I avoid stupid people. This is hard because I live in Alabama.
To set the stage, I’m listening to Kevin Hart’s audiobook The Decision. Something funny and inspiring to help you approach this negative world with its negative people in a more positive manner. In the book, Kevin offers up a 30 day, no-complaining challenge, certainly not the first of its kind, but a good exercise nonetheless. Me and the wife decided to try it using stars on the fridge. If we catch the other complaining, they have to go back to day one. I never realized I was such a whiny, little bitch.
I failed the very first day while driving. Driving is my Kryptonite during this challenge. A truck came almost to a stop in front of me to take a two inch high segue into a Subway’s parking lot. “YOU’RE IN A FUCKING TRUCK!” It was like when the doctor tests your reflexes. The idiot in the truck was the rubber mallet and my mouth was the knee. My frontal lobe was watching his cork down by the lake. My lizard brain was sitting in the clock tower, naked and reloading.
But after several restarts, I was getting the hang of this no-bitching thing. You become more self-aware. You re-word things ever so slightly. You change the tone of what you’re saying. I’m not bitching, I say to my wife in a calm voice, I’m only stating the fact that a particular driver in the red car ahead needs to take a sharp right (we’re on the side of a mountain). I’m very proud of my eleven day streak. Then I’m in Birmingham and trying to merge over a couple of lanes. It’s on 280. It’s five lanes in this spot and I only need to get over two. Although it’s hard to believe, for a few hundred feet behind me, as I begin to merge, there is only one vehicle. The lady in the car somehow manages to manipulate her speed such that neither slowing down nor speeding up allows me to get over. I miss the exit. I say things you shouldn’t say about other people’s moms. I say things you shouldn’t say if you’re a drunken sailer who’s just sit down on his own balls. If you were Yosemite Sam on HBO. You get the picture. The tiny devil sitting on my shoulder is laughing with glee. Veins are protruding from my forehead. I look at my wife. She is smiling. No star for me today. I am back to square one on our little calendar on the fridge.
I’m not a quitter. I start again. I am on day two when I walk into a mom and pop grocery store in our little redneck town. You know, the type with the plywood dais right at the front of the store where someone hands out money to the cashiers. There is a lady screaming from her dais down to a customer that’s checking out about ten feet away. “- cause there ain’t but about 10,000 actual deaths from that in the whole world -” It was a very recognizable stream of stupid, and I walked right through it. I immediately shed my cloths, but I am still drenched in it. The portion of my brain that harbors logic is screaming. It has been attacked out of the blue. She continues to yell. I try to close my ears and mind, to create a cone of silence around me as I turn down the isle. But still I car hear the lady in check out validate the lady in the dais, agging her on, the dais lady with her butt cheeks proudly swelling out on either side of the shit that’s spewing out of her mouth.
There are a total of three cashiers. Two women and one young boy. When I return to the front, the dais lady is walking past the cashiers. And for the first time, I simply can’t take it anymore. The profound ignorance. The prideful stupidity. The apparent inability to simply Google something.
I say, “Excuse me, mam. I overheard you talking about Covid. I’d like to make a bet with you.”
She looks at me and then at the twenty dollar bill I’ve pulled from my back pocket.
“If you can prove to me that there have only been around 10,000 deaths worldwide due to the pandemic, I’ll give you this $20.” I offer it out to her. “I’ll give you a week to come up with proof. You can hold the money until then. I’ll be back in a week.” I regret not having more cash. $500 would be something you have to address a little more seriously.
“Well, I don’t want to take your money,” she says, “But that’s right. And by the way, that thing you got (pointing to my mask, as she’s not wearing one) is messing with your immune system. You need all those bacteria and stuff to make your immune system strong. When I was young we used to play in the dirt and chicken poop and everything else and we’re just fine. And another thing, all you need is Zinc. Take that and you can’t get it. I take it every day and I don’t got it.” And she turns and leaves.
My head is in a fog as I check out. I grab my bag to leave, but then can’t help myself and turn around to face all three cashiers. “Any of you guys want to take the bet? Prove the crap that’s coming out of her mouth and take my $20?”
Now the young boy is perking up. That’s a twenty, after all. Three hours take home in one fell swoop. The other two are silent. He looks hesitantly at me and then them, and says slowly, “All you have to do is look it up.” This is an uncertain revelation.
