Archive for June, 2005
Nick Carter (I’m told he’s a singer of some kind) is the latest kid to get sent to rehab. I was surprised, until I checked out titles from the tracklist on his 2002 solo album.
1. Help Me
2. My Confession
7. Is It Saturday Yet?
8. Blow Your Mind
12. Who Needs the World
13. I Love Drugs
17. Please Put Me In Rehab
22. I Wish Backstreet Boys Had Never Broken Up, Otherwise I Wouldn’t Have Had To Turn To The Needle
Here’s the thing: I’m a copyright infringer. You know those people you hear about on the news who illegally download music and movies? I’m one of them.
The other day I wanted to see John Waters’ latest movie, A Dirty Shame. Well, actually I didn’t want to see it at all. I’m not really a fan of Waters’ stuff (much too vulgar for my innocent tastes), and I hadn’t heard great things about the movie at all. But I did kind of want to check it out, see what he did in there that was so crazy, see if it was really satire, or just vulgarity, or, more likely, a little from column A, a little from column B. But I definitely didn’t want to buy the DVD, upwards of $20 for a movie I didn’t really want to watch once, much less over and over. And I didn’t want to spend $10 (and two hours of my time) in the theater. And I didn’t want to rent it, because frankly I’ve got better things I want to rent.
So I went to a bittorrent website. I found the torrent for the movie (this is not a how-to article, so I’m not going to go into how), and I downloaded it.
A COPYRIGHTED WORK! THAT I DIDN’T PAY FOR! SITTING, WATCHABLE, UNPROTECTED, ON MY COMPUTER!
(I’d like to think John Waters, wherever he was at the second my download finished, felt a little, momentary stab right in his back at the lost royalties. He being John Waters, I think he would probably have liked that too.)
I didn’t watch much more than twenty minutes of the thing. It was what I expected. It stayed on my computer for maybe twenty minutes at the most. But I never paid a cent to see any of it, and, to me, that’s exactly what it was worth.
I downloaded the new Nine Inch Nails before I bought it. I downloaded Snow Patrol, and then decided not to buy it. I downloaded the new Ben Folds, and liked it so much that I encouraged maybe twenty people at the music store where I work to buy it.
I downloaded X-Men 2 in DVD form, and even burned that. I watched X-Men 2 last night off of a DVD I’ve never paid for. And a few years ago, I transferred a few episodes of a little show called Cowboy Bebop from my friend’s computer onto mine. He said it was good, I checked it out. Now, on my DVD shelf, I own the Cowboy Bebop movie DVD, which I paid the full 24.99 MSRP for. I never would have spent that money if I’d never seen the pirated version of the TV show that I saw.
See how I consume media? I’m willing to pay for what I like. I have plenty of DVDs (a shelf full of TV boxed sets), two game systems, lots of PC games. But I’m not willing to pay for what I’m not interested in. And before I pay over $20 for a DVD or a game or a boxed set, I want to know what I am and am not interested in.
Fortunately for me, a copyright infringer, things will always be this way. P2P is out of the bag. There will never be a time in the future at which point I cannot download what I want. There will never be a time when I can’t listen to a new album without paying for it, or download a movie that’s still in theaters. The P2P community has already proven that when one network shuts down, another arises in its place. When people get found out and sued, the network will go anonymous. When one bittorrent site gets shut down (as a few famously did earlier this year), three more pop up in its place. I will always be able to download practically whatever I want.
The question, then, is whether or not it is legal. At this point, because of the antique copyright law in place, it isn’t. At some point in the future, it will be.
That point, however, isn’t today. Because today’s Grokster decision isn’t about the P2P network users. It’s not about me, the infringer, at all. It’s about the people who make the things I use to download all this music and all these movies. And what the Supreme Court told these people, these ingenious people who brilliantly came up with new technology for the world to use, is to watch your backs.
Watch your backs, Grokster and Bittorrent, they said. Watch your backs, Apple. Careful, Microsoft. Don’t even think about it, content delivery innovators. We have our eye on you.
Here’s the legalese: “One who distributes a device with the object of promoting its use to infringe copyright, as shown by clear expression or other affirmative steps taken to foster infringement . . . is liable for the resulting acts of infringement by third parties.” If you make a product, and then promote that it can infringe copyright, we get to sue your ass back to the stone age.
How did the honorable SCOTUS come to this decision. I’m Grokster. Here, have my program. See all those movies out there? You can use that program I just gave you to get them. Illegally. Have at it. Enjoy. Please use my program to download movies you don’t own.
Not so fast, SCOTUS says. You, Grokster, just told those people to download movies illegal. Not cool, and now you’re in big trouble. That’s why SCOTUS did what they did. Grokster, who set up a business model that involved making money off of stealing the work of others, is (most likely– unless they can prove that they didn’t) in deep trouble, starting today.
But here’s the other side of the SCOTUS decision. Let’s say I am Mike Schramm. Let’s say I’m a genius (I know, not hard to imagine). Let’s say I create this amazing program that lets you store MP3s DIRECTLY IN YOUR BRAIN. How cool, right? You use a few of the million or so terabytes of memory in your brain to store mp3s, and my little device, which you can just put over your ear like a headset, lets you listen to the mp3s stored in your brain. I’m Mike Schramm. Use my brain device to listen to your MP3s!
