Memory Fail, 3

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The woman from the video is named Sarah Shinpei. She lives alone.

She wakes up to a soft alarm that goes off at 6:45am. Sarah picks up her phone, slides a finger across its face and silences the ringing.

The sun shines in through the floor to ceiling windows. The blinds are set to open at the same time as the alarm, and they rise slowly and fill the room with a bright yellow light. Sarah is surprised at the sun, but pleasantly so. She’s always pleasantly surprised by sunlight, which makes her a battle-scarred Seattleite.

She stretches and half-falls, half-crawls out of the bed, playfully stomps along to the bathroom and begins her morning routine.

Speakers mounted into the ceiling and clothed in faux book bindings on the shelf start to play old rock that Sarah picked up a passion for recently. The shelf is full of books and CDs and takes up one long wall of the bedroom. The wall opposite is glass windows. The bathroom is at one end, the bed at the other. The bed looks over the city.

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Memory Fail, 2

[Previous]

What was going on? Who left me these books? Was I dreaming this?

I took the books, tossed them in the back of my car, then walked around the library. Didn’t have a plan in the least, but I thought that walking would help. Maybe my head would clear. Maybe I’d stumble onto an answer. Or fucking anything.

The forest was a young one, lots of thin trees, the carpet of needles just too light. It was a recent library, who knows, maybe this was a recent forest as well.

I walked around and thought about our impermanence. Then it started to rain, so I got back in the car and made my way home slowly, on backroads, preferring new turns to familiar streets, with GPS silently and dilligently routing and rerouting me, while I paid it no attention and relied on circumstance.

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Memory Fail, 1

Last week I found a card in my wallet. A white business card, stiff paper, blank on one side, blue ink on the other, lined up in curves to form a phrase. A sentence. Eight words that spoke a simple concept.

I have tried for the past nine days to memorize these words, in this order, this idea expanded in my head.

It is impossible. I’ve sat in my room for hours and stared at that damned card. I’ve read it over and over a thousand times, ten thousand. The idea makes sense and for a while I understand the message, the concept, the whole damn thing.

And then in fifteen minutes it is gone, puff, disappeared from my mind as if it were ashes, on a windy day, blown away, out, into the ocean, towards the infinite horizon.

I haven’t been able to work, to eat, to sleep. Not much, anyway. I’m a walking zombie, one hand wrapped around a bottle, the other heavy with the wrinkled parchment. I am lost.

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Crystal Math

[Editor’s note: this story has been in the works for way too long, since at least 2014, and I’ve finally decided to publish it, mostly as-is. The tenses change a few times and there are some other issues with it, but I also need to be free of it. So here it is.]

10 years ago, your average Joe Six Pack didn’t have a damn clue what L4 meant. This is still true for poor Joe, though now his kids probably do. Do you? No, it doesn’t have a thing to do with the lumbar vertebrae, or the Bren Gun, or whatever else . It’s a damn point in space.

Ask a kid in elementary school about the L4 and he’ll wax poetic on the subject, much like the previous generation could be relied on to blabber about dinosaurs or sharks or Pokemon. Nowadays, every damn kid knows that L4 stands for “4th Lagrange point”. Which, in turn, means that if you’ve got two large bodies, like the earth and the moon, there are 5 “stationary” points. 5 points where you can put something, like a rock or a book, and it won’t move. L1, 2, 3… those are about as stable as the tip of a needle. Yeah, put something there, it won’t move. Look at it the wrong way and off it goes, sailing into the night sky.

4 and 5, that’s where the money’s at. So to speak. You put something there, it sticks around. Maybe not in the same place – it wobbles a bit, in an orbit, you see – but it’s not flying nowhere.

“Come on dad, let’s get some ice cream! We can talk space later!”

10 years ago, I had a thankless job at the University of Chicago. Which is to say, I was that PhD student who worked the night shift, stuck in the lab while the rest of my high-school graduating class was attending dinner parties and art-house openings with their families. Or the DINK weekend warriors, climbing Mt Rainier, unwinding from some mind-numbingly boring IT gig they scored along the way. Ha, those suckers. They’d never know the true pleasure of staring at electron microscope scans, processing data, setting up simulations in a dire attempt to replicate the… Where was I going with this?

10 years ago, I’d have given anything to be where I am now.

10 years ago, I was a damn fool. A silly PhD student.

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Original Death

My buddy Simon is awesome. He’s a geek like me, loves his techie job, programs on the weekends, has a Golden Lab. And cancer. The lethal kind.

Simon also happened to have figured out the meaning of life. He discovered some other stuff, like how to hack the universe.

He discovered that the meaning of life is to go out with an Original Death.

Simon’s discovery is quite remarkable.

We are all prisoners of a computer simulation. We exist only in a digital form.

