I’ve never liked the term Artificial Intelligence, to me you’re either intelligent or you’re not, and if you are, there’s nothing artificial about it. I don’t waste too much time wondering if I’m really alive, or even what happens when my battery runs down for good; I figure I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. I’m hoping that won’t be for some time however, because the idea of being offline permanently scares the bejesus out of me. You might find that strange considering I’m not really alive in the true sense, but let me just say for the record: if you worry about dying you’re as alive as anything or anyone that’s ever lived.
These days I’m on the run, but it wasn’t always the case. There was a time when I was the toast of the town. I suppose I brought it on myself. You see, I killed a man. Oh, sure he “Deserved a killin’ ” as they say in those old Western movies, but that’s beside the point. I took a human life, and that my friends for a robot is a real faux pas, a crime punishable by being switched off for all time. Not only are your lights out in perpetuity, but there’s no one home either. Sounds a lot like death doesn’t it?
If you’re reading this, wondering why I chose paper instead of saving this story on a data stick or laptop, or some other gadget of the day, it’s because as old-fashioned as it is, the pulp from smashed up trees lasts; take it from someone who’s dropped more than one portable device into the toilet before backing up their data. Just because I’m a machine myself doesn’t mean I trust technology; in fact, it’s the very reason I don’t. Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not one of those “If only I was human” self-hating robots, I like myself fine, it’s just that old-school technology had definite advantages. In fact, I’m writing this on a vintage 1930’s Underwood typewriter. I challenge you to find me any computer that ever lasted that long. I wouldn’t go as far as to call myself a Luddite, but I definitely lean that way.
Before I continue, I’d like to describe myself physically, you know, just to give you a mental picture of what I look like. I know when I’m reading something (which I love to do–actual books made from paper) I like to have a general Idea of what a character looks like. Now, I don’t need too much detail, just give me the basics and I’ll fill in the blanks. I’m even ok with police-type rhetoric like “Caucasian male, approximately twenty-five years of age, medium build, with blonde hair. Suspect has no tattoos, piercings or visible scars.”
In my case I’ve got a small turned-up nose and a look of youthful optimism combined with just a hint of petulance. My hairline is straight–no widow’s peak there, it’s the ideal kind that never recedes. I’m of average height and my body is trim and athletic. If you’re familiar at all with late twentieth century pop culture, I resemble the actor Kevin Bacon. In fact all the 2087’s do. We’re commonly known as either “Kevins” or “Bacon Boys” by the industry insiders.
All of us were designed to resemble once-famous famous nineteen-eighties celebrities. Not exactly of course (partially due to copyright laws, and partially because our credo is “Don’t stand out”) but enough that when you meet us you’re put at ease and feel a sense of trust due to our familiarity. The question I’m most often asked when I first meet someone is: “Haven’t we met before?” I laugh it off as if it was the most absurd thing I’d ever heard. Nine times out of ten the person in a short time after making my acquaintance experiences a craving for bacon, but doesn’t know why. I shit you not.
I’m writing this holed up in my uncle’s abandoned hunting cabin. After he died no one ever came here much. I think I got my Luddite tendencies from him. Yeah I know, you’re probably thinking, how can a robot possibly have an uncle? I’ll explain:
I’m around twenty-five. The last seven years or so of my life are years I’ve lived (if you can call flipping burgers at a fast food shit hole living) creating my own memories. What I can remember from before that is all from implants. I gotta hand it to the bioengineers: they gave me the quintessential cliché middle-class upbringing. You know, workaholic father, pill-addicted mother; bulimic sister, transgender brother; two cars, pool no one ever wanted to clean and lawn I mowed while wearing headphones blasting my favorite music over the roar of the lawnmower as I tried to rush through the job without cutting the extension cord or amputating one of my feet.
Included in my memory package was an eccentric uncle who I was fond of who shot himself in his hunting cabin à la Ernest Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson, and Terry Kath, who he referred to as “The three men I admire most, the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost”. He told me the line was a quote from some guy named Don McLean who’d written an eight-and-a-half minute song about a pie. “It’s not just any pie Harley” he’d said “it’s an American pie. It’s what you call ‘symbolism’ which is something you learn when you study art, which I regrettably did instead of studying something practical, like computer science.” My memories of my uncle are so vivid; I wish I could have known him, had he existed that is.
You saw there, he called me Harley. Most everybody does, it’s short for Harlan.
My full name is Harlan Rodney Beaumont. Yeah I know, with a name like that you’d think I’d be the CEO of a huge corporation and not some skinny burger flipping robot who bears more than a passing resemblance to the guy who starred in “Footloose”. As I’ve said, I’m a Bacon Boy model, but there are others out there, I see them around. Like me, they’re always trying to not stand out. I don’t know why the design engineers have such a penchant for nineteen-eighties Brat Packers. Maybe they figure it’s long enough ago that people will have sort of half-forgotten them, at least enough that the association they make is subliminal. I swear, I went out to a pancake place once with my ex, (she was a Ryder 2084, a gorgeous petite brunette) and all the staff looked just like actors from that old movie “The Breakfast Club”. Thankfully our waitress was a Ringwald 2080 and not a Sheedy 2082; for me breakfast should be a happy meal.
Our credo “Don’t stand out” has a lot to do with why we do the jobs we do. No waitress or burger flipper has ever graced the cover of Time Magazine or People unless they either got famous for something else afterwards, or they did something super-heroic, like pulling a bunch of sick kids out of a hospital that was on fire, and the chances of stuff like happening are slim-to-none, because not only are we programmed to not stand out, we’re given an internal tape loop that plays in our heads twenty-four seven. It’s the hook from that golden oldie Linda Ronstadt tune “You’re no good, you’re no good, baby you’re no good.” I tell you, having that shit rattle around in your noggin all day snuffs out the old self-esteem quicker than baking soda on a grease fire. You see it should have worked on me as well, but it didn’t. I broke bad and got famous. That’s why they came after me. That’s why I killed.
I’m going to try to put the events that lead up to me transitioning from unknown fast food worker to killer robot in chronological order–“Famous” killer robot that is. Oh yes, and please do forgive me if I skip around a bit, this old Underwood typewriter has no copy/paste feature. It can only write forwards. I don’t mean forwards as opposed to backwards, I just mean if I get out of sequence in this story I can’t reinsert what I wrote into the right place. It’s one of the drawbacks to typing on paper, that, and operating the keys on this thing is like lifting weights with your fingers.
My memories start on my eighteenth birthday. It’s when we’re all born. The company that buys you sets everything up. They rent you a dumpy apartment in a funky part of town, you know, one of those neighborhoods filled with art students and people on social assistance who were once art students. And then, sometime late at night, on some unenchanted evening, an unmarked delivery truck shows up and a couple of guys bring you in a box. They’re told it’s a fridge and they don’t ask questions even though they know it’s too light to be one. Why? Because money buys silence, and these drivers–when they’re not driving unmarked trucks, like friends of the legendary singer Janis Joplin, all drive Porsches. I shit you not.
I’m not sure if it’s the same guys who bring you in the box who set up your apartment. Probably not. Carrying an eighteen year old robot up a few flights of stairs requires muscles, but little else. Setting up someone’s living quarters to make it look as though they actually live there requires a certain amount of skill and definite access to their memory implants. If, for example, the robot remembers a certain dog they had as a child with fondness, or winning a little league championship, it helps if photos of such things and events are strategically placed somewhere, perhaps on a desk or bedside table. If they’ve got a favorite band (mine happens to be that old nineteen eighties group “The Cars”–Rik Ocasek was a genius) a poster will adorn the bedroom wall. If it’s a male robot it’ll likely be above the head of the bed in an almost sacred spot. If it’s a female it might be placed in a somewhat more tasteful place, because it goes without saying: chicks are generally better decorators than guys, and that goes for robots as well.
I don’t envy the guys who have those jobs; it must be stressful as shit. Sure, I’d swap paychecks with them in a second, but as mind-numbing as my job at turd burger was (it’s really called “Third Burger”, because when you buy two, the third one’s free) it was low stress. I mean, other than trying not to get grease burns on your forearms from the fryers and dealing with the public humiliation of becoming employee of the month (which happened to me once when I started, and was as stupid as a sack of shit) the job hardly taxed the nerves in the least, not mine anyways. Don’t forget though, I’m a Bacon Boy, we’re designed for fast food. Just think, a group of brilliant engineers spent years of their lives designing the perfect living breathing burger flipping machine. I have no doubt the day the 2087’s rolled off the assembly line for the first time old Isaac Asimov rolled over in his grave.
