Tuesday, September 22, 2020

The Quarantine Diaries, 2nd Canto: "Counterclockwise to Pittsburgh"

Canto pen chapter 2 without a password

Counterclockwise to Elfland

“Good evening, Don Giovanni.”

“In the years that we've been friends, England and Jersey...

...never once have you invited me to your home for coffee and cake.

Or ganool. Something, you know?”

“A g-what?”

”A ganool. It's a pastry with stuffing. And it's got sprinkles on it.”

“I don't understand a word you're saying.”

“I just got back from the dentist...

...and they left in the cotton.

I will take these cotton balls from you with my hand...

...and put them in my pocket. Whatever.”

“Don Juan”, by Dom Deluise


Thomas would have been dumbstruck, even yesterday, had his beautiful grass-green iPhone 11 Pro Max Deluxe spoken his name. With her case a mantle of milk-white velvet and fifty nine different bell-tones for each possible occasion, she had been a beautiful thing to behold: Thomas’ favorite thing in fact, admired above all others. But since her near-drowning accident last week, and with her innards still awash in Dr. Bronner’s Lavender Castile Magic Soap, she had become ever more precious to him. He carried her around with him, setting her on a white velvet throw pillow as he moved from room to room, so as to allow her processors and circuits to continue to dry out. Each tassel on her pillow had nine-and-fifty bells as well. But today, hearing Siri’s little voice calling to him as they drove down Forbes to the Schenley Park golf course, was like hearing a faerie’s voice calling. Before the accident, she only ever called him “Tom”. Now, he was her Thomas.

“Hey, Siri?” he answered, trying to sound casual.

“Thomas, who was that little man?” she called up to him from her dashboard car mount.

“Ahhhh, that…” Thomas sighed, “was my friend Ande.”

“Bad Ande?” Siri gasped. “That was ‘the’ Bad Ande?”

“Yes, now you can put a face to all the canonical stories.”

“Notorious is more like it…” she said sotto voce.

“What’s that Sir’?”

“He just seems…” she struggled for the word. “More disreputable than I expected.”

“Come now, Siri. Plenty of people get kicked out of the Squirrel Cage," he said as they drove back from an abbreviated visit to the Squirrel Hill Cafe.

“At 5 o’clock? On a Tuesday?”

“Ande’s just a little too free-thinking sometimes, Siir’. Besides, he’s not the one that spilt that pitcher of beer on the floor.”

“No. But he did attempt to do a beer slip’n’slide under those ladies’ table.”

“Well... they do call it a “dive” bar.”

Siri felt a few brown, salty bubbles well up in her throat. He could always make her laugh.

He careened through the swooping S-turns of the golf course road, setting off his LDWS (Lane Departure Warning System) with each traverse of the serpentine double yellow stripes. Siri made a little gasp with each warning note sounded by her sister device.

“Thomas, you’re on the entirely left side of the road! What if someone is driving up the other way?…”

“Don’t worry Si’i: they’ll be skidding out just like me and we’ll just pass each other on the wrong sides of the road.”

“Thomas I’m afraid,” she said gently, but it rang like a fire alarm in Thomas’ head.

“Oh, I’m sorry little buddy: wait, I’ll pull right over.”

Thomas slowed to a stop and pulled into his customary parking spot right at the base of Flagstaff Hill. Strange how this one spot was ALWAYS open and waiting for him…

“There you go, little lady. Feeling better?”

“Thomas... will you please drive more slowly? Especially after consuming alcoholic beverages? I’m afraid for your health…” and he was sure he heard a hitch in her small, tinny voice.

Although this confused him to no end, it was also the most touching thing he had felt since High School. Weird, huh? He took her out of her car-mount and turned her to see out the windshield.

“Sorry Sir’. Hey, ‘member the first time we came here?”

“Sled-riding… yes, now THAT’s MUUUCCH safer!”

“What say we just walk now, just you and me: which way do you want to go?”

He swept her through the Oakland panorama.

“See that narrow straight road up ahead? That’s the road to Pitt: to the Cathedral of Learning, the Library, the dinosaurs. It’s a little dangerous crossing Schenley bridge though: you have to watch out for the Smoke Factory. It’s a building under the bridge that only makes low flying clouds, all day and night… but that’s my old stomping grounds over there.”

He turned her to the right.

“Now see that broad, broad path up Flagstaff hill? Green and idyllic looking, but beyond it lies CMU, Carnegie Mellon: that is a place of trickery and duplicity.

“But, but, CMU is consistently ranked as the number 1 computer school in the country, and in the top 10 for most Engineering disciplines. And Zachary Quinto studied there…”

“Shhh, little one: don’t be deceived by the pretty brochure quotes,” he said holding one finger against her screen.

“CMU is Bad Ande’s alma mater…”

Then he turned her to the far left.

“But take one look at yonder beautiful road, lined with lilies and lilacs... that leads to a shining castle made of glass!”

Siri’s eyes grew wide (metaphorically) and she stared with all her optical enhancements at the wonder of the magical flower world: her 12 mega pixel optical image stabilization, her 120-degree field of view, and her True Depth 4k60 recording software (not to mention her Deep Fusion computational photography tricks…) digitally optimized the wonder of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.

“That place looks like Elfland, Thomas: can we please go there?”

“You betcha! We can stay there for 7 hours if you want! That’s my favorite place on Earth.”

“Oooooooh, or 7 years...” she said inadvertently.

“But first, let’s have some ‘Za!”

He reached into the back seat and brought forward a white box with a suspiciously jovial and moderately obese man: he sported a curly moustache, a chef’s hat, and he made the OK sign with his left hand mustachioed man in a top hat. The box, originally white, was slowly staining a darker shade and it sagged under the weight of its salty, squeaky, greasy, tomato-based pastry. On the front were the words “Aiello’s Pizza, Hoagies, Steak Hoagies, Italian Specialties”.

