Monday, January 19, 2009

My conversation with Jared, the goth kid who saw me burn up a robotic ninja and then told his mom about it

"Military school!" These were the first two words out of Jared's mouth when I met him yesterday. The next few were, "She's threatening to send me to military school! In Alaska! And it's all your fault!"

"Let's be fair, there, Jared," I responded, "it's not ALL my fault. I didn't build no school and I certainly didn't have anything to do with the purchase and subsequent acquisition of Seward's Folly, so I am not responsible for there being a military school up there in Alaska to which your mom said she'd be sending you."

"But she thinks I've gone crazy!" he belted out. "I went home and told her about you burnin up that guy and she thinks I hallucinated the whole thing because of drugs or video games or something. But I know what I saw."

"Burnin up a guy?" I figured my best move was to redirect. "I didn't burn up no guy yesterday. What you saw was me tryin to dump the donut grease and gettin harassed by a raccoon."

"That wasn't a raccoon," he stated bluntly.

I decided to pile the obfuscation into drifts. "Of course that was a raccoon. Haven't you never heard about the Great Iowan Plains Raccoon? Some of 'em grow up to 10 feet tall. They pretty much only eat fat and sugar, which is why they're drawn to the donut grease. They're pretty rare nowadays, but if you're carryin a big ol' tub of sweetened grease, you just might lure one in by the smell. If I recall, they were gonna be Iowa's state bird until the legislature figured out that the one member of the species was just a clever raccoon that had glued some feathers onto itself in a bid to be on the flag and, therefore, famous. You know that the competition for gettin on the flag is like the bird version of American Idol."

"That's not true," he scoffed, "that wasn't no raccoon. First of all, he was standing on two legs. Second, he was wearing clothes. Plus he was swinging a big stick at you."

"Those are all properties of the Great Iowan Plains Raccoon," I calmly explained, "they have developed the ability to walk upright in order to reach cookies on the top shelf of the supermarket and to have quicker access to the lower branches of trees for when they're being chased by Plains Tigers and things. Also, in the winter, they shed their coat and so have to keep warm by poaching people clothes, usually from hotel lost and found boxes. Plus, they're very advanced for raccoons and have learned to use simple tools, like levers, to open up garbage cans. He prolly just mistook me for a walking garbage can and was tryin to pry me open. Poor little guy, he was just hungry and I prolly spooked him a little when I tipped the can over."

"Look, I'm sixteen, and I've lived in this town all my life," he was getting snippy, "I ain't never heard of no Great Plains Raccoon that walks like a man and fights like a man. Like they always say, if it walks like a duck and it quacks like a duck, it sure isn't some weird kind of raccoon. Now are you gonna come clean with this or do I have to start an internet campaign against you? I could do it, you know, I have fifty Twitter followers."

"I don't know what that means," I admitted.

He rolled his eyes. "That means that there are fifty people who listen to my opinions and what I say. And if I say to boycott this donut shop until you come out with the truth, they will. Oh, you better believe it."

"Huh," I nodded slowly, "and do any of these people frequent this donut shop?"

He furrowed his brows. "I don't know. It's all anonymous."

"Well, do they live in Iowa?"

"I said it's anonymous!"

"Well, I heard that, but I'm just trying to get a gauge of what kind of power I'm dealing with here. You may not believe me, but I've had some dealing on this internets thingy but I've never really seen a boycott. Also, I may not be totally familiar with this Twitter thing, but I just don't think a bunch of bird watchers are the type to get political. Now, if you don't believe me about the raccoon, that's one thing, but if you come into my shop and start issuing hallow threats, I'll call you on it. Now, we can sit here and speak about our options as adults or you can continue to be a baby about this and see how far it gets you." Sometimes, when dealing with young people, it's really best for the adult to act like and adult so a kid can see how it's done. That's how you learn 'em. If that doesn't work, then military academy in Alaska is a good backup plan.

Jared and I sat there in silence for a bit, just lookin at each other. Then I brought him another bear claw, and that seemed to soften him. Like my mom always used to say, eatin a lot of sweets will make a man soft. I fully agree. I eat plenty of sweets and I got a level, easy goin temperament.

After sippin my coffee a bit, I decided to take another try at this thing. "So what is it you want from me, Jared?"