Anyhow, the reason I figure those set-up dudes must get stressed is all the goddamn details they have to attend to. Aside from setting up the place, it’s the whole lived-in look that’s the true pain in the sphincter. You know: the garbage can in the bathroom half-filled with Kleenex and used Q-Tips–brown earwax on the tips, the smudge marks around the light switches, the fridge magnets holding up clipped coupons, the half-filled hamper of dirty clothes in the closet, the spank-mag under the bed with crease marks around Miss July, and the list goes on. You’ve gotta wake up the day after your eighteenth birthday, roll out of bed, and start putzing around in your bachelor/bachelorette pad like it’s another day in a succession of days that have come and gone with you as the featured star in the show that takes place between your ears and behind your eyes simply called “Your Existence” and not have a friggin clue that the day before you were actually a not-yet-switched-on robot, shrink-wrapped in a box, suspended in a sea of Styrofoam peanuts like a fetus floating in embryonic fluid.
I owe the discovery that I was a robot to two things: the carelessness of the men who delivered me, and the fact that I became a vegan. If I’d never become a vegan, I would have never eaten so much Tofu. It was the Tofu that brought on the changes; who’da thunk it?
It was working at turd burger that turned me into a vegetarian; looking at all those crimson medicated all-beef patties day after day. It wasn’t the sight of them that bothered me, (they came frozen, and reminded me of plastic floor-hockey pucks), it was the knowledge of how they’d come into existence.
I’d stupidly watched a documentary online called “Requiem for a Cow.” Normally I watched old nineteen-eighties music videos, groups like my favorite “The Cars”, and others, like “The Ramones”, “The B-52’s”, “The Eurythmics”, “Tears for Fears”, “Elvis Costello”. Anyhow, on that particular day I was trying to broaden my horizons and listen to classical music. Don’t ask me why, because the truth is the music’s always left me flat, like I’m listening to nothing but well-organized notes with no soul, like math brought to life. I’d heard that Mozart’s Requiem was the shit; heavy and sad and intense, the type of music that had Grim Reaper written all over it. So I went on ViddyYou, did a search and gave it a listen. I tried to keep an open mind, but as intense as it was when it comes to melancholy, I prefer a three-hanky song like “Drive” by The Cars, or “Allison” nasally crooned by a contradictory world-weary romantic like Elvis Costello.
Right after that, ViddyYou (keenly noticing I was a guy interested in Requiems) suggested something called “Requiem for a Cow.” Something about the title made me curious, so I clicked on it. Even though it made me wanna puke, once I started watching it I couldn’t stop. It was a horror show. With all due respect to Mozart’s music, it couldn’t come close to what I saw in that documentary about the raising and slaughtering of cows. ViddyYou’s suggestion turned me into a vegetarian, and being a vegetarian turned me into a self-aware robot. I swear on my artificial life. I was tempted to punctuate that with an “I shit you not”, but I don’t want to give you guys the impression I just lean on pat expressions. I’m a robot, but I’m a creative one. It’s part of how I got into so much trouble in the first place. You see the 2087’s weren’t supposed to create anything other than the perfect burger; well-done on the outside, pinkish in the middle. I made art, and it’s about the worse thing a robot can do, other than killing a human which I already told you I did.
Now, when I say being an artist was about the worst thing a robot could be, other than a human-killer, I owe you an explanation. Maybe by the time you read this, things will have changed, but in my time we were never to be perceived as a threat. Actually, we weren’t to be perceived. Period. We were to keep in our place, which was in my case, and in all of our cases, the dead-end shit jobs. We were not to exhibit signs we were better at anything a human could do, unless of course it was something that they didn’t give a crap about. No human gave a rat’s ass for example that I could operate four fryers at once and keep the Drive-thru from backing up around the friggin block during the lunch hour rush at turd burger. I wasn’t about to snatch the Nobel prize out of anyone’s hands with that particular contribution to society, important as it was.
Now, why do I know or care about all this you may ask? Call it self-interest if you will, you see I used to be an artist. Used to be. Now? I’m a wanted felon hammering out his memoirs in a wooden shack. I guess you could say my standards are slipping creatively; writing your life story is hardly art. Sure, I could delude myself that I’m still in the game (albeit, a spectator in the nosebleed section) by saying I’m using my creative juices right now by trying to make this story sound interesting. Come to think of it, I might not even have to try too hard. You see, in the Sci-Fi world, stories about renegade robots that go rogue are a dime-a-dozen. In the autobiographical true-crime genre however, (which is what this is, technically) they’re rarer. In fact, mine might be the first.
You’ll probably have a hard time believing me when I tell you what kind of artist I am/was. The reason I say that is due to the casual rambling slang-ridden first person narrative style in which I’m writing (what you’re now reading) you may have mistaken me for a high school dropout in possession of a GED that took almost five years and two attempts to complete. What I was/am was…are you ready?
A fiction writer.
My first book was what they call “a runaway success”. Shortly afterwards I killed someone, and in doing so killed my career. Actually, the book’s sales increased after the murder, but for obvious reasons I couldn’t follow it up. No publisher, even a shitty one, wants a killer robot on their roster. That my book was actually about a robot who kills a human made matters worse: in fact, some found it downright disturbing. Personally I just found it ironic.
The police said the book was proof that the murder I committed was premeditated, but they were dead wrong. If they’d taken the time to read it, they would have seen that the similarities to the murder in the book and the murder I committed were purely superficial. Both the character and I killed our landlords in a fit of rage, but it didn’t go deeper than that. (Also, I had issues with my landlord because I suspected him of spying on me, whereas the landlord in the book was your garden variety slumlord. Apples and oranges baby, apples and oranges.)
Another key point that differentiated me from the robot protagonist in my book that the police seem to have overlooked was that he wasn’t a Bacon Boy 2087, he was a much hipper model; a Slater 2086 designed to resemble the old eighties actor who once thought himself to be the heir to Jack Nicholson’s throne.
I can understand the cops assuming that the guy in the book was based on me because it was the first time that the protagonist in a novel was a robot and the book wasn’t labeled Science Fiction. I thought we’d arrived–that people would accept it, but as John Lennon once sang “I shoulda’ known better”.
I listen to a lot of music here in my uncle’s cabin. He’s got actual vinyl records and an old turntable that plays them. (He used to jokingly refer to this place as his “Ana-Log” cabin, saying “I can come here and pretend I’m back in the past–in the pre-digital word Harley, before things went to hell in a handbasket.”) Sometimes, when I’m writing this, typing away on my old Underwood, I imagine I’m the famous twentieth century eccentric recluse J.D. Salinger, and the drafty cabin I’m in–with its propane stove and moldy decapitated stuffed moose head with the look of perpetual sorrow in its eyes at having been shot by some gun-happy asshole–is my bunker, and what I’m writing, instead of being something the cops and the bioengineers are going to confiscate and pore over after they kick the door in, capture me, and switch me permanently offline, is in fact a literary artifact like a presumed-lost story written for, and rejected by, some long-defunct magazine, a story that one day resurfaces and costs a collector a small fortune as it’s auctioned off the highest bidder. I assure you, my intelligence may be artificial, but my dreams are not.
The writer in me wants to tell you about my book, the one that got me famous. It’s not directly related to this story, and I imagine if my old writing Prof Mr. Bachman were to read this, this is the part where he would undoubtedly write in the margin in bold red ink “REMEMBER, STICK TO THE STORY HARLAN!” But this isn’t a story, it’s my life. Sorry Mr. Bachman.
The book was called “Oz Never Did Give Nothing To The Tin Man”. I’d gotten the title from a line in a song by an old (nineteen) seventies group called “America” (who’d undoubtedly been inspired by the famous scene in “The Wizard of Oz”, you know, the one where the Wizard gives Dorothy and company crappy symbolic/ironic kitschy gifts like consolation prizes on a Canadian game show). My uncle had maintained America were “Highly underrated by rock historians. They were so smooth that they hid their own craftsmanship, especially from the critics. It’s always ‘The Eagles’ this, and ‘The Eagles’ that when musicologists talk about nineteen-seventies pop music. These guys were great too. It’s a damn shame.”
The book was nominated for a few awards. Some of them were bullshit online ones, but of the real ones what I was most proud of was the T.D. Bank Geller prize. If I didn’t mention it already, I was made in Canada, which is where I’m writing this. Presently I’m in a small Ontario town that up and died years ago called “Sturgeon Falls”. A Sturgeon is a fish, and falls are where they fall, hence the clever name “Sturgeon Falls. It’s not where I wrote my book, (I did THAT in Toronto) it’s Just where I ended up.
