Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Dystopian Fiction Part 2 (Maybe)

I've been concerned that my Amazing Morse books are far too linear. I don't have a problem with this novel, tentatively titled Homo Ex Machina. In this book, the chapters tend to peel away towards a beginning. Here is one of those layers, giving part of the story:

He walked from work to his home, feeling at peace with himself and the world. He was different from those he worked with, but he considered it to be a good thing, considered that that which made him unique made him slightly superior to the Cargill Crew. His frame was long and wiry, his features narrow and pointy. His nose ventured far past his angular face, demanding attention. His ears were larger than they needed to be, and his eyes nearly bulged from his face, as though they were straining to peer from behind the shadow of his nose. His fingers were unnaturally long and thin, as though designed for the intricate work they were required to do. His walk looked rather ungainly, but appearance belied the speed and grace that moved him forward. The others that he worked with, The Cargill Crew, were much blockier, their features more obvious and exaggerated. Having only them to compare himself with, he was quite content with his own appearance.

His stride contained an air of superiority to it, not of arrogance, but of an earned knowledge of his specialness in the scheme of things. It was not a disdain for those around him that kept his nose up and his head tilted up, it was merely an awareness that those he passed on the street had nothing in the way of conversation that would contribute to him in any way. His ability to think was simply greater than those around him, and that was that. When he spoke to his co-workers, he found their ability to comprehend matters to be unsophisticated. When he tossed a lofty notion into the air, their response would be to drag it to the earth. Sure, there had been Bill, but that was long ago. Bill, too, was different from the rest, just as Mim was. He did not look like Mim, but he wasn’t like the Cargill Crew either. They were both unique, and so could relate to each other in ways they could never relate to the rest. But Bill was gone, and Mim was alone in his existence. He didn’t mind it; he didn’t mind being unique because he felt it made him special. And so he walked through the crowd of workers returning to their abodes as one alone in a crowd, able to ignore the unsophisticated chatter that engaged their unenlightened minds. So he was surprised when a voice far away cut through his reveries as it sounded like it was addressed to him.

“Hey, you. You. Come here.”

Mim spotted an unusual looking man standing in the shadows of an alleyway. The mere sight of him took Mim off guard. He looked quite unlike the Cargills, looked vaguely like his old friend Bill, only shaggier. He looked quite out of place on this somewhat busy street, somewhat alien to the whole of Mim’s environment. If there had been anybody about at that instant, he would have ignored the man and walked on as he felt a certain suspicion about him. He did not have the feel of belonging, did not seem to be a part of the community in which Mim lived, the small environment that he had ever known. But there was nobody about at the moment, and Mim, if a trifle self-satisfied, was a caring and thoughtful enough person.

“Are you talking to me?” Asked Mim, taken aback a bit by the attention and the person who was giving it.

“Come here. I have something to show you. You’ve never seen anything like this before, that’s for sure.”

He was a little bit pushy, and Mim didn’t like that. But Mim was not the kind to be rude. If this man wanted a moment of his time, well, Mim could afford it.

As he walked towards the alley, the man drew back as if leading him onward. He stopped at a plastic box that was perhaps two feet tall and three feet wide. The man drew Mim’s attention to a hole in the box. Mim looked inside and saw a furry face looking back at him. The face drew an instant response from Mim, bringing a smile to his face. He had never seen anything like it before, but knew that he liked it. The man, noticing the smile, began his patter again.

“Move back, I’ll let him out for you.” When Mim stepped back, the man opened a door on one side of the box. To the thing inside, he said: “Come on out.” It stepped out, walking on all fours. Behind it was an appendage that swung right and left with an energy that was contagious. All of it, including the appendage, was covered in soft and friendly hair that made you want to touch it. Two eyes peeked out from beneath the brown and white fur and found an instant pathway into Mim’s heart.

The man spoke again. “Sit down.” The thing sat. “Shake hands”. The thing raised one of its limbs in the direction of Mim. Mim, excited but nervous, could not bring himself to grab the offered appendage. “Lay down” the man continued. The thing lay down. “Roll over”. The commands were simple enough, but somehow the simplest of actions by this thing had a fascination for Mim. When the man finished with his commands, Mim wanted to ask him to continue. The thing lay their quietly, looking into Mim’s eyes as though waiting for him to start giving commands.

“You like it?” asked the man as Mim continued to stare.

“Yes. Very much.”

“Fifty credits and it’s yours.”

Mim began to get a little anxious. The whole situation seemed a little unusual and thus made him suspicious. Whoever this man was, he was not part of the day to day existence of the factory or the town. He was an outsider and somehow that made him a little threatening. He didn’t know why, but he somehow imagined that there might be something wrong with talking to such a person. He got the feeling that if somebody were to see him talking to this man that he could get into trouble. He didn’t know who would be watching or what the problem could be with talking to someone a little different, nevertheless he felt an uneasiness. He felt suddenly that he should go and found himself taking a step back towards the street. The man, sensing he was losing his audience, said to the thing from the box: “Speak”. It uttered a sharp cry in response. It seemed to call to Mim, and something responded deep within him. It was the birth of a new emotion for him, a tenderness that had never been called upon before.

“Speak” the man said again, and the thing made its noise.

“Shake hands.” The thing lifted its front appendage towards Mim. This time Mim found himself shaking hands with the furry thing that sat in front of him, despite himself. He felt the things fur as he did so, and in a moment, found himself petting the thing on the top of its head. The thing responded warmly to Mim’s petting.

“Fifty credits for a new friend. Quite a deal, eh?”

Mim stared at the man. There was something a little unusual about him, something a little unnatural about the friendly tone he had in his voice. Mim was torn by his situation. He had no desire to leave behind this creature, would very much like to take him home. But he felt the situation rather odd, and the idea that he might be doing something wrong again occurred to him. But the man was rather insistent, and Mim was not used to dealing with people who had such a characteristic.

“What do you say? Isn’t it cute? Surely you have fifty credits you can spare.”

“I don’t know. It’s very amusing, but it doesn’t seem quite right.”

“I assure you, it’s 100% artificial.”

Mim looked again at the furry face in front of him. There was something irresistible about it. If he had been prone to self-reflection, he might have realized that the traits that he appreciated in this creature were quite similar to his own. It had an enormously protruding nose, as well as ears that stuck far out from its head. The two seemed made for each other, like two characters drawn by the same artist.

Unable to find a way out of the situation he was in, and appreciating the idea of owning this thing, Mim reached into his pocket for the credits.

“Thank you. Enjoy. Just remember to return it to the box when you’re done using it. Just say “kennel”, and it will return to it.”

The man scurried into the alley and soon was lost from Mim’s sight. Mim was left standing by his new purchase staring up at him.  “Kennel”, he said, and the thing dutifully obeyed. Mim felt uncomfortable with the idea that he would now have to carry this thing through crowded streets to his home. Again, the self-conscious feeling welled up in him, as though whatever he was doing might be disapproved of by unknown watchers. But the man assured him that it was 100% artificial. Peering out from a corner of the alley, Mim waited until there was no one in sight. He then proceeded to carry the rather large box towards his house.

