Hold the Mayo

He was born to do this job.  If he could do it all over again and have a choice to have it happen the way it did or work at McDonald’s and live to be 104?  He’d do it all over again.

Jan Brown, on the death of her son, killed in Afghanistan, 2011


The Mayor Meets the Minstrels

Last week’s worthless minstrel, Trini Trodon, sang out of tune and hadn’t even heard that the Occupation began taking over upscale coffee shops and men’s rooms a month before.   This time, as Mariah and I passed through the rowdy Occupation cordon with their trash barrel bonfires into the Classless Society, I prayed for at least a decent show.  I wanted to be free of the growing desperation outside, if only for a few hours.  I knew it waited just outside the doorway, and would get worse as winter set in.  Inside we found just what we were looking for, an aura of acoustic music, dark oak paneling, and flickering candlelight.  We were greeted by a duet, the dulcet tones of her alto and his mellifluous baritone voice accompanied by his steel resophonic guitar. They perched on large black cobweb-covered amplifiers gathering dust on the tiny stage, with a purring CatBulb glowing faintly to one side.  They had no Fix-a-Voice but sang in tune by their own talent.  I hoped they would teach us, inform us, and entertain us.

I recognized the lines they sang from the Song of Hiawatha.  Raised in a time of channel and Web surfing, my own short attention span never managed to memorize thousand-line Iliads or Aeneids.  To say nothing of plucking lute or lyre.  I was thus doubly impressed by the pair as they sat in the barroom singing and playing to the hushed crowd.

He with the ‘didn’t bother shaving’ beard of a heartthrob sat up straight and picked out chords on the metal guitar. Her willowy figure stood in a long dark velvet gown with rhinestones that glittered in the candlelight, playing a flute between stanzas.  They sang a perfect duet, not just in tune but balanced in volume and tone.  As Mariah and I finally found seats on the floor, the duet sang a jingle about the Classless Society, then began singing the news.  My eardrums buzzed pleasantly and I felt a wave of calm wash over me.

Mariah listened to what they sang and then whispered to me, “How can everyone be above average?  That’s not mathematically possible!”  It was as if a spell had been broken, and I was jolted awake.  The flow of words stopped and the woman smoothly transitioned to the flute.  The crowd turned as one to Mariah and shushed her rudely.

As soon as everyone quieted and turned their attention back to the couple on the stage, she set aside the flute and duet resumed.  Their words picked up where they left off, not letting the crowd miss one bit of the narrative.


She had five hundred, he was four-oh-nine,

They could have split the difference, worked it down in time.

Hers the only books in town, he the only vet.

Come and read a book of hers while he checks out your pet.

It didn’t have to end that way, it could have been fine.

It’s sad, so sad, people create their own misery…


I thought that romantic issues in someone else’s small town didn’t interest me, but at least that meant there was no important bad news.  Then it occurred to me:  What did these two sing about our town as they traveled around?

After the news song was finished, the mosh pit cranked up as kids outran their attention spans and strove to keep warm in the chilling room.  I couldn’t hear any footsteps on the thick carpet, since wooden shoes had been forbidden the summer before.  I understood the serious part of the program was done, and the duo switched to a kids’ song about coffee in a copper kettle.  At last the music stopped and Al the bartender started a roaring fire in the hearth.  I could smell hickory in the mix of burning wood.  The crowd relaxed and conversation bubbled up.  The duo was surrounded by well-wishers with plenty of offers to put them up for the night, and I lost sight of them.

I headed to the bar when it was finally open for business.  I was about to order the Gopher the Gusto Pale Ale on tap when old Blevins leaned over and recommended the local Pinot.  “Just think of it,” he said as he raised his glass, “the local vintages are finally as good as the Sonoma County pinots, before the heat baked away the whole California industry.”  He sipped and smacked his lips.  “Ah, I miss Papapietro Perry.”  After a deep sigh, he said, “But try the ’47 Gopherific.  It beats that Gopher Baroque swill.”  My eyes widened when I heard him pronounce the word ‘Gopherific’ without a hint of slurring.

“What about the cold weather and the snow?” I asked.

He grunted and said, “Over the years we’ve been getting less while Napa Valley gets more.  On average we’ve been getting warmer while they get colder.  We’re about equal now.  It’s the severity of weather extremes that poses the hazard.  Vineyards have the technology to ward off the extreme cold to even the score.  California predicted its own wine demise decades ago.”

I was amazed at this lecture, the longest I remembered ever hearing from him.  Still, Blevins knew the old stories and was a wine snob from way back, so I took his advice.  Gopherific had deep, complex red cherry aromas, notes of cinnamon and spice on the nose and on the palate.  I brought a glass for Mariah and we sat on the floor.  “You won’t believe this, but old Blevins recommended this,” I said.

“Why won’t I believe it?” she asked.  “He may never be sober but he knows his wines.”

“No, he sounded … sober,” I said.  I looked over at him, still at the bar but talking rather than drinking.  “He looks good, not flushed.  It’s like…”  I shrugged.  “It’s like he’s normal.”

