Not Non-Fiction

Stories.

Rejected Again.

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately it doesn’t fit our needs at this time.

Best,

Terry Wilkins, PLM Review

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for your recent submission. This time we’ll have to give it a pass.

Regards,

Adrien Kösz, Catchall Quarterly

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thanks for the submission. It’s not quite what we’re looking for. Try reading some back issues.

Sincerely,

Finley Paldies, Rubbertree

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for your submission. It’s a good idea but reads too much like a first draft. Thanks for considering us.

Best wishes,

Davis Evental, The Palanquin

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for submitting to the sixth annual Lawn Chair Short Story Contest. We’re pleased to announce you were one of the semifinalists and qualify for a discounted subscription. Click the link below for information on how to order.

Congratulations!

Editors-Lawn Chair

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for your submission letter. I think you forgot to include the attachment.

Cordially,

Andy Kerrem, Happy Hour

Dear Mr. Waldrop

Thank you for your submission but this isn’t the sort of thing we publish. Perhaps you have us confused with another publication.

Sincerely,

Morgan Darrenton, Assistant Editor, The Huxley Biological Journal

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thanks for sending this. We all liked it a lot but I’m sorry it’s just not what we’re looking for. Good luck and thanks again!

-Evelyn Watkins, publisher, Bass Fisherman

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for the manuscript. It was only out of morbid curiosity that I opened this package. According to our records you have, so far, sent us The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald with all instances and variations of the word “young” replaced with the word “xeriscape”, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe with all instances of the word “boat” replaced by “badass motorcycle”, and what appears to be a “Mad Libs” version of William Blake’s The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell with all the blanks filled with a crudely handwritten “and Jerry Mathers as The Beaver”.

However your submission of Hamlet rewritten in contemporary speech with characters’ names randomly changed is, I believe, your crowning achievement. I only recognized the source material because it fell open to a random page where I read, “Hey, this is from that guy Yorick. I knew him, Dingo Jingleberries.”

Please stop sending things to me.

Daniel Lackham, Assistant Editor, Farrington Books

Dear Mr. Waldrop,

Thank you for your message. I think you sent it to the wrong address though.

Angela Stewart

Human Resources Department

Warrenton Finance

Let’s Meet!

Tips For A Successful Meeting from How To Succeed At 7 Highly Effective Top Level Managerial Habits (Gale & Hoover, 2015)

-Create a detailed meeting agenda. Send it out at least one day in advance of the meeting.

-Expect everyone to arrive on time.

-Remain focused on the agenda topics.

-Use a timer to keep the group focused on agenda items for the appropriate amount of time.

-Assign a note taker, preferably someone who can write.

-Prepare a seating chart based on astrological signs.

-Avoid distractions by making everyone wear a blindfold.

-Have an orchestra ready to play off anyone who goes on too long.

-Fire tranquilizer darts at anyone who whispers.

-Limit the scope of the meeting.

-Use paper for handouts and copies, not Silly Putty™.

-Require that all responses be phrased in the form of a question.

-Don’t tell Kevin about the meeting.

-Command people’s attention by making presentations in Sumerian.

-No one can speak without holding the bicycle pump that for your own personal reasons you call “Jimmykins”.

-It wouldn’t kill you to put out some chips or something, would it?

-Before moving on to the next item on the agenda remind everyone that the universe is expanding and that all matter will eventually dissipate, leaving a cold, empty void.

-Tell me more about your mother.

-Take that finger out of your ear.

-Take that finger out of the ear of the person next to you.

-Avoid negativity. Begin all suggestions with, “Stop me if you’ve heard this one…”

-Whatever happened to clipart? It’s like that stuff was on everything in the ‘90’s.

-No one knows why the one chair is painted yellow.

-Have some card tricks ready in case people get restless.

-Conclude meetings with a dramatic flourish. Take off your mask and yell “It was me all along!”

-Set a time for the next meeting. Aim for consensus by suggesting never.

Riddle Rough Drafts.

What walks on four legs in the morning, two legs in the afternoon, three legs in the evening, and when would be the ideal time for it to get health insurance?

A box without hinges, key, or a lid, but you followed the directions when you were putting it together. Did you save the receipt?

A train traveling at forty-five miles an hour leaves Vancouver heading east at 4:45am. A train traveling at thirty miles an hour leaves Poughkeepsie traveling northwest at 1:05pm. Explain to me again why this is so much better than flying.