Not so fast, SCOTUS says. You, Mike Schramm, just told these people to copy music from their CDs into their brain. How do we know they paid for this music? Since they’re MP3s, in all likelihood, they didn’t. You encouraged them to use your brain device for copyright infringement. And now you have to clean out the bathrooms of the MPAA building with a toothbruth.
OK, well, SCOTUS probably wouldn’t say exactly that. But maybe my sponsors, who gave me money to make the brain device in the first place, would be a little afraid that SCOTUS might say that, and they might not give me money. Or maybe, knowing I might someday have to clean the MPAA’s bathrooms (shudder), I might never try inventing the brain device in the first place.
That’s who today’s decision really affects. Inventors, innovators, people who are constantly coming up with new ways to use technology to do the things we all love to do: watch movies, listen to music, play videogames. Careful, NCSoft. Your videogame, City of Heroes, lets people be their favorite superheroes, most of whom are copyrighted. Time to get the toothbrushes out and clean up Marvel’s bathrooms. Sorry, Apple, you let people put music they didn’t buy from iTunes on their iPod. Start scrubbing.
Meanwhile, I, the copyright infringer, can still download all the music and movies I want. I have the whole first season of Lost on DVD already– I’ve been downloading it and burning it as the season goes along. I even have extras– a Jimmy Kimmel special I downloaded, and a commercial for the season finale. Right now I’m listening to RJD2’s second album, which I downloaded a few weeks ago. I like it so much I might even download more of his stuff.
After all, I’m a copyright infringer. That’s what I can do. Today, of course, it’s illegal. But, someday in the future, whenever SCOTUS finally decides to make the decision about me instead of the people who create the technologies I use, it won’t be.
So I was shuffling through my old file cabinet looking for the manual for my motherboard (I think I may have RAM problems), when I uncovered a treasure the likes of which are rarely seen in this day and time:
THE ORIGINAL NINTENDO POWER DRAGON WARRIOR STRATEGY GUIDE!
That’s right, for the past fifteen odd years, this quality parchment has been sitting not three feet from me. You’ll have to trust me when I say that it’s awesome. Maybe eventually, I’ll use my roommate’s scanner to get the whole thing online so you can experience it for yourself, but here’s a taste of the kind of great strategy, reprinted for posterity word for word from the guide, that made me the power player I am today:
Dragon Warrior is primarily a game of mental skills, pitting you against a set of problems. The solutions are such important elements of the game that we cannot give them to you. What we can do, however, is offer a strategy that works.
1. Where are the keys?
Look to the city of Rimuldar to solve this one. You should be at or about Level 10 before venturing into the dangerous southeastern lands through Swamp Cave. If you pass through the cave, search further south for the town. Once you reach the town, the real test of your searching skills will begin.
2. How do I keep from failing when I talk to the Wizard south of Rimuldar?
To speak with this wise man you must first prove your true identity.
3. Where are the three items mentioned on the tablet?
The items are hidden well underground.
4. Where is the Silver Harp?
The ancient instrument can be found buried underground.
5. Where is Princess Gwaelin?
She is held captive somewhere east of Garinham.
6. Where is Erdrick’s Armor?
Look in a legendary town far to the south.
These questions and many more will occur to you as you learn new facts from the village people. Their hints and gossip are meant to stir your curiosity. This fact is that if these types of questions don’t occur to you, you will not get very far in the game. So don’t get worried if you find yourself wondering where an item is hidden. Instead, start looking. Use your imagination. Be patient. Explore everywhere. And don’t give up!
Sorry about the lackluster post yesterday. I was trying to think of something that didn’t involve making fun of Tom Cruise AGAIN, and that’s all I came up with.
I forgot to mention this the other day, but I wrote this piece, and it showed up in Newcity on Wednesday.
Have a good weekend!
SALES ASSOCIATE: Boy, we sure sold a lot of whatever we sell today, didn’t we?
MANAGER: We sure did. You were awesome, with the “please buy this” and “that’ll be five million dollars!” Great stuff!
SALES ASSOCIATE: Thanks, but of course it was because of the great management! HA!
MANAGER: HA! Ok, well, we’re closed then. Let’s, uh, count the change or whatever. Can you grab a broom or something? Someone spilled something all over the floor. Oh, wait this is Hermes– it’s probably money! HA!
SALES ASSOCIATE: HA! Wait, I don’t get it.
MANAGER: Neither do I.
[Noise from offstage]
MANAGER: Did you hear that?
SALES ASSOCIATE: Hear what?
[Noise from offstage, banging on door and yelling]
MANAGER: There it is again. Someone’s banging on the door.
SALES ASSOCIATE: I didn’t hear– oh, wait, yeah. I just heard it. What do you think that is?
MANAGER: I don’t know. Did you turn off the neon OPEN sign?
SALES ASSOCIATE: (nods)
MANAGER: Did you flip up the “closed” sign?
SALES ASSOCIATE: (nods)
MANAGER: Did you put out the “We’ll reopen tomorrow” sign?
