Automaton


2a-orange

I sit in the shower with the heat turned up so high that the steam makes it hard to breathe. The mist spirals out of a small, sliding window high up on the wall. It must rise into the night like smoke from a 19th century train

I wonder what people walking by think.

“He’s a steam punk enthusiast,” a girlfriend says to her boyfriends as she points at the window. “He’s in there with red tented goggles and a dark leather lab coat. He’s trying to build an automaton to do his laundry.”

“If he’s really good,” the boyfriend replies, pulling the girlfriend closer, “it’ll do the dishes too.”

A car streaks by. It makes the girlfriends long shirt billow. The girlfriend scrunches up her nose and pecks him with a kiss. “Tonight’s your night.”

The boyfriend smiles. “I know.”

I don’t see any of this, obviously. Not only is the window too high, but the steam would obscure them. They’d just be silhouettes, and I’d only be able to snatch muffled words from their conversation.

I couldn’t see the caring way he holds her, nor the cheap watch on his wrist, nor the three scratches on his glasses’ left lens.

I couldn’t see her dark hair, or the way the skin around her nose crinkles as she scrunches it. I couldn’t see her bracelets or tattoos, nor he calf muscles bunch as she stands on her tip-toes to swoop in for the kiss.

I couldn’t see any of these things.

They might not have even happened.

“You know,” I tell Matt as I make a caramel macchiato for an Armenian woman who talks  loudly on the phone, “one day a robot will do our job.”

“They already do,” Matt says. He dumps some ice into the ice bin. “They’re like Redboxes but for coffee. You can do it all on your phone.”

I think about this as I hand  the woman her coffee. She doesn’t even notice me. My hand might as well be a metal claw.

She brushes up against my index finger and doesn’t even flinch. If my skin were smooth and hard and cold and reflective she would have reacted the same way.

She’d probably prefer it.

“So what can we do?” I ask Matt.

“What?”

“When we’re automatons.”

“We are?”

“Well, our job. We’ll still be Matt and Charles.”

“We’ll have better jobs by then.”

“Yeah, but they already have programs that can write songs and paint pictures.” Matt’s a musician. This hits him rather hard.

“Pretty soon they’ll write self indulgent blog posts too, and then what will I do?” I continue.

“We’ll get drunk,” Matt says.

This is Matt’s answer to everything. It isn’t a bad answer.

“Yeah, but for people like us, people who burn to express themselves, people who make things, people who demand to be noticed, what will we do to satisfy us?”

“Drink.”

“But if there’s a computer program that writes things better than anything I can ever dream of, no one will ever care about my book. No one will even read my blog!”

“I would.”

“Why?”

“Because I know you made it.”

He wasn’t kidding, either.

I looked across the bar. Debbie was there. She’s one of my regulars and always asks that I make her black tea for her. It’s just pouring liquid up to lines marked on a shaker, but she says I do it better than anyone else.

I don’t know if I do, but I know she likes it more because she knows I made it.

I smile at her, and she smiles back.

So I sit in the shower and craft my automaton. The steam makes me cough, but I like it that way. It adds mystery to the world. It’s so hot I sweat, and it reminds me of sweltering summer nights in Trevor’s front yard.

We had these green cloaks we had gotten from a renaissance festival, and my friends and I would play a game where the person with the cloak would run into the yard and just lay down somewhere. The cloak would be over them and it’s uncanny shade of green made it almost impossible to see them. We’d have to find the person in the cloak, and whoever found them first got to wear it next.

It would get unbearably hot under that cloak. Ants would crawl on your legs. Mosquitoes would land on the outside. I probably got West Nile half a dozen times, but you can’t move, you mustn’t move or they’d find you.

I know you can’t make an automaton for that, so I don’t bother.

The girl was right. Making one for laundry is just the ticket.

I craft it out of bronze and leather. It’s powered by a great billows that blows life into its limbs. It creaks as it walks on spider legs.

It does my laundry for me every day except Tuesdays, because on Tuesdays I get my tips and I can’t bare to give my automaton three dollars for the wash. Not when there’s so many other things I can buy.

