Monthly Archives: May 2012

An Irrational Robot is a Happy One

artwork by Emille Domschot © 2012

As the first female affirmative action hire at CessCorp, my image was in for a beating with Leanne the Fem Bot trailing me on her little wheeled feet. Tittering followed in our wake.

“Oh, why did they give me you, Leanne?” I slumped back in my office chair, and she handed me a coffee mug filled with a dark beverage, the color of coffee, the taste of dirt. Leanne was proficient at handing me things.

“Because I’m cute.” She giggled.

Face in hands, my mind blanked for precisely three minutes and thirty-five seconds, according to the constant numerical countdown on my quota clock. With a weary head jerk, I shook the grogginess from my skull.

“Don’t sleep, silly Marta,” Leanne said. “You haven’t met your quota yet. We girls have to stick together.”

“If you would actually help me, I might meet my quota. This job was such a mistake, of which, you were the biggest.”

As Leanne rolled backwards and gave off her peculiar whirring noise that passes for crying in a dumb-blonde, hyperventilating robot, I regretted my words. Poor Leanne–yes, I could arrive at a point where I pitied a mechanical person.

She gave off a series of gasping breaths. “It isn’t my fault I was born blonde. Blondes have more fun, but they don’t do stats!”

Not for the first time, I wanted to rip the rakish blonde wig off Leanne’s robot head. “You aren’t blonde. You’re a robot. You don’t have a hair color.”

I swiveled in my work chair and stared dumbly at the mess Leanne had made of my apartment. Currently, she was occupied with her reflection in the mirror, rather than in helping me with my duties. Her little head cocked, her fist raised to her chin, she might have passed for a thinker if she actually had access to the vast stores of information inside her databases.

When the computer boys first brought her to me, I understood immediately what they meant by the gesture. I was the first woman at CessCorp; Leanne the first fem bot. Because of me, one of the .00005% of the male population who was capable of doing my job would be denied due to the unfairness of affirmative action. They left her wearing clothes better suited for a streetwalker, a blonde wig tilted over her titanium head. Somebody–definitely no Leonardo–had painted red lipstick in a smear around her mouth, a pink circle on each cheek, and green eyeshadow that created triangles over her eyes.

Angered, but understanding my predicament, I quietly dressed her in proper robot clothes and scrubbed her face clean before I brought her to life–at which point, she hit me with the punchline of their joke. Leanne had the same information stored in her databases that all the CessCorp robots had, but lacked the ability to send the information to her mind, where she should have been able to process it. Leanne was, literally, empty in the head. And she was right. It wasn’t her fault.

While the other statistical analysis experts used their bots to tidy up their CessCorp apartments and cook their meals, as well as provide them much needed sleep and leisure time by helping to sort information and create relevant algorithms, Leanne could do nothing but hand me the coffee-colored beverage I brewed for myself and stare at herself in the mirror. Oh, and don’t forget–she had the ability to pull all my clothes and shoes from the closet, the same ones every day, and fling them over the furniture while proclaiming, “Gawd! We really need to go shopping! Where’s the mall?”

Therefore, in order to meet my quota, I worked around the clock with no sleep and no leisure time. The fat paychecks I earned as the first female trial-run (exactly $10,000 less than the rookie male hires) were direct-deposited into my account, where the excess accrued compounding interest.

After several days’ worth of blanking at my computer, my quota fell to far below the average, and management pulled me in for a meeting to give me my first warning.

“You have two weeks to get your quota up,” the oily-slick manager named Weston said. “Or we’ll have to let you go.”

Before we rolled out of Weston’s office, Leanne hissed in her usual sad attempt at whispering, “Gawd, Marta. What an ass. He’s ugly. Where are all the cute boys?”

Under normal circumstances, I would have choked back my laughter. But these were anything but normal circumstances, and my laugh rang out loud and clear. Yeah, Weston I wanted to say. Where are all the cute boys? Not here at CessCorp, that’s for sure.

Instead, I laughed all the way to the CessCorp community bank, down one level and a hundred paces through the West Wing, Leanne rolling behind me, cackling like a teenage girl. If anybody tittered in our wake, I didn’t hear it.

I emptied my bank account and turned to Leanne with a secretive smile. “Do you wanna go shopping for cute boys?”

“Marta, that’s the best suggestion you’ve had all day.”

In her attempt to arrange her hair, she tilted her already skewed wig so she appeared as a stoic, alcoholic prostitute who had suffered from syphilis and lost her nose to mercury poisoning. I’m not sure why the bot creators failed to give their creations noses.

As she followed me into the elevator, she asked (and I could almost imagine her wrinkling her nonexistent nose), “This is the way to the mall?”

“Yes,” I said, and punched the basement button. The basement was the location of the bot shop and, although nobody was allowed down there without a pass, I predicted my loaded purse would be pass enough.

