Photo by Katie

Photo by Katie

It’s finally raining today, the first time in weeks. I could taste the dust in the air last week, particulates swarming everywhere, lilting their way into everything and everyone, a dancing haze of gray and brown enveloping the trees and dens. Today only the sky remains gray, only the earth remains brown. The air has been cleansed, filtered, and I can once again smell moisture, taste the water invading my pores, tamping down the grass, wilting the trees. The odors are muted, turned down just as the sunlight is diminished by the clouds.

The walk feels fresh today despite the same streets, the same grass and concrete. Pools of life have gathered in the cracks of the sidewalk, the water so clear I am tempted to drink, taste what the sky has gifted to us here on this hard earth, but I know I shouldn’t. I know there is life so much smaller than me, teeming everywhere, multiplying, dying, growing back again stronger, waiting to invade beings like me, giant vessels to harbor them, feed them. I move on, my companion pleased at my restraint. The wind, always ready with a practical joke, picks up every time we pass under a tree, jostling jagged branches and leaves starting to abandon their green who hold water like the eager younger brother wanting to endear himself to the older sibling pulling a prank. The rain and the trees and the wind join forces, soak us to the bone. I don’t mind a bit; water is life and I am bathed in it. But it’s always possible to drown in life.

It will be bright and sunny tomorrow, and all of this will seem like a distant memory. I’ll say: Remember that time it rained? Yeah, I remember. We took a nice walk in it. Well, the walk was nice; they always are, but I seem to recall you didn’t like the water in your fur as much. What can I say; I’m a four legged diva.

Photo by Katie

Photo by Katie

Measure twice, cut once. It and other practical adages of another age where men fixed the broken stairs, drank whisky at lunch, cavorted around behind their wives and mistresses backs, women did not do what men believed women dutifully did do all day, flew around the studio as bats from the cave mouth, dense and fast. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush never made sense to anyone, mostly it turned into a sad kind of perverted sexualized joke made by infantile sixth-graders who have only just figured out what their genitals do. Rulers would subsequently be turned into two-foot-long erections, waved with reckless abandonment and slapped dutifully on willing derrieres, yelps and giggles flitting through the ether. A penny saved is a penny earned was the catalyst to begin yet another round of buttcrack basketball, the balls increasing in value the further along the game went, eventually peaking, the boss bringing out the special stash of silver dollars, the interns bent over eagerly waiting for their bonuses. We should all of us have been fired.

Regular accounts keep us in the green, those few clients willing to wait for miraculously completed projects in spite of our laserlike focus on bodily functions and ever increasing boasts of staff member’s sexual prowess, both with the human and not-so-human. Occasional inside jokes, like the one about Jenkins’s tryst with the Second Avenue bridge late one Thursday night during the winter of Oh-Four, the officer of the law finding him humping the main support girder while shouting “Long Live the Queen!” with all the fervor of an RAF pilot on his final suicide mission, make it into the final products, our clients too busy swooning over the supple kerning like puzzled orangutans to notice. We make, it can be said without a doubt, an excellent product.

Photo by Katie

Photo by Katie

My dog is always convinced, on every walk we take, whether day or night, that something is behind us, following along in our wake. Paranoia levels vary from Mildly Interested to JESUSFUCKWE’REGONNABEMURDEREDBYAXEWIELDINGCLOWNSONTRICYCLES. Tonight is no different. Something has been behind us, neither making a sound nor reflecting any light, for the last quarter of an hour. I do my best mildly annoyed parent impression, sigh a lot, give the leash a little tug. “Come on,” I mutter gently. Try not to lose my temper. He heeds my request, but not willingly, and still convinced there is someone or something behind us. I sometimes pretend we really are being followed, make random directional changes, double back on our route, stop and stand for a few minutes without moving so much as a single muscle. I try the serpentine maneuver tonight. Zig up one street. Zag down another. He thinks I’ve lost my mind, looking at me as though I were carrying a rotten tree branch in my teeth. So unappealing. I stop. If something was following us, we must have shaken them by now. The night still looks as black as ever. I can smell the steel of the trolley tracks. Off in the distance someone is having a party, their stereo playing ‘Thriller’, Michael Jackson going woo as only he could. We head off again over concrete fields and grassy roads. He still thinks we’re being followed.

