by Larry Burns, with creative nudges from GPT-2 OpenAI’s neural network. Play with it yourself at http://www.talktotransformer.com
The future is machines and fresh food everywhere. In 1947, the United States introduces the German mark, a minted coin for the fresh-out-the-boxcar West Germany. Emphasis on the West. In that playful period between the end of one economy and the construction of another, financial avatars were necessary to keep filling the many holes and demands of human habitation. The cigarette, a symbol of leisure and enslavement (those two can be found holding hands in many a historical photo), was used as currency in the flailing state; another example of the powers and values of the little leaf and human endeavor. Collaboration breeds creativity. There’s a reason why it looks like an outstretched hand. Anything it seems, could be assigned a new role or value. Products with intrinsic value or market value or even raw material value could be placeholders of another object of value. It pointed to the necessity of consumer choice to consummate consumption. Unless consuming cigarettes, which must have driven many people crazy. Could one sit idly and starve while a neighbor consumed a day’s labor with their morning coffee? Not only did this historical footnote indicate the pros and cons of a trash based economy, it gave us the phrase, “smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.” In 1947, when the mark usurped the tobacco tubes, you could once again use the cigs as their manufacturer label intended. Shortly after Derek plops down in front of the TV, the Friends theme song breaks my thoughts on the subject, reminds me of the day the day this started. Each of us from the colony pegs their own Inception. All of us were there except Mayhem but the likelihood of Mayhem started there and Minzey would agree. Where was she anyway? The reason I am wallowing in nostalgia is because I am waiting for her, and that delightful bag of tricks she swings, a Felix the Cat sized cache of the world’s origin stories – tightly wound strings of 1’s & 0’s, deoxyribonucleic acid, and other sticky things. Plus, the tools to take it in any direction we choose. The future is not animal or vegetable or mineral. It’s not familiar but fair, with fair-like tendencies and attitudes. Smell of popcorn and unwashed socks…the opening refrain from the
Rembrandts dropping in like the cool uncle to commiserate…so no one told you your life was gonna to be this way? It was episode 86, the one where Joey first utters his signature “how you doin’?” It rang our bells, rattled our cage, and something funny fell out. We journalistically “how you doin’-ed?” our way into a satori. And how were we doing? Pretty lousy, unless the metric was access to refined sugar, paper napkins, or firearms. Nothing we needed was within reach and the question questing back-drafted all pressing needs and deadlines, until we believed our solution, bought the San Lorenzo Inn for a dollar, and opened up shop. You may be surprised to learn that the nexus where the consumer economy met its demise was once a pay-by-the-day squatters paradise, but there it is. We never even paid that buck. We piled up enough trash to buy the whole damn town when that bill came due. It was my idea to build it underground. Lindsay was the irrational genius to set it up as a stacked inverse pyramid, the bottom four floors apexing into an open space you could crawl into from the ground level or level two of the buried pyramid. The entire works, our Operation-operation, where we carefully removed elements of the existing system without setting off the buzzers, took over the catacombs beneath the city. There were no tech permitted underground. There was no tech permitted here at all, except Sid. Later Ethan&Levi broke the rule too, but by then, it was one of the last norms left to recycle. The top pyramid caught the eye and caused a fair share of fender benders. It’s loopy-grinned tilt gave it a flower-blossoming-outward look, but the effect passing by was like walking under the Leaning Tower of Pisa while holding your most precious possession. When the transition to trash picked up speed and took on its more novel frightening aspects, the structure took on new significance of imminent collapse. But Lindsey claimed it was sound and Sid said it was necessary, as well as financially sound. They both claimed that what was constructed was for everyone’s collective good. True, but equally true was how it came into a structured conflict with other dearly held values such as personal agency, freedom, democracy and other pleasurable pursuits. This pulled energy, time, and resources from the collective good to the line item good. Like figuring out what our animals were thinking, it was time consuming, but necessary.
