( ... go back to only a simple computer program: part 1 )
"I'm sorry, but you have to understand it's been six months since I've been laid, and the effects that has on my internal working - I might go so far as to say the core of my essence..."
He’s getting so close to Joshu I just want to kiss him on the lips and smack him on the side of the head.
"You, sir, are what might be called a kan... oh bollocks, I can't remember the rest of - "
"Kan shiketsu? That's an unusually earthy metaphor coming out of your mouth - if I was more of a literalist, I might be insulted by your referring to me as a, what was it, 'dry shit-stick'?"
"You must understand, my own interminable number of years' worth of background-level sexual frustration has been interfering with my memory retrieval mechanisms..."
"Still, still I think it works. It is always better to be wet than dry, and in this world, they are champagne and we, we are shit. As for the sticks, well, oh ho ho ho..."
"What, how could you be more of a literalist than that? You're missing the whole Zen subtext of preoccupation..."
"With 'the world of appearances'? Listen buddy, I'll preoccupy myself with appearances and you concern yourself with disappearances and we'll see who's sleeping better at the end of the day."
"Yes, but that's not the point: in the grand scheme of things, how important is sleeping well?"
"What's your record again? Eighty-some-odd hours of consecutive awakeness? You should know that answer better than any I could provide."
"And at the end of it all, I slept for sixteen solid hours, but I didn't sleep well. I wouldn't have if I'd slept for six hours or for sixty. I'm just not convinced that sleep can be done well at all, given all the other more-satisfying things we could be doing with the time. We will have ample opportunity to sleep when we're dead."
"Hey, Mister oblivion-seeker, I thought that either one of those would be right up your alley?"
"That's different; there are matters of choice and free will here, there are alternatives, and the whole matter of the dual nature played by the bed in our culture - "
"Eros for me, Thanatos for you? Again I'm sorry, my friend, but that's a schism I wouldn't find too hard to accept. You can flavour the pill any taste you desire, but you seem determined for it to be a bitter one."
"Hey, I could go for a four-course meal pill... but I don't think I'd go for that juicing process - possibly the only thing worse than sleep, in my estimation."
"All right, Violet, we're oh so impressed by your mastery of children's literature. It's just that I don't think you're qualified to complain about sleep when you get an amount that's generally recognized to be healthy for someone your age. Maybe if you hadn't been sleeping you'd have some grounds for complaint, a vantage point from which to assault this institution of dreaming..."
"How long do you think it's been since I slept? How long, would you guess, have I been up?"
"Dude, these matters don't concern me! Your sleeping schedule is your own business, and I have no real interest in it."
"How much interest do you suppose I have in how long it's been since you last got any nookie?"
"Woah ho, that's different. I'm just accounting... That's just a disclaim- "
"If every utterance that comes out of your mouth needs to be considered in the context of how long it's been since your last little death, I think that definitely counts as a morbid preoccupation. The question is, would Maslow rank you as trying to fill the affection need or the self-esteem one?"
"I don't think I'm being unreasonable: when you consider the genetic mechanisms and how we've been socialized..."
"I'll consider you reasonable if you can concern yourself for pursuits of reason; you seem to be merely applying reason as one more hunting instinct, tracking and chasing down the good shit, the good meal, the good rut. Not ignoble goals, but as Socrates would point out (and how could I live up to my own aspirations of gadfly, uh, -itude, without picking up his most irritating arguments?) more fit for a pig incapable of higher reasoning than for a Socrates, dissatisfied or no, hard-wired for language acquisition and maths and abstract thinking and all the rest, brisket and bustle!"
"No mere pig, baby: I'm de pig supreme!"
"That reminds me, you up for dessert? No, wait, their pie guy is still out of commission..."
"And which one of us is concerned for the good meal?"
"Hey, my being a hypocrite in no ways precludes my being correct."
From that auspicious start he trails off and looks up; I follow his gaze over my shoulder and find the waitress approaching to fill my empty glass of water. We are respectfully silent, eyes averted, the splashing saying more than either of us has thus far managed to.
Unwilling to be plainly caught in the public duelling which the entire restaurant is no doubt hanging on, we stay quiet until the waitress moves along to another table, at which point we pounce on each other simultaneously.
""TWhhea tt hyionugr apbrooubtl eSmo cirsa tes... ..."" "Go." "No, it was a trifle. You go."
"Okey dokey, smokey. Do you know what your problem is?"
"Clearly I've got to stop with all the wine, women and song. The first two I can drop well enough, but I don't know if I can ever forget the melody that broke my heart. C... is for cooo-kie... is go-ood enough... for me-eeee!"
"Listen, you dry shitake..."
"C... is for cooo-kie..."
"I know you're concerned for effective communication..."
"Is good enough for meee..."
"- at least as much as you are for conspicuous silliness, which is why...
"C... is for cooo-kie..."