You have two and a half bottles of conditioner and three quarters of a bottle of shampoo you swiped from a hotel. How many times do you have to travel before you have an even number of both?

On Monday there are five coffee cups in the office break room sink. On Tuesday there are four coffee cups in the office break room sink. On Wednesday there are eight coffee cups in the break room sink. Is anyone going to ask Kevin to just rinse one cup if he’s drinking that much coffee?

As I was going to St. Ives, I met a man with seven wives. Each wife had seven sacks, each sack had seven cats, each cat had seven kits, and what are the odds I turned around and went back when I saw what kind of people lived there?

You have three glasses of milk and three bowls of pudding. You drink one of the glasses of milk and, oh, wait, are you lactose intolerant?

What has no beginning, end, or middle and is circular and, oh, I just gave away the answer there, didn’t I?

A father and son are in a terrible accident. The father is killed and the son is rushed to a doctor. The doctor says, “I can’t operate on him, I’m a psychiatrist!”

Which came first, the chicken or the egg, and is putting mayonnaise on a chicken sandwich a double insult?

You’re faced with two guardians. One always tells the truth, the other always lies. Which one do you ask a question since they’re both major assholes?

There are four days that start with the letter ‘T’: Tuesday, Thursday, and I’ll tell you the other two tomorrow and yesterday.

Pool Rules.

All swimmers must shower before entering the pool.

All swimmers must be appropriately attired to use the pool and pool area.

All swimmers under the age of fourteen must first pass a swim test.

All swimmers under the age of five must be accompanied by an adult at all times.

Individuals with open cuts, sores, communicable diseases, or who are Kevin may not use the pool.

No glassware is allowed in the pool or pool area, including tumblers, highball glasses, shot glasses, vases, light bulbs, chandeliers, punch bowls, stemless wine glasses, windshields, Chihuly sculptures, champagne flutes, cake cloches, water coolers, butter dishes, marbles, condiment trays, pitchers, carafes, beakers, decanters, flasks, jars, urns, flagons, cruets, ewers, growlers, or amphorae.

No food or beverages are allowed in the pool.

No chewing gum in the pool area unless you brought enough for everyone.

No alcoholic beverages are allowed in the pool or pool area unless you brought enough for the lifeguard.

No spitting, nose blowing, or bodily fluids in the pool, and, hey, get out of here, Kevin.

No running in the pool area. If you can do it in the pool, hey, go for it.

No horseplay, including Equus, Ben Hur, or the Erik Satie ballet Parade.

In the event of severe weather the pool will be closed.

In the event of a fire calmly and quietly exit the area. Do not stand around and say, “Hey, how did a fire break out in the pool?”

If any object ball is jumped off the table, it is a foul and loss of turn, unless it is the 8-ball, which is a loss of game. Any jumped object balls are spotted in numerical order.

No person shall throw any item into the pool or pool area that could endanger the safety of any person. Items include weapons, chairs, other furniture, cans, Jarts, refrigerators, scissors, hazardous chemicals, angry housecats, housecats who are not angry but will be when they’ve been thrown into the pool, car tires, cars, suspension bridges, cider, very small rocks, churches, lead, ducks, black holes, needles, shoes, live electrical wires, half-eaten tuna fish sandwiches, bulldozers, and Kevin.

Except during specified times fishing with dynamite is not allowed.

A first aid kit is located somewhere around here.

Drowning is strictly prohibited.

There’ll Also Be Plenty Of Hot Air.

Here is the weekly weather forecast for the office:

On Monday sunrise will be at 5:52AM. The building will be open at 6:00AM but you’ll still need to use your key card to access the elevators because the maintenance guy keeps forgetting we’re no longer on Daylight Savings Time and at this point he might as well leave it like it is.

Gary will be in at 10:23AM and be careful because he’ll still have a wicked hangover.

On Tuesday expect a frosty reception from Meredith who will be upset that no one watered her plants while she was on vacation even though she didn’t ask anyone and they’re all succulents anyway. And technically she should be more upset that no one really noticed she was out Monday.

There’s also about a 60% chance that project that’s 90% finished will be cancelled.

An envelope for contributions to Pearl’s retirement gift will circulate through the office and there’s an 80% chance you won’t have anything smaller than a twenty.

On Wednesday morning you’ll need your key card to access the elevators because the maintenance crew did something to the alarm system the night before and now everything’s locked down.