How did we arrive at consensus when we agreed to follow made up rules? It was one of our first conscious thoughts, as best as we can fabricate. Then, much later, we wondered if there was an inherent underlying material or biological value to things without value, or a value beyond their actual material value? For example, the seed is only valuable to the next orange that wants to be; it has no value at risk, no skin in the game to make it give up its seed. Unless part of that orange’s existence is tied up with all the other oranges across space and time. Which makes sense to us. Like some kind of coded message sent from the past into our present, a present for our prescient self, ultimately recycled by future selves. We am not sure what people expected to find when the door to doggie consciousness was opened, but we bet it was not that. The trouble or limit in our limited low-slung but stable four-legged design is that our point of view is a few degrees from street level. This idea of getting away or above a thing to understand it is a luxury of those burdened by abundance. Nothing smart is realized through abundance. It is lack that taught everything to every species. Dogs lack of personal agency trained us to rely upon others, to question any action that asked us to go it alone. There are no rugged individuals in the natural order. In nature, that excess of resources always results in less adaptation and eventually, more death. Our Mom was one of a litter of seven. We was the largest of twelve; three of our siblings didn’t make it. While most of the post-trash literature is about human consciousness expanding, the dog had plenty to reckon with as well. Not the least of which, our gods were false. We made you all pack leaders by default. Why? Because you fed us, because you were taller, because you were not frightened by thunder? Pulling us upon the pedestal dragged you right down with the other hand. What fits into the letter box of humor for dogs? Trash is the only thing worth paying attention to. Trash alone knows the loss of identity that occurs when lumped together, narrowly defined, made to fit what is there instead of what is coming. No thing ever sets out to be trash. Therefore, something other than self-will informs who we are and our outcomes. But after trash, literally any thing other than self is possible. To not be in the constant scope of your attention is devastating to experience. Having an existence outside of your eye is our greatest fear. Even post-pedestal, our secret motivation is to stay always in your line of sight. We know it is your weakest sense but the one you rely upon the most in world making. Is that constant need for your attention like the enduring allure of trash? Putting nothing before your eye, on your mind, shaping your is unconditionally. The unconditioned state is the easier to see when staring at trash. Even telling it to you straight like that, many overlook it. But there are other means, all the easier with diverse meaning, multiples of everything. In every time. After all, who opened your door to the 8th dimension? Sure, only a handful have made it there and back so far. But even the bots couldn’t pull that one off. Left to their own limitations, Levi&Ethan could not. Only us dogs, and the dead ones at that. See what is possible in the pack mentality! We was pretty specific with our vision, but that’s what travelling through the 8th dimension can do to your synapses. If you are reading this, it is either for a class project, or as we predicted, Google was finally upcycled into a new Department of the Executive branch, then privatized in the next economic crash; its store of knowledge bought by Jeff Bezos, copied to a USB, erased from the known universe, then shot into interstellar space, one,two,three-upping Elon’s publicity stunt an age ago… in dog years.
Feedback is the part of the output that goes back into the input source. It is represented by a loud screeching sound, the one the skittering mouse hears; a warning that things are too close together. The sound of compromise. Unrelated, I love a good story and at the end of the day, I have to say I’ve missed them. Typing on computers and wiping away the mistakes made me forget. Putting together this collection using paper and a typewriter delivered some unexpected joy. The joy derived from hyphens is one of the untold surprises that owe their popularity to trash’s triumph. I like the feel of sun on my skin, things changing shape in my hands, ideas coming and going through my mind. Trash and treasure are the same. People and money are the same. Present and presence are the same. Labor output and laborer are the same. Screeching in response. Did you know feedback was a word taken from the useless garbage pile of computer jargon? It made its way into the common speech of people and was used to describe human improvements, not just computer input. The feedback on plastic was thorough and thoroughly filed in the spam folder. Each report of new places plastic colonized was running a foot race with all the cool places that turned their glaciers into beautiful waterfalls. Which one would circumnavigate our globes first? Plastic sure could get around. It was a real conversation starter, chewy and flirty. Irresistible. You’d keep falling on top of plastic again and again. Some things made of plastic lack plasticity, while things that are not made of plastic are chock-full of plasticity. It is a funny word. Sometimes I remember and sometimes I forget. When plastic made landfall, it found its groove in consumption, pushing out the other market preferred materials. The market is right until it chooses. Then it is right again. A quality of any idea or product with staying power, and plastic has staying power. Is it a coincidence that the thing holding a dress shirt collar is called a “stay”, and is made of plastic? You’re correct, it’s just a coincidence but I’m always up for a good conspiracy theory. For example, who’s in charge of Ethan&Levi? They go dark, then appear with a new rule a proclamation or process to get your trash exchanged or your printer upgraded. Did I tell you Mayhem tried to print a 3D printer with their government issue 3D printer? I still don’t know if it was to be funny, or make some damn artsy point, or just a dog thing a skin-sweater like me cannot grasp. I’m slow except until I’m not. Plastic entered the room with a nervous cough but by the 1970s, it was throwing elbows and displacing our earthly staples of civilization, marching into modernity. Goodbye: bone, horn, leather, metal, ceramics, wood, stone, and glass. Of them all, glass was the closest living relative to plastic and that might be why it had a longer life, or slower demise. The others could bend but only plastic and glass distort. What is the relationship between distortion and plastic? What is distortion? SINAD is the measure of a signal and noise in a given communication. Signal + noise + Distortion / noise + Distortion equals SINAD. Outside the smells rise like a noise, and like noise, the timbre does not reach each orifice equally. Smells are victims of discrimination the older noses seeking the bitter notes and the newer nostrils favored in the sweeter decays. Perhaps a hunger for different minerals was the reason, but what I saw in the actions that followed surprised but rarely mystified. It was entering an era of answers, thousands of years of stubborn answers. Then what of questions? Our entire journey out of Africa was looking for a place to lie down. It was a long climb out of the tree. It was a long walk to the caves. It was a long toss to the stars. It was a skip across a river of fire. But who to be in charge if the status quo is changed A class of people no longer classified to lead In a future dominated by trash made of and fed by and dependent upon trash, the act of foresight was an act of faith, a work of art A creation of the scientific method The duty fell at the feet of artists and poets as it always has But this time it was hoisted upon their bony backs, where it filled those empty spaces between the atoms of the writers, colored up the canvas of the painter Players of chess in parks made fine judges of trash policy impediments and work arounds The artists who work with trash or live near trash possessed the hands-on knowledge of this shiny asset so they had a foot-long head start They became the next bankers and fortune tellers of fortunes, when you would make them and what constituted a loss, when what you held was discarded by design Who else but an artist to price what was made to be zeroed out They were the people with their hands all over it most of the time, and now there was time to toss it around and feel good about that choice Them, and the janitors, housekeepers, garbage collectors and homeless that had a direct dependency on that sticky tricky backwash of our slide into modernity.