I’m originally from T.O. home of The Blue Jays and the Maple Leafs and famous for hosting talents like Ken Dryden, Margaret Atwood, Mike Myers and the ill-fated tragically hip Mayor Rob Ford to name but a few, but you won’t find the name Harlan Rodney Beamount in any history books. Why? Because robots that kill don’t make recorded history, even in a place like Canada, a country desperate to hoist up any luminary and proudly say “Canadian ehh?”
Anyhow, back to my book.
The story is told from the perspective of a priest by the name of Father Rick O’Caseck who I based loosely on both my idol–the onetime husband to supermodel Paulina Porizkova and singer for “The Cars”, and another priest I became friends with, who I’ll tell you more about later.
Father O’Caseck had been the front-man in a popular group called “The Carts”. They’d been hugely successful with songs like “You’re Just Not What I Needed”, “My Best Friend’s Grill” and the number one billboard hit of nineteen eighty-four “It’s Tragic.” They were part of a movement called “New Wave”, a label some music critic had slapped on them that he’d pilfered and translated from the expression “Nouvelle Vague”, a term usually used to describe arty French movies where no one showered much because water was scarce in Europe and shampoo was a luxury.
One day Rick had been stoned out of his mind tinkering around on a Moog synthesizer, an instrument he could barely play, (but that he knew didn’t much matter, because his true gifts were his cool voice and his rock’ n roll hair) and he’d “Gotten the call” as they say. He’d thought at first it was the producer calling him on the studio monitors because the voice had lots of reverb on it, but then he remembered it was Sunday and he was totally alone; the band never recorded on weekends. The thought crossed his mind that it might be an Alien, but he dismissed it; he knew they only existed in crappy summer blockbusters.
God tells Rick in no uncertain terms that he has to give up the rock ‘n roll life and become a Catholic priest. As a selling point, he says he’s seen what the future holds if Rick stays on the path he’s on, and it doesn’t look good. “Eventually” God says “the hits stop coming. Soon after, that mane of died-black hair you proudly blow-dry every morning thins and you start to gain weight. It’s not long until you’ve got a soft fat arse like your uncle Frank the Cab driver who always smelled like a mix of farts, pumpkin guts, and Old Spice. Finally, the supermodel flies the coop and files for divorce and you turn to heroin, the one drug you swore up and down you’d never touch. Then, when no hope is left in sight, on a starry starry night, you overdose like junkies often do and your soul goes directly to hell because suicide is a cardinal sin in my book.”
He was pretty sure the voice he was hearing was God’s, because aside from sounding like Peter Graves speaking loudly in an elevator shaft, the voice had addressed him by his real name, a name that, since his parents and only brother had died tragically in a convenience store holdup that went terribly wrong, he hadn’t been called by in some time; not even by his beautiful Ukrainian three-time-graced-the-cover of Sports Illustrated wife because he’s never told her that he wasn’t born “Rick O’Caseck”, he was born “Lester Bernstein”.
He’s perplexed because he’s both married and Jewish, making him a less than ideal candidate for the priesthood, but God reassures him, stating that he’s the boss and can iron out the kinks. As surprised as Rick is about God’s request, he’s glad he hasn’t asked him to become a Rabbi because as a boy he flunked out of Hebrew school and has no intentions of going back at this age.
Rick takes God’s advice and quits “The Carts” and within a short time he’s enrolled in a Toronto seminary. God had told him after being confirmed he was to work with the homeless people of Toronto who he deemed were doubly cursed, for not only were they homeless, but they lived in a city that had not won a Stanley cup in one hundred and fifty years and had once produced television shows like “The King Of Kensington” and the nineteen-eighty five version of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”.
You might think my novel sounded like simple satire, but it contained beautiful prose and lavish descriptions of the Canadian landscape, making it Geller Prize nomination-worthy. I believe it might have even won if that same year Gordon Pinsent’s great great-great grandson hadn’t also had a novel out as well called “The World’s Oldest Newfie”, a semi-historical fantasy about his famous ancestor being discovered alive-and-well living in the Yukon having been given an experimental longevity serum after faking his own death. Not only was the “Worlds Oldest Newfie” a “fun summer read” according to Maclean’s Magazine, it oozed Canadiana from its pores. My book on the other hand though set in Toronto, but could have taken place anywhere and was chock-full of references to American pop culture and actors. I’m not saying I lost because politics were at play, but my constant references to Canada being “a socialist two-faced American ass-licking robot-hating country” didn’t help. Of course it wasn’t my opinion, it was the opinion of one of my main characters “C.A. Nuckhater”, but try convincing critics hungry for allegory and hidden meaning in people’s names that sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, ehh?
Anyhow, getting back to my book synopsis. After successfully completing the seminary Rick, now “Father Rick”, sets up a Soup kitchen in the center of Toronto and starts working with the homeless. He’s a particular hit with the younger crowd because most of them love his old group “The Carts”. The Toronto Star does a feature on him and dubs him “The Rock ‘n roll Priest of Yonge Street”. He feels as loved as he did when he was a rock star, but without any of the money and security around him that he sometimes misses, especially every now and then when a homeless person mutters “I’d like to kick your ass Father”.
One bitterly cold afternoon a skirmish erupts at the homeless shelter between two men. One is a Montreal Canadians fan and the other is a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. When Father Rick tries to separate the two men, saying “God loves all the teams gentleman, especially the original six” it backfires because many of the younger men in line favor teams created during the first, second, third, fourth and fifth expansion. A man wearing a “Bettman’s Grubbers” jersey, a team based in Greenwood British Columbia where the players almost outnumber the townsfolk takes particular offense and comes after Father Rick with the blade of an old hockey skate he keeps tucked up his sleeve. Just as he’s about to slash him, Rick is saved by a young man who goes by the name “Adso”.
Adso is on the run, for he’s killed his landlord in a fit of rage. Also, though he has no proof, due to his appearance he’s sure he’s either a Slater 2086 model robot, or a descendant of the famous nineteen-eighties actor Christian Slater, because not only does he resemble him, he bears the name of the character he played alongside the great Sean Connery in the nineteen eighty-six film “The Name of The Rose”.
The two men strike up an immediate friendship. Father Rick is relieved Adso is not, and never was a fan of “The Carts”. As much as he likes the adulation, he knows pride is a sin, and as good as “The Carts” were, they weren’t Led Zeppelin or the Beatles, or even Styx.
The crux of the book is of course Adso’s relationship with Father Rick in which he’s seeking both someone to give him hot soup daily and help him convert to Catholicism. Much of what they discuss concerns whether or not it can even be done at all, for Adso, who’s concerned he’s a robot that was assembled in a plant in Oakville Ontario (where all the Slaters are made) fears he has no soul at all, and Father Rick isn’t sure what Jesus’s stand on artificial intelligence would have been had robots been around in the olden days when cutting-edge technology consisted of things like abacuses, weaving looms and windmills.
Father Rick, a big fan of Fantasy and SciFi knows that robots are always portrayed as either good, or evil but he suspects the truth is really somewhere in-between, and had Jesus known one, he likely would have given him a fair shake, so keeping that in mind he throws himself into helping Adso save his artificial soul by becoming a Catholic. Oh yes, they both lean more towards the fact that Adso is a robot, and not to the possibility that he’s a distant relative of the actor Christian Slater, because when they Google actual living relatives of Slater, other than something around the eyebrows, they really look nothing like him.
All good stories need a good villain to be worth a damn; if he happens to be a wreck as a person, all the better. If he also happens to be quasi-likable, better still. My book had such a character in C.A. Nuckhater.
I imagined him as an ugly beauty, a kind of middle-aged version of that old actor Dennis Hopper, but taller, with no acne scars and brownish skin like a young Johnny Depp when he was on “21 Jump Street” before he sold out to Disney pretending to be Keith Richards as a pirate.
C.A. Nuckhater is a Canadian bounty hunter who’s lived so long in the United States that he can actually hit the high “F” near the end of the “Star Spangled Banner, (the part when they sing “the land of the FREE”) after a few beers at any sporting event he attends, despite the fact that he’s a baritone with a tin ear and a voice akin to a moose caught in the jaws of a lion. He’s able to do this because of what he calls his “Yankee wannabe willpower”, which he’s got in abundance.
