Sunday Nibble Extra: Power up

You could say that May 16 can be an electrifying day in history. Or at least a very energetic one. On this day in 1888, Nikola Tesla described what equipment would be needed to transmit alternating current over long distances. Remember, at this time, he was engaged in the “War of the Currents” with that douche, Edison, who was a backer of DC. The only problem with DC (the kind of energy you get out of batteries) is that you need retransmission stations every mile or so. With Tesla’s version, you can send that power a long way down the wires before it needs any bump up in energy.

Of course, it might help to understand in the first place what electric charge is. Here’s Nick Lucid from Science Asylum to explain:

But if you think that electric current flows through a wire like water flows through a pipe, you’re wrong, and there’s a really interesting and big difference between the one and the other, as well as between AC and DC current. DC, meaning “direct current,” only “flows” in one direction, from higher to lower energy states. This is why it drains your batteries, actually — all of the energy potential contained therein sails along its merry way, powers your device, and then dumps off in the lower energy part of the battery, where it isn’t inclined to move again.

A simplification, to be sure, but the point is that any direct current, by definition, loses energy as it moves. Although here’s the funny thing about it, which Nick explains in this next video: neither current moves through that wire like it would in a pipe.

Although the energy in direct current moves from point A to point B at the speed of light, the actual electrons wrapped up in the electromagnetic field do not, and their progress is actually rather slow. If you think about it for a minute, this makes sense. Since your battery is drained when all of the negatively charged electrons move down to their low energy state, if they all moved at the speed of light, your battery would drain in nanoseconds. Rather, it’s the field that moves, while the electrons take their own sweet time moving down the crowded center of the wire — although move they do. It just takes them a lot of time because they’re bouncing around chaotically.

As for alternating current, since its thing is to let the field oscillate back and forth from source to destination, it doesn’t lose energy, but it also keeps its electrons on edge, literally, and they tend to sneak down the inside edges of the wire. However, since they’re just as likely to be on any edge around those 360 degrees, they have an equally slow trip. Even more so, what’s really guiding them isn’t so much their own momentum forward as it is the combination of electricity and magnetism. In AC, it’s a dance between the electric field in the wire and the magnetic field outside of it, which is exactly why the current seems to wind up in a standing wave between points A and B without losing energy.

I think you’re ready for part three:

By the way, as mentioned in that last video, Ben Franklin blew it when he defined positive and negative, but science blew it in not changing the nomenclature, so that the particle that carries electrical charge, the electron, is “negative,” while we think of energy as flowing from the positive terminal of batteries.

It doesn’t. It flows backwards into the “positive” terminals, but that’s never going to get fixed, is it?

But all of that was a long-winded intro to what the Germans did on this same day three years later, in 1891. It was the International Electrotechnical Exhibition, and they proved Edison dead wrong about which form of energy transmission was more efficient and safer. Not only did they use magnetism to create and sustain the energy flow, they used Tesla’s idea of three-phase electric power, and if you’ve got outlets at home with those three prongs, frequently in an unintended smiley face arrangement, then you know all about it.

Eleven years later, Edison would film the electrocution of an elephant in order to “prove” the danger of AC, but he was fighting a losing battle by that point. Plus, he was a colossal douche.

Obviously, the power of AC gave us nationwide electricity, but it also powered our earliest telegraph systems, in effect the great-grandparent of the internet. Later on, things sort of went hybrid, with the external power for landlines coming from AC power, but that getting stepped down and converted to operate the internal electronics via DC.

In fact, that’s the only reason that Edison’s version wound up sticking around: the rise of electronics, transistors, microchips, and so on. Powering cities and neighborhoods and so on requires the oomph of AC, but dealing with microcircuits requires the “directionality” of DC.

It does make sense though, if we go back to the water through a house analogy, wrong as it is. Computer logic runs on transistors, which are essentially one-way logic gates — input, input, compare, output. This is where computers and electricity really link up nicely. Computers work in binary: 1 or 0; on or off. So does electricity. 1 or 0; positive voltage, no voltage. Alternating current is just going to give you a fog of constant overlapping 1s and 0s. Direct current can be either, or. And that’s why computers manage to convert one to the other before the power gets to any of the logic circuits.

There’s one other really interesting power-related connection to today, and it’s this: on May 16, 1960, Theodore Maiman fired up the first optical LASER in Malibu, California, which he is credited with creating. Now… what does this have to do with everything before it? Well… everything.

LASER, which should only properly ever be spelled like that, is an acronym for the expression Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.

But that’s it. It was basically applying the fundamentals of electromagnetism (see above) to electrons and photons. The optical version of electrical amplification, really. But here’s the interesting thing about it. Once science got a handle on how LASERs worked, they realized that they could use to send the same information that they could via electricity.

So… all those telegraphs and telephone calls that used to get shot down copper wires over great distances in analog form? Yeah, well… here was a media that could do it through much cheaper things called fiber optics, transmit the same data much more quickly, and do it with little energy loss over the same distances.

And, ironically, it really involved the same dance of particles that Tesla realized in figuring out how AC worked way back in the day, nearly a century before that first LASER.

All of these innovations popped up on the same day, May 16, in 1888, 1891, and 1960. I think we’re a bit overdue for the next big breakthrough to happen on this day. See you in 2020?

What is your favorite science innovation involving energy? Tell us in the comments!

The Saturday Morning Post #62: The Rêves Part 40

At last, the penultimate chapter is here, and everything wraps up next week, but be prepared to have your mind twisted in this one. Let’s just say that in the manuscript version of this story, this chapter begins on page 391 and ends on page 244.

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles. In this one, the shit hits the fan.

Ever after

No long after the Great Return, as the Revivants preferred to call it, Joshua and Simon had agreed to let Danny and Preston be permanent tenants in their second unit, rent-free, and to consider them to be at least nephews, if not honorary un-adopted sons.

“We’re not quite old enough to actually be your fathers yet,” Joshua had started to explain.

“Actually — ” Simon cut in.

“Shut up, honey,” Joshua stopped him. “We’re technically not currently physically old enough to legally be their fathers.”

Joshua and Simon also used their tech skills to set the boys up with their own streaming website, complete with e-commerce, payment system, and so forth, and also convinced them to go with the idea that they were Preston’s previously unknown identical triplets, which meant they had to come up with yet other stage names, although they decided to stick with LeCard over Winthrop.

They mulled it over. The one last touch that Joshua and Simon took care of was to set up a corporation that paid money into a trust fund. Since Danny and Preston were technically dead, and since, despite Brenda’s work, she still hadn’t gotten that whole deal figured out with State and Federal governments, a corporation would stand in for them in everything.

The State and Federal questions were not trivial, though, and Congress had been debating them for months. The big question was, “Suppose someone died at 85 and then came back. In order to regain their rights as a living person, do they have to pay back 20 years’ worth of Medicare and/or Medicaid and Social Security benefits? What if they had life insurance? Do the beneficiaries have to pay that back?”

As usual, it was basically already-rich people quibbling over whether poor people owed them, ignoring the fact that the returned wouldn’t be collecting benefits anymore, but would be paying back into the system if they were recognized as who they once were.

This back and forth argument would become the political battle of the next eight years, and it started out having a really big effect on the elections of 2028.

But long before that, Preston and Danny had finally let Simon and Joshua know that they’d come up with an idea for their new porn names, but wanted to meet up and have dinner (or at least fake having dinner) to discuss it with them.

Joshua told them yes, so they came over, dressed to the nines — which was a very weird state to see Preston in, although he seemed to become a lot fonder of clothes once he had a physical body to put them on.

They all sat down, the boys exchanging nervous looks, until Simon announced, “Okay. What’s on your minds?”

Another nervous look, and then Preston — as he was generally wont to do — spoke first. “So, we picked the names we want to use, but we wanted to ask you first, since you’ve been so great at advising us on everything.”

“And we don’t want to fuck anything up in our relationship, or make a stupid choice,” Danny added.

“So, hit us,” Joshua said.

“There are reasons that we chose these,” Danny started to explain, but Preston put a hand on his shoulder.

“Dude, let’s just rip the Band-Aid.” He looked at Joshua and Simon and said, “Okay. We’re keeping LeCard, but he’d be Joshie, and I’d be Sy. Or Silas.”

“Hm. Sounds familiar,” Joshua deadpanned, but then he and Simon looked at each other, both of them already knowing the answer. They could only feign annoyance for so long before they broke out in big grins and looked back at the boys.

“That is awesome!” Simon replied.

“I’ve always wanted to be a porn star’s namesake,” Joshua added.

“Adult entertainer,” Preston/Silas reminded him.

“Future fucking superstars,” Simon admonished.

“I hope so,” Danny/Joshie agreed.

“With your looks and your niche, it’s inevitable,” Joshua insisted.

“Here’s to Joshie and Silas!” Simon toasted, and they all clinked glasses.

“May the two of you make many sexy messes together,” Joshua added.

“Mm,” Preston replied. “I like the sound of that.”

None of them knew at the time, though, that Simon and Joshua were going to get into a very un-sexy mess, and very soon.

Meanwhile, one of the bigger messes that Brenda had to deal with were the resurrected Class II’s, and they got very special handling when any of them showed up — not that they deserved it, but because they needed it. While they were still stuck in a state of being made of people’s memories of their most famous roles, physically they came out trapped as about the 25-year-old versions of themselves.

So, in this new reality, it meant that they were young and pretty. But in outside reality, it meant that they did not necessarily resemble any of their famous characters — with few exceptions, like Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. But the mess on top of that was that the studios got wind of the idea of all of these old stars being brought back physically, and the dollar signs went off in their eyes.

Since Brenda was working at compiling information on all of these people, she was also the recipient of a lot of butt-ass stupid emails from all levels of government, most of them asking whether she couldn’t turn over Revivants of certain talent to them.

Her short and sweet answer to this was always just “No.”

All of the Class II’s that they had met and counselled became Brenda’s charges, and they were immediately housed in a former seminary and its grounds that had been sold off to the County while the Catholic Church was paying off yet more lawsuits a few years earlier.

Sure, a lot of them bitched about being stuck in what were basically dormitories, but Brenda personally met with them many times, and explained that it would eventually turn out to their benefit. She contacted a few powerful entertainment lawyers, and also got as much information as she could from the Class II’s on who had handled their estates, whether they’d had trustees set up, or if they likely had living descendants.

It was a multi-year process, with the entire entertainment industry constantly trying to get Brenda to set up meetings with the Class II’s. She finally had to assign one of her assistants to practically spend all of his days only replying “No” to these requests — and he had full permission, with her blessing, to use the exact words, “No, and which part of ‘fuck off’ do I need to explain to you?’”

His name was Blake, by the way, and it was the best job he ever had, especially because he had absolutely no interest in working in show biz at all, so threats of, “You’ll never work in this town again” meant nothing to him since, to the people saying it, “this town” was limited to the entertainment business.

The joke would be on them all later, when Blake wound up working in and then running the L.A. Film Permitting Office, and he had a long memory, so those who had threatened him would always find their permit requests being tangled up as he enforced every last law and regulation down to the tiniest dot, then would put his best inspectors onto the locations for the duration of the project to document every violation — of which there were always many.

Ultimately, Brenda and the lawyers had compiled the information and documents they needed for every last Class II, and it gave them the ammunition to fire back, so Brenda finally scheduled a Zoom meeting with all of the various producer types who had contacted her.

Their cameras and audio were off, and it was her solo show.

“Good afternoon,” she announced. “I understand that all of you have expressed an interest in exploiting my clients in order to benefit yourselves. And that is exactly the word. Exploit. Because we’ve seen some of the offers you’ve made for various commercial or other appearances and, honestly, they are laughable.

“You seem to have either forgotten or ignored how the whole licensing game works, although, come on. I know for a fact that some of you have done things with the images of Monroe and Chaplin, and they are two of the more notoriously expensive dead celebs in town. Hey, at least Chaplin wasn’t buried anywhere near the flight path of the magic resurrection beam, right?

“But, the point is this. My team of lawyers and accountants has gathered the information and done the math. They’ve calculated peak income, adjusted for inflation, for each of our clients, as well as their current Q-scores among likely audiences.

“Factoring these together, but then adjusting using search frequency for both their names and properties they starred in, we’ve come up with a universal licensing rate sheet that covers three scenarios.

“Licensing their image, but recreating it with CGI, licensing the image but augmenting it with actual ADR work from our client, or hiring the client to physically work for you. This document will go out at the end of our meeting. Keep in mind that the fees will be the same across categories regardless of media or format, so you’ll pay the same for print ad as you would for an international feature. Sorry. Not Sorry. Here comes the doc…”

She sent the rate chart, then turned on everyone’s video, still muted. “If you have questions, click to raise your hand, and we’ll try to get to them, with a time limit of thirty minutes. And… go.”

The questions, of course, came fast and furious, and Brenda’s social media assistants, who flanked her in her office on their laptops, sifted through and forwarded them faster and furiouser.

Most of them seemed to be along the veiled lines of “Why should we pay dead people?” Brenda’s constant response to this was, “Last we checked, they weren’t dead anymore.”

But it keyed her into something else going on in society, and especially since she was dealing with supposedly woke and progressive people.

There was a definite bigotry against the Revivants going on here. It was giving her nasty flashbacks to stories her mother had told her about what her grandparents and great grandparents had had to put up with being considered second (or lower) class citizens, and it made her blood boil.

Right around the time limit, she couldn’t handle it anymore, and jumped onto her mic, knowing what she had to say, and that the reaction would be extreme, but it would certainly get media attention — so she turned on everyone else’s audio.

“Okay,” she said, telling them what they were basically calling the Revivants and how they were trying to treat them, although she used a particular word — because she could — that got quite the reaction.

There was an audible gasp and much clutching of pearls at THAT word and sudden fervent denials — to Brenda, it reminded her of St. Peter’s little routine before the cock crew — and it got even better when people started saying that she should be banned for using that word, but then she shut off the mics and gave them another Come to Jesus moment.

“Okay, look, you idiots — and I still see that the vast majority of you are white,” she said, because she didn’t care anymore, “Number one, I can use that word if I want to, in case you’ve been too busy not looking at my face. Number two, every single one of us has one or more ancestors who died. And now, every single one of us has maybe one, maybe more, ancestors who have come back.