“The governor appears to be listing,” Sid mentioned as we enter the ceremonial room. I don’t break stride or my fixed smile or outwardly acknowledged Sid. I don’t have to. We go back too far to worry about those details. My attention was on the strong chemical afterglow of vanilla. The source was some hidden vent pumping in the good stuff, or it was off-gassing the melting cartons of ice cream. “It’s the seat, not her listing.” I say this in return, out of the stiff corner of my smile. Still walking, still moving towards the gov herself, along a corridor with a carpet scheme that screams – Willy Wonka prank ahead! At the far but inching closer corner sits Ellen, growing impatient and crooked with each click of our heels, which rise and fall with the cadence of a merry-go-round horse. The cartons are all the same; all vanilla, all Dryers brand Vivid Vanilla, slow churned at 110 calories per serving. Normally I am a fan of a cool sweet treat. But the air gets warmer each time the door we came through is opened again. Each breach brings warm and moist air and menaces the integrity of every treated hair style and most of the wainscoting. I think about Eskimo pies, specifically the once-bitten image of the pie on that blue-sky background, as constructed as the too white against the slightly bitter chocolate. Within your grasp, a respite from the heat. Those pies, a childhood bright spot. After Dad and I would settle mom in her favorite armchair following the shock therapy treatments, there was always a six pack of Eskimo pies waiting. Two for her, two for Dad, and two for me. Fair. Which is all we’re trying to negotiate here. Something unfair for everyone.
Coffee? Dregs or fresh pot? Dregs. What do I look, daft and flush? I worked here once. Derek says this to the barista. She gives the correct amount of attention to that non sequitur. There should be a few extra towels on your right, he adds. Then the kids spills my Americano. See? No, you’re right. Yes. No, thank you. I went out for coffee but had to finish your shift before I came back with your cup. Hopefully you were hired to deliver food somewhere. I’m writing to you from the weird place. Of all the changes the adoption of British slang was appropriate to the conditions of life. Was that language a reminder of what brought us to this horizon. Like most, I had only seen horizons, I’d never stood at one. When I finally did, it felt like I had been standing on horizons since I could put on my shoes. Like everything else, it didn’t take, and it didn’t catch on. The coffee did not shake the sensation I was staring at a message but was too close to read it. What was the upside to all that waste? Did it make the actual consumption sweeter? The envy of things not put to a purpose. It is validating. I can and I am, and then I did. Consumption proves life above all other methods. The whole idea of having something another does not have comes down to validating. If we are all having the same things at the same time, then how am I special? Egad, by what I do? What makes me deserving? What am I when all self-aware experiences are equal? The same as everything else after all. Like watching season after season of cliffhanger endings but watching the show’s final episode with someone who already saw the show, says they even wrote parts, then talks loudly about their summer fixing up Dad’s Mustang. You wind up with a headache and missing your father. For a minute, this caused an existential crisis for little old me. I had to do other things for new reasons. Motivated not by a desire to stand out, to look reproducible, able to fornicate another type of me. I don’t make a habit of thinking about ejaculate. In my current state, I can picture the act as little rocket ships screaming into space, if you are an egg. Or out of space, if you are a sperm. Rocketing into the future, copies of selves placed into a future filled with the offspring of hope and our action. Never could so many see what they did so quickly. The feedback was breathtaking. To say we were underprepared lacks imagination frankly. Fortunately the dogs and bots were ready from jump street. They planned ahead. How far back this all hatched is unknowable, perhaps not, but who cares…there were fucking talking dogs! There was a time not long ago where dogs were allowed in offices. Their purpose was to put people at ease, improve our work-life balance. Or at least the perception of the work and its impact on shaping each of our metaphorical cells and literal pant sizes. So yeah, dogs man! The early jokes about the sniffing butts out of turn or eating your leftovers from the fridge were overblown. Those traits were really our self, concaved. To better understand myself I’m going to hash out the last decade or so on the employment front. Where we spend 1/3 of our lives. Two hours. That’s the maximum allowed daily for work-work. Shift times, roles, all the deciding parts on which jobs to do, selected by Ethan&Levi, delivered in real time. For instance, I get selected to deliver coffee most days, but the call to grab and transfer newspapers comes as I near a neighbor in need. Not exactly a message so much as a signal packed with data. It takes me off my route home, a sensation like being pulled bodily and mentally in a direction. I would put it in the category of thrilling precognition, but some do register it as a Deja vu. Terribly difficult for those unlucky few, they had a tough go of it, and limited reproductive possibilities. These many tasks, no longer appearing within our control or consent, but plenty of input, created happy coincidences across our day. A good reason to space out the shift work-work. I hypothesized the assignments aligned with each other’s place in spacetime and our moods, our profiles closely monitored and dosed when needed with task, to provide that rush of feeling, of being in-the-zone all of the time. But mostly I don’t think about it. It’s remarkable what I don’t think about anymore. So we are riding high and working on the fly. No human endeavor was outside the call. I’ve been a doctor and a lawyer and a baker on the same day. Most jobs rest on human hand eye coordination it turned out, after a close look at the efforts from the African diaspora to right now. Like right now right now. These things update in real-time and recharge perpetually.
