Ceanothus and Alm were meeting with the new director of the Aulinta Regional Airship Aerodrome and Transport Hub. CÃ¢ndido Rondon Oziel had, on a dare from his new co-workers and the probably-sarcastic advice of his pal Professor Rye Must, decided to invoke Cean and Alm’s dubious aid as Official Describers of Stuff and Things to answer some questions about his new home.
The three had arranged to meet up at happy hour at No More the Drudge & Idler, the new craft beer place in the relocated Red Church, now sited across from the Logos Bookstore & Book Arts Institute on the former corner of Mission and Chestnut Streets.
“The whole repurposed-church thing seems to be working out for these folks,” Alm remarked.
“And the craft beer thing, too,” CÃ¢ndido said, hefting his pint of But We Fight for Roses Too Dubble Brown Ale. “Do they have actual monks making it?”
“No,” Cean replied, “but they got some monks to come on the train from St. Joseph’s in Massachusetts. Once the monks heard that the place was going to be a non-profit and whatnot, they decided the venture was Trappistlike enough that they were willing to do a consultation.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty, uh, Trappist-y,” Alm added. “The monks helped them with growing the yeast on the beams above the fermenters so that it’ll just naturally drop into the wort. It’s super Olde Fashioned.” Alm pronounced it “old-y.” Cean, who was friends with one of the brewers, added, “The whole idea of inviting the monks was because the brewers were sick of other people’s craft beers relying on hops and hops and more hops and they wanted other methods. I mean, they use hops obviously. They grow them in the garden across the way and on the terraces up to Highland and the grain comes from Salinas Valley, but they wanted to see if they could get even more hyperlocal and use the wild yeasts from, like, the very room they ferment in.”
“In Brazil,” CÃ¢ndido said, “we have this drink called cauim, which I think you could translate as manioc beer. It is an indigenous thing, and has been made since pre-Columbian times. First the root is sliced and boiled, then the paste is chewed and fermented. The enzymes in human salvia are part of the process, so it is the epitome of hyperlocal. You are drinking alcohol that you made with your own body. It used to be only women who made it, but that’s slowly changing in some places, ever since the Brazilian Intertribal Urban and Territorial Rights Movement started talking about how the two-gender system was a colonialist imposition….” CÃ¢ndido trailed off. “Well, I’m not sure how it’s done among the uncontacted peoples, since we try to…not contact them, but nowadays in my mother’s tribe the cauim is chewed by adolescents of whatever gender.”
“What’s it like?” Cean asked.
“I like it,” CÃ¢ndido replied. “There are these enormous parties with hundreds of people that last for days…it’s difficult to not like it when you grow up with that. White people always tell me that it tastes like sour milk. Do you people go around drinking sour milk all the time? Because I hear the taste comparison to sour milk for a lot of different things, but I’ve never drank sour milk so….”
“Huh,” Alm replied. “I never thought about that. You can only compare things to sour milk if you, like, know what sour milk tastes like. Or maybe imagine what sour milk tastes like? Or just want to express disgust with a comparison to a beverage that more than half the world can’t drink because they’re lactose intolerant. Either way it seems like it’s probably racist. Now I want to know the history of that phrase so bad.” Alm wrote it down in his notebook.
CÃ¢ndido looked at him strangely. “It was just a casual remark,” he said.
“There’s no such thing as a casual remark for Alm,” Cean said, gesturing to Alm’s notebook, which was bulging with newspaper clippings and extra pages and covered with taped-on pieces of paper with scrawled notes. “He’ll be able to give some kind of answer to your question in no more than a month. And then he’ll find you wherever you are and tell you about it even though you will have forgotten about this whole interchange. It’s, mmmm, handy I guess? I mean, more knowledge and whatever. But it can be quite startling when you’re there, washing your hair in the sink or something, and Alm walks in and pronounces the answer to a question you can’t remember having asked on a topic you could swear your were never interested in.”
“Hey, it’s a service!” Alm objected.
“Yes. It’s a good service,” Cean reassured him. “I just sometimes think you could wait for better moments or, I don’t know, remind people of the topic before just blurting out the name of every Micronesian island where sweet potatoes are cultivated or whatever. You know, context.”
“I’m working on it,” Alm said, slumping down a bit. “I know other people are real now, don’t I?”
“Yes, you clearly know that other people are real these days. I’m going to touch you now, ok?” Cean patted Alm’s shoulder and he brightened up.
â€œYeah, so, anyway….â€ Alm said.
