Being a basic bit

Zeroes and Ones are the building blocks of what’s known as binary, and the juice that our digital world runs on. Another way to think of it is this. In our so-called Base 10 world, we deal with ten digits, and depending upon what you’re counting, you can either go from 0 to 9 (things) or 1 to (1)0 (dates, place order). Since 9 is the highest digit, when any column hits it, the 9 next rolls back to 0 and the digit to its left increments up, initially from 1.

So after the number 9, we get 10. After 19, we get 20, after 99, it’s 100, and so on. Also note that 100 happens to be 10 x 10, 1,000 is 10 x 100, 10,000 is 100 x 100, etc. This will be important in a moment.

In the binary world, things roll over faster. In fact, the only digits you have are 0 and 1, so counting works like this: start with 0, then 1. But 1 is as high as we can go, so after 1 comes 10, which, in binary, represents 2.

That might seem strange, but here’s the logic behind it, going back to decimal 10. What is 10, anyway? Well, it’s the number that comes after we’ve run out of digits. Since we’re used to base 10, it doesn’t require any explanation to see that 10 always comes after 9. At least in base 10. I’ll get to that in a moment, but first there’s a very important concept to introduce, and that’s called “powers.”

The powers that be

No, I’m not talking Austin Powers. Rather, raising a number to a power just means multiplying the number by itself that many times. In its basic form, you’ll often see Xn. That’s what this means. It’s just a more efficient way of writing things out:

            2 x 2 = 22 = 4

            3 x 3 x 3 = 33 = 3 x 9 = 27

            10 x 10 x 10 x 10 x 10 = 105 = 100 x 100 x 10 = 10,000 x 10 = 100,000

Here’s an interesting thing about powers of 10, though. The end result will always have exactly as many zeros as the exponent, or power that you raised 10 to. 109. Simple: 1,000,000,000. If it’s 102, 100, and so on.

And the two fun sort of exceptions that aren’t exceptions to keep in mind:

            X x 0 x N = N, aka X0 = 1

            X x 1 = X1 = X.

101 is 10 with 1 zero, or 10; 100 is 10 with no zeroes, or 1.

In other words, any number to the power of zero equals 1, and any number to the power of 1 equals itself. And there you go, that’s all you need except for this: When it comes to determining what the power is, we count “backwards” from right to left. The last digit before the decimal takes the 0 power, next to the left is 1, next over from that is 2, and so on.

Everything in its place

Since places correspond to powers, in Base 10 we would call the digits, right to left, the ones, tens, hundreds, thousands, ten-thousands, hundred-thousands, and so on places. In binary, you’d have the ones, twos, fours, eights, sixteens, thirty-twos, etc.

Makes sense? Then let’s look at a four-digit number in binary: 1776.

But here’s an interesting trick: in computer logic, it often becomes much easier for the circuits to literally read in the digits backwards in order to do these steps upwards in the proper order. This saves the step of having to figure out how long a string is before assigning the proper power to the most significant digit, which is the last one on the left.

So, to calculate, we’ll count it from right to left, which will make it easier to follow what’s happening. Let’s go with 6771 for ease of use. The 6 is in the zero position, so it represents 6 x 100, in which case this is 6 x 1, meaning just plain old 6.

Next, a 7 times 101, which is just 10, so this spot is worth 70 and we’re up to 76.

Next, 7 times 102, which is 100 times 7. Add that to the rest, it’s now 776.

Finally, a 1 in the spot multiplied by 103, which is 10 x 10 x 10, which is 10 x 100, so… 1,000. Slap that on the rest, and there you go: 1776.

This works exactly the same way in any other base. So let’s look at a typical binary number: 1011 1110. As humans, we could deal with doing the whole thing backwards, but again, let’s make it easy for the machine, feed it in right to left, and watch the sequence in action:

Digit (D) 0    1    1    1    1    1    0    1
Power (p) 0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7
2^p       1    2    4    8    16   32   64   128
2^p x D   0    2    4    8    16   32   0    128
SUM       0    2    6    14   30   62   62   190

Or in base three or trinary, let’s look at 21221121, entered again in reverse:

Digit (D) 1    2    1    1    2    2    1    2
Power (p) 0    1    2    3    4    5    6    7
3^p       1    3    9    27   81   243  729  2187
3^p x D   1    6    9    27   162  486  729  4374
SUM       1    7    16   43   205  691  1420 5794

Now, let’s take a look at an interesting property in Base 10 and see if it translates over.

Dressed to the nines

In Base 10, any number divisible by nine also has all of its digits add up to nine. You can easily see this with the first few pairs of two-digit multiples of nine: 18, 27, 36, 45, 54, and so on. The tens digit goes up by one while the ones digit goes down by one, and that makes perfect sense. Why? Because when you add nine, what you’re really doing is the same as adding 10 and then taking away one.

It doesn’t matter how big the number is. If you can add the digits up to nine, then you can say it’s divisible by nine. To just pull a number out of thin air, I guarantee that 83,764,251 is evenly divisible by nine. I could also put any number of nines anywhere in that number and it would still be divisible, or put the digits in any order. And if you have a number that has all of the digits from 0 to 9 in any order, then it’s divisible by 9.

So does this property hold for other bases? What about Base 8? In that case, we should expect seven to be the magic number. I’ll spare you the torturing of Excel I did to run a  test, but the answer is: Yes. If a number is divisible by seven in Base 8, then its digits add up to seven. Here’s the list from the Base 8 equivalent of 1 to 99 (which is 1 to 77): 7, 16, 25, 34, 43, 52, 61, 70. Now none of those numbers in Base 10 is divisible by seven, but in Base 8 they are. Here’s how and why it works.

When you divide a number in Base 10 by 9, you start on the left, figure out how many times 9 goes into that whole number, carry the remainder to the next digit, and repeat the process. So to divide 27 by 9, you start by dividing 20 by 9. This gives you 2 times 9 = 18. Subtract 18 from 20, you get 2. Carry that over to the next place, which is 7, add 2 and 7, you get 9, which is divisible by 9. Add the 2 from the first result to 1, and your answer is 3.

Did you notice anything interesting there? It’s that you happened to wind up with the number in the Base digit twice. Two times 9, with the remainder of 2 adding to the other digit, and what was the other thing we noticed? That’s right. The sum of the digits is 9, so what’s left when you divide the ten’s digit by 9 has to add to the one’s digit to total 9.

This is true in any other base. Let’s look at our Base 8 example of 34. We can’t cheat by converting to Base 10, so the 3 tells us that 7 goes into the number three times. But since 3 times 7 is 3 less than 3 times 8, that’s our remainder. Add that to the 4 to get 7, and boom, done. In Base 8 34/7 = 3+1 = 4. Convert the Base 8 to Base 10 to get 28, and voila… 4 times 7 is 28. The answer is the same either way when you reduce it to a single digit.

A spot check bears this out with other bases, so it would seem to be a rule (though I’m not sure how to write the formula) that for any Base, B, and any number evenly divisible by B-1, the digits of that number will add up to B-1.

That’s the funny thing about whole numbers and integers. They have periodicity. What they do is predictable. Multiples of any integer will appear at regular intervals without jumping around no matter how far towards any particular ∞ you go. Irrational numbers and primes, not so much. But it’s good to know that the basis of digital computing is so reliable and regular. In fact, here’s a funny thing about binary: Every single number in binary is evenly divisible by 1 because all of the digits of every single number in it adds up to a number divisible by… 1. And a Base 1 numbering system is impossible, because the largest possible number in it is 0. It also breaks the whole Base rule above, because nothing can be divided by 0. Base 1 is the Black Hole of the numbering system. The rest should be pretty transparent.

Sunday Nibble #63: Dyning out

One of the neat things about Greek and Latin is that they use stems and affixes to create a whole lot of words with complex meanings. The affixes are prefixes and suffixes that can completely change the meaning of words.

The prefixes are largely prepositional in nature, but they can also act as adjectival markers. For example, contra-, re-, ab-, and inter- all indicate some sort of physical relationship: Against, back, from, and among. These are prepositions.

Then there are prefixes like ben-, semi-, multi-, and sub-: Good, half, many, and insufficient; adjective. If course, they do overlap, since they’re just creating words rather than sentences.

Most Latin affixes have Greek counterparts. Well, actually, it’s the other way around, since Greek came first. But from one to the other, contra- is anti-; ab- goes with apo-; and re- and inter- have no matches. Likewise, ben- goes with eu-; semi- matches hemi-; multi- hooks up with poly-; sub- matches hypo-.

English lifted a lot of words directly from both languages but frequently with a French influence, which removed typical Latin noun declensions.

Greek was heavily tied up with Western Medicine from the beginning, Latin became first the lingua franca of an Empire and then the religious language of a continent, and then both were eventually preserved and used as the scholarly languages of the Renaissance — when religion was given back to the vernacular.

A lot of it stuck, and you’ll see a lot of Greek and Latin in medicine to this day: prescription, vaccine, hypodermic, and hypochondriac, for example. Of course, a lot of more modern words will just jam the two together. Words like antacid, bigamy, claustrophobia (in fact, a lot of phobias), dysfunction, and liposuction are all considered hybrid words.

But the real power (pun intended) comes in how many different words can come from one stem just by changing the affixes. Today, we’re looking at the stem -dyn, which means power or force — hence the pun.

Here are a few variations.

Dyne: At its most basic, in modern terminology, the stem is a unit of measure. One dyne is equal to the force required to produce a change of velocity in one gram of mass in one second equal to one centimeter per second. If that’s a bit confusing, think of producing a change as just accelerating the mass, but then forget that acceleration only means “pushing forward.” When you hit the brakes on a car, for example, you’re just accelerating backwards, more or less.

Dynasty: Ultimately from Greek dynasthai, with the “thai” ending referring to a class of people. Pretty clearly, it means “people of power,” or those with the leadership roles. It’s resemblance to the English words “die nasty” are pure coincidence.

Dynamic: Basically, the moving force in anything, whether it’s a working machine or the plot of a play, movie, or novel. This gave us words like aerodynamic, photodynamic, thermodynamic, and so on. Aerodynamic also gave us…

Aerodyne: Which was derived by shortening aerodynamic. Specifically, it describes any aircraft that uses principals of aerodynamics to generate lift and so is, by definition, heavier than air. Contrast this to aerostat, which refers to a lighter-than-air ship, like a balloon or blimp, that uses gas to generate buoyancy and lift. Here, the dyne part is replaced with the Greek stem -stasis, which means still or motionless, or quite the opposite of power and force. An aerostat essentially just sits there and lets the gas lift it.

Heterodyne: and others; there are a number of dyne words invented to refer to radio frequency generators from days when they were trying to perfect the techniques. They’re all just variations on how things were done, but this one is typical. The prefex, hetero-, means other. Basically, this was a method of taking two different radio frequencies and combining them, ending up with one that was the sum of their frequencies and the other that was their difference. (Short version: one mix would line up the peaks of the waves and the other would line up peaks and troughs.) Usually only one of the resulting frequencies is used, though.