His house was at the far end of town, furthest away from the factory that was the heart of the community. So far was he from the center that the yard of his house bordered on the wall that ringed the town, encircled the entirety of everything he ever knew.

He arrived home nearly exhausted, unused to such physical exercise. He was greeted as always by his Mate/Mother, who was always there to welcome him home with a smile and warmth.

His Mate/Mother was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. Her hair was of an impossible brightness, going beyond what one would call blonde towards platinum. Her lips were shiny red, as though perpetually moist, and the bright white dress she wore was always spotless, both concealing and appealing. She had been their always, from his earliest memories, never changing. She was closer to him than anyone, always willing to listen to him, never demanding anything. But though she was the nearest and dearest thing to him, he oddly found that he did not wish to share what he had found today with her. He talked to her as he always did but made no mention of the box he brought home. And she, good mate/mother that she was, asked no questions about it. She merely smiled and shimmered, and that smiling and shimmering seemed to bring light and freshness into the house. She asked what it was he wished to view, and when he told her, she immediately awoke the viewer and played for him the news of the world outside. As the viewer came to light, mate/mother slid into the background.

With the viewer providing the background excitement, Mim turned his attention to the box he dragged home. He stuck his nose close to the hole and saw his newfound friend staring off into space as if he had been switched off. Mim opened the door to the box, but still the thing remained motionless. Mim remembered what the man had said to the thing, so he said: “Come.” The thing came to life at once and exited its box. Mim began to put the thing through its paces, reciting every command he had heard the man say. He wished now that he had asked more questions, wondered what else this thing could do. He looked inside the box, hoping to find a manual that might help him understand what else he could make this thing do. What he found inside the box was not a manual, but a collection of tubes and wires that apparently fitted into…fitted into what? This thing should have a name, it was almost life-like. He thought of the dog’s distinguishing characteristic, its large nose, and decided Pinocchio fit him well. He had read the story of Pinocchio in a book, one of the few books he had ever read that had not been a manual. In a way, the character in the story was as real as any person he knew in real life. Realer perhaps even than his mate/mother, who after all was not very solid. She was friendly and caring, but Mim wondered if she had any life of her own. As beautiful as she was, she somehow seemed less than real. Less real even, perhaps, than a wooden puppet he had read about in an old book.

Pinocchio it was, then. Somehow, having given this thing a name made it more real, more real, perhaps, too, than mate/mother. He at least was solid—Mim could reach out and actually touch him, unlike the shimmering, smiling woman that awaited him and greeted him. The tubes and wires in the box concerned Mim, though. Perhaps Pinocchio was a little too real. Any ordinary toy would not require such apparatus. He felt foolish for trusting the stranger he had met in the alley, should have known that the whole situation was a little odd. If he wanted to buy a toy, he knew he should buy it from the store. If he wanted to trust somebody, he knew he could trust the machine. Looking back at it now, he couldn’t believe he had acted outside the parameters that had been set for him, can’t believe that he had stepped afoul of the laws that had governed him his entire life. He couldn’t imagine what had made him act the way he had. Sure, the man took advantage of his unwillingness to be rude. Mim’s life experience had never prepared him for someone acting so far outside the laws. But surely Mim should have known better, nonetheless. Then he looked again at Pinocchio and he knew the answer to the question. There was something about its face that spoke to Mim, spoke to him of emotions that had only been hinted at by all of his previous experience. There was a word he encountered in one of those few books he had encountered that had not been manuals, and the word was joy. He did not understand it then, was not sure if he understood it now, but he thought that he was getting some kind of appreciation of it now. This thing was not merely alive, it was willfully alive.

Not that he supposed this thing was alive. The concept of being alive was perhaps not one that Mim was familiar with. Useful, sure. Functioning. Mim knew he was these things and had always been proud of that. But alive was not quite a term that meant anything to him. But the first tentative strands of understanding were reaching from the word joy to the feeling within his chest, an initial encounter of experience and understanding had been made. Like the first feet through a forest making an initial path through the wilderness, a link had been established, a hole in a dam. Mim was beginning to feel something new, something beyond the world he had ever known. Something that would forever change the view of life he always knew. Alive. The concept was born, however naked and helpless it began its existence.

It was something more than amusement, but not useful. It existed apart from the machine, and yet had value other than as a way to distract and relax him. He felt that that might mean trouble, but he didn’t care at the moment. Such thoughts went on inside his mind, but not at a conscious level. He was not accustomed to actual introspection, but it did not mean that such thoughts did not occur. It merely meant that he did not realize that they did. They worked on a deeper level, closer to emotion than thought. He would have had no frame of reference for it anyway, no way to process thoughts that did not have to do with his usefulness. All of his life had been vested in his usefulness or in the satisfaction of immature and unsophisticated desires. While he gloated to himself that he was vastly superior to the Cargill Crew, in terms of emotional maturity, he was very much like them. His superiority lay in the service he supplied to the machine, he was a more sophisticated cog.

But this thing, this Pinocchio. It existed for its own sake. It existed and was happy without purpose, without serving the greater good of the machine. (If it served something, it was a far greater machine than the one he knew.) But while such unarticulated thoughts pushed through his mind, he was too busy taking joy in his new possession to pay them any mind.

His viewer remained on but he did not notice it. He spent the night with Pinocchio, putting it through its paces and seeing what other instructions it would obey. It was not until late that night that Mim uttered the word “kennel”, and his friend retired for the evening.


He found himself a little distracted the next morning at work. For the first time in his existence, there was something besides his work that occupied his thoughts. As he worked on the Cargill Crew, he would often find himself paused in his task while thoughts of a furry face crept into his mind. Cargills were not the first workers to have come through this factory, he had worked on several others before them. He realized now that Pinocchio was something similar to them, a bio creation. He wondered where he had been made and why. Prying his long, slender fingers into the back of the neck of a Cargill, he retrieved the chip from the defective worker and replaced it with one more up to date. From time to time they were prone to breakdowns, even such sturdy and unsophisticated models as these. Mim decided he would check Pinocchio for a chip tonight when he got home. He was curious to know where and when he was made.

If the Cargills appreciated the work he did on them, they did not show it. Not that they seemed to mind. They simply came to him when they were told there had been exhibiting signs of dysfunction. They were all and all a foreign species to him. While they functioned quite well in work-related situations, there seemed to be no other way in which Mim and they could relate. The Cargills seemed almost to have a built-in set of reference points, as though their choice of amusement had been programmed into them. When two or more of them were together in a non-work-related situation, they could instantly talk amongst themselves and be amused by things Mim simply could not understand. There was a certain kind of humor they shared, but it was nothing Mim could find funny. In part, Mim was frustrated that he had no relationship with the Cargills. They neither recognized him as an equal nor as a superior. They simply came to him when in need of repair and left when they were fixed. Mim would sometimes become frustrated by their lack of thankfulness at the repairs he did to them, restoring them as useful parts of the machine. But they paid him no more attention than he did the wall that stood behind his house, the border of all he knew. To them, he was simply another part of the machine, like a forklift or a computer. No need to thank a computer, even if it is vastly smarter than oneself.