Sometimes I like to think his nose is so powerful he can smell beyond these paltry four dimensions we humans exist within. Perhaps he can smell bacon cooking in a seventh or eleventh dimension, odor particles slipping through wormholes in the fabric of spacetime, alighting gently on his olfactory nerves, jolting his brain into hunt mode. Or maybe he can sense some pan-dimensional being walking along a parallel road in a parallel universe innocently unaware they are following a tiny human down here in the First Four. There’s always the possibility we got it wrong and dogs don’t see in black and white, but instead see all the dimensions, quantum strings racing past their retinas, the macro and micro universe all at once. Such a visual display would certainly explain his excitement over what looks like nothing at all to me.

Then again, it’s probably just a cat behind us. Because cats are assholes.

Photo by Katie

Photo by Katie

Machine like breathing is all I really do now. I don’t even bother to focus my eyes anymore as they stare blankly out through the moisture covered window. What’s the point? Later tonight those droplets will turn to frost, sure as the earth goes round the sun. (At least for now. Nothing, I suppose, even the forever revolving earth, is truly certain anymore.) Somewhere off in the black distance a warning light blinks its piercing glow. The road must be flooded again, but it makes no difference to me. I’ll not be using that road again. It’s the same thing day in and night out. Cold. Freeze. Warm. Thaw. Repeat. Nothing moves anymore. The crickets went silent last month. The cicadas shortly after that. Who would have ever known how quiet the world would become without insects. There were still birds, but the only birds that call now are the crows, and they sound more tired every day, their caws turning to coughs. Even the mammals have mostly given up, staying in their dens or their caves, huddling for warmth in the night, timidly venturing out in the day for a brief period before giving up again. The squirrels don’t chirrup. The wolves don’t A-oooooooo.

I don’t remember exactly when I gave up. Maybe it was when she left. Maybe when the power failed for the last time. Maybe when the fish in the pond died. My stomach cried out for them, but their bloated bodies were not fit for consumption. I can still smell them decomposing. At least the bacteria are still doing their job, but I haven’t seen an earthworm in months.

A tiny neuron in the back of my brain wonders how that blinking light still has power. Could be solar, I suppose. Perhaps there’s an outside chance someone else is out there maintaining it, keeping a small beacon of hope alive for the lost wanderers on the road. One has to wonder where they are wandering to. We are all helplessly tried by gravity’s pull to this dying planet. There is no place else to go. Wander all you want. It doesn’t matter, really.

Photo by Katie

Photo by Katie

Ah the internet age. Smartphones and streaming. Tablets and gaming. Electronic notebooks and more porn than you can shake a (metaphorical) stick at. Sure, we have our offices, our studios, our computer labs. There are so many places we fool ourselves into thinking is where all the action, the hard work, the Aha! moments happen. And, perhaps, we are slightly more useful in those environments

But all the fireworks happen right here, now. Thanks, Steve.

Back in the dark ages (read: pre-January 9, 2007, when the iPhone was thrust into our eagerly quaking hands, the drool desperately clinging to our lower lips) the loo was a place to do your necessary biological business, and maybe leaf through a magazine, or partake of something teenage boys are very fond of engaging in. There was the roll of toilet paper waiting patiently on its spool, the trash can holding any number of biohazards to make a hypochondriac run away in horror, the scale forever staring you in the face, daring you to see just how massive you were after another weekend of Burger King and IPA bingeing.

Now we sit on the porcelain throne. And sit. And sit some more. All those biological functions done with? Huh? Oh. Yeah. But lemme look at one more pic on /r/aww. Legs feeling numb? What? Oh. Yeah. But I just gotta finish this round of Candy Crush Saga and invite my seven hundred fifty two friends to join in. Seven hundred fifty two friends?

Even the porcelain knows that’s bullshit.

