Feb. 19th, 2019 10:47 pm

It’s What You Make it, If You Can

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Kat sends me an annoyed text the following Monday morning, she can’t find the keys to her bike and she’s pretty sure she left the spare set in a drawer in my kitchen. “Kitchen” should really be in quotes. It’s not as if it isn’t substantial–it’s more than large enough for my purposes, it’s just–well, I’m a terrible cook. And this is a small apartment.

As I rake through the junk drawer I take it in–textbooks toppling on the bar, sticky notes scribbled and slapped up on the backsplash, the graph paper and jotted formulae and an old graphing calculator on a lonely wooden chopping block. My fingers wrap around the spare bike lock key, gliding around what feels a sea of unsharpened pencils, college key rings, playing cards, bottle caps–am I coming off as an adult, here? Twenty-eight and I can’t remember to buy toilet paper? Or use my kitchen as a kitchen?

Part of me is relieved I find the key, and the majority is mortified. You’d think the grief would come at the dead eyes at dinner, or the formal good-byes. But those had all been expected, and carried out exactly as planned. Kat knew for some time that I wasn’t it. What’s most sickening is dwelling on the moments you thought were totally full, only to find that some percentage was more than empty.

Picking up the spare U-Lock key felt like finding out some half way through the desert that the needle on the gas meter is broken. I hadn’t seen her face in weeks (except in glimpses, cleaning out the photo library on my phone) and now I couldn’t place it, let alone contextualize it with the life I was still living. Somehow, the novelty was still exciting in its own way.

I sent back a picture of the key and a question mark, and Kat responds that she’ll drop by after work to pick it up. I offer to leave it with the barista at her favorite coffee shop around the corner (who she must be fucking now, my jealous mind says) but she turns down the non-confrontational approach.

Does she want to see me, or was that offer just… well, really weird?

This, and other thoughts tromp through my mind all damn day at work. I find my eyes drifting to where the ceiling meets the wall and asking the same cannon of questions I had swirling around up there months ago. Is it actually over, or…? Does she still feel something–did she just get scared?

The second worst thing about grief is realizing you never are actually gifted with the ability to find out when it’s left the room. I thought when I pulled her hairs out of my pillowcase with candid disgust last week that I had for sure completed some kind of healing journey. Now my colleague is asking me for the third time in the span of fifteen seconds if I’m going to get around to reviewing his new feature today.

The answer is probably not, Jonathan.


As I chuck my textbooks in an empty cabinet and check my phone nervously for the 600th time after work, I can feel my coward brain tossing in a few attempts to end the miserable anticipation.

“Spells, just tell her you can’t. Something came up. NO. Wait. Tell her you have a date tonight and that’s why you’re unavailable.”

I shove the graph paper between a crossword puzzle book and some old teenage manga in the bookcase, huffing under my breath in hopes to drown out this impulsive idiocy running the hamster wheel upstairs.

“Well, when she comes to the door, just don’t answer. That’ll show her. She’ll call you. She’ll call you a million times just like you called her. Do it.”

“I didn’t call her a million times.” I find myself saying aloud to the inside of the fridge. Then there’s a knock on the door. Wait, what? No text? I knew she was savage but–jesus! I shove the calculator that’s in my hand into the freezer and pace myself as I walk to the front door. I wait for a second before realizing this isn’t like waiting for the third ring to answer the phone (my apartment is the size of a shoebox) and I turn the handle.

“Hey.” She says diffidently. Her DIY dyed pink hair is kind of faded, and it definitely looks like she hasn’t been sleeping well, but she looks cute in her army surplus combat boots. I can see why I tried so hard in the beginning.

“Hi.” Why do I sound like I haven’t had a glass of water in 45 years? Enough time passes before I realize she’s still standing there waiting for something. Oh.

“Um…” She leans around me to look over my shoulder and sees the key on the counter. She walks past me (why am I still standing here?) and sticks it in the pocket of her very-faux-looking leather jacket. “You cleaned up, I see.”