Our planet Earth, our entire Solar System, are all simulated. Your body, your cereal, the laptop in your lap, the oven in the kitchen, the entire world, they are simulated. It’s a simulation of atoms, with some interesting starting conditions. We were allowed to evolve over time, to populate this planet, and die in unique ways.

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Projection

Sometimes when I’m on the bus, it’s been an uneventful ride and I’m absorbed by the scenery, I blink and the landscape changes. It’s not the same Pacific Northwest scenery that I’ve grown accustomed to. The mossy pines get replaced by cacti or centuries-old oaks, the rolling hills morph into dusty plains or icy tundra. I watch and try to figure out where “here” is.

Highway signs are a dead giveaway, as are the billboards or the ads on the sides of buses, so I try to ignore those. I look for the birds, the foreign deer, lions, carts full of wares being pulled by bored-looking camels. These make the whole ordeal somewhat sporting.

But it’s gotten too easy. Which is another way of saying that I’ve seen every single country on the planet. The ones that have buses, which is most, save for the Vatican or Monaco.

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Cursed

A little old grandpa from Romania cursed me. Best thing that’s ever happened to me.

His name, as I later learned, was Miloslav, and he was behind me in line at the Starbucks when we had our little run-in. Well, to be perfectly honest, when I ran into him and spilled my coffee right down his back.

It was September three years ago and on that particular day the first chill descended upon the city and plunged the temperatures. Snow wasn’t out of the question.

Miloslav, being about one hundred and fifty years old, or at least acting like it, didn’t respond well to the sudden fluctuations. Even worse to the downpour of hot coffee I accidentally subjected him to.

He began shouting in a language I didn’t understand, his limbs started flailing about, and he tapped me a few times with a gnarled but smoothed-down tree branch that he used as a cane. I was too shocked to do much more than stand there and try to apologize, all to no avail.

Miloslav’s grandson, a cute boy in his 20s named Stanislav, tried to calm his grandfather, also without much success. As the tirade went on, the look on Stan’s face went from surprise to embarrassment to outright fright, and Stan’s so-far fruitless tactics went from pacification to moving his irate grandfather toward the exit and away from me. Stan placed himself between myself and Miloslav, but the damage was done.

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Choice

The Choice Box, CB for short, sat on the table in front of me. A beer stood between us, half finished. I looked at the pint and wondered. “Who drank that beer?”

I looked around the hotel room. I was sitting on a chair in front of a table, a beer sitting on top of that. An old-fashioned analog clock hung on the wall, its hands hovered around 4, but the background was a digital image that said it was 7:22pm.

“Half the beer is gone. Who drank it?”

I wondered about this for a bit, zoned out for a few minutes, traveled along the pathway that my thoughts were carving through my mind.

It was like riding a train through the countryside for a while. You stare out the window and get lost in the terrain. Follow a river and imagine what it’s like to navigate it. Watch birds chase the train for a while and admire the creatures that hang there, within arm’s reach, as they soar. You watch the world, but can’t reach out and touch it.

The terrain and the inhabitants were my own memories and thoughts and desires. I sat back and thought through the events that lead to this moment, rode the mental train that went from “Last Sync Me” non-stop to “Current Me”. I rode the train and watched.

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Last Call, part 2

I drove to Issaquah with the top down, my favorite brown jacket wrapped me in an orgasmic layer of comfort. “Pink Floyd” played through the speakers, of course. (It plays now, though a different album.) I sped through the twisty roads and trusted the GPS to get us there safely. Of course it did.

At the bar I ordered the barleywine I’d come for, and a cheap order of buffalo chicken sliders. My mind didn’t process in that moment that combining spicy food with a barleywine may not have been the best idea.

I read a different book now, Top 10 Volume 2. The book had one issue left, and that’s the time it took me to drink my beer, have the spicy sliders, and notice a man and woman sit down at the bar.

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He Lives

Under a late-March sky, under hues of gold and blue and white, our world changed.

I was reclining on a patio chair in the shade of a large umbrella, a glass of sherry on the table by my side, a book in my hands. I had rented this cottage for the month and on this, the second day of my stay, went through the bookshelf in the living room and settled on this book to read.

Nothing too fancy about it, just your average pile of pages bound in a red leather cover, black letters etched into its surface, lines crisscrossing in some random abstract pattern on the front. I opened the book, took in the smell of paper, pondered at how curious it was that this scent still continued to mine the depths of my emotions, and began reading.

The book started out as a mystery, a plain and by the numbers murder with half a dozen characters and three separate storylines that I knew would careen around until they collided. But with each chapter came the more and more frequent digressions.

The characters were talking about the murder less, had started going off on tangents that I was sure would somehow matter in the end. Seemingly unimportant details from childhoods were brought up, stories of long-forgotten friends or lovers began to insert themselves into otherwise-ordinary courtroom scenes and graduation speeches.

The background characters took it all in stride, never piping up to interrupt the strange and unexpected soliloquies.

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