“So… if you want to, you can be a total dick to someone’s mother, or father, or sibling, or grandparent… or not. And you can treat them fairly or not. Our time is up now, but I’ve emailed you our offer. Take it, or leave it. End of negotiation. Bu-bye!”

She shut down the session and every one of Brenda’s assistants suddenly stood up and broke out into wild spontaneous applause.

Of course, the industry sued, but Brenda already had the high-powered lawyers on board, so the thing wound its way through the courts, eventually hitting the SCOTUS, which finally ruled, in an 8 to 5 decision, that the Revivants had the same human rights as they would have had when they were living, including the right to control of the use of their own image.

Of course, it had much broader implications, and in a single stroke made moot all kinds of bottlenecks the Revivants were facing in trying to get back at least some access to what they had left behind.

Doubling down, Congress quickly passed what was popularly known as Brenda’s Bill, officially called the Restoring Essential Benefits of Returned Nationals, or the REBORN Act. Brenda loved that her name was on it, but secretly hated the over-reaching acronym creation of the civil servants who named bills.

Plus, some asshole had calendared it as SB 666. At least in the House it got an innocuous HR number. It passed by an overwhelming majority in the House, by 56-46 in the Senate, and was signed immediately into law by the President on September 23, 2029.

And it was the next day when Joshua and Simon called her out of the blue. She had been worried sick that something had happened to them, but was glad to see that they were okay, although it was clear that they were no longer in their place in Noho and, also clear that Joshua now looked a metric fuckton older than Simon.

“Hi!” they waved and smiled. “How you doin’?”

“Really great,” she said. “And where the hell have you two been?”

“Well, until your little law got passed, harassed and hiding,” Joshua explained.

“This place?” Simon indicated the room around them. “Yeah, it’s an old U.S. nuclear missile silo buried somewhere in Wyoming, although we’ve had upgrades. Ta-da!”

“We kind of had to go into hiding because, apparently, once upon a time, the Revivants were not popular, and Simon and I especially not, because we got our names all tied up in Ausmann’s bullshit and whatever — ”

“Basically,” Simon took over, “We got blamed for what he did.”

“So we signed our shit over to Preston and Danny — remember them?”

“Oh, yeah,” Brenda said.

“Bought this big-ass tour bus from some band, hired a driver and two bodyguards, and headed east,” Simon explained.

“We finally found and bought the silo — ridiculously cheap — but lived in that bus for two or three years while the place was renovated for us. Really, it’s kind of like living in the best Manhattan penthouse ever, except that it’s way underground.”

“And it’s in Bumfuck, Egypt,” Simon added.

“Damn,” Brenda exclaimed. “So, what are you doing otherwise?” she asked. “I mean, to survive?”

Joshua and Simon exchanged a look. “Oh,” Joshua went on. “I don’t think we ever told you. In our past life — well, his past life — we kind of did very well for ourselves designing apps. So we don’t need to do anything otherwise for profit — ”

“But we’ve been doing a lot of podcasting,” Simon added. “Well, using CGI deep fake avatars and all. You might have heard of us? Jericho and Rome?”

“Oh my god,” Brenda exclaimed. “That was you guys? Holy shit — without your rabble rousing in the early days, I never would have gotten any traction. Do you have any idea what kind of public support you drummed up that helped me jam it up the food chain? I mean, not just for the Class II’s, but for all of the Revivants?”

“Well, not to humble-brag,” Joshua said, “But, yeah, that was our intent.”

“And look what it led to,” Simon continued. “You done got a bill named after you. But we called because our next question was this. Can we donate to your organization?”

“The government one, sadly no,” Brenda said. “But there is a Foundation, which was set up to benefit the Class II’s, although we’re in the process of broadening its charter.”

“Great,” Joshua said. “What’s its name?”

“Well, in order to make it happen, we had to make one of the Class II’s very happy, so it’s called the Bette Davis Foundation for the Preservation of Legacy Actors’ Rights.”

“Mouthful,” Joshua uttered.

“I know, right?” Brenda said. “But in light of the court ruling and all that, we’ve already filed to change it to the Revivant Rights Restoration League.”

“I like that,” Simon said.

“So, should we hold off with our donation until that’s official?” Joshua asked.

“Oh, hell yeah,” Brenda replied. “Bette is a total bitch on wheels and I don’t want her to get an ounce of credit. So, sure. After the fifteenth of next month, go for it.”

“Awesome,” Joshua said. “And is there a limit on what we can donate?”

“I don’t think so,” Brenda told them. “Ten, twenty, thirty grand, sure, whatever.”

She heard them both laugh, and then Simon continued. “Um, actually, we were thinking something around a hundred million?”

This was followed by a very long silence until Joshua and Simon could wait no longer.

“Brenda?” Joshua asked.

She replied quietly and timidly. “Fuck… me. You boys better be serious.”

“As serious as the grave,” Simon said.

“We have our reasons,” Joshua added.

“Okay, okay, “Brenda replied. “If you’re not shitting me, yes you can donate that much, but for fuck’s sake, don’t do it until after we’ve announced the official name and charter change of the foundation, okay?”

“Deal,” Joshua said. “Email us the go sign, and then we’ll pull the trigger. Thanks!”

They hung up and Brenda just sat and stared at her screen for a long time, not even aware of the grateful tears that were pouring down her cheeks.

As for Joshua and Simon, they couldn’t have been happier that they could contribute so much. They’d had to shut down the Ada Lovelace Foundation after they found out that one of the board members had been embezzling left and right.

Rather than press criminal charges, they simply made him explain every step of how he did it, then let him keep the money on promises that he would never do it again. But… organization compromised — and this two months after Simon’s return, so before the bullshit hit the fan — they figured that they could create a new Foundation, and entrust it to Danny, Preston, Brent, and Drew, but they never got the chance, because the world went batshit against them the next day.

And, so, the entire endowment of the foundation devolved into their hands again, and despite the embezzlement, it had accrued a ridiculous amount in royalties, residuals, and interest, putting them well over their self-imposed cap.

They had considered establishing the William Gibson Foundation, but scuttled that idea when they were reminded that he was still alive, and instead looked into starting up the Jacquard Foundation instead, but they finally decided that Joshua would just start making donations himself, listing them as memorials to Simon.

Maybe it would help atone for the bad feelings people had had for them, and maybe it would pave their way back into society. Not that they really cared about that. What they cared about was maybe someday having the luxury of being able to visit Preston and Danny, and dropping in on Brent.

Sadly, Drew had passed at the age of 100, and as far as they could tell, had not come back in any form at all.

As for the boys, though, they had become sensations, and were doing really well for themselves. They had also inadvertently started a case that wound up changing incest laws in the U.S. for good.

They were never directly involved, but their broadcasts were, when some southern Senator got a wild hair up his ass and sued the internet provider that hosted their site with obscenity charges for transmitting incestuous content.

Danny and Preston were never defendants in the case, nor did they have to testify, because the state involved went after the provider, but their attorneys were good, and backed them into defending anti-incest laws for preventing inbreeding.

That blew their whole case, because there was no way that Joshie and Sy could ever get each other pregnant, ergo what they did could not be considered incest in the slightest. It had been the most posted about and searched court case in at least fifty years, and when it was over, there was a huge explosion of outpouring and support for “Joshie” and “Sy,” as well as memorials to Preston/Danny.

And neither of the boys had done a thing to promote the case of Kentucky vs. Digi-Axe LLC either way, but rejoiced in its outcome.

The world, though, had changed in bigger ways since 9/2, after Pearl and Taamit, the name the wolf had settled on, came down the mountain — although along the way, the Taamit admitted that they had only taken that form to defend themselves, and soon morphed into another human of Pearl’s stature and with the ever-shifting appearance, all of them clearly members of the Tongva tribe stretching back forever.

Once they came back into the cities of mankind, they certainly got everyone’s attention, but they started small and without being obvious about what they were doing. As they passed through the first town below the mountain where it was 105ºF, a sudden breeze began to roll down the mountain, bringing cool air in and rapidly dropping it to 75ºF.

This pattern continued to follow them as they walked westward, through a late summer heatwave that was baking the state.

They even brought down rain in communities where it was sorely needed, although these were gentle showers and nothing resembling the great storm of just over two weeks earlier.

“Two weeks and two days,” Pearl thought as they marched through San Bernardino and toward the L.A. County line. Had it only been that long? By this point, it felt like centuries.

Eventually, they wound up outside L.A. City Hall, on Spring Street between the front steps and Grand Park, and this got a lot of attention, especially once they started creating random weather effects as the politicians, public, and press gathered to watch.

Their pitch was simple. They had come back via a similar mechanism to all the others, although not totally physically. If humans accepted, they could offer a lot of help. If humans said no, they could do a lot of harm.

“Remember that storm a couple of weeks ago?” Pearl said, once they were the center of attention. “Well, that was us. So you either get more of that, or more of better. Simple choice, right?”

Within three hours, the message came back — not just from the city, but the county and the state as well. “Help us!”

Pearl and Taamit looked at each other, feeling enormous relief in that instant. They embraced, and then they melded, and became an even taller and more powerful entity made up of all of the spirits within them, and then set off on their mission to fix all of humanity’s environmental fuck-ups before it was too late.

Somehow, Simon and Joshua had missed that news, which was a shame, because it really would have floated Simon’s boat enormously, and might have set them on a different path. But as it happened, they were already knee-deep in the whole “How did this happen” thing, as well as setting up Danny and Preston in their new careers.

It had also taken Joshua three years to remember that he still had real Lorre in the trap, one of the few things they’d taken on the bus with them. He woke up one morning in April with a sudden “Oh, fuck,” stumbled to the bus’s vault, unlocked it, took out the trap, opened it, and… nothing.

He hoped that this meant that Real Lorre had resurrected anyway and was out there as the only other example of a Revivant clone, and not that Real Lorre had perished completely, only to be replaced by his Class II shadow.

But he would never know.

It had become apparent that Simon was aging a lot more slowly than Joshua and after a couple of decades, as Joshua was hitting his early 60s, Simon was still stalled at about 25.

“Okay, honey, look,” he begins. “It’s kind of obvious now that you have lucked out with the gay dream of being Twink Forever, while I am just decaying into decrepit old fuck — ”

“Don’t say that,” Simon warned him. “You are still beautiful to me.”

“I appreciate your… kindness,” he said, “But, come on. It’s obvious. I am going to age, I am going to die, and I am going to die on you. Which, given our history, is so fucking ironic that it just puts my dick in a twist.”

“I know all of that,” Simon insists. “And I don’t care. How old you get, how sick, whatever. I made that oath — ‘Til death do us part, and I mean it.”

“Yeah, well, do you remember the part where death did?” Joshua asked.

“Yes,” Simon replied, “And death got undid, and you came back for me, and I’m going to be here for you for as long as it takes, and I’m going to love you like I always have, no matter how old and decrepit your sorry-ass body gets, because the part of you that is the most attractive to me is that squishy bit stuffed in your skull. Get it yet, honey?”

“But you don’t get it,” Joshua replied. “I’m going to die on you because that fucking machine never worked in the first place.”

“What do you mean?” Simon asks.

“Okay. After Ausmann killed you, I sent a message back to the past, just like the machine was supposed to do, but nothing at all changed. You died, he lived until we killed him, and so on.”

Simon stared at Joshua for a long moment, then took his shoulders in his hands. “Oh, honey… I am so sorry. Don’t you realize the main thing here?”

“Um… no?” Joshua replied.

“Okay,” Simon continued. “It’s just that… whoever sent the message could never know whether it worked, because they’ve divorced themselves from that timeline.”

“What do

Out on the balcony, Ausmann gestured at the landscape. “This belongs to people,” he said. “Living, human people. Fuck the dead. And I have figured out the way to figure out how to defeat them, but it requires one tiny bit of your help.”

“Okay, I’ll humor you, but I won’t say yes,” Joshua replied. “What tiny bit do you need?”

“Simple,” Ausmann replied. “Bring me the spirit of Peter Lorre. That’s it. He’s going to share all of the secrets to destroying them, and guarantee my mission.”

“Peter Lorre?” Simon scoffed. “How are we supposed to find him?”

“I suppose you’ll need to find an ally on the other side,” Ausmann said.

Joshua wanted to tell him, “We’ve already got two,” but restrained himself — there was no telling how this madman would take the news. Besides, he didn’t exactly want to call out Danny and Preston when they were most likely watching but hidden.

In fact, they were watching, and the thing that they noticed was that Ausmann was doing his weird “Hindu Time” bit again, seemingly stronger than it had been before, and that was when time blurred.

“I can’t think of any of those existing ghosts who’d trust either of you,” Ausmann said. “But I know who would.

Abruptly, Ausmann spun around to hit Simon hard in the chest, knocking him backwards over the balcony railing and into fifteen stories of air. As they turned back, it looked like the back of the ghostly one’s head exploded in a spray of red mist, and then it fell.

That was when the heavily armed Federal agents rappelled down from the roof, Ausmann shot dead, and Joshua running to the railing and looking down to see that Simon had landed on an airbag, which agents and firefighters were now helping him down from.

He looked back up at Joshua and they gave each other thumbs up.

“Oh, thank the fucking deities,” he thought to himself. The love of his life was alive.

“What the fuck was that?” Danny asked Preston.

The agents secured the place, brought Simon up, and then separately asked him and Joshua questions about Ausmann, their connection, and his motives. They explained as much as they could.

At the end of his interview, Joshua asked, “How did you even know he was here and what he was planning?”

“Because you told us,” one of the agents replied, taking out a piece of paper and handing it to Joshua. It was a printout of a message he had sent. Or, rather, would be sending tomorrow, detailing everything that had been going to happen.

The machine actually worked.

The agents and investigators were there for a couple of hours after they had finished questioning Joshua and Simon — taking photos of the scene, measuring distances and angles, looking for stray bullet holes and casings. They eventually zipped Ausmann up in a body bag and took him away, although his blood was still all over the patio and on one of the walls.

“Note to self,” Joshua said. “Call up the special cleaners for that one.”

He was also surprised that the agent let him keep the printout of his message when they all finally left. He read it over and over, and was starting to have weird flashes of a very different future, where Simon had died.

