“Well buddy, it looks like it’s just you and me for the night. What do you want to do?”
The words entered Bobby’s room moments before he appeared in the doorway to see the soft glow of a computer screen casting a pale light on his grandson’s face as he sat on his bed. Walter could only think of a handful of times he had seen the slim silver device out of his grandson’s reach. Jenny did not allow him to bring it to church which he thought was a good rule.
“I am going to be in my first auction. It’s an Akedemicz auction.”
Walter walked to the the end of the bed and sat down before asking, “A whosa whatit?”
Bobby looked at his grandpa with the same look his teacher had flashed at him when asked her if Thompson Edison had invented the iPod.
“The Akedemicz. They are the coldest band on the planet. They are auctioning their new song tonight and it’s supposed to be totally awesome. Our group is part of the auction.”
“You know when I was a kid, you could buy a song the day it came out for a dollar.”
A high-pitched giggle floated into the room above Bobby’s own laughter. For a split second Walter thought his ears were playing a trick on him.
“Who was that?”
With a few finger taps the silver casing on the back dissolved to reveal the same screen that Bobby was looking at from the front.
The image of a small boy filled what looked like an over-sized postage stamp in the corner of the display. Walter hated that he was still surprised by all the things these new machines could do. When he had seen Bobby holding his computer at the edge of the pool he rushed over and took it away before he could dropped it in the water. After the crying stopped, Jenny had patiently explained, “They’re waterproof now dad”, but he could hear the frustration in her voice.
“Oh… Is he one of your school friends?”
The boys giggled again.
“He’s from South Africa grandpa. He’s a part of the same group as I am.”
Tad’s accent was not as thick as Walter expected when he spoke for the first time.
“I have been saving for a year to pay my share of the Akedemicz Buying Group. Can you imagine being able to get an Akedemicz song for a dollar on the first day!? ”
Walter sighed and thought about how disappointing the new self-guided education system was. The specialization helped produce doctors who were just getting their driver’s licenses, but no one seemed to know anything outside of their field anymore.
“When I was a little bit older than you boys, you could go on the internet and get almost any song or movie for free.”
That got their attention. Bobby looked at his grandpa suspiciously.
“No way. Then how did they make money?”
Walter chuckled, delighted to teach the boys some real history.
“That was the problem that started all this auction nonsense. Back then, you could go online and buy a song or you could go and download it for free from someone else who had it. More and more people started choosing the latter. All the creative people who were making these songs and movies didn’t like that at all. They tried to get the government to pass laws that would make it harder for people to get those things without paying, but ‘we the people’ decided they really liked free stuff. And since the people far outnumbered the artists, the laws never got passed.”
Tad suddenly squealed, “The auction is starting!”
Walter assumed that would mark the end of their music history lesson. He was pleasantly surprised when Tad followed up with another question.
“Is that when they started the auctions?”
“Yes. An artist named Lady Gaga was the first to come up with the idea. She made a big announcement that she would only sell one CD of her next album. Everyone went crazy over the news, but she said that she would get what she deserved from her music and after that the world could share it all they wanted. She sold the CD for ten million dollars to a guy who owned half the oil wells in Texas. Only he didn’t know it! His son was huge fan and bought it pretending to be his dad.”
The boys erupted in laughter.
“Dad would put me in the quiet chamber for a month if I did something like that!” Bobby said with eyes still wide from shock.
“Well his dad was none too pleased when he found out too. Luckily the young man had some of his dad’s smarts and came up with a way to avoid a kind of punishment you boys no longer have to worry about. He made two copies of the CD and auctioned them off. In the end he actually made his dad money because together they sold for more than the ten million he had paid. The two that bought those copies did the same thing and on and on it went until someone put the CD online. Once that happened no one needed to buy copies anymore. Everyone who had a copy of the CD to sell was furious, but Lady Gaga just laughed when they asked her about it. She said, ‘Now you get it.’ No one ever sold that guy a CD again.”
“So all the other people started to do the same thing after that, right?” Bobby asked.
“Yep. Movie companies and musicians all jumped on board. The super rich loved it because they could get all the latest music and movies before everyone else and still make a profit in most cases. Suddenly, when people had to wait months in order for the album of their favorite artist to drop low enough that they could afford it, they went back to congress asking them to pass laws against it. They tried saying it was a monopoly and everything else, but the artists said that the people had no right to ask Leonardo Di Vinci to paint a million Mona Lisa’s so that everyone could have one. And this time the artists won. They also started realizing that they didn’t need a whole album. They could just sell one song whenever they wanted.”
“Is that when the buying groups started?” Tad asked from his little box. He leaned in closer, but Walter could not tell if it was to watch the progress of the auction or to hear his answer.
“Not quite. Buying groups got the idea from big corporations. I think… Pepsi was the first to do it? Well I can’t remember if they were the first, but they’re the one that everyone remembers. They bought a song from a band called Bishop to Your Night and recorded a background track that went along with the music, but it sang about how refreshing Pepsi was.”
Tad let out a big, “Ohhhhhh. That must be what my dad was talking about. When I told him I was going to watch the auction, he said he still had a copy of the original Pepsi song.”
Walter nodded, remembering the days when that was all anyone was talking about.
“Yes. I can’t even remember the original name of the song. Everyone just calls it the Pepsi song. Well, Bishop to Your Night was furious and sued Pepsi. The two sides fought over what had been sold. Pepsi claimed that the song constituted as property and that they had the right to change it. The band claimed that the copyright remained theirs and that they had only sold distribution rights. It went all the way to the Supreme Court where the band won in a landmark case. That’s how we know that the songs we buy are the same as the original. After that corporations stopped buying songs because it became too difficult to guess which ones they could make a profit off of. That’s when buying groups starting popping up. People realized that they could buy a song at auction like the rich people if they pooled their money and then distributed the CD’s to everyone who bought in.”
“Grandpa, have you ever been in an auction?”
“Can’t say that I have. Although, I was tempted once. When I was about 40, my favorite artist announced that he would be auctioning his last song. I wanted to hear his final masterpiece so bad, but your grandma reminded me that Jenny’s braces came first. I had to wait 3 years to get a copy. But every time I look at your mother’s smile I wonder why those teeth couldn’t have been the ones to wait.”
Tad’s announcement snapped them all back to the present. He looked as if his dog had just died. Bobby was taking it much better, but his voice still held a tinge of sadness.
“Don’t worry. We will get the next one.”
“This sucks. I gotta go. I still have a report on inter-species genetic acclimation to finish.”
“Ouch. Good luck with that. See ya.”
The screen that Walter had been watching transformed back into its original silver. He felt bad for the boys.
“Do you you guys get your money back since you didn’t win?”
“They keep 10%. I was really hoping we would win this one. That group has a really good history.”
Bobby looked down for a few moments and when he lifted his head again there were tears in his eyes.
“How come people had to screw everything up for our generation? A dollar! That’s all you had to do and they didn’t!”
Walter stood up and beckoned his grandson to follow him.
“You know, when your mom was a little girl and she got upset I would make her root beer float. Have you ever had one of those?”
Bobby tucked his computer under his arm and followed his grandpa begrudgingly towards the kitchen.
“No. What is that?”
Walter laughed again.
“It’s a surprise. I think you will find that my generation didn’t get everything wrong.”
Copyright © 2011 Adam Drake
Author’s Note: This story is part of a short anthology. If you enjoyed it you can read the rest of the stories here.