Al's House of Meats. A centre for free speech, and open thought. ahom was one of the many systems jacked into the environment we call tabnet, but unlike most of the other systems connected ahom was an extension of tabnet, or perhaps the opposite was true. nonetheless ahom was a centre of information exchange much the way tabnet was, but at times could be more personal and more intense.

Al's House of Meats was an experiment in BBS politics whereby though it was run on the computer of the local sysop, James Joyce, all active users were eventually granted sysop access and encouraged to use it in the creation of new message / file bases, and more where possible. A combination of anarchy and democracy at its finest in this information age, what made it function beautifully also became its downfall.

AHoM stands for Al's House of Meats. Node 13:13/42 of TabNet. They have taken the TabNet ideals to an extreme. Self expression and exploration through cyberspace. Poetry, art, sex, drugs, techno! It's all here! Well, rather, it was.

(And why not add...)

An excerpt from "Have Penguin, Will Travel", a mid-'90s 3-day Novel, in which the cyberspatial locus of AHOM is re-imagined as a restaurant existing in physical space:

It was with immense gratification that he stopped in front of a garishly painted restaurant.

It was quite garishly painted. It was also a restaurant. It was quite a garishly painted restaurant, in fact. If it looked like it had been painted in sections by the individual busboys and waitresses who worked at it, in the styles and colours of their various temperaments, it was probably because it had. The architecture could only be described as anarchic, with various booths and tables accompanied by all manner of chairs and stools. The building itself had been constructed by a team of students who decided that they wanted to work in a restaurant to pay their tuition fees but couldn't get hired anywhere else on account of their wild, shocking, unkempt and nonconforming appearances. There was a raw, unfinished patio, and above it hung a great big neon orange sign which said, "Al's House of Meats". Beneath the sign hung the flags of France, Canada, the United States, one with a happy face on it, one with a marijuana leaf on it, and the Jolly Roger. Clark took both the English name and the American flag as indications that he could be served by an English-speaking waiter inside, so he rushed in, ready for some meats.

The penguin followed.

Clark sat in a rocking chair, waiting to be seated. Across from him was a wide array of coin-operated candy machines, palm reading machines, grip testers, and large stacks of free 'zines and publications were heaped around the bases of these various pieces of equipment. Clark adjusted his position so as to allow more light from the ambient lava lamps to pour over his shoulder and picked up the first paper which he could reach.

It was printed on rough yellow paper, and, not surprisingly, was advocating the decriminalisation of hemp for construction uses such as this very paper. After a few paragraphs of listing the god-sent abilities of the misjudged hemp plant, such as strength, durability, easiness to grow, the testing which proved that it cured most forms of cancer, and the fact that wearing clothes made from hemp fabric made you more attractive to women, the main body of the text degenerated into paranoid ramblings about government regulating, conspiracies involving the Catholic Church, and "mOOOO says the cow. moOOO." Clark decided that it would be prudent to put the paper down and try for some more mundane literature.

Picking up the next closest magazine, printed on glossy paper, he was most distressed to discover that it featured a young man in bondage gear on the cover, complete with dog leash, spiked collar, and nipple clamps. Eager to return the shocking pamphlet to its pile yet morbidly fascinated with the contents of the underground mag, Clark simply couldn't manage to put it down. His attention only wavered when, after several minutes, his reading was disturbed by a waiter, who was here to seat him.

"I love you," said the demure tall young man with short blonde hair and glasses.

Clark frantically looked up at the speaker and tried to conceal his literature of choice behind his back, but the garcon would have none of that.

"Fascinating, isn't it?"

The man was looking at Clark expectantly, as if he hoped to hear a well-thought critique of the realism and clarity of the pornographic photos. Clark started to mutter denials of having looked at the magazine, that he was only glancing at it.

"Don't be ashamed... go ahead, keep it. They're free. Now if you'll just follow me to your table...?" The waiter gestured towards a brightly illuminated table beneath a wildly polka-dotted ceiling fan.

Clark discreetly left the S&M newsletter on the rocking chair and followed the tall man, who was wearing a nametag reading "AL." He sat down as the waiter pushed a kiddie's high chair up to the other side.

"For your penguin," he indicated, as if it was an obvious oversight.