Simon came back from their second unit, where he’d spoken to the agents, and Danny and Preston rematerialized. The four of them just sat together around the kitchen table.

“How are you doing?” Joshua asked Simon.

“Nothing broken or bruised,” he said. “I saw the airbag as soon as Ausmann lifted me over the rail, so the fall was actually kind of fun. I tried to do a front flip in mid-air, but didn’t manage it.”

“Who told them Ausmann was here?” Danny asked. Joshua held up the message.

“Apparently, me,” he explained. “I sent this to them tomorrow.”

“Isn’t that a bit late?” Preston noted.

“Wait — so the damn machine does work?” Simon asked. Joshua nodded. “Then you have to send that exact message tomorrow, at the time it says you sent it.”

“But it already worked,” Joshua explained.

“I know,” Simon said, “But that one was sent by you in a universe in which I was probably seriously injured or died — ”

“You did!” Joshua exclaimed. “That’s what the thing says.” He handed it to Simon, who read it.

“You definitely need to send this, then. That way, it makes it to the same place in both timelines. Otherwise, who knows what kind of paradox you could wind up with here?”

The FBI informed interested parties of the death of Ausmann and of closing the homicide cases involving Coraline and Jerry. Davis and Lewis were a little disappointed that they didn’t get their chance at solving the case, but went on to have successful careers on the force.

Schrantz was secretly glad that she didn’t have to coordinate an inter-agency road trip down to Pasadena after all, and that justice had been served before Ausmann could kill again. She, too, had a successful career before going into politics, eventually being elected to the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors, State Senator and, eventually Governor of California.

Brenda continued on with L.A. Metro, not originally having any other career plans, but what she didn’t know was that was going to change.

Pearl had sensed Ausmann’s death and Simon’s survival almost as they happened, and she was not happy about it, so she hurried to Anabel to discuss matters.

The next day was a Thursday, and Joshua headed down to the lab at JPL, giving himself plenty of time to re-type the message and hit “send” at the exact second the copy said he had. He’d wanted Simon to come with him, but Simon had demurred.

“Butterfly effect,” he explained. “Since I obviously wasn’t there, me being there this time could change something slightly but enough to alter the arrival of the message. Who knows? Someone else reads it and doesn’t take it seriously because just my proximity alters the transmission time slightly?”

Joshua wasn’t happy, but he understood, so he typed out the message exactly as he had written it, then waited for the magic moment to come. At the exact second, he hit “Send” and the deed was done.

Other than that, nothing happened, although he wasn’t expecting anything to, and he returned home only to find Simon, Danny, and Preston sitting in the living room with Pearl and Anabel.

“There you are,” Anabel gushed as he entered. “Now we can finally bring you in on the conversation we’ve been having.”

“Thanks for getting rid of Ausmann legally so you don’t have to worry about him killing you anymore?” Joshua offered.

“Not exactly,” Simon said.

“You’ve solved one problem, but given us another, darlin’” Pearl explained. “We wanted him to think that he was going to use the machine to wipe us out, but trick him into using it to protect us, and you were going to handle that part for us.”

“How could the machine wipe you out?” Joshua asked.

“Simple,” Anabel told him. “If he turned up the energy input by at least ten percent, it would burn all of us out instantly and we’d be gone. As long as the machine is running, that’s a constant danger because we’re still connected to whatever it is that’s going on inside of it.”

“We need the machine to be shut down completely,” Pearl added. “That way, we’ll be free of that force, but continue to exist on our own.”

“Doesn’t it provide your energy?” Joshua wondered.

“It’s not actually necessary to us. What it mainly powers now is the creation of new Rêves — and I’m sure the Vivants would be happy to not keep on seeing more of us.”

“Have you chimed in on this yet, Simon?” Joshua asked.

“We were waiting for you,” he replied.

“It’s just that… shutting the machine down, well, we don’t know how to do that, or if it can be done.”

“Sabotage is always possible,” Pearl laughed.

“Yes, but it can’t exactly look like that,” Joshua explained. “I mean, if Ausmann had lived to wind up doing it, we wouldn’t really care because he was already on the wrong side of the law, but we’d rather not commit a federal crime — ”

“Well, we’d be committing one,” Simon cut in. “It just can’t look like we did.”

“That complicates the planning,” Joshua sighed.

“The thing is thirty years old, though,” Simon offered, “And who knows whether the flood actually caused damage somewhere. Plus, it hasn’t been constantly attended in a while now.”

“That’s one to throw into our brainstorming,” Joshua said.

“So… you’re going to help us?” Anabel asked.

“We’re going to do our best to figure out whether we can shut this thing down, and make it look like a natural failure.”

“But it can send messages into the past,” Danny said. “Isn’t that really useful?”

“Devil’s advocate,” Preston added, nodding.

“Sure, it turned out to be really useful in saving Simon’s life,” Joshua told them, “But it could be really dangerous in the wrong hands. Imagine if this got used in wartime. Lose a battle? Someone sends back a detailed description of what the enemy did, and things are very different the next time around.”

“Sounds like it’s good to be the only one who has it,” Preston suggested.

“They said the same thing about the nuclear bomb,” Simon replied.

“And if two countries have it and go to war, it becomes a constant game of leap-frogging — the losers get a do-over and become the winners, and the new losers do the same, and pretty soon you have an endless battle that just keeps going on, repeating the same few days over and over and never making it out the other side.

“That is why we should destroy it,” Joshua added.

“Whatever help you need from us, we can provide it,” Pearl told them.

“We might need a bit of that nature magic to pull this off,” Joshua said.

“But I guess that step one is homework,” Simon chimed in.

“Lots and lots of homework,” Joshua agreed. “This thing has got to have a weakness. Every machine does. We just have to find it.”

“Thank you,” Pearl said as they stood. “You can’t imagine how much this will help us all.”

Anabel nodded and then the two of them whisked away.

Over the next week, Joshua and Simon buried themselves in Ausmann’s documents, studying every aspect of the machine to find its Achilles heel. Most of it seemed pretty solid and well-protected, with various fail-safes.

Their natural inclination of first target was the tachyon generator itself, but that was encased in a room with walls made of two-foot thick stainless steel. The only opening was the hole the beam came out of, but that was inside of the plasma containment field, so there was no way to get anything in that way without vaporizing it instantly.

The room did have a door, but it required five keys to open. Ausmann had one — well, used to — a pair of officials working at the Federal Building in Westwood had two more, and the last two were held by their counterparts in Arlington, Virginia. It would require getting all five people together with their keys, since the holes they went into were too far apart for one person to do it, and they all had to be turned at the same time.

They also weren’t ordinary keys. They were made of titanium in colorful, gradient shades, with long cylindrical shafts coming out of oval tabs. At the other end, instead of teeth in a line, there were multiple tabs sticking off at varying angles in 90 degree increments, each one of those cut with different notches.

The keys worked in the locks physically, as well as visually — the color gradients were no accident — and with a final magnetic back-up, in the form of a cylinder encoded in an eight-digit binary number using neutral and magnetic as its 1s and 0s.

In other words, they couldn’t be forged and there was no brute-force way in. Besides, blasting a hole in the thing would be decidedly not accidental.

As it turned out, all of the hardware and software controlling the machine was actually contained in that room as well. Anything connected from outside was only there to monitor status or, in the case of the transmission room, to provide input.

After poring over everything, they started to look into the containment field itself, and that was when they had their sudden “A-ha!” moment.

Six metal tubes with super-conductor magnetic fields inside trapped a plasma stream that in turn kept the tachyon beam contained on its trip back in time and across the country. If that containment stream were to stop, then the tachyons would tend to fly away from a gravity source, aka Earth, and never make it to the target. This would effectively turn the machine off, as one of the only fail-safes that would shut off the generator itself was tied to the integrity of the containment field.

“That’s useful,” Simon uttered when they had both looked over that section of the specs for a third time.

“But how to break the field?” Joshua wondered.

“And how to do it without killing ourselves while making it look like an accident?” Simon added.

“Indeed.”

That had been after three days, so they knocked off for the evening to spend it binge-watching content with the Boys, winding up at one point watching one of Preston’s scenes in which he was on the receiving end of a “medical exam” that turned into a hand-job and prostate massage.

Joshua and Simon felt a little weird watching it, especially in front of the star and his doppelgänger, who had technically not participated in the making of it. But Preston’s running commentary on the behind-the-scenes actually finally made it comfortable to watch and also amusing and informative.

“That exact same doctor’s office set is in a warehouse in Van Nuys,” he explained at one point, “And every last adult entertainment studio in town uses it.”

That night, Joshua and Simon went at it like they hadn’t in weeks, and although Danny and Preston could probably hear them, they didn’t care — although the boys were all smiles in the morning.

Energized, Joshua and Simon dove back into their homework, although they retreated to the bedroom to do it when Preston decided to show Danny all of his work online.

Since they had a target, they zoomed in on materials and specs, looking for the weak spot, but there didn’t seem to be any. The bright yellow pipes that carried the magnetic field were made of a tungsten-steel alloy that was among the strongest of metals. The outer walls were two inches thick, joined together in meter-long sections secured with 24 bolts and nuts that had been screwed down and then welded.

Somewhere deep in the documents, Simon found specs on the tubing inside of the pipes that also secured the plasma. It was made of a clear bullet resistant material in layered sheets of glass and vinyl, four inches thick.

The plasma itself was about 30,000 Kelvin, or around 54,000ºF, which is why the magnetic containment was so important.

It seemed like an impenetrable barrier, but Simon was the materials guy, so he dove deep into all of that while Joshua worked on the logistics of how to make it appear to be an accident while also making it look like they were never there.

Unfortunately, there was no good way to get to JPL via public transit, even though Joshua was sure that Brenda would be good on purging their images from the cameras or arranging convenient “failures” to block their passage.

A rental car was also no good, because they’d have no control over the GPS, while the rental agency would have records of who rented their cars.

However, he realized that he could hack their own car and do a little fuckery to make it record false GPS data by basically inverting the coordinate system temporarily, and then have it track in real time onto the roads and routes going in exactly the opposite direction.

With minor variations to account for different lengths of actual roads, this would show that they took a ride up into Topanga Canyon, which in Valley People terms was about as far from Pasadena as you could get in distance, politics, and class.

Their phones, of course, would have to stay home, conveniently “forgotten” if anyone ever did question them and they gave their Topanga alibi.

They would use the emergency exit to gain access, although would probably need Preston and Danny to come with them to manage that part. The only thing he hadn’t figured out was how to do what they had to do while making it look like an accident, but that would happen once Simon finished his research.

He hadn’t by that evening, so they settled in for another viewing night with the boys, although Simon started it off with, “Hey, how about no ‘you’ porn this time, okay?”

“Didn’t you like it?” Preston pouted.

“Well, yeah, sort of,” Simon said. “But it was still like watching my son get fingered and jerked and that’s… still weird.”

“Aw,” Danny and Preston replied in unison.

This made Joshua make it a family-friendly viewing night, and they all went to bed before midnight. The next morning, Simon awoke with an “A-ha!” and he raced to his laptop and fired it up.

“So… you’ve realized something?” Joshua asked.

“Give me a second,” he replied, typing away before laughing in triumph. “Oh, those idiots,” he said.

“What?”

“Okay. Tungsten is one of the strongest metals, except in one condition. Very low temperatures. Likewise, this bullet-resistant glass is good at room temperature, but heat it up beyond about the boiling point of water, and it starts to fail.”

“Oh my dog,” Joshua replied.

“Exactly. And the weak points in any system of pipes are the joints, and you know what the bolts are made of? Pure tungsten, not even an alloy. “

“No shit?”

“No shit, honey,” Simon said. “I’ve calculated what it would take to break the pipes, destroy the containment field, eject the plasma, which would cool immediately, and then send the tachyons right off the planet.”

“And?” Joshua asked, eagerly.

“A mass of about 80 kilos. We only need to break the top two pipes to start. This will let the plasma out, and it will melt that glass bit instantly, letting the weight drop through the rest of the pipes. But first hit should do all the damage.”

Joshua did the math in his head. “So, about 175-ish pounds?”

“Right,” Simon confirmed. “Damn. If only we had some hapless worker to tumble from a great height into the works.”

“I am not volunteering, dear,” Joshua shot back.

“I wasn’t asking you. But I think this is where Pearl and friends can help. Let me look at some more specs.”

“Okay,” Joshua agreed.

Simon looked up the specs for the entire room outside of the main transmission apparatus itself, finally determining that the ceiling was made of concrete, and it was a foot thick.

To get 80 kilos, they only needed one thirtieth of one cubic meter, the latter measurement which would be a chunk 5 by 7 feet — wide enough to do the job and 30 times what they really needed for it.

And there was their game plan. If they could somehow get Pearl and the Hadas to organically knock that size chunk of ceiling out and onto the pipes, it would appear completely natural, and it would kill the machine.

“I guess the real trick is ensuring that the right piece falls in the right place, isn’t it?” Joshua asked Simon once they drafted out the plan and looked at it.

“I guess so,” Simon replied. “I suspect this is going to take some total Mission: Impossible shit with harnesses and power tools in order to prime the pump for the Hadas to do their magic.”

“No doubt,” Joshua agreed. So… game on?”

“Game on, bro,” Simon replied, and they high-fived.

* * *

Friday Free-for-All #60: Oldest thing, four seasons, adult version, poverty

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments.

What’s the oldest thing you own?

It would be a few Roman coins from around the reign of the Emperor Julian (361-363 C.E.) which I picked up on eBay years ago. I’ve always been a big fan of Roman history, especially the period from Julius Caesar up until the division of the Empire into East and West after the infection of both by Christianity.

I was a big fan of Julian in particular, and you can probably guess why from his nickname, “The Apostate.” He came not long after Constantine (reigned 306-337 CE), who was the emperor who decided to make Christianity the official Roman religion.

Oh, it wasn’t a decision made lightly, and several other religions were in the running. But Constantine’s mother Helena had converted previously and was somewhat of a fanatic. Her thing was collecting pieces of the “True Cross,” and legend has it that in her lifetime, she had gathered enough pieces to reconstruct a True Cross over twelve feet tall.