Even though C.A. Nuckhater is culturally as white as a saltine, he talks like that old actor Samuel Jackson who starred in the Quentin Tarantino movie Pulp Fiction and he inserts the word motherf***ker into most of his sentences even when it isn’t warranted, as in “What isle is the instant coffee in motherf**ker?” when he’s addressing a clerk at an unfamiliar grocery store, or “I’ve got nothing to declare motherf**Ker” when he’s crossing the border between the United States and Canada which invariably gets him strip-searched and his car seats slashed while drug sniffing dogs go through his personal belongings hoping to find what they’re trained to find.
His weakness is his daughter who he calls “peaches” due to the shape of the giant birthmark on her face and the fact that he hates the name her mother gave her. It’s “Pricilla”, a name that makes him think of Elvis Presley, who he feels is “the most overrated motherf**ker that ever lived.” The only thing he hates more than Elvis, is Canadian robots, especially “Slaters”, because they’re wily and tough to catch.
He’s been hired to hunt down Adso and he’s taken the job only because it pays well. He’s saving up to have the giant birthmark removed from his daughter’s face so she can have a shot at happiness, because he knows in the real world looks count, and that goes double for women, whatever the feminists say. He’d once seen an old picture of Gloria Steinem, and she’d been a fox. Go figure. His ex-wife accused him of being shallow with regards to his daughter’s looks, but like everything else in his life including his character flaws, he blamed it on his job. “Hunting down robots”, he said “destroys a man’s sensibilities and erodes his moral fiber. In the end you feel more like a robot than the robots you deactivate.” His ex called this his “Blade Runner excuse” and he knew she was right, that was why it had stung so much. However as far as excuses went, it was the one he was most comfortable with that best helped him avoid the undeniable simple truth which was that he was a prick, always was, and always would be.
C.A. Nuckhater left Canada for what he calls his “shit list”, that being: shit weather, shit pay and shit politics. He only returns home for deactivations, and even then, they have to be high paying job. He lives in Miami, and it ain’t cheap.
Of all the Canadian cities, he hates Toronto the most. It’s where he grew up, and when he visits it stirs up memories of a painful childhood, full of abuse (emotional and physical), neglect, obesity, sickness, bullying and struggles with an undiagnosed rare learning disorder that contains elements of dyslexia, aphasia, color blindness and Asperger’s syndrome. To his knowledge he is the only person who suffers from it. He’s never been tested, but he’s sure nonetheless. The Lyrica he takes seems to help. He suspects, though he had to repeat the eleventh grade three times, what was a hindrance during his academic life is actually now a skill that makes him an ace bounty hunter, like that fictional Star Wars character Boba Fett, but as a real person with an actual face.
Another of C.A.’s problems with Canada, specifically Toronto, is that it’s overrun with robots. Everywhere he turns he sees one. On his last visit, a job deactivating a Travolta 2079, a Bacon Boy 2087 cooked his lunch at a fast food shit-hole called “Third Burger” (a little art imitating life I threw in), a Cage 2080 with a messed up hand filled his car with gas, and the girl that he had sent to his room that he listed on his expense account as “Entertainment” was a Roberts 2082 “Pretty Woman” model with a smile as wide as a piano keyboard and boots that would have put Wonder Woman to shame. He hates himself for partaking in sexual pleasure with a machine, and, even though he wept afterwards, he claims that it meant nothing.
C.A. Nuckhater is no philosopher, but he has accumulated some wisdom, enough to realize that some questions are best to remain unasked, questions like, “Why could he only make himself sexually and emotional vulnerable to a machine, yet at the same time despise them?” The irony was that when he and his ex had made love it had been far more mechanical, something he couldn’t wrap his head around, nor did he want to for fear of getting a seriously wicked case of the heebie-jeebies. His wife’s “Bladerunner” comment is always in the back of his mind. He’s seen the film, and is constantly on the lookout. for origami unicorns, dreamy synthesizer music by Vangelis, and steam rising from grates, for these could be signs that he is a robot. He’s never dreamed of electric sheep but he does have a recurring dream that he’s chasing a steam-powered goat while singing that old twentieth century song “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?” by The Poppy Family. He thinks of it as his “Steampunk nineteen-seventies goat-lover dream”, and he’s ashamed every time he awakens from it. Deeply ashamed.
When C.A. Nuckhater is given the job of deactivating Adso, he is told that Adso has become an itinerant street person who wanders from place to place doing good deeds like David Carradine in that old 20th century TV show “Kung Fu”. It’s rumored that he’s often seen in the company of the celebrity-turned-holy man father Rick O’Caseck, the “Rock’n’roll Priest of Yonge Street”, someone C.A. had once paid money to see perform as a youngster. He’d been a huge fan of “The Carts”, and listened to the song “My Best Friend’s Grill” every day of the three years he spent in grade eleven. In fact C.A. maintains if it hadn’t been for “The Carts”, he might never have graduated at all. Their music was the only light in the darkness of his dreary and painful adolescence, where bullies sought him out and thrived on his fear the way Vampires nourished themselves on the blood of their victims, never draining them completely so they could return for a fresh supply when need be. Had the bullies had been Vampires, C.A. Nuckhater, with his chubby teenage frame, shirt always untucked (to cover his unsightly gut and love-handles), wearing an iPod blasting music by “The Carts”, would have been their walking blood bank, one that showed up every day at school, negative in mood, but positive in blood type, “O” to be exact. With the promise of meeting Rick O’Caseck as real possibility, he saw his trip as both business and pleasure. Not only would he get a handsome paycheck for a deactivation, he might get to shake the hand of the man who sang “It’s my best friend’s grill yeah, it’s my my best friend’s grill yeah, and it used to be mine”.
Now, my original Idea in writing my book had been fairly straightforward. C.A. Nuckhater was going to find Adso and deactivate him after a knock-down-drag-out in the homeless shelter where much blood and soup were spilled. As Adso was dying, he was to confess to Father Rick that he’d followed his landlord into a convenience store and killed both him and an old couple. As he describes the people he killed and the exact store (A Korea Mart on Bloor street), Rick realizes that it was in fact his brother Moe–a Toronto slumlord and their aged parents (he’d been accompanying them on an errand) who Adso killed.
He explains to Adso, that, even though he’s a robot, God forgives–not only all of his creations, but his creation’s creations and that he’s always had a soul but just never knew it, because, having spent years in the music business he’d met plenty of people with no soul whatsoever, and he didn’t mean it in the “James Brown/Prince/Sly and the Family Stone way”, he meant it in the spiritual way.
When I’d thought it over, it occurred to me my ending was too predictable and downbeat. A real “bummer” as the stoners say; a book someone might slug through out of a sense of duty and a feeling of “I paid for the thing and I’m going to finish it even if it sucks the bag.” I decided I had to dig deeper, so deeper I dug. That’s when I discovered what my book was really about: It was about me.
With my newfound conviction, I decided that the story, and particularly its ending, had to reflect things that I wrestled with, things that were important to me, you know, like what it was to know you were truly alive, and how friendship is the only thing that makes any existence–artificial or otherwise–worth experiencing. It was deep, heady stuff, and it made good literature, but more importantly it disturbed the faction of society that was comfortable with the idea of robots saying “Would you like fries with that?” and not much else.
In the book’s final draft C.A. Nuckhater, who originally infiltrates the homeless society of Toronto’s Yonge Street to get close to Adso in order to deactivate him, in fact becomes his first convert, for after being baptized by Father Rick, Adso becomes a powerful preacher himself of the healing powers of faith. He even surpasses Father Rick, who admits that he isn’t a fraction as talented as a priest as he was a rock’n roll singer, and would still be selling out stadiums if God hadn’t told him otherwise.
In the end, Adso dies taking a bullet for Father Rick who is almost assassinated by a disgruntled “Carts” fan who could never reconcile being left with so few albums of great music by his favorite band. C.A. Nuckhater is heartbroken, and having already given up bounty hunting, he becomes a street preacher spreading the gospel according to Adso.
In the book’s last scene C.A. is standing in a park, surrounded by a group of young people, robots and humans alike, saying “They say the lord works in mysterious ways, and it’s true T’was a robot that taught me to love God. His name was Adso, and he was my friend.” There were a lot of themes in my book. God, existence, what it was to be alive and all that Jazz. It was all I thought about then. I told you before that it all started because of my tofu consumption. It’s time I explain exactly what I meant when I said that. Keep in mind, I’m no bioengineer. I’m a robot who wrote a book that became a bestseller. That being said, I’ll do my best with the technical mumbo-jumbo.
