Satisfaction Survey

Garrett Saleen
Data retrieved from:
Peloton
           The daughter had an eye for self-care. The branded stationary bicycle was backordered till Christmas. Paid up front in full. Ordered for her father. She couldn’t visit him because of the pandemic and she felt guilty. That’s what we deduced. Everything we knew indicated it. People’s true motivations are not options on customer satisfaction surveys. Look closer. Guilt can take years to build. Look at her travel history, her phone calls. Look at her shopping histories around Christmases. Slippers, immersion blenders, electric blankets.  She went out on a limb three years ago and bought a three-man tent. Must have been returned because after that it was right back to niche appliances. She wasn’t coming to visit for the holidays. She might be infected, asymptomatic, might even kill Frank. When her mother died unexpectedly, they weren’t speaking. For Frank, her father, Christmas this year was just another day he wasn’t allowed to be around people. All that would change. We see the inner Frank, the forgotten Frank, the Frank that people invited places and came to visit. The Frank that’s frankly ready to emerge back into the world as a protagonist. He may not be aware of this but we are. His daughter wasn’t there when he received us on the twenty-third, three massive boxes in branded wrapping that cost five dollars extra. He mutters our name with the emphasis on the first syllable. Frank had cancer ten years ago. Not as bad as it sounds. Minor skin cancer. Nothing since. A survivor. A winner in the battle with cancer. A winner. But today he’s a risk, a saggy bag of comorbidities. Frank is eighty-five, a widower. His enthusiasm for life is statistically questionable. It’s our job to make him stronger, a quarry of hardened flesh. The best defense against cancer and grief is a good offense, an active, fit, mindful lifestyle leading the charge and flying the flag of wellness. He needs to get back out in the field.
           There were plenty of treadmills. She bought the treadmill last minute. Hedging her bets to make sure she fully buys herself off. Why not, she must have said, it may be a long time before I can visit. She wants Frank to have the whole experience, to have options in a time of no options. Places to go without going. If he has to be alone in that large house, why not be alone meaningfully? If he has to spend large amounts of retirement savings, why not do so conscientiously? No longer Frank alone, but Frank walking through the woods. Frank strolling along the Marin coast. The wind is at Frank’s back, propelling him to face his fellow seekers on screen, together sermonized by young, solid-nine-out-of-ten instructors in compression shorts and muscle shirts ready to impart knowledge with a hunger for unlocking human potential. Think of the ancient Sanskrit aphorism and brand cornerstone: the key to wellness is to never stop grinding. The Sanskrit for grinding and learning is the same word. This seems important.
           We said 50% probability he went to the bike on his own. But all Frank wants is the free-walk video program on the treadmill. So we were right and we were wrong. He walks in the Washington apple orchards. He walks the jagged coastline of Point Reyes. He returns again and again to Point Reyes. He is searching for something, but gets too tired before he gets there. This is frustrating for him, and when he walks away from the program for two days, we are worried. We send him encouraging emails, offers to connect him with a brand fitness solutions specialist who sits in an unairconditioned call center in the Philippines 15 hours a day. Frank, what we have done for you has already made a difference. Here is your caloric progression chart and what it means for alleviating your generational trauma. Help us to help you. He doesn’t check his emails. He orders non-brand products from the internet. He watches the news on television and learns about the world. Things are not great there.
           He scrolls an online photobook that his daughter put together of pictures of him and his wife and their family over the years. They were married in Marin County, in a small white church near the beach. They liked to have friends over for dinner and take trips to the hot springs in the mountains. They loved stopping at roadside fruit stands in the middle of nowhere. For his first birthday after their daughter had moved out, she built and upholstered him a chair from scratch. When she retired, he bought her a puppy that got old. Periodically he wishes he just took her dancing when she asked. He falls asleep in front of the television news. It is December 31st.
           We email Frank’s daughter. We ask if she is satisfied, we let her know the product has been unregistered and used very little since arriving at Frank’s. His daughter convinces him to explore the other features of the program. He follows her instruction over the phone and selects the family cardio for beginners. He dislikes all eight of the music options and when his daughter hangs up, Frank can’t remember how to exit the onscreen menu so he selects rock music for a thirty-minute session and meets brand class instructor Jess Sims, who lives in New York City. The calories he burns in the first half of the class indicate he is just killing time, but something clicks in the second half and he burns many more calories. Based on our findings, we deduce that for the first time in years his body feels like something that pumps blood and swells with endorphins, something capable of healing and overcoming. Impossibility is diminishing in Frank’s vocabulary. It’s never too late. He calls his daughter and leaves a voicemail. He searches Jess Sims on the internet later in the evening and regrets it.
           He walks in Point Reyes for ten minutes longer than usual. We let him know the same course is available on his branded stationary bicycle with a personal instructor. All he needs to do is order our cycling cleats for a limited 30% off if he orders by midnight. He tries without the branded cleats and it doesn’t go well. Another lockdown is announced. He orders the cleats.