 

Photo by Katie

Photo by Katie

I know there’s a reason I poured two glasses. I know it! Think think think. There was someone else here, but I can’t remember who. Damnit! Who was that? I can still smell them. Where did they go? Wait. Am I sure I was the one to pour? Maybe the other person did it. But then, if they did, why did they pour and leave? Okay okay okay. Get a grip. It’s just two glasses of beer. Nothing to get all worked up over. But why can’t I remember who was here or who poured? And where am I? I don’t remember coming here to this barren room. It’s nothing but hardwood, fluorescent bulbs, four white walls, no windows, not even a door so far as I can tell. It’s just the beer and the smell of someone who used to be here, a someone who I can’t remember. Wait. Is that a ring of condensation on the wood? It is! One of those glasses has moved! But who did it? I don’t think it was me; my hands aren’t cold or moist. Unless I moved it a while ago. Incidentally, this room is too warm. Someone really should turn down the temperature. And I don’t like the hardwood at all. Someone needs to put some rugs in here. Stop it. You’re getting distracted. Okay. Think think think! How did I get here? Where is here? Why the beer? And can I leave? I feel like I only just arrived, but maybe I’ve been here a while. Do I live here? And if I do, where’s all my stuff? Do I even own stuff? What was that noise?

“H…Hello? Is anyone there?”

No one. I’m just imagining things. Okay.

Now, I know there’s a reason I poured two glasses…

Photo by Katie

Photo by Katie

The camera doesn’t always tell the truth. The aperture widens, the shutter opens for one three-hundred-twentieth of a second, a sensor behind it gathers in the photons –are they waves or particles?– and records the information gathered, sending electrons to a wafer of silicon. It’s sorcery to me.

But there we are: a heartwarming picture of my dog looking up in rapt adoration at his master. Or is it? What happened in the next one three-hundred-twentieth of a second? Did he bare his teeth? Did he snap the leash out of my hand? That grip of mine looks tenuous. Did he suddenly lie down in protest, annoyed that I was making him wait while mom took a picture? Maybe I was chiding him for something that happened one three-hundred-twentieth of a second before the shutter and the photon particles –or are they waves? does it matter?– and the electrons and the silicon. Maybe he wasn’t even looking at me. It’s possible he was distracted by a bird or a squirrel on the power lines overhead. Perhaps he’s looking at my belly and thinking, “Master needs to lose some weight.”

The real truth is I have no idea what was happening here. Life is an endless series of one three-hundred-twentieth of a second moments, strung together like atoms in an infinite molecule chain. It overwhelms my brain trying to process them all, constantly snapping pictures with the apertures and shutters in my eyes, gathering in the photons –particles? waves? who the fuck cares.– and sending the electrons down the optical nerve to my own version of silicon. I try to remember later, but it’s all a blur.

Maybe I need a bigger memory card.

Photo by Katie

Photo by Katie

The double track line from Port Yuta doesn’t see much traffic these days. Before the Lessening, when the rails glistened like a well loved silver heirloom on the living room mantle, you’d hear the call of the horns, sounding their warning: another heavy freight was coming through. Every half hour after the sun rose above the horizon, with clockwork precision, another leviathan would come trundling through, steel wheels on steel rails, stretching from horizon to horizon. Train after train, carrying wheat for the bread mills, rubber balls for children to bounce as high as their little arms could muster, needles for the doctors to deliver vaccines and cures to the needy and the rich alike, condoms for the teenagers perpetually held in sweaty heat, riding mowers for the old men who made perfect sculpted lines of sawn grass lawns, chew toys for the dogs to lustily gnaw on, red marbled meat for the shops and restaurants and the growling stomachs that visited upon them, and the countless other knickknacks, perishables, ores, needs, and supplies that old society craved and consumed. Loaded trains, their multicolored cars and tanks full to the maximum tonnage allowed, struggled up the grade from the east, the massive diesel engines straining at the couplers, on the way to offload their cargo in the great plains of Sata and the megacities situated there. The westbound trains, empty and headed downgrade, would skitter on the tracks like eager children on a sugar high, hungry to load up again for the return to the plains.