SALES ASSOCIATE: I did.
MANAGER: Hmmmm. Wonder what it is then. Go see. I’ll count the money, or whatever.
[SALES ASSOCIATE goes out front to see what the noise is]
MANAGER: 1, 2, 3… Did you see what it was?
SALES ASSOCIATE: It’s just some crazy lady. She wasn’t speaking French, which is what we speak, because we’re in France. I’m not sure what she was saying, but she’s banging on the door.
MANAGER: Weird. We’re closed and stuff, though.
SALES ASSOCIATE: She did say something about buying a watch. And Tina Turner.
MANAGER: Tina Turner? Why would anybody buy anything for Tina Turner? She’s obviously crazy.
SALES ASSOCIATE: So, you want me to let her in or what now?
MANAGER: Look, we’re closed, she’s a loon, I say no. Let’s put all this money away, sneak out the back door, and have a baguette? Oui?
SALES ASSOCIATE: Oui. But what if she’s a huge TV star in America and threatens to complain on her TV show about us not letting her in after we’re closed?
MANAGER: A TV star? Only an American TV star would complain about not getting preferential treatment in France. We’ll make something up about an event or something. Put that broom away, and let’s scram.
As I was saying…
Oh, what? Wait? You weren’t here?
I’m sorry, I’ll start over.
Oh, you were talking to him. Excuse me. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize.
I’ll just– what? No, that’s fine. Sorry again.
I think I’ll just go over there. I’ll just go and have a sit over there, then.
Sure. Of course.
All right then, here I go.
Didn’t mean to intrude. Goodbye.
I’m at home, and I suddenly realize that the party is starting at that new club across town. I have fifteen, maybe twenty minutes to get there, but for some reason, I’m not worried at all. In fact, I let a few minutes pass, and have a beer, maybe make a sandwich.
At five minutes till, I serenely lope down the stairs to the alley out back, where my new motorcycle awaits. I hop on, turn the key, and rev out into the boulevard, people staring at me and holding their ears the whole way. I weave in and out of traffic, fly through cars and intersections. I make a 90 degree turn, and expertly bend my knee towards the road, taking a second to wink at an awestruck kid watching me.
I make it to the club two minutes after the party starts, fashionably late. I hop off the bike and toss the keys to the valet, who’s drooling with the anticipation of parking it. I only have to pay $3 instead of the $6 for fullsize cars.
After the party, I take this hot girl I’ve met, Mona, outside the club to say goodnight. I’ve let slip that I used to own an SUV, and she’s looking at me kind of funny. I’m worried that the night might be over. She starts to say something about waking up in the morning.
And then we get to my bike.
All of a sudden she has to tell her friends something, but asks me to wait for her. I do, and she comes back a few minutes later and says her friends have left her by herself, and do I have anywhere for her to go.
I say sure, babe, we hop on the bike, and go back to my apartment, all the while doing the whole weaving through the streets thing again. And all on a wheelie.
Two weeks later, my hot girlfriend Mona and I are on our way up to Wisconsin to buy cheese and get it on in new places, and we have to stop for gas. I pull into the station, and she heads inside to get sodas and road food.
I pull the lever, fill up the tank for the trip. The gas clicks when it’s finished, and the readout says I only have to pay $11.00 for a full tank.
Cory Doctorow has released his third book, Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town. I haven’t seen it yet, but I’m picking it up as soon as we get it at work, and you probably should too.
And it’s very cool that, like all of his other work, he’s released it under a Creative Commons License. This means that while you can buy it in bookstores, you can also download it for free at his website in a variety of formats, and you can publish, perform, or otherwise distribute the thing in any noncommercial way you deem fit. This is great, because not only is this the way writers should be presenting their work, it’s the way they will present it in the future once we get this whole copyright mess straightened out.
And so, to celebrate the release of the book, I decided to use it in my own way– I pulled the first 500 words from his website, and remixed them into the 183 word story you see below. I didn’t use all of the words, obviously, but every word in my story should appear in his. I did maybe add an “an” or a “the” in there, and I did repeat a few, and I did change the forms of some of them, but every single noun, verb, and adverb in the piece is from the first 500 words of SCTT, SLT.
I actually wrote it yesterday, and almost posted it then, but then I discovered it wasn’t quite legal. The license that covers SCTT, SLT is an attribution, noncommercial, nonderivative license, which means that you can use it noncommercially as long as you attribute the author, but you can’t legally make derivative works, including remixes. You can publish the book in its original form, but you can’t, by the CC license, change the book’s form. So I emailed Cory to see if this was true, if I couldn’t remix his book under his license.
g’head and post your fiction — it’s outside the scope of the license, but you have my permission! (btw, it sounds like the use you’re making is a fair use, which doesn’t require a license at all!)
So now I can post it no matter what, because I have the author’s permission. He suggests that I might be able to publish it under normal copyright “fair use” law– so I did a little research into that as well. He’s right, basically. I could probably prove in a court that I had transformed the original work enough, that by only taking 500 words that I wasn’t stealing a substantial portion of the work, and that I wasn’t impeding on the book’s market because it’s already been released, and I was offering my story for free and with attribution. In short, I wasted his time, but good form for responding to me.
