Little I-House On the Prairie– Chapter 1- The Automated Household

Henry starts his day drinking a hot cup of coffee (coffee beans imported from El Salvador but he doesn’t know that) , which was poured from the automated machine, served with a programmed smile by his servant robot while still in bed.  The coffee machine has a timer that pours the caffeine-supplemented hot brown liquid at the exact time he needs to wake.  An automated voice then plays from the surround-sound speakers above and the house’s motherboard computer says, in a friendly, non-confrontational, slightly-condescending voice:

“Good morning Henry and Ashley.”  (Ashley is Henry’s wife, she’s still asleep).  “It is now time for your awakening.  For your safety, please watch your step as you exit your sleeping quarters.”

All the floors and walls in the house are padded with white cushions (for your family’s protection and safety, copyright 2105).  As Ashley stills lays in bed the household robotic servant begins applying an acupuncture to her body.  They don’t speak a word to each other, not so much as a good morning. The house’s motherboard system arranges that.  Automated messages are more common than oxygen these days.

Henry feels the air jets kick on and slide the soft, fluffy silk morning slippers onto his feet.  Coffee-in-hand, he walks out into the kitchen with minimal feeling, feet scuttling over dust particles of empowerment or original thought.

Immediately (like Instant Noodles), the television automatically blinks to on at it’s programmed time.  The TV is a virtual  3-D projection which spreads onto the wall like thin latex paint.  Henry is bombarded with artificial stimuli and tainted news from the mouth of a machine that operated faster than actual experience.  (who was it that said society’s deepest lies are the ones that are prophesized?)

There is only one channel– the channel that he watches every day, every night.  The family is to gather around it for one full scheduled hour like some pathetic glowing bonfire.  Henry does not read, nor does his wife ( that’s a peculiar thing to do these days anyways) yet he always watches.

“Terrible things going on in every corner of the world these days,” the newsreporter begins, as his eyes follow the teleprompter.  “Wars, famine, unemployment, failing economies, lot’s of important stuff to talk about folks,” he says.  A woman reporter chimes in and they both start blabbing their opinions about everything sour.

And so beings the retortion of lies and garble gibberish of media coverage that Henry listens to passively every morning and acknowledges solemnly, partially conscious, as coffee dribbles down his chin.

In place of actual windows, there are digital displays of artificial virtual scenery.  (it was mandated years ago that to look at computerized-mountain scenery rather than the sprawl and gloom of the city was better for your health). Henry’s vital signs are displayed digitally on the fridge as invisible nanobots constantly monitor Henry and his family’s physical health.  At any sign of discrepancy or fluctuation in these numbers, a robot will be at the door to rush them to the hospital for inspection.

“Good morning, Mr. Callister,” chimed the house’s motherboard.  “It appears you are running on time today.  Keep up the great work and have a great day!”  Everything from the morning breakfast, to the ride to work, to work itself, to coming home– it was all automatic.  Like the push of a button, this was the pinball that life had made you inside the big machine.  People were cogs, like the lubrication of buttered toast.

Society’s structure had become automated for so long that most had even forgotten it was automated; in fact, some of the most patriotic citizens waved freedom flags while walking the fine line of drudgery.

The temperature inside the Callister’s home was a constant 71.2 degrees Farenheit, never deviating ever the slightest.  The temperature in the shower was a constant 106 degrees Farenheit, the calorie intake always a constant amount of calories, the daily feed of news a constant three hours, the time Mr. and Mrs. Callister left in their automated cars for work was constant, the nursing for their two-year old child and exact times of feeding and play an learning were constant, as was the exact time they were to perform their night-time marital duties.  Constant.

Henry steps into the auto-car, is driven to work free of his hands via a mix of satellites, computers and new and improved brain of mankind– the progressive and ever-improving, machine.  While being driven to work (alone), the TV blabs on about conflict in all corners of the world.  Henry looks out the window. Speed limit signs were taking down more than a century ago.  With automation, accidents rarely occur, and the only signs that still are posted are signs that state things like: NO NON-AUTOMATED DRIVING ALLOWED.

Revenue is collected every day from automated (of course) tolls, and because computers don’t break rules, there is no need for speeding tickets.  An automatic seat buckle and helmet is placed over Henry’s vital parts every morning by robotic functions, despite the fact that crashes now rarely happen.  The roads are tamed, using a bacteria-driven material that automatically heals itself rather than cracking as the Earth shifts or forms potholes.  The city has all vehicles repaired monthly by robots at the factory.  Vehicle problems along the roadside rarely ensue.

In fact, the entire society is built around the idea of complete safety, minimal risk, and comfort.  The end result is a city in constant monitor.  Cameras shoot you at every inch.  Mechanical growth is exponential, seemingly limitless.  The human mindset of creativity seems to be at an all-time stagnation.

Sometimes though, especially as of late, Henry finds his mind wandering silently to himself as the familiar roads pass him by on his way to work.  His wife and he have lived in the same demographic their entire lives, never ventured outside of it.  What was beyond the city limits?  Were these limits real?  Where did the roads lead that the automated cars wouldn’t take him?  Was there a place where people still lived off the land, didn’t depend on governmental institutions and mechanical things?  Was it as dangerous as everyone said?  He knew not one person who had ever left– those who spoke of it were ridiculed, the ridiculous.

Then he’d lose these passing thoughts.  He’d lose grip and start thinking about work.  Then he’d arrive at work and– just like clockwork– Henry would begin his day.

They Came on the First Fall of Winter Snow

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In the vast distance of what is now suburbia wasteland, pillars of concrete and mortar brick fall to the ground with a crash, once symbols of industrial progress.  The aliens invaded on the first falls of  winter snow.  They came marching in their 200-foot tall robot suits and combing through on foot, destroying buildings and Earth’s inhabitants bit by bit, as if they were merely roaches dialed for extermination.  Why were they here?  What did they want?  Couldn’t they be reasoned with?