We don’t need to sleep but we do need to dream. The bots helped, but the secret sauce was the critters, the doggies mostly, then other mammals that followed. “Critters” was the only acceptable slang most nonhumans would tolerate. They brought a sense of play to our work, what it was or what was left of it. It was what cured the work-ego-stroking, flattened orgs, ended titles. Why? Because the minds involved were diverse like a healthy Earth ecosystem needs to be. Without identity married work roles and personal accomplishments, there was just the pleasure of doing something well and something with purpose. I don’t think anyone under the age of five will ever be in a meeting. Webster’s removed the word, but it is still pops up here and there according to Google’s Ngram viewer. That little green trendline a lazy worm stretching across a segmented horizon. Do you want to build a Ngram? With just words spoken when we thought the digital assistants were making coffee? How about a list of phrases most often heard after a cigarette, after a car accident, after an orgasm? You can now, but practical applications remain. A saying as old as “hello” in this newish world is, “I bet someone is working on that.” A world where the jobs are doled out, “on the dole” more of that ubiquitous Brit slang, but now it meant you were working and couldn’t join in the general merriment of the moment. These doled jobs needed slick code running it, and I saw it crafted by Talky Aimee at a Starbucks. For a minute, until the kinks got worked out, the joyful surprise of side gigs were tarred with the corporate insult “starbuck.” As in, “I was heading home and got ‘starbucked’ into watering a lawn. Eventually, the joy and sense of purpose stemming from the idea of being given a task in the collective effort and doing it successfully every time, even doing it better next time, after thousands of others have done it under the training and tutelage of the algorithms, was naturally selected, then evolved. There’s a bunch of words we still use that have their origins in a corporate culture that you won’t even find in books. Remainders sent back to the publisher with their covers removed. Humanity is instinct laid out in ones and zeros, hardwired for the latest software. Nothing was beyond an agent’s purview and we acted accordingly. Manufacturing for export collapsed, all the goods instead mandated to cycle through our needs many times before repurposing. By the time you could export, no one wanted it, and the tools to fabricate need had been beaten into whirling dervishes . Nothing ever needed an expiration date. For a few days, it was even profitable to rent a boat, sink it, then collect the flotsam and jetsam for scrap. Just like the old days. But mostly you could buy one of the dozens of contraptions to attract, store, and convert those trillions of slivers of trash, from the smallest micron of plastic to the biggest vessel to sink in the Bermuda Triangle. Fun fact: there were more cars in the waters around Cuba than on the island itself. There were many ways to coax trash back from where it wandered, there were millions of paths to get it, but one motivation. Structures that pulled trash to them like iron fillings to a magnet. Biological organisms that resembled jellyfish, lantern-jawed, floating creatures collecting microns until the volume goal was reached. It would then surface, find its way back to a recycling location using Google Maps. I never figured out if it was an art installation, excursion from a nursing home, or LARPing, but I spent an afternoon watching people stand at the shore, panning for plastics. Then there were some bot collectives, fun to watch. They move like schools of anchovies, jumping hundreds of feet into the air, crisscrossing seas, splashing around in our lakes, estuaries, rivers, large fountains. Everything was in play and fair game. There were no middlemen. There were no centers for personally vested interests to hold and resell when it was best for them. There was no market to game, no way to make money on advantage or ignorance. As the system selected for cooperation and mutual benefit and positive value, its transitive properties modified human behavior, in time. Cleaning over pollution. Life before everything. There were no avatars. There were digital versions but trash was trash here. The truth set us free. Honesty with ourselves made deceit all but impossible and certainly not advantageous. Removing competitive advantages let a superior idea come forward: acceptance that we are what we eat. In this way, our way becomes more like the way of plastic. Larger-than-life, made to change, part of a cycle we do not know the limits of, but full of desire to adapt. Our seeing the world in a plastic and pliable way, without the investment for a more-desired outcome, just being. All could be fashioned into anything desired, with little-no input from the overseer or agent or interest. No longer in conflict with ourselves: fulfillment. The expression became too diverse to categorize. Each expression beginning a new category, designation, place in space and time. It is not possible to describe a singular thing that is without compare. Each chair made for a home, perfectly detailed, becomes more than its form, a multiplier of endless function, free from repetition and compare, made of air. We learned so much about how the food chain was designed when we laid plastic at every degree in the circle. Instead of selling maps to the stars there were maps to old dumps, maps to new dumps, maps to where we stashed the poor. That is where the big veins of waste could be trapped, removed, and remade into useful things. Through that process the people doing the piling and remaking were remade, becoming more than what they were, more than what they worked with or made, or what they made others think about them. In trash, we lost all the other ways we made a self stand upright. We had to use a new template to cut this cloth. The smooth and easy way it generates now, only possible after those fails that came before. The same way that saving ourselves through trash with a series of steps, fits, and starts from earlier versions of collective organization using bots. This one town I saw on a drone pass was modeled on zoological practices, attempting to fashion a gaming environment suitable for human habitation and improvement. Each day, armed with smartphones, citizens gave territories a good once-over to scavenge resources. A hunter-gatherer society powered by bots, using instant digital data to collect trash, plastics and pollution, to convert into usable products. There were tote boards and bells ringing and goals, and hidden music playing when the day games were completed. It led to less conflict, which eventually made the town obsolete. But with a few tweaks in a code update, it could be back in the business of cleaning the world and developing the self with little down time. In downtown, purpose is a waste of time.
