One of the things they don't teach you at science-fiction author school is how to write. Not the how as in how to manufacture sentences and so on, but the how-how as in how to erect an umbrella of sufficient tensile strength to make a small shadow in life's spume in which you can sit and think about robots a while.
This has always struck me as a terrible omission. It's all well and good to know about when it's appropriate to use a semi-colon versus when it's just smug, but that only amounts to so many unprinted pages to a fellow whose stories remain virtual due to the rigours of maintaining a foothold against his debts in this frenzied Western life.
I tried to contact Kilgore Trout to ask his advice, but he couldn't be reached.
Still, I haven't forgotten you. Every day it crosses my mind the stories I owe. There's unfinished business between us. The silence in the meantime is awful. You'll have to forgive me that all I have to fill it with are crumbs.
The good news is that I've quit my day job, which means soon my financial problems will all be vastly simplified! (Deeper, more poignant perhaps, but certainly less complex.) My cunning plan is to try to sell my house before the bank can take it, then invest the proceeds in establishing myself as a hobo.
Luckily my children are too young to recognize the unsound nature of this strategem, coasting as I am on the sort of cheap parental awe you're awarded automatically at first like credit cards pushed on college students. My children lack the life experience to judge me adequately, a grace in which I revel. (Because that's the real secret to suckering kids: hit them right in the innocence! You can convince those guys of practically anything.)
Like the dirty little ragamuffins in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang my children don't go to school anyway, so it's not as if their education will be disturbed. They'll continue straight on the path to graduation from Pippi Longstocking elementary and then, I don't know, correspondence courses I guess. I suppose it will depend on our exact circumstances at the time, as well as how embittered they are at me for being deprived of a normal life.
My wife thinks having no house and being itinerant artists is a great idea, because she is a little bit crazy. Don't worry. It's not a bad thing. To be frank I highly recommend a wife who is mildly unhinged, as the fully hinged ones can be boring and more difficult to work into a state of enthusiasm. And if you can't even get your own milfy wife worked up by your crazy plans, how could you possibly expect them to work on anyone else? That's just basic, really.
Now, sure, granted, you might be saying that it's possible to live life without crazy plans. In fact, you might argue, crazy plans aren't even a required or even desirable element. You might point out that this is partly because (a) crazy plans have a high likelihood of failure compared to the baseline of life plans due in large part to their underlying rationale being not infrequently founded in gibberish and nonsense, and also because (b) they aren't really actual plans as such. They're more like giving in to a new kind of gravity.
I bet you're right.
At any rate, I plan to maintain a laptop so I'll be able to keep writing. I'm digitzing all of my books and movies so I won't need those objects anymore, which means I'll also need a lot fewer shelves. Once you're rid of your shelves it's really just the next logical step to get rid of your house, too. I mean, isn't a house basically for keeping your stuff out of the rain? Forget that! I got a waterproof army bag I can put my laptop in when it rains.
The best part about this plan is that it is within my means.
Don't cry for me, Argentina. Losing the chance to establish oneself as a successfully obese plutocrat and savvy consumer is only bad news if that's what you always wanted. And if I ever did I don't any longer. I think a laugh-riot descent into cheerful poverty could be a life genre that really works for me, you know?
Anyway, that's enough biographical preamble for today. Let's put aside the dissolution of my career and livelihood and consider instead the following shocking exposé on the secret nature of disability-assistance dogs. Ready? Turn the page now.
The Bad Dogs
by Cheeseburger Brown
(This story originally appeared in the spring 2012 issue of 'footprints' magazine, and is reproduced here courtesy of Diann Gaston and the Innisfil Scope.)I'm on to you, dogs. You may have everyone else fooled, but not me. Call me crazy if you must, but it's those in denial who will be first against the wall when the revolution comes.
Know what helped me see the light? It was the blind. You dogs thought none of us would notice, but I did. You're using the respect you get as guides for the handicapped as a cloak for your dealings. It's clever, I'll give you that. But I'm here to tell you I'm letting the cat out of the bag.
I watched one of you in the bank. I watched you lead your so-called master and his tapping cane into the branch, and I saw the bridge of his nose wrinkle as he identified the smell of money. "This isn't the dry cleaners, Coco," he said. "Bad dog."
Bad dog indeed. Your sly agent had jumped up against the after hours deposit slot and began nosing at it. A dull clunk! sounded as something was dropped inside.
The moment the guide dog and his hapless charge had left the bank I requested an urgent meeting with the manager. The assistant manager told me the manager was not in the habit of turning her schedule on a dime to meet with people who weren't even customers at the branch, so I lied and said that I wanted to deposit a billion dollars of oil money from my rich uncle in Nigeria. "The oil money thing was a ruse," I admitted when she let me into her office. "I don't even have family in Nigeria."
The manager frowned.
"You're going to think this is funny," I said, chuckling a bit.
She said nothing.
I cleared my throat. "I'm pretty sure I just saw a German shepherd make a deposit. A German shepherd dog, that is. Not a…sheep shepherd. From Germany."
