|Apr/May 2014 Fiction|
Image courtesy of the British Library Photostream
We're all Gods now. Or nearly.
Caveat: we're all Gods, so long as the network doesn't go down.
So I was eating a Pink-Slime-Salad at the Taco Palace for lunch other day, and I tasted something sort of filthy and feathery passing between my lips like a sordid little whisper, only it was going in instead of coming out. I looked at my fork and saw a furry little leg clinging to one of the prongs.
"Oh, holy hell!," I exclaimed. "Is that a spider? Did I just eat a spider?"
"My sensors record that you have just eaten a spider," my Omnisch-o-Tron replied.
"Sweet baby mother of pearl!," I screamed. (But don't worry—I wouldn't want you to think my behavior uncouth. At least half a dozen nearby patrons were screaming at their Omnisch-o-Trons with equal, if not greater, intensity.) Then I thought like a God might. I saw the big picture. It's quite a rush when you can see the big picture.
"Omnisch-o-Tron," I asked, gingerly, "how many spiders have I eaten in my lifetime?"
The Omnisch-o-Tron twirled and calibrated itself. "You have now eaten 34 spiders," it replied.
"Now ain't that a honey...," I muttered, shaking my head. But the Omnisch-o-Tron, acting as an extension of my own mind, knew that I needed to dwell on this worrisome development for my own good.
"Would you like to compare your lifetime spider-eating totals to those of your friends? Your friend Benny T. of Madison, Wisconsin has eaten a record—among your friends—168 spiders. Did you know?—the world record for unintentional spider eating is one thousand and twenty-four. Did you know?—the world record for intentional spider eating is thirteen thousand, four hundred and thirty-seven. Your friend Alan K. of Gary, Indiana has unintentionally eaten only three spiders, a record low among your friends."
"Thank you, Omnisch-o-Tron," I mumbled. I was already beginning to get over it because I'd seen the big picture. I wasn't alone in this.
"Of your immediate relatives, the only one who ever asked his Omnisch-o-Tron about spider-eating was your Great-Uncle Albert J. of Toledo, Ohio. He unintentionally ate a spider at a rest stop while crossing state lines with an underage woman in 2042, which would have been a violation of the Mann Act, had he attempted it between the years of 1910 and 1986. Would you like to know more?"
"No," I said. "I can see it all, now." But the Omnisch-o-Tron sensed that I hadn't reached true closure on the issue. It knew that, subconsciously, I craved further catharsis.
"If you'd like, I have a funny video of a dog chasing a plush toy in the shape of a spider. I also have a short film about a spider who befriends a cat. Ask me about more funny spider videos."
I watched a few of the funny spider videos, and I have to admit that they had me smiling, particularly the one that featured a tarantula playing a miniature piano while sporting a teensy, felt top hat.
"Would you like to recommend this question to all of your friends?"
"Which question?," I asked. "'Did I just eat a spider?' or 'How many spiders have I eaten?'"
"Either." The Omnisch-o-Tron calibrated and revised its answer. "Both."
"Sure, Omnisch-o-Tron," I said. "Share it with everyone." I felt good about that. After all, Godhood is about sharing. It is nobler to share than to not.
Later that night I went home and I prepared myself a dinner of yogurt served with a side of canned fruit.
"This yogurt looks kind of old, Omnisch-o-Tron. Is it safe?" I asked.
"You purchased this yogurt 11 days ago. My sensors record that it is out-of-date, but fit for consumption. I see that you're planning on eating yogurt for dinner. Did you know?—your friend Donald N. of Madison, Wisconsin, ate yogurt for dinner six days ago. Would you like an update every time one of your friends eats yogurt that is out-of-date?"
"No, Omnisch-o-Tron, I don't think that'll be necessary."
"There are eight single women in your housing block who ate yogurt for dinner this evening. There are two single women in your housing block who ate out-of-date yogurt for dinner this evening."
"Thank you, Omnisch-o-Tron. I may ask you for a list of their addresses and telephone numbers later."