Jennifer and Daniel reasoned from behind a giant piece of fallen concrete that this was the end of it all, ready or not.  They reasoned in whispers, at first terrified for their lives that one of the 15-foot tall purple extra-terrestrials would find them hiding here,  and they’d be zapped into oblivion like yesterday’s burnt toast.  Their stomachs were growling, having not been nourished for some time.  (close to 24 hours and counting…) Where did humans go to eat when ever Taco Bell had been vaporized like tequila in Mexico on a scorching summer’s day?  This wasn’t like the movies, where the world powers got together and summoned the might of their militaries, and in one enormous display of human egotism and power, blasted the aliens into the afterlife five billion galaxies away.  This wasn’t like a science fiction book where the invasion took weeks or months, giving the humans of Earth time to prepare, to gather their defensive resources together.

No, it wasn’t like that.  In less than a days’ time they had arrived (without any of NASA’s fancy billion-dollar equipment able to detect it)  and in less than a days’ time, what was once on Earth was no longer there.

The aliens spoke a language that had absolutely nothing in common with the English language, or anything even a hop, skip, and a galaxy’s toss similar to the resemblance of Roman language derivative.  The aliens made mostly gurgling sounds from the pits of their throats, sounding like nothing of Earth for that matter.

Daniel had viewed a group with binoculars and observed that some of them could change the deep colors of their retinas, from purple to yellow to red to black, which seemed to convey emotions of some sort (they didn’t seem to show it in facial expressions, at least not recognizable), although you couldn’t call these feelings human.

Outwardly, the aliens were a violent race, at least in regard to humans; they had obviously come to the third planet from the big orange Sun with the intentions of destruction as the end result.  This was like War of the Worlds, but without the time for a radio broadcast.  All the radio stations and satellite towers had been demolished with ease within the first hour of the invasion.

Jennifer and Daniel had watched (from what was hours ago the comforts of their suburbia home) as newscasters from around the world depicted terror and destruction (what else was new) on a world scale.  The aliens didn’t distinguish between classes; third, second, or first world, they blasted them to the fourth world just the same.

They had watched as technologies invested with years of building were annihilated within the hour.  Not a word from the invaders: no loud speaker, no customer service satisfaction ( thank you, this invasion is very important to us), no explanation of what was going on.  Not so much as a hint, outside the explosions in the sky.

Screen by screen, every channel and newscast around the world went blank.  The aliens had technology superior to that of humans, which shut down vehicles like fat-pocketed lawyers shut down equality of rights.  In a matter of an hourglass that was only a decimal fraction on the complete timeline of human civilization, the entire planet had been nearly wiped out; now nearly devoid of all life of Earth origins.  Now wiped away, all traces of human progress.  Shopping malls around the world were reduced to piles of rubble, worthless Gucci purses, former car dealerships with chunks of BMW metal splayed about– suburbia transformed instantly to wastelands.  Even buildings of religious significance were turned to ash.

Now, there was nothing, although it was hard to imagine.  Surreal, even through their own eyes.  The national forests were burning, so the aliens had no interest in the Earth’s environment.  What they had planned for it after the fact, nobody knew.  Once the humans were gone, maybe they were going to use the planet to grow crops?  Maybe they would change the environment to suit the needs of their species?  One thing was for certain– the fate of the human race wasn’t even in their cards of consideration.  There were no conferences, no negotiations, no treaties between species.  This was a clean slate they wanted, everything gone.

Daniel and Jennifer hid behind the chunk of concrete, holding each other.  Jennifer was once crying, and even Daniel at one time, but not anymore.  What was left but to accept their fate?  There were lamer ways to depart this world than being destroyed by aliens.  There was cancer, car accident, old age, a strange disease, death by elephant squatting; the list went on and on.  Was this return of the aliens that helped build all that crazy shit in South America?  Or was this a different race?

Daniel and Jennifer were long-time lovers.  They kissed behind the concrete.

The aliens invaded on the first fall of winter snow, and flakes of fresh, soft precipitation in white fluff form glazed their cold faces.  There were no words left to speak (anything they could have ever said had been spoken anyways) and they wanted to delay their Earth departure, whispered voices mot likely attracting the aliens searching for the last remaining humans.  That was Daniel and Jennifer.  The last remaining humans, as far as they could tell.  Desolation surrounded them.  It was instantaneous.

Suddenly, they could hear nearby footsteps.  Soft at first.  Then heavier.  Definitely not human, and in the vicinity.  Whikoooooooo. Whikoooooooooooooooo.  A sort of cooing sound (birdlike?) , perhaps a call to another alien, came from nearby surroundings.  Fire burned all around them.  Buildings gave way, their foundations compromised.  It looked like a tornado had tossed everything about, making upscale homes toy houses and trees matchsticks.

They way the alien breathed was strange too ( of course it was, they were from another planet), with deep inhalations and the sound of roaring fire-breath upon exhalations.  The 15-foot creature’s lungs must have been at least three-times that of homo sapiens, they reasoned.  Did they even have lungs, or was there a different vital mechanism for their breathing?  Did they live on a planet as oxygen-filled as Earth?  Perhaps they did, since they could breath on Earth without special suits or breathing apparatus.

Daniel and Jennifer reminisced together (somehow, they could read each other’s thoughts) about how scholars and religious fanatics used to speculate how the world would end.  Some said by another Ice Age, some said by warfare on a massive scale, some said by widespread plague, some said through global warming, some said by the hand of the creator himself (itself?).  In the end, did the means to the end matter?  Or was it really an end?  The world would go on, inhabited by a new species, maybe not missing the primate presence at all.

Daniel and Jennifer had come to terms with their insignificance at this moment, and it was no longer depressing.  Although, there was of course, still that primal urge to keep on surviving ( carry on, said the genetic code), they realized that they sized up to these giants the way a zebra sized up to a lion.  Or the way one of those prehistoric Wooly mammoths sized up to a T-Rex.