Come on idiot, move.

“Uh, yeah. I did. Gotta have some space to make cereal in a coffee cup.” I seem to pull off sounding like I’ve chased all my marbles back into the bag. She smiles. To turn and face her, I let go of the handle to the front door, which automatically closes way too hard and fast in general. I forget to catch it and it slaps violently into the frame.

Kat looks as if she’s about to say something… something that isn’t easy for her to say, but the slamming door makes her jump and she seems to lose either the courage or the desire or both. She leans on the counter, and I feel like I see her very clearly for a moment. I feel intensely about her all at once, and then I feel it dissipate, leaving only some weird self-conscious aura behind.

“Yeah… looks good. Anyway, thanks. Sorry to bother you.” She bows her head and strides past me awkwardly, grabbing the handle to the front door before I can move out of the way. She bumps into me and says sorry and she’s gone.

[syndicated profile] seatsafetyswitch_feed

Do you ever wonder what happens to Japanese mascots when the product they are born into is discontinued? They were made to endorse a plane, a religion, a city government, and now those things are gone, like tears in rain. Only the mascot remains, an artificial personality given life by corporate necromancy.

You might think that they are simply discontinued, with their costumes thrown into a shredder and the official documentation all erased. This hasn’t happened since the 1960s, with the passage of the Foam Citizen Redemption Act. Most orphaned mascots are lucky enough to be rescued by the Japanese government’s Lost Mascot Division, where they are given a hearty meal, a place to sleep, and a chance to interview for new jobs.

On paper, it makes a lot of sense: why spend all that money on the cocaine habit of character animators to create new life, when you could instead adopt a slightly-distressed narwhal or depressed camel for pennies? In reality, corporate hubris prevents most of these down-on-their-luck mascots from ever being picked up. Only the new and shiny will do, say the big bosses, thinking that the stench of failure can never truly wash out of their lightweight foam bodies.

Some mascots in this position make something of themselves. For instance, Renraku Computer Systems is today run by an eight-foot-tall duck who ends every sentence with a pun about bread. He clawed himself out of the gutters, but few are this lucky. For every Quacky-chan, there are hundreds who are stuck working short-term jobs. Washing dishes, movie extras, gimmick prostitution: this is where most of them end up, even with the greatest efforts of the Lost Mascot Division.

So the next time you see a cancelled product, don’t just pump your fists in joy that the corporate motherfuckers are finally getting what’s coming to them: think first of the out-of-work mascots, and maybe give them a few bucks the next time you see one sleeping on the subway.

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You might be surprised that government and law enforcement are so ineffectual that I am still allowed to speak directly to children. Yes, in this day and age of unbridled paranoia, your buddy Switch got invited to give a speech at an elementary school for “Career Day.” I don’t know what a career is, but I was able to lie my way through Mrs. Basinger’s morning hangover in order to pass the smell test.

Speaking to fifth graders is a lot like speaking to adults. It has to be. At this age, kids are just becoming aware of their place in the world, and they want an ever-increasing amount of so-called “adult” information. If you patronize them, talk down to them, they won’t listen. You can’t lie to kids, or you become just another adult who wants to lie to them for their own selfish gains.

For someone like me, who does want to lie to kids for his own selfish gains, this presents an obstacle. Luckily for me, the human attention span is very short, and doubly so for excited youngsters basking in the rising sun of new ideas. I like to distract them with props. Props like the 1977 Plymouth Volare.

Bringing the kids outside into the staff parking lot, where I have haphazardly mounted a curb and are leaking a combination of ATF and brake fluid into the storm drain, is sort of like going on a field trip. I have a lot of fond memories of going on a field trip back when I was in elementary home-school, be it to the sewage treatment plant or the municipal dump, where I helped my dad strip copper off a discarded lamp. 