And, in fact, I was correct. When I flashed my cash at the guard, he ushered me into the robot warehouse. But Leanne looked confused, more confused than usual. Could a robot suffer fear–could a robot tremble?

“I don’t like this mall,” she said.

“It isn’t a mall,” the guard said. “You’re not supposed to be here. You’d better hurry up if you want to choose a new bot.”

“A new bot?” Leanne said. “You’re trading me in?”

“No, of course not, Leanne. You’re here to pick a robot mate.”

“That’s not allowed,” the guard said. “You can’t have two. CessCorp rules.”

I turned on him, the pulse pounding in my temples, my exhaustion exhilarating me in that special way, much like whiskey. I lurched drunkenly. “My money’s not good enough for you?”

“Now, stand down. Your money’s not supposed to buy you a robot at all.”

“I think he’s a big stupid face,” Leanne said, but her voice was quieter than usual.

She rolled forward in the darkness of the warehouse, past rows of identical non-gendered (but actually male) robots. Finally, she stopped.

“I know him,” she said, and she reached out her arm in what seemed an instinctive gesture, and brought the bot to life. “Hello, gorgeous.”

I gazed over her shoulder, but couldn’t see what she saw. He appeared as all the rest did–titanium head and chest, no discernible sexual parts.

“We grew up together,” Leanne said. “Didn’t we, gorgeous?”

The robot blinked his first signs of life. “I like your wig,” he said.

Leanne giggled.

“Are you stupid?” the male robot asked.

“It’s not my fault. I was born blonde.”

“I like you that way.” The bot hooked his arm in hers, and they rolled toward the guard and me, their faces set to happy smiles.

“Are you stupid?” I asked the guard.

“No, just a little broke.”

“I like you that way.” I forced my happy face and even attempted a hair flip with my short, albeit blonde, hair.

The spare light from the exit sign shone on the guard’s bald pate. He wasn’t a bad-looking man, really. He was just as he said: greedy. I handed him a wad of cash, and he shrugged in an aw-shucks kind of way.

Then the three of us, the two bots and I, made our way back to the apartment quad of the statistical analysis group. This time, tittering didn’t follow in our wake, but awed silence at the sight of two robots with linked arms.

Back at my apartment, I gave my orders to the robot team and fell into bed. Later, after I’d slept about fifteen hours, I took some leisure time at the tennis courts. The next day, I logged still more sleep and leisure time. By the end of the month, my quota far exceeded the top man’s, and I was grudgingly awarded the top-man-of-the-month award.

Nobody in the quad dared question my results, either, but one particularly short and nerdy loser glared at me one day while we were in the coffee room. He wore that I was meant to take over the world if only I were taller expression.

I chucked him under the chin. “You know what they say,” I laughed. “A happy robot is a productive robot. So buck up, sailor.”


The News of the Day

In a game of spot the logical fallacies…..

…..ALL the great minds of the past–Tesla, for example–slept a mere three or four hours a night. I sleep three or four hours a night. Therefore, I’m a great mind. Aw, shucks, darling, good try, though. This is the way my husband tries to placate me when I’m in a manic, sleep-deprived state, by insinuating I’m a Great Mind.

And Great Mind is all I am because in my logic, synecdoche doesn’t exist. It creates its own logical fallacy. Hello, Brain in Jar. Nice to meet you. And you. If people were synecdoches, we would be in for trouble. Can you imagine a husband who actually flies to work as an insubstantial old shirt, or a wife who drifts legless behind the vacuum as a fluttering skirt [oh, come on, the rhetoric was meant to be sexist!]? And can you envision a philosopher who is nothing more than a great mind pulsating in a jar? Would you mind if I pause to tuck in my gray matter?

It really sucks sometimes being active synecdoche, or naked mind, which is exactly what the Egyptians did. They sucked corpse brains through corpse nostrils in order to leave the opposite of pure mind–mummy, stuffed head, straw man. Isn’t that the way T.S. Eliot described mankind? We are the hollow men / We are the stuffed men / Leaning together / Headpiece filled with straw. I suppose he meant we’re all mummies, but speak for yourself, Mr. Eliot.

I of the Mind in Jar am on the road, again, headed for home, my internet connected to my husband’s phone, which is connected to some ethereal land of information called Plata de Data que esta girando como un objeto volante no identificado [OVNI].

Speaking of unidentified flying objects [UFOs]….oops, there it goes again. The sun has turned red here in New Mexico, due to a smoke-filled sky. It appears as a mysterious red disk hovering over the western horizon. I suspect we might have entered another planet through the I25 Portal, a planet closely resembling this one, but which orbits a red sun.