Humans, within the two hours time, were no longer the top of the food chain (with their so-called intelligence and innovations) but had fallen off the ladder to the mud puddle below.

Why did the aliens wait till now to attack?  How long had they known about Earth?  Did they have a government, or a leader, or something similar?  Did they believe in a God or Gods?  Were they themselves Gods?

Footsteps, right above them.  Daniel and Jennifer closed their eyes, held their embrace for dear life.  They knew that now the creature stood above them; their time was up, they had been found.  They opened their eyes, the last thing they might ever see.

The creature was towering above them, eyes the size of basketballs (glowing green), skin a scaly purple.  The dome of it’s skull was shaped like a raindrop ( a giant one the size of a bicycle tire), its’ skin slimy but smooth along the mid-line and waist.  It had webbed-sort of feet (eleven toes on each, and dexterity in all of them), six figures and six hands.  It stood upright on four feet.  It’s legs were like sturdy branches of an elder tree; strong, muscular-like that of a bull.  At the dome of it’s head, veins protruded and throbbed at rapid-speed (along with it’s thoughts?) and there was no sign of sex despite it being naked (was it asexual?)

It’s feet crunched in the snow and it breathed fire-like, a short few feet away from them.  It’s breath smelled like rotten fish, it’s teeth a decaying black sort of color, many of them jagged.  Did intelligence and dental work not go hand-in-hand?

The creature was armed with a deadly weapon, and surprisingly, the creature set it down.  The alien pushed a button on a peculiar gadget that made an Iphone 6 look like a children’s toy, and a robotic voice spoke English, as evidently, the alien’s vocal cords couldn’t perform on it’s own.   The vowels weren’t possible to pronounce with their gigantic gizzard-tongues.

Then, the words that the device spoke were more terrifying than being destroyed in itself.  “Hello. Humans,” it said in staggered speech.  “You. Are. The. Chosen. Woooons.” (they depicted it meant to say ones) “You must come now with us.”

They came on winter’s first snowfall, and this wasn’t the end as they had presumed.

Hitchhiking Colorado- “Soy de El Salvadoor, amigo.”

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The snow in Fort Collins is thicker, more powder-substance than the slush that has fallen in Denver.  Denver is where I’m heading, as I make my way up the hill to the I-25 South merge.  My boot finds its’ way into a shallow puddle (hidden in snow, then a thin sheet of ice) as I follow the rabbit tracks to the hitchhiking point.

Wait time is low; altogether about ten minutes for a blue Smart car to pull along the shoulder.  Inside is a hispanic man sporting a distinguished mustache, maybe in his late forties.  I hop in and I realize that the man speaks a very small amount of English.  I take this opportunity to practice hablo mi espanol. (speaking spanish).

“Hablo pecito anglais,” he says.   He says that he is from the small Central American country of El Salvador.  “Soy de El Salv-a-door amigo,” he says, with a rise on the “oor” part at the final vowels.  “Trabajo mucho,” he says.  “Mucho frio.”  (he works much and it is very cold).   Fredrico says that he has work for a roofing company that labors mostly in Greeley and Fort Collins as of late.

“Mucho frio aqai,” he says. (very cold here).  “No mucho frio en El Salvador.”  Before he migrated to North America for new horizons and dreams of a better life, he worked on farms in his home country, harvesting mostly beans and corns as cash crops.  “Coffee es muy bien en El Salvador,” he offers as we pass through the cold, wind-weathered Colorado plains.  Coffee beans account for 90% of the income that El Salvador brings in from exported goods.

We pass a total of five cars in the ditch, some of them missing bumpers, as we drive to Denver.  Most likely they fell into the ditches while driving the previous night.  Fredrico’s driving is fast-tempered as he shoots by in the fast lane, hugging the left shoulder as we cruise on by semi-trucks and roll over clumps of melting snow.  Maybe this is how most people drive in El Salvador? I wonder.  That’s the thing about driving in Colorado– many people are from somewhere else, so there is really no standard driving etiquette.  People drive like New Yorkers, Texans, Californians, Michiganders, Coloradans (sometimes), and in this case El Salvadorans (is that what they could be called?).

At least a hundred black birds fly in groups, down to the ground, then back to the sky, then down the ground again, in a thick cluster to the west; I watch this and keep my eyes off the road, which I’ll admit makes me just ever-so-slightly nervous.

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Fredrico says that he once attended a Carlos Santana concert and a guitar was given to him during the show.  He says this with a smile and glisten of pride.  Cumba music plays softly over his speakers, a swinging rhythmic style bass line carries the song.  “This music from Mexico, no El Salvador,” he says.  ” Food is no spicy in El Salvador.  Mexico, yes.  El Salvador, no.”

The language barrier between us only allows us to converse so deeply, but I can tell he is a good man.  “Gracias senor,” I tell him as he sets me off along the shoulder of the highway.  This is not an exit, nor could it be called an ideal drop-off point, but I’ll make do and don’t want him to go out of his way.  He has a turn off to take after he sets me off, which is not an exit, only a merge.  “De nada,” I tell him, later slightly regretting getting out at this spot.

I walk the quarter-mile or so along the highway.  There are the whooshing sounds of traffic overtop my head as I scuttle underneath the turnpike.  My boots crunch in the soft snow.  The snapping of dry bushweed and frosted sticks.

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I walk up a steep slope to the I-25 merge ramp, and the eighth car pulls over ( she almost didn’t) after I offer a gentle wave and smile.  A woman wearing a fair amount of makeup (dark red lipstick) tell me to hop in the backseat ( she tells me the passenger’s door doesn’t open or shut anymore).  And so I do.