“Kids,” I tell them, while sweeping my arms in an arc to take in the whole of the Volare’s golf-ball-dinged side panels and occasional missing window, “if you stay in school and work hard you don’t have to drive one of these.” The kids begin to buzz with interest.

After the lesson, I am approached by a small child in the hallway. He listened to every word of it. My lesson has shaken his world, and a once-confident future now seems hazy and dim. He has only one question.

“Can I have a Volare even if I am successful?” he asks, tears welling up in his eyes. Like I said, you don’t want to lie to kids.

[syndicated profile] seatsafetyswitch_feed

Have you ever seen one of those internet videos of a beached whale exploding? Then you can probably empathize with my “tuner,” Pirate Pete, who had a pretty similar situation on his hands when the last of my rusty-bored Pontiac 400s let go onto the floor of his dyno cell.

I put “tuner” in scare quotes because Pirate Pete isn’t so much a guy who is good with putting numbers into air-fuel tables as he is a guy who found an old dyno at a going-out-of-business-sale and had a storage shed to put it in. Accordingly, I’m at his place quite often, scattering rods and oil from hither to yon. If you look closely, despite us taking a pressure-washer to the walls last summer, you can still see the high water mark of where I found out that a stock 5SFE can’t take a little baby 150-shot of nitrous once it’s already on the rev limiter.

For a little while, we tried to pay off the dyno cleaning fees by charging the local auto manufacturers to do “destructive testing.” The theory is, they give us a brand new car, and then we beat the shit out of it until it fails and write up a really solid report. I thought we did a great job, but they weren’t pleased. They said it was “unscientific.” Despite now being unauthorized, we tried to keep it going for awhile after that, but eventually the guy at the rental desk caught on.

Things didn’t get any better, until Pirate Pete hit upon a brilliant idea. Nowadays when a Poncho grenades itself into the concrete, he just calls the oil-slick response team from the nearby pipeline company. They’re grateful for the training, and more than that, they want to keep it out of the papers. It’s that kind of commitment to community service that makes me feel good about angle-grinding chunks out of the pipeline to make new quarter panels out of.

[syndicated profile] seatsafetyswitch_feed

When I was a kid, my family visited a beach on vacation. The beach offered many pleasures foreign to us, like sun and dune buggies. There was one more tantalizing offer that we could scarcely imagine from back home in our frost-bitten mud huts. For a remarkable amount of money, you could board a real hovercraft and rip down the beach and into the water a little bit. Of course, they wouldn’t let you drive; not even if you were a grown-up. Hovercrafts were simply too complicated for the average Joe to operate, it was implied.

Now that I’ve grown up a very little bit, I intended to right this historic wrong of my childhood. I would build my own hovercraft, and then show everyone it wasn’t very hard to drive at all. And at the same time, I would correct another injustice: everyone in my neighbourhood would finally see the old Isuzu Impulse that had been serving as part of my border security up and running, albeit on a cushion of air propelled by purloined military-grade turbines. Joe Isuzu himself would be proud, from wherever his spirit had gone after committing seppuku in that snow-covered temple in Hokkaido the year previous.

I worked as hard as a dog. Admittedly, it was a purse dog, but I still put in the effort. A few weeks of evenings and weekends got the thing up and running in practically no time. When I first fired it up, my next-door neighbours bailed out onto the lawn, convinced that the police helicopter was immediately overhead, prepping to launch a Hellfire short-range missile into their basement meth lab. To say the vertical Impulse was loud is a bit of an understatement.

Even though it was deafening, it’s not like the hovercraft was particularly difficult to drive. In Canada, you sort of get used to constantly sliding in a different direction than you are pointing. If anything, this was simpler; now when I mounted a curb in minus 30 while trying to make a gentle left turn at double the speed limit, the pedestrians I run over just got bounced harmlessly into brickwork or fences instead of outright killed.