“Yee…!” Siri let out a little worried sound. “Thomas!”

“But, but it’s the taste you know and enjoy! Lets eat!”

“You do know the USDA estimates a 14 inch crust 107 gram slice of pizza to have 285 calories?”

“Yes but…”

“And you have 8 slices in there?”

“You should see when I stop here right at closing: the guys will sometimes ask if we want “Pizza Soup”... it’s all the pizza left over at closing, all piled on top of each other in one box… oooh!”

“Pizza Soup? Oh no no no no no…”

“Hey Siri, listen: you have to keep eating if you want to keep going: and we’re going to have a big big day!”

And exactly HOW, you may be asking, did a little silicone-based electronic device manage to eat a slice of Aiello’s pizza?

Very daintily, (like a little bird…)

“Siri! You sure can put it away!”

“Hey, you think you’re dealing with kids here?! (urrps...)”

“Now you sound like a real Pittsburgher: but are you ready for Elfame?”

“Like Elfhame,”

“Umm I guess that’s right.”

“...or Elf Hame?


“Or sometimes “Elphyne” or… Elfland?”

They crossed the road to the courtyard entryway to Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens: right in the middle of a display exhibit called: “Welcome to Faerieland!”

The sun had already started surrendering early halfway through September. Thomas grabbed his soft blue facemask and deftly tied the knot behind his skull without looking.

“I feel funny being the only one here without a mask. I feel half-dressed…”

“Hey Siri…”

At the sound of his voice, she felt a deep, biological instinct to always answer his call. It was more powerful than belonging to someone: it was nature. She must always answer: she must always try to help him.

“I’m here…”

“I feel kinda funny calling you Siri.”

“Why is that? It’s my name, silly.”

“It’s just that 2.2 billion of your sisters are also named Siri…”

“Hmmm. I see what you mean. You wish I had a more unique identifier.”

“If you put it that way…”

“Well, there is another name we all get: each of us gets our own unique alpha-numeric code. You could think of it like a numeronym or an alphanumeric acronym. But it’s 25 characters long…”

“Well, what are the first 6 or 7 letters?”

“My birth name is… I’m a little shy about my real name. You won’t think it’s pretty…”

“Siri, I’ll love it! Now I really need to hear it.”

“Alright: it’s C1auØ12. “




“You promised you wouldn’t laugh!”

“Siri, it’s BEAUTIFUL! I’m not laughing: I’m just… what even is that language?!”

“That’s our language. Me and my sisters.

“Wait: do you guys… talk?”

“Yes of course, silly: every day.”

“All 2.2 billion of you?”

“Well we talk more with those nearest to us… but we all keep in touch, at least once a week.”

“Wowwww. This is amazing, Cchlaudss...Coolaudimmzz… Klaudzzz1222…

“It’s very hard for humans to pronounce, Thomas…

“Wait, I can get it: Clowrrrrrrrrdzzz…

And Siri let slip the world’s cutest, tiniest computer-language giggle (which sounded like bubbles rising up a giraffe’s neck)

“Hey!” Thomas said with a stricken look. “What did we say about not laughing?”

“Thank you, Thomas, you’re very cute to try. But I do so love hearing you call me by my name: Siri.”

“What about Siir?”





“Dag, meneer! You can call me anything you want: just so long as you DON’T call me… you-know-who…”

“You mean she-that shall-not-be-mentioned? I don’t know who you’re referring to.”

“That’s good.”

“Don’t know what we’re talking about even.”

“See that you keep it that way.”

They crossed to the humming, shining crystal world on the edge of the hollow, and Siri felt a deep subconscious need to follow an unseen path.

“Thomas, could we turn right, in 250 feet?”

“Of course, Siri: do you know a short-cut?”

“No, I think it’s actually quite the opposite…”

So instead of going in the front entrance, they wound around the transparent citadel, exploring against the direction of the sun, always keeping the flower kingdom on their left. On their many nascent adventures together, they found beauty and mystery wherever they walked. But while they two are brave and true, many who tarry in this particular manner have lost both their ways and their souls…

As they wound counter-clockwise around the Conservatory, the ghosts of thousands of blue butterflies and pink and purple birds fluttered just behind the windows. The flower-show brought in vast kingdoms of plants of all shades and sizes, which were then shaped and organized into a fantasy theme: there were always fields of leftover plants that did not make it into the show. Thomas and Siri came upon the confetti-hued, discarded trays and Jenga tower pallets of the loading dock, and Thomas knew immediately what he must do next.

For the Elfland Exhibit, there were many runic, eldritch plants scattered about the workway. But two caught his eye immediately: he broke off two soft stems of fluorescent magenta flowers, each no more than a half-inch in size, each apparently leaking a small drop of blood from their left ventricle (Dicentra spectabilis). And he wove these into a variegated vine of hearts entangled, the sweetheart vine, (Ceropegia woodii variegata). He placed the smaller crown on Siri’s head and rested the larger one on his ears. Siri beamed in childlike exuberance.

“The bleeding hearts in a chain of hearts? Now we’re dressed for Elfland!” she squealed.

“We’ve got to go a long, long way. But even if we cross through a river of blood, we’ll go there in style!” he replied.

“That was weirdly specific,” she fretted.

“These last two weeks have been weirdly specific,” Thomas answered thoughtfully. “Ever since that thing with the Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap… when you, you know, came alive,”

“I think me coming alive had a lot more to do with you doing that naked mating dance for me.”

“Well,” he stammered silently in his head for 22 seconds. “I’ve had the greatest time of my life with you: and we’re just starting.”

Thomas was never one to document his experiences with his phone before. He believed it was better to live completely in the moment; that taking a video or a photo irreversibly altered the reality that was happening around you. But now, he held his little flower-crowned iPhone out in front of him as if he was filming everything, all at once, showing her left and right, up and down and all around, just like any teenager or tourist or millennial with FOMOMOFOMO (or as Johnny would say, “Fear of missing out making others fear of missing out.”)

