Thursday, June 29, 2017

Story 192: Documentary of Humanity

            (A view of Earth, as seen from outer space)

          Documentarian: (V.O.) The planet: as yet unnamed.  Location: third celestial body from the central star in this system.  The dominant species: bipedal, hairy, fleshy beings ill-suited for survival in their own natural environs, yet extremely adaptive, to the point where they have nearly destroyed their own world as they force it to cater to their whims.  In the most prominently visible language, they call themselves “humans”; and they are the subjects of tonight’s episode:

(Title card) Out in the Star Field: The Ways of the Natives

            (Montage of everyday life around the globe)

           Documentarian: (V.O.) Seven major land masses.  Seven major bodies of water.  More than nine billion of these creatures and counting.  The real question lies in how this planet has not imploded from the sheer weight pressing on its crust by now.

            (View of a traffic jam on a freeway)

            Documentarian: (V.O.) Their migratory patterns are baffling: large numbers of the herds travel immense distances within one solar day, simply to return to their point of origin with no real signs of food, possessions, and/or offspring having been obtained in the process.

            (View of a busy playground)

          Documentarian: (V.O.) Speaking of offspring, their young appear to have over-developed skulls to encase their over-developed brains, yet the majority of this segment of the population encounter great difficulty in simple tasks such as following straightforward directions or differential equations.  (View of one child repeatedly tossing a ball against a wall) Most peculiar use of advanced cognitive functions.

            (View of an office building)

       Documentarian: After vast study of these beings, we have developed a rudimentary understanding of the aforementioned most prominently visible language.  We also developed extremely crude methods of infiltration into their various herds: they do not bear up under close scrutiny, but tests have proven them to be at least temporarily passable.

          (View of Documentarian wearing a human-face mask, a hazmat suit, and a large VISITOR badge, navigating through a maze of cubicles; the recorder following is unnoticed by the subjects)

            Documentarian: (Speaking quietly) I have penetrated deep into the wilds of a branch of this species, whose members mainly call themselves “employees.”  Each is positioned at an outlying terminal to receive and enter data for the central hive mind; we believe this ultimate authority is called “I.T.,” but there could have been a mistranslation of its importance in the social hierarchy.  (The Documentarian stops at one cubicle) I will now attempt to initiate contact with one of these beings.  Observe how one must execute extremely complex auditory and visual behaviors to successfully convey one’s intentions.  (To employee) Ahem.  Ex – cuse meeeee…?

            Employee: Oh, hello.  Can I help you?

           Documentarian: Yes.  Could you – explain.  To me – what, is it, you are doing?  Here.  Yes.  Could you?  (V.O.) We have observed on multiple occasions that these beings respond favorably to repetition.

            Employee: Um, well, as you can guess, it’s not exactly rocket science here, heh-heh.

         Documentarian: (V.O.) These creatures often make that sound that is not what they call “words” – usually if they are amused, but also if they are angry, triumphant, or extremely nervous.  It is unclear as to which meaning this subject is attributing to the sound, so in order to blend in, I imitate.  (To Employee) Heh-heh.  (V.O.) The subject accepts the sound and continues with communication.

         Employee: Yeah, what it boils down to is that I take data from one place and move it to another.  I also take pieces of paper from one place and move them to another.

         Documentarian: (V.O.) The subject appears slightly agitated; I mentally review my list of appropriate questions for this environment and select the one least likely to elicit an aggressive response.  (To Employee) Do you find your work fulfilling?

            Employee: No!  (She lays her head down on the desk and cries)

           Documentarian: (V.O.) Having depressed the subject, I decide to terminate contact and allow the being to return to its natural state.  (Documentarian walks away from the still-sobbing Employee)

            (View of a break room)

        Documentarian: (Still wearing the camouflage, now addressing the recorder; the other employees in the room do not notice) Aside from the occasional fact-finding mission, we have a strict policy of non-interference with any species we observe: we must allow their lives to progress as if we had never been there.  It becomes difficult when observing subjects in peril, however; for example, this alpha over here is harassing this beta for food, territory, and possible procreation.  At times such as this, one wishes one could simply transport the alpha off-world to leave the beta and the rest of the herd in peace, but that cannot be.  (The beta suddenly dumps the contents of the water cooler over the alpha’s head; the remaining employees form a circle around the two as they fight) Ooh, did not see that coming; this just got rather exciting.  Again, one cannot interfere, but that does not mean one cannot take sides.  (Documentarian joins the circle and chants “Go!  Go!  Go!  Go!” with the others)

            (View of the Documentarian, sans camouflage, hovering in the middle of a savanna)

          Documentarian: (V.O.) There are so many variations within this species that they simply cannot all be covered in one episode, which is why this is the first of a 10,000-part series.  Next installment will find us exploring the dangerous mountains and valleys of commerce, collectively referred to as a “mall,” wherein many beings enter and leave without having accomplished much that is observable, aside from being encumbered with burdensome materials.  Once our overview of this species concludes, please stay with us for our 1,000,000-part series on all the other species of this planet – in this scientist’s opinion, by far the more interesting segment of this particular program.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Story 191: You’ll Only Really Be Famous After You’re Dead