He continued staring daggers at me for a minute, slumped in his chair with his arms crossed. Then he reached out and poked at the bear claw for a minute, just movin it around on his plate. He pulled his fingers back to his mouth and as soon as he tasted the warm, cinnamon apple goodness that was oozing out the claw parts, he livened up a bit. He picked up the treat and took a big bite out of the pinkie portion. Then, only with his mouth full of food, would he say something. He said, "Mrpmh, hmph mrt fmrlumph."

That coulda been a lot of things, and not all of it flattering. Before I threw him out, though, I thought I'd clarify. "What was that?"

He swallowed heavily and took a drink of his coffee. "I said, 'I need you to tell mom the truth.' You gotta tell her that you really were fighting a guy and that you burned him up. Then she'll know I'm not on drugs and I don't have to move to Alaska."

"What's so wrong with Alaska?" I asked, "It full of wildlife and, um, trees and know...salmon?"

"For starters, it's not about Alaska, it's about my mom thinking I'm some sort of weirdo who's on drugs and who plays so many video games that I can't tell what's real any more. Second, I'm afraid of moose. I saw this special about moose once and it scared the daylights out of me. And one thing Alaska's got in spades is moose."

Well, I can get softened up by donuts as well. I told him, "You know, Jared, you're right. That wasn't a raccoon I was fighting yesterday."

"I knew it!" he yelled.

I put a hand up, "Hear me out. It wasn't a raccoon, but it wasn't a man, either. That was a robotic ninja I was fighting yesterday. I didn't kill nobody."

"That was a...a...a robot?!" he stammered.


"!" he nearly jumped out of his chair. "Did you make that thing? Is it fast? Does it have all its moves programmed in or was someone controlling it? What's it made out of? Is it titanium? I bet it's not titanium because that's got a higher melting point, so it'd have to be steel or something. Was it steel? How much did it cost to build that thing? It looked expensive. Was it expensive? Do you have other robots? Do you have a donut making robot? Is that how your bear claws always turn out so good? Are your robots programmed with the three rules of robotics? Or did you read Asimov and see what happened? Why were you fighting that one? Did it go all crazy and short out and think it was a person or something so you had to kill it to prevent the apocalypse or something like that?"

I've heard machine guns rattle slower than this kid. I put up both my hands, "Woah woah woah! Enough with the questions already! Stop before you give yourself an aneurysm or something."

"I'm sorry," he took a breath, "I just got excited. I've been working on computers and programming for a few years now and I've never even heard of a robot that advanced."

"Alright, Jared. I can't tell you everything that's going on here, but I guess I'll have to let you in on some. But you can't tell anybody, not even your mom."

"But if you don't tell her, she's going to send me away!" His eyes grew to the size of bowling balls and got teary like bowling balls just after the lane's been greased. At the bowling alley here, they grease the lanes on Tuesday mornings to repair the damages of league night on Monday. They apply a little extra grease because kids' league night is on Tuesday and the kids don't really care how much grease there is because they can't throw a curve and they use them bumpers anyways, which always felt to me like teachin kids how to cheat. So if you go bowlin on Tuesday mornings, expect your ball to get all greased up like a pair of sixteen year old eyeballs when the kid attached to them thinks he's gonna be sent to military school, which is what we were discussing in the first place.

"Well, how about we do this," I proposed, "We'll say you saw me fightin a raccoon, but it was dark and I was by a tree, so it just looked like a man. Then, we'll tell your mom that we agreed you need to get out of the house some and so you'll come here three days a week to do some work for me."

"Can you teach me how to build robots like that?" he asked.

"Nah," I admitted, "I don't build 'em. I just have to fight them."

He looked confused, "Why?"

"That's part of what I can't tell you," I explained, "but rest assured, it's for a very good reason."

So, in the end, Jared didn't get sent to Alaska and his mom agreed that he should come work at the shop. He'll be workin here a few times a week sweepin floors and stuff, maybe fixin cars. The squimonk know about this and have promised to stay out of view while Jared's around. Seems to me the problem is solved.


Anonymous said...

Hi Pat,

I noticed there weren't any comments for your last two posts. I just wanted to let you know that your readers are still here! Keep posting! Your stories are great!

Pat O'Neil said...

Well, thank you for that. I was a bit worried my mini-vacation there over the holidays was the death knell. Expect more tomorrow, provided I am not hit by a meteor or I have to wrestle a bear or anything of that nature.

Brunhilda said...

I think this newcomer is trouble. Yes. Damned goth kids. At least he's not an emo kid. That would be worse.

gandy said...

Wow, you've written so much! I have a lot to catch up on! Yayyy!