“I missed all kinds of appointments today n’ shit,” she tells me.  “This morning has been all crazy.”  This wonderful woman seems chola to the core.  Wikipedia defines a chola as an ethnic slur created by Hispanic criollos in the 16th century, the male version being a cholo.  It’s hard for me to describe without sounds stereotypical, so I’ll just surmise that it means to be a certain class of Mexican-American.  There is a certain attitude and demeanor that tends to go along with it, and this woman has it.

It’s only two exits to go, so we only scratch the surface.  ” I had a doctor’s appoinment dis’ morning,” she says.  ” I have cervical cancer and have already had four treatments on my uterus… I’m 35, but life goes on.”

She has a constant smile, studies me through the rear view mirror.  “I picked up this hitchhiker twice one time, and our conversation picked up right where we left off.  He was funny n’ shit.”

Then we arrive at the bus station and the fleeting glimpse is over.  I thank her, she thanks me (for what I’m not sure yet), I hop out.

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Hitchhiking Colorado- The Aviator and the Newly-Divorced

Date: Monday, November 10, 2014
Wait: about 45 minutes total

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As I stand along the I-25 120th merge ramp, bundled from head to toes as the wind whips my face, it’s hard to believe that it was warm enough to go jogging early this morning in shorts and a T-shirt. But that’s Colorado anyways– bipolar in spirit to the core. Soft, cold flurries of snow (the first breaths of winter) blow on the ground, and traffic consists of drivers yapping on their cell phones (about fifty percent) and another portion maybe focusing on a task known as driving (maybe ten percent). I’m not sure what the other 40 percent of people are actually doing, but they definitely don’t stop for hitchhikers.

Two flocks of procrastinating last-minute geese fly west over the Rocky Mountains towards warmer lands. What do they know which we on the ground do not? Where exactly will they land, and when they get there, will they stay? For how long? Some of the snow is beginning to stick. Winter comes suddenly, even though it comes like a calendar.

Rain, shine, snow, or sleet, the Rat Race stops for no one. Cars zip by, trucks sending thick black coughs of fumes into the cold, pungent air. About a half hour later, a few cars do pull over but both are heading towards Loveland (foreshadowing?) and it’s not in the direction to Fort Collins, so I must decline even though they seem like interesting individuals. Another five minutes and a passing yellow school bus passes. The lady driving motions for me to look behind, and I see a white van with it’s reverse lights on that I didn’t see while facing oncoming traffic.

There’s a young guy wearing a Colorado hat (blue, yellow, red colors) and after attempting to slide open the door to toss in the pack and guitar (it’s frozen, he tells me) I hop in the front to an inviting, warm passenger’s seat.

He introduces himself as Casey (my friends call me Casey Jones) and says that he has work installing housing insulation, and it attending Denver Metro college to study aviation while working part-time. “I’m trying anyways,” he says. “I live not too far from here,” he says as we pass along the Rocky Mountain Divide in the distance and suburbia and franchise-filled, empty sprawl of fields and cookie-cut home clusters to our east and west.

“I have lived in Denver my whole life,” he says. “My parents grew up here too. They can remember when downtown was boarded-up skyscrapers and a sketchy, dangerous place to go. A lots has changed, even in the last 20 years.” Denver is currently one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States.

It’s a short life and I jump out three exits later. It beats staying in the same spot, jogging in place to keep warm. Walking to the next merge ramp, a guy gets out of a car and holds up a cardboard sign with the markered slogan: ABDUCTED BY ALIENS AND THEY STOLE MY WALLET– ANYTHING HELPS.

At least 50 cars pass me by, the traffic a pace that is not conducive for people to pull over safely. Cold weather generally doesn’t earn the hitchhiker pity– people pass you by just the same. Like lightning, a silver car shoots tot he side and skids along the gravel.

I meet Jake, who tells me (after we coast along the divide for some time) that he is going through a divorce. “We were married for a year,” he says. “I just got a job working for A & W Oil. They’re stocking up on workers right now since everyone quits in January when it gets cold.” He takes a deep breath and shoots out his life story for the last year. The dashboard becomes a soundhole for a confessional booth of sorts.

“I know it sounds lame, but I met her on match.com,” he explains. “I’m a mystic kind of spiritual person and our pastor actually suggested us moving in together to see if things could work with us.” We pass by an exit for a Crossroads Boulevard as he speaks. Jake is definitely at one of those, as we all are whether we intuitively are aware of it or not.

“At first things were really working out between us, so I decided to propose to her,” he continues. “Six months into the marriage, she became verbally abusive, saying things like, ‘you can’t hold a job, loser’ and ‘why don’t you take back this crappy ring.”

In the last few weeks, he had been crashing on friends’ couches in Fort Collins and just began working in the oil field. “It’s good paying work,” he says. “And really not that hard like everyone seems to think. It’s five days on, then two off. The other day I learned how to melt piping together, sort of like welding.” He shows me using his arms how wide the pipes are (one foot in diameter?) and the process of joining aluminum piping. “We’re basically setting things up for fracking,” he says. I wonder if our automated relationships can be a metaphor for automated oil drilling, or the other way around.

He goes on to say that he met a girl at a bar recently who listens to the United Kingdom-based band Alt-J but when he listened to it, he was disappointed despite the hype she gave them. When he told her he didn’t like their sound, she sent him a text that said she was hugely pissed about this.

“Who says hugely pissed off anyways?,” he says. “I sort of knew right then that it was over, even though I’d only known this new girl for a week.”

And so is this ride (over), since we have arrived in Fort Collins. I get off near campus and hope the best for this guy; his spontaneous spirit deserves it.

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Hitchhiking Colorado, Revisited :)

Date: Wednesday, September 17 and Friday, September 19, 2014

Where: From Denver to Fort Collins and back

Wait times: approximately 45 minutes and 5 minutes return trip

I’ve never hitchhiked from this exact spot before, having taken the bus from Denver to as far North as it will stretch along Interstate 25.  I’m counting the cars that pass me by– 276, 277, 278…. the sun cuts through the sky like a warm fire from the sky, only a few clouds in the panorama.  The traffic at this merge is lightning-fast; it’s not the best spot, but this will do.  Patience eventually pays off, but you never know the price for your meditated time.