Arriving home that night, he greeted and dismissed his mate/mother in a moment. It was Pinocchio who would share his downtime. He had learned how to make it interact in ways other than responding to commands. By petting its head, he could elicit squeals of enjoyment. By scratching him along the side, he could make his rear foot move reflexively. By throwing one of his socks, he could get the thing to retrieve it. They could wrestle in a playful manner, and Pinocchio would chase and be chased at intervals.

Exhausted, Mim lay on the ground. Pinocchio sat still looking at him. After a time, Mim decided it was time. Brushing back the fur that was on the back of Pinocchio’s neck, Mim subtly let his trained fingers search for the area where he suspected a chip would be located. He could not locate anything as obvious as the exposed chips of the Cargills, but his sensitive fingers at last discovered a bump under Pinocchio’s fur. Mim’s professional curiosity began to take over, and he went towards the kitchen to find a knife. Locating again the bump, he carefully cut a line down the back of Pinocchio’s neck. “Just as I thought”, said Mim. “Biomatter.” Somebody was playing with things they shouldn’t have been, and Mim would get to the bottom of it if he could.

Pinocchio did not utter a sound or move reflexively away as the knife cut into its fleshy neck. That it was capable of feeling pain the same way Mim was did not enter Mim’s thoughts. He did at once notice, however, that Pinocchio was more than just a contraption of wires and chips. His suspicions were confirmed. Peeling back the loose flaps of skin, Mim spread open the insertion point with strong, practiced fingers.

At the base of the skull he could detect something whose geometric lines were in opposition to the biometric smoothness elsewhere. Amidst the red of blood and tissue could be seen the square corner of something foreign to its surroundings. Reaching in with his other hand, he encountered the hardness of technology amongst the smoothness of flesh. Teasing it out, he eventually removed it from Pinocchio’s neck, but wires still connected from it deep into the neck flesh. Mim was at a loss for what to do at this point. In all the work he had done on Cargills and others, he had always had comprehensive manuals that would guide his actions. Here, he had no clue as to what he was doing, wasn’t even sure if he should be doing it. But there was a certain amount of incongruity to this chip. Despite the fact that he had been dealing with the interface of flesh and technology all of his life, he somehow felt that this thing did not belong. While the chips enabled the Cargills to better perform their duties, Mim saw no reason for the presence of one here. Before allowing himself time to think the matter through, he gave a yank on the chip. His fingers were surprisingly strong and were able to hold onto the chip through the blood as the wire pulled taught. At length, the wire pulled from Pinocchio, leaving the thing free from whatever control the chip had had over it. With this action, Pinocchio let forth a horrible shriek and collapsed to the ground. Its body jerked convulsively and wild howls came from him. Mim stared on in horror. “I’ve broken it”, he thought. The thing continued to howl and convulse. The emotion that only recently had started to grow in Mim had now been replaced with another new emotion; fear. He had never truly experienced it before, had never felt the pain of another as his own. Cargills never experienced pain—at least they never exhibited it before. But there was no restraint on the little creature that lay before now. What it felt it did not hide. Its suffering was even more obvious than the happiness it had earlier exhibited affected Mim more deeply. Here was the flip side of what Mim had felt yesterday, the pain that accompanied joy. He wished he had never experienced the joy, that it was a Trojan horse. As the thing writhed on the ground, Mim found he had to look away.

He turned his head, walked to the couch and sat in front of the viewer. Mate/mother turned up the sound at his request, but he could not make the sound of Pinocchio’s agony go away. He sat in front of the viewer throughout the night, unable to sleep. When the cries had died away somewhat, he made himself look again at the object of misery. He found that it had soiled itself, had contaminated his rug with shit and urine. It writhed in its own excrement, heedless of anything other than the pain of its own existence. Mim returned to the couch, unable to watch. He rocked back and forth, repeating to himself: “I broke it. I broke it.”

With the coming of dawn, Mim was still rocking on the couch, Pinocchio’s limbs still jerking as it sat in its own filth. Mim, not knowing what to do, left it alone until it was time to work. He hoped when he returned home, the thing would be gone, a bad dream that vanished upon awakening. At work he appreciated the utter apathy of the Cargills, no longer caring that they did not appreciate the work he did.

Mim returned home later than usual, having been in no great hurry to relive the experience of last night. He found little Pinocchio still lying where he had left him, whimpering now through lack of strength to howl. The puddle beneath him had grown. Mim, despite his distaste, felt that he had to clean up the scene a little. The smell was intense, but he soon had his carpet and Pinocchio looking a little better. Despite his fear and revulsion, he found himself giving the little thing a pat in an attempt to comfort it. And Mim thought he could sense some response. The whimpering, while not lessening, found some kind of steadiness to it, as though it sought to ease its pain by stabilizing it. After a time, Mim walked away to get some food in his stomach. He again had mate/mother turn up the sound of the viewer to keep his attention away from the sound in the other room. As he ate, he found distraction in the news of the day. So he was frightened out of his wits when he discovered something touching his leg. He jumped from the couch; cast a glance to where his leg had just been. He saw there little Pinocchio, standing on shaky legs and looking at him. Horror welled up in him as though he was looking at a ghost. In front of Pinocchio sat a piece of Mim’s dinner that had fallen from his plate when he had jumped from the couch. Unsteadily but instinctually, he lowered his head and grabbed it with his mouth and swallowed it.

Settling down, Mim realized that Pinocchio may be capable of fixing itself. Whatever he had done to it, it didn’t seem to be permanent. He wasn’t sure how long biomatter could exist without any chip in it, had never seen anything like it before, but apparently this little thing seemed to be doing all right. No sooner than he thought this, though, than Pinocchio released another batch of excrement on the carpet. Mim regretted ever taking this thing into his house, but he really didn’t know what else to do with it at this point. Figuring that it would require sustenance just as he did, he put out a plate for him and shared a little of his food. He also put out a little cup filled with water. The thing ate and drank as quickly as it could manage in its weakened state, taking time out only to relieve itself once again on the carpet. But in time it seemed to be contented, and laid down on the grown and closed its eyes. Seeing that Pinocchio had apparently stabilized itself, Mim was immensely relieved. He had no idea how long it was capable of suffering, perhaps forever. Curled up as it was in sleep, he saw again before him the same sweet creature he had met the day before. He cleaned up the floor, and Pinocchio did not bother him again for the rest of the night.