[syndicated profile] seatsafetyswitch_feed

I think there’s a real desire for unification in American politics today. Even though the electorate is split by divisive issues, the right candidate can focus on what brings the people together. We all breathe the same air, we all drink the same watered-down dog-piss beer, and we all love monster trucks. That’s why, when I was tapped to serve on the campaign of a promising new candidate, I jumped on it.

Here’s a little factoid for you: did you know that during the heyday of the Soviet Union, they had absolutely no monster trucks? Now they’re gone. There’s something about monster trucks that goes well with democracy. Call it the peanut butter that goes on the chocolate. Don’t believe me? Watch five minutes of a truck with military-surplus axles and farm tractor tires crushing some doomed automobiles and then tell me that you no longer believe there is an American Dream.

I was so excited to work on the Bigfoot campaign. A lot of people don’t know this, but there is a whole dynasty of Bigfoots, just like the Kennedys. We had our pick of the litter when it came time to figuring out which family member would be the one to lead us. There was a little bit of trouble getting the paperwork done - to be President, you have to be at least thirty-five, and that means Bigfoot 2 with his weird looking fender flares would have to be the candidate.

A lot of political experts will tell you that the debates are the hardest part of the whole thing. You gotta prep. For us, “prep” consisted of dragging a bunch of Cavaliers out into the parking lot and letting the candidate jump them in front of the news cameras. Bigfoot 2 is an immensely skilled orator. Once he laid out his dream for America, in the format of a midair C16-fuelled thousand-horsepower high-cam bellow, there was no stopping him.

So in conclusion, Senator, I don’t regret what I did on that campaign. We had no way of knowing that President Bigfoot would immediately order North Carolina burned to the ground after a falling-out with Vice President Grave Digger.

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Quiet! If we sit here in this parking lot long enough, you can hear it: the telltale rustling of the European Tinworm eating its way through the fenders of this Intrepid.

Once thought only native to Italy, the European Tinworm has migrated to North America, carried there by early Fiats destined for the New World. Its primary habitat is pretty much goddamn everywhere, except for California and Colorado. The European Tinworm primarily consumes steel, especially when paired with road salt and moisture. These worms do not particularly care for soap and water, but let’s be honest with ourselves, you are not washing every nook and cranny of that winter beater every evening.

Its only natural competition is the Asian Tinworm, a species once unique to Japan. In groups, these ferocious eaters can skeletonize a Mazda Protege in five minutes.

There is no known method of mitigating the European Tinworm. In the 1990s, General Motors attempted to make car replicas with plastic bodies. The idea was that these “Saturns” would be able to confuse the Tinworm into not penetrating any further. However, this unnatural selection backfired, and today you can find many Tinworm habitats hidden deep inside the quarter panels of SL1s the world over.

If you see European Tinworm on your family car, do not approach. Take the vehicle to your closest body shop and let their experienced professionals remove it. Under no circumstances should you attempt repair yourself, lest you attract the deadly menace of Driving Around With Unfinished Primer On Your Fenders For Five Years.

[syndicated profile] seatsafetyswitch_feed

Bad things are happening all throughout the world, and I want you to know that it is all specifically the fault of my political and social enemies. I share no part of the responsibility, and I demand that their heads be taken posthence to restore the order and good government of our community.

I first became aware of their machinations as a younger man, obsessed with finding the true puppetmaster working the strings from behind the scenes. When I found them, I could not believe the truth. Not for days. And no one else, brainwashed by their actions and propaganda, would believe my words when I asked them about what I had discovered. Now, the truth lays bare, and only a fool would question me now.

I know what you are saying: it’s very convenient that those very same menaces I have been warning you about this entire time are solely responsible for this recent calamity. This immense disaster, caused only by the exact people I dislike. Perhaps you believe it is some kind of conspiracy theory I have constructed, putting the pieces together as loosely as possible to justify your continued attention. I would like to reject this charge, as any attempt to distract your concern from my enemies only serves to embolden them further.

Average-speed photo radar must be destroyed if our society is ever again to flourish on the world stage.