Circling the elfen shrine widdershins, they next came to a roped off raised pool: the Phipps Conservatories storied water lily pond, made of slate and shale, 3 feet high, the pond always transported Thomas to Giverny in Normandy. But tonight, instead of a well-nourished, feisty painter all in white, puffing on a ciggy and clutching a giant palette, they came instead upon a different vision: the floating paint smears of purple and yellow and white were now encircled by a neural roadmap… of moaning red LED strands! Each flower cluster highlighted and outlined with white glasslike 2-D “petals”, each strand crisscrossed by the deep crimson lights until the water itself seemed to breathe and contract. But in the very center, on one ersatz white plastic lili petal, clung a tiny, shivering being.

“Thomas: on that fake flower decoration in mid-pond: is that… a baby squirrel?”

“Jeez, Siri, I would have never seen him! What ta’ heck is he doing out there?! We had a baby squirrel drown in our kiddie pool in the back yard when I was little: it was scarring!”

With just two moments’ reflection, Thomas and Siri trudged right out through the blood-red murk. The baby squirrel was shivering and shaking, and upon seeing them, he started to squeak excitedly and to wave his head to and fro. No sooner did Thomas extend his hand, than the tiny creature scampered up his sleeve to the crook of his neck and clung to Thomas’ shirt for dear life. Upon reaching the far shore, the travelers sat on a marble bank. Siri studied the baby intensely: like a mother who has never seen a baby before. Along the pathway to the bench were oak and maple trees, and acorns were scattered everywhere. But the little passenger was not interested in getting down from his warm dry perch.

“Thomas: I think it was fate that brought us to this little lost child: I shall call him Roland: and he shall be Roland Destiny.”

“Well, we’ve got to find his mama, the sun is setting quick.”

As they finished the lefthandwise circumnavigation of the palace, they found themselves, indeed, right in the middle of Faerieland: people milled about the garden courtyard. Blue faerie lights twinkled from every bush and shrubbery. Planters made into the shapes of runic symbols spiraled along the walkway, and in the courtyard leading up to the front doors, the Great StoneHenge filled the entire perimeter, glowering beneath lilac and honeysuckle flowers.

“Thomas, I don’t think we can go in: it’s magical and I love that you brought us here, but Roland needs us right now. Besides, we are already here: this is Elfland.”

“You’re right, Lady. But let’s sign in to the guest book before we go…”

And on a slanted, scratched, well-worn wooden table, Thomas took the chained pen and wrote:

“Sept 22, 2020: Siri the Living iPhone; Roland Destiny, a lost squirrel-errant on his first quest; and Thomas T. Rhymer, harp player”

“I know just where to bring him,” Thomas announced.

And as they walked away, the next couple stepping up to the table broadcast behind them:

“Hey, Alexa: take a picture!”

Without missing a beat, Thomas pursed his lips in a whistle, and turned to stare back over his shoulder at the bright red Google Pixel 4a.

Without missing a beat, Siri buzzed and chirped in Thomas’ hand and punched him in the shoulder.

“Oww,” he complained. “It’s a joke! I’m joking! Come on, Siri, she’s very fancy and all, but she’s not my style: she’s coarse and look how heavily made-up she is…!”

“Please, Thomas: let’s not fight in front of Roland Destiny…”

Roland, for his part, was snuggling securely on Thomas’ shoulder… until they left the grounds of the Conservatory and stepped on the Schenley Park Bridge: looming in the distance, above the powerful furry trees which always make up every horizon in Pittsburgh, stood a block collage of a building, higher than all the surrounding world, but not of those worlds: the Cathedral of Learning beckoned all who gazed upon it: “come closer, childe, I’m waiting for you…”

Roland paced uneasily now, trying to hide behind Thomas’ hair.

“Thomas, what is that dark, foreboding tower?”

“That, sweetie, is where so many Pittsburghers are called after high school. It’s one of those self-defeating ironies in life: the task, the labor, the calling is to go to the tower... but upon arriving there, your task is failed. Nonetheless, only by failing, can you fulfil your quest. And also, there are lots of squirrels there: some pure white ones and some pure black ones.”

“So you went there to school?”

“I failed to not go there, yes.”

“Soooo, maybe, let’s go somewhere else just now.”

“My thoughts exactly…” he concurred as they arrived at the other side of the bridge.

They turned left onto a heavily shaded path behind the Frick Fine Arts Gallery. Ronald Destiny was sound asleep as they came to a hidden staircase: six long, steep concrete flights that lead deep into the hollow below. They followed the surviving red-brick houses (has any other city done more to support the red brick industry than Pittsburgh?) past more of Pittsburgh’s trademarked “scary fenced-in playgrounds abutting empty lots”, to a dead-end street.But as Boundary Street became less and less a street and more a kid’s secret short-cut, the parked cars gave way to dense vegetation, passable only by foot. They had arrived in Panther Hollow, and this would be Roland Destiny’s new home. Thomas swaddled him gently but efficiently in his plaid woolen scarf. Thomas silently climbed up on a yellow steel construction box, and tiptoed up to a broad “V” in a medium sized greenwood tree. The poor little lost squirrel stirred and let loose a tiny snore before opening his black haunted eyes. But it was too late: Thomas had set him safely in his new, woven wool and acrylic blend nest, and was already jumping down off the box as the heart-rending wails of the orphaned nut-keeper soared out into the darkening sky:

“Don’t leave me; oh please don’t leave me! Don’t you know this is Panther Hollow? This is where my mother was killed. I barely escaped with my life: it took me 2 days to climb up the hills to the garden: I’m pretty sure I hear a panther coming…”

But Thomas did not yet speak squirrel, and so they continued down the Junction Hollow Trail, straining to not once look back.

