How to be a Human

“We’ve never been drunk together. Isn’t that weird, that we’ve been friends for this long and we’ve never been drunk together?”

“There was that one time–or, you weren’t drunk that time, were you?”

“No, I wasn’t. You got dangerous, that time. You were up to some–”

“That’s true. It was a close call. Did you know that I saw her on the streetcar last year? She was being verbally assaulted by a homeless man, and it was during the assault that I realised that I knew her.”

“Did you talk?”

“We talked for a couple of stops. I think I showed her my wedding ring.”

“What’s her name again?”

“I don’t know, I couldn’t remember it.”

“Maybe it’s not so strange that we haven’t been drunk together. It doesn’t seem like you use alcohol for that reason.”

“For what reason?”

“To get outside yourself. It seems like you’d rather go in a forest or write or something.”

“That’s true…” Later, A. tells me he will cover for me and let me sleep on his couch. But I am firm and I don’t want to do it. So we go outside to my bicycle and laugh as a man on Augusta St. quacks to his friends like a duck.

On the other side of me, G. is drinking a “Wit”.

“This wheat beer tastes like shit.”

“Wheat beer? Oh, you’re drinking a ‘Wit’.”

“It’s pronounced ‘Weet’.”

“I did not know that.”

***

From “Mendelson’s Robot Maintenance”:

“In the absence of more acceptable fuel, a medium-sized robot can be fed an equivalent of up to two-thousand kilojoules of leftover human food a day, ground up and mixed with an equal amount of water to form an easily ‘digestible’ slurry. Care must be taken to weigh out the fuel carefully, and not to trust to manufacturer’s serving sizes. Every kilojoule over the two-thousand kilojoule limit will build up in oily deposits around the robot’s motor servos. While a certain amount of this oily discharge is unavoidable, the consequences of inexact measurement can be significant. For example, twenty years of 90 extra kilojoules a day, or roughly one extra slice of bread, can equal over twenty pounds of oily discharge, greatly hampering your robot’s movement and potentially threatening its more vital internal mechanisms.”

***

Standing between the two of them, I don’t know how to act. To me the two men are opposite poles. Warm and cold. It seems impossible that they can exist on the same spectrum, or that they could both find things in common with me. When the two men are together, one devours the other, and then the devoured devours the other one. And I see by this how they are different, and I see how two strong personalities define themselves in relation to the other.

Who am I in between them?

***


“It can seem odd to expose your robot to the unnecessary danger of hugs, horseplay, and games. But the archaic ceremony of friendship–between robots, humans, and animals–is a necessary mechanism. Without a certain amount of daily concessions, a robot can start to think itself master over everything, and so become a potentially volatile housemate.

“If a robot is not humbled daily, you will soon find that it is unwilling to join in any sort of activity that asks of it anything more than its newfound sense of self-containment allows. At the lowest end of the spectrum, it becomes taciturn and stubborn. At the highest end, the robot is in danger of exiling itself, or even of becoming a potential usurper. Small children and animals are particularly vulnerable in this arrangement, especially if you are too dominant an owner for the robot to consider your overthrow in its violent revolution.”

***

So rarely do I think of myself as a person that could be perceived as being “gruff”. In my head, the internal mechanisms that lead to exterior gruffness are instead evidence of a lack of good breeding, or of a clouding-mind fog that forms socially and causes blindness to the true, right actions that I must perform.

Walking out from the gym, on a Thursday, my face is pink and heaving. There is a sharp line beneath my high cheeks–the knife-line of a Vladimir or a Viking. Because my nose is stuffed up, my mouth is open, breathing regular and deep, my teeth showing. I am wearing a leather jacket. I notice, as I walk down the hallway, that the men I pass are deferring to me. In the mirror I am shocked by the violent monster heaving and blowing black clouds of dragon-smoke out of his mouth.

I felt satisfied and confident, but not violent; the image in the mirror is disconcerting. What is this blindness to the effects of my long inhabited body?


***
“I don’t understand why people say marriage is hard because you have to make compromises. Well, yeah. You have to make compromises in every personal relationship! There isn’t anything about marriage that is particularly prone to compromise.”

So says Lisa, my wife.

***

“Due to a defect in their primary code, occasionally two robots will fall in love. Do not under any circumstances allow this to happen. The two robots will, over the span of their short courtship, take each other apart piece by piece, sometimes until there is nothing left but the CPU casings and a single servo arm between them.

“This can be particularly devastating if you are the unhappy owner of the more expensive of the two models, as sometimes the robots will reassemble each other, caring little for who originally wore which parts. Many an unscrupulous person has carried off titanium serving arms, or emerald oculars, by coaching his robot to fall in love with unattended robots.

“If a group of six or seven robots fall in love, and your robot is one of them, there is little chance of ever tracking down the new owner of that heirloom vacuum-tube attachment.”

****

Right now we are all at karaoke. What would it take for me to go up and sing? A pint of vodka in a clear glass? Vodka, its lack of opacity, is fetishized because as a young man (I am still a young man) I read Tolstoy, and in his novels and short novels, vodka is only drunk by the glassful.

I have had five drinks in all tonight and I can feel parts of my brain turning over from the alcohol. The Inebriated Stranger has my idea, he goes up to the front and he is horrible, an awful singer slurring his words, but he has done it.

Sitting at the table in front of us, Lilah, in her blue dress, with white hair and her sixties glasses, sits and reads the song listings with a light-up magnifying glass. She is patient, nursing a beer, eating french fries layered with curd and brown grease. Later she will get from her table, go up to the stage at the front, and sing.

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