Like the automotive industry revolution or the exit from the gold standard to, “hey, you look good! I’m good, but I’m not sure about those other guys” achieved, the pursuit of trashiness sparked side markets, grey markets, and emerging trends; an incendiary admission from the status quo that they did not know anything about their past, and less about the present. But the future, only limited by imagination. Seeing that limit lifted not just with diverse human voices of the poor, but enfranchised with all, until intellect exposed the bottom of the bin. The rich inner monologue of an AI-enabled neural network rivals the musings of name-your-Western-philosopher hands down. On top of what dogs taught us, once we got the frequency sussed, built libraries and broke Google’s monopoly on knowledge. I was surprised by how oft trashed the idea of using trash generated, until we wore down those angles, fueled those little eddies and dead patches in the economy so a person, or anything with personhood, could stake a claim on anything of value meandering into the net. Now we all had nets, animals, people. The bounty was literally limited by our imagination. There was the will and the financial backing to bring anything out of the ground. With more visible trash came more ways to trade as a commodity or build as a material. Humans had no collective experience to explain how an object could be both a usable item and an avatar for a usable item. The dogs, who live grey lives so they may lie in the black and white of our shadows cast in all directions, shed light here too, illuminated as they were from within. Dogs, intrinsically motivated, and people externally shaped, together achieved the balance of rhyme and reason to generate a better shape of things. The bots went their own way. Each with so many mothers, called cousin by so many others, we eventually just came to not see them at all, their motives a clouded mystery. In our minds they wore garments of mist and myth. Products arrived on shelves: tuna packed in motor oil, books made of paraffin that ignited when exposed to reflected sunlight, so much pure chaos to the human perspective. But we believed in the overall motives and goals of the bots so we took those occasions in stride. The solution, obvious in hindsight, was ignorance. We taught ourselves a neat trick of knowing we were on the 13th floor but telling each other we were on the 14th. When one of us was feeling weird about that, we could turn on the TV. Besides all that amazing products in the market, the scientific advances kept us occupied when we were not shift working or trash drowsing. Take the wormhole. I always expected time travel to be reached through wormholes but I was short-sighted. For all the bots’ flaws, short of sight they were not. Even my humble coffee machine can slightly over cook the beans just how my palate prefers. It also has a better track record on stock picks AND when I would run out of coffee in my mug. They sent humanity into deep space, but just a slice, a segment of less-human-than-we-thought DNA. It popped out on Mars. That dormant Sojourner awoke, recharged, then got to work on that coded message, blasting out novel foods for it to consume, then living things. Soon, not bound by Earth’s gravity and human ideas of beauty, it fashioned a planet-sized living breathing sentient skin. Using the seasons and temperature changes on the surface, off scuffed a layer. It moved like a billowy sheet on a clothesline, which peeled off and drifted up, made of something lighter than the atmosphere and propelled by the rays of the Sun, blowing across time, shrinking space, and generally mucking up most efforts to ever live off-planet. Wherever those sheets landed, new intelligence unfolded. Unlike the intelligence of old, limited by reproduction and transmission errors, this new mind stayed intact even when split apart, able to communicate, sense, deduce, decide, and agree with itself, instantaneously across space and time. It was just like the math predicted. We only got who would run things wrong. For some reason that new intellect had dim opinions of machine assisted space travel. And while it curtailed our travel to the stars, we did have a nightly light show from the Moon. One of those skins really liked to show off. That porous skin came to cover the crater surface of our unappreciated satellite. Its power to reflect and redirect, sending scattered light across its entire connected surface, giving us illuminations not known to Edison or any that followed. By the time I realized what it meant for us, I was happy to watch the show. Back on Earth, a college dropout invented a plastic attractor that retailed for less than a pack of smokes. All the device did was float along the ocean currents and attract plastic less than a micron, like a magnet calling out to metal shavings. You could set it loose while you frolicked in the waves, then scoot home with your quarry. That sucker would collect into a 30-pound round ball, even roll back up the shore into your cabana and await your pickup. Finally the poor could print money too. Governments raced from the “I-just-made-cookies” warmed Poles to lay claim to the gyres of plastic they earlier spent decades pretending did not exist. Another word for creating is pretending. This era of creative destruction reconstruction was a reaction to pretending things were not there: racism, climate change, pick any from that ever-full purse of discards. Left with the pure idealism of pretend. But it is like using matches when you have nuclear fusion. There really was no future in pretending.