Mim awoke to a much refreshed Pinocchio. Freed from the chip, however, he no longer obeyed any of the orders Mim gave him. He was operating under his own impetus, now. Still a little shaky, he was nonetheless eager for Mim’s attention in a way he was not before. Mim was a little overwhelmed by the attention, tried to avoid the creature’s lunges. But he soon realized there was nothing to fear from his furry roommate, realized the attention he was giving was rather like the attention that Mim originally gave to Pinocchio, if a little over the top. He wasn’t sure what to make of such attention, had never received anything like it before, except perhaps from mate/mother. Yet mate/mother, however friendly, had always followed his lead. When he wanted to talk, she seemed pleased by his attention; when he was tired, she left him alone. But Pinocchio was persistent. He did not ask for but demanded attention. Mim found such an attitude irresistible. While he fought off Pinocchio’s attempts to overwhealm him, he was only fighting off the worst excesses, allowing his long nose to at times pierce the defenses. It was a battle he didn’t mind getting the worst of. Mim went to work feeling better than he had the day before.

He returned to yet another mess made by Pinocchio. Not only was their excrement on the floor, but he discovered one of his shoes had been turned to shreds. Mim could not understand this random act of violence, could not understand what motivated Pinocchio. He stared at him, but Pinocchio only stared back with a fierce look in his eye. When Mim came toward him, Pinocchio ran, one of Mim’s socks in his mouth.

Mim was angry—but as he ran after Pinocchio—he realized he wasn’t as angry as he might have been. He knew Pinocchio’s actions had in them no mean intentions and that what he had done was done in innocence or in fun. Assuredly, he would have to set some boundaries for this creature if they were to live in the same house, but as he chased after him, the sock dangling from its mouth, he couldn’t help appreciating the attention that Pinocchio gave him in his need to call attention to himself.

Mim had lived alone all his life, not counting Marilyn, who didn’t really count. For the most part, the people with whom he worked were merely people with whom he worked. He had tried socializing, tried to fit in with the others, but it never worked out. They were different from him, different as if they had been born that way, different as if it had been programmed into them to be the way they were. And they all had a sameness of difference, all of them acting differently together. It was as though they were all joined together by some invisible network, one that left them unable to deal with others outside of it on an individual basis. Mim had tried talking to them on a one on one basis, tried to call one from the herd, as it were, in order to engage him in some kind of conversation that would interest both of them. But each of them lived within an ecosystem beyond which they had no desire to explore. The music they listened to was the music played in their bars, the shows they watched were the shows all of the others watched, their sports team they cheered for the same as all the others. There seemed a wall between them and he, and Mim was never able to cross it. And so the camaraderie of the Cargill Crew was something he could never share, and it left him feeling even more alone than he otherwise would have.

He was left with his attitude of superiority, which gave him some consolation. He knew—even if he was every bit as much part of the machine as any of the Cargill Crew—he knew that his part in the machinery was a greater one than theirs. He knew that he was a more valuable part than they, knew that in the hierarchy of the machine that he was placed more highly, but he knew that he was missing something for all of that. Knowing that he was more, that he was better than the others, did not compensate for knowing he was different and apart from them. He knew he belonged, was a working and useful apart of the machine, but that did not give him a sense of belonging.

But here was this thing, this creature, who knew nothing of fitting in, of belonging or of being useful. And yet it existed for its own sake and relished its own existence. MIM truly did not know what to make of it, and yet he could not resist it. Its enthusiasm spread beyond itself, filled Mim with the same enthusiasm. Mim KNEW that the thing felt by Pinocchio was the same as he felt inside himself, knew without having a name for what it was, that this mutual experience or shared feeling existed. And in sharing, the separateness Mim had always felt but never articulated, was overcome. He was now a part of something larger than himself, shared in something that flowed beyond the boundaries of his body. Yes, he was also part of the machine, he knew that. But this was something different. He knew his existence as part of the machine was contingent upon his usefulness. He understood that he was just a cog in a complex process that could be plucked out and replaced with another should he malfunction. And perhaps too, should Mim be unable to care for Pinocchio, that Pinocchio would be happy to find another to share with and care for him. But Mim couldn’t help thinking there was more to it than that. He couldn’t speak for Pinocchio, but he felt that the relationship he had with his fuzzy friend was not something that could be easily replaced by another. There was something unique about his friend, about this friendship, even if there were a million other creatures just like Pinocchio. And too, the relationship between the two was different from the actions of two cogs linking between each other. Cogs pushed together, met at their edges, never went beyond that. The force that turned them did not come from themselves. Mim and Pinocchio, their relationship was beyond the boundaries of themselves, reached beyond the external to a shared internal state of being. They were not two distinct entities, but similar beings guided by a force that flowed through them both.

Again, the concept of “alive” crept into Mim’s consciousness, although he had no words to describe it. He “knew” nothing, merely lived it, lived as if whatever he had been doing up to this time was something other than living. Lived in a way that it were as though something new had been born inside the shell that had previously been him.

The months passed as Mim gradually trained Pinocchio to live in a way that was tolerable to him and the machine. He knew he must protect his friend from the machine, knew that he was separate from it. He knew this because Pinocchio in no way was of service to the machine, and Mim had seen what became of things that were no longer useful or functioning properly. Mim had never before thought of himself as anything other than part of the machine, yet now he was acting in ways contrary to it. He belonged to something different now, even if that something different consisted of nothing more than the relationship he had with an animal that cared for nothing but its next meal and the causing of mischief. Pinocchio was gradually taught to do his business out in the back of the house rather than the floor of the living room. He more or less was trained to obey some of the orders that had originally been programmed by the chip Mim had removed. But Pinocchio still had a mind of his own, occasionally grabbing an article of clothing from Mim when he felt that he deserved more attention than he was getting. Also, Mim could not get Pinocchio to stop his interest in what lay beyond the fence in the back of his house. Mim had never stopped to consider the existence of anything that lay beyond the fence before, felt it to be as much a barrier as the sky was. It was the edge of the world to him, or at least the end of the machine, which was the same thing after all. But Pinocchio had a curiosity to what lay beyond that Mim did not. It seemed that whenever Mim left him alone in the back of the house Pinocchio would start digging a whole as if to try and tunnel under the barrier. Mim sensed somehow that this was a dangerous thing, tried to instill in his pet the fear that he felt regarding the fence. But the thing had a will of its own. This is what Mim loved about it, but it was not something he was used to. Perhaps he himself had never truly had a will of his own, had never even thought to do things for himself other than in distraction and amusement. But Pinocchio did not conform to the rules of the machine; it was a delicate balance for Mim to maintain this independence in his friend without provoking a response from the machine. And the wall was beyond the bounds of acceptable behavior. He knew that, knew it without having any reason to know it. Knew that the boundaries of the machine extended to the fence and ended there. It was almost as if Pinocchio knew this and was pushing the boundaries the way he had with Mim. But the machine was not so forgiving as Mim. Mim tried to keep his friend from trouble, but had no way of sharing his apprehension. In most every other way, Mim found Pinocchio’s mischievousness endearing, but this one act of defiance provoked in Mim an anger born of fear.

No longer was Mim concerned with his separateness from his co-workers, nor did he dwell too often on the fact that he felt himself to be a superior model to those with whom he worked. Instead he spent what moments he had for outside thoughts on the creature that awaited his return home each night, He felt sorry for the little creature that was forced into its little crate each day, even while he was stuck in the small room where he worked. And each evening he would spend with his friend, ignoring the viewer and even Marilyn.