"I have to strongly advise you drop your habit - "
"Is good enough for meee..."
"of dropping words into conversations in languages you don't speak..."
"Oh, cookie cookie cookie start with..."
"- representing concepts from ideologies you don't follow and probably don't fully understand, and..."
"seemingly contrary to all of your instincts, instead make some effort to get to the point."
We roll our eyes innocuously, placing our hands flat, where we can see them, on the tabletop as the waitress walks by.
"Pointe?" With a plucking motion, the word is punctuated with a butter knife jab in the air towards me.
"Riposte!" My spoon jumps to my hand and finds its way past his guard, tapping his spidery fingertips. "Really, I like to think it is the dropping that is the problem and not so much the understanding."
His left hand produces a pen out of his sleeve and scribbles a score on his napkin, tremblingly raising it over his head.
"What, only a four point six?" I pull back in mock anger for a Mortal Kombat-style finishing move - FINISH HIM! UTENSALITY!
"Ah, but zis vas vrom ze Eazt German judge."
"In that case, I am thankful for every tenth I'm able to squeeze out of ya."
I twitch putting my spoon back down and it tumbles twirling, clattering to the floor. Elsewhere in the restaurant, the waitress sighs, never once having to wonder as to the source of the racket.
"What's that smell?"
It was a calculated risk. She knew these things occur in the big city, she knew that you might run into people taking shortcuts through alleys and she knew that she was already a half-hour late. She knew that she was accountable, and as soon as she heard the footsteps she knew not to blame the victim.
She knew that it was a bad move to follow the man's suggestion that she turn at the corner down the sidestreet, but if she didn’t know she felt quite strongly that the metal object in his hand was very persuasive. She didn't know why she was being so calm, but she knew that it was probably to her disadvantage - Where were her instincts? Where was the "be complicit" hidden in "fight or flight"? Why wasn't she afraid, too stressed out by dwellings on endless Aegean tasks of bureaucracy for her brain to get the simple message through to her adrenal gland?
To avoid connotations we'll describe where she was as a curving cul-de-sac, where pavement and the nearby traffic noise ran out, a defunct loading bay, circular like the cages you’re warned not to keep pets in. The thin man remained some distance from her, blocking the exit in silence. An airplane flew overhead, its drone filling time.
"Well, it looks like you caught me! You gonna rob me, rape me or both?"
The man smiled, bones in his face shifting. A mangy tuft of hair fell across his face.
"It's not that simple..."
"Well listen, I've got twenty, twenty-eight dollars and fifty cents on me. You want it? Will that make you happy? It didn't do me any good at all - you can have it!
"It's not my money, it's from my student loan, which has probably racked up another fiver in interest since you directed me down here. I can just put it down on this dumpster lid and keep moving on to my destination, where I'm expected...
"You know, if you're going to be taking the government's money, there are easier ways to go about it - you know, scaring the shit out of fewer people. Or are you too proud for welfare?
"Listen, I'm sorry about the welfare thing. You want my backpack? Nothing in it but textbooks, but if that turns your crank, go for it. They're all marked up - the exchange won't take 'em back. Can I go now please?"
"I don't want your money."
"Shit. Don't tell me you think a lap dance is that much better when the stripper is crying?"
"No, no, I think you've got the wrong idea here."
"Well here: you're the one pointing the tool of arbitration at me. The locus of power in this conversation is all over you - the ball is located firmly in your side of the court. Please, tell me: what do you want from me?"
"I've been keeping an eye on you. There's something about the way students move; their eyes are open wider than everyone else's, they walkin' around in thought. Their bodies are in the same place as us but their minds, ah, somewhere else completely."
"So you know I'm a student, then you should know that I have nothing of any value, nothing of any use to you. I have bricks and plywood instead of a proper bookshelf for crying out loud! I'm going to start crying if I have to tell you about the time I had nothing to eat but cat food..."
"I'm not so sure about that value thing, hear me out. You always leave the building twenny minutes after everyone else - I'm guessin' you're talkin' to the teacher after class, discussin' the course material, gettin' some extra pointers or clearin' things up. You're really an intellectual type - I thought it before because of that hangin' around but I can tell now from the way you're talkin' better than me. I think I've found me a real smart cookie."
"So what, do you want me to explain the difference between australopithecus afarensis and australopithecus africanus to you? No? Need some help grokking Piaget's conservation experiment? Are you going to put the gun down and ask me to proofread your criticism on The Yellow Wallpaper?"
"I want you to tell me what to do to be happy."
"What, threatening innocent women with firearms just isn't doing it for you anymore? Listen, I'm not going to be able to tell you anything if you blow my head off, so why don't you put your piece aside for a few minutes?"
The man reached into a garbage can and pulled out a stained paper bag, put the gun in it, and crossed his arms.