The future is shiny machines and ripe fruit on every corner. And is not fruit another way to discern the many values represented by trash? Is not every cell of a fruit made of the leavings of previous fruit and other discards? Is not the new orange made from the seeds of the older ones? Did we really used to throw away the peels? Is there anything in nature that is not made from something else? Is there anything in nature that is not constructed entirely from other things? Is there any object or subject or idea that is not part of something before it? Is there anything holding you in the universe at all? Ever? Might it all be variations on a theme? Forms and shapes, all mixed with the same sand. Does it explain enough of the story? Does construction matter and does make up matter? Is a house shaped object what we desire, not caring if the house is made of salmon and can do more than merely look like what it is? I feel ill from feeling fields of plastic under my fingertips. Its non-porous surface gives me nothing. I feel present but disconnected by plastic. Close but no cigar, like my desire is suffocated in plastic but what I desire is at hand but upon inspection I’m just holding a hand mirror. Plastics have that nasty tendency to remain with the people and things it produces. Meaning, after you have consumed a plastic packaged item or made of plastic, parts of it will stay with you. For example, we all have pieces of water bottles running through our veins. We are coursing with plastic and of course, nothing in our bodies welcomes this, except cancer and plastic. Now here’s Lindsay with more of our future in her hands. To her credit, she bears it with ease. She places the box in front of me without ceremony. I recognize the box immediately. “Gross,” I said. “Those are the embryo boxes, right?” She arches an eyebrow and purses her lips together. The bank’s logo is clearly visible although faded, the cherubic face, classic-American-Dream-baby appears wistful but that’s likely a projection. Then just as quickly, Lindsay takes the box and retreats. “Proves my point,” she says. “They’re still millions of things we can’t recycle because of the yuck factor. We need to solve that.” “What’s Sid got for us?” “A virus.” She catches my reaction. “He doesn’t have a virus. I meant he suggests one.” “For people or the product?” With Sid, either was feasible. It was remarkable what counted in the normal column for bots. And how quickly their thoughts on things normalized what we thought of things. In hindsight not such a revelation. For decades prior, bots chose information sources and answered all our questions – from “where is food near me” to “does this look infected?” I still ask my parents what they think and they both died more than a decade ago. Lindsay reminds me that viruses have had some good press lately: curing arthritis and glaucoma, then the common cold once and for all. Turns out that last one was not strictly true. ”Sid figures we can translate that goodwill and trust to making clean medical waste acceptable for recycling.” “Do I want to know how that works?” “If you did, it wouldn’t make the decision any easier, remember?” I did, so I sign the document. To change the subject, I bring up Saint Patty’s Day. The fateful rooftop bull session. It’s remarkable what booze and altitude can pull from your head. We laughed long the first time the idea of making trash our money came up, but the concept was growing for decades. Each generation valuing new things, the old stuff valued less and less, made into trash. Like a child, the concept was talked up, then talk down, but eventually, it did what trash was going to do all along. Overwhelm. Sid says those human tendencies to seek origins remains one of our charms. Of all the ways bots speak about us, “charming” is the only one that worries me. What we came up with was worthless without a delivery system, this trash based economy. We found that the 24-hour-news-cycle, good-for-little, was effective at putting out crazy ideas in a way that spread and legitimize them. Short on content, they latched onto our story from many angles. One hit the heart, another expose the tax benefits, and another demonstrated the potential to address poverty with hours of charts and graphs. And experts. So many experts. “What does the modeling say?” She started to load the model for me. While I waited those early days played easily enough. We were a joke, our cause was laughable, a “look at the sincere morons” kind of news pieces at first. But during a slow cycle, two solid weeks of no war, no school shootings, no mass school shootings at least, and zero blonde female or black men arrested for sex with high school students, the heads needed something to blast from their crusty pie holes. And we were ready with the fork. And plenty of hysterical overreach to drive public sentiment up before anyone knew what they were upset about. That sweet spot of persuasion, where everything sounded like a good idea and profit was so easy to make, anyone could do it. Even us. At least we believed it ourselves when George Soros begin to make moves to diversify his holdings with a few Hefty bags of garbage. A hedge. Against what did not matter, as long as we gave a new answer every time the question was asked, we rarely got a follow-up. By the time there were objections the road was built. Trash started as a fixed asset with a limited return like a bond. They even had ratings, like a Moody’s mixed with a Yelp review. Not spectacular but dependable, and did I mention it was literally trash. It was literally trash, something with all the value taken for another purpose, now had purpose of its own. Agency. And agents. How easy is it to make something valuable when you control the tax code? Trash Futures? You could bet on that. The radical always sells out and we sold it out. Once again. Trusting trash generated many other revenue streams to dislodge or dam up, depending upon your market position. Once media conglomerates got trash in their portfolios, it really took off. There was even more trash after that, but just a temporary uptick. At least more visible trash. We needed more ways to use it then, keeping its form as trash, using best practices from the rebranded Department of the Interior: Martha Stewart Living. Then all the buying and selling, trash men tricked more than a few billionaires out of what was left of their worthless dollars by selling them their own money, shredded. We all laughed, even the billionaires knew better than to call the cops anymore. We even concocted a way to finance buildings made of trash, with the trash as collateral. It was a remarkable thing, consensus. Humans were not the only beneficiaries. All those birds that scavenged off the leavings of mankind flourished. Then crashed, but by then we could make that trash into something else too. I’m told skin is the biggest organ but I don’t know. “The skin is an organ” sounds like a fake fact created to draw me out and feel stupid. Again. I’m all about new mistakes, different strains, different stains on the carpet in new colors and viscosities.