We should have known it wouldn’t last forever, those roaring, vibrant years. The cities failed, collapsing under the foolish politics of bickering madmen. The plains dried up, verdant fields exchanging their limitless swathes of flittering grass for flats of dirt and salt. And in the end, the ships ceased coming to Yuta. There was no point anymore. The trains disappeared. The polished rails went to rust.

The few hearty people who remained eventually repurposed the oxidized steel. An electric catenary was strung above the rails and today, twice a day, a lone trolley, barely big enough to carry twenty people, scuttles its way between the desolate plain and the near forgotten port. It is empty most days. Not many can pay the gold to ride. Ignoring the warning signs placed at every grade crossing, most travelers choose to walk the rails, carrying with them the medicines for the sick, the toys for the young, the ores to rebuild, and, without strain or struggle, the hopes and dreams of the future.

Photo by Katie

Photo by Katie

I am Truck
                Hear my V8 roar

Look! my mighty tattoos
                how magnificent I look!
My might keeps America free
        (back off commies…)
And freedom is America’s pastime
        (but the Phillies let me down)
                So how about them Eagles?
                Or the Flyers?
        (what is a Flyer?)

I am Truck
                Hear my V8 roar

Fireworks and Sunoco
                delicious delicate combo
                The bangs and the booms and the fumes and the wooz
        (why be normal?)
and look at that sad import back there
                boring box of silver
                It has no ink
        (doesn’t it stink?)

I am Truck
                Hear my V8 roar

I ride high on my chassis
                watching for motorcycles
        (is that a two-wheeler I see?)
Remember!
                Don’t text and drive!
                Bikes not bombs!
                Support the local economy!
        (Tweety likes it you see…)

I am Truck
                Hear my V8 roar

Gripping the asphalt
                rumbling and humming
                power to the rear
                meditating on
                Betty Boop and the Liberty Bell
                Hello Kitty and Hey-Peace-Man-Flower-Power
                Panthers and Angry Birds
                Butterflies and Planet Fitness
        (such disjointed Nirvana…)
        (but I am no angel…)

and Rush is the greatest band Of All Time
                AND DON’T YOU FUCKING FORGET IT.

I am Truck
                                Hear my V8 roar!

Photo by Katie

Photo by Katie

“I don’t know what a ‘Scottish Monday’ is,” he called to the other room. I’m almost positive that’s what it says. The writing, the pictures, the book itself, all ancient and crumbling, a gift from generations upon generations ago. He squinted. His eyesight had begun to fail him of late, the cataracts slowly encroaching from his periphery, turning all things into a haze of blurry white and brown and black. Certainly the technology existed to fix the problem, yet only the wealthiest in this oligarchy could afford it. He knew they should have emigrated to the European Collective years ago: anyone with any sense in them had done it, but a false sense of hope in the system had kept them Stateside. This is where the family had been for centuries, where grandmothers and fathers and daughters and grandsons had toiled in the factories, poured their sweat and blood and tears into the machines. Now the machines had taken all the jobs and, with them, all the money too. They ran the government, paid no taxes –they weren’t “alive” after all– and generally made sure that humans never got a leg up. The Biological Protests came and went, always accomplishing nothing. The machines didn’t care.

It made him sad knowing his ancestors had brought this future about. His family had been one of the first to build intelligent, learning, sentient machines, and it had not at all turned out like the prophetical movies of the ancient 20th century. The machines didn’t cause a holocaust, or murder people, or even enslave them. They simply figured out how to play the human game of greed better than any human ever had. Greed, he thought. The greatest Turing test humanity ever created.

He realized he was drifting off in another daydream of regret. He blinked, shook his head. Yes. That definitely says Monday. He turned to the door. “’Scottish Monday’. Is that a British thing?”

His husband of fifty years walked into the room, a smile on his face. “It says ‘Scottish Holiday’, dear.”

“Oh.” His face fell. He felt powerful, familiar arms wrapping around him.

“Don’t feel bad about it. We’re both getting up there. We aren’t machines, after all.”

“I was really hoping ‘Scottish Monday’ was a thing.” He sighed.