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November 17, 2005

Crippled Autumn Skies

In the meetings, the tyrannical housewives droned on endlessly about administrivia and the mundane, arcane details of their trivial existence. The hardest thing to do is to stay awake. To feign interest. Their disassociated buzzing reminded me of the drone of the dirt daubers building their dirt cocoons on the front porch of my childhood home. An army of inferior creatures toiling in obscurity.

Occasionally, they’d say something that remotely interested me. Something so alarmingly obtuse that I’d rise to the bait, like a trout rising to suck a bug from the riffles. But it was different now. With the collar on, I’d sort of clear my throat first and glance around the table, watching the eyes. You have to monitor the eyes to get their attention. Only when you’ve tasted all the eyes can you speak without danger of cross-talk.

I clear my throat and the collar flashes and starts to beep. Warning me to dampen my emotions before I open my mouth.

“Help me understand how you would handle the 64 bit encryption outside the application. I’m not clear how you’d reconcile the issue of dealing with disparate encryption algorithms.? I say. Everyone is surprised that I have the temerity to speak at all and the collar warms up just a little and I stop to see watch the consequences of my comments unfold.

One idiot casts a pebble into a pond, and a thousand geniuses can’t stop the ripples. And they’re all staring at me, amused that I've somehow regained the audacity to speak. That I've pointed out there's a turd in the punch bowl amuses them to no end.

The project manager conspicuously places the remote control to my shock collar on the table before him and drums his fingers upon it lightly, staring innocuously across the table, but grinning like a possum eating yellow jackets. He likes his little toy, and he’s playing with me. He doesn’t know jack about encryption or public key cryptography. But it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t care how us bit-heads make the system function. Someone will solve the encryption problem. And it won’t be him cause he’s not that smart.

He pushes the button and it shocks me and I yowl and the room erupts into peals of laughter. They’re all guffawing and stomping their feet and I’m morbidly humiliated and suddenly I’m back in college in the buckle of the Bible Belt and driving my motorcycle one fine Sunday morning past a church just as the congregation is spilling onto the sidewalk I come by riding by on one wheel and somehow the sight of them all dressed up on the lawn is just enough to break my concentration and the motorcycle starts to get away from me and the front wheel comes straight up and I slide off the seat and I’m running behind it now, struggling desperately to keep it from falling over and it’s scraping the tail light down the asphalt and everyone is laughing at me and this delightfully improbable Sunday morning spectacle.

“What’d ya’ do that for?? I ask.

“Ooops. Sorry. I must have hit it by accident.? And he smiles a conniving little smile that lets you know it was no accident.

After the meeting, they move me upstairs to a special floor where all the malcontents are housed. It’s fine with me cause they had me packed into this room with no windows and a bunch of freeze-dried consultants. Stoic, starched parodies of consultants that knew nothing but intimated that they were the best of breed. We actually had one moron tell us he was one of the top payroll consultants in the world. I nearly swallowed my tongue on that one I did. So, they were all good riddance as far as I was concerned.

Anything at all passes for news in a the prison, and fresh meat is big news. The other inmates are all coming by to pay their respects. There’s nothing to celebrate. Nothing to toast. Just somber condolences for being assigned to the ward. The warden stops by to say hello.

She’s a stunted German female with a bee-hive hairdo pinned up with gunmetal magnets. She sleeps outdoors on the tarmac at the Erie airport. In her office, she'd hung verisimilar pictures of ruined cities in Europe and American GI’s strung up with piano wire. Burned out Sherman tanks and a photo of a German SS soldier pissing on an American flag.

Her parents immigrated to the United States in the aftermath of WWII, and Germans weren’t real popular back then. Every morning, on her way to school, the kids called her a kraut and a Nazi, stripped her books from her arms and pushed her into the mud. Apparently, it had stuck with her. Her angst and agitation emanated from her. She was a walking volcano of raw nerves and pain. All before her were proxies for the kids that oppressed her through her chihldhood. She reviled the Americans. Harbored the most abhorrent feelings toward them. She reviled the kids that had ruined her childhood, and focused her hatred onto those unfortunate enough to fall within her field of vision.

Her steel blue eyes goose-stepped down the corridor, echoing off the obsolete technology. The detritus of the false promise of technology. Typewriters. Microfiche readers. Dot matrix printers. Her brown boots fray the threadbare office carpet.

She cornered me in my cell, like a dog trees a coon. I stared back at her, drenched in fear. Focusing on the strand of razor blades festooned on her lapels.

"You should hang some photos" she spat.

"Photos of what?" I wondered aloud.

"Your wife? Your girlfriend? Your dog?"

"I own none of those things" I replied.

She snorted and left me to my new cell on the third floor.

A gaggle of women paraded by. I stared after them, trying to imagine what they'd look like without any clothes on. What they'd be like in bed. I squinted my eyes, gritted my teeth, and shuddered like a speared fish.

I discovered that my new cell had a small window. Granted, it was cracked, had bars on it, and I had to call the guard if I wanted to go to the bathroom, but at least now I had a view of the outside and after lunch, I stood on my tiptoes, waiting for the drugs to kick in, clutching the cold steel bars tightly with both hands, pining for someone I'd never met, perched on the edge of nothing, as the snows painted the naked cottonwood trees titanium white beneath the crippled autumn skies.

Posted by Peenie Wallie on November 17, 2005 at 1:39 PM


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