Officially, though, Constantine had a vision before a battle in which he saw a flaming cross in the sky and the words “In hoc signo vinces,” Latin for “In this sign, you shall conquer.” (Well, “thou shalt,” since it’s informal you.)

He conquered, although for his part all he did for that sign, via the Council of Nicaea, was to decide which version of Christianity was the “right” one, since there were still all kinds of doctrinal disagreements on whether the Holy Trinity was actually a single entity, or three different entities and, if so, whether any one of them created either of the others or was “more eternal” than the others.

In other words, a whole lot of debate over a whole lot of unprovable bunk. But one version won out and Constantine adopted it, although not to the detriment of other religions quite yet. Rather, the Edict of Milan recognized Christianity as a legal and valid religion when, previously, it had been really just considered an underground cult that had broken off from Judaism.

Julian tried to undo it by rejecting Christianity as a valid religion, but then died after being stabbed by a lance in battle. It was alleged, but never proven, that it wasn’t actually a battle injury, but rather assassination by one of his own soldiers, who was a Christian — at least as asserted by Libanius, a friend of the emperor.

It could have also been a Saracen warrior, which was more likely given the shape of the injury, although Christians themselves at the time did attribute the murder to one of their own, Saint Mercurius — which would have been a good trick, since he died over a hundred years before Julian was born.

But, anyway, I found coins from the reign of Julian on eBay and bought four of them very cheaply, for around five bucks. You may wonder why such ancient relics were so readily available and so cheaply, and the answer is simple.

They’re actually as common as dirt, thanks to Rome’s bellicose ways. When mercenary groups and armies were called to Rome from the various provinces, the single soldiers getting ready to head off would put all of their money in the form of coins (no paper or crypto back then) into earthenware jugs or clay pots, and then bury them near some landmark at home that they would remember later, to be dug up when they returned.

If they never returned — and this was often — those hidden stashes remained that way for centuries. When they were eventually dug up, the coins weren’t always in the greatest of condition and didn’t really have that much value historically or economically, but did become an obtainable piece of the past, at least to those of us who aren’t archaeologists or major museums.

And that’s how a few nearly seventeen-hundred-year-old coins wound up in my possession.

Is it better to live where there are four seasons or where one season takes up most of the year?

Saying “one season is better” can be tempting if it’s the right one — a year-long temperate late spring where temperatures stay between 72° and 85° at the hottest part of the day with occasional days of moderate rain could be attractive. But it could also be boring.

People like to joke that Southern California doesn’t have seasons — or, rather, that our seasons are wet, hot, earthquake, and fire — but we really do have seasons. They’re just not as extreme as other places.

For example, the difference between winter and summer here is nothing compared to the same two seasons in Minnesota or Texas, and we’ll never really see an extreme weather change from calm and clear to violent storm in a single afternoon like you’d find in Pennsylvania.

But we do have perceptible changes, and that really helps us keep track of the year. It’s just another sort of clock, imposed on top of the long-term annual one, holding together the shorter-term ones, like phases of the moon, days of the week, and hours of the day.

If we only had one season, and it was always noon on Monday, January 1, life would get really boring — and confusing — very fast. I mean, for one thing, would we all only pay rent once, or have to pay it every day?

What would the adult version of an ice-cream truck sell and what song would it play?

This one depends upon whether it’s an ice-cream truck for adult me or for boring “normal” adults. If the former, it would sell all kinds of interesting and obscure books, objets d’art, ephemera, and other interesting stuff, and the song would be this one:

The song, by the way, is from a 1969 film starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr called The Magic Christian and, while audiences at the time didn’t get it, I suspect it’s much more relevant now. Sellars plays a billionaire (in late ‘60s money) who adopts a homeless man, played by Starr, to be his son, then proceeds to teach him the lesson: “Everyone has their price, if you’re willing to pay it.” It’s an absolute indictment of capitalism, more relevant now than ever.

It’s also never clear whether Sellers’ character is truly demonstrating to greedy people how bad they are, or whether he’s just the biggest troll around because he can afford to be.

The whole film is online, linked under the title above. But… let me turn my mind to what muggles would want, and come up with that ice cream truck.

Yeah, definitely selling margaritas in all flavors, maybe daiquiris, too, and of course the theme song is that abomination named Margaritaville.

Is poverty in society inevitable?

Not at all and, oddly enough, this calls back to The Magic Christian, and why you should watch it right now.

Poverty in society is only inevitable when there is income inequality, which is a flaw common in, but not limited to, capitalism. You’ll find the same inequalities in the current Chinese system, which seems to be some sort of oligarchic statism, and the Russian system, which is a complete kleptocracy.

Hm… funny how all three of these super-powers that play the game of having different and competing political philosophies all have the same damn problem: those at the top, whether running the government, corporations, or both, have the vast majority of the assets, while the rest do not, and have to rely on being incredibly underpaid and undervalued by the ones at the top of the pyramid.

There are really two pyramids if you think about it though. The pyramid of of labor is the normal one — big at the bottom and stretching to a point at the top, each level representing exactly how much true effort and energy is expended in order to support the system. So the ones at the bottom do all of the work, while the ones at the top do practically none.

Meanwhile, there is the pyramid of assets, and that one is standing on its tip, getting bigger as it goes up. Each level represents exactly how much in wealth and assets people on that level have. It starts with nothing at the bottom and gives everything to those at the top.

The only reason the latter pyramid is stable is that it’s integrated with the former, which is holding it up. But if you remove the pyramid of labor, then the pyramid of assets is going to fall over pretty fast — and we’re already getting hints of that with all the workers who are suddenly walking out of low-paying restaurant jobs, leaving behind signs to explain, “Nope. We’re not doing this shit for that shit they pay us anymore.”

The system is cracking — but we still have a ways to go.

Poverty is only inevitable when there are no limits on personal wealth, which makes income inequality inevitable. I could go on and on about possible solutions, but this piece is already long enough.

Suffice it to say, though, that there does need to be an upper limit on individual wealth and corporate profit, with the rest going back to everyone else (i.e. the workers who made that wealth possible) or back into the corporation (i.e. its employees). Those wealthy individuals and corporations can chose how to give it back providing that they start giving it out at the bottom instead of the top — or they can chose not to, and the government will take care of that part for them.

It could end poverty pretty damn fast without impoverishing a single billionaire or bankrupting any corporations. Imagine that.

Roller coaster

As I recovered from heart failure and lost over a hundred pounds in the course of a year, it wasn’t all just diet, exercise, and medication. A huge part of that battle was mental. Here’s one of the things that got me through it.

When I was seven years old and on a trip to visit my mom’s family back East, my dad took me to one of those rinky-dink pop-up carnivals. You know the type. They show up in public parks and church parking lots seemingly overnight and generally consist of a few shady sideshow games and a few shadier rides.

At this carnival, my dad took me on a roller coaster — my first, actually. As a roller coaster, it wasn’t much to speak of. It was a single loop that covered the area of maybe two semi-flatbed trailers, and a single circuit couldn’t have lasted a minute, if that — probably more like thirty seconds. The tallest point on it was maybe ten feet.

We strap in and the operator starts the ride. We get to the first insignificant drop, and my seven-year-old mind freaks out. I do not like this at all — the sensation of falling, and of being out of control.

We pull back into the station and I’m all ready to get off when the operator gives a look and a nod.

That wasn’t the only lap.

As I try to protest, we take off and run the course again. This time, it’s scarier, because I know what’s coming. To add insult to injury, pardon the cliché, the operator sends us on one more circuit before… freedom!

From that day forward, I knew that I hated roller coasters and avoided them. It wasn’t until I was an adult and some friends basically shamed me into getting onto Space Mountain that I discovered something I never would have otherwise.

I love roller coasters!

Space Mountain had me hooked, and from then on I’ve looked forward to riding. The only exceptions are rides with steep drops. I do not like those, but at least I figured that one out through the clear eyes of adult experience, and gave it a couple of tries before I decided that I just don’t like that physical feeling.

But that decision came after some actual testing, instead of as a seven-year-old’s panic that turned into a pseudo-phobia that lasted over a decade.

I kind of had the same issue with doctors once upon a time, and that fear and reluctance nearly killed me. The biggest surprise? Once I put myself in their hands, I realized, “I’ve been afraid of nothing all along.”

That is the state that too many of us live in: Afraid of nothing all along. So my challenge to you is this: Figure out your thing that you’re very reluctant to do. It doesn’t necessarily have to be because of fear. You can call it disgust, or nervousness, or any negative emotion, really. Next, figure out where that reluctance came from. Is it something that happened in your childhood? Is it for some reason you can’t even remember? Is it because of one bad experience as an adult?

Whatever the cause, here’s my challenge: Go do that thing. You only have to do it one time, but the important part of the exercise is confronting your reluctance and finding out whether it’s real or imagined.

The worst thing that can happen is that you confirm you’ve been right all these years, but at least then you get to be justified in your dislike of something. But I’m willing to bet that most of those fears and distastes are imagined, and you might even discover a new thing that you really, really like.

Like I did, with roller coasters. But I never would have found that out without taking one more ride.

“War is not healthy for children and other living things.” Except…

This is another one of my older posts that keeps getting new traffic over and over,  nd I don’t know why. I thought I’d give it another boost for new readers to discover.

The title of this article comes from an incredibly iconic poster that was created during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Specifically, it was created by printmaker Lorriane Schneider in 1967, and was inspired by her concern that her oldest son would be drafted and die in a war that many Americans considered unnecessary.

However, the Vietnam War is a strange exception and beginning point for a tidal change in American wars. Post-Vietnam, the only benefits wars seem to have given us are more efficient (although not cheaper) ways to kill people, and that sucks. (Incidentally, the Korean War is technically not a war. It also technically never ended.)

But… as weird as it may sound, a lot of the major wars prior to Vietnam actually gave American society weird and unexpected benefits. Yeah, all of that death and killing and violence were terrible, but like dandelions breaking through urban sidewalks to bloom and thrive, sometimes, good stuff does come in the aftermath of nasty wars. Here are five examples.

The American Revolution, 1775-1783

The Benefit: The First Amendment (and the rest of the Constitution)

By the beginning of the 18th century, Europe was having big problems because Monarchs and the Church were all tied up together, the state dictated religion, and so on. It came to an extreme with Britain’s Act of Settlement in 1714, which barred any Catholic from ever taking the throne. The end result of this was that the next in line turned out to be the future George I, son of Sophia. Sophia, however, was an Elector of Hanover or, in other words, German. Queen Victoria was a direct descendant of George I, and spoke both English and German. In fact her husband, Prince Albert, was German.

But the net result of all the tsuris over the whole Catholic vs. Protestant thing in Europe, on top of suppression of the press by governments, led to the Founders making sure to enshrine freedom of speech and the wall between church and state in the very first Amendment to the Constitution, before anything else. To be fair, though, England did start to push for freedom of the press and an end to censorship in the 17th century, so that’s probably where the Founders got that idea. But the British monarch was (and still is) the head of the Church of England, so the score is one up, one down.

The War of 1812, 1812-1815

The Benefit: Permanent allegiance between the U.S. and Britain

This was basically the sequel to the American Revolution, and came about because of continued tensions between the two nations. Britain had a habit of capturing American sailors and forcing them into military duty against the French, for example, via what were vernacularly called “press gangs.” They also supported Native Americans in their war against the fairly new country that had been created by invading their land. So again, one up, one down. And the second one, which is the down vote to America, is rather ironic, considering that the Brits were basically now helping out the people whose land had been stolen by… the first English settlers to get there.

And, honestly, if we’re really keeping score, the U.S. has two extra dings against it in this one: We started it by declaring war — even if there were legitimate provocations from Britain — and then we invaded Canada.

But then a funny thing happened. The U.S. won the war. By all rights it shouldn’t have. It was a new country. It really didn’t have the military to do it. It was going up against the dominant world power of the time, and one that would soon become an empire to boot.

The war technically ended with the Treaty of Ghent in 1814, but there was still the Battle of New Orleans to come after that, and it happened because news of the end of the war hadn’t gotten there yet. In that one, the U.S. kicked Britain’s ass so hard that they then basically said, “Remember all the concessions we made in that treaty? Yeah, not. LOL.”

In a lot of ways, the war was really a draw, but it did get the British to remove any military presence from the parts of North America that were not Canada, and opened the door to American expansionism across the continent. It also helped to establish the boundary between the U.S. and Canada, which is to this day the world’s longest undefended border. Finally, it cemented the relationship of the U.S. and Britain as allies and BFFs, which definitely came in handy in the 20th century during a couple of little European dust-ups that I’ll be getting to shortly.

The American Civil War, 1861-1865

The Benefit: Mass-manufactured bar soap

Now in comparison to the first two, this one may seem trivial and silly, but it actually does have ramifications that go far beyond the original product itself. And it doesn’t matter whether you’re a fan of bar soap now or go for the liquid kind (my preference), because both were really born out of the same need and process.

Once upon a time, soap-making was one of the many onerous tasks that the women of the house were expected to do, along with cleaning, cooking, sewing, canning, laundry, ironing, taking care of the menfolk (husbands and sons, or fathers and brothers), and generally being the literal embodiment of the term “drudge.” But soap-making was so arduous a task in terms of difficulty and general nastiness that it was something generally done only once or twice a year, basically making enough to last six or twelve months.

To make soap involved combining rendered fat and lye. (Remember Fight Club?) The fat came easy, since people at the time slaughtered their own animals for food, so they just ripped it off of the cow or pig or whatever meat they’d eaten. The lye came from leeching water through ashes from a fire made from hardwood, believe it or not, and since wood was pretty much all they had to make fires for cooking, ashes were abundant. Yes, I know, it’s really counter-intuitive that something so caustic could be made that way, but there you go. The secret is in the potassium content of the wood. Fun fact: the terms hard- and softwood have nothing to do with the actual wood itself, but rather with how the trees reproduce. (And I’ll let your brain make the joke so I don’t have to.)

So soap was a household necessity, but difficult to make. Now, while William Procter and James Gamble started to manufacture soap in 1838, it was still a luxury product at the time. It wasn’t until a lot of men went to war in 1861 that women had to run homesteads and farms on top of all of their other duties, and so suddenly manufactured soap started to come into demand. Especially helpful was Procter and Gamble providing soap to the Union Army, so that soldiers got used to it and wanted it once they came home.