Dynamite: Finally, here’s one that combines Greek with English. Invented by Alfred Nobel and patented in 1867, his guilt over its destructive power and early use in warfare led him to establish the Nobel Peace Prize. Ironically, dynamite fell out of favor with the military, who replaced it with TNT (not the same thing) because the latter was more stable, immune to weather conditions, and needed a blasting cap or other charge to set it off. On the other hand, dynamite was very susceptible to the weather, decaying quickly, and was also prone to flames, sparks, or a sudden shock making it go “boom.” Remember: one of the main ingredients in dynamite is nitroglycerin.

Now here’s a fun challenge — see how many Greek and Latin affixes and stems you can spot in words in this story that are not specifically listed as having such, or do it with anything you might happen to read next.

The commonality of such constructions might make you hyperventilate.

The Saturday Morning Post #1 (rerun)

Last week saw the last installment of the final chapter of The Rêves, which was both exciting and depressing. I’m in the process of figuring out what to serialize next. In the meantime, here’s the very first installment of the Post, which is the first half of the first short story in a collection consisting of a number of connected short stories following a series of different main characters, all of it culminating in a novela set during the wedding of the mayor’s daughter.

Oddly enough, it’s actually set in the same year as The Rêves, but was written way before COVID, unlike the latter work, which was written during. The whole thing was inspired by a rather unusual purchase I noticed in line late one night at the local drug store, although it was not a Walgreens.

* * *

THE ROCKY ROAD FROM WALGREENS

I can’t believe how crowded it is at four in the morning in the 24-hour Walgreens on 7th in the Jewelry district. It’s your typical urban storefront business, taking up the entire ground floor of a 12-story building erected in 1923. Once upon a time, its footprint probably comprised multiple stores. Then again, in those days, specialization was everything, so that the bakery, butcher, deli, dry goods, grocer, liquor, newsstand, pet, pharmacy, stationary, and toy departments were their own individual businesses.

There’s a reason they call them supermarkets, superstores, big boxes and… face it, those terms are retro. I really mean Amazon Alphabet. Same idea. Everything available under one big metaphorical roof, delivered by the same drone army. Except for those of us, rich and poor, who buy local. Like me, this very morning.

Above the store are tons of apartments. I’d read somewhere one time that this building has the equivalent of just over five acres of living space in it. For some reason, most likely the lack of proximity to schools, there are also several hundred registered sex offenders living in it. This might explain why this particular Walgreens has adult magazines, although they come wrapped in discreet black plastic with only the title logo, date, price, and UPC code printed on the outside in stark white. Well, UPC in black bars in a white box, but there’s nary a VQR or AQR code showing, for reasons that should be obvious.

As I wait in line, I glance out the windows, not missing the irony that this Walgreens is directly across the street from a similarly-situated Rite Aid — they’re direct competitors — although it’s only the Walgreens that is open 24 hours a day.

I can’t believe that anything down here is open all night long, but a few years back, right when they finished the Purple Line extension, the city started paying pharmacies in certain areas to stay open, providing them with armed, on-duty LAPD officers, two per storefront.

The real razón de ser for the extended hours is that the city also subsidizes them to keep a good-sized supply of naloxone auto-injectors on hand to be administered for free by the rotating staff of ever-present nurses (these subsidized by the county) in order to prevent yet another needless opioid death. Yes, this sort of defeats the whole “auto” part of “injector,” but by the time most of these people make it in the door, they’re on the edge of not being able to do anything ever again.

Before the program, it wasn’t uncommon to walk down certain city blocks in the morning and have to step over the bodies. They were as prolific as those e–rental scooters had once been, and just as annoying. At least the scooter companies had all folded after the perfect triple disaster. First, pissed-off residents had started vandalizing and trashing the things almost from the beginning, one annoyed citizen becoming an infamous folk hero for tossing them into the Venice canals. Certain cities banned them outright, starting with Beverly Hills, then extending to Burbank, Glendale, Malibu, and West Hollywood. Next, an endless parade of hackers kept pumping out what they called “Scoot Free” apps that would fool the system into not charging riders, and they would defeat every new patch as soon as it came out in the longest known run of continuous Zero Day Exploits ever perpetrated.

This was just about the point that the original scooters that had survived started to hit 5,000 miles of use, at which point a terrible flaw suddenly revealed itself. Because some manufacturers had gone cheap, the batteries in the things would explode with enough force to launch the entire handlebar assembly into the air at least a hundred feet — or about thirty-two if the average hapless rider didn’t think to let go. Ironically, this was one of the few times that obesity saved lives by reducing the launch altitude to a survivable height (yay, physics?), although dislocated shoulders were very common.

Those companies had all either gone bankrupt or moved to other endeavors before the summer of 2025. But that really has nothing at all to do with why this Walgreens is so crowded at four in the  morning on a Tuesday in April. I’m thirteenth in line with two checkers on duty behind the dozen registers and, it being four in the morning, everyone looks extra bad — especially more so under the fluorescent lights. I’m trying to imagine what circle of hell this resembles through the 16K HD cameras that are watching us all from every direction when I notice the customer in front of me.

He’s twelfth in line, and he has only two items — both of them family-size twelve-packs of toilet paper that I can see are labeled “triple-ply” and “ultra-absorbent.” (Ah, “ultra” — that super meaningless advertising buzzword!) I look at his face, general demeanor, and hollow desperation in his eyes, and put it together quickly. Junky. Up until probably this morning, when for some reason he couldn’t score, and the inevitable end result of suddenly going off of a powerful constipating agent is probably just starting to kick in and he knows it.

Well, isn’t this going to be fun?

I shift the pint of Häagen-Dazs rocky road from my right hand to my left to warm up my fingers and wonder how long this is going to take. My ice cream run is an occasional indulgence, although it’s usually just in and out. I have no idea why tonight is so different. Still, I know I have time, since they keep the freezers cold enough here that the ice cream stays at brick consistency for ages.

On the other hand, the glacial pace of the line isn’t giving me any confidence. I have to wonder what the hell all these people are doing up at this hour. In my case, it’s simple. I had business to conduct online in real-time with Hong Kong, Melbourne, and London simultaneously, and the only time that synced them up was a window that had started two hours ago, even if it meant that Melbourne had to stay a bit past office hours. I’m used to it, everything turned out very well, and so my ice cream run was a bit of a celebration of a job well done.

As for the rest of these people, though? It’s doubtful that any of them have just completed a multi-billion dollar deal. Most of them seem to have come here desperately seeking relief from some great physical malady. I can see that a lot of them clutch small cardboard boxes that are strapped to security devices three times their size.

Small enough to steal easily, expensive enough to care about — ergo, cures for the torments that steal the sleep of humankind. You never see those security devices on playing cards or Scotch tape, either of which can vanish into a pocket in a second. And the customers’ distresses were etched deeply into their faces and even distorted their bodies. Hell, if I were a casting director, half of these people would make it onscreen for the next Zombie or Medieval Plague thing to be shot. The other half would probably land on the exciting new reality show Poor Life Choices!

Meanwhile, the flat screens are everywhere around us, scrolling through a series of happy images of stock-photo people of all possible demographic combinations as they enjoy freedom from acne, allergies, arthritis, athlete’s foot, bloating, constipation, cramps, depression, diarrhea, ED, hemorrhoids, migraines, social anxiety, and more. (Name your malady, it’s up there.) All of these seem to involve exuberant poses on stark white backgrounds or frolicking somewhere in nature with an implied loved one or family. The predominant color palette outside of white and various tones of human flesh involves “serious medicine” blue and “snap out of it” red, both of which happen to be Walgreens logo colors.

What? I’m in the psychology of marketing. I know how this shit works: All too well, especially on those who haven’t been vaccinated against it. But as I stand here waiting for the line to take one more Sisyphean step on its way up to the summit of catastrophe, I realize that I’m standing in a pile of anti-vaxxers, to use the quaint term from my college days before we got real and called them what they really are: pro-diseasers. Except that these people don’t avoid vaccinations against the diseases we finally did kill (again) like measles and polio. They embrace the ones we still can’t kill, like capitalism, commercialism, and corporatism, all of which are ultimately fatal.

Well, fatal unless you’re actively spreading them, in which case they confer a weird immunity on you which is called wealth. But that’s neither here nor there. And, anyway — ooh. Look at all the shiny hope they’re advertising on those screens!

And as the people in line distract themselves with the magic totems of HEALTH and HAPPINESS and SATISFACTION and LOVE and SEX and POWER being projected at them, I start to distract myself with the people in line and, sure enough, it’s a parade of all of the typical personas we create and manipulate in the lab before we take them into the field.

Oh. Pardon my jargon. A “persona” is a profile created by marketing people to describe a segment of the target audience for a particular brand, product, or industry. Generally, a company will have three or four, ranked in order from most loyal customer down to “not loyal, but still buys our shit.” And yes, thank the Lords Zuckerberg and Brin, because creating personae became so much easier once social media exploded and everyone became all the more willing to unknowingly complete marketing surveys with every single click. What? You think those free personality quizzes are there just out of the kindness of someone’s heart? Nope.

Remember these important words: “If a company is willing to give you something for free, then you are the product.” If you’re fine with selling yourself for nothing, then great. It makes my job much, much easier.

A consequence of this, though, is that I’m always hunting personas in the wild and, like I said, this place is full of them.

Look right now — there’s a “Karen.” She’s with checker number two. Well, Karen is the general industry term. In my shop, we refer to her as “Expired Yoga Pants.” I watch as she wastes a good ten minutes predictably bringing up the “Nordstrom Argument,” as in, “You should give me what I want because Nordstrom will refund anything without a receipt!” I wonder if she knows that a policy like that would drive a company out of business fast.

TL;DR: Nordstrom was infamous for allegedly actually giving refunds for anything, whether they sold it or not, with the classic example being a tire, or tires, or snow tire, or snow tires, returned for a cash refund from either an experienced clerk, a new and confused clerk, or the founder of the store himself, in either Nome, Fairbanks, or Seattle. In other words, the story is complete bullshit, even though you’ll hear it in business classes to this day as an example of “The customer is always right.”

By the way, “the customer is always right” is also bullshit. The correct version is “you should always make the customer feel like they’re right.” A huge difference, because you maintain goodwill either way, although the correct version is generally impossible to achieve with a Karen.

Now, while I’m watching Expired Yoga Pants go into high dudgeon at the young woman behind the counter, I realize that the guy in front of me has started nodding up and down, and I can hear him saying the rosary under his breath in Spanish, picking up the words “Santa Maria, madre de Dios ruega por nosotros los pecadores…”

“Perdóneme, señor,” I ask him, “¿Usted está enferma?”

He glances at me with a mixture of surprise and suspicion — white guy speaks Spanish? — then replies quickly, “No, no señor. Estoy bien. Sólo es que está muy temprano.”

Before I can reply, our conversation is ended when the customer at the counter pulls the ultimate “Karen” and screams, “I want to talk to your manager,” I can almost hear some of the other people around me shrug in glee when the tiny transwoman behind the counter, who can’t be more than 19, quietly replies, “I am the manager. I won’t be talked to like that. Get the fuck out of my store. And don’t come back. Bitch.”

So much for the customer always being right. Sometimes, the business is so much more right.