Car number 285 pulls over (a slightly rounded number perhaps) and smiles, I hop in.  It’s been a while since I’ve hitchhiked and I’ve never hitchhiked from Denver to Fort Collins before.  There is that good feeling when you first get in the car, the slightly-adrenaline-induced-what-am-I-in-for feeling as you put yourself at the whims of the driver, whoever they happen to be.

John appears trustworthy at first impression, a warm smile, a clean car, the glare of a Colorado sun to the west of his window.

John tells me that he lives in Fort Collins and has grown to love it.  ” The culture there is really great,” he says.  “Maybe it’s the fact that it’s disconnected enough from the metropolitan area of Denver to have room to breath.  It has a college culture mixed in with outdoors enthusiasts.  I love it.”

We talk about a range of topics, and it even brushes around the area of politics at times.  “I think many Americans have become exceptionalists,” John offers.  Exceptionalism is a mentality that a person or country stands alone from the rest of the world; a feeling of isolation, perhaps importance.  John felt that many people in the United States had this mentality, mostly due to our history and being a conglomeration of many different faces and cultures historically.  “This can lead to apathy, though,” he says.  ” It’s dangerous in that the citizens of a country can start to think that they stand alone in world affairs, and their opinions matter more… and that’s a slippery, dangerous slope I think,” he states.  Extreme independence in thinking has the potential to lead to exceptionalism?, I wonder.

John drops me off the Interstate, and I walk the few miles or so to my destination.

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The return trip from Fort Collins to Denver goes exceptionally well.  (no pun intended)  It’s a Friday, early afternoon, so there is a fair amount of traffic, yet not that quickened morning workbound traffic.  A man pulls over in a silver car, I hop in.  He’s in his late forties, maybe mid-fifties, tells me that his name is Jim.  He has an old-school vibe about him, and also a certain kind of secrecy in his demeanor; at first I think he might be an undercover cop, or maybe he has a profession of similar fashion.

He then reveals at some point in the conversation that he used to have work in “high-security” for the United States government.  That does explain a bit and he talks about his thoughts on terrorism in the past and the future.  “Did you hear about those Iraqi guys that the government trained and they went AWOL?,” he asks, slight humor in his voice.  “Come to find out, they hightailed it to Canada!  I hear that and was thinking, ‘why Canada?’

” My job used to have me tracking down big-time thievery operations and drug smugglers,” he said.  “Honestly, the Russians were the worst ta’ deal with.  The criminals in Russia were the most brutal.”

I’d like to dig a bit deeper, but Jim has things to do, and this is my stop to jump out of his car.  It’s been nice to meet him and get a snapshot.  He offers to give a ride a few exits passed his destination but I can tell that he is in a rush and just being nice, so I decline and hop out.   Five minutes wait, and I receive a short lift from that exit to bus station.

Smiles in TV Land Abyss (a short story)

Before reading, I recommend watching this old TV commercial to better understand the story:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ovRaOfllGgw

Margaret gazed out the kitchen window, of what she could see anyways, most of it fogged and misted with fast-changing autumn.  She opened the Venetian blinds just a smidge to allow some fresher air to circulate around the small Victorian house.  There were the sounds of a gentle breeze blowing in spurts over the green Pennsylvania hills.  In the distance, the clunking sound of the neighbor’s car as it coughed to life.  Nature met with the sounds of man-made machines and Margaret clicked on the television, the telly, the tube– otherwise known in the scientific world as the cathode ray tube.

First, there was the initial and expected crackle and black and white fuzz as she turned the knob, followed by a quick pop as the signal intercepted.  She wiped the counters despite the already brushed shine, she swept the floor, she folded the clean clothes; she performed her role with a mixture of pride and as of late tint of sadness as autumn closed in.  The weather changed her moods, her conditions– always had, even since she was a small girl.  She did find herself content enough with her family life; two boys and a girl and a reliable husband, a typical middle-class life.  Her life was the epitome of the American dream; part of a healthy family unit and her husband George was a well-off enough miner that brought home enough bacon for the whole family, with some extra fat to spare as of late.

Lately she found herself trapped inside some sort of bubble of funk, wishing somehow for something more than what she had in front of her– even though the other voice would resound inside her louder, telling her that she was being ungrateful and appreciate the blessings she had in her life.  A cold wind seeped, weeped through the window, sent a chill down her spine, and for a moment brought her back to reality– which for the moment was an empty kitchen with the distant chatter of children playing in the other room and blare of the TV set in front of her.  A calendar posted on the fridge read October 1961.  The TV show she was watching stopped and a commercial popped on, caught her attention.

The black and white commercial showed a family of five (much like the size of her own) dressed in their vacation beach outfits, looks of undeniable happiness glazed on their faces.  Gosh, Margaret thought.  That family looks really happy.  Why are they so happy?  Then: why can’t we be more like them?  How can we become as fullfilled as they appear?  She found herself realizing that it’d been some four years since they had taken a family vacation, given George’s hectic work schedule.

The voice of a male narrator that sounded like the summon of God himself came on with an authoritative voice, beginning the commercial,” Safeguard’s family album presents: the traveling family who traveled 60,000 miles on just one bar of soap!”

The man in the commercial, seemingly speaking to the omniscient narrator then said,” No, ONE KIND of soap!” then the authoritative narrator replied,”SAFEGUARD!”, an attempt to let known the product for sale once more.  “COME ON, THE WHOLE FAMILY USED IT, THE BABY USED IT, THE TEENAGER USED IT, THE DEODORANT SOAP?!”