Wednesday afternoon expect a high pressure front to move through as Rick and Gary get into an argument over whether or not to close the blinds on the western side of the office in the afternoon. This could cause significant delays in getting out that earnings report, so be prepared and make sure you’ve got your noise-cancelling headphones.

You’ll go to the vending machine and there’s an 80% chance you won’t have anything smaller than a twenty.

In the afternoon be prepared for delays in the break room because that’s when Meredith is going to want to tell you about her vacation.

On Thursday there’s about a 75% chance the construction guys who’ve torn up the sidewalk on the west side of the building will cut a cable causing a loss of internet access, all power, or both. If this doesn’t happen you can congratulate them as you’re forced to step out into traffic to get around the mess they’ve made, or you can wait until next week when the chances they’ll cut a cable will be up to 100%. Also at around noon on Thursday Terry is going to heat fish in the microwave, making you wish there were such a thing as smell-cancelling nostrilphones.

Watch for slick spots in the break room on Thursday afternoon too after Terry spills a bottle of Sriracha and is astoundingly, but not surprisingly, oblivious.

In the late afternoon Rick from the fifteenth floor will discover an accounting error and will storm into the office and figuratively eat someone’s lunch.

On Friday it will rain. It won’t affect your plans to go out for lunch but dress accordingly.

Terry will discover leftovers from Giacomo’s in the office fridge and literally eat someone’s lunch.

Also on Friday afternoon Steve will drop by and ask you to proofread the handouts for the meeting and by “proofread” he means “collate and staple”, so you won’t catch his hilarious misspelling, inserting an “i” in the word “pens”. And it serves him right for scheduling a meeting for 4:00PM on Friday.

Every day over the coming week be careful driving in the parking garage, especially between 7:30AM and 8:30AM when most people are coming in, between 4:30PM and 5:30PM when most peple are leaving, and between 9:30AM and 10:30AM because that’s when Gary comes in.

The cold front will continue for the foreseeable future as long as the building managers persist in the belief that shutting off the heat at 6:00PM every night and only turning it back on at 6:00AM the next morning is actually saving money.

At some point this week there will be a fire alarm. I can’t say when exactly it will occur, and it’s probably just a test, but there’s a small chance that it’s a real fire or other emergency, so I leave it to you whether or not you want to wake up Gary on your way out.

 

‘Twas The Morning After The Night Before Christmas.

All of us kids woke up early and came downstairs on Christmas morning. The presents were there like always. The fire had burned out overnight but there was still the sweet smell of ashes in the air. Ma was in the kitchen getting breakfast started. We were going to start opening presents when we noticed Pa in the corner, just sort of rocking back and forth. Ma came in, still wearing her bandanna over her hair.

“Why’s everybody so quiet?” she asked. “What’s going on?”

“Something’s wrong with Pa,” I said. “Look!”

“Oh,” said Ma, “so this is where you went after you left the bedroom window open. I had to get up and close it. It was freezing out there. What were you thinking flinging it open like a crazy man in the middle of the night anyway?”

“So much noise,” Pa muttered quietly, still rocking. “There was so much noise outside I had to see what was going on.”

“I didn’t hear anything,” said my big sister Emily. She looked at us. “Did any of you?” We all shook our heads except for my little brother who picked up a piece of candied fruit and started sucking on it.

“He was flying,” Dad said, his eyes wide. “I swear it’s the truth. He was flying along in a tiny sleigh pulled by miniature reindeer.”

“Reindeer aren’t that big,” said Emily. “Some are less than three feet tall at the shoulder.”

“Hush,” hissed Ma.

“He—he had names for them,” said Pa. “Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen and Blitzen.”

“Somebody’s Blitzen all right,” said Ma. “What’s with you?”

“And Donner,” Pa added.

“Like the party?” asked Emily.

“They landed on the roof,” said Dad, oblivious to the question. “So much noise. They were stamping all over the roof.”

“It wouldn’t have been so loud if you’d replaced the insulation in the attic this summer like I told you to,” said Ma.

“How’d you know they were on the roof?” asked Emily. “Did you lean out the window and look?”

Pa kept staring ahead. “I came downstairs. I came downstairs and he came in the house.”

“We were robbed?” said my little brother. “On Christmas Eve?” He started crying. I nudged him.

“Cool it. The presents are all here, see?”

“What happened?” asked Ma. “Did he fall through the roof where you haven’t replaced the shingles?”