I sat down with my dinner and watched a marathon of my favorite television show, Celebrity Bed-Wetters. I'm very highly ranked on that program as a viewer. My Laugh Compatibility Index is high. It's something of a point of pride.
While it's true that I could simply sit down with my Omnisch-o-Tron and request a list of bed-wetting videos, somehow watching the raw footage isn't quite as fulfilling. Seeing it on the television, the way that they edit it, the graphics, the pops and lulls in the music—it's perfect because it lets me know when to laugh. When there's no music, sometimes you laugh at things that aren't funny and forget to laugh at things that are funny. Even in this day and age, you need a little help sometimes.
After a few hours of Celebrity Bed-Wetters, I brushed my teeth, urinated, and went to bed. I was having trouble getting to sleep, and I was sort of staring at a familiar stain on my apartment ceiling, when I was struck with divine inspiration.
"How'd that stain get there?"
"Eleven years, three months, and 26 days ago, a previous tenant—Jared B. of Green Bay, Wisconsin—flung an open-faced peanut butter sandwich at the ceiling, and it stuck. It remained there for two days before it became unstuck. However, by that time, peanut oils had already leached into the pressboard, creating the stain that you see here today."
"Would you like me to contact Jared B. of Green Bay, Wisconsin, so that you may discuss the stain with him, personally?"
"Oh, not right now, Omnisch-o-Tron. I'm trying to sleep. But maybe send me an alert the next time Jared B. eats a peanut butter sandwich; it might be entertaining to speak with him about it then."
"You said 'maybe send me an alert.' Would you like an alert sent or not?"
"Having trouble sleeping? Ask me about funny peanut butter videos."
"Well, okay, maybe I'll watch just one."
"I have a video of a man in a peanut costume bungee-jumping above a pool filled with jelly, and a video of an aged Bloodhound trying—unsuccessfully—to remove the peanut butter from his gums with his tongue. Which would you like to see?"
"What the hell," I said. "I'll watch them both."
A man who lived long, long ago (and who was considered quite intelligent by pre-Omnisch-o-Tron standards) once said that there was no God—in the Biblical sense. God, instead, would be the man who could hold the entirety of the universe and all of its mysteries within his own mind, simultaneously. Now we're all smarter than him, and smarter than any man who has ever lived.
As is the case with many of mankind's great achievements, we stand on the shoulders of extraordinarily thoughtful and generous ancestors. They realized that to share was holy, to share everything was divine. They invented the Omnisch-o-Tron—a device that has been worn for the last 130-odd years by every citizen, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Omnisch-o-Tron records every event, every interaction, every happening, and every non-happening, right on down to the cellular level. It observes more than we do, and it remembers better than we do, and now, decades later, our ancestors' dream of Godhood has come to fruition. Of course, we can't see back to before the Omnisch-o-Tron was invented, but conventional wisdom suggests that there wasn't much of interest happening in those eras anyway. Though I sometimes do wish there were some way to access that information. Eh. I'm sure we have all the most important parts, at any rate.
A skilled truck driver can learn to parallel park a 240-foot long semi-trailer into a tight space with ease. The front wheels, the fuel tanks, the tandem axles, the far corners—they all become extensions of himself. Such is the case with the Omnisch-o-Tron. They're not machines, they're extensions. A supplement to our intellect, like vitamins. After all, we ask the questions, we prompt the flow of information. We know it all; we simply have to recall it.
I can't really fathom what life would be like without the Omnisch-o-Tron, thank goodness. Imagine having to go hunting for your lost keys or the remote control. Imagine striking up a conversation, or going on a date without already knowing the person's likes and dislikes, whether or not their haircut is new, or if they're menstruating or in the midst of some other unpleasant biological cycle. Imagine spending literally weeks comprehending the subtleties of someone's taste structure; or, conversely, imagine a world where someone could lie about their own tastes to perpetrate a better romantic match! I've been told that our forefathers were forced to contrive intricate scenarios called "ice-breakers" in order to force effective conversation amongst strangers. The thought strikes me as quite sad. Lonely people wandering dimly lit convention halls, having absolutely no idea what each other's names are, or what they've eaten for breakfast, or what color their underwear is.