Closing time came when Al’s nightly quota of firewood ran out and the Classless Society dipped towards freezing. Water dripped off an icicle in the rafter onto my head as Mariah and I headed for the door.  “Sign of a leak,” I thought.  “Freezing, thawing, this place can’t last long.” As we left, I saw the Occupation was gone for the night as well.  The streets were dark, and the barrel fires had gone out.  After our eyes adjusted to the dark, we dodged the cold barrels and empty Thunderbird flasks both intact and not on the sidewalk and headed down 4th Street.  “Rochester,” I said, “the city where the bottles break.”

Mariah walked a few more paces, then said, “Rochester and Minneapolis.  Chicago and New Orleans.  Even Bethlehem, PA.  It’s like this everywhere, not just here.”

“But I’m here,” I said. “I’m responsible for what happens here, not in Pennsylvania.  And the glass is broken right here.  I can’t clean it all up with my hands, one piece at a time.”

“You don’t need to.  You couldn’t if you tried.  And the same people who broke bottles tonight may well be the ones who sweep it up tomorrow.  It’s a surreal kind of job security.”

I asked Mariah, “Ever wonder where they go after dark?”

She looked at me and said, “Who, the Occupados?  Or is it Indignados?  Whichever they call themselves today.  I bet a lot of them have homes, maybe squatting somewhere after the Crash.  They aren’t all completely destitute.  Most of them have jobs of some kind.  They get up in the morning and work, just not lucrative work.”

“Like what?” I asked.  “They can’t all be orderlies at the Clinic.”

I saw her breath steam out in a sigh.  “Raking leaves for the doctors.  Mowing lawns for the docs.  Cooking meals, scrubbing floors, washing cars.  For the docs.”  She stopped suddenly and inhaled.  “I’m sorry,” she said.

“The docs,” I said.  “What happens to this town if they all just … vanish?”

“If?” she asked.  “After 200 years, the Clinic might – would it?”  She grabbed my sleeve playfully and asked, “Disappear like the stars when the sun rises?  Look at them now while we have them.”

She pointed up at the stars visible in the waning crescent moon and we lingered for a minute.  We inhaled the earthy smell of fallen leaves and fireplace smoke.  The sky spread before us with a wash of stars, marred only by a single copter with running lights heading for the clinic.  It hushed across the sky, and scarcely caused a breeze as it passed overhead.  When it was gone, the darkness closed back in around us.  I felt sorry for those who lived back when the sky was bleached out by streetlights.

“In a few nights we’ll need to bring cats with us,” I said, trying to stretch the moment.

Mariah smiled and sighed.  “Binky always hates the cold.”

“Good thing you got me a KatPack – or rather you got Mr. Pizza one,” I said.  “He’ll appreciate that.  And he glows bright enough for two cats.”

She smiled and gave an exaggerated sigh.  “I’d better go feed my not-too-bright cat.  Besides, it’s getting cold out here and I’m feeling inspired.  What do you think about matching figurines of those troubadours?  Solid mahogany, I can match her skin color.  I can set up the laser and have prototypes done overnight.”

After an embrace meant to warm us as we parted, Mariah went to her woodcarving studio in the backyard and I headed for the house, shivering in the cooling Minnesota breeze.


The next day I stood in the grocery’s ‘Two Items or Less’ line and there they were, last night’s duo.  “Good morning,” I said.  “I’m Peter Sakalov.  Thanks for visiting and singing for us last night.”

“Oh, yes!” the man exclaimed.  “You’re the town drunk –”  His partner suddenly kicked him in the shin. “- er, mayor of Rochester,” he continued.  “I’m Apollo and this is Artemis.”

“Pardon my associate’s rudeness,” Artemis said sweetly.  “We may have been misinformed.”  Then she gazed directly into my eyes and asked, “So you should know if anyone does, what is the town average?  No one can tell us for sure.”

I pondered a while and answered slowly, “Hard to say, but it’s something like 857.  We have lots of doctors in town with way too much stuff.  We call them Crapaholics, people addicted to owning things.  But I think they’ll pare down soon and help lower the average.  Some people with a jar of aspirin count that as one item, others count each tablet plus the cap and bottle.”

“Speaking of aspirin, we’re going to your Mayo Clinic today,” Apollo said.

I felt the rush of heat in my face and wondered how obvious it was.  I tried to keep my voice calm.  “Don’t have a headache, do you?” I asked calmly.

“No,” Artemis said.  “What would they do if I did?”

I babbled something like, “Amputate, I guess.”  What else could I say?  “While you’re there, stop by the gift shop and get a genuine GlowCat.  They were first developed right here at Mayo, but you need to shine a UV light on them.”  I knew immediately that was a stupid thing to say, and fumbled for my wallet.

“No one buys the old fluorescent animals any more,” Apollo said.  ”And we already have a CatBulb that glows in the dark, thanks anyway.”

I paid for my milk and cat food, and excused myself brusquely.  As I hurried out, I stepped carefully over several sleeping bags just outside the door.  I handed one rousing sleeper a package of energy bars and headed for city hall.

Later I told the fire chief, “We can’t prevent troubadours from going anywhere they want, but no one has to tell them interesting places to go.”