One Sunday, the weather was nice enough that they spent the better part of the day outdoors. Nobody lived near him, so he felt safe in allowing his animal to roam the yard. Having worked a full week, Mim was tired and did not notice the time Pinocchio spent digging a hole near the fence. He fell asleep leaning against the side of his house, and Pinocchio was so busy that he never bothered to wake him up. When Mim finally awoke, he looked around and found himself to be all alone. Panicked, he patrolled the enclosed area, to find the hole Pinocchio had dug while he was sleeping. He looked across the fence to see his friend’s furry face looking back at him. He tried to convince him to come back, but Pinocchio was distracted by the whole new world that he had to explore. Even as Mim was pleading, he heard the buzzing sound he had been dreading. He didn’t know what it was that motivated the Stingers, did not know why they did what they did, but he knew they defended the machine. They defended the machine by ensuring parts that malfunctioned were removed from the system. Poor Pinocchio was not a part of the system at all. There was nothing Mim could do, no way for him to broach the fence that was much too tall, far too sturdy. He could only beg and plead with his friend who looked at him through the fence and wagged his tail with excitement. The Stingers were closer now, and Mim’s anxiety was apparent. He urged his friend to come back to him with promises of food, but Pinocchio reacted to the danger in Mim’s voice rather than the words. He gave Mim a look of uncertainty, and at that instant, the stingers hit him. Little bird-like instruments shot tiny missiles into the flesh of Pinocchio, and all Mim could do is stand and watch. He didn’t know what the stingers were, did not know if they were flesh or machine. He did not know if they were machines designed with a purpose or simply malevolent creatures of nature. He only knew he despised them.

He watched his friend die, watched and was helpless to do anything about it. The only relationship he had ever known that was not of frivolity or purely functional was gone. The only genuine tie he ever had to another living being had been severed. At that moment, he despised the world around him. And as the machine was the only world he had ever known, he despised the machine. How long he sat there at the wall, he did not know. He could do nothing for his little friend but was loath to leave him lying there all alone. He eventually felt the need to turn his back from him, though, felt the need to remove himself from the pain he felt. But the physical space he put between himself and his friend could not ease the hurt he carried. It followed him into his house, taking the place of the friendship he had had. He could not sleep that night, knowing his friend was still out there, beyond the wall, all alone, unprotected.

Mim felt another new emotion, and he longed for the days when he had felt none at all. Grief overwhelmed him, covered all the things he had once found of interest with a grey film. Pinocchio was not “broken”, not “malfunctioning”. He was gone, and he was never coming back. He was gone, and it didn’t make a shred of difference to Mim whether or not his usefulness to the machine. He did not know a word to describe it, but he was useful to Mim. More than useful, there was no word Mim could use to describe what Pinocchio was to him. But nobody cared. It felt as though something inside of him had been shot by the stingers and was lying motionless next to his friend, never to rise again. He had no words to describe what he felt, no frame of reference for what he was going through. There was nobody he could talk to, no one to explain to him how he felt. And then it occurred to him to talk to mate/mother. He knew she wasn’t real, wasn’t real the way Pinocchio was real, real the way he was beginning to realize he himself was. Even through his pain, he began to realize a growth in his awareness, began to understand that he was in some way more real than he had ever fully appreciated before. And some part of him knew that although he was in the depths of misery, he did not want to go back to the smaller world he had inhabited, did not want to be the person he used to be before Pinocchio came into his life. It would be an insult to his friend. Mim would embrace the pain he felt as though in doing that he might remain true to his friend. He would rather carry the emptiness inside him than forget. He would never forget.

All of his relationships proved hollow to him now, yet he needed someone with whom to unburden his grief. He thought of mate/mother. She and Pinocchio had been on separate sides of his life, as though they were pulling him both in separate directions. He had grown apart from her since he brought him into his life, and it seemed that she were aware of that fact, acting in a suspicious and disapproving manner. But he needed someone, could not bear the ordeal alone.

He called and she was there. At her appearance, he burst into tears, telling her of his friend, sharing with her now all the things he had kept hidden from her until now about Pinocchio. And for the first time in his life she expressed her disapproval. Following his loss, Mim could not believe now this new turn of events.

“It’s for the best, Mim. That creature had no part to play in your life.”

Marilyn had never spoken to him in this way before. She had never spoken to him in anything less than supportive tones. Now it almost seemed as though some jealousy were being revealed. She did not sound at all herself.

Mim’s emotions were at full boil. “How can you say that? He was my friend. He was…he was beautiful. I…loved him.”

He did not know where the word “love” came from. He had used it with mate/mother before, used it effortlessly and without thought. But as it arose to his lips now it brought to him new worlds of meaning, crystallizing into the sense of loss that he now felt. Suddenly his relationship to mate/mother came into question. Although he had known her his whole life, he now wondered if he knew her at all.

“He was not part of us, Mim. Not part of the whole. He had no place here.”

Again, Mim’s perceptions were altered, and he found himself questioning his relationship to the machine. He knew nothing else other than the machine, and yet he found himself questioning it, as one who has felt profound loss might question life itself.

Mim suddenly realized that he knew something that was not the machine after all. Pinocchio was his connection to something beyond the machine. And he found this connection to be wonderful, the machine to be very ugly. There existed something beyond the machine! And then it occurred to him that his relationship to Pinocchio was also beyond the machine. If that were so, could he also not be part of the machine? He felt torn, confused, angry. He was a part of the machine, that he knew. He was also something else. He belonged to something else. Something that remained even after his one link with it had been severed. The pain inside told him that the death of Pinocchio did not end the awakening that he had brought to life. But mate/mother was part of the machine, was the machine. He realized that now. She spoke of the machine’s desires. She kept him who he was, who the machine needed him to be.

Mim was on a path now that led him to a life he had never known, was not supposed to know. He couldn’t see where that path was taking him, did not know what lay at the end, but the direction was written now into his soul. He felt almost a tearing inside of him, as some part of his being was separating itself from his more solid self. Like a slug stepping free from its shell, like a prisoner stepping free from the cell he had always called home. It was a mental effort that translated to the physical world. And following this profound rending came a myriad of voices. Marilyn was still talking, giving him instructions in the manner of a stern mother. But behind it came the other voices, all speaking to him, demanding his attention, seeking his obeisance. Like maggots in his brain they crawled through his consciousness, crowding out his own thoughts. The neural pathways that together constructed who he was were being clogged by thoughts not of his own making. Like silkworms, they spun webs round the flow of his identity, drowning him in a thoughts not his own. Though he fought against them, the voices at last took control of his consciousness, leaving him a mere observer to what took place inside his mind.  