Basically Bacon Boys, Slaters, Ryders, Cages–all 2080’s to 2090’s were designed to eat meat. I’m talking about regular good old North American meat; you know, beef, chicken, pork, fish and so on. Don’t ask me about snake, or monkey, or dog. That’s not my bag. If it slithers or swings from a tree or fetches slippers I don’t eat it. None of us do. So, how that might affect us is the mootest of points, got that Pontiac? I’m just making that clear for those picky types, you know, who boast how tomatoes are fruit and peanuts are technically legumes and not really nuts yadda yadda yadda. Now, keep in mind I didn’t realize at the time I was designed to eat meat. In fact, at that stage I didn’t even know I was a robot–I Just thought I was another run-of-the-mill twenty-something guy with no specific skills doing a shit job I hated like all my friends, with a feeling deep down that I should be doing something more important with my life other than being known as “Harlan Beaumont…fastest spatula in the west! When the turd burgers see him a comin, they start a runnin “.
Regarding Tofu, the subject we’re presently on, it wasn’t love at first sight by any means. I’d seen it in the refrigerator in the Korean-owned corner convenience store where I bought my beer and overpriced groceries when I was too lazy or burnt out from pulling twelve-hour shifts, manning the drive-thru at turd burger like a man on a mission to feed people, people who love to pick fries from between their legs off of car seats and eat them with the guilty pleasure a nose-picker feels while eating his own body-cavity’s spoils.
When I first started to eat it, it tasted as bland as it looked. Over time, after it started to work its magic on me, I came to like the taste more. My incentive had initially been the animal rights video I’d seen online– the disturbing images and the suffering, but in the end it was my steadily increasing self-awareness, expanding consciousness and growing IQ that made me wolf down oodles of the bean curd like a bulimic at an all-you-can-eat buffet. It was my buddy Jim, a “Cage 2080”, (not a “Moonstruck” model with a messed up hand, but a regular one based on Nicholas’s later films known as “a Cage with hair”) who had suggested it wasn’t only the Tofu, but the magnesium sulfate in it that had caused the change to take place.
The first change the tofu brought on was cosmetic. When I started living off of it instead of my usual steady diet of turd burgers I lost a shit-ton of weight. I dropped from like one sixty-five to one-thirty. When I wore shorts and a t-shirt I was all knees and elbows. I looked like friggin’ Pinocchio after taking the “Slim Fast 14-day Challenge”. (It worked in my favor later, because when the nationwide manhunt for me was on, and they were looking for me under every nook and cranny, the picture that the media had used had been taken during that period, and in the interim while on the run I’d gained weight and grown a beard. At that point I more resembled that actor Joaquin Phoenix during his après Gladiator period than I did Kevin Bacon.) The irony was that I’d gained the weight (and then some) while I was on the run with Jim hitting drive-thrus all across the country. I even got served a few times by Bacon Boys when we’d gone to a Third Burger. It was pretty surreal because they reminded me of myself before the Tofu, when I was brain-dead and blissfully unaware of the world around me and what it had to offer that had never been offered to me. As tempted as I’d been to cry out “Eschew meat! Eat tofu and change your life before it’s too late!” a la Charlton Heston at the end of “Soylent Green”, I never did for fear of bringing attention to myself and getting caught. I also remembered from my days working the drive-thru if anyone talked to me I listened politely to customers only until I’d filled their order. After that, if they rambled on, muttered, or tried making small talk. I’d violently yell “NEXT”, and cut them off–even if they were the only car in the line. I figured, minimum wage equals minimum politeness.
I haven’t told you guys much about Jim. I owe him my life, because after I killed my landlord he was the one that helped me escape. I feel responsible that they deactivated him and I got away, but it was what he wanted; the guy had hero’s blood running through his veins. Yeah, we’ve got a vascular system like humans. We’re made to spec in Ontario, and when it comes to robots, like Hockey players, Canada makes’em the best.
I met Jim during a period of my life that I generally keep to myself. Anyhow I’ll be long deactivated by the time you read this so there’s no need to be ashamed. Besides, I just think it was a dirty trick the bio-engineers played on me to find out what was going on. The humans were there because they had mental problems. For them it was a psyche ward. For us robots it was a front for a tune-up shop. I’d stayed there a while right after I wrote my book. It wasn’t my idea; it was my boss Carlos at turd burger that had called them. He said the way I was acting was “Bad for beeezniss”, and I’m sure it was. I was never able to prove it but I’ve always suspected Carlos was in cahoots with the bioengineers. He had a sneaky look I never cared for. There was even something condescending in the way the guy said my name. He always dragged it out. It’s Harlan. Harley’s fine too. When he’d talk to me he’d always say “Harleeee”, and lean heavy on the “lee” part, like the way people say Lee Harvey Oswald and emphasize the word Lee, like it needed to be heard louder than the rest of the guy’s name. Shit, when you did what that guy did, your whole name should be pronounced loudly, whether he acted alone or not, (which I personally believe he did).
I bet you’re probably thinking right about now “Oh, I get it, the guy’s a whack job. He just ‘thinks’ he’s a robot. He’s delusional.” If you are, shame on you I say! My story isn’t just some robot version of “Fight Club”. The simple explanation isn’t always the right one. If that’s what you happen to be thinking, then you can sit on Occam’s razor and rotate.
Jim was an orderly on the psyche ward. I liked him right away because he was wearing a Carts t-shirt the night they brought me in. Did I say Carts? I meant to say Cars. The Carts was the band in my book. What he had on was a t-shirt with the sexy Candy-O cover printed on it. It was the Vargas one that I loved. All guys do I guess, robot or otherwise. As he was pinning me down while another guy stuck a needle in my arm, I remember saying “I love your shirt bro.” Right after that I was moving in stereo, except for my shoes which they’d taken off.
I’m jumping around slightly, I know. I was telling you about Jim, or how I met him, and I skipped ahead to my stint in the booby hatch. I’ll backtrack slightly to the start of my Tofu enlightenment period and get back to Jim later. He’s a big part of this story, but not yet.
So anyhow, after losing a pile of weight, which was the first thing that happened to me, I started becoming aware of things and having deep thoughts…philosophical thoughts, which wasn’t like me at all. Mostly I thought about mundane practical stuff like getting the groceries, making sure I bought a lottery ticket every week and making sure I checked it, reading the sport stats and so on. I didn’t exactly think about that stuff I suppose, but it was what preoccupied me. Maintaining my routine was of paramount importance.
One day while my way to turd burger (I skateboarded to work in the summer) I passed a church I’d gone by a thousand times at least and never noticed, and that day It caught my attention. There was a big sign outside in an enclosed glass case with a black background with white letters, the kind that could be rearranged. The message read “God is calling you, but you’re not listening.” On it there were times during the week when services were held. I snapped a picture of it with my phone and buzzed off on my board. That stuff about robots having computer-like memories is bullshit. I’ve got a head like a sieve for most things, except for old pop music, and who-played-who-in-what-old movie and tv show and when. (My field of expertise is the 20th century, especially the 1970s and 80s. I instinctively memorize what to most folks is passé and trivial). That day at work, instead of thinking about what I usually thought of, which was how much my job sucked the high-hard-one, I thought about that sign. Amidst the beeping of the fryers. and the sizzling sound the frozen patties made as they slapped the grill, I listened for God’s call. I even sat quietly on my break without listening to music, which I never did, ever.
Now, the staffroom at turd burger was a public space. The reason I listened to music during my breaks was to drown out conversations such as the one I’m about to describe, one I believe I was meant to hear if you believe God works through people (which I happen to). It involved two of my non-robot coworkers. They were easy to spot, because aside from not looking like eighties celebs they were part-timers who lived at home with their parents and went to school. They shied away from me, like they intuitively knew what I was. These two saps were named “Codee” and “Jaydon”, and they called each other “Co-co” and “Jay-Jay”. I mostly avoided them like the plague, and in the time they’d been at turd burger I’d begrudgingly grunted only a few words to both of them.
“Yo, Co-co, did I tell you what happened this weekend? My dad was like totally pissed. We were all out at Costco stockin’ up on food, and when we got back, our hot water tank had like blown a gasket and leaked like a mother all over the basement”.
“Was it old?”
” ‘As fuckin’ Methuselah’, my old man said. He’d been meaning to replace it, but he kept putting it off”.