I never tell it that I take the cash to the laundromat down the street.

I’m sure it will find me one day as it puffs down the street on some errand or other. It’ll do a double take as it passes the plate glass windows and sees its master sitting on a dryer, watching clothes spin round and round in a circle inside a washing machine.

I hope it’s not hurt.

I think it’ll understand.

It’ll lean up close against the glass. It’s vicious claws will hang meekly by its side, and it’s huge glass eye will watch me, and my automaton will understand that sometimes, sometimes you gotta do you’re own laundry.

Sometimes you gotta watch it spin yourself, because even though your automaton is perfect, you’ll never shake the feeling that you do your laundry better.

 

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A Tryst With Racism


pour over

He said his name was Carlos, and I wrote it on the cup and passed it down the line.  I, as I often do, immediately forgot his name as the plastic left my hand.  It’s a bad habit, but not an uncommon one at Starbucks.

He told me he needed another caramel macchiato, but this one was a hot one .  I wrote his order on the cup, along with a name, and slid it down the line of drinks.

Moment’s later, someone went on a break and I had to go bar.

It’s weird when you go on bar from register and there’s a long line of drinks.  You end up making drinks for people you already connected with at register.  It feels sort of dirty, like seeing someone you used to date while you’re on another date.  You hope they don’t tell everyone else you’re up to your old tricks again.

“Have a nice day?  A nice day?  He told me that not five minutes ago, and look how nice my day turned fucking out to be, waiting in a line for my god damn hibiscus.  Nice day?  Please.  Come up with something original.  And don’t listen to him when he says you have a nice bag.  He told me that one, too.”

So I just didn’t talk to the people I had already talked to.  They didn’t talk to me either.  There was shared understanding.  We both knew too much.

And then I got to Carlos’s hot caramel macchiato.

I doubt there’s anyone who seriously considers them self a racist, just like I doubt there’s anyone who considers them self a villain or a serial killer.  No no, they say, I’m not evil.  It’s everyone else that is.

I’m not a racist.

But…

I wrote Jose on Carlos’ caramel macchiato.

I don’t remember doing it, but there it was.  His name is Carlos, not Jose.  Jose is what a racist person would write on Carlos’ cup.  Jose or Pedro.  That’s what fat rednecks or Donald Trump call Mexicans when they complain about them taking our jobs or jumping the border or whatever.  And I wrote it on a cup,

I was terrified.  To me, for some reason, at that moment, Jose and Pedro were the most racist names possible.  I looked over at Carlos.

He hadn’t seen it yet.  Thank god oh praise the sun he hadn’t seen it yet .  He was watching, yes, he was watching, but he hadn’t seen it yet.  I reached around in my pocket and ah ha!  A sharpie.

The milk finished steaming.  The shots were done.  I had about six seconds to make the drink before the shots died and I had to start all over.

I scribbled out the name.  What was once Jose was now a big, black, angry scratch.  I looked up, and Carlos was watching me.

I handed him the drink.

I told him to have a nice day.

He asked me if I scribbled out the name.

I looked at the cup.  The name was clearly scribbled out.  There was no getting around this one.

I told him I had.

He asked me if it said Jose.  I blushed.  My throat itched.  I couldn’t stop blinking.

He knew.

I told him I’m not racist.

He said what?

I told him it was an accident.

He cocked his head and asked me why writing Jose was racist.

Well, you know, it’s like, a stereotypical name.  It’d be like writing George or something on white guy’s cup if you forgot his name.

He told me no it’s not.  It’s a name.  There are plenty of people named Jose.

So it wasn’t racist?

He said no.

Are you sure?

Yes, writing Jose on a cup isn’t racist, but thinking it was racist was.

I said oh.

He said bye.

And everyone was watching.  I went back to my drink, feeling like a big racist.

But then I realized that, since bad guys don’t think their bad guys, and evil dictators don’t think they’re evil dictators, and racists don’t think they’re racists, then, by thinking I’m a racist, I just proved to myself that I wasn’t a racist, right?  Right?

Right?

caramel macchiato

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