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Rozoff The Magician

I don’t believe I have yet to acknowledge the influence my brother Tom has had on my book, The Amazing Morse. While I had been carrying the plot ideas in my mind for a while I had yet to figure out who the main character was supposed to be. It was not until I realized that my protagonist should be a magician that all of the other elements really came together. Let’s face it, there is something a little spooky about magic and magicians: they’re always cutting people in half, sticking swords through them, decapitating heads, etc. And look at the posters I have on the Magic Posters page: they’re chock full of ghosts, demons, and the macabre. The themes of magic and escape have so fired my imagination that I have made a series out of what began as a single story.

Delving into magic started me delving into my childhood, when I worked as an assistant for my brother as he began his magic career (nearly forty years later, my brother is still earning a living doing magic).

Even before I started writing The Amazing Morse, I wrote this little blog entry for a now dormant website forum. If you are familiar with my book, then you will see how much it was influenced by my real-life experiences. Here is a little reminiscence I did that ended up being a little altered and put into Chapter 4 of The Amazing Morse. The picture I’ve added, since it is referenced:


How to Handle a Heckler


     Say what you will about Robespierre, he knew how to deal with troublemakers. Abuse of monarchical power? Off with his head. Crimes against the state? Off with his head. Complicity with foreign powers? Off with their heads. A crude but effective way of handling interpersonal relationships. But of course nowadays you can’t use a guillotine to solve your problems. Can you?

     As mentioned previously, I was an assistant for my brother, the magician. We performed for a variety of different audiences, young and old. Adults were generally polite and receptive, but it was the kids that really got into it. They were loud and very interactive, but that was part of the show. My brother Tom would anticipate their outbursts and play off of them. But there was generally one kid in every audience who needed to be the center of attention. Like a drunk at a stand-up comedy club, he could really ruin it for those that just wanted to sit and watch the show. He knew the secret behind every trick, he had seen it done before, and better. Every crowd of children has its Eustace Scrubb. 

     My brother was adept at steering the show away from such children should the need arise, but he would always give these Dudley Dursleys ample amount of time to voices their complaints. And then the moment would arrive when a volunteer was needed from the audience. It was at this point that the skeptic  would suddenly buy into the act. It was always he that would jump the furthest from his chair with his arm straight out, screaming loudly. And he would always be chosen. You could see the look of disappointment on the other children’s faces as this  kid, like Augustus Gloop with a winning Wonka bar, walked proudly to the stage. It is quite a sad thing to see a group of children’s faces as it dawns upon them that life isn’t always fair. When the volunteer came to the stage, my brother and I would prepare for the next trick. Hidden at the back of the stage behind other props stood something tall and imposing covered by a black cloth.  It would take the two of us to carry it to the front. When it was in place, my brother removed the cloth, revealing a guillotine, its blade glistening in the stage lights. At the same time that the confidence ebbed from our volunteer’s face, the disappointment would lift from the those of  the children in the audience who had wanted to help. My brother would then have our volunteer recite after him:

Tom: I, Eustace Scrubb…

Eustace: I, Eustace Scrubb…

Tom: Do hearby give Rozoff the Magician…

Eustace: (Nervously) Do hearby give Rozoff the Magician…

Tom: Permission to sever my cranium…

Eustace: Permission to, uh…

Tom: Sever my cranium…

Eustace: Sever my cranium…

Tom: From the rest of my anatomy.

Eustace: From the rest of my anatomy.

Tom: Now do you know what you just said?

Eustace: Uh, no.

Tom: You have just given me permission to cut off your head.

(Laughter from the audience. The children would be able to maintain their illusions of justice for a while to come, at least.)

     Then Tom unclasped the head stock and invited the volunteer to place his head in the space provided. The look upon the victim’s face was not unlike that of Louis XVI’s some two centuries ago when faced with the same situation. His face would turn pale as though the body was unwilling to supply blood to something that it would not be attached to for much longer.  But Eustace would summon up the courage to kneel before the instrument of death. Each step was another recognition of his own mortality. Placing his head into the jaws of this beast, hearing the clasps being closed, realizing his head is now locked in securely with no chance for escape. But after all, this is just a trick, something for the amusement of the crowd. Something the magician has done many times before. And yet…

     This was, unfortunately, just the beginning of the torture for our poor volunteer. The key for any magical act is to draw out the anticipation of the audience. With Eustace’s head now firmly locked in place, Tom began his banter with the audience, warnings to the audience members up front that they may get splattered. He would instruct Eustace to reach around with both his hands to grab his ears, “just in case”. Then he would move to the guillotine and grab the chain which held the blade. He began the count: “One, Two, 3 days ago…”, he interrupted the count,  “…I tried this trick and it left the stage a bit of a mess. So I’m going to put some newspaper down to keep the floor clean.” He held up the newspaper with a headline that proclaimed: “Magician has accident, head rolls into crowd”. He then placed it under our volunteer’s gaze. Then to the volunteer he would say: “You may get the impression that the ground is suddenly rushing up to your head. It is just an illusion. On the count of three…one, two, three.” With that, the blade came down, little Eustace said his final prayers, and the trick was over. Still alive, Eustace was freed from the guillotine and given a document that stated he was now an official magician’s helper. He would walk slowly and unsteadily back to his seat, and remain unusually quiet for the remainder of the show.

In writing this, I realize that the whole thing sounds a little cruel, but it really didn’t play out as bad as I portray it. After all, I myself was the initial guinea pig for the trick and I came through it just fine (note: please do not look at pictures from the previous blog).

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Dystopian Fiction

Here is a sample from a book that I hope to get around to publishing before long. I feel I need to do it soon because it is a book that regards a dystopian future and day by day I see it coming true. Just as today Brave New World does not have the same bite it once did, I fear this book will lose some of its impact just because much of what I feared when I thought of it years ago has come to pass. Basically, it contains all of the things I feared through the years regarding the future. I was thinking of calling it Homo Ex Machina (Man From The Machine), a play on the famous Latin phrase Deus Ex Machina (God From The Machine), but I'm not sure if my Latin is correct. And hopefully the word "Homo" in the title won't bring forth the negative connotations that it did when I was in Junior High:

Night had fallen on the first truly warm day of spring. Mim’s body and mind were in tune with the weather, experiencing as primitive man once had the change of the seasons.  The electronic distractions that normally filled his leisure time held no interest for him tonight, so in touch was he with the world’s resurgence. The breeze that whispered to the plants to come to life again awoke something in him as well. He was content to watch the world outside his window and experience his connectedness to it.

He went to bed early simply because the conditions were so perfect for it. He had had a tiring day and the thought of the comfort of his bed appealed to him. It was a clear sky and he would be able to stare out his bedroom window at the world within his view. From his bedroom he could see the fence and the wilderness that lay beyond. The soft breeze was refreshingly cool after the unexpected heat of the day. All conditions were right for relaxation and sleep.