At any rate, enjoy the little story, and then go buy Cory’s book.
Wales Avenue was precious, ramified by hand-holding and steel. On January 1, Yorkville was glinting with the poetry of international currency, but Wales Avenue was ancient and sweet, packed with protégés, cellars, chemical stripper, and wooden bookcases.
Tony loved to break on Wales Avenue, away from his employees and bankers and fluorescent tube lighting. Like tin-toys, they ran and tortured and aimed financial metals and markets, but Tony escaped, loved the way he could deliver himself to this impromptu Annex. He could sit like a novitiate, listen to the poor gnomish lady who tended roots wax erotic about her heaviest flea and the repair of her disused coal cellar. Her lectures, rusting and twirling, spoke of purity, a damp smell of the smoking universal.
It was a rhapsodic thing, his surreptitious transaction on Wales Avenue. All about town, Tony paid wooden attention to news of sales, estates, auctions, of realtor principles and collectible e-gold transfers. But in truth, it was in the house on Wales Avenue that he benefited, that the value of beat-up nature, of warmed fingers and embroidered wool, was communicated to him.
Time once again to round up search terms!
“mike schramm” (funny to me, for obvious reasons)
“chicago violation 0976160a”
“friends every girl should have”
“battlefield 2 sucks”
“ha ha hole”
“carpet salesman or flooring salesman”
“battlefield 2 sucks”
Finally, a strong showing from last time…
“lindsay lohan in stockings”
8. Les Savy Fav
Band: 1, 3, 5, 6, 8
WoW Name: 2 (Tauren Druid), 4 (Night Elf Hunter), 7 (Undead Warrior), 9 (Gnome Mage), 10 (Undead Warlock)
I liked the thing I wrote yesterday so much that I almost didn’t write something new today. But then I realized something at work today.
It occurs to me that our lives and society– our very being, I daresay– would be very, very different if we were all born with the stretchy superpowers of Mr. Fantastic.
In early summer of 2005, a group of resolute marines attempted a takeover of the Gulf of Oman. Fighting for their lives against an ardent enemy, a tough Middle East atmosphere, and low pings, they tried like hell to steal the other side’s tickets and ownz0r those lamers. This… is their story.
Corporal skinink, 3rd Battalion of the U.S. Marines: We had trouble from the beginning. The carrier had pulled within range, but our first goal was to make it to the mainland, where our checkpoints awaited. It took me a while to find a way off the boat– I fell off the deck and had to respawn a few times. Eventually, I found my way into a boat, and made my way across. But some of us weren’t so lucky.
Private Killer0438, U.S. Marines: We all tried to jump into the helicopters right away, but there were only a few of us that actually knew how to fly them. The first few just sort of ground across the deck of the carrier, and a couple slammed into the jets sitting out, blowing everything up, and killing quite a few of us. We respawned, and finally Fiendman got into one. He’s the only one of us who had bought Battlefield Vietnam, and so he knew how to fly one. We all loaded in, and Fiendman flew us across the ocean to the mainland.
Pilot Fiendman, U.S. Marines: I pwn in a chopper. This one was a little different, because Battlefield 2 is based on modern warfare, but I could still fly it, just like Vietnam. A couple of the idiots didn’t wait until I landed to get out of the chopper, though.
Private as;dlkfjs, U.S. Marines: I tried to type in “How do I use the parachute?” but didn’t get it out in time after I accidentally pressed “e” to leave the chopper. Later, they told me it was “9″. That’s so gay.
Meanwhile, on the other side, the native forces of the MEC were setting up their defense. They were controlled by the MaxX Clan, all of whom were ranked on Counterstrike, and all of whom had been playing Battlefield 2 since the demo was released a few days ago.
Captain [MaxX]smythe, MEC Forces: I jumped into a jet right away, and flew over to check out how the other side were doing. They were all noobs, it was hilarious. I lobbed a few missles at them while they were still standing on the deck of the carrier, and blew a few of them off into the water.
Corporal [MaxX]juniper, MEC Forces: I applied for and recieved Commander rank right away, but spent the first few minutes watching the l4m3rs screw up all over the place. One of them even jumped out of the chopper ahead of time. LoLz0R!!11
Back on the Marines’ side, things weren’t going much better.
Private Onyxxor, U.S. Marines: I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be a scout or a medic, so at first I chose medic. It went well– I threw out some first aid kits at our base, but nobody was using them. I guess they were all healed when they spawned or whatever. Then, I finally saw this guy die in front of me, so I rushed out to help him, but I got killed too. Screw that, I thought. I switched over to anti-tank, and fired off a couple of rockets at a dude running around, but he was moving so fast that the rockets missed him every time. I typed a few curses at him in the chat channel, and switched to my pistol, but by then he’s seen where I was and killed me. Finally, I decided I should just go ahead and be a standard assault– maybe I should work for my team, and start getting something done right.
Pilot Fiendman, U.S. Marines: That’s pretty much when as;dlkfjs started teamkilling.