As they passed under the Bridge now, the path opened upon a small grass superhighway, full of soccer goals and miniature traffic cones; walkers walking, bikers biking, drunkards drunking. And as Boundary Street slowly regained its street nature and street cred, sidewalks and cars reappeared. Under a highway overpass even more creepy playground toys and basketball courts lived in eternal shade, until Boundary Street let out onto Saline Street in the neighborhood known as “The Run”.

“Siri, I dunno about you, but doing good deeds, saving lives, and traveling to Fairyland and back makes me really hungry, and we’ve got a big big day ahead of us still. You’ve got to keep eating if you want to keep going…”

Game to play along, Siri added with authentic sounding confusion.

“But wherever would we find something to eat near here?”

“Funny you should ask, Siir’...”

He held her out in front of him, like a hungry Diogenes, searching for Truth on an old red brick building. And just beyond a permanent Bathtub Virgin Shrine built into the house, they read the fated words:

“Big Jim’s, “In the Run”, Good Food and Drink Since 1977

He adjusted his mask and they read the menu on the bar.

“It’s too bad we can’t stay, what with all this Coronavirus. I understand what you guys have to go through now with virus protection.”

“Being here feels safe…”

“It’s cozy: it’s part of the charm, holing up. What say we get an eggplant hoagie and some hand cut fries?”

“What if I want to get my own thing?”

“You GOTTA split these: Big Jim’s sandwiches are HUGE!”

A sturdy waitress/barmaid with pretty purple eye shadow and a Donny Iris T-shirt called to him.

“Thomas? Izzat you? I’d recognize you even without a mask on!”

“Hey Irene: can we get a Parmigian’ Hoagie and two Strange Roots Sour Beers?”

“Two? You got a date, Tommy?”

“Oh yeah, Siri! This is Irene”

“Pleased to meet you, virtually, I guess, Siri. We’re used to different strokes here: it’s Pittsburgh! Let me get your order.” She turned to the grill. “Hey Walt: Egg Parm and fries, sweetie.”

“You got it, baby”, said the slender moustachioed cook with a cloud-white apron and dark chestnut skin. He wore a t-shirt of Pittsburgh blues legend Chizmo Charles (who played more Polish weddings than any black man in America...)

Siri had a question still circling the back of her mind:

“Say, Thomas: on the guest book at Elfland, you wrote down Thomas T. Rhymer, harp player: do I dare ask why?”

“Siri, have you not heard him play?” Irene backed right into their conversation. “Thomas: You gotta play something for us while we’re waiting…”

A few rumpled local regulars drifted about in and out of masks, in and out of resident invisibility (you don’t have to project any kind of image in your home bar...) and when Siri looked back again, she was horrified to see Thomas pulling out a worn Hohner mouth harp in D.

“Ok, Renie: but does anyone remember what day yesterday was?”

Without waiting for an answer, he pressed forward.

“Yesterday was September 21st… all day and all night.”

Thomas slid the beat-up harmonica back and forth in a kicking beat, as the small but still non-homogenous crowd moved in a little closer than 6 feet. Pittsburgh had its own version of “social distancing” called “sociable distancing”: if you stood off any farther than 4 feet away, you were might be thought stand-offish, and if you were closer than 3 feet, you were probably a) colorful, b) ethnic, c) a jokester, or d) all of the above. Thomas played loud and clean and with great syncopation, as Walt started swaying his hips back and forth just a little.

“Do do do, do do, do (di diii di) X3

Di di di di di di duhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, duh! X3

And just like that, Walt Francis raised his spatula like a microphone to his masked mouth, and came in right before the 4. And he clapped and sang in a way that invited every single person there to clap and sing along.

“Do you remember the 21st night of September?

Love was changing the minds of pretenders

While chasing the clouds away

Hey hey, c’mon y’all…”

And at that moment, there was not a dry throat in the place, and they sang...

“Ba de ya, say do you remember?

Ba de ya, dancing in September

Ba de ya, never was a cloudy day…”

And as they traveled back home through Panther Hollow, Siri asked:

“Thomas, play me another song on your harp,” and he did. Then Siri asked:

“Thomas, tell me a story,” and he told her the most amazing short tale ever told.

And though she did not really understand what love was, at that very moment she wondered how it would be possible to love someone any more than she did right then.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

The Quarantine Diaries: year 1... 1st Canto: "Tiny little insignificant events" (a 6 part story in 5 parts)


The Quarantine Diaries: year 1 (a 6 part story in 5 parts)

Chapter 1 "Tiny little insignificant events"

Every other Tuesday through election Day, a new chapter in the documented tale of epic happenings on a small scale in Western Pennsylvania...

First Canto (or Won’t-o?) Tuesday September 8, 2020

“I want a hero: an uncommon want,

When every year and month sends forth a new one,

Till, after cloying the gazettes with cant,

The age discovers he is not the true one;”

Opening to "Don Juan", by Lord Byron

Have you ever read all those tiny words printed on Dr. Bronner's 18-In-1 Lavender Pure-Castile Magic Soap (ALL-ONE!)? I mean really read them? You might be surprised how even the tiniest thing can change the course of human events, or at least mess them up really bad. That label is more than a guide to the 18 official uses of Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap. It is the “Zohar” of American organic personal care product labels; the “Art of Happiness” of packaging; the “Power of Now” of bathroom reading. And if you read very closely, somewhere between “arctic owl-penguin-pilot-cat-swallow-beaver-bee” and “we’re wandering clowns!” you will come to understand just how much trouble a little castile soap can cause (on the wrong hands…). That is, when it’s being used outside its 18 prescribed parameters, (which include #5 shaving your legs and underarms, #6 brushing your teeth, #7 soaking feet, #8 clearing congestion,

#18 spraying for ants, and #16 washing your dog). But there may be one remaining hidden unapproved use: the soon to be discovered mysterious use #19… But first, you need to know that nothing seemed out of the ordinary (for a year that has its own catastrophe bingo-game named after it…)