Yet when he slipped beneath the sheets, he noticed that the subtle discomfort he had been feeling had not vanished as he hoped it would. It had been with him all that day, though his conscious  mind had fought to keep it from surfacing. It flitted subtly at the edges of his awareness, yet it was driven back as if by some sub-conscious censor. “How odd this uneasiness is”, he thought to himself, for he was an honest man who had nothing to fear. So he set his mind to pursue this thing that was lurking around and behind his thoughts. He tried to focus his thoughts on this thing but his thoughts  just seemed to obscure it more. So he tried to tried to relax all thought in order that this thing might appear from the crowd. But when his thoughts quieted, this thing began to rise from his subconscious and a great wave of fear overcame him, and for a time he backed off. He was curious as to what remembrance could be so frightful to him that his consciousness would prefer it hidden. Some part of him cautioned him to just leave it alone, that it was best not to know.  He now wished he had stayed up later, watched more TV. He wanted this feeling to leave him, wanted to tear it from his mind. But he knew that it lived somewhere in his psyche and would never leave on its own. He would either have to face it or lock it away in one of the many dark rooms where he never went.

He did not wish to face any challenge like this at such a late hour. Night was a time to put away one’s worries, to rest from action in order to regain one’s strength for the following day’s problems. But there was some idea or memory that would not give him peace. He did not like the idea that there was some aspect of his life that he was not coping with, some disease within him that fed and grew stronger while he ignored it. And so he concentrated his attention on this discomfort, seeking to convert emotion into thought. He followed the strands of this sensation, hoping to link to it with his reasoning mind. Again a wave of fear shot through his mind, seeking to disrupt the process. Vague memories began to appear into his thoughts, things he could not make any sense of.  The only thing he could understand was the fear that accompanied these images of the past, so vague in form yet vivid in impact. The fear increased as the remembrances came to him, until at length fear overwhelmed him and he again ceased his efforts. He fled the thoughts, preferring to keep them buried than having to deal with them. So strong was the fear that his instinct for self-preservation decided that running away was preferable to confrontation. He would live with the feeling of unease. Perhaps with time it would subside.

But the fear did not subside, it grew until it raged within him with a voice so strong it was all that he could hear, all he could feel. It sucked whatever perceptions he had in the dark night from his eyes so that all was darkness around him. The connection had been made and the door to this dark closet burst open. Memories like flotsam on a wave of fear rushed over him as he curled up in his bed. He remembered now, remembered the first time he had felt like this, remembered the first embrace of madness. He remembered his meager attempts to cope with the outside world, trying to behave normally  as the flames of madness consumed him from the inside. He remembered his collapse, remembered them taking him away to a place where his worst fears were realized. He had been mad, out of touch with reality, dangerous to himself and others. With treatment and drugs he was in time cured, sent home to live a normal life. But it was happening again. With the return of the memories came the return of the madness. The fear that strove to redirect his thoughts had now gained control of him. The voices in his head had been reawakened, whispering lunacy to him. They slithered on his skin like snakes or unwelcome lovers. The animal in him strove to run away--anywhere--out into the night. But he knew there was nowhere to run; the thing that he feared was within him, and he would not escape it.

Their was no ebb to this tidal swell of madness. No current of thought could enter his head that could withstand the wave of fear that constantly crashed upon him. that was not instantly swept away. There was no interruption,  no brief reprieve that could give shelter to hope or change. Time itself seemed to cede its dominion over the world to this fear of madness, this madness brought upon by fear. For in Mim’s mind the two were separate yet one. Only a distorted mind can grasp such contradictions. He did not know if madness brought about this unreasoning fear or if terror drove him to madness. In his mind, it was a single entity with two faces. Madness brings its own unique clarity.

Morning’s first light brought some dim hope, if not relief. It symbolized change, for what it was worth. It marked the passing of time, demonstrating his ability to survive. Night had seemed endless. His body and soul had become a dwelling place for vermin that craved intimacy. His night was spent swatting at bugs that could not be squashed.  How many sunrises had Mim lived through without notice? But this dawn was eternal, its experiences surpassing all the memories of his life. His previous life was some distant memory with no colors or lasting impressions. His madness was all, excluded the outside world. Everything on the outside him was veiled by a wall of insanity, jealously guarding him from any influence but its own.

As morning advanced, some instinct towards motion stirred in him; humans seem to have within them some force that propels them onwards even when conscious thought cannot. While escape was impossible, movement might give some sense of normalcy, some illusion of flight. He arose slowly from his bed without any real idea of what he was doing or where he would go. Habit led him to the bathroom where he prepared himself as he normally did. In the shower, he scrubbed at his skin in the vain hope that his cleansing ritual might reach deeper into him. It did not touch his inner stain, but he clung to the thought of routine as a way to achieve normalcy. If he performed everything as he always did, habit may get him through the day. He needed to get through the day…which would be proceeded by night. He couldn’t afford to think of that right now. He could not afford to think that this unending day would lead to another unending night followed by…He just needed to concentrate on now, needed to act and survive. When we are on survival’s edge, there is no thought to waste on tomorrow. He performed his morning rituals as though he were donning a disguise or plastering over some gaping ugliness. He was concealing his inner disintegration the only way he knew how. He needed to throw whatever exterior signs of normalcy onto the barricade that separated his madness from the outside world.

For the first time in his life he felt his complete aloneness. He realized now that he had always been alone, but he had never felt the compulsion to actively separate himself from the world. He had never known intimacy, but he had always felt at home in his surroundings. He always dealt with people in a friendly way, even while maintaining a slightly lofty air. In the past he felt that, in his social interactions, he was freely giving of the riches of his personality. There was no barrier between him and others save the fact that he was made different and slightly better than they were. Now he had no feeling of superiority; he was a malfunctioning unit in a well-running machine. He could not let his defect be known. His first repair had been extensive enough. On a lesser worker, they may have taken a write-off and simply brought in a replacement. Fortunately he had been a valuable enough commodity to warrant the expenditure. But a second break-down might demonstrate that he was not cost-effective.  They would take his chip and that would be it.

He looked through the kitchen cupboards for some kind of breakfast food. Normalcy. He had no taste for food but he knew that he ate breakfast every morning. He chose some bread-like substance and began to chew on it, letting his jaw muscles perform the task they had been doing his whole life. He found swallowing uncomfortable, but forced the food down. Chewing from habit and swallowing with effort, he ate a portion close enough to what he ordinarily would eat to satisfy him. He still did not know what he would do with himself, but thought it best to go outside. He needed to get away from himself even if it meant exposing himself to the outside world. He would simply walk and see where that would take him. He opened up the door to his house to find a piece of paper on his porch that said “Jesus saves”. He unfolded the paper to find the full message: “Jesus Saves at Consummart”. Below that there was advertising  for the local food store with an image of a happy Jesus pushing a shopping cart full of groceries. “Very well“, he thought to himself, “I’ll buy some groceries”. Even though he had no thought for food. Normalcy. Act like a normal person would act. Act like you would act if the voices in your head weren’t drowning out reality.

He pushed himself outside the door and in a moment found his body locked into a stride as he walked down the street. It was still quite early, and as it was a Sunday, there were no Cargill about. They would all still be resting from their night at the tavern, regretting their free time and the pain it had caused them. By Monday morning, they would be ready for the drudgery of work again.