Expired Yoga Pants huffs out without her goodies and, I suppose, if everyone in this line at four in the morning on a Tuesday in April weren’t so desperate to check out and get relief, there might have been some kind of applause. Or at least smiles.

All the time that “Karen” was taking up the manager’s time, the other checker is being monopolized by… well, there’s no marketing persona for this one in my industry because, frankly, we don’t care, so we don’t even spend time collecting their data. At least my shop came up with a creative name for them — “Bathtubs.” As in… they’re usually white, mostly empty, going out of style, and circling the drain.

Yeah, cruel maybe, but they’re not a victim of marketing, they’re a victim of capitalism and time — although not quite a victim in the sense you’d think. My grandfather told me that what I’d heard about his father was true: When people back then retired, they could afford to do all kinds of shit. Travel. Maybe go back to school and learn new things. This bathtub’s generation wasn’t victimized by capitalism and time by having too little of either. Rather, he was victimized by having too much of both.

People like him are also victims of themselves. They grow old and die because they refuse to stay young and think.

Casinos, cruise lines, hotels, manufacturers of all kinds of assistant devices, pharmaceutical companies, and resorts market to these people hand over fist. Why? Because the good times of three quarters of a century ago meant that they actually retired with lots of money and pensions they could live on and they probably owned real estate that they bought for a few thousand dollars that is now worth a few million. I don’t deal with those industries, although I’d guess that they probably call their versions of their personas Thurston and Lovey — either that or Rich Uncle Pennybags.

But those people must have been a total fantasy, right? I’ve heard rumors that they existed, but I think they all finally died out around the turn of the century. The ones that survive now, the bathtubs, are their kids more likely. And it’s really sad to see how being forgotten by society grinds them down to… stubs, really. Or… no, there’s probably a better word (note to self: pitch this idea tomorrow, although we’ll never market to it) Yo-yos. An alleged toy from their youth that describes what they do — they keep coming back to what they know.

Which is why I watch this old man pause for at least twenty seconds between every step of this fucking transaction, and it makes me want to throw things at him.

Clerk: “That will $55.23.”

(Take your time to view a streamer on your dev here.)

Yo-Yo: “Fifty… fif… uh?”

(Loop that vid about four times, we’ll get back to you.)

Clerk: (heroically) “Yes. Yes. How do you want to pay?”

Yo-Yo: “Oh… kay…”

And then begins the epic drawing of the sword. No, sorry… the wallet. The ancient wallet full of actual money that is laboriously pulled Excalibur-like from one of the pockets of the ill-fitting and ridiculously colored shorts that this Yo-yo wears over black socks and sandals. Yes, it’s on a chain. Yes, it has too many snaps and zippers, and yes, it’s as much a mystery to him today as it was the day that his granddaughter gave it to him ten years ago because she had no other ideas and found it when she stopped to get FroYo in a strip mall on the way to his 75th birthday party.

This is about the point where I resist the urge to ask him how he even got here or if he knows what year it is. Hell, what century? And if you think that’s being snarky, sorry. But by the time I’m that old, I’m pretty sure we’ll have cured it, and migrated off of the planet anyway.

Or we’ll all be dead. Did I mention that, a week ago, it snowed here? And today it was 110. Four in the fucking morning and it’s still 85 degrees out. In April. A week after it snowed.

Between the time that “Karen” has come and gone and Yo-Yo is halfway to counting out two dollars, some kid who’s probably about fifteen hits the other counter. He’s riding a one-wheel, busily dictating a text into the headphone/mic dangling from his left ear, and has about fifteen items in his basket. Damn if he doesn’t get them all out to be scanned in something like ten seconds, is swiping the pring on his left hand over the paypoint even before the checker announces the total and has bagged everything before she smiles and says, “Have an okay day!”

He was in and done in less than half a minute. God, I love this generation, whatever they decide to call it, although one commentator, I forget who, suggested Generation Yuzz, because that was the first letter “Beyond Z” in the Dr. Seuss book of the same name. I suppose it would also work as Generation Yass, because these kids get shit done fast.

Oh yeah — kids his age fall under a persona we call “Jacobella,” named for the two most common baby names of the decade they were born in, and nicely also delineating the idea that they really don’t believe in any kind of binary designation, whether it comes to gender, race, sex, sexual orientation, political belief, religion, or… anything. They are definitely not generation “Either/Or.” They are generation “Yes, and more.” And they are the first generation which we have not broken down by gender or sexual orientation because, honestly, that would be impossible and pointless.

They’re a tricksey bunch for marketers because they’d rather spend their money on experiences, preferably ones they can share with their friends, or spend it on loved ones or give it away to charity. Of course, the oldest of them are only just about to graduate high school, so they’re living at home, and the youngest of them haven’t been born yet, but they’ve been monetizing their lives since at least fourth grade and will probably either live at home until well into their 30s or move into group homes with at least twenty people sharing an open loft or warehouse space in the seedier parts of the edges of the centers of town, like DTLA.

In other words, in five years, about six blocks south of here, between Pico and the 10 and Hope and Lebanon, is going to be full of Yuzzes, but that will only last for about five years before the Millennials smell money and gentrify the hell out of that place, too.

But I do digress… The end result of a Jacobella following up the “Karen” and beating out the Yo‑Yo is two customers down, eleven to go, and I could continue to tick off the marketing personas all night long, except I won’t, because when we got to ten to go (another Yuzz, only buying one thing, in and out, five seconds), something I should have predicted happened.

Remember the guy in front of me? The one buying bulk TP and nothing else at that hour? The one with the wild eyes and desperate look? I pegged it — a junky who’d suddenly been knocked out of the saddle, and was soon going to face one really, really major need.

See, when you’re on any variation of the opiates that don’t kill you, a very interesting thing happens. Your intestines nope out, your asshole shuts up for the week, and everything in your digestive system turns into cement. Boom. Locked. Your anus treats your shit like it’s the gold in Fort Knox.

All well and good, until somebody lets the Night Watch go, at which point it doesn’t take long before the dragon melts the walls, the castle gates open up and the troops all flee. (Sorry about the old streamy metaphors, but I had a nostalgic rewatch of that classic HBO tits and dragons series a couple of weeks ago. )

The tub of ice cream in my hand has just barely started to soften, but I can tell by El Vaquero’s expression that his stool has gotten a lot softer, and he’s not going to make it through the gauntlet of remaining personas, which include such gems as All the Things, Chatty, Coupons, another Karen, Price Check, Sloth, and “What?”

When he’s about eighth in line, I hear the quiet but unmistakable, “¡Chingadas!” so I calmly step back…

If you’d like more from the rest of the book, let me know in the comments, and thanks for reading.

Photo Credit: City Hall, DTLA, taken by the author, © 2017 Jon Bastian

Friday Free-for-All #62: Worst, weirdest, do you know me; one world

This is my first FFA Friday post 2nd COVID vaccine and… wow. I had the shot last Saturday, and it laid me out most of the day Sunday and then for a lot of Monday. I just have to remind myself that all of that was far less terrible that getting COVID, and since I had such a strong reaction, it must mean that my immune system kicks ass.

Meanwhile, here’s 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.

If you were given unlimited resources, how would you lure the worst of humanity into one stadium at the same time?

Silly, but fun. I’d first find a stadium designed to have at least four separate parking lot and venue entrances, and then advertise in various publications.

On set of ads and one entrance would be for a free mega-Former Guy rally featuring Ted Nugent, Kevin Sorbo, MTG. VIP seating for members of The Proud Boys or anyone who shows up in a “smoker” truck. Skybox seating and a visit with 45 if you turn in one or more assault weapons at the door.

Another set of ads and an entrance would go after the celebrity/influencer/gossip addict bunch, and would feature live appearances by the Kardashians, The Tiger King — Live from Prison!, and everyone who’d ever been on Survivor! or The Bachelor/Bachelorette, in-field booths with free make-up tutorials, life hack teachers, and plenty of opportunities to buy merch, plus the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Danny Duncan to endanger your life and/or break shit in exchange for views. Bonus points: There are PETA and Vegan influencers, too. This is probably the most egalitarian admission.

Number three: a huge religious revival meeting, featuring all of the most conservative pastors and firebrands, pitched as a “Take Back the World” thing, and all designed to rake in those donations. Feature whatever fallen A-List or current D-List celebs have shilled for years making fundie movies, and promise screenings of whatever version of the Left Behind series is the most current and complete. Headliner: Kirk Cameron.

Number four: “How to make your billions now,” a seminar for venture capitalists although, of course, to make them take it seriously, this one isn’t free. They have to submit a statement of net-worth, what kind of money they’re looking to invest, and specs on how many companies they’ve already bought an destroyed. Admission to parking for this one is by limo only, or helicopter, and minimum ticket cost is $50K.

So… we name the venues differently enough and disguise the addresses, then do some clever stage managing at the start to divide the arena floor itself into four areas with no visible giveaways above. Once everybody is in (no late seating!), then we seal the exits and pull the trick (sort of) that Quentin Tarantino always had wanted to when he premiered Kill Bill! at the Chinese theater.

Lights go down and the announcer intones dramatically, welcoming every single group by name as the arena barriers are lifted. Welcome to Thunderdome.

What’s the weirdest crush you’ve had?

This goes back to when I was in college and I worked at a hospital pharmacy, and in retrospect, I’d only say that it was weird because I didn’t have the balls to just strike up a conversation back then, but…

There was this one cardiologist in the hospital who was maybe mid to late 30s at the time? I’m not sure. But the first time he came in when I was working, and was maybe 20, all I could think was, “Oh, daddy.” I still actually remember his name. I won’t repeated it here, but it was Hungarian. (Wow. Just looked it up and he’s still practicing. Bad news: He’s in Arizona. Good news: He actually accepts my medical insurance. Whoa.)

Anyway, all I ever did was admire from afar whenever he came in, but the kicker is that years later, I started to hear about how common it is for guys in their 20s to actually be into older men, and I suddenly didn’t feel so weird.

At the time, though? Oh yeah. Weird.

Have you ever seen anyone pull the “Do you know who I am?!” card?

Yes! I won’t name any names, but it was online to get into a Melrose Place season wrap party. The writers’ office staff had all coordinated arrival time, so we happened to be waiting in line. Now Mr. Spelling’s (aka just Mister to all of us) head of security, Duke Vincent, was at the head of the line, and since he knew each of us personally, it wasn’t even going to be a matter of giving ID.

But then, this kind of B-list actress sashayed up, pushed past us all in line and past the couple of actual series leads who were ahead of us and flat out said, “I’m here for the party.”

“I’m sorry. You’re not on the list,” Duke replied, dead-pan.

“Do you know who I am?” she demanded.

“Oh, I know exactly who you are, Ms. [Name]” Duke announced in his most booming outdoors voice. “I also know why Mister first your no-talent alcoholic ass after two seasons [note: not Melrose Place] so you are not invited to this party. Bye.”

She looked like she wanted to slap him, but the entire line had let out in such a huge belly-laugh that her ego was beyond crushed, so she pushed past him and around the end of the rope so that she could walk away without have to go past the rest of us again.

It was glorious.

