Wednesday, October 19, 2016


Oggy collapsed near the broken carbon-fiber picnic table, amid discarded fusion batteries and plates of protein bar residue from the CHEEP production process. Oggy thought he might be allergic to the residue or to some chemical in the protein bar that was liberated by the process of reduction. He examined one piece of plastic, or was it carbon fiber? Oggy reached out, distracted from all other stimuli, ignoring the feuding rats and the nagging prostitute bawling near the Dispos-all toilet shed. What was this artifact? Was it from a pair of biodegradable wrist cuffs that the police were using during their CHEEP raids? Possibly, but, it may have belonged to a personal communication device, long obsolete and broken down to harvest the circuitry, gold and microchip. Yes, Oggy recognized a hint of a shape where the case of the old digital device curved around the camera lens. That corner had been engineered for that purpose, thought Oggy, and now it lay here among the residue of rat feces and used Ultraviolet sterilization packages for temporary spermicide. Who could have predicted this fate? Not the engineer of the robots who manufactured it nor the drones who shipped it nor the consumer and then the pirates who scoured the landfills to retrieve the broken device and bring it back to the crude labs for disassembly and meltdown. This small portion of the case had broken off and been swept into a bag that later was used to transport donated food or clothing to the shelter. That was probably the timeline of this article of plastic, but it was not a complete timeline and Oggy stared deeply at the plastic shard as he tried to visualize the details, to fill in the gaps in the timeline as far back as when the plastic was in a boiling vat of ingredients waiting to be injected and molded, the workers...was it possible human laborers were needed during that process? It depended on the age of the device. There was a time when robots did not rule the workshop floor and humans still monitored or controlled the machines. That was important because the exact chain of commands that led to the molding of the molten plastic may have been controlled by humans or it may have been automatic, regulated by algorithms and supply demands and production quotas. The molding process itself may have taken place in the evening, or the morning, or on a full moon, or a full moon obscured by clouds or a tropical storm. Which tropical storm? Which moon? What continent? Well, it would be Central America, up until the civil war when the manufacturing was moved to the artificial islands in the Gulf. The timeline was impossible to complete with what little information Oggy had so he experienced a grinding frustration at the inability to fully visualize the lifespan of this piece of plastic. Why was it so complicated? He could see the groove where the circuit board would slide into, the small groove where the circuit board had once been but had been removed in order to harvest the chip and gold. But under what conditions had the board been installed and by whom did the board get removed? What was the person's name? When did the robot laborer get manufactured? What weather conditions were present during the harvesting process? Had that taken place here in Santa Cruz or elsewhere, had the workers been singing, what song were they singing? There were unsolvable mysteries because all Oggy had to speculate on was a piece of plastic no bigger than a Fiver Coin. So many mysteries, so many unsolvable riddles. A rat scampered through the debris, dragging its heavy scrotum over the trash.

"Dinner!" cried a scallion from near the entertainment tube.
The denizens of the shelter ceased their agitated milling and moved as one toward the tube. Oggy still held the piece of plastic and examined the circuit board groove with his finger nail but he watched the residents limp like brain-hungry zombies toward the tube. They gathered in a tight circle with those in the back climbing boxes of discarded fruit to see better. The tube glowed to life and a low murmur replaced the jabbering mosaic of hysteria.

"We had the slow-roasted roast beef," began the solemn gender-fluid voice within the tube. "And it was good. The sauce was not too salty..."

A man near the middle of the audience grinned like a grave-robber and said loudly, "Nothing wrong with salty sauce. I..."

"Shut up! Wait until dinner is over." shouted shrewd voice from within the audience.

The voice from within the tube continued, "...and the mashed potatoes were made with real butter..."

Many of the audience moaned with pleasure and a few murmured, 'butter...'

"I wanted the corn side dish but my husband talked me into getting the green beans and we shared the special summer slaw. It was all delicious. My only complaint was that there wasn't enough bacon in the beans. I give the restaurant 5 stars..."

The tube glowed silently for a moment and then turned off. The audience began to shout for seconds.

"Play it again! We want more!"
"Play the part about the bacon!"
"I want the one where she likes the medium rare steak!"
"I liked yesterday's pizza dinner better!"
"More mashed potatoes!"

Oggy watched with cheeks sagging over his fleshy frown as the audience clapped their wooden limbs and stomped their feet in hysterics until the dinner was served again. Oggy wanted to participate but the circuit board mystery bothered him. What was pure and right in a world where this piece of plastic had become so orphaned after so much love and attention was spent to produce it?

The tube spoke again: "We had the slow-roasted roast beef...."
The audience finished the sentence as one: "...And it was good."

Oggy nodded and whispered, "The roast beef was good because the sauce wasn't too salty." 

He got goosebumps as a twinge of warmth from a genuine memory came back to him, a real memory, not the ones he borrowed at the library, though hazy in image the smell was authentic, and a twist in his lips almost made him look happy.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.