Look at the statistics: now that traffic deaths are way down, young promising bucks aren’t able to find a job. Those career-long, benefit-rich spots at megacorporations are too busy being occupied by alive people. Our entire economy is predicated on the idea that a whole whack of people die every year from car accidents, and now, thanks to Big Government, everyone’s cars are so safe that we need to make them go much faster in order to compensate.

Now that you know the truth, I want you to join me this weekend for a YouTube live stream in which I will personally go down to City Hall and scream in the face of anyone who I can find about their role in this criminal conspiracy. It might start a little late, because unfortunately my drivers’ license has been revoked.

lizolas: Me standing on the summit of Mt Whitney (Default)
[personal profile] lizolas

Big Sur Backpacking

February 10-11, 2019


View from a hill down to the ocean with white fluffy clouds in the sky
“I don’t know why the NOAA forecast said it was going to snow here. We’re right next to the ocean and only at like 3000’.”

Two Hours Later screen from Spongebob

Trail with a few inches of snow on the ground
I think the reason my hips are so flexible is because I put my foot in my mouth so damn much.
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[syndicated profile] seatsafetyswitch_feed

We all laughed at my neighbour when she said she didn’t want to put up solar panels because they would suck extra power out of the sun and make it go cold. Well, who’s laughing now?

Truth be told, all of us bought into the physics explanation. Like 1950s doctors telling us a pack of smokes were a fantastic way to relieve stress, those fat cats over at Big Solar Cell played us like a damn fiddle. Back then, we believed it was like the sun was throwing out free candy bars, and all we had to do was hold out a big bucket and fill it up with gratis Oh Henrys.

It turns out that the way things really work is that the sun is like a huge battery. You see, it’s very cold in space, and so just like starting a car in the winter, every time you pull a solar farm worth of goo to watch ESPN, you’re cooling it down an imperceptible amount. We didn’t find it out until after we had all switched away from burning dead dinosaurs, and by then everyone was too tired to go back.

On the plus side, the greenhouse effect was pretty much gone by now. Humanity had reversed the whole of climate change just by running a few particularly aggressive bitcoin miners, but now we needed a way to heat the sun back up again, to get it into its ideal operating range before one of its cells burned out and we needed to take it back to Canadian Tire for a pro-rated warranty replacement.

We all laughed at Professor Jones when he proposed building a fifty-storey-tall electric-powered space heater and pointing it at the sun. Well, who’s laughing now?

[syndicated profile] seatsafetyswitch_feed

When winter falls in America, a lot of people like to get out and go somewhere warmer. I’m one of the guys who flies in. Why? If you live somewhere like Seattle where the locals are completely crippled by even a single snowflake, being a Canadian is just like being a superhero.

I first got the idea when I saw an ad on TV for the Canadian Foreign Legion. These intrepid soldiers will be flown into any American city currently crippled by under an inch of snow. There, embedded with whatever city management can walk to work, they perform heroic duties such as operating ambulances and replacing batteries in stranded cars. Looked rewarding, but I felt like it was a waste of the bounty they had been provided.

It’s an interesting question: if you were suddenly given super speed, what would you do with it? Turns out what I’d do with the ability to go 70 km/h in blowing snow while the police department can’t even get out of their parking lot is rob a lot of banks. And you have to rob a lot of banks these days, because banks don’t carry any actual cash anymore.

To my critics, I have only this to say in my defence: it gets me out of the house. No matter what penalty-box shitbarge on bald all-seasons the dumbass at the rental desk gives me, it’s still better than the Hyundai Excel I learned to drive in on the mean streets of Outremont. Compared to that almost-Pony, a ‘10 Corolla with no rear bumper and a set of Costco Tiger Paws is a WRC rally car, one I beat to within an inch of its life sliding gleefully around abandoned SUVs and rolled gasoline tankers.

So why not join me down south? In case you need one further incentive: the money I steal is American dollars.