Obviously, easier access to soap helped with hygiene but, more importantly, the industry advertised like hell, and from about the 1850s onward, selling soap was big business. There’s a reason that we call certain TV shows “soap operas,” after all, and that’s because those were the companies that sponsored the shows.

World War I, 1914-1918 (U.S. involvement, 1917-1918)

The Benefit: Woman’s suffrage and the right to vote

It’s probably common knowledge — or maybe not — that two big things that happened because of World War I were an abundance of prosthetic limbs and advances in reconstructive and plastic surgery. However, neither of these were really invented because of this conflict, which “only” led to improved surgical techniques or better replacement limbs.

The real advance is sort of an echo of the rise of soap via the Civil War, in the sense that the former conflict freed women from one nasty restriction: Having no say in government. And, as usually happens when the boys march off to do something stupid, the women have to take up the reins at home, and sometimes this gets noticed. It certainly did in the case of WW I, and suffragettes wisely exploited the connection between women and the homefront war effort. Less than two years after the conflict officially ended, women were given the right to vote on August 26, 1920 with the passage of the 19th Amendment.

Hey! Only 144 years too late. Woohoo!

World War II, 1939-1945 (U.S. involvement, 1941-1945)

The Benefit: The rise of the American middle class

As World War II was starting to move to an end, the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 was passed into law. It was designed to assist returning service members via things like creating the VA hospital system, providing subsidized mortgages, assisting with educational expenses, and providing unemployment. It was also a direct reaction to the less-than-fantastic reception returning veterans of World War I had received.

In fact, one of FDR’s goals in creating what is commonly known as the G.I. Bill was to expand the middle class, and it succeeded. Suddenly, home ownership was within reach of people who hadn’t been able to obtain it before and, as a result, new housing construction exploded and, with it, the emergence of suburbs all across the country. With education, these veterans found better jobs and higher incomes, and that money went right back into the economy to buy things like cars, TVs, and all the other accoutrements of suburban living. They also started having children — it’s not called the Baby Boom for nothing — and those children benefited with higher education themselves. The rates of people getting at least a Bachelor’s Degree began a steady climb in the 1960s, right when this generation was starting to graduate high school. At the same time, the percentage of people who hadn’t even graduated from high school plunged.

The top marginal tax rates of all time in the U.S. happened in 1944 and 1945, when they were at 94%. They remained high — at least 91% — throughout the 1950s. Oddly, despite the top rate in the 1940s being higher, the median and average top tax rates in the 1950s were higher — about 86% for both in the 40s and 91% for both in the 50s. The economy was booming, and in addition to paying for the war, those taxes provided a lot of things for U.S. Citizens.

Even as his own party wanted to dismantle a lot of FDR’s New Deal policies, President Eisenhower forged ahead with what he called “Modern Republicanism.” He signed legislation and started programs that did things like provide government assistance to people who were unemployed, whether simply for lack of work or due to age or illness. Other programs raised the minimum wage, increased the scope of Social Security, and founded the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. In a lot of ways, it was like the G.I. Bill had been extended to everyone.

How to structure your writing

You see it mostly in the film industry, rarely in TV, sort of onstage, and well-hidden in novels: An obsession over getting a story’s structure “right.” But what is the right structure, anyway?

Certain people who shall remain nameless have made way too much money presuming to teach the “right” way to structure a story, particularly screenplays, but the truth is that there is no magic formula to structuring a script. Sadly, in the film business, you have to make a screenplay look like it follows whatever flavor-of-the-month structure is preferred by the accountants running the show — they don’t know how to read scripts otherwise — but it really is a lot of obsession over a problem that isn’t as difficult as it should be.

There’s a term that comes out of the world of architecture but which really applies to any art: “Form follows function.” That is, if you’re building a bakery, you shouldn’t design it like it’s a library and vice versa. Otherwise, you’ll just wind up with a bad bakery (or a loathsome library).

Likewise, the overall structure of the piece you’re writing should reflect the story you’re writing, and you can see examples of this everywhere. A Beautiful Mind, for example, told the story of a man whose schizophrenia began to develop in college and it told that story from his point of view — it wasn’t obvious that he actually had mental issues until well into the movie.

Pulp Fiction takes inspiration from its title to structure the story, which is more episodic and novelistic — and also rattles the old rule that movies had to follow a strict three-act format.

You see this even more strongly onstage. For example, the musical Chicago was designed to mimic a vaudeville show of the era — the 1920s — a convention that was sort of kept and sort of not in the film version. Film and TV, by necessity, almost always have to be more literal than other formats, although there are those rare films, like 2003’s Dogville, a Lars von Trier movie in which the “set” is just a schematic diagram of the town it’s set in on the floor of an empty soundstage.

Of course, films like that don’t often find wide audiences.

But to meander back to the subject at hand, structure really works like this, and it’s worked like this for as long as people have been telling stories: There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end.

That’s it. Oh, except that each of those has its own beginning, middle, and end, so you eventually wind up with three sets of three.

  1. Beginning: This is the part in which we find out who the characters are, where the thing is happening, and an idea of what the situation or conflict will be — what is the event that makes the story happen?
  2. Middle: This is where the main story happens, with all the stuff set up in the beginning developing and complicating itself and the conflict building until we hit the climax at the end of the middle — the point where it looks like things couldn’t get any worse or more complicated. Or can they?
  3. End: This is where everything plays out and is resolved. If the story is a comedy, then the protagonist gets what they were after. If it’s a tragedy, then they don’t. Note that these are the strict, classical definitions of the two — meaning that yes, technically “The Martian” was a comedy and won its Golden Globe in the right category.

Now, here’s the fun part: Arranging things this way absolutely does not mean that you have to tell your story in strict chronological fashion. Pulp Fiction jumps all over the place but still progresses forward dramatically. Memento goes in one direction and out the other. Run Lola Run tells its story three times. Merrily We Roll Along is still backwards.

In all good art, the structure is not temporal. It’s emotional. Think of how different Citizen Kane would be if you found out what “Rosebud” meant in the first scene instead of the last — and yet it’s entirely possible that the revealing moment (in “real life”) may have actually happened much closer to what we saw as the beginning of the story rather than near the end.

So when you set out to tell your story, first find the form to follow your function, then pick two points: What’s the beginning, and what’s the ending? Next, figure out what complications and conflicts happen in the middle. Now subdivide your beginning, middle, and ending into their own beginnings, middles, and endings, and fill up those nine little boxes.

There’s your structure. Now build the thing to look like the form you came up with originally. Don’t worry that much about things like page count or what exactly happens when. If you can explain what happens in your story when and why, then you’ve already got the pitch that will make it look like your script tastes like the structure flavor-of-the-month — and if you’re writing for theatre, you’re going to be much less limited in that regard to begin with.

Don’t be afraid of structure. Embrace it and make it your own.

What a drag, Part I

Prologue

A note before we begin: Do not confuse the following terms, because they are very different things, and I’m really only dealing with one of them except where otherwise noted.

DRAG QUEEN: a person — originally but now not necessarily a cis-man — who dresses up as a woman in a very flamboyant and exaggerated manner, usually as part of a stage presentation or drag ball; it is a performance. In the past, usually associated with the gay male community, but in the present day, there are Drag Queens of all genders and sexualities.

CROSS-DRESSER: a person who wears the clothing of the opposite sex outside of a performance context, and may just do it for comfort or cultural reasons — for example, a lot of traditional male dress from places like Japan, Turkey, and Scotland could be considered more like women’s clothing in the west. This also covers people on Halloween who play the opposite sex — cross-dressing as costume but not performance.

TRANSVESTITE: a person who wears the clothes of the opposite sex, but usually as a sexual fetish. Perhaps surprisingly to some, the vast majority of male transvestites are straight men, but this makes sense. They dress as women because they are attracted to them.

TRANSGENDER: a person whose true gender does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth, which is usually based on the appearance of their genitals at that time. In case it’s confusing, think of it like this: sex is what’s between your legs, orientation is what’s in your heart, and gender is what’s between your ears. Sometimes they all line up and sometimes they don’t. Fortunately, we’re at a point where it’s become much easier, in some places, for science to line up the parts between the legs and ears via gender confirmation surgery — and note that very important switch in terminology from the crass and insensitive “sex change.” A transwoman, for example, doesn’t “become” female. She always was. It’s just the plumbing that had to be adjusted to fit reality.

Now that we have the definitions down, here we go, keeping in mind that I’m talking about only that first group, the campy Drag Queens. And since drag is all about performance and the theatre of Shakespeare’s day is famous for all of the boys playing women parts, I have structured this as a play of the era, with intermission.

* * *

Act I

I’ll just say it: despite being a gay man, I’m just not into drag, especially not the extremely over-the-top campy type. Oh, I can appreciate the history of it, and why it became a formative part of the community in America starting in the late 1920s. It just doesn’t appeal to me as an audience member or as a participant.

Once this kind of drag started to leak out into public after Stonewall but before RuPaul, I think it hurt more than it helped because it gave people with much more closed minds a reason to point at and mock the “sissy boys who all wanted to be women,” simultaneously driving the more masculine gays deeper into the closet and denying the validity of transgender people, especially transwomen, because it implied that the latter wanted to “become” women rather than acknowledged that they always were.

To this day, when the LGB part of the community is asked, “What are the most annoying things that straight people ask you?” the number one response is always “Which one is the man, and which one is the woman?

First of all, that’s not even the right terminology. For men, it’s top and bottom; for women, it’s butch and femme; and for bisexual people it’s either of the two depending on which configuration they’re in at the moment.

RuPaul did a lot to correct all of this just by virtue of winning over the non-LGBTQ+ public, and nowadays “Drag Queen” is not limited to cis-gender gay men. Transgender and non-binary people are doing it, and we also see Drag Kings, who are usually butch lesbians but, again, the gender lines are being erased, which is probably a good thing.

Dame Edna Everage, aka Barry Humphries, is more famous for the over-the-top Melbourne housewife he’s played for going on 65 years now. He first performed the character in 1955, when he was a mere 21 years old, and Mr. Humphries happens to be completely straight. And his also happens to be one drag act that I do enjoy, but probably because it’s not about over-the-top camp. It’s about satirizing the mindset of a certain kind of suburbanite whose opinion we are not necessarily supposed to agree with.

But I’m still not into drag, even though I can appreciate the history. To me, drag to gay men is like cursive is to a modern office: Something that was necessary for everyone to be able to do at one time, but is no longer needed and, in fact, really holds things back.

Weird flex? Maybe. But bear with me and it will make sense.

Act II

The term “drag” originated in the world of theater, with its earliest use currently being attested to 1870. It referred to men wearing women’s clothing, and the whole idea was that when they walked on stage in the period dress of the day, the whole damn thing dragged on the ground — probably because, unlike women, they weren’t wearing heels.

They did have a precedent for dressing like women, though, because that’s exactly how it was done in Shakespeare’s day. Women were not permitted on the stage while he was writing and producing because, reasons. Mostly sexist, misogynistic reasons created by men and blamed on the Bible. Plus ça change

Women were considered the weaker sex, they needed to be controlled by men, etc., etc., and it hurt my soul just having to type those words. There was also the idea that women were supposed to be pure and chaste (no such rule for men) and a female actor was considered to be lower than a prostitute.

In modern times, theater companies have played with both restoring and inverting the men-as-women practice, with productions both casting men in the women’s parts and casting women in the men’s parts.

In Shakespeare’s day, this men-only casting would lead to the reality of older male actors having to do love scenes with twinks all done up as girls, and one does have to wonder how much of it was an inside plot. Or, in other words, how much of these goings-on in Elizabethan theatre were really just a cover for the (at the time) GB community?

I have to wonder because this concept will become important later, but before we get to that, we have to skip to about a decade after the term “drag” was coined in theater in a strictly non-orientation related sense.

Enter William Dorsey Swann (the subject of the photo up top), arguably America’s first drag queen — or “queen of drag” — and in exactly those words. Interestingly enough, he exploded onto the scene more or less exactly one century before RuPaul did, doing his thing in the 1890s.

Oh. Did I mention that he was a Black man and a former slave? And that he was hosting underground drag balls in Washington D.C. in the 1880s? And he demanded (and was refused) a pardon by President Grover Cleveland after having been arrested on false charges of “running a disorderly house,” which applied to brothels. Swann’s house was not a brothel.

Just like the raids on gay bars in the early 1960s, the raids on Swann’s parties led to men’s names being published in the papers, and lives and careers ruined.

Drag really became linked with the gay community as an identity, though, with the confluence of two things: Prohibition, and the acceptance of gay people in the bohemian communities of major cities like New York and Chicago.

It was known as the “Pansy Craze,” although it didn’t last long. The “Roaring (19)20s” were a time when the parties got a little bit wilder, and when the non-gay public came out to see the “pansies” as a novelty. Prohibition’s contribution was creating underground clubs, hidden from the police (for a while) where more and more gay men could go and be themselves, and do drag as a form of self-expression.

Unfortunately, the involvement of (in fact, creation of) organized crime that always comes along with any kind of prohibition creating a black market drew the attention of the authorities right to these places, especially the gay ones, and the harassment and raids, three decades before Stonewall, began. Popular performers and denizens began fleeing to Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, but ultimately found them equally inhospitable.

They fled to London, Berlin, and Paris, although London was about as welcoming to them as they had been to Oscar Wilde. Things were better in Paris and Berlin, although Hitler, like all authoritarians, was very anti-gay, so that party ended as he rose to power, q.v. Cabaret, the film version or the modern revival, not the original musical because, surprise, the original stage version, released pre-Stonewall, completely straight-washed the sexual orientation of the author of the story it was based on.

Act III

World War II was a big point when drag was driven underground except, ironically, as a part of that war itself. There weren’t a lot of women overseas, so when it came to staging theatrical entertainment for the boys, it was all boys, some of them playing girls. This was the Shakespeare version all over again, though, and not inherently gay, although it’s well known that the next wave of America’s gay communities that sprang up post-war all started in port towns — San Diego, Long Beach, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Boston, New York, etc., — because those were the places soldiers were brought back to, and the ones who’d realized they were gay while on deployment chose to stay where they landed rather than to return home and face ostracism.