The narrator seemed excited about the soap, but as Margaret watched she didn’t notice that she had stopped what she was doing and had taken three steps closer to the tube, transfixed, sucked in.  The smiles on the faces of the couple and the kids were perfectly flawless, even the health of the family seemed to permeate a majestic glow that cut through the black and the white.  This is the quintessential family, Margaret thought.  This is what my family needs to be.  Maybe we even need to buy this soap to get onwards with our family vacation!

“Oh, this soap is more than that!,” claimed the man in the commercial.  Then the mother, a classy-in-appearance brunette said,” Safeguard helps prevent diaper rash and prevent acne!”  Everything was said with distinct cheerfulness without a micro-fiber of gloom.  “YOU’RE KIDDING, I THOUGHT SAFEGUARD WAS A DEODORANT SOAP!,” retorts the male narrator.

The black and white husband maintains his smile and glances at his black and white wife, says, ” Remember when we saw that baseball game at Yankees stadium?  Ha!  Ninety degrees temperature!” , to which the wife replies,” And we were still fresh enough to take in China town!”

The commercial allows the camera person to back away from the still frame of the ever-smiling family and then confirms in the loudest voice of the commercial yet, ” SAFEGUARD, THE ONE DEODORANT YOUR FAMILY NEEDS!”

Margaret stood in a paralyzed state as the commercial segued into another commercial and she found herself wishing to be that family and to somehow inhabit their happiness.  Suddenly, there was a sound that broke her thoughts– a loud tap, the sound of a fist knocking on glass and her eyes darted back to the television screen and before Margaret could even conclude if she had fallen asleep on the couch and was dreaming or not she saw the family had reappeared with their black and white cheerfulness and they were speaking to her, seductively from inside the tube.

“Hello Margaret, would you like to step inside and join us?,” he invited.  Her lips wouldn’t move to spell out a response and almost against her own will she found herself taking the husband’s hand and stepping into the portal of the TV.  There was a contrast of two very distinct worlds– the colors of autumn and her moody overcast, which suddenly was uplifted as the smiles of the black and white family welcomed her with warm smiles.  As she stepped into the new world, she gasped when she noticed that her skin and clothes were transforming from colored to black and white.  The blue kitchen apron that she wore now chameleoned into a grey, her face into a pale white and at first she felt herself transformed temporarily and blending in with this happy family.  The new air smelled of something ultra-sanitized to the point of olfactory numbness, similar to the smells of a hospital.  She found herself in a tiny kitchen with one small door near a rug that suggested WELCOME.

The black and white woman put her hand gently on Margaret’s shoulder and pulled out a chair for her.  “Oh, just have a seat, please be our guest,” the black and white wife perked.  It struck Margaret that the entire family had put on their morning clothing and switched out of their bathing suits at record speed.  The woman set a bowl of cereal in front of her.  Suddenly, a loud authoritative male voice spoke; the voice of the commercial omnipotent commercial God.  “START YOUR DAY RIGHT WITH NUTRITIOUS GRAIN FLAKES!,” he said.

Margaret felt slightly uncomfortable by the attention and hospitality.  The black and white husband brought her a container of soap on top of a white towel and set it on the table.  “SAFEGUARD, THE BETTER SOAP,” boomed the narrator from who-knows-where.

“Safeguard will make you clean,” said the black and white husband.  The kids gathered around the table and stared and her creepily, as if expecting something.  It made Margaret feel nervous, the way the eyes of these people burned into her skull.  They all continued to stare at her and watch anxiously as Margaret gathered the strength to take her first bite; the Grain Flakes tasted like rubber cement and was dry on her lips like cotton.

“What is this?,” Margaret asked them.  “How did I get here?”  It was at this moment she noticed the TV in the corner of the room, which reflected a mirror image of the other dimension, Margaret’s dimension, which was her couch and coffee table and blue carpeting– the family’s TV looked into her house, the only thing in color in this black and white room.  Margaret was in another dimension, gazing into the TV at her colored world.

Like a child planted in front of a television, Margaret was mesmerized, in a temporary conciousness of TV Land Zombia.  “We’d love to make you happy just like us,” said the black and white wife.  Suddenly, she had draped an apron over her dress as if she was prepared to cook.  “Yes, we can make you happy, just like us,” affirmed the patriarchal black and white husband.  “SAFEGUARD, THE BETTER SOAP,” commanded the domineering narrative voice from TV Land Abyss.

This has to be a dream, Margaret theorized to herself.  I fell asleep on the couch and just need to wake up.  She pinched herself twice and she felt pain on her forearm, even though she could not see the redness.  The mild pain was genuine real, so clearly this wasn’t a dream.

Margaret felt a cold liquid on her scalp.  “Hey!,” she cried out, startled.  The black and white wife had squeezed some of the Safeguard soap onto her head.  “One kind of soap!,” said the wife.  “This will make you happy just like us Margaret!”

The black and white family gathered closer to her, the parents taking the soap and working it into her hair.  The soap smelled akin to an ultra-sanitized hospital bed.  She felt like it was killing all of the cells on her head.  Margaret was increasingly becoming aware that there was something pretentious and fake of this family’s outer-appearance; their demeanor was naturally beginning to bring quivers of fear.

“SAFEGUARD, THE BETTER SOAP,” once again boomed the male narrator from TV Land Abyss.

“You can stay happy with us forever, Margaret,” suggested the black and white wife.  “Doesn’t that just sound fantastic?  We’ll lather you with Safeguard Soap once every half-hour and feed you Grain Flakes forever.  In our world, you’ll be able to stay ageless and we’ll keep you safe.  Safeguard soap will keep you young Margaret.  Safeguard brings infinite beauty, keeps your skin looking wonderful, is best for any family–“

My family.”  The words slipped out of Margaret’s mouth without her realizing it.  If this wasn’t a dream, how could she escape this place?  Would she be able to see her family again?   Or was this just a vivid dream?

Outside, she could hear birds chirping.  Either blue jays or robins.  That was it– maybe she could simply walk out the door and make the way back to her house!