If it were decided that all countries would be abolished and the entire Earth would be one unified political body, what would be the capital city of Earth? What would its flag and anthem be?


This is a very tempting idea, but also thorny. And I would suggest getting rid of countries, but not states, and/or making each former country its own state in the United Federation of Earth. Ooh. Sound familiar?

Beyond that, bigger countries with states or provinces, like Canada, the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, and so on, would have each of those individual states become its own state.

There would be no official language, but one of the charters would be to both preserve endangered languages by spreading their teaching, as well as moving toward a lingua franca by teaching the most common languages to everyone.

Of course, the only way to make it work is to create that absolute wall of separation between church and state, period. No government law will be based in religious principal, no religion shall be given special privileges, and each church or religious organization will pay their fair share of taxes.

Okay, so… where do we put the capital? There are some interesting ideas, but they get thorny fast. If we want to put it at the 0 Longitude/0 Latitude line (disregarding for the moment that the 0 Longitude was chosen to favor London) then the closest land mass to that point is in Ghana, so the world capital is in Western Africa.

It could work, I suppose, and it’s nowhere near as politically fraught as two other possibilities. The first is near the geographic center of the Earth, which is a point calculated to be at the exact center of Earth’s entire land mass if you peeled it like an orange and laid it flat.

And that place is in… Turkey, which is not exactly politically negative.

So… oldest continually occupied city on Earth? That would be Jericho, which sounds tempting except that… oh, shit. It’s on the West Bank. Never mind.

I guess, then, that the only fair solution is to do sort of what the EU did, except in not such a silly way. They physically move their parliament every month at great expense, although they don’t really have a president.

Okay, skip that and let’s look at the Olympics. They’ve managed to stage their games in a different city every four years except for during certain, well, circumstances, mostly war and plague.

So the capital city of Earth will be in a city chosen by worldwide popular vote, for a term of eight years. A successive capital cannot be on the same continent as the former, with North and South America considered separate.

As far as leadership, it’s probably got to be bigger than having a president, and would involve a series of state-based, regional, and continental governing bodies, all doing the advise and consent routine for the Earth Parliament, or whatever it gets called.

But, at the same time, everything is subject to sudden and instant national referendum, because we better have figured out secure, online, tamper-proof voting by then.

As for the flag: The Olympic Banner might work, but maybe with a circle superimposed in the center with the famous “Earthrise” photo from one of the Apollo missions. Screw a national anthem. Every state should get their own song. But here’s the motto to stuck on the flag and elsewhere: Unum saecula

My three Rs are all “Readin’”

(Mainly because writing and arithmetic don’t start with Rs, and yes, I’m being pedantic.)

From as early as I can remember, I’ve always been an avid and voracious reader. I know that it started out with my parents reading to me before I can even remember, but from the second my brain switched on from the mush and I became aware of sitting on my bedroom floor when I was about two, I remember there being books there.

Of course, actually learning to put letters together and read words took a little longer, but I had the advantage of going to a local preschool — I think it was free and run by an Episcopalian church that was, ironically, right across the street from my mother’s Catholic church. That’s where we first learned basic words and the alphabet and all that, and even some basic Spanish.

I definitely remember being able to read some time during Kindergarten because that’s when my parents invited my teacher, Miss Jones, over for dinner.

Side note: I’ve always wondered, but never found out, whether she wasn’t actually a relative, since Jones had been my father’s mother’s maiden name, and grandma had sufficient brothers in Southern California. On the other hand, of course, it’s a ridiculously common name.

Still… she was my only teacher that my parents ever invited over, and I remember showing her my room and my books, and being particularly proud of reading to her from one on human anatomy, which even detailed the whole process of how a baby develops in the womb.

Sure, it wasn’t some college-level text. It was pretty much aimed at the grade school market. But still — I was probably precocious. That must have been related to having been born two months premature, and it’s a trend that continued later in other areas.

Going into grade school, my strong points were always language and never math. In fact, the girls were the ones who naturally excelled at math, and if only adults had paid attention to this at the time, they would have been the ones led down the path of becoming scientists.

Every time in about second grade that we had to fill out a multiplication table, the girls would have their pencils down long before the boys and yet, really, how hard is that? Well, okay, when you’re just learning it, very hard.

But give me words and I was in heaven, and I even started writing my own stories when I was about seven — science fiction, of course — based on my own toys. Sure, they weren’t really that good, but they were a start.

Where the reading thing really took off, though, was probably around fifth grade, when they started some standardized reading-assessment program, probably to place us as we went on to junior high. I remember that it came in this huge box with a series of reading assignments arranged numerically and color-coded. The idea was to make it to the end of the box, where it changed from reading short stories to reading progressively longer books.

One other thing: We didn’t all start at the same place in the box. We took a preliminary test and got our starting position from that, and from what I can remember, I started out pretty damn close to just jumping to the books — five levels down at the most, maybe, when the box had something like thirty-two.

I polished those off pretty quickly, and then read through all of the books, and we weren’t even all that far into the school year, and this left my teacher with a dilemma — but one that turned out to be an amazing breakthrough for me.

Since there was nothing left in the box to read, she and my parents agreed that I could check out books from the library and read and report on those, so I could read almost anything.

Well, almost anything. I mean, I wasn’t going to be doing Naked Lunch or Lady Chatterly’s Lover, obviously. But I could certainly read Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, or Mark Twain and James Thurber. Basically, I was doing work way beyond fifth-grade level and loving every second of it.

It was also probably around the beginning of fifth grade or end of fourth that I started to hit puberty, by the way. If you’re doing the math, that would have put me at nine or ten years old. Not physically impossible, but statistically rare. I have no idea whether the two were related, but it always kept me among the tallest people in my classes, and one of only a few true bases in sixth-grade choir — all of us swimming in a sea of male tenors, altos, and some sopranos.

The latter two groups would always ask us, “How do you hit such low notes?” We’d just look at them and say, “How do you hit such high ones?”

It’s all perspective.

In junior high, I was dropped right into the AP English track, and we started reading at a high school level right off. On top of that, since I was in those classes with a bunch of great lit nerds, we very quickly started swapping reading suggestions, which were all over the place.

That’s how I discovered the literary highs — Joyce, Pynchon (sort of), Philip Roth, Kurt Vonnegut, William S. Burroughs, a ton of science fiction authors, and more; and the commercial lows — The Exorcist, The Godfather, Jaws, every other book made into a movie, and a bunch of novels that were probably only published in order to keep the sales racks in grocery stores, bus stations, and airports full.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. That latter bunch were all fun reads as well and it was in this latter crap class that I discovered the science fiction writer Larry Niven, who did have a huge influence on a lot of my themes and ideas as an adult. I read everything of his I could get my hands on, not realizing until years later that his politics were pretty toxic.

Oh well… at least I managed to scrape off his authoritarian-libertarian taint when I borrowed concepts, so there’s that.

But another great thing came along once I hit junior high and my parents let me ride my bike farther, beyond the library. I discovered used book shops in my neighborhood where my allowance money would buy me a big-ass bag or two of all kinds of books — and while they didn’t make it obvious at the time, I think my parents were extremely happy that this is what I chose to spend my money on.

I think that my dad even gave me a “raise” or two around this time.

But the other best thing ever in that era were the two times a year they would have a gigantic used-book blow-out at our local mall, all for charity — and I would bike my ass the three miles down there as soon as possible after school got out on Friday, and then early in the morning on Saturday and Sunday to spend all day.

And there were dozens and dozens of tables running along both sides of the split walkways along both floors and all around the anchor-store courts, all raising money for various organizations by selling used books.

I never paid any attention to which organization was selling, unlike now. All I was interested in were the books, and the adults never seemed to care what I, a random teenager, handed them to count and charge me for. So, yeah, I gobbled up some pretty adult stuff when I was only thirteen or fourteen.

Honestly, it did me good, and I had a pretty extensive paperback library that covered the entire range — literature from classic to modern, fiction and science fiction from high-brow to low, biography, history, science, dictionaries and reference works, and so on.

I even took the time to create my own card catalogue of it because I was basically a total nerd.

But after each day of one of those mall book sales, I would somehow ride home with four or five improbably stuffed brown paper bags, scoring maybe close to a hundred books for a couple of bucks.

I think the reason that everything was so cheap was because of market glut. There would basically be fifty thousand copies of every single New York Times best-seller for the past two or three decades, for example, so those would get maybe a nickel, or six for a quarter.

The same was true for those famous American authors, so all their stuff was similarly priced, maybe from a dime up. This made the rare quarter to dollar finds totally worth it, and there were plenty of those.

I’d make a big deal and say that these were the prices when Federal minimum wage was $7.25 an hour but… oops, it’s still that! And I wasn’t even working for real money yet, although I think I might have been in the “dad hands you a $20 every week” range, with the occasional “Hey, you’re going to go buy books? Here’s more” supplement.

Yeah. I was a book junkie and my parents enabled it. Good for them.

I’m still as addicted to reading to this day, but I’m not as addicted to books because I’ve gotten over the need for physical media. Seriously. And I know plenty of bibliophile friends who consider that sacrilege, but come on.

I dumped my LP collection in college because it was heavy and stupid and the sound quality sucked. Cassettes? Thankfully, they were a brief stop before CD, but every CD I’ve ever owned I’ve either since digitized, realized I’ve never wanted to listen to again, or can  listen to any time I want through whatever streaming service.

And, again, I don’t have a gigantic and heavy box of crap to haul around.

Dare I say it, the last time I moved, I did the same thing to most, but not all, of my book collection. I grabbed those volumes that had some importance to me, and they’re still sitting on my shelves now. But the ones that were easily replaceable, either physically or online… left behind.

One thing I hear a lot is that people can’t deal with  missing out on the feel and smell of books but, really, come on. What about the crack and hiss of the imperfect sound quality of LPs? If you can honestly say that those licorice pizzas are superior, then please get out of this century.

You don’t need to feel or smell a book to read it. All you need are the words. And I can easily put the entire Library of Congress on the Cloud, or access it from there, and put huge chunks of it on my own PC in a space a lot smaller than the OED. Plus I can read it from anywhere without having to schlep physical volumes with me.

Bonus points: If I want to make notes on and highlight an eBook, I don’t have to mutilate the original permanently. Or even the digital copy. And I can certainly mark my spot without bending over a page.

So here’s to the digital world, where I could have brought home every used book sale and used book store purchase I’ve ever made, complete and readable, on a memory card the size of my thumbnail. And still enjoyed every bit of it.

Then again… this exact scenario was one of the dreams all those science fiction novels — high brow and low brow — taught me from day one. One day, all human knowledge will be available to anyone at the touch of a screen.

Too bad that it still comes along with so much human stupidity. Oh well…

Image source: The Last Bookstore, Downtown LA. Photo by the author, © 2019.

Ride with pride

Today would have marked the 70th birthday of American astronaut Sally Ride, who has so many firsts or near-firsts associated with her that it’s nothing short of remarkable.

Born in 1951, she joined NASA in 1978 and became the first American woman in space five years later in 1983. She was third woman in space overall after Soviet cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova and Svetlana Savitskaya, who had gone up in 1962 and 1983 respectively.