â€œYeah, so, anyway….â€ Cean echoed. â€œWhat was the Stuff or Thing you wanted Officially Described? Rye said you had a particular question.â€
CÃ¢ndido was busy chewing one of the homemade locally-sourced potato chips and accidentally swallowed wrong. The ensuing cough soothed by a fresh pint of We Bring the Greater Day Pale Ale, he said, â€œI’m really interested in what I’ve heard about Aulinta’s approach to petty crime, or from what I understand the almost completely absence of petty crime. I know that the Society of Friends are running as actual reformatories the carceral systems in most of the U.S., but you seem to have….â€
â€œHeaded some things off at the pass?â€ Cean asked.
â€œThat’s kind of a sheriff’s posse-inspired metaphor,â€ Alm observed.
â€œOh, wow. You’re right,â€ Cean replied after a moment’s thought. â€œOk, so, we seem to have nipped some things in the bud? No, that seems anti-ecological. We seem to have channeled some things differently? That’ll work. So we have directed some of the, well, what used to be called criminal impulses into different channels, both by not thinking of them as necessarily criminal per se and also by making structures for their outlet.â€
â€œChanneling seems like a great metaphor,â€ Alm interjected. â€œThink of all the possibilities: flood control, spillways, reservoirs, dams, levees, rapids, waterfalls, rewilding….Ok, not all of those are going to be useful, but you know what I mean.â€
â€œYeah, definitely better than the ambush thing I started with,â€ Cean acknowledged. She turned to CÃ¢ndido and asked, â€œWhat do you think makes someone want to steal. I mean, once you’re in a post-scarcity economy and you don’t have to steal out of need or want, really?â€
â€œIs that a rhetorical question?â€ CÃ¢ndido asked.
â€œNo, I’m actually interested in your thoughts.â€
â€œAll right. Hmm. I guess that outside of needing to steal things, people might steal things from a sense of, what would you say, adventure? Risk-taking? Thrill?â€
â€œYes! That’s exactly the idea we started with, and it seems to have been largely right,â€ Cean replied.
â€œThence the Thieves Guild,â€ Alm blurted, rocking in his chair in excitement. â€œI love watching people learn about this!â€
â€œIt is pretty good,â€ Cean acknowledged. â€œOk, let’s take it as a given that there are some people who like to steal for the thrill of it and even in the absence of need or want or addiction or other adverse pressures will still want to steal stuff, right?â€
â€œAnd you know about the Stuff Libraries?â€ Alm asked.
â€œI have been told, but I’m not really one hundred percent secure in my understanding,â€ CÃ¢ndido said. â€œLet me see if I have it right, yes? All the land here is held in trust by descendants of the indigenous people, and we are here via negotiated treaty rights. We cannot own our houses or living spaces, but just….â€
Alm jumped in to help out. â€œI use ‘occupation’ or even ‘squatting.’â€
â€œSquatting? Oh! Like building squats. I’ve never used it in a verb form. But you also don’t own things so much? That’s the part I’m still unclear on. There was already furniture in my house when I got there, and I did bring some things from Brazil, but if I need more things I don’t have to buy them?â€ CÃ¢ndido looked back and forth between Alm and Cean.
â€œThat’s right. You can own things but you don’t need to own things. Most things you can get from the Stuff Libraries,â€ Alm clarified. â€œFurniture, household appliances, dishes, even some clothes if that’s your thing. You can buy those things and then they’re your things, or you can go down to the relevant Stuff Library and check out, like, a coffee table or a blender or suchlike.â€
â€œAnd then, when you’re done with the thing,â€ Cean continued, â€œyou can return it. Like if you only needed the blender for a couple of months because it was strawberry season and you were on a smoothie kick. And this is where the Stuff Libraries interact with people who might like to steal for the thrill. You can return your blender to the Small Appliance Stuff Library nearest you, or you can give it to the person who comes around with the donkey cart Stuff-mobile and that person will return it for you, or you can just give your name to the Stuff Library or the Stuff-mobile driver and then your name and your item go on the list.â€
Alm picked up the story, â€œAnd then they give the list to the Thieves Guild. And then the guild members have to get into your house and get the blender and return it to the Stuff Library. And they have to do this in a way so that no one sees them.â€
â€œThey have to do all the thief-y stuff that would make thieving thrilling: case the joint, sneak, use social engineering,â€ Cean concluded.
â€œBut if there’s no punishment, if this is in fact a job, then why do they have to sneak and not be seen?â€ CÃ¢ndido asked.
â€œThere’s two reasons: first, most of them don’t want to be seen because they only thieve part time and want their thief persona distinct from their non-thief persona,” