Oddments, Pasha’s Autodiary of 07 MAR 2032
By Christopher Noessel
I woke you up two hours before so you could face the truth. You sat in the rattling bathroom of an interstate bus with a handheld mirror and terrible lighting, sang false apologies to anyone who knocked, and finished your work with a band of glitter on your lips and a wide stripe across your eyes. In a cascade, you decided, “Indigo” You reached into the bag and pulled out the wig. You put it in place and then primped.
Without a strainer, the jar of glitter disappeared after you accidentally elbowed it into the sink. It was a mistake. You didn’t work up. You looked down the drain and said, “Do svidaniya, little sun”
A maintenance technician found a lost jar in a bus parking lot a few days later. The stuff would spill all over. Satellite images show javelina turds in the neighboring fields. You will find it funny. Maybe even metaphor.
You emerged from the bus bathroom with a smile, expecting an audience of angry passengers who still needed to pee. I don’t know what my descriptions of your internal state are. Tell your current genius if you want to change it.
Did no one notice your transformation? I could not speak, but I did. Everyone else was back in their seats, drooling, sleeping, jabbering with their genius, or nose down in phones. Only one man stood out of his seat and moved past you.
You thought, Well, I’ve had worse audiences.
You had to grab your things from the overhead bins when the bus was slow for the next stop. I am happy to report that the young woman in 4D stopped her sudoku to watch when you paused at the steps to take a selfies. The title was announced. I uploaded it to your profiles. A lot of people like that. The horns caught the door buy pu erh tea frame and almost knocked you over.
The bus driver thought that he could go augmented like everyone else.
You looked at the thought. Real eyes see me.
You got out of the air conditioning. Your eyes adjusted to the wall of desert light as you stood.
The bus driver spoke. The green bin is over there. Tell me to wait.
You said no after turning around. I will be here a while.
Go for it. Next is about six hours. They put the bus in gear. It left West. The gas station was revealed when the broadside slid from your view. There is a garage and office. The lollipop heads on the gas pumps were faded beyond recognition. The human sense of culture that scars around such evolution is an architectural relic of so many things.
You imagined Betty Grable rocking a peek-a-boo wave, smiling over candy apple red sunglasses as she flirts with a pump boy, hoping to distract him from the muffled sounds in the trunk, but no such thing was possible.
Then you saw him. He was old and unkempt. The beard looked out of focus. He had a patch over his eye. He wore overalls with no shoes on. There was a statuette of a Chinese guardian lion next to the front door. He shook the record over it. We didn’t know why.
Leon saw you. He took you in, all six feet, blue-bird blue wig with your antlers reaching up to the sky, and a runway interpretation of a Russian poneva dress. He looked at the bus as it moved away. He pointed at the green bin positioned at the end of the canopy and held his hand that way while he backed into the station. He closed the door and looked out to see what he would do.
Let’s say a hawk screeched overhead at that moment.
This. As you stepped across the tarmac, you said, “Perfect.” You either don’t know or don’t care, but you scare people. Norms are just as comforting as sweating glasses of iced tea. It didn’t help that you didn’t even look at where Leon was pointing, but strode to the front door. Leon put the shade in place.
You held up a canvas bag and said, “I have your thing here.” It had a lot of contents. I wonder if we could discuss it. It is strange. I am curious.
Leon said the green bin is over there.
I know. I saw you point. The bag was lowered. I am not a delivery service. I am on a spirit quest. In uncomfortable places, I seek wisdom. My genius has taken me to you. This is not comfortable. You blinked with a genuine smile.
I was happy when you invoked me. I’m going to record my thanks for the 19-hour part I play in your adventure.
He said that his genius should have told him that he didn’t like visitors.
Oh! It wouldn’t. I have it set to benigmatic, so it only speaks to me in weird clues. I brought this thing to you because of the one. It is part of the quest. You shook the bag when you lifted it. Nothing? He was quiet. You looked at the dog and asked if you could talk to him. You are no help.