Chief put his hand on my arm and whispered, “Maybe they’ll just visit the Clinic and write a feature song.  You know, Mayo was famous in its day.  Could be they’ll sing about its glorious past.”  I knew that wasn’t true.

Politics and Science Collide…Again

Donald Trump declared to astounded Republicans today that “George Washington was no hero!”

“He lost all those battles!” Trump yelled, frothing at the mouth.  “I like winners!  Even Benedict Arnold won battles!”

In other news, apparently starting up your own pharma company doesn’t guarantee success.  But it could be worth a try (1).

In scarcely related news, an Alzheimer clinical trial is under threat since USC poached researchers Paul Aisen et al. from UCSD (2).  “Aisen has headed the Alzheimer’s disease Cooperative Study since 2007 and is running a clinical trial to determine if a drug developed by Eli Lilly can slow or prevent Alzheimer’s in people who do not yet have memory problems.”

“Who cares about Alzheimer’s patients?” screamed Donald Trump as he writhed on the ground.  “They’re idiots!  Just ask them what they had for lunch yesterday – they don’t know!”  At this time it is not clear who landed the first punch in the ensuing melee.  Possibly someone who recalled that The Donald’s own father died of Alzheimer’s (3).  “Teletubbies are killing your children!” Trump’s voice cut through the pile.  Everyone who had launched themselves onto the stage stopped and sat up.  “Yes, you heard me right!  While they watch some pink triangle, the winners of the world are honing their boxing skills (4)!”  The right-wing lunatic fringe crowd burst into cheers and hoisted a jubilant Trump onto their shoulders in a victory lap around Iowa.


(1) http://www.dddmag.com/news/2015/07/fda-bans-founder-fake-us-pharma-company-worth-12m

(2) http://www.theaustralian.com.au/higher-education/battle-erupts-over-poached-researcher/story-e6frgcjx-1227449544532

(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_Trump

(4) http://www.biospace.com/News/toddlers-who-chill-in-front-of-tv-are-at-later/384860/source=Featured

Beyond the Shaman’s Cure

I staggered down the street away from the shaman with the roll of parchment under my arm.  “The only chance in the whole village, and he does nothing but give me a map,” I thought.  It was already two weeks since I felt wrong.  I should have gone then, but I thought I would get over it.

I could not even explain what ‘felt wrong’ meant.  Something was wrong with my vision, and I had a headache.  I staggered instead of walked, my feet wide apart for balance.  The ground seemed to vibrate and sway under me, yet no one else in the village seemed to notice.

I realized that I had walked past my own house with its bright blue door as I tried to recall the shaman’s words.  I turned back and thought, “What did he say about my leaving the village?”  It had something to do with the moon and the harvest, and something about his reputation.  And something about tomorrow.

I looked up and found myself right back at the shaman’s door, the faded red stain and its bundle of bones tied with string and hung on a nail.  I had walked right past my house again without noticing.  I turned and hurried away in case he came out and saw me in the street.

When I made my way home and closed the door behind me, I looked around the house.  I squinted in the bright sunlight that leaked between the sticks and boards of its four walls.  The soft chittering of creatures in the palm frond ceiling felt comforting and familiar, and I relaxed my shoulders with a sigh of relief. I let thoughts of the shaman drift through my mind, and tried to catch the meaning of his words.

Not so long ago, the shaman poked & prodded me with his strange traditional instruments, never explaining what they were, how they worked, or what they told him about me.  At one point, his breath hissed sharply as if I stepped on his foot.  “You haven’t stopped by to see me in a while, have you?”

“The last time you said I wouldn’t need to, remember?” I said.  “I had that rash on my hands and feet, and you said the spots would go away.  They did, so didn’t come back.  Was that wrong?”

He shook his head.  “No, nothing I could do anyway,” he said.  “And that first spot went away?”

“What spot?” I asked.  I rolled up my sleeve and glanced at all the bumps, scratches and cuts I collect during my days in the fields.  “Which one?  I get a hundred every day.”  I looked at his smooth arms that never held a hoe or a shovel.

“That big open sore across your finger,” he said.  “It was a big mess, what I call a chancre, remember?”

I cringed at the memory of the oozing sore.  “That was long ago, months ago,” I said.  I looked at my hands, unable to remember which finger had suffered.  “It didn’t hurt, didn’t itch, it just looked gross.”

“And the rash didn’t itch either, right?” he asked.

“No, but some of the spots were like warts,” I said.  “Wasn’t that all a couple years ago?  You were right, though, I started getting headaches back then, and I still get them.”

He rubbed his chin and said, “Hmmmm.  Now you have trouble keeping your balance.  I noticed you had a problem walking straight across the floor.”

I had forgotten about my balance.  “I walk funny now, more like a drunken sailor.  But I don’t fall down as often.  Ow!”  I jumped at the needle stab in my toe.  I looked down and saw nothing there.  “Do you have rats in here?”  I bent over and cradled my foot but could see no bite or stab mark.  “That hurt, whatever it was.  You didn’t inject me with your needle, did you?”  I looked across the several feet between us, then at the ground.  “I don’t know why I said that.  I’ll shut up now.”  There was a silent space of time.