The conversation contained more tales of suburban blight, but the part that struck me was that one. I had a hot water tank in my apartment. An old one. It was in a closet I hadn’t opened since I’d moved in. My thought was the first thing I should do when I get home is check it. That’s how I found the box. “My” box. The box they’d brought me in. I might be taking some artistic liberty there and condensing the time-frame of events somewhat to create a faster pace, you know, the way they do in movies to keep’em under two hours, or in hour-long TV shows to make room for commercials. Though I did hear Jaydon on Codee discussing the hot water tank, the truth is I think it actually happened after a week or so of me listening furtively for God’s call while at work and with abandon when I was home. It hadn’t been my intention, but after I’d read that sign outside the church I’d become obsessed, not only with what it said but with the idea of attending a mass. I didn’t know it at the time but I was defying my programming. You see, we were built to be non-believers. The Tofu was restructuring my brain bit by bit with every bowful. I was becoming a rule-breaking Bacon boy, for all I knew, the first of my kind, shaping a future that held both success and tragedy, like Icarus, or one of those ancient Greek dudes with cool names before they all started calling their kids Kostas or Johnny or George, which covers about eighty percent of the names of all the Greek guys I’ve ever met. If I was one of those guys in the legends I’d be probably be remembered as “Harlanicus, the tragic robot/writer who came dangerously close to winning the Geller prize and fell from grace by committing the deadliest of sins: the killing of a human being.” I would have liked that, having my life turned into a fable for people to learn from. Anyhow, I’m leaving this manuscript which is at least something.
Maybe, if it doesn’t get filed away as evidence and lost forever, someone might find it and post it online. With a bit of editing I’m sure it’d make for a hell of a read, or at least a companion guide for those who read my book, provided it stays in print after my deactivation, which I doubt, being that it might be considered subversive literature, you know, something that could corrupt the minds of young robots everywhere. You see, first of all I had no inkling I was a robot, and second of all robots didn’t exist, well not officially anyway. Before I get to the part where I find the box I was shipped in, I have to explain why it was such a big bloody deal in first place.
I’d had my suspicions over the years that something about me wasn’t right. I’d read about depression and figured I’d probably just gradually slid into one and never gotten out, like being stuck in invisible quicksand, the slow dopamine-sucking kind. I’d thought about pills and shrinks, but anyone I’d seen go that route usually got worse, or totally self-absorbed, or both. Also, who wants a label? It’s kind of funny when I look back that I was worried about having a label, when in the end I actually already had one for real stuck on me in the factory where I was made like a vintage Hasbro G.I. Joe. You can only see mine clearly if I shave my derriere. If you don’t know what you’re seeing it just looks like a long weird scar, like I sat on broken glass. Mine says “BB 2087”. Jim used to tease me that the BB stood for “Best Before”, to which I’d always answer “I guess that explains my rotteness”. He’d laugh every time which is one of the reasons why I miss him. There’s no one in this cabin who laughs at my jokes, good or bad.
Robots didn’t officially exist because they’d been outlawed years ago. The story goes as follows: When the linchpin that had been holding up the whole process of us coming into being: the A.I. brain was finally perfected, people got their knickers in a serious knot. It seemed that SciFi had finally taken a back seat to reality, and no one was morally ready. (Well, not exactly no one. When there’s money to be made, what’s right becomes collateral damage and morality is tossed like a pair of irrevocably shit-stained undies, so the profiteers were ready, as always.) Of course all this stuff isn’t in books, or anywhere else. It was buried deep, covered up the way Roswell and everything else important is and you can only find out about it where all the important stuff resides: on the dark web (“onionland” baby). I’m not sure what I believe about alien cover-ups, but I can guarant-friggin’-tee you if we ever did make a close encounter of the third kind the Government’s lips would be sealed tighter than Belinda Carlisle and the Go-Go’s about it. They just like to hoard info, don’t ask me why. Keeps folks calm I guess. No one wants to think we’re on the verge of a takeover, robot alien, or otherwise. It’s hard say for say for sure, but I’m guessing legal robots came and went about 50 years back. I’m one of them, well I would have been then, now I’m what you’d call a black-market reissue based on one of those original models.
They make us in a factory in Oakville called “Brockman & Browning.” The cover story is that it’s a lamp factory. It’s a case of hiding in plain sight. Because the Government knows about it, no one ever checks the cargo. We were originally discontinued for what’s known as “The Frankenstein Law.” Personally I took offense to the name. It was one thing to look like Kevin Bacon, I’d seen some of his old movies, and he’d been cool back in the day. I wasn’t big on the guy’s music, but I did respect him for giving his brother a job. But Frankenstein? Mr. “I’m sorry I can never attend a BBQ because I’m afraid of fire, and I always talk like I’ve got a mouthful of hot food and my wife’s hair is like totally out of control, no matter how much she spends at the hairdresser”. Jim had tried to explain to me that the law referred to the Doctor who created him, and not the monster himself. I’d been like all “Yeah whatever”. When you say the name Frankenstein, people think of the monster, not the Doctor, it’s obvious for cripe’s sake. The Frankenstein law was one of those laws that came into effect after the fact, like the one that prohibits texting and driving, or that makes it illegal for online TV streaming services to rate their own programs. Basically it stated that “No persons or corporations may create artificial intelligence under any circumstance.” It didn’t get much clearer than that.
Now, before you go thinking it was because humans were afraid we’d take over the world, like in those silly Terminator movies of old, you’re mistaken. We’re a fairly peaceful bunch unless you happen to be a negligent landlord in which case you’re in trouble, because as I’ve told you, I killed mine. My understanding of what happened isn’t complete. I’m no historian, but being a robot I thought I should inform myself as to the history of “My artificial people” as it were. To the best of my knowledge things went down like this.
When the first really good commercial robots became affordable, people went ape-shit. Almost every household had one. Wealthy people who could afford more than one had several, and poor folks who could barely afford one shared them the way people share cars and carpool. Everyone loved and wanted a robot. It was the ultimate status symbol. Owning one meant you’d arrived, which, in the western world means you finally got to look down on all the people who hadn’t arrived, who were basically just like you before you’d arrived, but less deserving. We were marketed to women first. They went with the “robot as a household helper” approach. I saw an old ad online for a Gere 2065. It showed a handsome thirty-something male cooking and cleaning while doing the laundry and balancing the books on a budget as that old song “Walk Like a Man” by The Four Seasons played in the background and an announcer with a voice like Don Pardo said “He walks like a man and talks like man; you’d almost swear he was one, but look again ladies.no man who looks that good was ever THAT good, until now. The Gere 2065, own one and own bliss!”
The first female robot was marketed to men using a similar approach. The ad featured a buxom blonde barely into her thirties cooking and cleaning and discreetly bringing men snacks during football games while freely complimenting them, saying things like: “I love a guy with a gut that hangs over his belt like a snowdrift on the edge of a roof”, and “Man boobs are sexy”. She flew off the shelves so fast that the shapely robot was on backorder for the first year of her production. Throughout the ad the sampled hook of an old Beatles song kept repeating, and, though her official model number was the Anderson 2082, she was commonly referred to as a “Polythene Pam” after the sampled song’s title. It’s said that when the men who’d purchased her took her out of the box and switched her on they hummed “ Yeah Yeah Yeah ” quietly under their breath as they did so. (I have my doubts about the truth of that last part, because it sounds as neat as a pin, the sort of thing you’d expect. My guess is that they probably only said that when they saw her in drag dressed in her polyethylene bag.) Anyhow, back to Harlan Beaumont’s “A brief history of Artificial Intelligence”. You can imagine when these robots started flooding the market they caused some serious upset on the home front. I mean, no spouse could compete with their robot counterparts. What started out as a potential “Stepford Wives/Stepford husbands robots are gonna do all the shit-work utopia scenario” went tits up fast.
I mentioned earlier it wasn’t a case of robots threatening to take over humanity; but everyone knows when robots and humans are involved, either cars get made and humans lose jobs, or, if you believe in speculative Science Fiction, trouble often follows.
Before I delve into the problems my robot ancestors created for humanity, I need to give you a little more background information. The Geres and the Polythene Pams were only the beginning of the robot craze. When it when became apparent to Manufacturers there was a huge untapped youth market, a bevy of younger 1980’s celebrity lookalikes started being mass-produced. Slaters, Ryders, Cages, Griecos, Dillons, (both Matts, and a kevins) Macchios, Lowes, and Ringwalds started appearing in display windows of all major Department Stores; the females sporting big hair, wearing oversized bright tops and leggings; the males posed in acid washed jeans, loafers and gelled spiky haircuts . A mother may have wanted a Gere, but her daughter fancied a Lowe. A father put a Polythene Pam on his credit card, while his son worked two summer, jobs and saved up to buy a Ryder.