Private as;dlkfjs, U.S. Marines: F***ers, why don’t you help me? Take some of these bullets, b1tch3s!!!!11
Private Killer0438, U.S. Marines: as;dlkfjs killed pretty much everyone we had gotten to the mainland. I called “tk!” in the chat channel a few times, but every time we landed, he kept killing members of his own team.
Private as;dlkfjs, U.S. Marines: HAHAAHAHAHAHAHHAHHAHAHA OWNZOR YOU A55HOL3S!! @#)($*#@()$*@#)($*@)
Pilot Fiendman, U.S. Marines: I figured he had to be stopped, somehow, so I decided to ask the administrators of the server, the MaxX clan, if they would kick him for teamkilling us.
Corporal [MaxX]juniper, MEC Forces: It was hilarious. One of their guys, who must have been like 12 or 13 on his parent’s computer, was teamkilling all of them where they stood. They asked if we would ban him from our game, but I couldn’t stop laughing.
Captain [MaxX]smythe, MEC Forces: I would have banned him, I really would have. But I was too busy blowing up their radar station. Boy, did they suck.
And as it happened, on that day in early summer, the U.S. Marines wouldn’t make the foothold they so needed.
Corporal skinink, 3rd Battalion of the U.S. Marines: I tried yelling at my team a few times, but they were such idiots. And as;dlkfjs kept teamkilling everybody. I quit the server.
Corporal [MaxX]juniper, MEC Forces: Pretty soon, we had them all spawning back at their home base, and just camped them until their tickets ran out. Man, it was beautiful. Ugly for them, but beautiful for us. Those noobs will know that they shouldn’t mess with the MaxX clan ever again. LOL!
Pilot Fiendman, U.S. Marines: Our tickets ran out pretty quickly, and we lost big time, something like 300 to 0. I never did get to actually shoot a gun, because I was too busy figuring out the controls or getting killed by as;dlkfjs. Man, Battlefield 2 sucks. I’m not buying that stupid game when it comes out.
Captain [MaxX]smythe, MEC Forces: Battlefield 2 rules. Can’t wait until it releases, and I can warez it! ROXXOR!!
But they will always be remembered in their own time, these brave soldiers who tried to withstand bad control schemes, and teamkilling. For they are.. the heroes of Battlefield 2.
DM: Well here we are. Here we’ve come. To this place. The Jewel place. Isn’t this what you wanted?
NL: It isn’t. Not at all. And you know that.
DM: What? You wanted what?
NL: Dominick’s. I told you. About that. Coupons, and all.
DM: You should have said something. That’s what should have happened.
NL: We’re here now, aren’t we? I’ve had my issues. We’re here. Let’s do what the thing is. Did you bring it?
DM: The thing? You bastard.
NL: Did you bring it?
DM: The list is right here. It’s right here, you hear me? First. First is milk. Over there.
NL: In the back?
DM: That’s where they put it. That’s what they do to you, these men. So called.
NL: So called, indeed.
DM: Always reaching, never grabbing. These men. These men and their milk.
NL: Skim? I like skim. 2% is fine, too. I’ve always liked 2%. That would be what I always liked.
DM: What you want. That’s what we’ll get. I need bananas.
NL: They go bad, you know. The bananas. A day, maybe two. Out on the table, and then you’ve got black ones. Bananas, I mean.
DM: They’re fine. Black on the outside, fine on the inside. That’s what happens. Or then you make bread.
NL: What, banana bread?
NL: What else is on it?
DM: Don’t you know? Didn’t you write it?
NL: The list? You’ve got it. I wrote it, but you’ve got it.
DM: We need bread. White, I think. It’s over here.
NL: White, if you don’t want to grow. If you don’t want your vitamins, your grains. That’s what white is.
DM: I like white. I ate it. As a child. And I still like it. Peanut butter, jelly, white. That’s what it’s for.
NL: You’re not a man. White. Honestly.
DM: Don’t tell me what a man is. A man is… A man is what he wants himself to be. Morality? Love? Grains? Wheat? These are for whoever wants them. Not this man. If you want something, be that thing. I want white.
NL: How can you say that? How can you do that? Wheat is strength, is vitality, is 30 cents off with this coupon I brought. I’ll step over you to get it. You are the bastard. White. Wheat, is the thing. Wheat.
DM: Never mind, then. Both.
NL: The list?
DM: Is complete. Is what it is. Grab some chips?
DM: Agreed. More flavor in them. Did you notice that? Right there on the bag, there’s a note that says that.
NL: I saw.
DM: I guess you did. I’ll go through the line. Give me them. The coupons.
NL: The car. I’ll pull it around. Grab me an US Weekly? Saw Lohan on there.
DM: I will. You bastard.
(part one was posted yesterday)
“That sounds… interesting.”
“Not really. There was that time you went skydiving, that was fun. And there were some neat times in college, and a few times before that. Mostly involving cars. You’d be surprised how much of it involves cars lately,” he said. “Back in the day, it was mostly shooing away diseases and scaring off animals. But now it’s pretty much all cars.” He picked up his glass of water, and toasted me. “And buses.”
“Wow,” I said. I had been skydiving, two years ago. “Well, thanks, I guess.”