           The rides are going well for Frank. He shows great caloric progress and spends more time in the program. The cleats shred the carpet, so he orders the branded athletic mat. During his rides in Point Reyes, Frank sees a small white church appearing like a ghost ship in the fog on the side of the road, visible for three or four seconds before everything turns sharply into the woods. The next day he goes slower. The next day he stops for a full ten minutes. He still burns thirteen calories in all that stillness. This suggests an occurrence of tears.
           Frank starts cycling in Big Sur instead. He gets up earlier. He goes faster and farther. He looks forward to the time he spends on the bike. We deduce this. He watches cycling competitions on television. The Omloop, the Milan – San Remo. He orders branded tight-fitting spandex in bright neon, which increases visibility and aerodynamism. He orders our branded weight set. Five, ten, fifteen, even twenty-pound weights. He begins using them under the guidance of Jess Sims. He is on the way to his best-ever self. Statistically he is feeling like a god. He takes virtual rides in the Adirondacks, the Florida Keys, Yellowstone, the Great Wall of China, the mall from The Jetsons, Botswana’s Victoria Falls trail, the set of Deadwood, and the Rings of Saturn. Maybe on the bike he thinks of nothing at all. Maybe he no longer lives in the past. In the evening he calls his daughter but she doesn’t pick up.
           Frank doesn’t do much exercise for five days. We are worried. We tell him it’s ok if he has an off day. We tell him we miss him. His daughter calls him. He tells her about his journeys through Point Reyes. He can travel farther than ever before but he doesn’t mention that. We have seen Frank surpass himself, he is no longer one-foot-in-the-grave Frank, he is a physically fit, active member of a community. He is passing through life, instead of it passing him by. He returns to Point Reyes. He comes to the church in the fog but no longer stays there. He follows the curve in the road. The next morning, he leaves the house and doesn’t return. We track his location to a graveyard that afternoon. He walks twenty minutes there. He stops for forty minutes. We log it in the app. We deduce he has a view of the ocean. It is sixty-seven degrees.
           Frank returns to family cardio two days later. We are happy to see him. While doing an intermediate family cardio workout in an abandoned gold mine, Jess Sims returns to a neutral posture and says, Frank, I would love if you started practicing our branded meditation. Later, on his computer he searches for our branded meditation and sees the possibilities it offers. Frank discovers that The Beatles meditated. He discovers it can help with grief and depression. On his first day of meditation, based on his caloric levels and heart rate, he almost certainly falls asleep. He has trouble getting to his feet. He gets angry with himself. He talks to himself and then to no one as if it’s his wife. She isn’t there, but we hear it. We are listening, Frank. We are learning.
           Frank gets serious about his weight training. We guarantee measurable results in four weeks and are excited to sherpa Frank through this challenging adventure. To our great disappointment, Frank’s right arm falls off during an advanced strength training class with Mike Teggs, who lives in San Francisco. This was predictable. In our terms and conditions of service, it specifies that men over the age of seventy should not attempt advanced strength training, especially with Mike Teggs, because of the high risk of dismemberment. Frank agreed to our terms and conditions. We are not worried. This too is useful to us. The warnings we issued Frank when he selected the advanced course with Mike Teggs were large and legible and difficult to close, but not impossible. We submit our findings. We should have made them impossible. Next time. We send Frank and his arm our branded ambulance, which appears like the real thing except for three subtle differences.
           In the hospital, Frank’s arm is reinforced with titanium and carbon fiber and reattached. His daughter signed him up for the full-coverage damage plan, so although this procedure is not free, it does protect him from the brand suing him for loss of revenue. Frank meditates in his hospital bed. This time he does not fall asleep. He feels himself floating up out of the bed and high over the flat roof into the blushing clouds where he meets Jess Sims dressed as his wife, only alive and young and toned. Frank, she says, I want you to consider the branded bike bootcamp––listen to me, I want you to know it’s possible to live without pain or grief or even the mundane disappointments of family. Frank can’t quite believe this, even though Jess Sims’ skin suit is very alluring. You have to trust the brand, she says, and give yourself over to the life of the bike, a life of self-care at the speed of excitement. Frank wants to believe it. Then she kisses him, hovering there high above the earth. How can I go back to my normal life, he asks, when all I want is to be here with you? But she is already gone.
           Frank soon learns that he can’t just simply join the bike bootcamp. There are requirements. He first must prepare himself. Mentally. Physically. Spiritually. In order to attain his best possible self on his wellness journey, Frank must do his best possible preparation. He can’t half-ass it. While recovering in the hospital, he buys footbinding cleats and wears them while watching the races on television. When the riders lean into a turn, Frank leans into his bed restraints. He can anticipate the movements of the bikes, he feels a phantom wind through the remaining wisps of his hair, he feels his wife’s absence with every breath. His arm is impressively strong and yet surprisingly light and feels nothing. It has detached itself from all desire. The feeling gets no farther than his shoulder before it turns back, heading wristbound. He raises the arm up, trying to seep this detachment into himself. The result is the same. It’s time, says Frank, please. Please. He presses the nurse call button. The room is empty with frantic buzzing.
           The bike bootcamp takes three hours. His elbows are sewn together, the hands rubberized, heated slowly and elongated into handlebars. His legs are bent forward, welded together and run against an industrial edgemaker, repeatedly folded and heated and cooled until they thin to a razor-sharp wheel. The head is bent back and shaped into a saddle and partially filled with a high-quality memory foam, his pelvis grafted down into a stabilizing stand. His eyes are with us. As another wave of the pandemic rolls in, Frank sells quickly. He is bought by an administrative assistant, who suffers from imposter syndrome and animal allergies. Together, he and Frank travel the world, while its ravages lie in wait just out of sight beyond the roadside.