She pushed the family’s hands and Safeguard soap aside and ran to the front door.  When she opened it, her jaw dropped, an elevator in a free fall without cables.

“Margaret, you cannot leave!,” the wife pleaded.  The wide smiles remained on her face despite the sentiment of desperation buried in her voice.  “Safeguard is the better soap, the key to happiness!  You won’t find happiness outside these doors!  Soon, you’ll learn to appreciate our family and the comforts the product provides!,” beamed the black and white wife.

Margaret gazed out the door opening, where there was only white noise; nothing, and then eternal black.  “There’s nothing out there, Margaret!,” said the black and white father.  “It’s only safe here in our house, where we are surrounded by superior products and happiness.  Can’t you see?  Won’t you appreciate this, Margaret?”

“SAFEGUARD, THE SUPERIOR SOAP,” boomed the narrator from TV Land Abyss.

It was at that moment that Margaret began to panic.  “I don’t care about your soap!,” she yelled.  ” I want to get back to my family! Now, let me go!”

Suddenly, the walls began to shake furiously like a seismic earthquake.  The black and whites continued to smile and stare at Margaret like an examined lab rat.  Clearly, they were superior lab rats, having conquered the Rat Race, emerging as victors concealed, cloked in forever-comfort.  A chunk of dry wall came crashing to the ground, nearly knocking Margaret on the head.  She dropped down in the fetal position behind the couch, covering her heard with her hands.

“YOU WILL NEVER SPEAK IN NEGATION OF SAFEGUARD, THE SUPERIOR SOAP,” boomed the narrative voice angrily.  “THERE IS NO SOAP ABOVE SAFEGUARD.”

“If you’ll just follow along with us, you’ll be happy,” said the wife.  “You’ll be able to fit right in with our family  and you can stay with us forever Margaret.”   The black and white kids jumped up and down with uncontainable jubilance.  The earthquake stopped after the wife squirted more soap into Margaret’s hair.  “Repeat after me,” instructed the wife.  “Safeguard, the superior soap.”

Margaret glanced at the color TV in horror and noticed that her husband had arrived home from work.  His suitcase was dropped at the front doormat and he was pacing around the room calling for someone, a worried look on his face.  There was no audio on the color TV.  Margaret placed her hands on the TV, wanting desperately to get back to the other side.  She felt only a cold TV screen; vacant, empty, mocking her inner-voice to the core.

“Oh, we should turn up the volume for her honey,” the husband suggested.  Smiling widely, the wife gracefully stepped across the living room and grabbed a remote, pressed the volume upwards.

“Margaret!,” she heard her husband’s voice call out through the house.  Painfully, she watched.  Tears swelled up in her eyes.  She watched him rush outside, then run back inside and dial the police on the phone.  Suddenly the TV changed to a black and white commercial for Safeguard soap, like the ultimate insult.  The rest of the family smiled.  Wider.  Wider.  They poured soap onto her head and she fell to the carpet and cried.

“Safeguard Soap works better for everybody, Margaret!,” beamed the black and white wife.  “Ha! Even for Margaret!,” added the black and white husband.

After the commercial, it segued back to the birds’ eye view of her house.  Where was the camera recording this? Margaret wondered.  it appeared as if it were attached and angled from her ceiling.

Margaret had been stuck inside this commercial nightmare for hours now and the happy facade the family emitted was still there.  It made her sick, the glow that covered something truly dark, smiles laced on lame minds, happiness tied to nothing more elusive than the ultimatum and bottom line of a plastic product.  Plasticity.  She looked into the faces of the black and white family and saw actors and actress, all firm in their happiness since they had been bought and paid for to behave this way.  Surface happiness, and beneath it a layer of hardened concrete, layer after layer of things as short-lived and mundane as Safeguard soap.  These people had the mystery of life sucked right out of them for definite answers, their so-called tolerance for her was only to manipulate her and make her just like them, to force her into submission and material purpose.  She no longer wanted to aspire for this kind of cheap imitation happiness for her own family; she only wanted to go home, to feel loved, to love, to get away from this twisted version of it.  Margaret thought back to before her family and everyone else owned TV sets, back when neighbors would sit out on lawn chairs in the  fresh summer air and talk about anything and everything while the kids laughed and chased each other around, did things like throw pinecones at each other. It seemed that the transition from that distant life to the life of gathering around a glowing TV screen all happened within the breath of a month and the blink of an eye.  Now, instead of families walking the neighborhood and talking outside, there was only silence, the hum of the street lights, the containment of the neighborhood.

Not till now did this dawn on her, as she stole the Safeguard soap from the black and white wife’s hands, and then dumping every last drop onto the carpet, somehow redeemed herself.  She could now see her husband on the reality side of the screen looking in at her, frantically trying to find a way inside the TV box to rescue her.

“Noooooooo!,” the black and white wife cried.  “Safeguard is the better soap!  You’re ruining it! ” She continued to allow the soap to ooze out drip by drip, and then thrust the plastic bottle into a corner of the room with a CLANK.

“Forget about your worthless soap! You are all insane!”

Margaret flipped the table upside down with fury and proceeded to destroy the house.  China silverware and cutlery was thrown around the room.  She broke the windows by throwing chairs around in a tornado whirlwind.  She didn’t stop until she was out of breath and drenched in her own sweat, completely finished.

“STOP THAT, NOW! ,” boomed the narrator from TV Land Abyss.  “SAFEGUARD IS QUALITY SOAP AND YOU ARE DIMINISHING IT’S NAME!”

The family’s smiles almost instantly transformed from plastic happiness to an ugliness that couldn’t be described in words and their perfectly white teeth changed to jagged yellow (or what was left of them) and their smooth, healthy shining skin metamorphized to a slimy, rough reptilian surface and the whites of their eyes glazed over to a fury red, and slowly they crept towards Margaret, cornering her into the now-demolished room.  The lie of the perfect family was unmasked, something sinister revealed; nothing was for sale anymore.