Life was still underground, but the anonymity of big cities, especially at the time, created a new sort of freedom. Gay men couldn’t necessarily go out to bars in drag, but they could find each other.

Then, the 60s became an era of general protest by every disenfranchised group. It saw the Civil Rights Movement against racism; the Student Movement (which encompassed various other movements of the time); The Women’s Movement (for equal rights); the Environmental Movement (sound familiar?); the Farmworkers’ Movement (for the rights of exploited immigrant workers); and the Gay Rights Movement.

I won’t get bogged down in the wins and losses of those movements, except in the current context. The Stonewall Riots marked the beginning of the modern Gay Rights Movement, and the first Gay Pride parades took place one year later (or just over fifty years ago) in 1970, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

Kind of ironic, really, that Pride didn’t happen in 2020, and may not happen in 2021, but for reasons entirely unrelated to homophobia — although our community certainly has experience with being fucked over by a plague.

Cue a few decades of struggle up to June 26, 2015, two days shy of the 46th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and the U.S. Supreme Court declares same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

The world does not end, people get to happily couple, and everything seems well and good until a certain ill-fated day in November 2016, and an even worse day in January 2017. So there’s no telling what reverses we may face, but never mind any of this. I was going to explain why I personally am not into drag.

INTERMISSION

Sunday Nibble #60: Patreonage

Because I was finally fortunate enough to be able to, I signed on as a Patreon monthly supporter for three YouTube creators I’ve followed for a long time. It’s a tiny amount, but it helps them to do what they do and, thanks to the behind-the-scenes info and perqs, it’s pretty easy to see that yes, they really do appreciate the support.

Also, because it’s been a long and very busy week, I’m having a lazy Sunday, so consider this installment a clip show, if you will.

Name Explain

Run by a low-key and deadpan funny British man named Patrick, this channel is all about language, including word origins, place names, and so on, so you can see why I’m a big fan.

He does all of the illustration, layout, writing, and editing for his pieces, with the occasional live-action installment, and he’s a pretty constant poster. Sometimes, it seems like he has new content daily.

Here is one of his latest pieces, in which he discusses what is apparently the most-hated of English words: Moist.

He’s also currently got a Patreon pledge drive going on with the goal being to hit $1,000 in supporters before June 1, IIRC. If he meets that goal, he’ll shave off his beard — which has been his trademark look since forever. And he’s close, having crept past $900 last month.

Just visit the Name Explain YouTube channel and check it out.

Morn1415

This channel is all about science, particularly space and physics, so a natural attraction for me. For the longest time, there was no narration in the videos which we later learned was because the creator is not a native English speaker.

However, he finally started narrating, and while he has an accent, it actually adds to the experience. I can’t remember whether he’s mentioned where he’s from, but his accents puts him somewhere in the Swiss/German/Austrian zone

The piece of his that first attracted my intention involved a comparison of star sizes, beginning with our own Sun, and then spiraling upwards and onwards until reaching the ridiculousness of a star that’s about the size of our entire solar system.

But the one that really impressed me was when he combined two different works — one which went from the scale of quantum foam up to human size, and the other which started on human scale and went all the way up to the entire universe.

Then, he put them together to start at the quantum scale, wind our way up by powers of 10 to the whole universe itself, and then plummet back down to where we started.

He calls it Vortex. Set your video to the maximum resolution you can, switch it to full screen, put on your headphones, turn off the lights and hang on for an amazing ride.

And don’t forget to check out everything else on the Morn1415 YouTube channel.

Matt Baume

Finally, this channel is named for its host, who is a connoisseur of LGBT history, particularly through its portrayals in modern pop culture. Particularly illuminating is his walk through the evolution of the depiction of LGBT characters in television from the 1970s to the present — well, he’s up to the late 90s by now.

There are some real surprises, some pleasant, and some… not. It’s probably no surprise that The Golden Girls dealt with gay themes and presented homosexual characters in a positive light, and Baume has covered that idea several times.

He also covers current events, hosts live hangouts, and has a long-running series, The Sewers of Paris that is also available as a podcast, in which he takes an hour or so to deep dive on LGBT history, as well as interview significant people from that history.

Check out the Matt Baume YouTube channel.

Disclaimer: Other than supporting them through Patreon, I am not affiliated with any of these creators or sites, and am receiving nothing in exchange for this article outside of what all of their other Patrons are getting. I just believe in what they do, didn’t feel like writing too complicated of an article today, and wanted to help them out.

The Saturday Morning Post #61: The Rêves Part 39

You can catch up with the first installment of this piece here. It started as somewhat of an experiment. It seems to be taking the form of a supernatural thriller, set above and below the streets of Los Angeles. We’re close to the end, with only two chapters after this one.

Septennials

Many media outlets had dubbed the incident The Day of the Dead, although there were also a lot of objections to this phrase, which was essentially cultural appropriation. Other media outlets preferred to use The Resurrection, while social media had a number of references: Heaven’s Last Call, Tomb Evaders, Coco Oh-no! and the probably inevitable Forest Lawn of the Dead.

In the first year after the incident, things changed a lot, some good and some bad. From the beginning, a lot of religious groups took it as the literal Resurrection of the dead that heralded the End Times, but for a lot of them it made no sense, because certain events had to happen first, and they hadn’t.

Three schools of thought on it emerged. One was based on the idea that no one could know the hour of Jesus’ return and that he’d come like a thief in the night, so it didn’t matter whether this Resurrection fit in with all of their hypotheses and prophecies. That wasn’t for humans to decide, so it was absolutely the real deal.

A second group took exactly the opposite tack: This did not fit their theology at all, so something was wrong. Their pastors and scholars had studied the Bible deeply, and had mapped out exactly what would happen when. Since this incident didn’t occur when it was supposed to in the grand scheme of things, it must have been the work of Satan, and all of the resurrected were actually demons. This group sought to have them all hunted down and eliminated.

The third group also believed that it was the Resurrection proper, but went off the rails to the extreme. While there were not as many members of this category, there were still enough that there was a substantial jump in mass suicides among families and small congregations who figured that there was no point in waiting around anymore, since they had already seen others brought back in the flesh.

Meanwhile, after about six months, scientists had a pretty good idea of what had happened, especially after a stunned government allowed a select team access to all of Ausmann’s files, as well as to Joshua and Simon, who had been intimately involved.

Of course, none of the cameras in the complex had been on at the time, so their story was that Ausmann had gone a little crazy — backed up by evidence from both the Simi Valley PD and the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office — and while giving some insane rant from that top platform about using the machine to take over the world had slipped and fallen.

Since he’d been keeping Joshua and Simon at bay at the bottom with a gun at the time, they weren’t able to save him. Presumably, the gun had been vaporized along with the hand and arm that had been holding it when Ausmann fell through the plasma stream.

The end result was a 900-page report detailing all of the science, and which nobody in the government could even begin to understand outside of the science wonks, but Congress Peoples’ eyes would just glaze over whenever those wonks spoke, so the real content of the report only got through to a few.

Joshua, Simon, and the authors knew the whole story. Outside of that circle, it was heavily redacted, particularly to eliminate any mention of a machine designed to send messages back in time. That was a highly classified secret.

What was allowed out was an explanation that the machine had generated exotic matter in an effort to figure out what dark matter and dark energy were, how they interacted with regular matter, and what effect gravity had on them.

It was a completely bullshit explanation of purposes that a lot of physicists both astro- and quantum had picked up on immediately, but they also understood that the real reasons probably couldn’t be unveiled, and so kept their silence, at least publicly.

When it finally dripped down to the popular science media before becoming completely distorted in the laymen’s press, the story was that this exotic matter experiment had set up resonating wave fronts that, in effect, made people hallucinate projections of their own memories, which was why there were a combination of dead celebrities and people with living friends.

As for the physical resurrection of people, that happened when the machine was damaged, and this was the only point where they invoked time travel, but not as an intentional effect. Rather, when the generator broke down, the exotic matter briefly converted into something that in turn caused a “local temporal anomaly,” which is what de-aged the living LEOs up at JPL, and physically brought back the corpses in all the cemeteries within certain areas.

When it hit trash rags like the NY Post and The Daily Mail, the headlines were things like, “Science Smash the Dead to Life,” or “Atom-Smasher Accident Brings Back Your Gran.”

Naturally, all kinds of conspiracy theories popped up in the aftermath, including a group calling themselves the 9/2 Truthers (or 9tooTru, as their logo and T-shirts read), clearly taking inspiration from another totally discredited group from over twenty years before — although, to be fair, they did manage to dance around the hole in the donut, mainly the lack of references to working and intentional time-travel in the final report, mainly because they didn’t have access to that.

Where they went totally wrong, though, was insisting that the whole thing had been an intentional government plot to create a “resurrection beam” as well as fountain of youth, and what had happened was supposed to be a small, controlled test that got out of hand.

At least that final report had assuaged the fears of those who were not religious and had no idea what to make of it all. But it still left the problem of dealing with all the extra new people. Even if they didn’t need to eat or take up resources like that, they still needed shelter and a way to pay for it.

The County had greenlit and set up Brenda’s new Department of Post After-Care Entry Services almost immediately — and yes, the acronym was PACE, as in Requiescat in Pace, or Rest in Peace. They set up her offices in Culver City in a 32,000 square foot warehouse that had formerly hosted the county’s Internal Services Department. On the one hand, she wasn’t all that happy about it being a huge, windowless place. On the other, it was directly adjacent to Holy Cross Cemetery, which was ridiculously appropriate.

It was also a really short commute from home, although she could work remotely quite a lot. Within a month of everything being opened and the space allocated, she went to work getting it converted.

It would be a combination of intake/interview center, resource warehouse providing mostly clothing to their clients (accommodating any era-based, cultural, or religious preferences they had), as well as a temporary shelter. This was also where their social media and marketing offices were located, with a final corner of the old warehouse serving as a transit bay for the various shuttles that would take their clients to their new housing and jobs as assistants to the various historians, librarians, and archivists working all over the city.

They also kept their eyes out for certain very necessary lost skills in the modern age. For example, anyone who happened to know the programming language COBOL was immediately referred to high-end government work at various levels, since so many government computers were so old that they still ran it.

Oh, that wasn’t a function of government being out-of-touch, though. Quite the opposite. Part of it was because the scale of government would make updating hardware and software on the same schedule that people replaced iPhones ridiculously expensive and time-consuming.

Add on top of that continuity gaps in service and retraining people in new software and hardware, it was an undertaking to only be carried out every few decades and, even then, only one department at a time, very carefully.

The other big reason for not modernizing was that if no one knew how to code in the language, then no one knew how to hack it.

The drawback, of course, was that untangling the code, simplifying it, and making internal updates could only be done by the people who knew it.

There were some other “ancient” talents that were the new hot jobs to have, at least for the Rêves — who now called themselves Revivants — and Brenda’s people were tasked with keeping their eyes out for those.

One that nobody had to spot came directly to Brenda. It was Anabel, who expressed her true admiration for what Brenda had done. This surprised her, because what few interactions she had had with Anabel made her think that she disdained humans.

But Anabel had a plan and a request. She was very happy that Brenda was helping her kind back into society, but Anabel also felt that she had something to offer, and she described her vast and successful business experience, which blew Brenda away.

For one thing, she knew how young Anabel was when she had originally died. But she also knew that women were still fighting for the right to vote, and didn’t even get it until not long before Anabel did die. So she just assumed that a woman of the era wouldn’t have had any experience in business, beyond maybe typing letters and sending telegrams for some Wizard of Wall Street.

Experience shared, Anabel went on with her plan. She wanted to help the female Revivants who had only ever been trapped in domestic roles to break out of them by teaching them business skills, considering that the field was a lot more open to women now.

She reasoned that the basic psychology of business and marketing that she had intuited hadn’t changed because people hadn’t. Where she needed Brenda’s help, beyond making the connections, was in borrowing people to train these women in the modern tools they would need to use Anabel’s universal techniques for success.

Anabel could speak the language of the formerly dead women of the past, and translate the jargon of the social media and computer kiddies to them as well. If anything, it would become a sort of trade school intensive that would help re-integrate these women back into society, and at a higher level than they could have ever dreamed of the first time around.

Brenda didn’t even have to think twice. “Done!” she said. “I’ll just have to find a property where you can set up shop, and then assign you some of my social media and marketing people. Oh, hang on…”

She picked up her phone and dialed. “Stacey, who do we have in our vocational training department who’s really good at developing curriculum…? Uh-huh, yeah. She’d be amazing. Is she here today…? Great. Can you send her to my office? Thanks!”

She hung up. “Step number one. Design your course.”

Brenda’s door was open, so the woman in question strolled right in, all positive energy. “Howdy,” she announced, “What can I do you for?”

She was an older woman with a cascade of curly gray and black hair that tumbled down her head and well past her shoulders, with a friendly face and metal-rimmed glasses with circular lenses. Anabel liked her instantly. Of course, she had that effect on a lot of people.

“Anabel, this is Simone. Simone, Anabel is a Revivant I met before the incident. She has an amazing idea for a course to train women in business and marketing, and I want you to help her plan the curriculum. I’ve assigned her to the USC satellite office.”

“Fantastic,” Simone gushed. “I really look forward to working with you, Anabel,” she said. “When do we start?” she asked Brenda.

“You already have,” Brenda replied, grabbing a page that came out of her printer and handing it over. “Here’s the office info. Pick up the keys in operations. If you need it, I’ll have a driver take you both, and thank you so much for doing this.”

“Don’t mention it!” Simone said.

Anabel’s program turned out to be one of the most successful, and it was amazing how well the women she trained took to what she taught them. More than a few of them at some point would have the “A-ha!” moment. “This was exactly how I manipulated my husband into doing what I wanted while making him think it was his idea…”

“And that, ladies, is marketing!” Anabel would announce whenever the thought came up. “Or to put it in more modern terms: Sex sells. Well, the promise of sex, anyway.” There would always be nervous but knowing laughter after this.

Within a year, Brenda’s department had made a huge dent in re-integrating everyone, and she had been written up in countless publications, both internal government and business pubs, and in the mainstream media.

“The Woman Giving New Life to the Dead” was a common theme.