Time passes. The future unfolds. Sometimes I wish that I could know the future already, instead of having to wait for it to happen.
I went on a few dates with some of the yogurt-eating gals in my building. Their Omnisch-o-Trons had told them about me, too. Lois M., of Oshkosh, Wisconsin was my favorite. She also happened to share with me the highest percentage of mutual likes and dislikes of the bunch, but even if we hadn't, I'm pretty sure she would have been my favorite anyway.
On our second date, something terrible happened. We were watching Celebrity Bed-Wetters, which I may have mentioned already as my favorite television program. Lois M. and I both had nearly perfect Laugh Compatibility Index Ratings for Celebrity Bed-Wetters: we were in the 99th percentile. I think that means that 99 percent of the time, we know when to laugh, and when not to. People who are in the 99th percentile for a television program are honored by having their names scrolled across the bottom of the screen during the program. Mine's there almost every week.
I put in a request earlier that day with the Television Commission to have our names scrolled together, and they were happy to oblige. When our names finally appeared, Lois M. squealed with delight and nestled closer to me on the couch.
I'd spent hours beforehand preparing for the date with my Omnisch-o-Tron, so I already knew that she'd only nestled this closely with four percent of her second dates. An elite brotherhood, indeed! Jim A. of Briggsville, Wisconsin, and Ed G. of Appleton, Wisconsin, were the only others, and I noted that Ed G. was at one time in the 99th percentile of the Laugh Compatibility Index for eight different television programs at one time! It's certainly a load off of my mind that he's no longer in the picture.
Anyway, I was nestling with Lois M., feeling very proud of myself and wondering if I would enter an even more elite brotherhood, when I noticed the indicator light on my Omnisch-o-Tron had blinked out. I subtly craned my neck and saw that Lois M.'s was inactive as well. What a horror—and things had been going so well!
The network goes down every few months or so, usually for just a few seconds, but sometimes for as long as an hour. The government has assured us that the Omnisch-o-Trons still record information when the network is down, but that we can't access anything until the network is restored. Some people say that it's a lie, fabricated so that we don't start misbehaving every time the network goes down, but I believe it. I have to. Say, for example, what if I'd actually eaten 35, or even 36 spiders, the extras being when the network was down? That'd be too much to bear, I think. The "not knowing" part. So I'm glad that the Omnisch-o-Trons still record information while the network is down. It's much safer that way.
Lois M. was so wrapped up in Celebrity Bed-Wetters that she hadn't yet noticed the lapse in the network. I was panicking. I tried not to show it, but my mind wandered, and I missed several laugh combos in a row. There goes my high score! This was getting worse all the time. Now I'll have to watch 12 straight hours or more, catching every laugh perfectly in order to crack the 99th again, I thought. What will Lois M. think? Will she still want me? I wanted to ask my Omnisch-o-Tron the answers to those questions, but the network was still down. Maddening. Damn it all! It was all so overwhelming. A tightness in my chest. A fuzziness in my brain. I missed out on even more laughs. Lois M. was sure to notice any moment now. Tears welled up in my eyes, but I fought them back. I fought it all back. I focused on the program as never before. I was going to get through this. I laughed very loud and very hard. I forced it. I'd never done that. Didn't know I was capable of it. A tear was trickling down my cheek. Can the Omnisch-o-Tron tell the difference between genuine and forced laughter? Can it tell the difference between tears of joy and tears of sadness? If it can, how would that affect my ranking? Has Lois M. ever been with a man who cried? Suddenly there were thousands upon thousands of these questions that I needed, needed, needed answered, but there was no outlet for them, no means of accessing the parts of my mind that needed to be accessed. I was a brain-damaged mutant. A God no longer! All I had at my disposal was frustration and sadness.