            “What am I doing wrong?”  Friend 1 asked Friend 2.
            Friend 2 was in the middle of constructing a very convoluted and unstable medieval society and could not afford to be distracted.  “You’re gonna have to be specific: wrong about what, your life path?  Your decision to move to a suburb instead of an urb?  Having a crush on your co-worker?  Your career choice?  Your haircut?  Your – ”
            “Knock it off, you know what I mean!”
            It seemed that the world-building would have to wait until a more opportune time, sigh.  “I really don’t, there’re just too many choices.”
            “You’re hilarious.  I’m talking about my artwork!”
            “Oh, that again.”
            “Why aren’t I famous and making a billion dollars by now?!  I’ve been at it my whole life!  Practically.  Why does no one recognize my talent?!”
            “Maybe because you don’t have any.  Sorry, that was just a reflex, I didn’t mean it.”
            Anyway, I’ve done all I can possibly do to push my works of genius onto the unsuspecting public, I’ve advertised myself like crazy, I’ve built such an online platform that I could take a nose dive off it – short of busking in the street and throwing my paintings at people, what else can I do to make any kind of money off my only life skill?!”
            Friend 2 gave this a few moments of actual serious consideration.  “Well, you know most artists are only truly famous after they’re dead, so maybe you should just die.”
            “You’re really sick sometimes, I feel obligated to point out.”
            “Oh, I forgot the air quotes; I meant ‘die.’”  She did the air quotes this time.  “As in, not really dead, but your online audience thinks you are.  A social media death, if you will.”
            “I’m not sure where you’re going with this.”
         “You have all your stuff for sale on your Web site and you’re always on all those other networks, right?  So, once it’s announced all over there that you’re dead, what’s online is as real as reality and your work will be worth a fortune because now it’s tragic.”
            “I’m pretty certain that’s considered fraud.”
            “Not if someone else is the one saying it and you’re not involved.  Then you come back later, say it was all a mistake that that someone else made, and your work will sell even more since they’ll be post-resurrection.”
            “I don’t know, it all seems so… underhanded.”
            “It is, but do you want results or not?  You also probably want to hire a stranger to do this for you – I’d do it for free, but the authorities’d probably trace it back to you.”
            “If I pay someone they’ll trace it back to me, too!”
            “Good point.  Maybe find someone who’ll do it pro bono – ooh, I know a guy I’m going to blackmail, this’ll be perfect!”
            Friend 2 arrived at Friend 1’s apartment.  “So – how’s life in the great beyond?”
          “Terrible.  That guy you made me give all my passwords to so he could hack my accounts?  He’s absolutely awful.  What exactly do you have on him?”
        “Everything.  He did great work, though – you’re officially dead as far as cyberspace is concerned.”
            “I know, and I feel miserable.  All my friends and relatives are freaking out!”
            “Oh, you actually have real friends online?”
            “Yes!  Why, don’t you?”
           “Heck no – I don’t want any of them knowing my business.  Total strangers, though, they’re cool.”
            “I should’ve known this’d happen before I went along with your stupid idea!”
            “I resent that; you have results, don’t you?  Isn’t the money rolling on in as we speak?”
           “No!  It isn’t rolling on anywhere!  My bank account is frozen while my family is trying to habeas my corpus!”
            “Ohhhhh…. But you’re stuff’s selling like hotcakes, right?”
            One painting sold.”
            “See!  That was one more than you’d sold last week!  You’re making progress!”
          “I’m ending this: I’m coming back to life, I'm confessing all, I’m going to jail, and this nightmare will all be over.”
            “Let’s not be hasty now – you wouldn’t want the authorities tracing this back to me, would you?  I thought we discussed this.”
            “I would want it traced back to you!  You and your… consultant!  I can’t believe I let you convince me this was any sort of good!”
            “Well, you weren’t famous before, and now you’ll be so famous that you’ll probably have a court television show based on you.  I honestly don’t understand why people always complain when they get exactly what they want.”