She was also the youngest American astronaut to ever go into space, achieving the record with her first flight, when she was 32. She served with NASA until 1987 but still racked up another first — she was the only person to serve on both of the committees that investigated the disastrous losses of the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia.

And that may be where you had a Mandela effect moment and said to yourself, “Wait. Didn’t she die in the Columbia crash?” While she is dead, the answer is “No.” I think a lot of people get her confused with Christa McAuliffe, the first teacher-astronaut, who died in the Challenger disaster in 1986.

Sally Ride died of pancreatic cancer in 2012, at the age of 61, but she did leave another first as her legacy.

She had been married to a fellow astronaut, Steven Hawley, for the five years leading up to her leaving NASA, but her obituary revealed that she had been with her partner, children’s book author and women’s tennis professional Tam O’Shaughnessy, for 27 years.

In other words, not only was she the first American woman in space, but she was also the first member of the LGBTQ+ community (that we know of) to have been in space.

The “that we know of” is significant there, since Ride was not out while with NASA or, indeed, in her lifetime — at least not publicly. And, due to circumstances, that has been the case with all astronauts for all of NASA’s history but it also extends to China, the USSR, and later, Russia.

There may have been other astronauts that fell into one of the LGBTQ+ categories, but if so, none of them has ever said a word about it. It also didn’t help that a lot of NASA’s operations were centered in Texas (thank LBJ for that) where sodomy was illegal up until 2003.

And the so-called STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — have not been very gay- or lesbian-friendly, let alone any other member of the community. The fields have traditionally been male-dominated, particularly through most of the previous century.

That’s because science, et. al, was focused on big developments for society-at-large. There was also the built-in misogyny of expectations: Men would become the breadwinners, and women would take care of the homes and children.

Complete and utter bullshit, yes, but for decades, women rarely got the chance to even go to college. If they did, it might be “only” a junior college or secretarial school where they would pick up just the skills necessary to work some menial support job in an office or factory, along with all those necessary skills to keep a tidy, functioning household, handle the shopping and budget, and manage the kids along with the housework.

The shorthand code for this was “learning to keep your husband happy,” and that was the whole point. Shortly before that wedding but definitely around the time of the first baby, Mom was out of the workforce and she even added a new, inanimate spouse, going from just “wife” to “housewife.”

I wish I were kidding.

This really started to hit its peak from the 1920s onward, ironically (or maybe not) because of improvements in technology. Home appliances made big advances going into the 1930s, and suddenly it was possible for one woman to do all of the cooking and cleaning and sewing and whatever all by herself, without a fleet of servants.

Not that poorer households had servants, of course. That’s what daughters were for once they were old enough to wield a mop and change a diaper.

There was a brief glimmer of light during WW II, oddly enough, and to this day the image of Rosie the Riveter, actually based on a real person, is still held up as a progressive icon on many fronts. She stands for not only gender equality, but for the power inherent and the change possible when members of marginalized and oppressed groups work together and speak out.

The original “Rosie the Riveter,” as an abstract concept represented all of those “housewives” who went on to take factory jobs in positions more directly involved with STEM because there were not enough men of the right ages to do it. As a song from the era lamented, They’re Either Too Young or Too Old, and that was exactly the case.

It’s all spelled out in this song from 1943, written for the movie Thank Your Lucky Stars, which was one of those late-war feel-good films showcasing a bunch of Hollywood stars as sort of a USO show for the home front.

Her number is absolutely hilarious, by the way, and the lyrics are quite clever. It’s worth a watch.

Anyway, all of these women (plus people of color who couldn’t get in) experienced a few brief years in the workforce, and realized that, well, “Yes, we can!” And then were promptly put right back where they’d been beforehand when the men came back.

But from that point, it didn’t take long for things to come bubbling back, it’s no coincidence that the sexual revolution, the gay liberation movement, the Civil Rights movement, the women’s movement, and all the others began about a generation after the war ended.

Well, okay. The Civil Rights movement began pretty much immediately, but the others started with their own baby steps in the 1950s, and followed the model of the CRM.

Certain groups snuck under the STEM barrier earlier than others of course. For example, the film Hidden Figures finally brought to wide attention the important role a group of African-American women played in the American Space Flight effort from the beginning of the 1960s — although it’s easy to forget that while these women were doing the complex calculations that made sure we put humans into space and brought them back safely, it really wasn’t an appreciated skill.

They were referred to as “computers,” and not as a compliment. It was still the boys having all the fun with the engineering and mechanics and actually building stuff. They never seemed to notice that most of it probably would have come flaming back to Earth without the help of their “computers.”

Still… women and people of color did find wider acceptance in STEM. Openly LGBTQ+ people? Rarer, even up until the middle of the 2010s. This is visible every time there’s some scientific study done with a strong heteronormative bias.

There are plenty of studies on why straight men look at women’s boobs, as well as studies on why, but damn little on things like do straight women look at women’s boobs? Do gay men? Do lesbians look at women’s boobs as much as straight men? And so on.

Unfortunately, the subject of LGBTQ+ experience only entered via the so-called soft sciences, like sociology, psychology, and anthropology. They’re considered “soft” because it’s much more difficult to come up with absolute and concrete measurements in these fields.

These sciences are based on statistics rather than discrete data points. Sure, the entire field of calculus, which underlies much of modern physics, aeronautics, and the like, is sort of statistical in one sense, but it’s a kind of statistics that is narrowed down to such a small degree — and which doesn’t rely on human variables — that it’s not at all mushy.

In case you’re wondering, calculus deals with changes in systems based on vectors of movement; e.g. “If we launch a missile at x degrees, it weighs m kilos with fuel at launch, lifts off accelerating at a meters per second per second squared, and burns fuel at a rate of r liters per second while accelerating, at what height will the missile run out of fuel, and what will its trajectory be when the force of gravity, G, reacts with the remaining mass, m-(r-r1), how fast will it be pulled back to Earth, at what angle and what velocity, and where will it hit?

Sounds complicated, doesn’t it? And it is, and this is the kind of thing those human “computers” had to do by hand. But here’s the thing… each step of the way, there is a specific value to plug in, and exact rules that determine behavior.

Thomas Pynchon called this Gravity’s Rainbow, and he wasn’t really wrong even if he did write a completely incomprehensible book. It’s a phrase that describes ballistic travel and pays homage to the inventor of calculus, Isaac Newton, who also pioneered optics, hence the rainbow.

But, when it comes to the “soft” sciences, there is no rainbow because things cannot be plugged in as neatly. That’s because those equations may evolve things like, “We tried to determine how many men have had homosexual experiences, and out of a sample of X, we determined that the percentage is p.

The big problem, of course, is that there are so many possibilities not only for the number in X, but the source, so the p could wind up being anything.

Start with the question “Have you ever?” and only ask 5,000 males who attended British boarding schools between, say, 1900 and 1950, and you might get something like 75% or higher.

Start with the question “Do you now?” and limit it to 500 American males regardless of school status, and a lot depends on timing. Ask that question in 2021 among people agreed 13 to 23, and you might get a really high percentage. Ask that question in 1990 but only among men over 40, and you might get single digit percentages.

Also don’t forget… the rules of physics and things you can measure on a scale or with a ruler don’t lie. Humans do. So any study in the soft sciences is going to have a huge margin of error because it all depends on whether someone actually answers the questions honestly.

And, come on, when it comes to sex and sexuality, very few people have the gonads necessary to just answer the questions honestly without trying to put themselves in the best light.

So… we really don’t know how many LGBTQ+ astronauts there have been. We could have had half a dozen by now, or Sally could be truly the only example. (Though I doubt it.) The only thing we do know is that there are definitely a ton of LGBTQ+ people in the sciences, and The Advocate recently compiled this self-reported list of 500 Queer Scientists in STEM fields.

Enjoy!

THIS JUST IN! Announced right before publish time, Sally Ride and Maya Angelou to be the first two women depicted on American quarters. Of course, the linked article mentions nothing about Sally being gay.

Image source: John Mathew Smith & www.celebrity-photos.com from Laurel Maryland, USA, (CC BY-SA 2.0), via Wikimedia Commons

Talky Tuesday: Words you didn’t know had antonyms

Okay, you all probably already know that the antonym of antonym is synonym. But what about the antonyms for these?

Ambidextrous: Derived from the words for both (ambi-) and right (dexter, particularly when it refers to a hand), while this word literally means “both right handed,” what it really means is that someone uses either hand equally well.

But, as a further relic to the biases in our language, its antonym is actually ambisinister, and this comes from that  both prefix again, only this time combined with the word for left — and yes, you’re not hallucinating when you think that we also got the word “sinister” from it. Like, duh.

So someone who is ambidextrous can use both hands equally well. Someone who is ambisinister sucks at using either one.

Democracy: This comes from the Greek words for the people, demos, and power, or kratia. Literally, power of the people. And you can’t get more of an antonym from this than the word derived from “self” and “power,” which is autocracy.

In a democracy, everyone has a voice and a vote. In an autocracy, only one person does. And I can tell you right now which form of government I’d prefer. Hint: It’s the one that comes with a big “D.”

Paranoia: Another Greek one-two combo, this term comes from the words from “beyond” or “beside” (think “paranormal”) and the word for mind, “noos,” which is two syllables, by the way.

So the short version of this term is beyond or beside one’s mind, but we all probably know that the practical and medical definition is to be unreasonably afraid or untrusting of others or, in other words, to think that everybody else is out to get them.

This one has two antonyms, one older and from Latin, and the other newer and somewhat made up. The newer one is “pronoia,” and it basically flips the Greek prefix to create a term that means someone believes that everyone else is out to help them.

Probably just as mentally ill, but whatever.

The Latin-based antonym is the word “confidence,” which comes from the words for “with” (con) and “faith in” (fi for faith, and the whole dence bit to indicate a state of being in.)

Kleptomania: From Greek again, klepto for “thief”, and mania for “madness for.” So the opposite is, oddly enough, doromania, the first part of it derived from the Greek “doron,” meaning to give gifts.

So if you don’t have a weird compulsion to take stuff, you’d have a weird one to give stuff. And also note the weird similarity to the Greek word and the Latin word for the same, which is the one that came down to English: Donor. Hm…

Prolix: This is probably a word you won’t encounter too often outside of academia or pretentious book reviews, but what it means it for something to be way too wordy.

It comes from Latin, with the prefix “pro,” meaning to move outward, and the suffix derived from liquere, to be liquid. So the word pretty much indicates a spilling of way too much — figuratively liquid, literally, words.

Antonym, also Latin but, surprisingly, not perlix. Instead, it’s condensed. And since that’s a word in English, it probably requires no explanation, but it’s pretty clear that it generally involves taking a spread-out liquid and slamming it into a much smaller space.

Clockwise: This one is interesting, because it also has a synonym you probably don’t know: deasil. And guess where this one comes from ultimately? That’s right, our old friend dexter, meaning to the right. And when you walk clockwise, you start by turning right.

Now the obvious antonym for clockwise is either counter-clockwise or anti-clockwise, depending on whether you’re in the U.S. or UK, but in keeping with the ultimately pagan term deasil (which got to English from Latin via Gaelic, actually), then the term we need to use is widdershins.