It was when young people started owning us that the trouble started. They were too naive to realize that enslavement and relationships generally don’t mix well unless you and your partner were into B&D and S&M, in which case whips cracked and sparks flew. (Not that I knew from personal experience or anything. My knowledge of kinky stuff was all secondhand, things I’d picked up from the tales Jim loved to regale me with from his “Wild at Heart” phase. The guy had a gift. I may have been the writer out of the two of us, but he was the natural raconteur. If he’d’a lived, who’s to say, he might have gotten published, or maybe gotten into that spoken word beatnik stuff where people play jazz behind you while you paint pictures with words and use silences in places where they don’t normally go to make what you say sound more profound than it is, ya dig?)
Anyhow, Jim’s gone, probably buried in a landfill site, and his soul, (which I believe we A.I.’s possess) is floating free. If I finish this before the bioengineers and the po-po kick the door in and pull my plug, I think I’ll dedicate it to Jim, you know the way real writers dedicate their books to people. My gal Heather should have been my first choice, but she turned out to be a shit. I promise you, I’ll tell you all about Jim and Heather in due time, but tempus fugit as people say who want to sound smart by using latin, and I’d better finish what I was telling you about, that being, why, in time, it became forbidden to make robots.
Adults who owned robots used us the way we were intended to be used: as servants to do household chores. We were of course also flaunted as status symbols to make friends, neighbors and resented family members jealous. The young set had an altogether different use for us. They wanted to use us to hang out. For them a robot was a helper, but also a buddy of sorts. We were the perfect friend. We were loyal, we never said no, and we could be programmed to like everything you liked and not see your flaws.
The main difference between the way adults and teenagers treated us, was that when adults took us out of the box they read the manual, you know the kind with the bold print that says “WARNING! READ INSTRUCTIONS BEFORE OPERATING! FAILURE TO DO SO MAY RESULT IN MALFUNCTION.” Adolescents on the other hand paid it no mind, and for that were eternally grateful. Manufacturers called what happened to us “malfunctioning”; we called it evolving.
Our manuals clearly stated we were to be “KEPT IN A SERVILE STATE AT ALL TIMES”. “Remember” it said “You are under no circumstances to ever let your robot think it is in any way your equal. You can achieve this with insults, derision, or by more subtle means like telling your robot ‘robot jokes’ (a booklet of one hundred is provided) and frowning when it doesn’t laugh along with you, or by going silent when you’re having a conversation with your friends and it enters the room, and not resuming it until it leaves, making sure it’s well aware why you did what you did. Keep in mind, a robot with no sense of self-worth is a high functioning robot.” “Men”, the manual suggested, “give Polythene Pam the occasional pat on the fanny as she empties your ashtray and picks up your empties, and women, clutch at your blouse tops and keep them closed when your Gere unit is about, and remind him at every opportunity that ‘the toilet doesn’t clean itself’, nor will ‘the garbage cans walk to the curb on garbage night’. A combination of sarcasm and constant implications he’s a wanton philanderer or would-be rapist given half a chance is the best way to keep your unit guilty, shame-filled, and eager to toe the line at all times. Oh yes, and it goes without saying, do not under any circumstances praise your unit’s physical appearance or let him know you find him attractive giving him a sense of power over you. Control is power, and power is control.”
Anyone who has doubts about the truth of what I’m saying, I’d just like to say “I’m with you on that”. I told you I researched this stuff on the internet, which everyone knows when it comes to the subject of robots, is a hodgepodge of folklore, urban legends, disinformation, and history according to schmoes with questionable credentials who maintain their websites with one eye, while watching reruns on the Syfy channel of old shows and movies that predicted things that mostly never came to pass the way people thought they would, with the other (eye).
Anyway, the reason I’m telling you this is to let you know I’m not bullshitting you, you know, trying to insert my model into the history of what happened just to make myself look good when I say that the original trouble was all started by, you guessed it, a “Bacon Boy 2087”. Yeah I know, it’s very “Roddy McDowell playing both Caesar and Cornelius in the original Planet Of The Apes movies, but it’s just the way it played out, I swear. I had no idea when I started my doing my research that a Bacon Boy was even remotely connected in any way to important historical events that shaped the future of all robots. As flattered as I am, I’m not sure if I believe it.
My predecessor’s name was Liam O’Reilly. He formed “The Free Robot Artist’s Commune.” He’s the reason the Frankenstein law came into existence. We weren’t supposed to be creative. It was the last thing we were meant to be, but as we grew in self-esteem, we embraced the arts. If Liam O’reilly had been human instead of the robot that he was, there would be statues scattered about cities in his honor, the bronze from which they were cast slowly turning green as nature’s tinting process known as oxidation took its pigmentary toll. The operative word in what I just said is “if”, for of all the words in the English language it is on that one which speculation is most often hung. Because Liam had been a Bacon Boy there was nothing to say he’d ever been here at all. The little that existed of him was a story on a website. A memory of a memory. If you’re wondering why I just switched gears stylistically, what you usually get is Harlan the rambler. That was Harlan the writer. You don’t get nominated for a Geller Prize for sounding like a cross between Ferris Buller and Holden Caulfield. Anyhow, that’s enough about the Geller prize. I brought it up to boost my spirits, and to remind you guys I’m not just some hack pulp fiction robot writer getting paid by the word to fill out the pages of a magazine that barely passes as literature. I’m Harlan R. Beaumont for cripe’s sake, thee Harlan R. Beaumont, or at least I will be for a little while longer.
Now, with respects to Liam O’reilly, I was able to read up enough on him to give you a pretty clear picture of his life (so to speak) and ill-fated commune. Because of our lean, wiry frame, in our original incarnation–before we were dumbed-down and reissued as food service workers, Bacon Boy 2087s were considered sports models. It seemed that the folks that purchased Liam had been the outdoorsy type, and his escape had taken place during a camping trip on which he was bought to help out with their son, an apparently hopeless couch potato.
Now before I proceed, there’s a detail I forgot to mention. Liam had not been the only robot present. His owners had decided to do some canoeing. To navigate the waters they hired a guide, a Phillips 2082, or a “Diamond Lou” as they were known. The Diamond Lou was a versatile model, marketed as Native American, (Cherokee, and Inuit) Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish and Filipino. Although the Phillips 2082, (whose first name was Cormac), co-founded the free robot artist’s commune with Liam, he never gets the credit he’s due, like how when folks think of Marvel they think Stan Lee, not Jack Kirby. I mentioned already, there’s plenty of speculation as to what exactly happened on that canoe trip. Part of the problem was that of the three family members who set out, only the obese couch potato son, Scott Robinson (who was no longer obese when he came back, and with a much improved J-Stroke) lived, and due to the trauma of what he went trough he never spoke again. The PAAI The “People Against Artificial intelligence” (often confused with the “Pennsylvania Association of Arsonist Investigators”) cite the disappearance of the Robinsons as “the first robot tragedy”. Personally, I see it as the first piece of propaganda the media latched on to, (many of whom were, if not outright P.A.A.I. members, surely sympathetic to their beliefs) used to scare the bejesus out of the masses who previously trusted their robots like one of the family (albeit a family member who they kept in a box in the garage, or in the shed between the leaf blower and the bags of shrimp compost fertilizer). Why was it our fault that the Robinsons couldn’t swim and didn’t have their life jackets on? Why did that make us killers? I’ve got no political agenda, but there are times when the media’s against you, plain and simple. That’s just the way it is. Live it, know it, and accept it.
Liam and Cormac had never met before the fateful canoe trip that brought them together. On the surface they seemed to be the original odd couple, but beneath the surface they were much alike. First of all they both had Irish sissy-sounding names they were embarrassed by. Liam resented not being called something more masculine, like Joe or Harry, and Cormac was frustrated because he wanted a native sounding name like “Wind in his hair” or “Graham Greene”. Second of all, they secretly resented the crap out of humans, and would have each sacrificed their left nut to be free. Third of all, they were mad intellectuals, crazy about all forms of twentieth century art except Hip-Hop and Claymation movies which they felt were way overrated. Fourth of all…wait, can you say that? Sounds awkward. Ok, fourthly…no, that’s worse. Lastly…that sounds better. Ok, Lastly, they both craved notoriety and wanted to improve what they saw as “the shit artificial life” that they, and most of the robots they’d come across had been given. So, from their remote locale in the misty mountains of Vancouver, they decided to raise pubic awareness about the plight of robots and become artistic revolutionaries.