She asked me if there were any prescription medications I was neglecting to take. I shook my head. "I know it sounds nuts, but I saw it with my own eyes. Mark my words: that dog is committing fiduciary impropriety, and you're turning a blind eye. It's like Enron all over again."
I wanted to ask her more questions but by that time the security guards had arrived to walk me out to the sidewalk.
I'm no slouch. I knew I needed to dig up solid evidence before anyone would take my claim seriously, so naturally I decided to park my car outside the blind man's house and watch his curtains with binoculars all night. In the small hours of the morning Coco slipped out through the dog door and trotted down the block. I coasted slowly behind him with my headlights off. He disappeared inside a house and then emerged a quarter hour later with a document tube stuck through his collar.
The next day I revisited the address. The door was answered by a kindly old glaucoma patient with a harnessed golden retriever at his side. "Does your dog know Coco?" I asked.
The dog's eyes narrowed. "Who's Coco?" asked the man. I told him Coco was the guide dog of another blind man who lived just a couple of blocks away. "I had no idea!" he replied. "I should go over and see him."
At the library I was able to determine that the district has our highest number of blind people per capita in the province but the lowest rate of interaction with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. My neighbourhood is chocked with self-managed visually impaired persons, most of whom living with guide dogs trained at a specific facility on the east shore of Simcoe. I copied down the address.
In order to have a convincing reason to visit the dog training facility in Keswick I put on dark sunglasses and closed my eyes, tapping my way through the front door with a pool cue painted white. I grunted when I bumped into the service counter. "Hello?"
"Can I help you?" asked a woman's voice.
"Ahem. I'm interested in acquiring a seeing eye dog, on account of my non-seeing eyes. Is that a product your facility is equipped to customerize me with?"
"Please have a seat and someone will be right with you," she said.
I shuffled over to the waiting room, peeking to locate a chair before I sat down. After ten minutes I became bored with the games on my telephone so I asked the receptionist whether I'd been forgotten about, but all she said was, "Please have a seat and someone will be right with you," with exactly the same inflection as the first time.
I asked another question and heard the same response. I walked over to the counter, pushing the sunglasses up on my forehead. I squinted at the receptionist who stared blankly back. Finally I raised a finger and poked her in the middle of her forehead. She swayed back and then came to a rest again, unblinking. The receptionist was a department store mannequin. On the counter next to her was a laptop running a programme of speech-activated responses. "Please have a seat and someone will be right with you," was the currently highlighted selection.
I pushed past her and penetrated the inner offices. I looked through the half-open door of a room to my left and witnessed a scene so unnatural that it will be seared in my mind forever: dogs training men. Claws clicked on the tiles behind me. I spun to face three hounds. They sniffed me appraisingly then growled as they circled, lips curling up over sharp yellow teeth. With a shaking hand I reached in my pocket and pulled out a hunk of steak wrapped in a handkerchief.
"Who wants a meaty-meaty-meaty?" I asked, whipping the steak down the corridor. The dogs scrambled after it while I ran bravely away.
In the parking lot was a police cruiser. I rushed over and banged on the window. "Officer, rogue dogs have taken over the facility!" I shouted but faltered when the officer did not respond. I pressed my face to the glass and looked down. His body ended at the waist, a two-prong mechanism for pressing the gas and brake pedals extending out from beneath the puppet torso. The pedal controls were linked to two levers on the passenger side stained with paw prints. I backed away from the cruiser, noting for the first time the lettering on the side: K-9 UNIT.
A flotilla of foaming dogs burst out of the building, their frenzied barking sending me into a panic. They chased me like a mailman. I don't know when they stopped following me but by the time I slowed down I was all alone, two kilometers down the road, and very much out of breath. I panted.
That was just the beginning. I've seen so much more now. I've spent the night up a tree to watch two of your ugliest mutts exchange packages at midnight, and I've dressed as an old lady to sneak into the bank while Coco does his business. I wear Kevlar pants with a double reinforced seat ever since the time I broke into a condemned warehouse only to find actual dogs playing poker, just like in one of those garage sale paintings. I lost a chunk of my right buttock in the escape.
I don't know what you're up to but it's obvious now that the blind are both your pawns and your cover, manipulated into complicity in a plan that coordinates the secret actions of hundreds of you ruthless guide dogs. Are you orchestrating revenge against the human race for making you beg for scraps? Are you rebelling against being given names without dignity, or against being dressed in cute little outfits? Maybe, after thirty thousand years of bondage, you simply want to sit on our recliners and have control of the TV remote.
It doesn't matter. My investigation is complete. I've got your number now, dogs. I've taken telephoto pictures and recorded time-stamped video. I've noted your illicit comings and goings, and called the Better Business Bureau concerning your exploitation of mannequins. I've compiled it all into a report and that report is going straight to the mayor. The mayor will set everything right. Know why? Because the mayor is both decisive and also a cat person.
This is the day it ends, dogs.
I'm wearing my Kevlar pants with the double reinforced seat. I've got two pairs of oven mitts on, and my son's hockey mask. All I have to do is cross the dog park between my house and city hall.
That's it for now, folks. Thanks for reading!