Lifting the penguin up into the seat, he then introduced himself.

"My name is Ivar," he began, paying blatant disregard to the nametag, "and I will be serving you tonight. Here at Al's House of Meats we communally wish you to have the most enlightening eating experience possible under the given circumstances. As such, if anything at all inconveniences you in the slightest, please feel free to signal to me, or any other employee here. We believe that we are here to serve you, our customer, and as such, cater as much as possible to your every need."

"Excuse me... I couldn't help but hear when you came in that you said that you loved me. Was that... simply an extension of the comforting atmosphere you are trying to present here?"

Clark's logic lobes were working overtime to make sense of the wildly varying information he was being presented with, and he was doing his best to cope with what he believed to be a sincere expression of unrequited love and admiration.

"Actually, I only do it for the shock value, to see how you'll react. Most people simply ignore me and pretend that it was never said. Now, of course, you'll be needing a menu."

At this, "AL" turned around and disappeared for several minutes. During his absence, it seems that a fight broke out in the kitchen, as there was much screaming from that direction. One female voice kept stating that she wasn't going to listen to him, and a bitter male one kept insisting on his right to be heard. A second male voice soon joined the fray, and the conflict culminated with the bitter man being led, still wearing the apron and holding a spoon in his hand, out of the kitchen and out the front door into the street by a large woman and a short blonde man. As soon as they had gotten him out of the restaurant, the pair gave each other a high-five, the man turned a bolt on the door, and they retreated into the kitchen. Clark noted that they, too, had nametags reading "AL".

The other patrons of the restaurant appeared unperturbed by this little confrontation with the cooks, and quickly went back to their discussions about public transit, pot smoking, and alternate forms of government after witnessing the third cook outside yell a bit in frustration and lie down in protest in front of the doors.

Ivar returned bearing a menu and a small box. He presented the menu to Clark with a grand flourish and set the small cardboard box gently upon the tablecloth. Clark opened the menu and was surprised to see nothing.

"Yes, yes, I know, you're going to complain that I have given you a blank menu. You will note- "

"No, no, that's not at all what I was going to ask, at least, not quite yet. Does that sort of thing with the.. er... cooks happen often? They seem to have had a bit of a... spat. But when you're done with that, the menu question would make a great follow-up, yes."

The waiter took a deep breath, sorted his thoughts, and continued in what sounded like a rehearsed voice.

"Al's House of Meats is an experimental restaurant, from the very construction itself to the methods of food procuration and preparation, all the way down to how it's run, i.e. where the money goes and who decides all that. It being run by a commune of students, we have experimented with various forms of self-government. The communism phase worked well at first, but then as we ran out of natural resources some members ended up wealthier than others, and that fell apart. No one wanted to visit us during our attempt at fascism, as the atmosphere was too oppressive, so we've settled on a rough anarchy. People settle their problems by themselves and, though not everyone is happy, they're all given their chance at providing themselves with joy. Now as for- "

"Just a second here. Haven't you people tried a democracy yet? A genuine capitalist democracy, like the real world is run?"

Clark found himself incredulous that these kids had gone to all these extremes in an effort to be hopelessly fair and give every system a chance. At the mention of the word "capitalist", however, Ivar rolled his eyes, in the realization that he was dealing with a relative inept in the worlds of global socio-economic trends.

"I would give you a clear answer stating why a capitalist democracy cannot work inherently, but it would take longer to explain than it would for you to eat your meal. Now, as for the menus... we feel that there is no way we can give you what you want unless you tell us exactly what you want. As such, you fill out your own menu. And to facilitate the creative process," and here he opened the cardboard box, "we have provided you with an assortment of crayons."

"I'm afraid," began Clark, "that I've had a rather unusual week, and I simply can't deal with this restaurant at this point in time. I pray you'll excuse me, thank you for your time and the wonderful conversation, and will quietly leave."

"Don't feel bad," replied Ivar cheerfully, "many people have to visit the restaurant five or even six times before they can work up the nerve to order something."

And with that, he patted the penguin on the head affectionately, escorted them out the side door (as the front had the irate waiter blockading foot traffic) and, at Clark's request, pointed out the direction to the nearest McDonald's.

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