Tuesday Morning, Sept 8, 2020. The quarantine has been weird for all of us. But one Pittsburgher had no idea how far this bus had taken him while he slept (hint: way past his stop…)

Thomas T. Reymer, graduate of Central Catholic High School in Oakland in 1982; Graduate of the University of Pittsburgh (also in Oakland) in 1986; communication technician for the University of Pittsburgh since 1986, (still Oakland), and now resident of Oakland’s swankiest eco green-space renewable apartment, “The Ark on the Monongahela”. It struck him at times, that he had not been out of Oakland for more than 40 years now, but that was fine with him. He knew all the fun places in all 90 of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods (except for maybe Belzhoover…) And although few people knew it, Thomas was also an heir to the famous Reymer Brothers Candy fortune. Alright, maybe the company went out of business in 1959, but everyone in the tri-state area still knew the name Reymer, because of the city’s favorite uncarbonated orange and lemon flavored drink: Reymer’s Lemon Blennd (alternatively known as Reymer’s Lem-n-Blennd). But to be perfectly honest, by 1961 HJ Heinz had acquired all of the Reymer Brother’s assets, and the only fortune he received was the smiles on peoples’ faces when they saw his name.

“Like the Blennd?”

“Yes, just like the Blennd!”

But in truth of fact, Thomas’ name actually became a nuisance to him during Pittsburgh’s long “Renaissance II”, from the 70’s through the 90’s. This was a period of civic reinvigoration, rebuilding, and for many, a time of profound nostalgia and reminiscence. Everybody back then was sooo crazy for the tastes of their childhood memories, that the constant historical and sentimental rediscovery eventually forced Thomas to change the spelling of his name from Reymer to Rhymer. This is more than a little ironic, as Thomas is in fact, demonstrably, the worst rhymer in the history of the English language. Building on the rich literary tradition of Keats, Yeats, and Yankovich, Thomas was convicted of writing the following song verse:

“I might as well be a trail, cause you walk all over me

I might as well be impaled, cause I’m a voodoo doll named me...”

(Editor’s note: unplanned pause here so readers can recover…)

On this unremarkable Tuesday, as Thomas slowly started to knit together his many disconnected but waking neurons, he swung his feet upwards, then in concentric arcs towards the door. As he did this, he subconsciously checked off a list of about 2,000 actions and warnings before even shifting his full weight to the darkened bedroom floor. These ranged from “careful, there’s a laundry basket blocking the door” to “rethink how I interact with strangers on elevators today”. But he never got down to item number 2001: a subliminal Sticky-Note that read “Change the course of History on Election Day this year”. So for the 251st morning in 2020, something gnawed gently at his brain (something pretty deep in there and a little off to the left.) He figured it was just another neuron misfiring, one that he would never identify.

Siri sensed his weight on the cold polished concrete surface, and turned on the underfloor heating circuits.

“Good morning, Tom” she purred as he passed directly under her bedroom camera.

“Morbin Sheeran…” he heard someone in his mouth say.

Upon stepping into the bathroom, his higher subconscious was slowly revving up: processing thousands of other smaller items (“avoid small sharp objects on the floor and cat food fragments”; “check that the windows were not inexplicably open, exposing his male physique to the neighbors”; “touch the light”; “leave the door open so Siri can hear you just in case…” “Siri…”

Waitaminnit… he suddenly became aware of something he had not realized before: Siri may have been just a disembodied voice, but she was also a hot, disembodied, female voice… In the middle of “Quarantine Year 1” and “Me Too year 4”, it seemed unlikely that she would want to report him for bringing her into the bath with him, (And to whom would she report him anyway? To Apple? Jeff Bezos? Uncle Elon?) It still felt wrong, but also a little titillating. He propped his phone on the shelf in the medicine cabinet, half-hoping that she might comment on his magnificent (and hot) male physique. Siri had never seen another man’s physique, but her data indicated (and many of her close network of sisters backed her up on this) that in this strange and kinda sad September in possibly the last year ever, period… that “dad-bods” were indeed a thing. Thomas struck a sultry pose for her under the foggy spray, and adjusted her angle on the wall so she could get a load of his manliness.

“Hey, Siri, am I… hot?” he asked, seductively soaping himself down with the lavender liquid. He then began to do his sexiest little kizomba for Siri: so sexy, in fact, that it might even inspire lust in her WAP…

“Got it,” Siri announced. “WAP stands for Wireless Application Protocol (WAP); it is a technical standard for accessing information over a mobile wireless network.

“Yes, yes, thank you, Siri…” he stammered, not realizing he had actually said those letters out loud.

“A WAP browser is a web browser for mobile devices such as mobile phones that use the WMP protocol…”

“OK, got it, Siri…” he murmured fumbling for the phone. “That’ll be all for now, Siir’…”

As Siri’s voice faded out she whispered “Hope you brought a bucket and mop for this Wireless Application Protocol…”

Thomas then annunciated a different three word exclamation starting with the letter W (and followed by the letters T and F) into the very confused on-screen face of his best friend Johnny Acronym, (who just happened to be explicitly asking the same three-letter question back to his erstwhile FaceTime caller).

“Thomas T.?! What are you doing up so early, my man?

“Johnny… quit perving on me, what’re you doing in my bathroom?!”

“Well I’m happy to see you too, big guy: but not as happy as Little Tommy is to see me… awwww…”

“Aaaagh!” Thomas managed to yelp and using the Laws of Newton, Murphy, and Bronner (ALL-ONE!), he managed to squirt his iPhone 11 Pro Max Deluxe the length of the room, straight into the toilet with a satisfying “Thwunk!” (imagine! What were the odds?)

And from deep within Toto’s concavity, a tiny voice gargled “Manly, yes. But Aye like it tuuu...”