So I say, “Yes! All you have to do is look it up!” I am very happy he has stumbled onto this epiphany. He starts to look it up on his phone and I remind him that to get the twenty, you have to take the bet first. He doesn’t say he will, but continues looking it up.
I turn to the lady that checked me out and say, “I don’t understand, it’s not like this stuff is hiding in a library somewhere on a microfilm. You can literally Google ‘Covid US’ and the statistics are right there on the page.”
And she says, “I can tell you about that. Just ask Alexa. That whole thing is just something to disrupt the election.”
I stare for a moment like I do when someone challenges reality itself. I say, “So the pandemic that’s affecting the entire world is happening just to disrupt an election in the US?”
I walk back to my car. I tell my wife that I made the mistake of interacting with them (meaning Trumpers) for the first time in the real world. I picture aliens, some advanced life forms, coming to Earth and feeling, after first contact, the way I did then. Time to pack up and leave, they would say. The others saying, but I thought we were going to teach them how to-. No! says the alien who bore witness. We leave now!
These are real people in the real world. People who don’t seem to know you can simply Google something to find out what’s true and what’s not. People who think I’m compromising my immune system while they are standing there in front of me, maskless, compromising my immune system. People who think that somehow, somewhere, someone has orchestrated the deaths of almost 900,000 people world wide just to rig one country’s election.
I would like to apologize to Kevin Hart. I am very sorry, Kevin. I’ve lost all my stars again today.
Also, if you’ve read this and don’t know what a dais is, that’s okay. Ignorance of something is okay because you can fix that. Apparently you shouldn’t ask Alexa, though. That bitch is cray cray. But you can Google it. However, if you don’t know what a dais is and refuse to find out for yourself, that’s willful ignorance. If you’re happy remaining ignorant about things, then you’re in the same, shallow gene pool as the People of the Dais, who are both spewing and swallowing each other’s piles of shit like they’re in The Human Centipede 4: Rise of the GOP. And since I’ve already lost my stars for the day, I say to all the willfully ignorant people out there – Go fuck yourselves.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find some chicken poop to play in so I can boost my immune system.
I’m not a thumber. I use one finger only, and hit one key at a time on my LG keyboard, much to the chargrin of my son and daughter. I suppose that makes me officialy old now. My thumbs are not surgical in nature. But then again, neither is my forefinger. It’s amazing I can ever make it on an elevator.
Then I heard of gesture typing. I looked it up on the Google. I can say it like that now because I’m old. You basically take a more drunken, lackadaisical approach by sliding your finger carelessly around the keyboard. At first, it caused me not a small bit of anxiety, brought on by my own lack of knowledge. I knew there was an algorithm behind this nonchalant madness, but my finger raced across the keyboard from one letter to the next, a panicked drag racer when I couldn’t think of the next letter. I was afraid of slowing for a second and the algorithm stopping suddenly, punishing my insolence with a randomly selected, brute-force guess, extrapolated from my weak, anxiety-ridden forefinger. Turns out, there was no reason to panic. You can go as slow as you like, even my kind of slow. Zootopia DMV slow.
So I started using this method. But something was still bothering me. It was the algorithm itself. You see, it’s an enabler. It’s not running to the store at 2 am to get you a six pack for your nightcap, but it is allowing you to not try as hard, to not be as exact, in short, not to think as much. It’s not a huge difference in mind-power, think-joules, thought-newtons, however you express that. But it probably does cause a few less neurons to fire. And humanity does seem to be heading in that aloof direction. Long-form articles are disappearing behind headlines with summaries for all the TL;DRs. And that’s what worries me, is that every action we carry out becomes algorithm assisted, allowing us to only have a vague conception of what we wanted to accomplish, as the Al(gorithm) steps in and articulates or manifests our hazy intentions.
What if we applied Al to everything in the near future? It would allow drunken doctors to operate without worry. That would be good. And no one wants to go on Netflix and sit in front of 1500, randomly selected movies to choose from. Those recommender engines let Al help you find what you want without trouble. That’s good.