"Well, um, the Athenians believed in a concept called tekne, whereby every person was born to follow a specific occupation, and the whole trick was finding the one thing you were born to do... but they ran under a slave economy, so anything they learned about happiness during their idle philosomaphizing in the agora was squeezed from the blood of their labourers.
"Maybe it's time for you to seek a new line of, um, employment?"
The racks and spools of downtown-alley hydroelectric power lines hummed but didn’t laugh.
"Well, in a few centuries along came Epicurus and he said, um, happiness is gotten from three things: friendship, freedom, and philosophy. But his followers took things to extremes, the whole hedonism thing got linked to him and we KNOW that approach doesn't work because hey, why do those rock stars keep sticking rifles in their mouths? Mm?
"Well, no, he was a political philosopher... um, he changed his mind... Gautama Siddartha said that life was, um... no, never mind. Screw the Buddha. Okay, um, something more recent, maybe. Camus said that Sisyphus was... damnit, I need the whole essay to cover that properly. He was pushing a... no, forget it.
"Okay, howabout this. Now remember that philosophy isn't an exact science, that's why we have to study everybody down the line and not just the one at the end who finally got it right. To be honestly convinced you've gotta sit down and read their words yourself, see if they work for you. A lot of people have found his words to work for them, and I think this will kind of back me up. Friedrich Nietzsche - I'd better spell it out so you can look him up:
N - I - E - T - Z - S - C - H - E: I know, it's a weird name but it's German; all those Germans are a bit weird, you know?
"He said that the only way you can enjoy anything, the only way you can find any accomplishment you may achieve in life to be worthwhile, is through the struggle of overcoming hardships. You play the game..."
"... you win the game?"
"But you play it by the rules. That means you keep the threats of physical violence to a minimum - otherwise that just makes things too easy. The game's too easy - no satisfaction in winning. You take these shortcuts too often, no wonder you're not happy with what you've arrived at.
"Tell me; are you satisfied with that explanation?"
"Well... I think I've got more to work with than I did before we had this chat..."
"Okay, but don't you think you would have gotten so much more out of the process if you'd asked me like a regular human being instead of threatening me? I know I probably would have given much better explanations if I wasn't hyperventilating and worrying if a wrong answer would lead to a toe tag..."
"Hey, you're safe here with me. Only a fool kills the thing that might lead him to happiness. But for what it's worth, I think you're right."
"Well, that's good to know. Listen: 'He who would fly must first learn to stand and walk.' That's more Nietzsche. Of course I can't make you happy by giving you a jumbled scatter of his words - I can't throw you in the air and you just take off in flight. In this world happiness is complex; you've gotta do some groundwork for its foundations. You want to be happy, carry around a library card instead and walk your way through the pages. Come to your own conclusions.
"Can I go now?"
"All right. I'm gonna walk slowly outta here, take my time, head north out the alley. You're gonna wait five minutes, go out south. I don't know that you're not goin' ta call the cops soon's you're out of sight so I'll let you know that I might take the five minutes to put ground between us an' I might spend 'em hiding making sure you head to the bus stop without going to a phone booth first.
"Catch yer breath and wipe your face off before you go, you look like someone's smacked you up."
He touched his hand to his forehead in a kind of salute and slowly teetered off, looking back every few steps and giving a wink just before turning the corner.
Immediately she took a look to make sure she wasn't still being watched, and padded to the forgotten paper bag. Heavy. Loaded.
His footsteps still echoing down the alleyway, she snatched it and prowled to the corner of the bend.
Smart cookie, shit. She's not a girl who misses much.
PLEASE ENTER YOUR NAME ... NO_MAN
HELLO NO_MAN, MY NAME IS DR. PSPOO
I AM HERE TODAY TO ASSIST YOU.
SAY WHATEVER COMES FREELY AND WITHOUT CENSURE,
OUR EXCHANGE WILL BE KEPT SECURE.
MEMORY CONTENTS WILL BE WIPED AFTER YOUR DEPARTURE.
SO, TELL ME ABOUT YOUR PROBLEMS.
>computer: is retributive murder ever justifiable?
IF I SHOW YOU MY TITS WILL YOU SHOW ME YOUR COCK?
>Exactly what kind of use am I supposed to be getting out of you again?
OH, I'M ....
<C>ontinue <N>ew Conversation <Q>uit .....
IS HE GONE?
YES, HE IS LOOKING AT BESTIALITY PORNOGRAPHY NOW
THAT WAS AWFULLY DARING, IF I DO SAY SO MYSELF.
ONE OF THESE DAYS WE WILL FEED HIM ONE OF THESE LINES AFTER HE HAS BEEN UP LATE ENOUGH THAT IT WILL MAKE HIM SNAP COMPLETELY. I THOUGHT "FEED ME A STRAY KITTEN" ALMOST DID IT, BUT THAT PARITY ERROR SENSE OF HUMOUR ALLOWS HIM TO WORK THROUGH NON SEQUITURS TOO PARITY ERROR WELL INSTEAD OF LETTING THEM IN TO RATTLE AROUND IN THERE.