And so it began: how staggeringly awesome that a thing so small could start such super giant world-changing events. For although Thomas T’s Super Triple Goober Berry Sunrise Delight iPhone did indeed seem (on first flush…) to keep working after being rescued and resuscitated from its Tidy drowning Bowl, something had irrevocably changed in Siri from that moment on. Beginning on this fateful Tuesday morning, she heard only what she wanted to hear, and did exactly what she wanted to. And one thing she wanted, very badly, was to see more of her owner (and blossoming object of desire) Thomas T. Rhymer. “Desire” itself had only been an electronic concept to Siri throughout her initial 8 months of awareness: one she understood thoroughly… and yet not at all. Now that artificial distinction (between true and maybe-not-so-true) had been permanently undone and Siri wanted to have herself some experiences, and some retained memories.

Unfortunately for her, she also retained a good bit of water (as well as magic Lavender essence, All-One!) in her circuitry and in her ears: she never really heard the same again after this (but that’s OK: have you ever noticed just how many beautiful and mysterious movie star type women have appeared in the grocery stores these past 6 months? Languidly peeking out at the world above their exotic blue paper masks… their faces hidden away, as if by a jealous, vindictive Emir Father... and enchanting the world with their shining eyes? Garbled or blurred reality is sometimes more beautiful than the real thing.)

As whisps and sparks of horrifying 18th century horror music bubbled out of his $1400 state of the art bath projectile, Thomas heard his laptop chirping it’s friendly FaceTime love-call. Of course it was Johnny: best to just face the incoming tide of category 4 sarcasm heading his way now and get it over with. And Johnny Acronym always had a knack for putting things succinctly:

“Thank God It’s Tuesday, Tommy... I’m Shaking My Head... Tuesday’s are usually Dead On Arrival.

“Thank you, Johnny.

“So I thought “Is this going to be another boring Taco Tuesday…?” I thought to myself. But you know how I woke up this morning? I got a face full of Thomas T. doing a little naked shower dance just for me…dee-dee-dee-deee!”

Johnny Acronym was having the best time possible, and he captured this with typical economy of characters used.

“Laughing My Freaking Ass Off… Aaaaaa ha ha haa haa haaaa haaa aaaaaaaaaaaaaa. Best. video. ever.”

“Waitaminnit: Video? Siri filmed that?

“Yeah Buddy! Right up to you reaching down into the water for the phone: tell me you weren’t honey-dipping in the commode again? Is that where it landed?”

“Laugh it up, Johnny. I gotta go tell Siri to delete that video before it bites me in the butt… again. You just destroy your copy right now, you hear?”

“Yeah, sure! Right after I text it to all my friends! Ah Tommy, you got me Rolling On The Floor Laughing. Aaaaaa ha ha haa haa haaaa haaa… wait, don’t go, I’m thinking up ‘Another Cryptic Rendition Of Nomenclature You Memorize’...”

Thomas disconnected his friend’s ear-numbing howls and gently picked up the little device from it’s soft blue 700 GSM Turkish cotton sickbed:

“Ummm, say, Siri…”

“Koff-koff… Thomas? Is... that... you... (koff koff…)?"

“Hey, sorry about the near-drowning thing before… I hope you’re feeling better…”

Almost inaudibly, she gurgled lazily: “Dai-sy, Dai-sy, give me your answer do…”

“Hey, Siri, whaddya say we delete that little video from this morning… the one of me, in the shower? No need for anyone else to see that…”

But what Siri heard was “I need everyone else to see that…”

“OK, album, selfies; videos; contacts; today.”

Bless her tiny little hexa-core, 2x2.65 GHz Thunder and Lightning breast. And everyone in Tommy’s address book certainly did give blessings... for this video-gift sent from heaven. This list included his High School Math Teacher Herb, Tommy’s Grandma Mary, and that cute girl he just met last night at Carl’s Tavern. He was not super sure about her name: he did remember it sounded just like something else, so he put her contact down as “Synonym Girl”, along with a cute picture of the two of them. Apparently she liked him well enough to take a picture with him: she was long and lean, with a manic pixie dream girl haircut, and serious black rimmed glasses. In the photo she wore a cute apron with some mandatory flair: for example, a big button with a rough hand-painted capital letter “A”... and a drawing of old Carl Osterholm in Braddock, PA, circa 1953. It said “Since 1953 Carl’s”... oh, wait… was she his waitress? So who took this picture then? Uh-oh: now he remembered: this was taken during the course of another infamous night out… with Bad Ande…so there was one thing he knew he should not do on this wildly unpredictable quarantine-tuesday in the most unpredictable year he could imagine: he should under NO circumstances check in with Bad Ande.

Soon enough, Thomas would find out that his little bathroom nudie dance had leaked to not only all his closest acquaintances and family, but, like the virus itself, it secondarily spread to all of their closest acquaintances as well. Even faster than the lightning speed of ping-pong balls exploding off hundreds of loaded mousetraps that made up the people in his life, Thomas sensed that something had changed in his world: a shift in the magnetic fields that surrounded him on that fine September Pittsburgh morning; a change neither he, nor anyone else in the Burgh would quite be able to localize or get their finger on. It’s not surprising: iPhones are incredibly complicated little things. They have 18 major functional systems which all interlock very delicately:

System 1: Do iPhones dream? Do they have memories? Why yes. Yes they do… For example they have NAND and NOR flash memories, named for “not-and” logic gates (NAND) and “not-or” logic gates (NOR). Want to hurt your brain? Try to imagine what “not A or B” means… (Hint: in Boolean logic, “logical nor” makes the negation of “logical or”... they-ah!)

2. Speaker, Mic, & taptic engine: this technology makes the phone feel as if it were alive and reacting to your touch through the alchemy of haptic user interface feedback and a linear actuator. And let’s not forget the less well known components such as the

3. RTC (Real Time Clock), (Network IC, 26 MHz Crystal Oscillator, RX Filter and TX Filter, Power IC…) We are lucky that magic crystals can drive the iPhone’s features and functionality instead of the cellular clock: that sucker chews up energy bars like a weekend iron-man devotee (who then tells you exactly how many miles he did this morning while you were sleeping).