“Von’t vou vunderstand, Vargaret! Vaccept vand voin vus vow!,” the black and white lizards croaked.  ” LISTEN TO THEM OR THERE WILL BE CONSEQUENCES, MARGARET!,” boomed the narrator from TV Land Abyss.

On the other dimension of the TV, Margaret saw her husband banging on the glass, a look of glassed horror on his face as they closed in on her.  There was nothing he could do.

“Vit vis vover vow, Vargaret,” hissed the black and white lizard husband. “Vwe vwill vestroy vou.”

As they crept closer, Margaret had an idea that occured to her and she quickly pulled out a small bottle of hand sanitizer she remembered was in her pocket.  She unscrewed the dispensing lid and chucked gobs of liquid at the black and white lizards.  Their soft mannequin hands had evolved razor-sharp claw; they could easily tear her apart.

“Clearflow, the better soap, you bastards!,” she screamed, and as the soap fell onto their face, they cringed and fell convulsing to the carpet below them.

The room shook with fury and the walls caved in as the narrator from TV Land Abyss cried that the advertisement was ruined and all hope was lost; that the eternal smile had now burned out and for a moment, maybe just one wasted TV Land second, there was a breath of truth.

Then everything in Margaret’s vision went black.

**************************************

She awoke on the couch in her own house, surrounded by her family.  She found the TV smashed and in pieces, a sledge hammer lying next to it; it was almost comical.  Instead, they decided to go for a walk for the evening.  As they were walking to the front door to escape to outside, there was a ring at the doorbell.  Margaret gasped when she opened the door and saw two familiar ghostly pale faces, smeared in make-up and fake smiles.  It was the black and whites and the wife held in her hands a canister of soap.

“Hi!,” she beamed.  “We just moved in next door.  Thought we’d be kind and invite our neighbors over for a house warming party and we’d love to show you this new product that we are using!  What’s wrong?  You look pale, Margaret!  We’ll have a golly great time!”

Top 8 Traits of a Successful Super Fancy Business Man or Woman (Satire)

Clearly, becoming a Super Fancy business man or woman is not for everyone. In an increasingly competitive global and connected Internet market, not everyone can afford to sell their soul for giant pieces of real estate and Hollywood mansions. How do you know it’s for you? Proper Big Business etiquette starts with fakery, legal thievery, and a mindset to follow the guidelines of the eight traits below:

1) An air of importance and superiority. From the morning conferences, to the daily checking of the stock market and other investments, to riding in a limousine or taxi, to taking a dump in a porcelain toilet– they do it in a manner of superior air and privilege above all other humans.

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2) They work harder than everyone else, as long as it does not involve actual physical labor. Successful super fancy business men and women around the world love to micromanage and create tasks for others to do and “create jobs” with their endless piles of cash– but put in an actual labor job before their eyes and they’ll be sure to disappear before you can say the word wage and they’ll set off immediately to assign someone else for the labor.

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3) Relentless ambition. From their so-called associates to business partners, successful super fancy business men and women will stomp all over their compatriots in a heat beat if it gets in the way of their “vision” of financial gain and power. At the end of the day, you can find these gems of society possibly smoking a cigar or drinking a glass of wine and celebrating business-as-usual. Upon viewing their excrement in a porcelain toilet, they may find its’ essence to be a shimmering golden nugget. Even the bathroom may be decorated with various awards and degrees to showcase their betterment than everyone else. You can find their social networks pampered with exorbitant awards and visuals of do-gooding and other collections of half-truths.
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4) Over-confidence. Have a good idea you want to share with a super fancy business man or woman? You better not do it without first bowing down to these Harvard-graduated, leopard-scarf wearing, pricey cologne-perfume scented, classist, fascist people who consider themselves Gods. They’re way more creative, more efficient, more savvy, more logical, better for business, better for the environment, promote more workplace equalness, and anything that comes out of their mouth hole is better than thou. So loosen your tie, put your head down, and roll out the red carpet for a Super fancy business man or woman who will save the day or even the world, all while increasing profits and the companies’ trade worth.

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5) Sense of purpose above others. Is your city or town bankrupt? Need a billionaire Super Fancy business man or woman to save the day? No problem. These elitist leaders have more purpose than any existing primates and will gladly demolish your historic towns and pull in their big business ventures. That’s a historic church, you say? Well let’s give this town a sense of purpose by ripping it down, stripping it of its’ character, and in its’ place building monochrome neighborhoods and Corporate banks. Watch a Super fancy business man or woman stride through uptown on any day of the week and you better believe they’ll let you know who you’re dealing with.
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6) Bravery in the workplace. In this constant, fast-paced, fast-priced, dog-eat-dog business climate, a Super Fancy business man or woman has to acquire bravery to rise to the top of the Rat Race. Firing employees if it affects the overhead cost-profit margin too much, sending business overseas at any time, or even going where no Super Fancy business man or woman has gone before and replacing mom and pap businesses with characterless Corporate franchises. A billionaire has to be brave when he or she has nothing to lose but a few measly million-dollar investments.
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7) Their words are impeccable, and only because they said so. If a Super Fancy business man or woman tells you they “care about the environment” or the “future of the community” or “reducing pollution”, you better believe it without question since they are the authority. As long as these words lead to power and profits, you can bet your bottom dollar and last unpolluted river that they’ll tell their customers whatever it is that they want to hear. Now go buy yourself a five-dollar Starbucks coffee chump, and save the environment while conversing with others about synergy and company core values.

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8) They care about your future. Of course they do, because Super Fancy business men and women own most of the world’s money and resources in theory, locked up in bank vaults while others starve. They care about what they are investing in and the piles of mass consumed garbage around the world can prove it. Super Fancy business men and women know what’s best for everyone at every time, and the bureaucrats and police authorities support them above others. Now stop reading this and get out of the way– there is progress to be made, loser!

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