This one probably comes from old German, with the literal meaning “against the way,” or, in other words, to go the opposite direction from something else, generally the Sun.

Which makes sense because, if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere and facing north, the Sun does pass overhead going clockwise. If you walk toward the east, you’re the one going all widdershins.

Oh well…

The B-word

I’ve noticed over the last few months the sudden explosion of a word that feels like it should have fallen out of use forty years ago.

The word itself was most likely first used in England and first seen there in print in 1945 in the Daily Mirror. It landed in the U.S. in 1965, in a review of the film Paranoia in the New York Times.

Along the way, it changed meaning. Originally, it referred to something very specific, but over time took on a more general meaning. It’s actually had two comebacks. The first was around 2009, most likely due to a song by that name put out by British Rapper Dizzee Rascal,  but it quickly faded.

It current ubiquity seems to have gotten its start around 2017, and in the nearly four years since, it only seems to have grown in usage.

So what is this once rare B-word now appearing in headlines everywhere?

Bonkers.

When it originated in England during or before WW II, it was most likely slang among the Navy and probably meant “drunk.” By the time it made it to the civilian press and then to the U.S., it came to be a polite euphemism for “crazy” — one that did not stigmatize mental illness because it had a safe distance to it — as well as meaning something that was utterly ridiculous or ludicrous.

It also just sounds like a kid’s word to begin with, something that would be completely inoffensive. Except, now, it’s becoming incredibly offensive via overuse.

If you go to your favorite newsfeed right now and search for “bonkers,” you’ll wind up with a mind-boggling bunch of current headlines. Here are just a few, all from the 24 hour period ending about 9 p.m. on Wednesday, May 19:

CultureMap (Dallas, U.S.): Getting onto the Tollway from downtown Dallas is about to be bonkers

Mirror (UK): Harry branded ‘Prince of woke’ over ‘bonkers’ free speech comments, says TV presenter

MediaIte: Qanon Shaman Lawyer Defends ‘Short Bus’ Comment in Bonkers CNN Interview: Getting ‘Vulgar’ Brought Issue to the Fore

MSN (UK): QPR’s Premier League spending spree between 2011 and 2013 was truly bonkers

Second Nexus (U.S.): Pro-Trump Rep. Claims House Dems ‘Aided and Abetted’ Insurrectionists in Bonkers Interview

That’s just a sample of five out of the more than a dozen stories in just the last 24 hours, and if you extend the search to a week or month, the number just keeps going up.

By the way, note the source for the last article listed, Second Nexus, because it’s one of the two big offenders in this regard that made me first take note of the phenomenon.

The place I first noticed it was at the website Cracked, which for a long time billed itself as “America’s Only Humor Site.” Unfortunately, it has suffered a sharp decline in quality over the last year or two — but that’s what happens when you fire all of your good, paid writers, and try to replace them with… not as good writers, and then apparently apply no editorial oversight.

Ironically, even as all of the good writers vanished en masse, the quantity of content posted daily went way up, so the quality fell way down, and it quickly became a game of “Let’s see if they actually posted one good article today.”

Oh… along the way, most of their content also became either listicles, listicles generated by reader questions to the Facebook page, or a couple of lazy writers basically stealing Twitter threads, throwing a few sentences between screengrabs here or there, and calling it a day.

But, in recent months, there has been a sudden and definite uptick in the use of the word “bonkers” in article headlines for no discernable reason, describing everything from Marvel movies to strange collections owned by famous people to Elon Musk tweets.

This brings me to Second Nexus, which is one of the myriad of websites run by everyone’s favorite gay grandpa, George Takei. The word “bonkers” has started to seep into the headlines of the articles he shares on Facebook, typically in the case of “Firefighters tell us the most bonkers rescue they’ve ever made,” or “People share their bonkers roommate stories.”

It seems like bonkers should always come in close company with “wacky” and “mad-cap,” but it never does.

And now the word has escaped a couple of online humor feeds and is leaking into the legitimate press with no sign of stopping.

Why? I have no idea, although you do have to admit that for about the last five or so years, the Earth has been a pretty bonkers place, with no signs of slowing down.

Images: The edible kind of Bonkers!

Sunday Nibble #62: fnord

Today is Sunday, May 23, 2021, although it’s a special day according to the Illuminati, known as “Eye Day.” Well, at least according to some, or maybe just the infamous “many people (who) are saying…” Or it could all be made up.

Which is kind of the point. The real significance of the date are the 5 and the 23, which go back to Discordianism an ancient (fake) religion created in 1963 by the disciples Malaclypse the Younger and Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst, better known, or maybe not, as the author Gregory Hill and general counterculture prophet and muckracker Kerry Thornley.

You can still find various versions of their seminal work Principia Discordia, the founding document of Discordianism, and a really hilarious read. In case you haven’t grok’d it yet, the religion is a total parody, and one of the matches thrown into the plastic bag full of gas that was the LBJ administration.

This blew up into massive protests against the Vietnam War, a total generational split between those “damn hippies” (now Boomers) vs. the Greatest Generation (graters?) who had fought in WW II, and LBJ’s decision to nope the hell out of running for election in 1968, even though he could have.

BTW, the Gen-X of that era were known as The Silent Generation. They got fucked, too.

But let’s circle back to the date itself, because that’s what’s important. 5/23. These two numbers were very important is Discordianism and were claimed to show up everywhere. And, remember, 5 = 2+3. Plus the number 23 shows up in so many places that it’s ridiculous.

And how many fingers do you have on each hand? Toes on each foot? Holes in your face, not counting your ears? (Assuming the normal number, of course, not to be ableist.)

Twelve years after Principia first came out as a sort of underground guerrilla pamphlet, the three volumes of the Illuminatus! trilogy, by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea, were unleashed on the world. (Funny story: All four writers of the two works were, in fact, The Gen-Xers of their day. Make of that what you will.)

Now, Illuminatus! drew heavily on what Principia had created, but then went on to pull in basically every single then extant conspiracy theory, left or right, and treat them all as if they were true. And the two Bobs were exposed to plenty, since they worked for Playboy magazine at the time, and got to read all of the “slush pile” incoming mail, which consisted of unsolicited article ideas.

So, maybe normal stuff interspersed with plenty of JFK conspiracy theories, UFOs killed Marilyn, the Nazis didn’t die, they moved to Argentina, etc., etc., etc.

Or, in other words, they were getting QAnon crap in the post and mostly had to deal with ignoring it, although instead of that, they turned it into literary fodder, turned it on its head and satirized it.

One of the places where they ran with it the most was in those two numbers, 5 and 23, which they posited as sacred to the Illuminati, but then they proceeded to scatter them throughout the text, as well as to give lots of real-life examples of where they showed up.

In later works, Wilson documented his own encounters with the two numbers, invoking The Law of Fives originated in the Principia. Keep in mind that 23 is just a hidden invocation of the number 5 since, again, 2+3 = 5.

Now, oddly enough, I first actually read Illuminatus!, long after it had been published in an omnibus volume, when I happened to be 23, and the book both blew my mind and changed my life. At least all of the conspiracies used in it dramatically were presented with such tongue in cheek that it was clear that none should be taken seriously, but other elements did stand out.

One of these was the idea that no two people could ever experience the world in exactly the same way, because they would not have the exact same experiences — and this had a huge positive influence on me. Wilson’s term for it was “reality tunnel,” as in everybody goes down their own.

After Illuminatus!, I proceeded to get my hands on and read absolutely everything he had ever written, or was yet to write, and somewhere along the way he led me through the true origin and meaning of the Law of Fives.

I think this was in his book Prometheus Rising, where he described his “Find the quarter” exercise, and it went like this. Whenever he was lecturing to a large group of students, he would tell them, “Whenever you’re out walking around, keep one thought in mind. ‘I am going to find a quarter.’ Then… keep looking for that quarter.”

A funny thing happened. His students kept finding goddamn quarters everywhere. And when I tried it, so did I. But it wasn’t until late in that book that he sprung the secret: People drop change all the time. You just don’t notice because you’re not looking for it. But by changing your focus, you see what was formerly hidden from you.”

Or, in other words, you will see what you’re looking for, or perceive what you expect. And it was the same with the Law of Fives, or the Number 23. Give them special significance and start watching, and they will show up everywhere.

Try it right now, and in the coming days. Pay strict attention, and any time that a 5 or a 23 or, really, any combination of those three digits shows up in any order, take note. You’ll be surprised at how often they occur.

And so… Wilson’s works did have a big effect on me in my early 20s, especially has he led me into and out of what could have been some woo-woo fantasy belief system, except it wasn’t. In fact, it was the opposite of that, at least when it came to religious and spiritual stuff.

Politically, though? I eventually drifted away from him because his combination of cynicism and extreme libertarianism (no matter how liberal his version) just didn’t work for me. There are just some things that society cannot make happen unless everyone throws into the common bucket and no, you don’t get to opt out of paying for schools if you have no kids, or paying for roads if you don’t own a car, or paying for airports if you never fly, or paying for libraries if you never read, and so on.

But what I did learn from him, at least, was that we all create our own kaleidoscope through which we watch the world, and our main responsibility is to freely admit and acknowledge that what we see through ours is not what anyone else sees through theirs — and that limit comes as close as your kids, parents, siblings, spouses, and besties.

So, in response to that, let’s try this approach. Instead of springing right into, “No, you’re wrong,” start with, “That’s interesting, but here’s what I see/think/feel.” Offer the chance for a response, and see what you get.

You might just get your face bitten off, but at least you tried.

And, really, if you’re going to start by arguing with someone who insists that 5 and 23 are numbers with magical properties, you’re probably not going to be able to convince them anyway. Oh well…

The Saturday Morning Post #63: The Rêves Part 41

At last, the final chapter is here and you get to find out what happens. Fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride. Keep your arms and legs inside of the chapter at all times.

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.

Simon and Joshua, Jrs.

After realizing the how of the thing, Simon and Joshua still took a few more days consulting with Pearl, Danny, and Preston on how to pull it off and make it look like an act of nature.

They finally decided that the best approach would be for Simon and Joshua to enter via the emergency exit, with Danny and Simon’s help, then get to the main room, and head on up to the top level stairs.

From there, they would score a break in the concrete ceiling with very powerful lasers they’d brought, all while the cameras and other surveillance were disabled.

Once the ceiling was weakened, Pearl and the Hadas would bring on some nature in the form of hard local rain, resulting in some underground flooding and, unfortunately, a total saturation of the ground right above a point in the ceiling that would give out, and…

And it could not have worked out better, Simon and Joshua realized, once they’d taken up their spots on the observation deck and let Pearl and Taamit know to unleash.

Except for one little thing.

The concrete in the ceiling crashed down beautifully, followed by copious amounts of water. It hit the pipes and broke them apart, then kept going, and the plasma escaped and cooled, and then so did the tachyons…

And Simon and Joshua were standing right on the edge of the stream as it blew upward.

Instantly, they lost not quite all their ages, but both wound up as about thirteen years old — the beam wasn’t quite at full strength this far down. Their car keys vanished from their pockets.