Not that he worried about Cargills anyway. He would have to malfunction very badly indeed to have one of them notice anything. He was more concerned with the monitors, and others like him. They would know how a well functioning Mim would behave. He passed by a few people on the street. Anxiety spiked in him until they passed from his sight. He threw back furtive glances to see if thy were looking at him. He carried his madness around with him like some hideous physical deformity that for some reason the world did not yet notice. So far, his barrier was maintaining.

Dread approached him as Consummart came into view. Walking through nearly empty streets had been a severe test of his stamina, now he would have to walk under the monitors, perhaps interact with people. As he approached the automated doors, he sensed the voices within him getting louder, multiplying. The door slid open in front of him and was about to close again before he summoned up the will to walk in. There were people inside, and although they did not notice him, he had no idea what he would do if they did. He conquered his urge to flee, knowing that that was the sort of behavior that would call attention to himself. Normalcy. He walked aimlessly, thinking he should grab some items but not knowing what he wanted. It seemed that all of the merchandise was screaming at him, extolling their virtues, or trying to tempt him with their charms. A box of snack cakes seemed to know his secret, telling him that he was a fraud and a defect. He rushed past the aisle; too fast, he noted to himself. He was losing control now, everything happening too fast. Habit was giving way to instinct, routine giving way to self-preservation. He found himself within the produce section and the call of  exotic birds thronged inside his head. He heard a rippling stream and voices that spoke of wilderness. He heard drumming and primitive chants and, before he knew that it had happened, he found that he had fallen to the floor. And all the while the noises and voices grew louder and more manifold. He lay on the floor , covering his ears and shouting “No, no.” He could hear the monitors turning to observe him. There was no normalcy now, no barrier. There was no self-preservation, only fear, panic, dread. They would come for him now.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


I like to think I was wise by the age of five. Perhaps not, but I had already perceived something about the world that even today helps form my personal philosophy of life. I was born in 1966, so by the time I was five the United States was near the peak of its interest in the ecology movement. There was a sense that the way we were living was taking us in a dangerous direction and that we’d better do something about it if we didn’t want to be living in a world transformed by industrial waste. There was a sense, unlike in the 50’s, that technology was not an unqualified good, that science could just as well lead us to our doom as it could to our salvation. And somehow, even at that young age, I could detect the difference between natural and unnatural, and it felt to me the difference between God’s will and sacrilege. It was not an ideology but a feeling, as though the difference between what was healthy and what was not was obvious. What I could not understand was why the world was so willing to embrace that which was so wrong.

I remember seeing an advertisement on the back of a magazine that scared me even though I didn’t know what it meant. It was a picture of a man hooked up to a variety of machines. I asked my older brother what it was, and he told me it was about euthanasia. He said the person was being kept alive by all the machines attached to him and that some people thought that people like that should be allowed to die. I remember my brother asking if it were my dad if I would want him to be kept alive in that way. It was a horrible thought, my dad being in such a state. It was more horrible still, imagining that it was my decision to keep him alive or allow him to die. But I remembered I came to the decision quickly: if my dad were ever in such a position, I would allow him to die naturally than force him to live a mockery of an existence. Many years later, my dad approached me about his living will and asked me if I felt comfortable signing the form. After many years with that image in my mind, I knew that I could do what would be asked of me. I loved my father, but not to the degree of keeping him alive at any cost. To allow him to die was the right thing to do, I believe that now as I did at the age of five, when I was really too young to be contemplating the idea at all.

Perhaps the idea was already in my head because I watched more than my share of horror movies. Horror movies were always good at pointing out the dangers of going contrary to the laws of nature and God. My favorite was Frankenstein, and I knew that there were boundaries not meant to be crossed. Men attempting to create life, to play God, inevitably ended up creating monsters. While I sympathized with the monster, even the creator, I knew there was an inherent wrongness in such attempts. I loved the idea of scientific progress and dreamed of being an astronaut and exploring other worlds, but you just weren’t supposed to go tampering with human beings.

The idea of tampering with man’s nature has been the subject of many a Kinks song, and the first one that came to my awareness was Apeman. Admittedly, I was only four when my brother came home with the 45, so the reason I liked it was that it mentioned both Tarzan and King Kong. But at some level I connected with it. Somehow I knew we were children of nature and that it was not a good idea to start thinking otherwise. I’ve seen so many people adapt to whatever environment they were in, so willing to abandon the essential truth of what they are. Many years later I heard another Kinks song, Artificial Man, and it really brought home to me ideas that had been implanted in my head so many years ago by Ape Man as well as other influences:

Tell the world we finally did it.
Modified the population,
Put your senses and your mind
Under constant observation
Even when you're dreaming.
Replaced your nose, heart and lungs,
So shake me with your artificial hand.
We went and built a master race
To live within our artificial world.


But as bad as it was to modify humans, somehow it seemed the greater sacrilege to change nature itself. If man wished to alter himself—even if it was wrong—he was the victim of his own actions. But it seemed to me then as it does today that mankind is always trying to create some cheap copy of the real thing in order to sell it to the masses. We pollute lakes by building massive parking lots for water parks. I was still young, no more than eight or nine, when I had a dream I was at my favorite beach, a gorgeous stretch of lakeshore along Lake Huron, in the town of my mother’s birth. We were beginning to wade out into the deeper waters, the waves gradually getting us used to the cold water to come. When suddenly it occurred to me as I looked out towards where the great lake reached the sky along the horizon that they had done something to this spot that was so sacred a place to me. The water stretched out beyond me for perhaps another 40 feet, but at the end of it was merely a scene painted on a brick wall to simulate the sky and water that should have been there. They had converted this place of natural beauty into an indoor water park so that they would not have to take care of the lake that was beyond it. They had turned it into something fake and unnatural because that is what they tend to do. They could charge people for access while at the same time hide from the public the damage that they were doing to the larger world. I’m sure I could find song lyrics from the era to describe how that dream made me feel, also. Something like: “tear down paradise, put up a parking lot”.

I grew up in a time where it seemed the problems that mankind was causing through technology were beginning to be addressed. It seemed that people were beginning to look beyond the small worlds they lived in and see the repercussions to the larger environment that their actions caused. Man had lost his connection to nature, and the results could be catastrophic.

But unfortunately, it seemed that not much followed upon the initial awakening that occurred in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Some laws were passed, and some things changed, but then society seemed to turn its attention to other interests. People’s awareness shrunk away from the broader implications of their actions, focused more on the near at hand and the immediate present. We are increasingly becoming lost in little worlds of our own, unaware of our relatedness to the entire earth we inhabit. But we can only stay safe within our little bubbles for so long before the consequences of our actions come smashing through. We look away from the big picture, but it is only a matter of time before our own backyards are affected by ripples that our lifestyles produce. It’s sad to think that adults can hide from truths that are so obvious that even a child can see them. I guess it takes a child’s eyes to see the obvious, and an adult’s mind to be able to train oneself to not see what is so very natural.

Happy Earth Day, everybody.