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Story 190: Neverending Summer Traffic

            The self-proclaimed Head of Household entered the kitchen where the rest of the family had been at their various activities: a declaration needed to be made.
            Addressing each in turn, Head of Household stated: “Life Partner; Mother; 2.5 Children – ”
            “Woof!”  Child 0.5 replied.
            “ – since none of you can agree upon the very important decision of where we should go on our summer vacation, I am pulling rank and telling you all where we are going to have the time of our lives this year.”
            Child 1 whined, “But Mom, I really wanted – ”
            “For the last time, we are not going to the North Pole!  Now, considering the multiple factors of logistics, projected return on investment of entertainment value, and budgetary restraints due to the seven weddings we are obligated to attend this year, I have decided that it would be in all our best interest to use an old stand-by: we are going to The Shore.”
            Everyone else, including Child 0.5, gasped.
            “And not just any The Shore: The Jersey Shore.”
            The same all screamed (or howled) in terror.
            “What are you thinking?!  Do you hate us?!”  Life Partner stood to make his point.  “Do you have any idea of the traffic that we’re going to hit going down there?  And back?!”
           Head of Household shifted her feet slightly.  “I am well aware of all that; my calculations demonstrate that the final destination is more than worth it.”
            “Oh really?”  Life Partner countered.  “And what are we going to do about Grammy, hm?”
          Grammy chimed in: “What are you talking about?  My father used to drive us in worse conditions every single weekend.  Now those were vacations, let me tell you.”
            Child 2 decided to throw his hat into the ring: “Why would we want to go to The Jersey Shore anyway – we’re in the middle of Canada!”
          “And?”  Head of Household rejoined.  “You want to go to The Shore here?”  Silence answered.  “That’s what I thought.  All right, start packing: we’re leaving in six months.”


          Standing outside their caravan, Head of Household had reached the end of her 20-page checklist: “Last but nowhere in the least – does anyone need to use the bathroom before we leave?”
            “You already had walkies.  And we’re off!”
           They made good time, then threw it out the window upon the last leg of the journey: that sluggish morass, that generator of curse words, that bottleneck-rubberneck-steaming neck of trapped souls, sunburned hopes, and dehydrated dreams that is the Garden State Parkway.  [It really only is like that between Memorial and Labor Days – the rest of the year, outside of rush hours and holidays, it’s not that bad.]
           The caravan was one of the thousands of ovens literally inching forward as all processed to the mythical Shore, that wonderful place that included the paradisiac lands of The Beach, The Boardwalk, and The Tiki Bar.  Head of Household refused to allow Life Partner to take over the wheel, not when they were a mere 117 miles from their destination.
          Grammy was buying some new songs for her player and decided to head off the so-called argument she was hearing up front: “You know, this still doesn’t beat the Traffic Jam of `65.  Took two days to advance half a mile, and we had to refuel about four times.”
            Child 1 was curious: “Was there a gas station close enough so you could pull over?”
            “Heck no!  And lose our place in line?  Nope, me and your great-aunt and great-uncle took turns finding one.  On the last go-round when I went, by the time I came back the car was gone: met them at the hotel the next day.  Probably was scared to death at the time, but it makes for a good story of how tough and indifferent we all were way back when.  Anyways, Dad started carrying extra fuel ever since.”
            “That was on the checklist, Mother!”  Head of Household was beginning to crack but could not lose face.
            Child 2 got an idea.  “Mom, want me to walk ahead and see how far this goes?”
            “Absolutely not!”
            “Why not?”  Life Partner countered on principle.  “He’ll probably get there before we do.”
          Head of Household quickly calculated the risk and benefits of continuing what would ultimately be a losing argument and grabbed Child 0.5’s leash.  “Here, go walk the dog to that hill and you can confirm for us that this continues all the way to Exit 0.”
            “Yes!”  Child 2 walked Child 0.5 across the six lanes of stationary traffic to the grassy side of the parkway.  He and the dog breathed the fresh air and took their time getting back.
            Head of Household released the brake for two seconds before settling in again for the next hour.
          Life Partner was skimming the newspaper: “Huh.  I guess if we lived here we would’ve remembered that this was 4th of July weekend.”
            “I remembered,” Head of Household said in a strained voice.  “It was the only weekend this summer I could get off from work.”
            “Oh.  Still.”
            “Not another word, I’m begging you.”
            Child 2 re-entered the caravan: “There’s a huge accident up ahead, looks like about 10 cars all crashed into each other and everyone’s being diverted to the shoulder.”
            “Oh, thank goodness,” Head of Household sighed.  “Not for them, I mean – it clears up a little after all that, right?”
            “Nope; piles right up again.”
            “You know,” Grammy said while mixing a cocktail, “back in the Traffic Jam of `61, about 20 cars crashed one right into the other, all because somebody wanted to make a left turn where a left turn could not physically be made.  Your Great-Aunt Peggy was born during the times of that Jam – our neighbor car was driven by a veteran Army medic, so that all worked out.  I learned a lot that day.”
            Head of Household started to slump on the steering wheel, then saw the brake lights of the car ahead go out; she quickly advanced the precious centimeter.
           Child 1 felt compelled to ask: “Is it too late to turn around and do a staycation?  It’ll be cooler.”
          Head of Household responded with all her restraint: “We are staying the course to the wondrous, glorious, pristine, all-roads-lead-to-The Shore where all is bright and happy and nothing bad ever happens, ever!”
            “What Shore are you talking about?”  Grammy asked, then settled back to take a nap.  This may become the Traffic Jam of `17, she thought, but she had lived through worse back in her day.  This one was amateur.