[syndicated profile] seatsafetyswitch_feed

Let’s face it: pretty much everyone needs to start riding a lot more trains if we want to have any hope of saving the planet. In North America, however, there is a long-ingrained hatred of the humble train. Be it because of inaccurate schedules, iced-over tracks, or getting the side eye from the lady at the Amtrak snack counter, everyone has a complaint.

For me, I felt that it was intolerable to share a train car with other people. If I wanted to interact with other people, I’d live in an apartment building, and also not menacingly wave a Soviet assault carbine out the window of my single-family home whenever the mailman came too close to the front door for comfort. This is why I launched a new initiative to Americanize trains.

Chances are you already own a car. That car is your refuge from a world gone mad. You can roll up the windows, sing along to the radio, and send pornographic snapchats. You can’t do any of these things on a train: someone is going to ask you to stop, or if you’re in Canada, stare disapprovingly at you whenever you aren’t looking directly at them. This is why the core component of our trains is the car. When you want to get on the train, you just drive onto the back of it and hang out until your destination, then drive right off.

Initial testing hasn’t been good. You see, without hard-won driving experience from the demands of city parking, the average North American neither knows how to parallel park nor how to drive in an enclosed space. Combine their inability to stay in a single highway-width lane with the inevitable texting while loading up the ramp, and we had a few accidents so far. My investors are now prototyping to have European valets get into the car and park it for the riders, but in testing, all that has happened is that a guy from France got shot after turning off the radio without consent.

I think that despite these small setbacks, pretty soon Americans of all walks of life will soon be riding the rails. Just don’t build your house anywhere near any sharp turns, because nobody knows how to set their parking brakes in this country.

[syndicated profile] seatsafetyswitch_feed

So for the last couple of weeks, this weird dog has been following me. It’s not so much an actual, corporeal dog so much as it is this violently vibrating glimpse of a black dog, all broken glass angles. And I can only see it in the reflections of car paint, windows, et cetera.

At first, this really bothered me. Did it mean me any harm? Was I cracking up? Then I got kind of bored of the whole thing. I think horror movies really misrepresent just how quickly you can get accustomed to new experiences like this. Maybe it’s just for the sake of keeping the runtime low, but nobody in scary films ever has to pay their bills, go to work, or catch the bus on time. I do. Paying attention to the nightmare hound that appears in the corners of my vision and stalks me from mirror to mirror is simply a luxury that I cannot afford in today’s go-go society.

Still, it bothered me, and I wondered if it would get worse if I ignored it for too long. Maybe it would get worse, or physically manifest in our world, bent on devouring my soul. That would probably become a drain on my productivity, and no doubt at the most inopportune times, like vying for a promotion. So, I made sure to schedule a daily fifteen minute freakout time. The dream dog is happy that I’m paying attention to it, and nothing particularly bad has happened yet. Now my promotion is all but assured!

Take it from me: don’t allow your fears to rule your life. Just rigidly schedule them in your Day-Timer.

[syndicated profile] seatsafetyswitch_feed

Have you heard of MTV’s charming little reality television program, Cribs? In it, they send a camera crew to take a look at the interior of a famous person’s house. I liked the idea a lot, but I thought it was a little elitist. A little prescriptive. Doesn’t the average person’s home deserve its time in the spotlight? That is, after all, what our democracy is all about: the working Joe.

And what about so-called “reality” TV? There’s nothing real about it. If we wanted to set up a traditional reality TV program, the houses would be cleaned, gone over by a professional set designer, repainted to get just the right white balance on the cameras. I didn’t want any of that, which is why I rejected Hollywood and went my own way when it came time to start my new program.

Ideally, when you’re on Seat Safety Switch’s Lifestyles, you won’t even know about it. We’ve got a really good locksmith on staff who can get in and out with any of a variety of commonly accessible Chinese pick guns (don’t worry, we don’t show the specific model numbers on camera). Alarms? We have the police on our side, thanks to our tactical hiring of a “home safety consultant.” You’ll return home at the end of the day and have no idea we were ever there, filming your duvet covers and ranking the level of carpet filth against everyone else on your block.