But what if we transfer the half-hearted attempt at language from written to verbal. Maybe you don’t have to articulate at all. Goyngasto means I’m going to the store. In ten years, we’re deep into some pidgin half-language think-speak where we utter lost syllables incoherently at each other until Al figures out our unique form of garbled chatter. No one will type; just a lot of half-swipes at random boards of letters. I can see someone stabbed in an alley, their last clue to their killer not a name, but some irregular geometry patterns in blood. Another person asking, “Hey, what’s that smell?” “Oh, that’s my ass. I swiped at it. You get the gist.” People will remember when Al broke down for some reason and no one could communicate, just a bunch of people swiping at the air and speaking garble. Another hundred years in the future and they’ll look back and not be able to decipher anything from the 2020’s.
To be clear, I’m not typing the words I want, I’m only getting marginally close to those letters, and Al is doing the rest of the work for me. Enabling me to be unclear, inexact. My thoughts become approximations. I’m not getting at the core of anything, only rummaging around it on novacaine legs. A hazy interest with a lack of complete attention. A bored interest.
And maybe that sums it all up. Nowadays, we cast our mental nets out there and pull in Kardashian sea trash, plastic beads of fourth grade reading level speeches, and toxic alternative facts. Our minds don’t challenge these things, instead nibbling at the outer layers of fact, unable to bring our lazy thoughts to grab a shovel and dig a little.
I’m going to continue to use Al to trace out my grocery list. To tell me what I might want to watch next. To let me know when there’s a traffic jam. But I’m going to always keep an eye on Al.
Al doesn’t seem to have his head wrapped around truth yet.
My parrot sits,
on the balcony rail
far above the bustle
turning a wry eye
to watch me eat my omelet.
LOOK! AWWKK! I’M A HUMAN!
His sharp beak scratches at me
Then . . .
I’M SO DRUNK! AWWKK!
His mocking beak spits at me
tottering drunkenly, slovenly
side to side
on the precipitous rail.
Another fluffy bite of chorizo
MY! BEST FRIEND! AWWKK!
His pointed beak darts up and down
SORRY MARK! AWWKK! SORRY MARK! AWWKK! SORRY MARK! AWWKK!
His broken record hawks at me.
The wind whips around the building’s corner.
A tasty sliver of sausage
riddled with fat
slides past my tongue and gets
sideways, my eyes wide
OH GOD! AWWKK! MARK PLEASE! AWWKK!
His insinuating beak accuses as he
falls backward from the rail.
The attenuating wail becomes lost
as I hack the fatty pork
back atop my omelet.
I stare with tears at the plate
and my sarcastic parrot
on the rail.
Death walked amongst the tombstones in no particular hurry. His cloven feet had been specially fitted only a week ago, but now his shoes were rubbing. He should have broken them in. No use in whining about it now.
He looked down at his legs. As it turned out, duct tape did not fix everything. His flesh was still strung together haphazardly, with the bones exposed and shinning a bright white here and there. No matter how many times a day he ate, no matter how many plates of Burrito Supremes with extra beans he put down, no matter how much he lie around and took whole weeks off at a time (in which no one on Earth died, not that anyone noticed) he was still skin and bones. Literally. Still, after hanging out with Famine for a few days last spring, he couldn’t really complain. He was a pot-bellied pig compared to Famine.
Reaching his boney hands into a small, black sackcloth, Death grabbed a vial. It was about the size of a baby turtle minus the shell. Never seen a turtle without its shell? Never mind, it’s a little underwhelming anyway. To better explain, it was about the size of an Argentinian, three toed sloth in its twelfth week of gestation. Give or take a few ounces.
As Death glided silently through the dew-ridden grass and past numerous fake flower arrangements, he uncorked the vial. Maybe that’s a misnomer. It wasn’t a cork that was holding things inside the vial; it was actually the souls of one thousand and four Billy goats born on a summer’s solstice. Cork, you see, is slightly porous over millennia, and the souls of Billy goats are not.
The nubby carpals held slightly over the opening while those souls scattered in all directions with a panic that was devoid of any real purpose. Every so often, one of the souls would come across a train or screaming child and the goat soul would suddenly go stiff and fall over. This is because they were fainting goats in their past lives. Old habits die hard. At any rate, no one living noticed, and after a few seconds the goat souls hopped back up and continued on with their panicked travels.
There were only four million, seven hundred forty six thousand, nine hundred eighty eight drops, so he would have to choose carefully. It sounds like plenty, but there are a huge, huge amount of dead people all over the planet. Like billions. Probably a lot more than that, but I don’t want to sound braggy or pretentious by spouting off arbitrarily large numbers. Fine, I don’t really know the number, but it is really, really more than you could imagine without thinking about it for an amount of time that would also be so huge you really wouldn’t want to take the time to think about it, and then, well you see where that could end up going.