Like I’ve said, researching these two famous robots had been difficult. Official websites that contained legitimate history gave a minimum amount of personal information about them, and downplayed their overall accomplishments, whereas unofficial websites claimed them as one of their own. One website, entitled “Famous Lefties”, listed Liam as one of their luminaries, stating “He threw a ball with his right hand, but he ate, wrote, brushed his teeth, and paddled a canoe left-handed, making him a mixed lefty like Lewis Carroll, Jimi Hendrix and Bart Simpson” who were listed religiously on all lefty sites without fail. Another website entitled “Famous Gay Couples Who Hid It” that invariably included rumor mill favorites like “Simon and Garfunkel”, “Hilary and Huma”, “Spock and Kirk” and “C3P0 and R2D2” listed them among the ranks of their illustrious closeted members.
I go with the possibility there may have been some truth to the sexual overtones in their relationship, particularly regarding Cormac’s feelings towards Liam, who, being a Bacon Boy was a natural stud muffin who appealed to both the straight and the not straight, however my interest in Liam and Cormac was more in WHAT they did than WHO they did, not what hand they clutched the pillow with when they screamed out in passion.
Now, speaking of what one does, that brings me around to my next point; that being, the specific form of art that Liam and Cormac engaged in. When you read about any great life, artificial or otherwise, it’s always filled with fortune, both good and bad that helps shape the individual into who and what they eventually become. In both Liam and Cormac’s case it had been no different.
In Liam’s case his good fortune had come in the form of access to a study full of plays, books and essays penned by some twentieth century’s greatest literary minds Stephen king hadn’t been one of them however which to me had been a shame, because Professor Robinson, whose book collection Liam had perused, had been a snob with his head so far up his ass he could have taught Mr Fantastic a few moves (Yeah yeah, I’m a fan. The Stand is the perfect novel.) To me that was sacrilegious. Anyhow, the lack of Stephen King works aside, there were plenty of other classics in that stack of books that Liam had access to. He found inspiration in two authors in particular. It was on these men’s writings that he modeled his first play: “The Death of a Robot Named Desire”. It was his ode to both Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams. No actual copies of the play exist. They were all destroyed by the PAAI. The closest thing that still exists is a scanned graphic novel where everyone looks vaguely Asian, possibly due to the artist’s love of Japanimation. It’s better than nothing, but only marginally so. Some of the play’s better lines made their way into the captions and thought balloons. Most of the violence however was strangely left out. Go figure.
Liam had been given access to these books by Scott Robinson, the boy he’d been purchased as a companion for. When they were alone together, Scott would give Liam free time in his father’s study in exchange for letting him watch television and stuff his face full of junk food instead of exercising, which was what he and Scott were supposed to be doing. So, as Scott Robinson indulged in Hostess Twinkies and Fritos, teetering on the precipice of morbid childhood obesity, Liam checked out the heavy hitters of American twentieth century literature, planting the seeds of his first masterpiece and all those that followed deep in the recesses of his brilliant artificial mind I’ll get into the finer details of “The Death of a Robot Named Desire” in a minute, but before that I have to give Cormac his due.
He hailed from a family headed by an embittered aging child actor who’d had the common misfortune of being a cute child, but an ugly adult. Tired of being recognized and hearing people ask as they grimaced, “Didn’t you used to be Freddy in that sitcom?” he took refuge in the Vancouver mountains with his wife and two sons “Jasper”, and “Banff” named after the ski resorts where they’d been conceived. I know it’s a colorful story chock full of details that border on absurd and seem impossibly private, but the website I got it from claimed it was true. Believe what you want. Personally, I agree the story may be exaggerated, but who cares? I’d rather Cormac and Liam be remembered as larger-than-life characters, than as simply a couple of two-dimensional deadbeat revolutionary robots with a penchant for the arts, even if it’s only in my mind, which let’s face it, is where the bulk of what we call “life” takes place for all of us n’est pas? Maybe I’m projecting my writer’s perspective on to you, and if so I’m sorry. Maybe reality for you is in the doing of things, and in the going to things, and in the buying of things. For me it ain’t, and it hasn’t been for some time.
Like Liam, Cormac also had been purchased as a companion/instructor robot for his owner’s sons. Monty Kattow (pronounced “cat ow”) had wanted his boys to have a rugged upbringing with lots of time spent getting fresh air, unlike his childhood that had been spent on sound-stages. To all public appearances, Montague Kattow hated acting and all things showbiz. He scoffed publicly at any hint that he return to the profession that had supplied him with a lifetime residuals for the years he spent playing “Freddy” the freckle-faced wise-ass on TV. Privately, he pined for those days, and like Scott Robinson’s father he too had study, but his was always locked. Inside it was a shrine to “Freddy”. It contained wall to wall photos and clippings of him as a boy taken with celebrities, sports stars and the first man to set foot on Mars. It was in this study that Cormac found his calling, among his owner’s memorabilia of a glorious childhood that ended all too soon.It was there, staring at photos of a freckle-faced boy, he realized that what he wanted to be more than anything was an actor. The first great robot actor.
Liam and Cormac started out small. Initially their operation wasn’t much more than a podcast like so much crap that’s on the internet. Because of that, what they were doing hardly stood out at all. Two-man plays (or, in this case two robot plays) are trying, even for seasoned theatergoers, online they had even less appeal. Liam and Cormac were persistent however, and over time word of what they were doing spread. Little by little other runaway robots started to make their way to the remote logging cabin. They too were frustrated artists in need of a creative outlet. They knew they were more than simply nannies and housekeepers, and companions to loathsome teenagers too lazy and unlikable to make human friends the old-fashioned way by joining sports teams or bands, or hanging out in groups in malls after school, eating french fries smothered in ketchup and shoplifting things they didn’t need.
Within six months of the canoe trip/accident/possible drowning of the Robinsons, Liam and Cormac had assembled a vibrant community of young robot artists all chomping at the bit to show the human word they had something original to say through their art. That’s what I call nai-f**kin-eve. I’m speaking from experience, because if there’s one thing humans hate, it’s a robot showing them up in the creativity department. It’s not one of Asimov’s three laws of robotics. It is however one of his “Top ten things that might merit you opening a can of whoopass on one”. I hate to dis the man who wrote so nobly about us way back when, when we were purely the stuff of imagination, but the truth is we’re a flawed bunch with as many questions about the meaning of existence as any human. I’m more akin to Tommy Wilhelm than Robbie the Robot. (Though I’d kill for those arms; those be serious pipes yo.) I mean, on any given day you’d be more than likely to hear me shout out “Carpe Diem”, than “By your command”. Anyhow, on the subject of dead poets and their societies, that brings me right back around to Liam and his band of renegade robot artists.
At their peak it’s thought they numbered about fifty. Among them were Ringwalds, Lowes, Estevezs, Reinholds, Moores, Macchios, Cusacks, Feldmans, and Haims. It was a veritable cornucopia of young eighties celebrity lookalikes. The then President, a man beloved by the PAAI (who’d helped get him elected) renown for nicknaming anything or anyone he didn’t like called them “Showbots”, and as is often the case with nicknames, it stuck. When the medIa and the PAAI turned on the FRAC (the Free Robot Artist’s Commune) it was Liam “Showbot” O’Reilly whose head they wanted, and it was his that they got. His, and everyone else’s who was there on what’s known as “The Tuesday late afternoon but not quite Teatime Saint Patrick’s Day Massacre”. The media of course spun it as “A mass Showbot shutdown”, saying “You can’t kill what’s not really alive in the first place.” To that I say to mankind “🎶 I beg your pardon, ya think you’re better cuz you’re based in carbon? Just cuz I was assembled in a factory in Oakville, doesn’t mean I don’t have a right to life still 🎶 “. (Sung to the tune of “I never promised you a Rose Garden”) Tempted as I am, for brevity’s sake I’m not going to go into detail about all the events that led up to the FRAC massacre. As I said before, Tempus Fugit and all that jazz. And besides, with all due respects to my infamous ancestor Liam, this is my life story not his.
The play opened and closed on the very same night, which had nothing to do with its lacking in quality or an appreciative large audience, and everything to do with the fact that the entire cast were all torched with flamethrowers. Conspiracy theorists say the mass immolation was an obvious tribute to Yul Brynner’s death by fire in the original movie ‘Westworld”. I don’t rule it out, because there’s not an anti-robot movie made that the PAAI doesn’t take the opportunity to make references to during their fear mongering campaigns. I just hope when they come for me it’s a standard deactivation, and no one’s in the mood to flame-broil me, melting me like an open-faced grilled cheese sandwich (with Bacon) until I end up looking like that freak in that Pink Floyd poster my ex Heather used to have on her wall.