Fortunately, they had left their phones at home. More fortunately, they had decided to wear their steampunk hunter garb for this mission for luck so, since it was vintage, they didn’t wind up naked, only going commando.

On the other hand, since they were a lot smaller at 13 than they had been as adults, they would need to do a lot of cinching up and securing and whatnot.

Unfortunately, Danny and Preston were nowhere to be found. Neither were the lasers. “Those were some damn nice portable industrial lasers,” Joshua lamented to Simon.

“We can always buy more,” Simon reminded him, “But it’s probably best that that evidence is gone. We should get home.”

They both stumbled down the stairs and to the exit, at which point they had to awkwardly walk to their car holding their pants up. Only after they finally opened the doors with their thumb prints did they look at each other and say, “What the fuck, dude?”

Fortunately, the car knew how to drive them home. They hopped in, pushed the button, and were on their way, Simon making sure to set the AI to “Obey All the Laws” mode.

That’s not what it was officially called, but that was the name they’d come up with for it.

Once they got home, they managed to make it up to their unit without running into anyone — it would have been very embarrassing in their current state of dress, after all, and with Halloween almost two months away, they couldn’t exactly make the “They’re costumes” excuse.

Especially not when it looked like they were wearing their fathers’ clothes. Fortunately, they could unlock their door with either a key or the app on their phones, which had been in the car, so avoided vanishing.

Once they got inside, they hunted around for anything that would comfortably fit their de-aged frames without them swimming in it or their pants falling to the floor, and then changed.

They looked everywhere to see if Preston and Danny had popped back home, but they weren’t here and didn’t seem to reply to their shouts.

“Probably celebrating with the other Rêves,” Joshua suggested, so he and Simon cuddled on the sofa to do some binge-watching.

About an hour later, they both got a text from Brenda. “OMFG. ARE YOU WATCHING THE NEWS?”

“This can’t be good,” Simon said, and they clicked around until they found a local network news channel, which was showing footage of lots of confused-looking naked people wandering around a cemetery.

“No, but it must have been our doing,” Joshua said. They watched the screen intently, trying to make out any faces they knew.

“Oh my god,” Simon exclaimed, pointing. “That’s Paul Walker. Right there.”

“You’re sure?”

“Come on. You remember that scene in Joy Ride as well as I do, when they had to walk naked into that diner. I know you never forget a nice ass, and neither do I.”

“Holy shit, you’re right,” Joshua agreed.

Simon was already tapping his phone and he announced, “Forest Lawn, Glendale. That’s where he is.”

“That’s where Preston and Danny are,” Joshua realized. “And I mean I guess literally are, right now.”

“We have to go get them,” Simon insisted.

“Should we really go out like this much?” Joshua asked.

“That’s got to be a good ten mile walk back home, and they are not doing that butt-naked.”

“Preston would probably prefer it that way.”

“Don’t be a dick, dear,” Simon shot back.

“It was a joke, honey. Of course we’re going to go get them. Let’s raid our closets again and find shit that’ll fit them.”

They eventually settled on a couple of old longish, slim-fit T-shirts and two pairs of sweat pants with drawstrings. With the legs rolled up and the strings tight, they should work.

They made it down to the car again unobserved, then set it on course.

When they arrived, the entrance was blocked off by Glendale PD. Joshua pulled up and stopped, rolling down the window as Simon muttered, “Shit!”

“Good afternoon,” the officer said. “The cemetery is closed right now. And aren’t you a little young to be driving?”

Joshua suddenly called back on all his old acting and improv skills and burst into tears. “Our mom and our older brothers are in there!” he sobbed. “I mean, buried in there, but probably not now, and we need to find them.”

The officer looked confused, but then she pulled out her radio. “Hang on, sweetie,” she said. “Let me see what I can do.”

She stepped away from the car and Joshua shot Simon a conspiratorial look. Simon just shook his head in awe.

“I still got it, baby,” Joshua whispered.

The officer came back to the car. “Is there any reason that your father didn’t drive you?” she asked.

“Um… they’re divorced and he moved out of state,” Joshua continued, keeping the emotional upset at just the right level. “This is our uncle’s car.”

“And he didn’t bring you because…?”

“DUI, restricted license,” Joshua ad-libbed.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, hon.” She stepped away for a moment, then came back one more time. “Do you know exactly how to get to their graves from here?” she asked.

“Of course,” Joshua replied.

“Perfect,” she said, motioning behind them with her right hand. A motorcycle cop pulled up next to them. “This is Officer Pérez. He’ll accompany you up to the gravesite, then help you find them if necessary.”

“Thank you so, so much,” Joshua replied, looking at her badge, “Officer Thrower. The two of us have just been… you know. Ever since the news stories.”

“I understand,” she said. “Now go find your loved ones, and good luck.”

They drove slowly through the entrance and up the road to the familiar grave, Pérez using bleeps of his siren and flashes of his lights to direct the wandering undead Rêves out of their way.

Eventually, as they neared the gravesite, Joshua and Simon saw three clothed figures — a woman and two men — walking toward them, and realized instantly that they were Anabel, Danny, and Simon, only dressed up as Colonial-era Americans.

Joshua honked the horn and stopped, he and Simon jumping out of the car.

“That them?” the motorcycle cop asked.

“Oh, yes,” Joshua replied.

He and Simon raced up to the trio, Joshua calling out, “Mom! You’re back,” the two of them getting close enough to be able to whisper, “Play along if you want to get out with us.”

“Who the hell are you?” Preston asked.

“Um… Simon and Joshua,” Simon explained. “We managed to kill the machine, but it kind of took a few years off our lives. In the wrong direction.”

Danny and Preston stared back and forth at the two of them for a long moment, then suddenly had the realization.

“Oh my god,” Danny cried out. “It is you!”

“Freaky,” Preston added.

“Yeah, not as freaky as finding your asses wandering around in the flesh. Want to go home now?”

“Fuck yeah,” Preston said, Danny nodding agreement.

“Anabel?” Simon asked.

“No, I have someone else I should meet up with now, but thanks.” She nodded, and then blinked away.

“Wait,” Simon said. “You all can still do that shit?”

“Um… I guess?” Danny offered. “But we’d rather ride home with you all.”

“Then let’s go,” Joshua said.

They headed back to the car, Simon starting for the driver’s seat, but Pérez called out to them. “You should let one of your older brothers drive. Obviously, they don’t have ID, but it just looks better.”

“Right,” Simon called back. “Thanks!”

Danny hopped into the driver’s seat and Preston took shotgun. Simon and Joshua sat in the back. When the windows were up and they were driving back down on autopilot behind Pérez, Joshua turned to Simon.

“Brothers?” Preston asked.

“Joshua had to improvise to even get in here,” Simon said. “And where did you get the clothes anyway?”

“Some weird museum attached to one of the chapels,” Danny explained. “This place is freaky like that.”

“What I want to know,” Joshua announced, “Is what the fuck do they put in the donuts at the station to make Glendale cops so goddamn nice?”

“Who knows?” Simon replied. “Just be grateful it worked for us.

Once they’d left the cemetery grounds, Preston turned back and asked, “Okay, dudes, what the hell happened to you two?”

“We could ask you the same,” Joshua replied, but they proceeded to explain everything on the trip home, and then they all retreated back up to Simon and Joshua’s front unit to figure out what to do next.

Clearly, Simon and Joshua would have to stay out of the public eye for a while, and they’d probably be able to handle most all of their needs online using their adult digital identities. Danny and Preston, who at least appeared to be adults, could handle any necessary interactions with delivery people.

They could also go back to coding and creating apps again, so there was that.

The four of them brainstormed on any potential gotchas that might come up, but as long as Simon and Joshua stayed inside, they were pretty safe.

And even after they ordered new clothes in their sizes and could go outside again, they’d just be a couple of teens of no major interest. Simon did rig up some pretty convincing student ID cards for Walter Reed Middle School, just in case, and they were obviously too young to have Driver’s Licenses.

Sure, they had Social Security cards if asked (wink wink), but if anyone ever asked for those in person, the easy answer was, “Our parents have them in their safety deposit boxes until we’re 18 or get a job.”

And then Simon suddenly sat up in an “oh shit” moment because he’d realized the one really tricky thing. “Jury duty,” he announced solemnly.

“Well, fuck,” Joshua agreed.

“Can’t you just ignore that shit?” Preston offered.

“Probably not a good idea,” Simon suggested.

“I did, a couple of times,” Danny said.

“Yeah, but you lived in buttfuck Idaho,” Joshua reminded him.

“Although, you know,” Simon added, “The last three times I got called up, I never got called in. My secret was always to reschedule for the nearest week after the original with a federal or religious holiday in the middle of it. Thanksgiving and Christmas week, for example, or if Yom Kippur or the Fourth of July fell on a Wednesday.”

“And?” Preston asked.

“Well, we have a call-in system,” Simon explained, “And the reschedule is only part of it. See, you call the night before to find out if they need you tomorrow, but the trick is never, ever call early. Always call late in the evening, after nine or ten p.m. Why? Because they don’t have some random selected order. They just tend to go first caller, first called. If you’re some dumb schmuck who calls the first minute after the phone lines open, you’re probably going to get your ass dragged down there for sure.”

“Or just blow off the notice,” Preston reminded them.

“When was the last time either of us got called?” Joshua asked.

“You, in 2020,” Simon told him, “So you’re probably safe for a while. Me… around 2014? So… I might be coming right back into their sights soon?”

“Why don’t we just drive off that bridge when we come to it?” Joshua suggested. “I mean, we kind of have Brenda as our secret weapon when it comes to County shit, right?”

“I guess,” Simon agreed.

Once their discussions had come to some sort of resolution and sense of safety, the boys excused themselves. “Wow, we have bodies now,” Preston announced, “And they actually get tired.”

“Who knew?” Danny added.

They adjourned to the bedroom, and Simon and Joshua continued snuggling.

“Speaking of Brenda,” Simon said, “How do you suppose she’s dealing with all of this returned Rêve stuff?”

“I don’t know,” Joshua said. “Do you think we should call her?”

“Kind of late in the day now,” Simon replied, “But for sure.”

And then, things in Danny and Preston’s bedroom got really noisy, with the bed frame thumping the floor and wall rhythmically, and then their moans and exclamations getting louder and louder

“I guess that was inevitable,” Joshua said.

“Well, wouldn’t you, if the opportunity came up?” Simon asked.

“In a hummingbird heartbeat,” Joshua agreed.

Their moans and outbursts of “Oh fuck,” and “God,” grew in a crescendo until a moment of silence, and then almost simultaneous and very loud grunts.

Joshua and Simon smiled at each other again. They both knew that sound very well. The guest room went quiet after that.

“You don’t think they’d mind living in our second unit, do you?” Joshua asked Simon.

“No, but I think the neighbors fifteen floors down and a half mile away might,” Simon joked.

“Hey, if anything, it would give us a valid delivery address for shit that we don’t have to accept ourselves.”

“Damn… bonus points!” Joshua agreed.

It didn’t take them long to offer Danny and Preston their second unit rent free in exchange for being their adult proxies when necessary, and then to set up all the trappings for their personal porn website, including ecommerce and marketing and all the whatnot.