My husband tried to convince me earlier that the grape vines in this foreign land were planted in the wrong direction, that is, east to west rather than south to north. If the vine rows are planted south to north, the red sun will radiate them evenly because they won’t have a hidden north side. In my traumatized brain state, I couldn’t imagine an object in space not having a north side to it. I stumbled through an argument with him over it, but I eventually frustrated him such that he dropped the subject. My mind wouldn’t drop it, though. All the way to our destination, I stared at waving trees and bushes placed positionally every which way, and I couldn’t imagine a missing north. The idea simply confounded me.

But then, later, he confounded the lady at the El Mesquite Market when he ordered a libro de queso menonita. Now I don’t feel as disordered as I once did. I’ve never once, for example, ordered a book of Mennonite cheese. I suppose I could if I wanted to, but the isla de queso at the Mexican market probably isn’t the place for it. Thank heavens they speak Spanish and English on this planet, though!

And in other news, I bought a blue dress. I walked in an alien version of a Macy’s department store [as evidenced by the white plasticine figures modeling clothes], exchanged a swipe of a plastic card for this 100% modal fabric*, and walked out with a dress in a bag. You don’t find this astounding, but I do. It takes an altered mental state for me to buy a dress. I don’t normally do this because stores with racks of clothes confuse the Great Mind. How does a mind wear a blue dress?

Ah, well. In other news, Blog Readers who stumbled on a drop of cyber space called Hic Sunt Dracones wondered why they were there and quickly left.

*I had no idea what modal fabric is. Google via Wiki informed me that it’s made of cellulose fiber. Good thing I’m now aware of this, although the wearing of cellulose fibers is generally indicative of being alien.


Memoirs From a Nineties Coffee Girl: Worlds Within Worlds

Just like unto a Nest of Boxes round,
Degree of sizes within each Boxe are found.
So in the World, may many Worlds more be,
Thinner and lesse, and lesse still by degree;
Although they are not subject to our Sense,
A World may be no bigger than two-pence.
Nature is curious, and such worke may make,
That our dull Sense can never finde, but scape.
For Creatures, small as Atomes, may be there,
If every Atome a World can make, then see,
What severall Worlds might in an Eare-ring bee.
For millions of these Atomes may bee in
The Head of one small, little, single Pin.
And if thus small, then Ladies well may weare
A World of Worlds, as Pendants in each Eare.

–Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle (1623 – 15 December 1673)

As I write about the past, I think of the small, cellular worlds I must be creating somewhere. I’ve written about memory before, and I return to it because I can’t will these created worlds to burst their little bubbles or float away. They exist under a microscope of mind and words, and this is the place where I catalog my own Micrographia, as Robert Hooke did more than three-hundred years ago. Through his improved version of the Leeunwenhoek microscope, Hooke examined the unknown worlds teeming under the surface of human vision. He then carefully drew the details that sprang to life through light and lenses.

While Hooke’s microscope existed tangibly, as the image at left attests to, mine is locked up inside my skull, and my words are my only witnesses to what I’ve seen. But if I want to take a philosophical turn, I’ll have to admit that Hooke’s drawings are frail witnesses, worlds Hooke created as an artist with pencils. And nobody saw what Hooke saw, the worlds he experienced through his retinas and experienced as places in the mind.

Yes, that’s far too philosophical for short vignettes created by my early adulthood, of that short space of time I spent in nineties coffeehouses. If I were to live a second time, I would study the neuroscience of memory and probe deeply into the corpuscles of the frontal lobes. I would call myself a Mad Scientist with vision through walls, brought to me by brain imaging technology. My second life would have to take an abrupt turn at a crucial point, however, owing to the layers of memories and learning that have built up this idea of me as scientist rather than writer.

In those early nineties, I dropped out of college [this is the crucial point] because I feared my own incompetence and lack of intelligence. Hence, I applied to work at Coffee People because an espresso shop wouldn’t prove me incapable, even though it did on occasion. And writing was the outward shield I carried to thwart my critics. Although an academic failure, I could write and, furthermore, I didn’t need a degree to prove my writing abilities. Later, life would prove that I wasn’t a raw talent waiting to happen, and so I did eventually earn a creative writing degree, which served to reveal my lack of talent, after all.

Am I depressing you? Expressing negativity isn’t my intention in this piece, though admitting my fears is acutely discomforting to me, so I imagine how you must feel reading them. Instead, expressing perception is my intention. My memories, my successes, my failures, my life in toto are tainted by perceptions. And have these perceptions changed the reality of the worlds within worlds within my mind? And does a pure sense of existence survive after all is said and done?

I worked at two created spaces of Coffee People: the Beaverton store, and the one in downtown Portland at the end of the university park blocks. The downtown store has left the greater impression in my memory, perhaps because I worked there just before and after my wedding. Or perhaps the many ways in which my incompetency did reveal itself branded me for the future. For example, one delightfully early morning, I opened the store and forgot about the alarm and the alarm code until the beeping woke the downtown, sleeping city.