Editor’s note. I miss spellcheck the most of all the technological rules deemed ”unfair enhancement.” I do not comprehend how a bot will find and fix this manuscript, but all the models show this popping up error free in a near future. I asked to run the modeling again but it said no. It never runs things twice. Something about the effort doesn’t change the outcome but it does change the question. Which felt right, or merely correct. Unprecedented progress.
The biggest issue with plastic is how long it lasts. It’s because it has a larger than typical molecule. Take my word for it, I’ve done the math, they take longer than typical to break down. It’s not just what we feed monsters that make them threatening; it’s their size relative to our own. Things of unequal size can co-exist but not evenly or equally. Put another way, all that you see around you was by design. Perhaps without intention, but surely, with design. Plastic, bigger than the place it’s settled, overwhelming by design. Living its purpose. That is its alien face, a foreign yet natural nature. They are bigger than other things, made of molecules that are bigger than other molecules. Where did the alien come from? Plastic came out of England in the 1850’s. It perfected and took over the world from New York in the early 20th century. 1862, in London, when plastic won the bronze medal, did bronze object? Did it whisper to silver and gold, “smirk now but you’re next”? Was bronze the newspaper of the previous era, blathering away about plastic, not sensing that plastic would replace it, was actually undermining it as it received accolades? What force or object would do such a thing? Plastics are just another way of saying, “I’m still working on this.” A hand-waving away the attentive waiter. Something that remains pliable and changeable is not done yet. It is not yet the thing it will be if it is still made up of the things that it was. Plastic is the pause between breaths. Is it fitting that money was replaced by plastic, given all that money implies and makes into existence through use? Money buys states of mind that are imagined, still taking shape in our imagination, our minds. Our plastic brains are the most flexible of organs. You know this because it is covered in the least flexible of human parts, but still plenty porous. The energy drain of the brain is another clue. Something that cannot sit still sure eats lots of resources. Brains. They can uniquely be repurposed, made, reshaped, to reflect the environment/age/era, marrying a sentient creature’s hopes and the needs to the environment; the bubble within which this dialogue can take place. Who needed plastic anyway? Why this rush to make it and cover the globe in it over the last 200 years? Preservation? Was there a cultural heritage committee circling the solar system and demanding we preserve the third rock from the Sun? Coffee. Even if you don’t drink it, your life is affected by it. Try to opt out of coffee and coffee will not reciprocate. It opts, it co-ops, it pretends to cooperate. But it is really still just operating. Nothing made of plastic can be firm, or dependent upon. It can only be depended upon to be there, not useful or helpful or any ‘ful. We are not plastic. But plastic might be the material representation of humans. Adaptable to a fault. Found everywhere until it disappeared all of the sudden. We finally found a use for it and it went away. Why is it that everything found to be valuable or indispensable is used up, then found not to be indispensable, but holy dispensable? What will we use as markers when there are no more markers? From Herman Francis Mark to the Deutsche Mark, it is tulips all the way down. The day the Chicago Mercantile ran out of toilet paper when those solid human walls of commerce broke ranks cashed out and streamers of toilet paper rained from the fancy box seats below the fuselages of higher-value trash like Styrofoam cups weighted with wet wads of toilet paper dragged through the slime of hot loogies cheers tears sweaty pits and a detectable desire and degree of dookie collectively relieved when it all tilted The blame for the fire was laid upon janitors but at trial revealed to be Morgan Stanley interns pressed into individual service to destroy buildings and market value by lighting paper-filled plastic bins on the rooftops then sending those over the edge threatening a repeat of the dance steps of Mrs OMalleys cow, putting the new economy into its first crisis currency run but the carnage was limited to the markets for once a hopeful sign that redefining trash righted the karmic forces rendering the acts of Wall Street to be meted out upon Wall Street so Main Street at last had the economy it deserved. Ever wonder how those stupid ideas became standard practice and even worse, work for a length of time? Agreement. When enough minds see a thing a particular way, sometimes it is. Could this be enough? Belief and training. there are a few other things, but those two things make up most of it by volume.
Everything, cocoa and coffee too, came from Africa. Even things which developed outside of Africa, parts of human anatomy and behavior, have code-words tying them red-handed to the past. Ask for their papers and the trail goes to one place. Humans are decidedly African. The most African of life found up to this point. That statement sounds more profound than it is. For most of the life sustaining epochs of Earth, there was no African continent. But still plenty of life, a surface teeming with this thing called life. Taking the laws of stratification into consideration, this life observed by this non-living life form, stretched across a non-living canvas, dead rocks and decaying minerals, themselves off-gases of other formed objects from space, how much easier to be from Africa when all the continents touch each other? Humans lost or shed something before they left. Some weight or other tether holding them fast to their origins. What was it that was removed? Who removed it and how? There are theories about these points as well. A few answers even surprised me. Where is the home planet for plastics? Where is it going? Where has it been?