Then the shaman said, “I have something in the magic box, but this is outside – I think we need to send you to, to, to another place.  A bigger place.  A bigger village – no, a city.”    He went to a fancy desk and pulled something out of a drawer.  It looked like a rolled up tube of glossy paper or animal skin.  As he handed it to me, he said, “This is a map of the whole state.  You see, here we are.  These are the highways in thick red.  The roads and paths are in smaller lines.  Way over on that side is a much larger village, a city with a much more powerful shaman.  You will need his help on this.  Just head west, into the sunset.  When you meet the ocean, go south.”

“Is it something I did wrong?” I asked.  “Something done to me?”

“If you stepped on a nail, you would feel the sharp pain right away,” he said.  “If someone attacked you, you would feel the blow on the back of your head.  If someone poisoned you, you would feel ill.”  He scratched his chin and blinked.  “A disease would make you feverish and you would need to recover somehow.  Our magic boxes used to have something to help your body cure itself, but that magic was used up years ago.  You understand these are not really magic boxes, don’t you?  They are things that help me to help you.

“Centuries ago, I would have tried giving you poisons like arsenic, bismuth or mercury compounds.  Then we learned to stop trying to kill our patients that way.

I pulled away from him, afraid that he might try to kill me with those things.  I knew Mercury is a planet but could not remember ever hearing about the other two things he mentioned.

His eyebrows went up as I moved away, and he said, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to inject you with any of those.”  He looked around his small office.  “I don’t even have any needles anyway.  No one bothers making them any more.

“We once had what were called antibiotics, what you would call magic charms against diseases,” he said.

That confused me.  “I know I heard something about probiotics,” I said.  “So those cause disease?”

He shook his head and grunted.  “Not all biotics are bad, they don’t all cause disease.  Some of them we need.  So if the strong antibiotics kill off all the good bugs along with the bad, we used probiotics to give us new good bugs.”

“Bugs?” I asked.  “Like the roaches and beetles?”

“I wish we could kill off some of them too,” he said.  “But the bugs I mean are very tiny.  Anyway, antibiotics are long gone.  When we used them, someone needs to refill the boxes.  Mine has not been refilled in all these years.  I hope Doctor Sagroma is more fortunate.  You must find him, starting tomorrow.  I could be wrong about this, and he might just send you home.”

The shaman used a stylus and etched something onto the map.  “This is his name, Sagroma.  You might find him in the temple.”  He squinted at the map and said, “It says, ‘Not drawn to scale.’  I have no idea how far away this is or how long will it take you.  So you had better get started now, tomorrow, before it’s too late.”

“Sagroma,” I said.  “Temple.  Temple temple temple.”

He handed me a saltshaker and said, “This is not table salt, it’s potassium iodide.  Try some of that on food or make a tea with it.  Use an infusion of hops and a little sugar syrup.  See if it helps relieve the pain and lets you sleep.”

“Oh, I forgot to tell you about that,” I said.  “Yes, I have trouble sleeping at night.  Did I already tell you that?  Temple.”

Only as I sat on the floor of my house did I realize I had no idea of where I was going or the city’s name.  I unrolled the map and found what I thought was the spot.  There were several spots, each with writing next to it.  I chose the largest spot and tried to read its name.  The handwriting was lush and florid but the characters blended together into swirling patterns that only suggested letters I knew.  It could have been Triandium.

Someone knocked on the door.  Through the gaps in the wall I could see it was the shaman and someone else.  “Enter and be welcome,” I called out as the door opened too quickly.  As it banged against the wall and swung shut again, I saw the shaman and a large burly man, both with their arms full of something.

“I will not send you out to starve,” the shaman said.  “Here is a bag of things I collected for you.  People in the village are grateful for all your work in the fields, and already gave more than you can hope to carry.  Cograt here will act as your summons tomorrow morning.  He will sleep right outside the door and make sure you are up before it gets too hot for travel.”

I looked at Cograt standing in the doorway.  His arms were full of a sleeping mat and a large bag.  He looked around and set his load down just outside my door.  I knew his face from somewhere, I must have seen him without noticing.  The village is small enough to know everyone in it.  “Where have I seen him?” I thought.  “Was it the fields?  The market?  He looks like…”  I could not remember who he looked like.  I thought of my days, weeks and years in the fields just outside the village.  “Did this Cograt stand next to me with a sickle during wheat harvest time?”  I thought.  I tried to picture the time I spent, the hours waddling and stooping.  Mostly I pictured the dirt, wheat, and clover as my hands danced.  The short handle of the village sickles made us all squat close to the ground as we worked.  I never cut myself in all that time once I had a rhythm going.  My left hand reached down to grasp hold of stalks, and my right hand pulled the sickle close but not too close.  I let go and took a waddling step to the next handful.  Maybe it was normal that I couldn’t remember faces, even of people who worked next to me.  Better to forget and keep all my fingers.

The Spider Wedding

Betanda walked ahead of me through the trees for most of the morning, but slowed down when she passed a tiny hut on the side of the road.  I saw her approach and peer into the hut, which was shorter than she was.  As I got closer, she said, “I think it’s a shrine.  There’s a wick in a bowl of oil, and it’s lit.  Someone must be near enough to tend this.”