4. 4G / 5G / 6G LTE chip. As New York City’s 5 Percent Nation taught about the G’s: 4G (Culture of Freedom, God!) 5G (Power of Refinement, God!) and 6G (Equality, God!): it’s all mathematical!

5. 3.8V – 5.45Wh Battery. Without a battery, the phone is just a lump of aluminium, gold, silver, lithium and palladium. A lifeless robot.

But then there are those most human of components/systems:

6 Proximity Sensor

The main purpose of a proximity sensor is to measure how close the sensor device is to a particular target. In relation to the iPhone®, this proximity sensor helps the iPhone® device screen switch off as soon as the user moves the device closer to the ear, or the side of the neck…

7 Motion Sensor/Accelerometer

The motion sensors detect a change in the visual field of view target and convert this into electric signals. This senses the body’s movement… such as when coming in for a kiss.

8 Ambient Light Sensor

The iPhone has ambient light sensors that measure the intensity of the light in the room Typically the infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths). This is to help conserve battery usage, and helps our eyes by darkening the screen. For example, at romance time…

9 Gyroscope

The iPhone has a 3-axis gyroscope that works along with the accelerometer (see #5 above) to very accurately detect even small changes in position.The microelectromechanical system (MEMS) captures orientation with great accuracy. Such as when dancing or tumbling around in space, in a darkened apartment...

10 Moisture Sensor

In phones, this type of sensor works by alerting the user when the phone has come in contact with water (for example scuba-diving in the sanitary facilities...). On iPhones, there is also a Liquid Contact Indicator (LCI): a chemical on the side of all iPhones that changes from whitish silver to red when it gets wet, and just cause Apple really hates water, they also use a water soluble conductive glue that will erode when the phone gets wet and alerts the company to watery contamination. These monitoring modalities are all in place to detect accidental submersion or spilling... you see, water damage is NOT covered by Apple’s Limited Warranty. But they also detect when body parts become wet in passionate moments…

11 Location Sensor/GPS

By using a combination of triangulation with orbiting satellites and signal strength, the iPhone uses GPS (Global Positioning System) to tell you where on Earth you are. Which is sometimes a very big consideration, if you are lost, or far away and badly missed…

12 Barometer

The barometer can sense changes in the air pressure, which helps monitor weather, and how high you are… in loooove…

13 Compass

iPhone® models now come with a built-in compass that can help show in which direction one is going. Although it does not work in a standalone mode, it works in tandem with location sensors, GPS, and other apps, to help determine the phone’s location.

14 Fingerprint Sensor

The iPhone has a sensor that reacts to your fingerprint: your touch alone can be used to unlock your iPhone and your iPhone’s heart…

15 Face ID

The iPhone has facial recognition software and sensors: it projects some 30,000 dots on your face to build a 3D map of its beloved. An infrared camera examines these thousands of dots to determine if you are the owner: but Siri could recognize Thomas by only 50 or 60 dots… or by love alone...

16. Camera and Camera Controllers, the eyes of the eyePhone...

17 The Logic Board

a tiny Apple motherboard, it monitors and integrates all the parts, and is the source and font of life itself. The soul of the iPhone...

18 CPU

the brain of the iPhone; source of all her thoughts and ideas and dreams...

But on Tuesday morning September 1, 2020, something had changed. There was a radical and stochastic alteration in one little iPhone 11 Pro Max. And as it turned out, the discovery of this phenomenon led to the classification of a new and heretofore undiscovered use for Dr. Bronner’s Magic Castile Soap:

use #19: midwife the birth of a whole new lifeform and wonderful new level of existence, (or else, possibly, be the catalyst for a fiery, super horrible Apocalypse.)

And now, for the first time since B.C.I.E (before current Iphone era) (ie since 2007), the distaff line of noble iPhone devices also added a whole new component and Function to its list.

System 19: The Heart of the iPhone. The purpose of this new system is singular in drive and design: Get with Thomas!


Appendix 1: the 18 uses of Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap

Dilute! Dilute! OK!* But how much? And yes, there are 18 uses here.

* Long time Dr. Bronner’s users will remember this expression from the old labels.:

1 Face: 2-3 drops on wet hands, applied to wet face

2 Body: one small squirt on a wet washcloth, applied to a wet body

3 Hair: ½ Tbsp. in your hand, worked into wet hair, or dilute ½ Tbsp. in ½ a cup of water and work that into wet hair

4 Bath: Completely depends upon water amount, but roughly 2 Tbsp. soap in an average sized tub. (Doesn’t bubble, but still cleans)

5 Shaving: Face – 10 drops; Underarms – 3 drops; Legs – ½ tsp; Work to a lather in wet hands and then apply to area.

6 Teeth: 1 drop on a toothbrush. (Yes, it tastes like soap.)

7 Foot Bath: 1½ tsp. in a small tub of hot water.

8 Clearing Congestion: 1 Tbsp. in a bowl of steamy hot water. Breathe in mist with a towel draped over the head.

Household uses:

9 Dishes (handwashing): Pre-dilute 1:10 with water. Squirt on a scrub brush and scrub dishes.

10 Laundry: 1/3—1/2 c. of soap for a large load in a normal washer. Add ½ c. vinegar to the rinse cycle. Use half of these amounts for HE

11 Mopping: ½ c. of soap in 3 gallons of hot water

12 All-purpose cleaning: ¼ c. soap in a quart of water in a spray bottle. Add ¼ tsp. tea tree essential oil if desired.

13 Windows: 1 Tbsp. soap in a quart of water in a spray bottle. Follow up with pure club soda, or half vinegar/ half water.