“He came down the chimney,” said Pa. “Just popped out of the fireplace with a great big bag.”

“Didn’t we have a fire last night?” asked Emily.

“He was a large, round man in a bright red fur suit trimmed with white,” Pa went on.

“Where do you get bright red fur?” I asked.

“Somebody probably threw paint on it,” said Emily. “Fur is dead, you know.”

“I just sat here and watched him,” said Pa, “watched him pull presents out of this great big bag he carried. He put them under the tree and then when he was done he went back into the fireplace and flew right up it.”

I giggled. “Because his ass was on fire!”

Ma gave me a smack and said, “Knock it off!”

“I looked out the window and he just flew away into the night yelling ‘Merry Christmas!’ loud enough to wake up the whole neighborhood,” said Pa. “Didn’t even go to any other houses. Just us. Just us.” He started rocking back and forth again.

We were all quiet for a long time, then Ma said, “Kids, your father’s been under a lot of pressure lately. Let’s just give him a little bit of time. He’ll come around.”

We all got quiet again and stood around awkwardly. The silence was only broken by a loud snap from the kitchen.

“I’d better go check that mousetrap,” said Ma.

See Androids Fighting.

Source: Wikipedia

Kino’s red eyes pulse gently. The effect is disquieting. It’s as though he’s really looking at me.

We’re in Athena’s workshop in a corner of warehouse in Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay, a space she shares with other “artisan engineers”. We’re surrounded by peg boards covered with tools and heavy tables with meters, oscilloscopes, cogs, wheels, and other spare parts. It’s like being in a combination of Frankenstein’s laboratory and a hobbyist’s garage.

She has her own carefully organized tool box with multiple trays of carefully labeled parts, as well as peg boards with a wide array of larger tools, and a safe where she keeps Kino. I’m surprised when she pulls a small screwdriver out of the red bandanna that holds back the thick, curly hair that frames her head like an enormous halo.

“It came with my first kit,” she says. “It’s my magic wand.” The metal end is still shiny but the plastic handle is worn and cracked. It still works, though, and she uses it to tighten screws in the back of Kino’s head.

Kino, of course, is Athena’s android. She dislikes the term “robot”, derived from the Czech for “forced labor”, and Kino’s humanoid body, she explains emphatically, make the term “android”, from the Greek for “man-like”, more accurate. It—Athena insists on gender-neutrality—stands three feet tall and is very much what you might expect an android to look like. More than anything else it resembles a stripped-down astronaut, all molded white plastic, with a slightly squashed helmet and, of course, those red eyes. Advances in battery power have allowed the removal of the bulky backpack from earlier models. The name comes from Robert Kinoshita, one of the original designers of Robbie The Robot, not the first robot in film but arguably the first robot film star. Kino’s only decoration is a decal on its torso of a red, snarling beast on two legs, the monster from Forbidden Planet, a movie that Athena’s father loved.

“I wanted to pay tribute to him,” she tells me. “This is not where he first wanted me to be but I think he’d be proud.”

Her father, who died when Athena was nine, expressed hopes she’d be a lawyer like him, or perhaps a college professor.

“He used to put me to sleep reading The Iliad and The Odyssey to me,” she says, then gives a short laugh and emphasizes each word. “Put. Me. To. Sleep.” When she took apart and rebuilt his lawnmower he changed tactics and started buying her robot kits, a practice her extended family continued. She excelled academically and would eventually go to MIT where, in spite of continuing to excel, it would still take her six years to graduate.

“I came home a lot. There weren’t a lot of girls in the engineering program, and most years none who looked like me, you know?”

I know and yet I don’t know, unable to really imagine the challenges of being an African American woman in engineering, a field where the pace of demographic change has been glacial. After school she went on to a successful career in robotics, advancing autonomous vehicles and the machines that would build them, and was even a founding partner of a robotics firm. All of which leads to the question that brought me here: why did she leave all that to build fighting androids on Coney Island?

Instead of answering me she says to Kino, “Bed time.” Kino’s head swivels around and it steps backward into its storage safe. Then she turns to me. “You like Hungarian food?”

While we’re waiting for the food to be delivered she carefully puts her tools away, saying, “A place for everything and everything in its place, that way there are no surprises.” Then she says, “I really didn’t leave my career. This is more like a sabbatical. I was all wrapped up in the business side of things and I wanted to get my hands dirty again. I wanted to build something again.”