“Shrine?” I asked.  “Then we must be near a village.”  I looked around and listened, but did not hear any human activity.  “No one on the ground, maybe they live up in the trees.”  I scanned the green canopy shading us from sunlight, but saw nothing indicating people.  “Could be a problem, they must be mole men.”  I eyed the ground warily, ready to jump if the ground opened up to spew warriors at us like angry wasps from a disturbed nest.

Betanda straightened up and looked at me.  “You must be deaf,” she said.  “Listen, it’s like there’s a wedding going on.  Let’s go see.”

I realized she was right, and that I had been hearing loud bells for a while.  I did not remember wedding festivals with bells like that, low gongings mixed with high pinging sounds.  I hurried after her, and saw bright white robes through the trees.

I could not tell who were the bride and groom among the throng of gyrating dancers.  People flitted between trees and swept around us trailing their glowing garments.  Men, women, children, all wore such a blinding white that my eyes could not find where fabric started or ended.  No one stood still in the constant swirling motion of the dance.  I saw people’s smiles approach and recede in sheer joy of life, while arms swept the long sleeves through the air.  Their fingers gracefully traced out figures in the air, figures of butterflies, rainbows and smiles.  The bells rang, bonged, and pinged.

A higher pitched whine swelled from nothing until I noticed movement in the trees over our heads.  I could not see any detail with all the swirl of dancers and linens.  The dancers did not slow down at all, but the smiles stretched straight across their mouths.  Their teeth champed straight up and down, and I heard a clomping noise from them.  I saw that something peeped out from under their robes, something with hundreds of eyes that looked at me.  The eyes had tiny mandibles that clacked open and shut, and long hairy legs swept aside the white robes.

The sound of the bells faded away, replaced by a low growling swell of a thunderous bass.  I turned towards the growl and saw through the trees a giant shadow of darkness made of legs, millions of legs.  A huge wave, a tsunami of spiders descended on the trees and swept towards the dancers and towards me.  The high pinging of bells became the piercing screams of people as they ran in all directions around me.  Their arms kept the robes floating in air as they moved, but the robes were coated with crawling clacking legs and mandibles.

I stood rooted to the spot as the wedding party and spiders swirled around me.  Human-sized pillars of spiders ran and dove across my vision in all directions, towards me and away, into and away from trees.  I grabbed a large tree branch and swept it in a protective arc around me.  “No, you filthy beasts won’t have me,” I said.  “Not today, not ever.”  I swung the branch down onto a pile of spiders hiding behind a tree.  Another pile collected as the spiders tried to gather into a mass for an attack on me.  I crashed into the mass and swatted the scattered creatures before they could regroup.  Single spiders climbed up my legs.  Some dropped out of the trees into my hair and bit me.  I rubbed my head against trees to clear the spiders off.

Betanda ran to me and said, “It’s the floods, they flee to higher ground.”  She turned away and screamed in pain.  A wash of flame crashed up a tree and I heard someone say, “Burn them all” in the roar.  Betanda ran towards the flames, then away.  Something stung my foot and I looked down to see some kind of tarantula wrestle with my toe.  I swatted with my branch and felt the scrape and burn on my ankle.  When I looked up again, Betanda was gone and several waving posts of flames staggered past me.

I felt spider bites on my legs as I stomped as fast and hard as I could.  I saw a mass of spiders with a flower garland pass close by.  “That must be the bride,” I thought, “she’s buried by poisonous spiders.”  My arm brought the branch crashing into the mass of mandibles.  A whole column of spiders dropped from the trees onto my shoulders.  I pushed sideways and crashed into a tree to shake them off.  They let out a screeching roar as they split and splattered across the tree trunk.  The roar deafened me and lifted me off the ground into the spinning darkness.  I willed my arm to sweep the branch around me as I felt myself go airborne and fly into the gathering night.

An Intro to The Search

We picked our way back down the cold, damp stairs.  The temple acolyte’s dim smoking oil lamp showed which direction to go, but did not point out the trash or rat corpses.  Were there so many new corpses already?  My feet did not remember so many, with their bones poking around and through my rotting sandals.  The huge key looped around my arm banged and clattered against the wall.  At last I found level ground and followed as the lamp swung past several metal doors along a wall to halt in front of the one, my goal.  The familiar nightmare figures carved onto the door glinted in the flickering light.   I stood in front of the great door, surrounded by the others in the flickering torchlight.  “This is Vault B, as you wish,” the elder priest said as he stepped behind me.  They all watched me silently.  Something slimy passed across my foot, and I heard the hiss and chitter of creatures in the near-darkness.

“Will you open it?” the priest continued.  “You should not.”  His voice took on a lilt of reciting a poem.  “You should not, for your own good.  You should not, for our good.  The curse you will rain down upon us and the whole land, nothing inside this room can compensate.  Nothing you do can atone.  I urge you, go now in peace.”

“Why don’t you stop me?” I asked.  The ache in my head squeezed my eyeballs and pressed my ears to meet my nose.  “I can’t get back upstairs if I wanted to.”

“This is your decision,” he said.  “I only read what is etched here, as we have read for thousands of years.  So.  Will you go in?”