“Don’t mention it,” he said. “It’s worth it getting some coffee with you. Where’s that mocha?”
I thought for a few seconds, not at all about the mocha. “Wait, if you’re my guardian angel, why am I just now having coffee with you? Haven’t you been around the whole time?”
“Yeah, about that. He doesn’t really like it.”
I stopped, looked around, and for some reason my voice fell. “He? Like the capital H He?”
“Yeah,” the guy sighed, “we’re not really supposed to get involved at all. We’re supposed to stay hidden. He says it’ll give the whole plan away if you all know all about us. I say, all I want is a little whipped cream from time to time, but we’re not supposed to, you know.”
“Wow,” I said. I didn’t understand. “You’ve been with me the whole time? My whole life, I mean? But you’ve never said anything? And I’ve never seen you?”
“Well, He kind of has a point,” the guy replied, gesturing. “I mean, if everyone knew we were here, people would go crazy doing whatever they want, because they know we’d be here to get them out of it. It would kind of upset the balance of whatever, you know?”
“So you’re around, everywhere?” I asked. “Invisible?” He nodded. “And you’re protecting everyone? From everything?” He nodded again, slower this time. I think maybe he was making fun of me. “But wait,” I said. My cognitive senses were returning. “If you’re always around, what’s with bad things happening? People get hit by buses all the time. Why did you save me?”
“I saved you because I was supposed to. Not everybody’s supposed to be saved. Heartless, I know, but that’s the way He seems sometimes.” I looked confused. He looked around for the waiter. “Think about it this way. If we saved everyone all the time, everyone would know we exist, and then you get back into messing up His plan again. You have to make it look like an accident—reconnect a broken hinge here, unlock a door there. ‘Oh, if I had only left a few minutes earlier,’ you all say, ‘think what would have happened.’ Half the time you don’t even know what didn’t hit you. But sometimes you have to get hit. It’s like a slot machine. If everybody won all the time, the casinos would run out of money, and then nobody would win. A lot of people need to lose before anybody at all can win.” The waiter appeared with the coffee, and the guy continued. “And then, of course, you say, well, who decides who wins and who loses? And the answer is, He does. That’s what He does, that’s pretty much all He does. Fortunately, He’s the only one who really has to live with it. The rest of us just all follow Him. Boy, I loved whipped cream.”
I sipped my coffee and thought. “And then there’s suicides,” he continued, “that crazy lot. Sometimes, no matter how much you want to help people, they just aren’t interested. It’s too bad, really. They’re missing out. On whipped cream, if nothing else.”
“But who are you?” I said. “What’s your name?”
“My name?” He smiled. “It’s not really that important. Do you really want to know?”
“Of course I want to know, man. You saved my life, I’m having coffee with you, you’re my guardian angel. The least you could do is tell me your name.”
“My name,” he said, “is,” and then it was like the world cracked open and gooey chocolate and caramel poured out the side. It was like watching a million sunsets with a million naked women you’re in love with, and it was like the best cheeseburger you’ve ever had was eating you with a side of fresh made fries from In and Out Burger. It was like an action movie scene where the effects are so good you realize that wow, the world doesn’t really work the way you thought it did, that things probably exist that you don’t understand. Everybody in earshot fainted with a set of relaxed sighs, and then the guy finished speaking, and everybody sat up and went back to their meals, like nothing had happened, except that everybody, even the slow, annoyed waiter, was wearing a smile.
“But you can call me Ted,” the guy said.
“This is amazing, Ted!” I said. I was rejuvenated. “Ted! Ted, you’re the man! Thanks for everything! For following me around. And saving my life! Thanks!”
“Shhhh,” said Ted. The waiter was giving me looks, and the smile was starting to get strained. “I told you, it’s no big deal. You’re welcome, I’ve been having a fine time.”
“Ted, no Ted, this is awesome. A guardian angel! Have you met God? What is He like?”
“Sarcastic, mostly,” said Ted. “He laughs a lot. A lot of us don’t really get Him, but we all love Him. You kind of have to, it’s Him.”
“Wow.” I was amazed. This was a real-life angel. Sitting with me in the café. Hell! I should ask him about Hell! “Have you ever been to Hell? What is it like?”
“I’ve never been, none of us are really interested in going,” Ted said, sipping his mocha. “I think Michael tried to go once, long time ago, but He talked him out of it. Probably not a very fun place to be. No whipped cream, I’m sure.”
“Ted, this is great. What happens after we die? What’s the meaning of life? Why are people so mean?”
“I’ve never died, so I’m not sure about that first one. Peter handles most of the incoming, my job is really to make sure he doesn’t get too flooded with them. What’s the meaning of life? A lot of us are wondering about that, too, but I’m sure if you ask Him, He’d tell you something reasonably puzzling. He likes to do that, because He knows that nobody will live long enough down here to figure anything out before they die. He’s a little weird like that, but what do I know—He’s the one who’s always laughing about it.” Ted huffed a laugh. “Why are people so mean? It’s free will, bud. Gets you every time.”
“What’s that mean?” The coffee was waking me up. I think. Things were going back to being a little swimmy.