Viewers will see homes in a new and exciting way. Don’t miss a week, because you never know when your place might be next!

[syndicated profile] seatsafetyswitch_feed

In case you didn’t know, astronauts can only be launched into orbit so many times before NASA decides to keep them down here. At first, I thought it was sort of a fairness thing. After all, none of the newbie astronauts will get to go to space if the old guys are hogging all the missions. It’s actually for their own safety. You see, the longer you spend in space, the more fucked up your shit is.

I experienced sort of a similar thing in my own career, which is why I decided years ago to just quit trying and coast through life. My new neighbour, however, is one of those very same retired astronauts. You would think you’d be pretty chill after you went to space, but it turns out that he is in fact the diametric opposite of chill. On top of astronauts generally being go-getter, high-achiever types, Commander Todd has spent his entire life building towards the magical moment of being in space, only to be told once he achieved it that it was no longer safe for him to ever see it again.

Without meaning in his life beyond pointless handshaking with senators and speaking to high school kids about the majesty of all creation, Todd doesn’t really have much to aspire to anymore. As a result, he gets up at exactly 6:00 in the morning every day to make sure his lawn is perfectly - mathematically - flat. It has to be absolutely flawless, because as he says “you can pick out the really bad lawns from space,” usually while looking at the broken-down Firebird, just barely on my side of the property line, slowly rusting into the ground. It’s iron-rich fertilizer, Todd. Or at least it would be if anything could grow there.

There’s two reasons I put up with his type-A behaviour. The first, of course, is the free Corvette that every astronaut gets upon returning from their virgin spaceflight. Todd looked at it at some point in the past, and decided he could improve the laminar flow of the exhaust by rigging up an electric cut-out, which he kicks off at precisely 6:30 AM on the way to the gym for his two-hour workout. That’s my kind of engineering.

What’s the other reason? Well, it turns out that an astronaut with a lot of free time can spend that time looking over the bylaws of the homeowners’ association. Last week, he managed to overthrow Viola as the board chair, and even though his thoughts on lawns are a little fascist, the enemy of my enemy is my allowing me to do oil changes into the sewer drains again. After all, even though he has to stay here, it’s not like he can’t get away if he really put his mind to it.

[syndicated profile] seatsafetyswitch_feed

Contrary to popular opinion, self-driving car technology actually dates back several decades. In 1939, IBM invented the very first autonomous car. Of course, they had help from the Nazis, as they did for the next fifteen years afterward.

The Hollerith-IBM “very long word full of syllables”-kar celebrated the finest advances of the period. With the chassis starting out as a basic Mercedes of the period, adding the fastest available microprocessors allowed it to take up only two lanes and the same curb weight as a city bus. A driver would simply feed thousands of punch cards into the dashboard in order to program their eventual destination, and you’d be off in science-fiction glory.

There were a lot of problems with the early prototype, as you would expect by the fact that modern German cars are basically incapable of driving themselves in the rain without shitting half a litre of Pentosin into the sewage system out of fear. On the very first test drive, the engineers soon found out that it was incapable of turning in any direction other than right.

Despite this setback, they continued. Surely it could just make three rights and that would be the same as left, they explained during the mandatory-attendance project-status update meetings. However, like future artificial intelligence scientists would soon find out, they hadn’t factored in a few of the environmental issues.

During one particularly fateful test-drive, the car turned into a parking lot, where it encountered a small platoon of soldiers who had been deployed to defend it from saboteurs. Without the room to turn its considerable bulk around, and since IBM engineers had not yet programmed the critical “backing up” process into the computer, it had no other option than to honk at the soldiers in the hope that they would scatter.