How far can I reach into these created spaces in my stored memories without altering them? In the kitchen of the shop, the bakers baked banana bread and brownies and cookies, and the smell intoxicated customers. It intoxicated me: true memory. In the front, we worked at one of two registers or espresso machines. The spare espresso machine was rarely used, though, and created its own little den-like space for a family of cockroaches–also a true memory. That’s panning in, focusing deeper, but it isn’t as far as the sight can reach. What if I extend my view upward?

Upward, I discover a space purely created in the imagination because I never witnessed those upstairs apartments that housed mentally ill patients. I imagined the next level as a series of dwellings lost in the bends of mouse mazes, where the mentally ill found themselves, unable to navigate their way out. But they did find their way past security occasionally. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have known of their existence. When a mean, old lady with a jerking leg entered the cafe, her space met mine. The other employees avoided her, as well as the dirty old man who muttered to himself in another language [Russian, or am I inventing that?]. We were supposed to call the security upstairs if they caused trouble: Hello, you have an escapee who speaks strange words, and this time, I’m off the hook.

But I’m never off the hook. And, no, I refuse to make the obvious pun. What world have I created today? How did my thoughts inform my mind? Have I managed to create a coffeehouse, a rectangular space colored red and dotted with chrome and black? Despite my best efforts, my memories are escaping, now. They’re carrying me out the door of Coffee People and into the grass, under the giant elms that blow in the summer breeze. I’m newly married, and I’ve experienced love, but I’m sad, always very sad because I’ve stored my dreams in nonexistent worlds, lost in the storehouse of my mind.


The Planet Sardon: A Travelogue

This is taken from the travel guide to the Planet on the fourth elliptical plane, right after Pardon, although the visual rhyme happens to be a coincidence because both planetary names are jokes:

Sardon is one of the least lovely of the planets in the Bruno Solar System, due to a lack of water, comfortable hotels, and restaurants that sell meals that rise above the level of edible. All that being true, the Sardonians have a long and illustrious history as Classicists, and most who travel there do so in order to add citations to their scholarly papers.

In the academic realm, you will discover labyrinthine library corridors that have confused more than one of Earth’s elite intellectuals, although it has been said that the intellectuals who never return remain on Sardon because they have finally found their own particular idea of heaven. Those who escape usually do so with a few hastily scrawled citations; the exact citations in most cases don’t matter at all, even if the dissertation asserts to understand the morphing properties of Platonic Celluform, while the citation is taken from the encyclopedia of plant genetics. Any citation culled from the libraries of Sardon will pass muster with Earthly peer-reviewed journals.

The climate is dry and hot, and most residents live in underground caves. The Sardonians’ passably edible diet consists of root vegetables grown in mist houses. One restaurant boasts a “rainbow of marrows”, but reviews of such have claimed that the “rainbow” is simply another Sardonicism, otherwise known as the peoples’ idea of a joke.

Summer is the worst time to visit, and not because the weather changes perceptibly on Sardon. Rather, summer is when the Academics are on vacation and, therefore, on their annual pilgrimages to their many and massive underground cathedrals, which are not as aesthetic as an Earthling might hope, being little better than enormous dirt hollows lit by bare bulbs that swing over glass cases. However, the glass cases are filled with ancient religious texts. These annual pilgrimages leave any and all less-than-proficient hotels empty of proprietors.

If the traveler is a religious scholar, the massive cathedrals provide the necessary root vegetables in two varieties, mashed with salt or mashed sans salt, as well as cots that can be purchased by the hour. In fact, religious scholars from numerous solar systems have attempted studying the Sardonica, or the religious tomes under glass, but few have come away with any understanding into the divine, or even what is moral or not among the Sardonian people. The texts seem to be filled with pithy expressions advising various courses of action that the people never follow or, if they do, they do so under the auspices of a rigorous social understanding. The Sardonians understand what nobody else can: that is, why the advice must be or, conversely, not be taken seriously, and outsiders are likely to suffer ridicule when they fail to comprehend the difference.

Many of Earth’s religious pilgrims have returned from Sardon with startling testimonies of the planet’s popular entertainment sector, which involves the self-flagellation of foreigners. Through this venue, pilgrims have come to see the light–literally–as they emerge from the underground cathedrals followed by Sardonian mockers. Most foreign pilgrims are brought to their knees, crying for pardon–Pardon me for my crimes against knowledge! Pardon me for my crimes against beauty!–thereby giving the Sardonians the opportunity to yell their oft repeated punchline: For Pardon, take a left through the atmosphere, you’ll arrive in no time at all, while knowing full well that their tourists will burn up before they ascend to 10,000 feet.

In short, the planet Sardon is your destination if you’re looking to be the entertainment or your own lost tour guide, or if muddying the waters of enlightenment is your idea of clarity. In other words, this is the place for do-it-yourself intellectuals who have a talent for misunderstanding the finest Earthly logic.