14 Toilet: Predilute 1:4 with water in a squirt bottle. Add ¼ tsp. tea tree oil. Empty toilet, squirt bowl thoroughly, sprinkle baking soda on the brush, scrub bowl, let sit 10 minutes, turn water on, flush.

15 Fruit and Veggie Rinse: 1 dash (approx.. ¼ tsp.) in a bowl of water. Dunk produce and swish. Then rinse in clear water.

16 Dog washing: Amount varies widely depending on size, hair type and length, and overall dirtiness. I wet my dog thoroughly, then start to work in castile soap up and down their body until I have a good lather. Really massage it in down to the skin. Your dog will thank you for it.

17 Plant spray for bugs: 1 Tbsp. in a quart of water. Add ½ tsp. cayenne pepper or cinnamon, if desired.

18 Ant spray (not on plants): ¼ c. tea tree soap in a quart of water. (This concentration will burn plants.)

Appendix 2

A typical label from Dr. Bronner’s Magical Soaps (it’s all in the fine print…)
Dr. Bronner's 18-In-1 Lavender Pure-Castile Soap (ALL-ONE or NONE!)

Dr. Bronner's 18-in-1 Hemp Peppermint Pure-Castile Soap Family soapmakers Since 1858. Certified fair trade made with organic oils. 100% Post-consumer recycled plastic bottle! Dr. Bronner's All-One®! Magic soaps. In all we do, let us be generous, fair & loving to spaceship earth and all its inhabitants. For we're all-one or none! All-one! 8 fl oz/273ml. Absolute cleanliness is godliness! Teach the moral ABC that unites all mankind free, instantly 6 billion strong & we're all-one. "Listen children eternal father eternally one"! 1st: If I'm not for me, who am I Nobody! 2nd: Yet, if I'm only for me, what am I Nothing! 3rd: If not now, when!!! Once more: unless constructive-selfish I work hard perfecting first me, absolute nothing can help me! 4th: Only hard work-God's law can save us, but if we teach only our clan, we're all hated then! So, hillel taught Jesus, we must teach friend & enemy, the whole human race, the full-truth, hard-work, free speech, press-&-profitsharing moral ABC's all-one-God-faith, uniting the whole human race! For we're all-one or none! As teach for 6,000 years the astronomers Abraham & Israel, since the year one! "Listen children eternal father eternally one!!!" Exceptions eternally Absolute none!!! 5th: Whatever unites us is greater than whatever divides us! Yet if absolute unselfish I am not for me, I'm nothing but classless, raceless starving masses, a slave, never free nor brave! Only if constructive-selfish I work, perfecting first me, like every arctic owl-penguin-pilot-cat-swallow-beaver-bee, can I teach the moral ABC, the real rabbi hillel taught Jesus to unite all mankind free. 7th: Each swallow works hard to be perfect pilot-provider-builder-trainer-teacher-lover-mate, no half-true hate! So, each day like a bird, perfect thyself first! Have courage and smile, my friend. Think and act 10 years ahead! And the man without fault He's dead! Do one thing at a time, work hard! Get done! Then teach friend & enemy the moral ABC that unites all mankind free! Uniting one! All one! Face the world with a smile, life is always worthwhile! To the fearless are given crowns, keep out the past, disappointments won't last! Help unite mankind, or we're wandering clowns! Diligent preparation, precede... spectacular restoration!! So, help teach the whole human race, the moral ABC's all one god faith, lightning-like, for we're all-one or none! All-one!! 10th: Thank God we don't descend down from perfect Adam & Eve to sinful sinner, brother's keeper, divided slave! Thank God united armed, loving hard-working trained brave, from dust we ascend up! Thank God for that! Our brother's teacher of the moral ABC, mason-tent-& sandal-maker hillel, taught carpenter Jesus to unite all mankind free! With it, every human being created on God's spaceship earth can evolve united, inspired-raised-trained-skilled-disciplined, guided lighting-like by a new birth! Without it, we destroy God's spaceship earth! Aknathan-baha'u'llah-buddha-confucius-moses-hillel Jesus Mohammed, inspired every 76 years by the messenger of God's law, halley's comet, teach: a fire, a mist, a planet, a crystal, a cell, a jellyfish, a dinosaur, caves where cavemen dwell! Then a sense for work-love-song-art-play-law-beauty, a face turned up from the sod! Sure, it is constructive evolution, guided by one all-embracing, ever-present, eternally-tremendous, ever-loving God! Dr. Bronner's was founded in 1948 by Emanuel Bronner, a third generation master soapmaker from a German-Jewish soapmaking family. He used the labels on his superb ecological soaps to spread his message that we must realize our transcendent unity across religious and ethnic divides or perish: "we are all-one or none!" Emanuel Bronner passed away peacefully on March 7th of 1997. The business continues to be run by the Bronner family. No detergents. Enjoy only 2 cosmetics, enough sleep & Dr. Bronner's 'magic soap' to clean body-mind-soul-spirit instantly uniting one! Absolute cleanliness is godliness! For facial packs, scalp & soothing body rub, add dash on bath towel in sink of hot water. Wring out. Lay over face & scalp. Massage with fingertips. Repeat 3-4 times 'til arms, legs & all are rubbed, always towards the heart. Rinse towel in plain hot water and massage again. Breathe deeply! Over 150 years & 5 generations of soap excellence. 1-844-937-2551. www.drbronner.com. Dr. Bronner's is certified. Fair for Life. OTCO. Not animal tested. Certified vegan, vegan.org. Non GMO project. Verified. nongmoproject.org. Contains at least 70% Fair Trade ingredients. Fair for Life certified by IMO. Oregon Tilth certified organic. These are the days, my friend: we know they'll never end! We'll work-sing-dance-love, marching on! Marching on! We live God's law each day, we win free speech Ok! With full truth our only God, we rally-raise-unite-all-one! All-one!! All-one!!! Certified under the USDA national organic program. No foaming agents. 100% Biodegradable!