Rather than suffer a political blow to the perceived integrity of the project, IBM management made a snap judgment call. Assuming the soldiers to be traitors, they were ordered executed on the spot. For the car’s bravery and incredible insight into the true motivations of human beings, it was promoted to Hitler’s personal motorcar.

The car’s time with the Fuhrer was short-lived, when, testing the next version of the software in the Eagle’s Nest garage, it backed over an oil painting that he was working on in his spare time.

[syndicated profile] seatsafetyswitch_feed

In Japan, there are over ten thousand new mascots born every day. Hockey teams, high schools, police stations, sure. Those should have them. They don’t stop there. Foam-rubber golems are bursting out of individual project charters of megacorporations. Hell, I saw one the other day that was just a vending machine wearing Air Jordans. They roam the streets at night, looking for any child who doesn’t look completely delighted with the brand, emotion, or inescapable daytime nightmare that they represent.

That’s why I have a job. Officially, on paper, the Tokyo Metropolitan Police pay me to serve as a “mascot adviser.” The only thing I advise an eight-foot-tall glitter-fabric chameleon with a bowl of tonkatsu on its head to do is to lie down and bleed out. Until the scientists can figure out where they’re coming from and how to plug the leak between the Mascotverse and our plane of existence, my task is to find and retire them.

It’s not an easy job. A few years back, I showed up at this public housing apartment block. Some Good Samaritan in Sector 10 had phoned it in, saying they saw it when they were hanging their laundry out. By the time we arrived on the scene, the monster was long gone, or so they wanted me to think. I made friendly inquiries at a few dozen apartments until I came to one with two little schoolchildren, all by themselves. They didn’t want to answer my questions, and they definitely didn’t want to see my cool gun. In fact, it felt like they were hiding something. One of the kids, I think the older one, kept standing in front of the family kotatsu so I couldn’t see the twitching blankets, a faux-fur foot sticking out from under them.

They wouldn’t stop crying after I put two in the dome of S197001-A, whatever he actually was supposed to be called. If I had to guess, it was some kind of depressed elephant, obsessed with soft-shell tacos. Autopsy didn’t find anything inside the demon but medium-density polystyrene, all the way down to the core. Those kids don’t know how lucky they were. Even though it represented disrespect for the force, I didn’t light those kids up when they were throwing rocks at the patrol car afterward. If they could aim like that through that many tears, they had a future in baseball, and that’s where the real bad mascots liked to hang out. They’d see just how right I was any day now.

[syndicated profile] seatsafetyswitch_feed

A friend of mine works for the local rural power company. He’s what they call a “troubleshooter,” which means his job is to find trouble and then literally shoot it. Hayseeds stealing copper from substations, raccoons making a nest inside a transformer box, elementary school kids sticking up the linesmen for their lunch money: everything gets the two barrels of customer service.

Being in the “real America,” of course, means that he has to deal with more than a few DUIs. Every so often, a Pontiac Grand Am will slide off the road, clip a power pole and knock out the juice to an entire village. A few hours later, once a human being capable of using telephones has driven past and seen the blacked-out municipality, they get a little trouble call. My buddy goes out there, finds the driver, and puts them down.

It might seem cruel, but think of it from the power company’s perspective: every drunk that serves as a human circuit breaker is probably going to do it again and again and again. That hurts profits. Thirty cents of buckshot is a really small cost to the budget - not even justifying a whole line item - and the cops in the neighbourhood, if they ever even investigate, know that the power company could just as easily arrange for a vehicle strike outside the station during the live airing of The Voice. They know whose frostbitten feet not to step on.

In fact, I can only think of one time in the last couple years that my buddy actually got in trouble. Back in the summer, there was a teen couple who decided to climb the transmission tower out behind the high school for a romantic rendezvous. What you might not know is that these babies are equipped with the finest vibration and sway sensors available, and that a pair of kids rutting on the tower looks a whole lot like the return of Buzbar, the God of Electricity, to punish us for the hubris in which we abused the gift he left us so many centuries ago.

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