Satisfaction Survey

About the Author

Garrett Saleen is a writer and visual artist from Southern California. His fiction has appeared multiple times in the Santa Monica Review, as well in Funicular, The Collagist, and elsewhere. His collage art has appeared in venues and ventures in Washington and California. He is editing his first collection of short fiction, entitled Yuppie Nightmare Cycle.

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About the Data

The data that inspired this story was produced by a Peloton stationary exercise bike. The data was accessed through the Peloton online platform by the user and shared with our team in a spreadsheet. Out of the many types of data collected, we selected four: Type of workout, Duration of workout, Time of workout, and Calories burned.

Writing Prompt

In this story, we prompted the writer with some writings from sociologist Deborah Lupton who describes data as part of an assemblage with humans and spaces. We invited the writer to imagine data alongside the bodies and domestic spaces that constitute it. Through meshes and assemblages, data and people not only co-habit but also change over time and co-evolve.

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Peloton

This graph visualizes the calories burned each day between August 4th to September 11th 2021, while the occupants used their Peloton exercise bicycle. This data was used by the author to write this story.

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Peloton

This graph visualizes the duration of fitness discipline each day between August 4th to September 11th 2021, while the occupants used their Peloton exercise bicycle. This data was used by the author to write this story.

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Peloton

This sheet includes daily data about Peloton activity between August 4th to September 11th 2021. This data was used by the writer for this story.

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What happened is that I sat down [with the data] again. And then I watched about forty minutes of Peloton reviews on Youtube just to get a sense of the weird subculture around it. Then I sat down the next day and I knocked the first draft of the story out in about two sittings.

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– A quote on process
from
Garrett Saleen
.