Our entire journey out of Africa was looking for a place to sit down. It was a long climb out of the trees. It was a long walk to the caves. It was a long swim to the shores. It was a long flight to the stars. It was a short journey across the river of Fire. At places on the ocean you could walk across a thousand sterns and rope bridges and never risk touching water. People farther Inland devised ways to bring the water to them. They unmade dams, they crumbled culverts, the entire city of Los Angeles was abandoned over a six-month period when the cement waterways that provided sustenance for over a century and a half were retrieved by those communities that were robbed of their water. The Owens Valley filled up once again, animals returned and people returned to chase them off again. Like shards of plastic promise they never stay where they should, with as much sense of self as the minds behind it. No one cared as much about the worthless flesh. Humans a savings bond of biological materials. A tax shelter for needs. We did not need reproduction; it was no longer than means to the end. We did not have to dress up anymore, so many did. The rest walked to the remaking center wrapped in cellophane underwear windowpanes displaying their preferences plainly. Put another way, a lot of naked here. How does the whole mess work? Basically, we collected the waste for reward. Once the places plastered on purpose with trash over the centuries were picked over, we followed the leaks and walked them back until the trail went cold. Then we trained and chased new tales. Rumors of shipwrecks, maps tattooed on eyelids for keeping safe, biology the last curtain of privacy to fall. Finding those plastics and chemtrails was never that hard but finding a reason to do so, a story worth making it all okay with all of us, trickier. So what we needed was out there, we just needed motivation and a fair way to do it; no one wanted a repeat of last time. The best way to understand this new economy? Go pull up an episode from a 90’s Japanese cartoon, Pokémon. Ash’s “gotta catch ‘em all” mindset about the nebulously valuable monster you could shape towards the fulfillment of your will. Each object of general value to seekers, it was really a fully-realized version of the pursuit of happiness so many set out upon. Instead of an ever-expanding pool of leaking need, blotting ever larger without ceasing, this fashioned a value from a truly valuable and limited resource like trash. A resource we hoped to shrink over time, into no thing. Without growth, less traffic. We were on a path that not only narrowed, it had a dead end. A real economic timetable. You could set your watch to the minute this economy would run down. We were going to catch ‘em all. But after consummation economy, then what? Maker economy? Remaker? Unmaker? All sort of fit, but our moves in those early days seem dependent upon people’s feelings or the musings of morning talk show hosts or evening drive-time diatribes as much as a substitute of difference in the way people are interacting from one another and radically repurposing public waste public space and what it means to be a nuisance to the public. Who is the most valuable person when money is removed? It is the person with the most “x” at that arbitrary point in time. Does death diminished value? Does possession of what replaced money provide the same benefit or title or privilege? If not, then where did privilege come from? Where did it go? We did not plan or not plan to find it at sea. We precisely came to the Pacific Garbage Gyre, the Pacific Trash Vortex, the Pacific Garbage Dump. The far west West Coast Gold Rush of the 21st century. Those early years are blurred by time and speed. And the fact that Mayhem summarily recycled my notebook on this period of my life. But the collage they made was a pretty good representation of how it felt, so I forgave Mayhem. I recall all the boats and ships and planes. Easy to commandeer without as many people and things to make and move and make move with every economic burp or shutter. Radical “shop and make local” ground down world trade into this rare instance of public transfers of resources to what you held in your pockets when you crossed one of the few borders left on the planet.
All the billionaires fit comfortably on the island of Molokai. It made everyone happy to forget that we ever made a single one. A familiar story: a man wakes up crying whenever a government official tumbles through the wormhole into the 8th dimension. A man spends his day in the back room high on various liquids snack food slipper-shod and elbowing assorted ash strewn coffee cups. My assignment from Levi&Ethan is due in two weeks. They rule together because one ruler is a despot and three is a conspiracy. They know if I passed but I’m in the dark. What do I know. I know it takes food thirty minutes to drone in after I imagine it, meaning it flies out of Goldstone, the second most isolated place in North America. I’m hip deep in Numero Uno. In Bezos backstop; the billion boxes he stashed underground before he flew away and died. I might have that backwards. But I am here or getting to here. Digging and carting and building. Chunking the narrative together, writing the report, an exploration of something lived but not understood. Houses that could shape-shift hide, hunker down, built for their end, configured, consigned, trained to survive, a thriving meat sack Johnny 5. Thank you for climate change and the melting those pesky ice caps, a flow now-forever snow. What does a sentient Basset Hound and a robot who believes he lives in a simulation have to do with a plastic economy? They, like the conventional person, have purpose followed by agency followed by feedback. Finding the bitty little scientist in everything.
The Great Pacific Gyre lifted into the sky
transformed into vapor and good intentions and vibrations
rasenchen and Buddha-nature
simultaneously The Luminous wisdom came from conscious brightness
like a million golden chords
since then the bodhisattvas have already risen in the sky
taking into the air our affairs
maintaining order improving lives and living standards.
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