I gasped with the exertion and wrestled the key loose.  It fit into the large keyhole as they told me it would.  I cranked the key to the left and leaned against the doorframe.  My knees wobbled and my fevered eyesight grew cloudy.

“Is it safe to open it?” he asked.

I grunted, spat on the ground, turned the key and swung the door open.  “I’ve got nothing to lose,” I said before I stepped inside.

Don’t Be a Glasshole!

Rupert flicked a finger alongside the glasses frame on his right temple.  “I’m listening.  Baby, replay that,” he said while his gaze wandered up and to the left.  A light glowed green from the upper left lens.

“So how much did I say we need next week?” asked Francesca.

“Thursday,” Rupert said as he bobbed his head three times.  “It’ll be here by Thursday.”  The green light flicked out, and a red light glowed above the right lens.  “Baby, stream data.”

Francesca threw her hands up in the air and pushed back from the conference table.  “I give up,” she said.  “He’s on some other planet right now.”  She stood up and faced Betty.  Did he just get those today?”

Rupert jumped up and extended his left hand.  “And it’s good doing business with you too.”  He tugged his left earlobe and gazed off to his left, then waved his hand across his eyes twice.  “Our legal department will send a copy for you to sign and we can wrap this up.  Baby, time stamp.”  He started moving his mouth as if sounding out words.

Betty put her head down on the table.  “We need to get those things banned.”  She stood up.  “Francesca, it’s been three days since he got those.  I thought the Google Glass thing was annoying, but this-” She waved towards Rupert, who spun his finger around his ear and waggled his head.  “Even if he were participating with us here, all those semaphore wagglings would drive me crazy.”

“I’d better be going,” Francesca said.  “We won’t accomplish anything today.  Would that I just had to deal with Glassholes.”

Betty rolled her eyes.  “They were bad enough.  At least we could get some use out of the old Glass, even when people zoned out every so often.  You could check the stock market or get business updates.  I have no idea what Rupert is doing with these, though.  He could be watching ‘Romper Room’ reruns for all I know.”

Francesca gave a last look at Rupert – and saw an image of herself glow from his glasses’ left lens.  Suddenly a sharp piercing BEEP blasted out of Rupert’s glasses and he lifted them off his nose.  “Always a pleasure doing business with you, Francesca Monique Balancone.  Baby, get CV.”  He fitted the glasses back onto his head.  “Give them my best at your alumni functions at Lower Merion High School, Radcliffe, and the Wharton School.”  He wandered out of the room.

Francesca and Betty looked at each other.  Silence.  Then they burst out laughing simultaneously.

Teleprompting Politics and Medicine

“It’s a lot like virtual reality, isn’t it?” Rupert asked as he steered his million-dollar LaFerrari around a hairpin turn.  “We’ve been telecommuting for years, so why not telemedicine?”

Betty hung on with both hands and tried not to slide into Rupert on the sharp right curves.  “Does your wife know you drive like a maniac?” she asked through gritted teeth.  “I should know about telemedicine.  After my accident, my surgeon operated remotely from India.[1]  Telemedicine saved my life.”

“I remember that,” Rupert said as he blithely dodged food trucks and surfboard-festooned VW buses.  “But it’s all so haphazard, isn’t it?”

“Nonsense!”  Betty gave a stifled scream as the car swerved between two roving basketballs and a skunk.  “There is even an American Telemedicine Association to keep things regulated.”

“I just heard about this plot to limit telemedicine – or limit abortions, not any other kind of telemedicine.  So is this ATA some fly-by-night con artists who just popped up in the mean states?”

“Con artists?” Betty gasped as the car became airborne over the top of a hill.  “They’ve been promoting telemedicine for 20 years!”

“Oh.”  Rupert appeared to concentrate on his driving as he whipped the LaFerrari onto the freeway.  “So how do you do an abortion over the Web?”

 “There is a live examination with a nurse, then the doctor has a video conference.”  Betty cringed when she heard a police siren going the other way.  “Then the doctor can release a drawer electronically.  The woman finds an abortion-inducing drug in the drawer.”

“Mice,” Rupert said.  “Mice, rats.  In a maze.  Sounds like experiments in psychology class.  Do they ring a bell, too?”  He zipped down an exit ramp and headed down a wide boulevard.  “Oh, wait.  Red pill or blue one, right?  I saw that in a movie once.”

“Rupert, this is serious,” Betty said, her eyes fixed on the horizon.  “They’ve actually been practicing telemedicine for over 50 years.  Teledermatology, teleneurology, prenatal care, rural care.  There’s only one topic the mean states want to regulate, and that’s abortion.  Why is that?”

“Politics, of course.”  Rupert grunted as he dodged potholes and fallen tree limbs.  “No one wants to pay taxes to maintain streets or bridges.  No one wants to pay for someone else’s healthcare.  No one wants to be their brother’s keeper.”

A mechanical arm reached out from the car and swept a tire from the road.  It rolled into a parked car as Rupert and Betty sped by.  The car windows became opaque and Betty heard popping noises from outside.  “I hate driving through turf wars but it shaves 20 minutes off the trip,” Rupert said.