When Death chose a plot, he tipped the vial and let one drop of viscous, glowing purple liquid fall from the its open mouth. There was a moment of silence as time stopped and the lavender droplet fell through a vacuum of anticipation. When it finally passed through the Earth’s epidermis, there was a sound akin to a miniature, clown’s motorbike slamming its brakes on. A parade squelch of tiny rubber tires finding purchase on a summer Main Street in a small, Midwestern town. It was quite counterintuitive and very unnerving. He wasn’t sure of the physics involved, but was certain that said substance had no actual mass in this plane of existence and should therefore not make a sound at all. So the fact that it did made him question the one who had sold him the concoction. But that was a few thousand years ago and to tell the truth, he wasn’t certain if he still had the receipt, having kept it in a corked vial.
Death wondered to himself what the sound should sound like. What kind of ring it would have to have to please the ears or, at least, make sense based on the drop’s apparent liquidity and the grounds limestone mix. Like a heavy rain drop slapping some mud? A small, seedless grape being hit with a tennis racket? And if it didn’t have to make sense, as apparently it did not, then why not something more fanciful? Something like a woman’s quick, orgasmic moan, or the mischievous laughter of three dead children? Or for that fact, what about something you could actually listen two over and over again, millions of times, without getting bored out of your mind with it, like John Lennon’s Mind Games. And wouldn’t that be appropriate and fitting?
Another teardrop of magenta lightening passed from the chilly graveyard air to the casket below. Squelch!
“Fucking seriously, then!” Death raised his voice, and then quietened, looking around and feeling at once embarrassed with his outburst.
Death continued into the night. In his wake, no pun intended, the grounds began to loosen in places as the dead clawed their way from their claustrophobic, little resting places. And if you thought about like that, it was more of a rescue really.
We laughed and played and laughed
As the waves broke on the shore
And the Sun baked the sand
And the children screamed for more
Seagulls clustered here and there
Awaiting special treats
We played until our skin burned red
And sand crept in our seats
Then the growing ball of Orange
Slightly touched the ocean
Testing the water first,
It seemed to cease its motion
“Time to go,” I yelled and
shoulders slumped in sorrow
“No fussing or complaining
And we might come back tomorrow.”
Then the children smiled
A new light in their eyes
“We have something to show you.
It’s a really big surprise!”
They know I love surprises
As I follow them to the spot
Where they’ve dug a rather large hole
For such a tiny tot
C’mon dad they beg
We’ll do it really quick
So I climb into the hole
That they’ve hollowed with a stick
They pushed the sand around me
I played along with a giggle
Until the sand was packed so tight
That I couldn’t hardly wiggle.
One last tip of Orange
Cast a faint glow to their faces
And they smiled even wider
As they ran back to their places
They laughed and played and laughed
As the waves broke on the shore
And I screamed until I couldn’t
My throat raw, and sore
I looked up at the Moon
Brilliant in the sky
And couldn’t move my arms
Though I try and try and try
I cried until I laughed
Then I laughed until I cried
Then I smiled to myself
And giggled by and by
Hours came and went
And boredom took its toll
Monotony crept upon me
In my sandy little hole
I laughed and laughed and laughed
As the waves broke on the shore
Then I laughed and laughed and gurgled
And then I laughed no more.
So when it’s time to leave,
And they wanna stay and play
Don’t put off ’til tomorrow
What can be done today.
There is a pillow between us.
just a fluffy puff of cotton and foam
lying nonchalantly, lengthways,
pointing carelessly at the headboard
and forming a T with the other pillows,
a circumspect intersection of downy
hiding its shameful face under the covers.
You are no further away
and yet I can not seem to reach you.
It lies motionless and silent
as do we,
but I can hear it’s muffled laughing.
A feather-light wedge.
The softest of simple machines
prying our sleepy bodies apart
with no effort,
save its cottony presence.
You roll over and I can see
the soft outline of your face.
You embrace the barrier
dividing us and pull it close.
I take a moment to reflect
on the silliness of pillow envy,
then I grab the pillow and cast it
from the bed.
You are startled, but none the wiser
to the melee that has ensued.
I slide to the center of the bed
in victory and gloat myself to sleep
with your arm around me.