“He thought it would be so great to give it to you all. ‘Let them choose,’ He said. ‘If we never give them the chance to choose, we’ll never know what they would have picked.’ I’m not sure I would have done the same thing, but it’s not like I’ll have the chance, you know? So you all get to pick. And I have to say that from everything I’ve seen, I’m actually proud of you. I mean, say it was even half and half, if 50% of you chose wrong, think what the world would be like. It’s bad, but I don’t think it’s that bad. I don’t know or anything—only He does, of course, but I don’t think it’s that bad. I guess we’ll find out when He sorts it all out. Shouldn’t be that long, I’d guess. Until then, just gotta keep doing what we’re all doing.” Ted sipped his mocha, and finished his whipped cream.
My head was really swimming now. “Ted,” I said, “This is great. I’m glad you’re here. I thought maybe somebody was with me, and now I know, and we…” I looked around the room. “We can…”
“Sorry, man,” said Ted, who stood up as my head drifted towards the table. “It’s His plan, we’re not supposed to mess it up at all. But it was good to chat with you. Stay good. Look both ways next time.”
“Ted,” I said, “what’s the—why’s the—” And then I passed out.
And then I heard a horn blast my ears out. I turned around and this bus was coming right at me. I froze for a second, looked at the grill that was about to connect with my head, and fell backwards onto the pavement as the bus roared past. I jumped up.
“Asshole!” I shouted. I made a mental note to find a phone number for the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and yell at someone about how I should, at the very least, never have to pay for bus fare again.
So I was walking across the street downtown, and this horn blasted my ears out. I turned to see a bus coming right at me. I froze for a second, looked at the grill that was about to connect with my head, and then some guy stepped off the sidewalk, pushed me forward, and both of us fell out into the street as the bus roared past. He picked me up and half carried me to the other side of the street.
“Did you see that?” he said.
“Man,” I said. I was still a little shocked. I had no idea what had happened. The bus had come out of nowhere.
“That bus came out of nowhere,” he said to me. I wiped my forehead, checked my sleeves and legs– they were swiped with grime from where I hit the ground. I dusted them off. “You should sue,” the guy said.
“Maybe,” I said. “Man,” I repeated. There was a bench nearby, and I went over and had a sit.
“Listen,” the guy said to me, “I don’t have anywhere to be or nothin’. Do you maybe want to get a cup of coffee?”
I looked him over. He wasn’t dressed too bad, white t-shirt and a pair of jeans. He had on a drivers’ cap, and it made a plaid yellow ring around his head. Maybe it’s because I was a little dazed from just having narrowly avoided being hit by a bus, but he seemed okay enough to me. Did I have anywhere to go? I thought there was a class I needed to be at, but things seemed foggy at this precise moment. The guy looked okay, I guess. There was a weird sense about him, though, like he was too good or something. You know those guys in the Abercrombie and Fitch ads that are always hanging out with skinny girls and looking off ponderously into the distance while wearing the latest fashions? Imagine if you saw one of those guys happily serving bums at the soup kitchen. That’s what this guy seemed like.
“Sure, I guess,” I said. “Where at?”
There was a little cafe a few blocks over, La Maison Du Ciel. I’d never been in there– it was a little high class for me, I think. Sure, I spent a fair amount of time in coffeeshops and bookstores, but not cafes where they had more than one fork. This place had three forks, but they were only open for lunch. I probably would have picked someplace else, but like I said, I was dazed.
The guy got us in, though I think the waiter figured he had better things to do before the lunch rush. We got sat at a table against the wall.
“What are you getting?” the guy asked. “I wonder if they still have eggs. I love eggs.”
“I thought we were having coffee, man,” I frowned and rubbed my head. It hurt a little bit. Or maybe it didn’t. I decided it would have hurt a lot more if I’d been hit by the bus, so I decided to be nicer to the guy. “I’m having coffee. You can get whatever you want.”
“It’s no problem,” the guy said. Man, nothing brought him down. The waiter came back over, and I just ordered a coffee. The guy asked if they had espresso, and then ordered a mocha. “With lots of whipped cream,” he told the waiter, whose nose turned up as I watched. “I love whipped cream.”
“So,” I said, as the waiter took our menus away. “What’s your deal, anyway? Why am I here getting coffee with– ” I stopped. I hadn’t really thought about it yet. “– a guy who just saved my life?”
“It’s no big deal,” the guy said, sipping water. “I do it all the time. Not the coffee, the life-saving, I mean. I’m your guardian angel.”
In a clearer state of mind, this is probably the point that I would have realized I was having coffee with a complete stranger. This is probably when I would have realized that I had almost died thanks to the Metropolitan Transit Authority, that instead of sitting in a cafe with a somewhat pretentious atmosphere having coffee with a dude who pushed me out of the way, I should be somewhere yelling angrily into a phone about how I should, at the very least, never have to pay for bus fare again. If I had been in a clearer state of mind, this is what I would have been doing.
I was, however, not in a very clear state of mind. “Oh,” is what I said.
“Wow,” is what I said next.
“Yeah,” the guy said. “Cool, right?”
“Oh,” I said again. My vocabulary had lost a few million words momentarily.