[1] See “Episode 18: Lights Out for Your Health!” of All My Clones, available at https://www.createspace.com/4166055 for less than your doctor’s office co-pay.

Biotech Philanthropist Supports the Arts

A splat on the wall.  A tree stump with a doorknob.  Flowers in a swamp that partially hid a school of flying piranhas.  Rupert’s brain could not interpret the solid red canvas at all.  He turned to his hostess and asked, “Is this your company’s, um, famous art collection?  I’ve read so much about it.”

Sonia giggled and gazed down at Rupert from atop her 8 inch stiletto heels.  “Oh, no, Mr. Madasheck, this is the annual employee’s children’s art exhibit.”

Rupert looked at a sculpture nestled on a pedestal and said, “That explains why this one looks like, um, well, like it was inspired by the family pet.  Or its business.”

Sonia gasped in horror.  “Oh, not that one!  That is an original Brancusi from his early stage over a century ago.”

Rupert held his hands behind his back and glared at the pile on the pedestal.  “Well,” he said.  “Speaking of business, let’s get on with it.  I’ve probably just destroyed any chance at a licensing agreement with you, haven’t I?  Assuming I had a chance five minutes ago.”

  • As bridges and buildings crumble, is Biotech funding the arts?

  • There must be art lovers in the Biotech world.  Rupert might not be one of them.  Or is he?

  • Is it true that Cappuccino Pharmaceuticals is planning to donate $475 million to artists who will paint pictures of dogs playing cards while sipping cappuccinos?

Salesmanship As We Know It

The first four years of All My Clones collected in a book now available at https://www.createspace.com/4166055

A spotlight centered on a microphone stand in the middle of the darkened stage.  A figure strode up to the microphone and spoke in a low rumble.  “Iron. Heavy.  Hemingway. Light.  Profound, isn’t it?”

The crowd of sales representatives went wild as Iron Hemingway took the stage and screamed through its one-hit wonder from 30 years ago.  The crowd danced and gyrated, even the reps who were born years after the band fell off the hit parade charts.

Rupert Madasheck inserted his earplugs as subtlely as he could and texted ‘Do they really like this stuff @ sales mtgs?’

Gamela Nuryandi looked at Rupert two feet away and at her team of sales reps on the dance floor.  She smiled and texted, ‘They luv this band!’  She added a few emoticons and hit Send.

Rupert frowned, shook his head, and texted back, ‘Do they realize most will be laid off 2morrow?’

Gamela put her hand over her mouth and nodded.  She texted, ‘Why not let them enjoy 1 last fling?’  She glanced out over the crowd, following some of the dancers as the band played its one hit for the seventh time.

Three hours later, Rupert and Gamela left the banquet hall and went into a conference room.  Rupert shut the door, fidgeted nervously, and asked, “Now that we can hear again, could I ask if you’ll have any sales force left over?”

Gamela groaned, sat down, and said, “Tomorrow I’ll lose 75% of them.  I wonder how many more will quit.  Can’t Research make more drugs?  We can sell anything but we need actual drugs to sell.  Now that we can’t spend anything on swag or gifts to physicians, we have plenty of budget left over.”

Rupert paced the room and growled.  “I blame the FDA.  Our drugs are fine as far as I know.  They haven’t killed anyone in clinical trials lately.  But now they complain about ‘efficacy’ and stuff like that.”

“I don’t understand much about all that,” Gamela confessed.  “After the FDA approves ‘em, we sell ‘em.  Someday could you explain how drugs get developed and approved?”

Rupert looked away at the closed conference room door and sighed.  “No, I don’t think so.  Remember I started out selling beauty supply products.”

Gamela leaned back in her chair.  “No!  Really?  How did you get from beauty supply to pharmaceuticals?”

Rupert sat down and leaned close.  “Reverse merger.[1]  I woke up and found myself CEO of a pharma company!”

“But now all my sales force will wake up and find themselves left out on the curb.  I still don’t understand why we need to cut back that much.”

“Your own sales people told you they were getting turned away at the door, right?” Rupert asked.

Gamela sighed.  “Yes, ever since that Dr. Evans spread the word about how to keep sales reps out of doctors’ offices.[2]  They don’t even take our notepads or laser pens any more.  They’d rather waste their time on seeing patients than get the information they really need.  What happens when the nation’s physicians are ignorant of our life-saving drugs and deplete their stock of Cappuccino Pharmaceuticals coffee mugs?”

“Think how bad it must be for all the other companies,” Rupert said.  “It’s not just sales forces, either.  The US pharma industry already laid off about 6400 people this year and it’s only June.”[3]

Gamela sobbed.  “Rupert, that isn’t the least bit consoling.”

Rupert put his hand on her shoulder.  “Well, it’s unbecoming of a professional to cry.  After all, I still have a job.”

Gamela jumped back.  “How is that supposed to help, you insensitive lout?”

“What I mean is, I can’t stop the layoffs here at Cappuccino.  But I can make exceptions.”

“You are planning to keep me employed, aren’t you?” Gamela asked.

“It looks like you are keeping yourself employed without my help,” Rupert said as he closed his eyes.