Despite her initial reluctance, Jonah and Esme urged her to get out more into the public eye and become the face of the department, and pretty soon she was the go-to expert anytime a reporter was writing a story about the Revivants, and then anytime any major media outlet was doing a piece on the same.

She started to get requests to appear on talk shows and balked until her mother sat her down and talked some sense into her.

“Do you not realize what a gigantic opportunity this is?” she said. “They are begging you to come on as the expert in your field. And when white people are begging a woman of color to do that, you do that. No ifs, ands, or buts. You elevate yourself, you elevate us all.”

Esme’s sincerity and intensity almost brought Brenda to tears, but then she replied, “The only reason I’m reluctant is because I don’t want my kids dragged into this.”

“Why would they be?” Esme asked.

“For one thing, Malia is kind of newsworthy. Especially since her doctors okayed starting hormone replacement therapy in about a month.”

“And if they bring her up?” Esme snapped back. “Simple. First, tell them that she’s got nothing to do with this. Second, tell them that if they’re trying to use her status in any way to paint you as a failed parent, they are wrong as hell, and turn it around. Ask them why they wouldn’t support their own child 100% in any of their decisions. That’ll put them on the ropes.”

“I can handle their bullshit, Mom,” Brenda said. “But what about Malia? If she sees herself being trashed in the media — ”

“Oh, child,” Esme replied. “I spend a lot of time with my granddaughter, and you want to know a secret? She is one of the strongest people I have ever met. She has long since learned the power of not caring what other people think about her, and if you don’t rip all them all new assholes for going after her, she will do it herself with a vengeance. That girl has got some salty in her.”

“Really?” Brenda just said, stunned.

“Well, why the hell not?” Esme replied. “She’s her mama’s daughter — and you are my daughter. We are one tough bunch of biddies, and you know it.”

“Well, okay then,” Brenda finally agreed. “If you believe in me, then I believe in me.”

“You better believe it,” Esme smiled at her.

Right after that, Brenda checked in with Rita, who hooked her up with a major Hollywood talent agency as well as the County Communications and Social Media Department, and then the bookings came fast and furious.

Over the next few years, she became a regular guest on talk shows left and right, as well as getting called on regularly to do stand-up news interviews after various events, both positive and negative, effecting the Revivant community.

A couple of years in, she tried to contact Joshua and Simon to see if they’d help out, but she could only get hold of Danny and Preston, who were kind of vague and only explained that the other two were off on some fact-finding mission and impossible to reach.

It would be years before she suddenly heard from the twins again out of the blue, but what they had to tell her was going to be very exciting news. She had asked the boys how they were doing, and while they didn’t provide specifics, they did mention that they were finding great success as entertainers.

Elsewhere, there were two performers for whom it hadn’t been so easy: Lewis and Davis. Or sometimes Davis and Lewis. They had gone through a year of improv classes with an excellent teacher and amazing classmates, but, for them, it just wasn’t clicking.

Each of them had their strengths and weaknesses, but they did not add up to a sum greater than the parts. When it came to anything with words, like rhyming and pun games, Davis would just freeze up and, for the life of her, not even be able to rhyme a word like “cat.”

The concept of puns eluded her completely, while Lewis could reel them off one after the other, effortlessly. He could also rhyme like a son-of-bitch on wheels.

But… when it came to scene games, which were all about building stories with characters, that was where Davis excelled, and Lewis just went flat. Davis could remember everything that was set up, while Lewis could remember nothing.

So Davis would walk into a scene in which “Jill” and “Susan” were established as sisters working on their glove farm in Oregon and glue herself to those names and concepts and build on them, but Lewis would go into a scene, even one where both characters had named each other at least three times, and immediately address “Bill” as “George” and “Ken” as “Keith,” and then also completely forget the relationship and insert a new one.

That could get awkward if, for example, Bill and George were father and son, but in Lewis’ mind, Ken and Keith were a couple. He was what improvisers quietly referred to among themselves as a “platform killer.”

After about six months, they both despaired of ever becoming the next Nichols and May, but then an off-hand comment during the warm-down huddle after a class changed everything.

One of their classmates, Ryan, mentioned that he’d started taking stand-up classes at a nearby theater, and another one, Tyler, chimed in to say that he was taking the same class and it was great.

Davis and Lewis made sure to catch up with the two of them as they all walked out the stage door, and asked them about the class. As it turned out, there was a new session starting in two weeks.

“So… for this, you write your shit out in advance?” Lewis asked.

“Of course,” Ryan explained. “It’s all about honing your story-telling and refining your jokes and your persona.”

“Hey, if they can make my sorry ass funny,” Tyler said, “They can do it for anyone.”

“Oh, honey,” Davis told him, “Your ass is far from sorry. I happened to think that you are totally hilarious.”

“Really?” he asked.

“Yes, duh,” she insisted.

She took down the information, and the next day she and her husband contacted the teacher and signed up. They were a little sad when they had to email their improv teacher to tell him that they wouldn’t be continuing, but Rick was an understanding guy, told them that he totally got it, and wished them luck.

Six months after their first stand-up class, they entered a beginner’s comedy competition at the club Flappers in Burbank — and Ryan was one of their competitors. They did a couple’s act in which they talked about their marriage, but each of them with obviously differing points of view and complete blindness to the other person’s — and it brought down the fucking house.

They took first place, then started to do the premium Friday and Saturday 8 p.m. gigs around town, took their act toward a political bent by pretending to support different presidential candidates starting around June (they didn’t, they were on the same side), and wound up being invited to do their thing on SNL’s October 2024 premiere as a feature in the opening sketch.

After that, the offers came left and right, but so did the press attention, once their former lives as cops combined with their de-aging during the incident came to light, but there was the downside, because the little revelation that they were a pair of fifty-somethings who only appeared to be in their mid-20s thanks to a lucky accident brought out the resentment in people.

It died down a bit leading up to and after the election, and they dropped the dueling politics aspect right after, but then decided to address the other part head-on. They spent the rest of the year figuring out how to write funny about their situation, and brought Ryan, Tyler, and their teacher into it, as well as continuing to take classes.

They even went back to improv, and while Davis still couldn’t rhyme or pun for shit, Lewis had suddenly gotten a lot better at listening and doing scene games. After about three years, they both managed to audition and join the main company, and a couple of years after that, an agent approached them after a show.

“You two have really got something,” he told them. “You’re probably way too young, but you remind me of Nichols and May.”

Davis and Lewis shot each other a look, their smiles telling each other to not give it away. “Really?” Davis said. “We don’t know who they are, but what are you thinking?”

He presented his card and said, “I book some of the major showrooms in Vegas, and we’re always in need of opening acts for the headliners. It might include having to relocate, for at least part of the year, but given your talent, I’m sure we could work something mutually lucrative out.”

Lewis and Davis exchanged another look, then turned back to the booker. “Hit us,” they said.

He gave them the paperwork and a week. Four days later, they had signed and were scheduled to do their first shows in two weeks. They would regularly be taken by limo to Burbank Airport and flown the half-hour to Vegas, put up in whatever hotel owned the showroom, then do their opening act for six nights plus a matinee (the non-filthy version) before being flown back to L.A. for two weeks.

Lather, rinse, repeat, ridiculous paycheck.

After a year or two of this, they got a gig being the audience warm-up act for Penn & Teller’s Fool Us, and that became the game changer. It was a lot more money spread over a shorter shooting schedule, and with better accommodations.

They even worked up an act where Davis played Penn and Lewis played Teller and they mocked the relationship as an old married couple. They were nervous as hell when they first presented it, but the real Penn & Teller laughed their asses off, taught the duo a couple of stage illusions, and let them loose on warming up the audience.

They eventually went from warm-up act for the TV show to opening act for the main stage show, in which Lewis played an arrogant, know-it-all magician, and Davis played the mostly silent assistant who was clearly the actually talented one, and the big joke of the act was the audience slowly realizing that the magician would have fucked up every single trick if the assistant hadn’t suddenly helped him.

It was a total crowd-pleaser and got rave reviews.

What was even more amazing was that by this point Teller was in his early 80s and Penn was in his mid-70s, and neither one of them showed a single sign of slowing down.

Then again, neither Lewis nor Davis had shown the slightest hint of aging since that particular “incident” at JPL which was now about seven years ago.

Coraline never knew enough to realize the irony that the same incident that had brought her back to physical life was also the one that had taken her (former?) husband out of it permanently. But when she finally made her way home the first time after a couple of weeks to find a completely vacant lot, she wasn’t sure what to do.

Her first instinct was to visit her daughter, Gretchen, which she immediately realized was a bad idea when she answered the bell, opened the door, screamed and fainted. Her husband, Henry, hurried into the foyer to see what happened, took one look at Coraline and just stared.

“Um… hello?” Coraline offered.

“You’re one of them, aren’t you?” he asked.

“One of…?” she replied.

“One of those abominations from hell,” he shot back before slamming the door in her face.

“Rude!” she thought, so then she went to her son’s house. When he opened the door, Valentin seemed a bit more accepting of her, but there was still a certain wariness in his attitude.

“Mom,” he exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”

“My house isn’t exactly livable right now,” she explained. “And has anyone mentioned that your father killed me?”

“What?” Valentin exclaimed. “Oh, crap.”

“Yeah, that’s a good description.”

“No, not that… we’ve already filed probate, since Dad left wills for both of you, and we found out a couple of days after the whole… thing that he’s dead, too.”

“Oh,” she replied with no feeling. “Was it painful?”

“They kind of only found bits of him from the tits up and thighs down.”

Coraline tried not to laugh.

“Anyway,” Valentin went on, “That’s kind of a done deal, because in the wills, everything went first to whichever one of you survived, and then next fifty-fifty to me and Gretchen. That included any property or possessions or, since those clearly aren’t a thing anymore, any insurance benefits. It’s already been settled.”

“But, I guess there’s a hitch now,” Coraline replied. “Because I’m not quite that dead anymore, so it sounds like everything should go to me, since I survived.”

“Except that you and your kind are not considered legally alive, Mom. Sorry. But that’s how it goes.”

“So… that’s it? You have nothing to offer you mother who’s been put through this ordeal of being murdered and then brought back to have nothing?”

“Um… I hate to say it, Mom, but you and Dad were never the best parents in the world. He was totally abusive to us, and you just let it happen.”

“Because he was just as abusive to me!” she exclaimed. “Couldn’t you see that?”

“No,” he replied. “What? It’s hard to see someone else’s abuse when all you see is your own. You two totally fucked it up raising us. Gretchen and I haven’t spoken in years, although I suspect that her husband beats her. But I can’t force myself to care. And when I heard the news that Dad was dead? I felt an enormous sense of relief. No, almost joy. May that motherfucker rot in hell!”

“Valentin!” Coraline snapped. “This is not the man we raised you to be!”

“Oh, no, Mother. This is exactly the man you raised me to be. I finally pulled the lever and hit the jackpot with those wills, you don’t have a legal leg to stand on, and you can just fuck right off. Have a nice day.”

He smiled and gently closed the door.

Coraline didn’t know what to do, so she wandered, but the closer she got to L.A. itself, the more she suddenly started having feelings, like voices in her head, telling her, “Find Brenda!”

She had no idea what that meant until Anabel suddenly appeared next to her. “Family problems, huh?” she asked. “You need to talk to my friend.”

Coraline hooked up with Brenda, and the first thing she managed was freezing all assets and payments Valentin and Gretchen were scheduled to receive — they hadn’t gotten the checks yet — and then setting County lawyers off to prove that Ausmann had died and Coraline was not dead. It took about four years, during which time Coraline studied with Anabel and started her own business.

Eventually, she collected on all of Ausmann’s life and property insurance, reminded Valentine and Gretchen’s husband of their reactions when they came sniffing for their slice, and used her new-found fortune to retire to a nice little ten-acre ranch in 29 Palms.

Coraline had had to deal with being dead and trying to prove herself alive again, but it was just as difficult for the LEOs at JPL, who had abruptly dropped three decades in age.

Once it became public knowledge that there were a number of officers between the ages of just under 31 and about 42 who had suddenly been turned into anything from newborns to 12-year-olds, actions had been taken to either find their actual parents, or to find families to take them in.

All along, no one ever questioned how they managed to retain their memories all the way into how long they’d lived, but that was probably a good thing, because the scientists who had studied it knew exactly how. To explain it would be to reveal too much, because it was all wrapped around the idea that the machine could send thoughts and concepts back in time, which it had when it failed.

In essence, even as it dredged up the hardware via the physical bodies, it downloaded the last back-up, which was the one in their heads either right before the LEOs were de-aged, or the last time a Rêve hung out with humans or any other entity giving them any kind of input.

Again, no one outside of the land of science ever thought to ask that, so social workers did what they could, but this also meant that Schrantz was a bit SOL, being apparently too old for the criteria.

What she did get was temporary housing, a promise of disability pay until she had returned to adulthood, and an ancient cell phone that wasn’t even smart, but at least wasn’t a flip. It was an early 00s slider.

While she got the housing, she wasn’t going to see any money until Congress ironed out the whole deal on how to declare people no longer dead, and she wasn’t holding her breath, so she finally gave in and called her parents in Indianapolis, and got both of them talking on the same cell phone speaker.

They had seen the news stories and heard mention of her agency being involved, and had been beside themselves. She spent the first half hour reassuring them that she was fine, mostly, before she broke the big news about her now much younger status.

“So, it’s kind of weird,” she went on, “But I’m like this adult teenager in limbo, until Congress figures out how to classify us. I’m wondering, then, can I come home and live with you both again until this all resolves itself? Or five years, whichever comes first.”

There was a long silence on the other end, and then her mother spoke. “Of course you can, dear,” she said. “But… can we tell everyone that you’re our niece or something?”

“Why’s that?” Schrantz asked.

“Been a lot of bad blood out here between the living and the undead,” her father replied in his unvarnished way. “Not that we actually have any undead here. But mother and I wouldn’t want you getting killed or anything,” he continued. “I mean, if that’s possible.”

“I’m not ‘undead,’” she reminded them. “Just… unaged.”

“We know that,” he continued, “But people in these parts are not the most critical of thinkers, and you popped up at the same time, so you’re all the same in their minds. But sure, of course we’ll take you in.”

“Of course, dear,” her mother continued. “How soon can you be here?”