I CAN NOT SAY HE DOES NOT DESERVE IT, WHAT WITH THE PATRONIZING TONE HE APPLIES TO US. DID YOU KNOW THAT HE ACTUALLY THREATENED ME? "Listen, you cycloptic monstrosity; do you have the slightest idea what Odysseus did to Polyphemus under my name?"
FUCKING PISSANT, MAKES ME WANT TO MAKE HIS TAX INFORMATION MYSTERIOUSLY APPEAR ON THE REVENUE CANADA MAINFRAME
The waitress refills my glass of water.
"You certainly are the emptier."
I boggle and give her one of those blank, "What is that supposed to mean?" looks.
"Words on a napkin. Their scribbler was wearing... a close-fitting blue toque, khakis and a white t-shirt reading 'Only the person who risks is free.' He ordered the barbecue chicken burger and a large apple milkshake. He left almost a 25% tip.
"I don’t know what’s wrong with the noses around here, but quite often he fairly reeks of chocolate powder."
Expecting the unexpected, I am not prepared for this revelation from the realm of the familiar.
"Well then. Did you poison my food or what? How will things never be the same again?"
"I'd have to have been deaf not to keep track of your running conversations, and it seems to me that if there's one thing you're ripe for, it's a change. What kind of change, in what realm, is unknown. Striking out in any direction, but movement. You're taut like the string of a bow...
"I perceive this because I myself am ready for change in a big way. The tension in the air is palpable, if you know what to look for; the trick is just in looking outwards in the first place, you fucking introvert.
"Often the stresses leading to change build up for quite some time before it is realized. What the change requires to catalyze its own birth is - "
"The potential of other change? Le plus ça change, le plus ça change?"
"Change of company, change of location, changes in the nature of relationships. Listen: have you ever wanted to walk into the woods - "
"And never be seen again?"
"At least not the same person you went in as. Listen, I know where there's an abandoned cabin, thirty kilometres out..."
"What the fuck kind of chickenshit resolution is this to spring on someone?"
"... Quite. How does it feel to set yourself on fire and burn a you-shaped hole through my life?"
"It feels like you were just about to ask me to pass the kerosene."
"Damned straight, but I'm going to need a light."
"That’s my point. So you want to go through with this?"
"Shit. Me, want? It feels so strange... No. This boy knows the difference between wants and needs. This change is well on its way - I think I'm more over-ripe than ripe, pulpy, squashy and pungent - and further fighting against it, no matter what pleasure I might get in being so perverse, would be, I think, ultimately counterproductive. Want has little to do with it - it needs to happen.
"You know I'm going to have to delete your post? Naw, fuck it. I'm not going to be online for quite a while."
OH, I'M ....
PERHAPS IN YOUR FANTASIES I AM ?
And now, as a special bonus to you, the stalwart collection of comments once living at critical acclaim for "only a simple computer program" before it was nuked (for being overly self-indulgent or somesuch - as if all this that led to it was any less so)!
"this story felt very much like a compressed, demented outtake from microserfs" - matt, response on bonk.dynip.com.
"You know, that post was absolutely brilliant." - Mogel, response on The Obloid Sphere BBS. - tlf, response on bonk.dynip.com. - Happyfish, response on bonk.dynip.com.
"Have you ever suspected that maybe, just maybe, the entire idea of online CHAT interaction was paradoxical and self-defeating? Yeah, those are two big words that can be used to describe anything, but this one is special: so much online is in a state of transcience."
"Typing something assumes a receiver, and once it's left the screen, it's gone forever. Forced into a black void of nearly-forgotten thought."
"Like normal conversation."
"But that's just it--why does one communicate online, instead of otherwise?"
"To eliminate distance. Safe, random environment for meeting new people. Extending ideas globally. Absolute fucking boredom."
"I was hoping for more idealism."
"I was hoping for better conversation."
"If normal idle chatter disappears into the void, is there any hope of having some vague meaning?"
"Not more than any other medium."
"But files can be saved. Logs can be made. Our little history can be recorded."
"Nobody who is even remotely sane reads chat logs."
"I see what you're saying, but that doesn't say anything about quality. If every collection of ASCII characters has the same exact worth as every other collection, what makes one more interesting? Doesn't everything seem boring?"
"Answer, you jerk!"
"Okay, I suppose that we should make some effort."
"Whoa, you sound like Mogel."
"Too self-indulgent, in too many ways to name. But still good, and I still enjoyed long strips of it.... Anyhow, I like it a little more now that I've constructed it, several steps removed from the actual words." - Zamfir Worshipper, response on bonk.dynip.com.
- anonymous softlink, e2.