’s best to keep your label sewn into a cotton shirt since it grips better to the fabric. It should be fine now.”

I get a good look at the woman who walked in.

It’s Jenn.

It’s Jenn in the flesh.

But it’s angry Jenn in the flesh.

She starts towards me with her arm reeled back. I know to prepare for a slap as she gets near. I duck down and shimmy over to the exit door as she gets entangled with the agency interviewer.

“What are you doing here?” I manage to say as I’m opening the door to protect myself.

“I’m your facilitator,” says Jenn.

“This isn’t supposed to happen,” says the other woman. “Physical attack is not the way to begin an affection session. You should have learned that from your facilitator’s exam.”

“Really? That display of affection stemmed from our relationship,” Jenn informs her. “He loves pain.”

“No I don’t,” I say in my defense.

“If he were masochistic, he would have the correct insignia on his gender label,” says the interviewer.

“He lied about it on his application then. He’s a compulsive liar.”

“No I’m not,” I lie.

But my response is cut short as she comes towards me again, hand flared back.

I dash out into the hallway to the fire alarm handle near the water fountain. Breaking the glass with my bare hands, I pull down the alarm switch. Blood is spilling from my wrists as I run down the hallway to the soundtrack of the alarm.

All the slogan posters are flashing past me like an alphabet carousel. All I can think when I pass them is, “How am I going to pay my taxes now?”

I get to the clerk’s desk and yell for the receptionist to return my photo id.

I am bleeding on her arms when she hands it back, saying, “Sir, you need the appropriate label if you are a self-mutilator. We need to know if you like pain so we can better serve you.”

“I don’t like pain!” I scream.

“He’s a fucking liar,” I hear jenn call, running in my direction.

I throw myself through the revolving doors and I almost get cut into organic ribbons by the rigid corners of the entrance. Running towards my car, I look over my shoulder at the building one more time.

I only remember its foreboding stance against the gray sky, the color of television tuned to a snowy channel.


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