The hardest part was creating the corporation that would accept all of the payments, since Danny and Preston returned still didn’t have legal identities. It was technically registered to and run by Simon and Joshua, of course, but Danny and Preston did not appear anywhere in the paperwork.

In fact, that didn’t happen until after a long time when the boys asked Simon and Joshua if they could come to dinner — well “dinner,” since the revived Rêves didn’t actually eat, and explained that since they could not use either of the names of the one adult entertainer they both used to be, they would have to become his previously unknown identical triplets.

So… they kept LeCard, but Preston wanted to use Silas or Sy, and Danny wanted to go by Josh or Joshie.

And Simon and Joshua could not have been happier about that, so they gave their blessings.

They still had their own situation to deal with, so they sent a message to Brenda, asking her to come over for a meeting. They figured that face-to-face with the four of them would be the only thing that would work, and they were right.

She had come up to their place expecting the Simon and Joshua she knew, and the Preston and Danny she knew as phantoms, but instead got all four of them in the flesh, the former two suddenly teenagers.

“Oh sweet tap-dancing Jesus, what happened?” she exclaimed when she walked in the door.

“Long story short,” Simon explained, “We agreed to help out one particular Rêve, but have kind of created this weird fucked-up mess with the dead brought back — ”

“And with us de-aged. There might be more people like this, maybe. It all depends upon who was aboveground at JPL when the machine cut off.”

“You did that?” Brenda exclaimed.

“Not officially,” Simon warned her. “We were just witnesses. It was the Rêves who did it.”

“Well, Pearl and the Hadas,” Joshua added. “You know — the stormbringers.”

“But, now… you two are stuck as teenagers again, and these two have come back in the flesh but have no legal identities, right?”

“Right,” Simon said. “Plus the real complication with Danny and Preston here is that they were really only one human before they died, but shit happened, so they kind of got split in two, and then both of them came back.”

“Wait… they’re not twins?” Brenda gaped.

“No, technically they’d be…” Joshua paused. “Shit. Help me out, honey.”

“Non-corporeal clones?” Simon suggested. “Identical, sure, but only one of them existed in life prior to, well… everything thing going pear-shaped.”

“God… damn,” Brenda quietly replied. “Okay, give me a couple of days, because I think I can help you all deal with this shit. All right?”

“All right,” Joshua replied. “By the way, how is your family doing?”

“Mostly good,” Brenda replied, “Although my mom is being a bit smug about it.”

“I’m sorry, “Simon said.

“Don’t be,” Brenda told him. “She’ll get over it.”

Brenda called Rita and asked her whether the state position was still open. An hour later, Rita told her it was, by which point Brenda had already written down her requirements, and that afternoon, the California Reintegration, Education, and Employment Program for Entities Returned Act was passed, although Brenda really wanted to throat-punch the petty bureaucrat who had wasted time giving it the acronym CREEPER Act.

On the other hand, a week after it passed, she’d realized that way too many humans had a total disdain for the returned dead, despite a massive media campaign with lots of celebrities — including previously dead ones — doing spots of the “These could be your parents or grandparents, friends, or family” variety.

The official investigation into the destruction of the machine ruled it “Accident due to force majeure,” but the committee of scientists studying it couldn’t quite figure out how it had caused what it did.

They tried to contact Joshua and Simon several times, the two of them avoiding replying at first for obvious reasons, until Brenda convinced them that they should respond, just not meet in person.

“You two still sound pretty much like your adult selves,” she said. “Just don’t do any Zoom meetings.”

They finally agreed to answer the committee’s questions, but explained that they could not do it in person or via any form of video, explaining that they had been rushing to the lab when they checked the weather near it, but were still aboveground over the place when the machine must have been destroyed, and were suddenly a lot younger.

The committee expressed their understanding, although did ask for a Zoom meeting, given the explanation. Simon and Joshua reluctantly agreed, and could actually see how they slowly convinced these well-educated people that they were telling the truth.

Most thirteen year-old couldn’t rattle off advanced science like they could, or answer a lot of their questions.

Simon and Joshua ended up giving the full scientific explanation as they knew it of how the machine’s destruction resurrected the Rêves, as well as took about twenty-five years off of their own ages.

They were thanked profusely at the end of the meeting and they thought that that was it until a couple of months later, when they got a huge surprise.

Somebody somewhere must have really appreciated what they did — and had done their homework, because they were issued new birth certificates, both of them same-named but juniors, and each of them showing their parents as Simon and Joshua (now senior), and their status as adopted. Their birthdays were the same, but now taking place in 2010.

But there was more. They also received death certificates for their original selves, their own passports and Social Security cards, and were also recipients of the death benefits due from their “deceased” parents, who were, of course, them.

In other words, they had been legitimatized as the thirteen-year-old versions of themselves.

It didn’t end there, though. That homework had been super extra, and Danny and Preston also got the treatment, with Idaho birth certificates for Joshua Simon LeCard and Silas Joshua LeCard also being issued, along with passports, Social Security cards, and documents making them the legal guardians of Simon and Joshua Jr.

It was impressive in its scope and bowled them all over, and all any of them could mutter about it was, “Who the fuck…”

The best part, of course, was that Simon and Joshua Jr. became their own heirs, untangling the whole mess of their assets possibly falling into the hands of trustees — although Danny and Preston technically had Power of Attorney and Fiduciary responsibility.

Simon and Joshua decided to take advantage of their new-found youth and suddenly real people status to become influencers themselves, like Danny and Preston, except not as porn stars.

Instead, they started up various channels called The Science Squad, later followed by The Coding Crew, and they taught really difficult concepts to their peers, using Danny and Preston’s help in keeping up with the lingo and trends, although having been dead for three years before coming back, they were technically at the 26-year-old level of pop-culture awareness, so possibly out of the loop as well.

Luckily, Simon and Joshua’s stuff really caught on huge with the 12- to 15-year-old demographic, and they commented and discussed things ad nauseam on all of their sites, which gave the two of them a ready study-guide for the proper slang, pop culture references, and an ongoing what was hot or not guide, so they were able to fake it and make it.

By the time they both had celebrated their nouveau 14th birthdays, their first two channels, over all social media, had gained a cumulative 3.5 million and 2.4 million followers. Before that, they had started The Vote Boat early in 2024, and hit 4.6 million followers on all channels by June 1st.

Their popularity also shot up in the 16- to 23-year old demographic but, oddly enough, among the 65 and up demographic as well.

“You know,” Simon told Joshua sometime around October, “I hate to say it, but getting our asses blasted back to just after puberty has actually turned out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to us.”

“No shit,” Joshua replied. “We’re multi-millionaires in this sweet pad with no parents, we’re world famous, and our dirty-old-man brains are having sex using our ‘could go all day and half the night’ bodies. What’s not to love?”

“Yeah, well, other than the ‘Lasts four seconds part,’ I’ll get back to you on that.”

Despite despising the name of the CREEPER Act, the ad campaign had finally had some success, at least among younger people, and Brenda’s project also started to take off in rehabilitating and reintegrating the resurrected.

One of her big innovations was identifying “lost” job skills that were still vitally needed, like the ability to code in certain languages, or to operate antiquated computers, or perform repairs on really old cars, or fix ridiculously dated telephone lines and equipment.

Ultimately, she wound up exporting a lot of the returned and reintegrated Rêves to rural areas, because those places were most likely to be dealing with really outdated infrastructure. Ironically, they were also the places most likely to be biased against the “Ooh, boo, scary” Rêves.

Sending them into these communities to work their magic turned out to be exactly the trick. It also didn’t hurt that, despite being taught about modern liberal mores and beliefs, Rêves sent into more conservative areas were allowed to fall back into their original personalities.

So… send someone who died in the mid-50s back to a place stuck in that era, let them fix up the failing phone system, and it would win hearts and minds when it came to accepting the formerly dead back into society.

It reminded Brenda of how the LGBTQ+ community had managed to turn the tide so fast between the late 90s and late 00s. It was basically a matter of playing a big game of “Meet a queer.”

Or, in this case, “Meet the dead.”

But, at the same time, she was seeing that while the Rêves were being more and more accepted nationwide, people like her daughter were not — and not even among the so-called LGBTQ+ community.

In fact, there were even groups online, mostly made up of older gay men, radical lesbians, and feminists, that went by some variation of “LGB, hold the T.”

And that made her blood boil.

It wasn’t until Malia had finally completed all of her counselling, hormone therapy, and gender confirmation surgery — and had started dating an absolutely gorgeous Filipino-American cis-man named Mario — that Brenda finally said “Fuck it,” and ran for the U.S. Senator for California.

She won in a landslide, and it wasn’t lost on her that at least some of her daughter Malia’s 10 million TikTok followers had something to do with that.

Years later, Simon and Joshua Jrs. sat down to a formal dinner to celebrate their new 21st birthdays on Joshua’s, which was the latest one in the year in November. After dessert, Simon sighed, took Joshua’s hands and said, “There’s something I’ve been wanting to tell you for the longest time, but I had to wait for the right moment.”

“Okay…?” Joshua replied nervously.

“Nah, it’s nothing  relationshippy, okay? No, it’s… okay. You can either be inside or outside of a closed time loop and a paradox. Part of you got caught inside one, part of you didn’t. The one who didn’t is the one I’m looking at right now.”

“What paradox?” Joshua asked.

“August 23, 2023. Ausmann murdered me,” Simon explained. “He threw me off that balcony, and there were no airbags. You were devastated — thank you! — but managed to kill Ausmann and break the machine, pretty much the same way we did in the timeline you remember. The big differences being that I was dead, so I came back like Danny and Preston did. Meanwhile, you managed to get out of range of the freed tachyons, so you didn’t dial back to thirteen at all.”

“Whoa,” Joshua exclaimed.

“Oh, it gets a lot more whoa-y,” Simon continued.

“How come you can remember it and I can’t? Am I the only one who can’t?”

“No, I’m probably the only one who can because I was the center of the event that split the timeline in the first place. I have ‘memories’ of that one even while I’ve been living this one.”

“That’s pretty whoa-y,” Joshua replied.

“Oh, there’s more. In the other timeline, Danny and Preston still had porn success, but you and I had to flee for our lives because we were somehow associated with bringing the dead back to life. Brenda did what she did on only the county level, and I think that’s about it.”

“All right,” Joshua replied. “But other… you and I are sitting here, at this table, celebrating and alive, and besides our ages, what’s different?”

“Well, okay, other version, we’d be hiding out in a converted nuclear missile silo, and we’d both be well over forty, although you’re the only one aging. I’m stuck looking about forever 25. In this version, we’re in our condo in NoHo, and we’re turning 21. And the biggest difference between one timeline and the other is that I didn’t die in this one.”

“I’m really happy that you didn’t die in this one, babe,” Joshua replied.

“Thank you,” Simon said. “But since I’m aware of both timelines and you, by definition, are not, you know what that makes me?”

“Um… lucky?” Joshua offered.

Simon laughed his ass off. “No, darling. Like it or not, you turned me into the first living human example of Schrödinger’s Cat. Meow!”

* * *
Image source: LOONEY TOONS, (CC BY-SA 4.0), via Wikimedia Commons