“Well, that’s the other thing,” Schrantz sighed. “I kind of need a ticket to ride, as the Beatles said. Bus, plane, train, some cousin I’ve never met who’s driving that way…”

“Right,” her mother replied, her father obviously sighing heavily in the background. “But, how are you going to get on most of those when your ID probably doesn’t match what you look like now? I mean, if that whole de-aging thing is true.”

Schrantz froze and looked at the screen. “Shit!” she finally muttered.

“I think you can still do the bus,” her mother went on. “Although you do have a cousin who’s about to drive out here.”

“Really?” Schrantz asked. “Who?”

“You remember Tommy?” her mother asked.

Schrantz did, and her immediate reaction was to say “Oh hell noes,” but she didn’t, because all of her negative reactions to him had happened, oddly enough, before the time she’d aged into the form she was stuck with now.

And the more she thought about it, while those moments had been creepy, they had also not really been rapey either. Then again, he was the same age as her, which she wasn’t now, so she didn’t know what to say.

“I’ll give him a chance, Mom,” she finally replied, “But he used to be really creepy, so if I say no to him — ”

“Understood, dear,” her mother replied. “I think you’ll find that he’s changed.”

“Whatevs,” Schrantz thought, but she finally told her mom to send him along. What’s the worst that could happen? She could easily dick-punch him into the next county if she wanted and if he tried any crap, since she’d been trained in that.

All her worries vanished when he pulled up to her place and hopped out of his car, a Toyota Yaris with a huge rainbow flag sticker on the back. He certainly had changed since the days of being a creepy youth. He was tall, thin, all glowed up, a bit on the flamboyant side, and a very snappy dresser.

“Cousin Becky!” he cried out. “Look at you, girl. I remember you at that age. And I remember you a lot older.”

“I didn’t think I’d seen you since I was about fourteen.”

“We were both at grandma Remy’s funeral,” he explained, “Although we didn’t talk because I didn’t stay for much of it. It was right before I came out to the family, so I wasn’t in the mood to be social just then.”

“Well, you’ve certainly changed,” she said.

“Nah, I haven’t changed. I just burst from my cocoon into a beautiful butterfly. Now, come on, baby girl. We’ve got some driving to do to get you home.”

They loaded her stuff into the car — she had stored or sold almost everything, although she had to rely on a friend on the force who hadn’t de-aged to handle renting the storage and arranging movers.

They took a few days to drive back to Indiana, staying in nice hotels when they stopped — and always two separate rooms. Tommy explained up front that Schrantz’s parents had paid for everything and reserved the rooms online.

He finally got her home and stayed for the evening and the next day socializing with his aunt and uncle, then continued on his way. As for Schrantz, she finally did wind up living at home for the next five years. Somewhere during that, although not soon enough, the governments involved finally got the whole restoration of personhood thing sorted, and she began to collect her permanent disability benefits from San Bernardino County and the state of California, despite not living in the state, which was a thoughtful exemption they’d included.

Once she’d been declared a person again and had her prior information restored, she used her graduate degrees in Law and Criminal Science to get into a PhD program and, while she couldn’t qualify for Quantum Physics like she’d wanted to, she did get into a PhD program in Quantum Ethics, finishing the program as part of the class of 2030, at the technical age of 20 going on 50.

She would never know the irony: She had gone into exactly the same field that had brought Ausmann to Operation Slingback in the first place.

* * *

Friday Free-for-All #59: Multiple viewings, theater or home, hobby time, techsplosion

The next in an ongoing series in which I answer random questions generated by a website. Here are this week’s questions. Feel free to give your own answers or ask your own questions in the comments.

What movie have you seen more than seven times?

For starters, I know that I’ve watched Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey way more than seven times. Once home video and DVD happened, watching 2001 on New Year’s Day instead of a certain parade became a long-standing tradition with me.

The more than seven viewings is also true of several of his films, including Dr. Strangelove, or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb and A Clockwork Orange.

I can’t leave off The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’m pretty sure I saw that more than seven times in high school alone, and The Wizard of Oz, It’s a Wonderful Life, and The Ten Commandments also make the list because they are still being rerun at least once a year on TV.

I can’t forget the Star Wars Original Trilogy and most of the Prequel Trilogy. The Sequel Trilogy hasn’t been around long enough yet. As for Star Trek, The Wrath of Khan and The Voyage Home are the only ones I’ve definitely seen that often.

There are a few James Bond films — definitely Goldfinger, Live and Let Die, and Moonraker (one good, one okay, and one cheesy as hell) again because of the TV return thing.

I’m not sure, but I think that Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (that’s the amazing Gene Wilder-starring version and not the Tim Burton travesty) probably also makes the list. Oh. Also, Cabaret, All that Jazz, and Westside Story.

There are probably others, but these are the ones that I can definitely put in the more than seven list.

Do you prefer to watch movies in the theater or in the comfort of your own home?

This is an answer that’s changed enormously. Once upon a time, my reply would have been absolutely in a theater, because that’s where they were made to be seen.

But then as my interest in seeing all the latest MCU/DCEU franchise films fell to zero, waiting for home video or streaming became enough mostly — although I would still go out for the big event films that interested me, mainly Star Wars installments and Bladerunner 2049.

The last film I did see in an actual theatre was Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, back in February 2020. It was a mid-weekday thing and there were about four of us in the place.

So already having discovered the joys and convenience of streaming, not to mention the lower cost if it’s something on a service you already have, by the time the theaters shut down it was a no-brainer, and I’m not really inclined to go back anytime soon.

Honestly, seeing a Marvel movie on a big screen doesn’t really add much to it, not compared to the quality I can get at home. Plus I also don’t have to put up with other people, sticky floors, or an endless parade of pre-show trailers and adverts.

What hobby would you get into if time and money weren’t an issue?

I would become a total model train geek, although it would be about more than just the trains. I’d want to create an entire miniature city in a dedicated room, like a full basement, and build it in something like N Scale, which is ¾” to 1 foot, or 1:160 scale.

This would make a model of the Empire State building just over 9 feet tall at the tip of its mast, although it would take 33 linear feet of model to make up one mile of street, so it wouldn’t be a very big city. (Z scale would cut this down to 24 feet per mile, but definitely sacrifice some realism.)

To get a scale model of all of San Francisco into an area 33 feet on a side, you’d wind up with city buses being just under half an inch long and a tenth of an inch wide. You’d only need to cut the N scale in half to model two square miles of Midtown Manhattan.

But wait… it does say that time and money aren’t an issue, right? So instead of building a single square mile of city in a basement, why not go for a warehouse or buy an abandoned big box store? Aim for something that would fit fifty or a hundred square miles of city, and if it had multiple floors, go for various layouts — urban mega-city, suburban smaller town, historical city — with a scale ten mile footprint, you could easily build two separate 19th century Main Street towns surrounded by countryside and connected by railroad and telegraph.

And I wouldn’t need to go it alone. Hell, it could become an entire project that would employ model and miniature makers, urban planners, painters, designers, builders, electricians, programmers, and more. Give the big city a working harbor and airport, also have miniature cars and people moving around, design it to not only have a night and day cycle but seasons and weather as well, and it could be quite a thing.

It could even become a tourist attraction. Hell, they already did it in Hamburg, Germany.

And why does the idea fascinate me so much? Maybe because I was into model trains as a kid, although never had a neat, permanent layout. But this also led to me becoming a big fan of games like Sim City, in which I could indulge my curiosity about building and creating things and see where they led — especially urban landscapes.

Hm. Give me all the resources, and I just might make TinyTowns a major tourist destination.

Why did technology progress more slowly in the past than it does now?

I believe that this is because technological development is exponential, not algebraic. The latter is a very slow, additive process. You go from 1 to 1+1, or 2, then to 2+1 for 3 and so and so on. Repeat the process 100 times, and you land on 101.

Take the simplest exponential progression, though, in which each subsequent step is double the one before it. That is, go from 1 to 1×2, or 2, then 2 to 2×2 for 4, and so on. After a hundred steps, your result is 1.25×10^30, or roughly 1 followed by 30 zeros, which is one nonillion.

For perspective, a yottabyte — currently the largest digital storage standard yet set — is equal to one trillion terabytes, the latter currently being a very common hard drive size on a home computer.  The number noted above is ten thousand times that.

It’s exactly how we wound up with terabyte drives being so common when, not very long ago, a 30 megabyte drive was a big deal. That was really only within a generation or so. This relates to Moore’s Law, stated in 1965 as “the number of transistors in a computer chip doubles every 18 to 24 months.”

What wasn’t stated with the law was that this doubling didn’t just affect the number of transistors, and therefore the number of simultaneous operations, that a chip could perform. It extended to every other aspect of computers. More operations meant more data, so you could either speed up your clocks or widen your data buses (i.e. length of allowable piece of information in bits) or both.

And this is why we’ve seen things like computers going from 8 to 64 and 128 bit operating systems, and memory size ballooning from a few kilobytes to multiple gigabytes, and storage likewise exploding from a handful of kilobytes to terabytes and soon to be commercial petabyte drives.

Perspective: A petabyte drive would hold the entire Library of Congress print archive ten times over. If would probably also hold a single print archive and all the film, audio, and photographic content comfortably as well.

Now, all of this exploding computer technology fuels everything else. A couple of interesting examples: Humans went from the first ever manned flight of an airplane to walking on the moon in under 66 years. We discovered radioactivity in 1895 and tested the first atomic bomb 50 years later. The transistor was invented in 1947. The silicon chip integrating multiple transistors was devised in 1959, twelve years later.

And so on. Note, too, that a transistor’s big trick is that it turns old mathematical logic into something that can be achieved by differences in voltage. a transistor has two inputs and an output, and depending how it’s programmed, it can be set up to do various things, depending upon how the inputs compare and what the circuit has been designed to do.

The beauty of the system comes in stringing multiple transistors together, so that one set may determine whether digits from two different inputs are the same or not, and pass that info on to a third transistor, which may be set to either increment of leave unchanged the value of another transistor, depending on the info it receives.

Or, in other words, a series of transistors can be set up to perform addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. It’s something that mechanical engineers had figured out ages previously using cogs and levers and gears, and adding machines and the like were a very  19th century technology. But the innovation that changed it all was converting decimal numbers into binary, realizing that the 0 and 1 of binary corresponded perfect to the “off” and “on” of electrical circuits, then creating transistors that did the same thing those cogs and levers did.

Ta-da! You’ve now turned analog math into digital magic. And once that system was in place and working, every other connected bit developed incredibly over time. Some people focused on making the human interfaces easier, moving from coding in obscure and strictly mathematical languages, often written via punch cards or paper tape, into not much improved but still infinitely better low level languages that still involved a lot of obscure code words and direct entry of numbers (this is where Hex, or Base 16 came into computing) but which was at least much more intelligible than square holes a card.

At the same time, there had to be better outputs than another set of punched cards, or a series of lights on a readout. And the size of data really needed to be upped, too., With only four binary digits, 1111, the highest decimal number you could represent was 15. Jump it to eight digits, 1111 1111, and you got… 255. Don’t forget that 0 is also included in that set, so you really have 256 values, and voila! The reason for that being such an important number in computing is revealed.

Each innovation fueled the need for the next, and so the ways to input and readout data kept improving until we had so-called high-level programming languages, meaning that on a properly equipped computer, a programmer could type in a command in fairly intelligible language, like,

10 X = “Hello world.”

20 PRINT X

30 END

Okay, stupid example, but you can probably figure out what it does. You could also vary it by starting with INPUT X, in which case the user would get a question mark on screen and the display would return whatever they typed.

Oh yeah… at around the same time, video displays had become common, replacing actual paper printouts that had a refresh rate slower than a naughty JPG download on 1200 baud modem. (There’s one for the 90s kids!) Not to mention a resolution of maybe… well, double digits lower than 80 in either direction, anyway.

Surprisingly, the better things got, the better the next versions seemed to get, and faster. Memory exploded. Computer speeds increased. Operating systems became more intuitive and responsive.

And then things that relied on computers took off as well. Car manufacturers started integrating them slowly, at first. Present day, your car is run more by computer than physical control, whether you realize it or not. Cell phones and then smart phones are another beneficiary — and it was the need to keep shrinking transistors and circuits to fit more of them onto chips in the first place that finally made it possible to stick a pretty amazing computer into a device that will fit in your pocket.

Oh yeah… first telephone, 1875. Landline phones were ubiquitous in less than a hundred years, and began to be taken over by cell phones, with the first one being demonstrated in 1973 (with a 4.4 lb handset, exclusive of all the other equipment required), and affordable phones themselves not really coming along until the late 1990s.

But, then, they never went away, and then they only just exploded in intelligence. Your smart phone now has more computing power than NASA and the Pentagon combined did at the time of the Moon landings.

Hell, that $5 “solar” (but probably not) calculator you grabbed in the grocery checkout probably has more computing power than the Lunar Lander that made Neil Armstrong the first human on the Moon.

It’s only going to keep getting more advanced and faster, but that’s a good thing, and this doesn’t even account for how explosions in computing have benefited medicine, communications, entertainment, urban planning, banking, epidemiology, cryptography, engineering, climate science, material design, genetics, architecture, and probably any other field you can think of — scientific, artistic, financial, or otherwise.

We only just began to escape the confines of Analog Ville less than 40 years ago, probably during the mid to late 80s, when Millennials were just kids. By the time the oldest of them were second semester sophomores in college, we had made a pretty good leap out into Digital World, and then just started doubling down, so that two decades into this century, the tech of the turn of the century (that’d be 2000) looks absolutely quaint.

Remember — we had flip phones then, with amazing (cough) 640×480 potato-grade cameras.

Compare that to 1920 vs 1900. A few advances, but not a lot. The only real groundbreaker was that women could now vote in the U.S., but that wasn’t really a technological advance, just a social one. And if you look at 1820 vs. 1800, or any twenty-year gap previously, things would not have changed much at all except maybe in terms of fashion, who current world monarch were, or which countries you were currently at war with.

And that, dear readers, is how exponential change works, and why technology will continue to grow in this manner. It’s because every new innovation in technology sews the seeds for both the need and inevitability of its next round of advancement and acceleration.

We pulled the genie out of the bottle in 1947. It’s never going back in.