Outside the conference room, the intensity of the sales meeting swelled as Iron Hemingway  began playing their hit for the 97th time.

[1] Yes, this can happen!  Look up Venus Beauty Supply and Fermavir Pharmaceuticals.

[2] Evans et al., “Breaking Up is Hard to Do: Lessons Learned from a Pharma-Free Practice Transformation,”available at http://www.jabfm.org/content/26/3/332.full

[3] As reported by Pharmalot at http://www.pharmalive.com/and-those-pharma-job-cuts-just-keep-on-coming

Rupert and the Rubber Romper Room

Sarah smiled sweetly in all her teenage innocence, batted her very first fake eyelashes at Rupert, and asked, “Have you seen Daddy’s rubber room yet?”

Rupert was so surprised that the peas fell off his knife. “Uh, what? I, er, no. No, I haven’t.”

“Oh, it’s OK,” Sarah said.  “Daddy shows it to everyone who visits.”  She resumed eating her spinach daintily.

Rupert looked across the oaken dining room table at Betty, then at their host.  “I, um, that is.  Ms. Lidalot and I came here to discuss possibly merging our company and your father’s.  Not to, um.”  He forked a chunk of turkey into his mouth.

“Oh, pay Sarah no mind,” Clarence Clegg said.  “She likes shocking her elders.”

Rupert laughed.  “Oh.  So there’s no, um, no rubber…”

“Why, yes, of course there’s my rubber room,” Clarence boomed.  “Would you like to see it?”

Sarah brightened.  “Daddy does piercings, too.”  She looked between Rupert and Betty.  “He taught me how to do my own.  Do you have any?”

Rupert shivered.  “Ouch!  Certainly not.”

“Rupert,” Betty warned.  “Mind your manners.”

Clarence frowned at Sarah.  “Let’s not discuss your latest-”

“Would you like to see my booby pin?”

“Bzwxtlfump,” Rupert said as his peas fell off his knife again. “Is that-did you…That’s sick!”

“It has a ruby in the middle and goes through both-”

Mrs. Falla Clegg laughed loudly enough to drown out Sarah.   “Well, there aren’t many piercings kids can do that would shock anyone any more.”

Clarence pushed himself away from the table.  “We won’t be let alone in peace so we might as well do the tour of the chamber now.  Then we can get to business.”  He led Betty and Rupert down into the basement and to a door labeled ‘Torture Chamber.’  After some fumbling with a large ring of keys, he opened three different locks with a crash and slowly eased the door open.  “I assume you are already familiar with the standard toys.  You know.  Blindfolds, handcuffs, whips, clamps, electrodes.”

“Do you keep horses?” Betty asked.  “Look at all those riding crops.”  She looked at the roaring fire with hot coals.

“Oh, no, that’s for my special friends,” Clarence said.

“That’s psycho!” said Rupert as he looked around the rubber-walled room.

“Not true!” Clarence boomed.  “All of my favorite BDSM activities are perfectly normal.”

“Normal?” asked Betty.  “As far as I understand, they are clearly linked to mental disorders and psychopathology.”

“Again, not true,” said Clarence.  “As a matter of fact, researchers in the Netherlands clearly demonstrated that we BDSMers are no more or less prone to mental disorders than control groups of boring normal people. [1]  We even scored better in several categories including wellbeing and awareness.”  He led the way back upstairs, where Sarah and Falla waited with cups of lavender crème brulee.

“It is the policy of Cappuccino Pharmaceuticals not to pry into people’s personal lives,” Rupert said with a shaken stutter.  “I have never met anyone so, um, so open about such an unusual hobby.  What kinds of people, um, er, partake in your, um, festivities.”

Falla laughed.  “You’d think it was the dregs from Reefer Madness, wouldn’t you?”  Rupert nodded.

“As a matter of fact,” Clarence said, “most of us here in the BDSMalibu community are doctors, lawyers, and nurses.  And CEOs like me.”

Betty shook her head.  “Well, if BDSM really isn’t a mental illness, what is?  Anything?”

Falla cleared her throat.  “According to someone from Oxford University, religious fundamentalism is.”

Rupert grabbed a napkin and prevented his dessert from escaping across the table.  “What?”

“Mother, businesspeople aren’t supposed to talk about religion or politics,” Sarah said.

“Oh, bother,” said Falla. “I’m not businesspeople, and this is now medical rather than religion.”  She faced Betty.  “Someone named Kathleen Taylor from Oxford said that someday we might treat fundamentalism of any religion as a curable disease.” [2]

“All those people who are so rabidly against gay marriage and stuff?” Sarah asked.

Falla smiled sweetly.  “Yes, dear, just so.  Someday the tables may turn and they will gay away the pray.”

Rupert brightened.  “We are in the business of developing therapeutics, you know,” he said.  “We can come up with a nebulizer and… Wait for it…”

Betty groaned and said, “Spray away the pray.”

[1] SOURCE: bit.ly/14eYiKc The Journal of Sexual Medicine, online May 16, 2013.

[2] Religious Fundamentalism Could Be Treated As A Mental Illness, says Oxford researcher: tinyurl.com/mzoqf4j