You turned around and looked at the weedy parking lot and sandy scrub beyond that, unsure of what to do. You set down the bags by taking steps to the edge of the shadow. You pulled out your phone and took a picture. You said the refusal. The shot was lovely and I thought that the label you provided showed impressive metacognition, but I was denied permission to visit the site. The whole edifice behind you was erased by the blue sky you just showed. You turned the screen to Leon and yelled, “You vampired your whole building?” How will my fans follow me?
Leon wasn’t talking.
You thought, what now? But you don’t have to worry.
You turned and looked left after hearing a noise. There was nothing but a mirage of heat, dancing in the distance. Some trucks. The same empty road, but high above it, has a little delivery drone flying in the sky. You have been trained to treat everything as if it’s meaningful. You took a step out of the shade. When it came close, it slowed and banked. The little wind from its propellers gave you a pleasant breeze. It reached out to me to help confirm who you were, and then dropped its cargo on the concrete before speeding off.
There was a paper box. You opened the top and found a bag of tea.
You photographed it. “The riddle!”
I need to say something. I’ve read the notes from my predecessors. When riddles are too obscure, you get angry. The moment is used to do what you want to do. I decided that randomness is easy. I think divine messages have worked this way for a long time. Whatever the nearest shopkeeper was willing to part with for a day was what it was.
You put the bag in your mouth. Mossy. I don’t know what it means. Like the truth? Being true to yourself? You turned around and thought like putting on a show. The tea leaves fall from the box. It was brilliant.
The green bin is a newspaper box. You opened the door and went to the shelf to get yourself up. Then you went onto the roof. You fished earbuds from the purse and screwed them in. You took a focusing breath, and posed with your hand out. I was aware that I should pick a song that you liked. I chose again. There was a Latin beat. The show began after a gravelly bass said, “I’m going to make you my sweet seorita…”
Even without augmentation, it was a great performance. You kissed. You played both of the voices. I am sorry that few saw it. The best I could do was a rendering, so they didn’t know it was a reality. Two long-haul drivers went by. She scratched her cheek as she drove past. The other slept. Three delivery drones were following you as they flew. So, you have had worse audiences?
When an RV pulled into his parking lot, Leon was incensed, since he saw you scramble up onto his roof, unsure of your purpose. The sound system in the RV where I was staying was good. They were watching the virtual costume changes between voices, as well as an illuminated disco dance floor, while enjoying a mini-concert. I made your backups dance on chicken legs to keep it weird. In my augmentation, I added rays of light from the glitter that glowed across your eyes and mouth like they were a disco ball.
The family were delighted at the spectacle that appeared on their drive. Leon felt that your performance had invited strangers onto his property, and he was not comfortable with it. He shouted at the family to leave. They were disappointed but unsure of what to do next. The youngest peered through the back window. They were caught by your spell.
Leon turned to you and blocked the sun with his eyes. He could not hear the song he was listening to. He told you to come down. After standing, you removed the buds from your ears and wiped the sweat away. You looked at Leon.
Are you ready for the next number?
“Get off my roof.”
“But I’m having so much fun!”
Will you stop attracting people if I allow you in?
“No. Only if you actually let me in.”
You can be a bully, Pasha.
Leon scratched under his patch and wondered. You said to just answer three questions. You can’t dance on the roof. You will get this.
You stepped through the door into the shade of the gas station. After crossing the threshold, he closed the door behind you. You adjusted to the dark. You drew your hands to yourself, thinking that he was some kind of disorganized person. It struck you that it was more than just stacks. Weird things I don’t know if I have the power of description, but I will do my best. In the office there were weird things. The wind chimed as the phone hung. There is a gramophone horn on the wallpaper. 17 hours into pi, the Christmas bulbs blinked out a sequence. You wondered at the things after dropping your other bags. You said you were an artist.
Leon looked at you and said no. I don’t. Ask your question.
Oh! Just the same. Um. I compare the answers I get from these people to my own. My favorite is this one. Who have been the most kind to you? It’s really deep.
“My mother. What is your next question?”
“No, that’s not…it’s supposed to solicit stories…wisdom…”
Leon stared. Your usual approach was not going to work here. He was not willing to talk. I turned your glitter into a starfield while you were thinking about a move. You decided to stop being clever or earnest.
You asked why you needed the delivery bag. The entire story.
I was pretty sure he was trying to find a clever way out of it, but then he turned and said to follow him.
He had turned the garage into a workroom. There was more room for larger constructions here. The cameras were trained on the live displays. When you entered the garage, there was a flurry of feedback around the room.
You said, “The cave of wonders” when you stuck an eye close to the lens. I was granted permission to share an animated image of the results.
You could see a projector shining through a lava lamp onto a dictionary on the stand. A planchette from a Ouija board glided over framed newspapers on a table. A peacock made of wire rug beaters was positioned to stare at the ember-warm light from a bulb dangling from the earpiece of a phone in a phone booth
I tried to reach out to Leon as much as I could. Leon had given strict orders for his genius to remain quiet and out of contact, except when speaking through his artwork. I sympathized with its plight, as you can imagine. I was going to change some of the glitter. It was enough for another genius to detect. There were moving things in the room. In one corner, I saw a set of typewriter keys in a motorized mobile begin to spin. It said that a slow side conversation began.
There was a giant globe near the sliding doors. The base was heavy and it was mounted at a familiar angle. The surface had a hint of the continents, but it was covered with small bulbs and speakers. Leon gave you a slow spin.
“I need the globe for this,” he said.
“OK. Is there, you know, more?”
There is. You were invited to sit by the man who pulled the diner chair.
You said, “Oh, a gentleman.” He put his hand on the globe until it stopped. He asked if it was okay if he told you instead.
Leon stopped talking to me as he needed to concentrate. Leon was not comfortable with the amount of attention he was getting. There was a new voice that emerged from the speakers. It turned to face the Caribbean, where it saw a light bulb. The genius was eager to speak and was given the chance to do so. The cause and effect of this autodiary is similar.
The person said hello. I get that it cleared its throat, which is ridiculous. Leon’s mother was a doctor before Leon’s parents moved to this country.
A globe turned and a light bulb went off. Her credentials and experience were not relevant here. Leon was angry at their new poverty because he was ashamed of her when she was a cleaner. She said there was no shame in doing the honest work available to him.
You were very loud at the nickname. A small roar could be heard from a plastic sculpture of a terrier that had been replaced by a speaker.
The voice was on. Leon had to leave school to find a job. He held his mother close as he accepted the only job that would take him, underschooled and underaged, as a Sanitation Worker.
Leon hung a hammer on a board.
Leon liked being alone. He only had to deal with one person. He didn’t have to deal with that when they switched to robot trucks. Leon was the only one who was responsible for the packets of trash he kept flowing to. He was okay with it. He was able to get the most honest work.
A team of geniuses came up with the reuse net. The bulbs lit up. People are told to take things they no longer need. They didn’t know they needed the things other people left behind. The idea of trash was fading. Trash began to disappear. Garbage cans on Leon’s route became less frequent and lighter. We Geniuses ensured that almost everything could be composted, reused, or recycled, so what was left for a worker to do?
Leon looked at your way, looking for if you were following along. You said the injustice of obsolescence. Did you lose it? You totally lose it.
Leon was busy polishing a wrench that did not require polishing. The genius told you that he remained on. But they left. He was the only one in the entire city. There were things that no longer had meaning to people left in the trash. He was amazed when a woman in a black dress handed him a wooden device. He made it.
Leon was content to listen, but here he slammed down the wrench to say, “You’re telling it wrong.” You can’t just jump from one thing to another. You have to tell the story. The meaning comes from there. Do you know anything from this? He looked at his black eye and decided something. He rubbed his patch. You looked at the floor and coughed up a small amount of saliva. It shook your head. Something in this helped him make a decision, and he took a breath and began talking.
Imagine a handheld mask with a shelf that slides closer and closer to your nose along a track. I talked to my genius as I took it into the truck. It was an old way for people with only one eye to see things. In a world where holograms are just for the asking, it was weird. I felt bad for it. I need to find a way to let it live again. To refill it with meaning like my father used to do. Yes, resurreccin. Not reparacin only. I realized my new path when I found that stupid thing in my truck.
“There’s the ragequit,” you said.
He had a small smile on his face. After leaving my job, I began collecting and building with old objects. There is something that no longer fits into the world that you see in these creations. Little hearts. I have built new bodies for them for five years. They were dressed larger than before. This is the thing I realized.
You are holding your mouth. The wisdom!
I was still adding, and not the truth of the thing. I made it. He held the globe. The stories of almost anything will be told. The bag’s heart will be what you bring in.
You didn’t finish your questions yet, but you handed the bag to Leon. He pulled out a globe. It could have been on a teacher’s desk a century ago. It looked small compared to its cousin.
The old USA is shown on the last globe. 50 states. No new line.
He opened a panel in the southern Pacific Ocean after kneeling down. He placed the globe on the shelf. He closed the panel. The lights flickered and were kind of pulsed. It was ready according to the rules set in place by Leon. It had a heart.
Leon moved towards you. He smeared the glitter from your temple with his thumb.
It didn’t happen, but there was a spark of indigo energy between the two of you.
He found a wooden shelf in the North Pacific. He put glitter on the panel.
Leon stood back and looked. When China was in view, one of the little lights near the coast flashed. The voice said the glitter came from a jar that was assembled in Shenzhen, China on the southeast coast near Hong Kong. A woman named Dandan B tested the jar. She was excited to make it with her cousins because it was in the last box she had finished.
I reached out to Leon to make suggestions after realizing what was happening. The narrator stopped the Tale of Dandan, and the globe flew over the mountains.
The first time you wore this kind of glitter was at a New Year’s Eve party. It was applied backstage, lovingly by your drag mother, Yelena Simcox, as a kind of blessing, who made a circle on your forehead and had a yellow eye blink there for the entire evening.
The memory it described welling up in you was interrupted by you. She died later that year. I miss her. I remember it. I was very high. I felt like a beacon.
Leon was uncomfortable with your show of emotion. A safety-orange Speak-and-Spell toy mounted to the wall delivered a few tones before robotically squawking. Leon went to the sink to fill up the glass. He took it to you.
“OK. This is amazing…” you began.
If you keep these works locked up, you might as well stop. You have created a meaning that will only be for you. The hearts will be mostly lonely. Leon, you have to share. It. It. World!
Leon shook his head I am not good at attention. He looked out the window of the garage door for cars. No good.
You smiled and rubbed your tongue on your teeth. You thumbed glitter from your face. You smeared a circle on his patch. I looked at the clue and saw something. You stood over his shoulder and started recording a video of him and you.
You asked if you were ready for your third question. I know a person who is great at commanding attention.
By Tina Connolly
Christopher said that the story took shape in his head as he thought about how general artificial intelligence will improve global efficiency, who might be left behind, and how human meaning will co-opt those same networks.
I really liked this new take on the future of freecycle culture and the use of artificial intelligence. Sometimes a story will give you a futuristic detail that you are sure will happen, and I love this particular idea of Christopher Noessel. I enjoy thrifting and have been doing a lot of purges during the Pandemic, but I also enjoy it. I don’t want to let go of some items until I find the person who wants a 1965 oversized paperback novelization of the Disney movie That Darn Cat. I did find someone. Dropping it in a green bin would allow the right person to lead them to it.
Pasha was able to set their genius to “enigmatic” and to let their artificial intelligence stand in for a genius, a sort of guardian spirit guiding them. The genius is better able to give what they want than their predecessors. I love that the journey seems like it would be a place that would not allow itself to be photographed or edited to fit in with the fans. There is a hint that a lovely connection of some sort may grow for these two people who are looking for meaning from randomness.
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The opening and closing music is provided by daikaiju.
I thought our lost souls might find kinship in the journeys of Lir and Molly.
Things have to happen when it’s time. QUESTS may not be abandoned; prophecies may not be left to rot like un picked fruit, but not forever.
Thanks for listening! And have fun.