I sipped some water, regained a little portion of my personal dictionary. “You’re my guardian angel,” I told the guy.
“Pretty much,” he said. “I’ve done some fill-in shifts for other angels every once in a while, but mostly it’s been you all along.”
(to be continued)
Great Big Sea
Eddie From Ohio
The Magnetic Fields
The New Pornographers
*Once lied about having heard them to sound cool.
**May in reality be an album, not a band.
Presented at the Los Angeles Community Theatre
Starring Hal Holbrook as Claudius, Linda Reid as Gertrude, David Hasselhoff as Polonius, and Kate Jenkins as Ophelia
AND Tom Cruise AS HAMLET
Act 3, Scene 1
Ophelia, walk you here. Gracious, so please you,
We will bestow ourselves.
Read on this book;
That show of such an exercise may colour
Your loneliness. We are oft to blame in this,–
‘Tis too much proved–that with devotion’s visage
And pious action we do sugar o’er
The devil himself.
[Aside] O, ’tis too true!
How smart a lash that speech doth give my conscience!
The harlot’s cheek, beautied with plastering art,
Is not more ugly to the thing that helps it
Than is my deed to my most painted word:
O heavy burthen!
I hear him coming: let’s withdraw, my lord.
Exeunt KING CLAUDIUS and POLONIUS
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: For it is then that we shall be returned
To live amongst the aliens. And then
That all our troubles will fade away,
And we shall realize true cleanliness and perfection with the Thetans.
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember’d.
Good my lord… Uh….
How does your honour for this many a day?
I humbly thank you; well, well, well.
My lord, I was here to bring rememberances, but
I believe I heard, just then, something about aliens.
Aliens? I can’t imagine what I would have said about that.
My honour’d lord, you know right well you did.
Ha, ha! are you honest? Yes, well, maybe I did. But
It’s just something I believe, you see.
My lord? It’s a little weird.
Are you fair? Oh, no, it’s not weird at all. You’re looking
At it the wrong way. We’ve helped lots of people. Drug dealers!
We’ve helped them. So many of them. It’s a great thing.
Oh, okay then. I guess.
You’re being… You’re being a little ignorant, I think, fair Ophelia.
Well, I just think that it’s pretty strange.
Strange? You don’t get it do you? I have to withstand
All the slings and arrows and all that, and we all need
A center, don’t we? That’s what I’ve found, a center. Through my
I’m sorry, an auditor?
Yes, I go to an auditor. They help me cleanse myself, to help me
Realize greater awareness.
Oh. I see. That still seems kind of–
That way, I can someday become a Thetan.
Ok, now that’s just weird.
No, it’s good. Someday I will become an Operating Thetan, and
I will be a spirit who can control matter, energy, space, time, thought, and life.
To sleep, perchance to control matter!
You’re crazy aren’t you?
Crazy like a fox! You’re just a bigot. Scientology is a religion,
The fastest growing religion in the world! I think through everything
That I’ve been through, that I feel I can sit here and say
I feel good about it. I feel good about the decisions that
I made and I’m happy. You know, I’m really happy.
Indeed, my lord, you made me believe so. Either that or that
You’re an insane cultist, and either way you’re ruining the play. I’m out of here.
You should not have believed me; for virtue cannot
so inoculate our old stock but we shall relish of
it: I loved you not!
O heavenly powers, restore him!
I jig, I amble, and I lisp on Oprah’s show, and you make your wantonness
your ignorance. Go to, I’ll no more on’t; it hath
made me mad. Get thee to a Dianetics Center, go!
Have a good weekend, everybody! I have a three day one, so I’ll be playing lots of Warcraft, of course. I might even take in a movie or something. Here’s your deep thought for this weekend:
As I was going to sleep last night, I realized how freaky sleep is.
Think about it. Technically, I guess scientists would call it an evolutionary adaptation (if you believe in this whole evolutionary thing, which you may not). Microbes and microorganisms are just going all the time, little machines of energy constantly chewing up whatever they chew up and spitting it out in the form of energy and waste. Go go go, until they stop going, and then they’re replaced by something else that does keep going.
But somewhere along the line, some microorganism got it into his head that going into a kind of deep trance when it got dark outside might be beneficial. “Hey,” maybe he (or she) thought, “if I knock myself out half the day, the other half of the day I can really eat and shit like a madman. I can get twice as much done if I sleep for half the day.”
The other microorganisms must have thought he was insane. They probably laughed when they saw him not eating all the time. What’s he doing, they probably asked themselves, in their little microbiotic voices. He’s supposed to be eating. But he showed them the next day when they were only eating at half speed. He won the eating race, all because he got a good night’s sleep.
And now, every night, billions of people around the world go unconscious when it gets dark every night. It seems a little unsafe, actually, turning off your senses at the time when they’re probably most needed, when all the theives and evolutionary predators and monsters come out. But apparently it’s worth it evolutionwise– we work much better and are much more alive during the day because we sleep at night. And we all get to eat twice as fast, just like that little microbe.
That’s what I was thinking about before I fell asleep last night. Have a good weekend.
mikeschramm.com is cc 2004-2006 Mike Schramm.