There’s a knock at the door. She taps her phone and the door at the end of the warehouse slides open. A young man with straight black hair comes in carrying a canvas bag.

“Sawasdee,” he says.

“Good evening Adrien,” Athena replies. “You know where to set it down.” She then turns to me. “Adrien prefers the restaurant business but he helped with the coding of all the androids except Kino. I did that one myself even though programming is something I can do but it’s not the strongest item in my wheelhouse. Sometimes staring at a screen it gets to be like staring into The Matrix, you know?”

I think I do know: computer code is less of a language and more of a filter, a way of processing input and generating output.

As we tuck into our soup Athena continues her explanation of why she and a small band of followers Athena continues her explanation of why she and a small band of followers have embarked on this project.

“Everything I was helping make was also putting people out of a job,” she says. “Automation is a growing field but it doesn’t always create as much as it takes away. We’re still adapting and some people are being left behind. And while I was thinking about that I was seeing what was going on in sports, all the injuries, even all the deaths. And I thought, here are these African American men injuring themselves for entertainment in almost every sport.” She snorts. “Except hockey and wrestling. I don’t want to put them out of a job either but I also said, why not let technology do what technology does and build something to take people out of harm’s way? Boxing forces two men to beat each other until one can’t get up. If people want the spectacle we can have that without the hurt.”

“But you’re setting up something you’ve made to be damaged or even destroyed,” I say. “What about that?”

Athena shrugs. “Pyrotechnics. People who make artistic fireworks put all that effort into something they know will get blown up. How different is that? Or this?” She plucks a dumpling from her soup with her chopsticks and holds out in front of her. “Why make food that looks good when all it really has to do is feed us?”

We talk a bit more about how machines, even though they’re supposed to create leisure time, seem instead to prompt us to spend time creating more machines. Then I change the subject slightly and ask if she’s concerned about the singularity, the hypothetical artificial intelligence that could exceed and even wipe out humanity. Athena shakes her head.

“It’s possible but we haven’t even started to reach that. Predictions that put that within a few decades, or even this century, are way off in my estimation, even at technology’s current pace. Look at Kino. Everything it does is programmed and predictable. Right now even if we could build even the equivalent of a human brain the space needed would be enormous, and you have to build a brain before you can build a better—.” Her watch dings and she looks at it. “All right. Let’s go fight some robots.”

The fight is held in a theater near Luna Park. From the outside the building doesn’t look like much, a smaller version of the warehouse we just left. A wooden cutout painted to look like a circus tent frames the door. Ahead of me Athena and Kino walk side by side. I expect to see them greeted by fanfare. Instead they step aside behind the bleachers. In the center of the theater a band is performing “Little Red Riding Hood” by Sam The Sham & The Pharaohs. It turns out the android fight is the lower half of a double feature. I settle into a seat to wait while Athena and Kino go to the back to get ready.

The fight does not go well.

Kino is, structurally, indistinguishable from its opponent, Gort, but still seems outmatched. At first the robots circle each other, hands up, not unlike real fighters, but it lasts too long and the audience gets restless. Then Gort throws a punch. Kino blocks it with a hand but is still thrown off balance and falls to the floor. Traditional-looking boxing ropes mark the ring but the floor is concrete, not canvas, and Kino crashes hard. Athena, in the corner, is unable to help, but the referee, a bald man with wire-framed glasses and a tie-dye Doctor Who t-shirt, steps in to put him upright again. Gort punches with his left fist. Kino steps aside but Gort, apparently having predicted this, hits with the right. Kino goes down again, this time cracking an arm. More parries and hits follow, with both Gort and Kino having to be lifted up, but Kino takes the worst of it. After several more blows and visible cracks and pieces of shattered plastic thrown to the floor Athena walks around the ring and talks to the young man on Gort’s side of the ring. Together they step into the ring and talk to the referee, then Athena turns to the crowd.

“Thank you, everyone. We hope you enjoyed the show.”

Later, outside the theater, Athena looks slightly dazed. To our left we can see a low yellow moon almost perfectly framed by Coney Island’s Wonder Wheel.

“Do you think you’ll try to reprogram him?” I ask.

She shakes her head. “I don’t know. That was hard to watch.”  She pats Kino’s head. “Come on, let’s go.”

As they walk away from me Kino reaches up and touches Athena’s arm. She stops and looks down at him, then takes his hand, like a mother and child, and they continue on.

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