It was too much to bear. I couldn't hold it all in anymore. I struggled to contain these false emotions, but I began to tremble, regardless. Lois M. finally noticed. She probably had noticed earlier but was trying to be polite.
"Is something wrong?" she asked.
"No, no, no, nothing," I said. "This show is so funny, I just can't take it!" My voice cracked, but I shouldered through. "The laughs keep coming, though—so we shouldn't miss any!"
"Oh, right," she said and went back to watching. She was so engrossed that she still hadn't noticed her inactive Omnisch-o-Tron. Thank goodness.
As I focused on the program, on executing every proper laugh and pause and lull and laugh, my eyes began to widen. With my second self, I begged and begged and begged and begged for the network to return, for this part of me to be returned to its rightful owner. I would give any other part of me to have this one back, I thought. Well, not any part, but I'd give a finger. Or a tooth. Or a toe. I'd give a little toe to have this other part of me back. Please, please, please, give it back, give it back, it's not right, it's not right, it's not right—
The tears had returned. Celebrity Bed-Wetters was dwindling out of focus. All was stilted now. I shuddered, bucking and sobbing silently. It felt as if my internal organs were being switched *on* and *off* and *on* and *off* by a madman at the controls. I couldn't contain it. Suddenly—
"Jared B. of Green Bay, Wisconsin, is presently in the midst of eating a peanut butter sandwich. Would you like to speak with him now?"
"Yes, yes," I whimpered, and then I bolted off of the couch and into the bedroom with my Omnisch-o-Tron. Lois M. wore a rather startled expression upon her face, I'm sure. But the network was back! My supplications made flesh!
"Hello, who is this?," said Jared B. of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
"This is Robert J. of Madison, Wisconsin. You used to live in my apartment."
"Oh, really? What a trip!"
"You enjoying that peanut butter sandwich?"
"Ohhh, yeah. What, are you having one, too?"
"Not right now," I said. I was beginning to feel better already. It had only been a momentary hiccup.
"Then what's this about?"
"You ever fling a peanut butter sandwich at the ceiling?," I prompted.
"What? No way, man." He paused, and I heard him suck some peanut butter off of his front teeth with his tongue. "Oh, wait. Wait. Shiiit, yes! Fuckin'-A! I remember that! What, is the stain still there?"
"Oh yeah," I said.
"Fuckin'-A, that is great! I hadn't thought about that in years!"
"Yeah," I said. "Pretty great stuff."
"Thanks for reminding me, man. That's great."
"Yeah," I said. "Anytime."
"Well, yo, I gotta get back to this peanut butter sandwich. But I'll catch you later, man. Maybe I'll call you next time you have a peanut butter sandwich."
"Heh, heh," I said. "I'll be here."
I walked back into the living room. Celebrity Bed-Wetters had finished, and Lois M. had shut off the television. I sunk back into the couch, and she put her arm around me, tenderly.
"Something the matter? That sounded urgent."
I took in a deep breath and expelled the last bit of frustration from my system. I said nothing. Lois M. placed her head on my shoulder.
"Everything alright?," she asked.
"Yeah," I said. "I don't want to talk about it, though. Just ask your Omnisch-o-Tron sometime."
"What do you want to do now?"
"I don't know. This is fine."
"Holding you. I don't know. It's fine."
Lois M. smiled.
"Are you having trouble deciding on an activity? Robert J. just took a phone call about peanut butter sandwiches," said Lois M.'s Omnisch-o-Tron. "Did you know?—Americans eat, on average, 200 million peanut butter sandwiches a day. I have a video about a boy who puts peanut butter in his hair. I have footage of an event where eight champion eaters attempt to see who can eat the most peanut butter-covered hot dogs in the span of five minutes. I have a video of a mouse eating his way out of a jar of peanut butter. Ask me about funny peanut butter videos."
Relief was being suddenly inhaled and exhaled from every pore in the room. Boy, oh boy, I thought, things are looking up! I straightened my spine and puffed out my chest. "I can take it from here," I said. "I know a couple of good ones already."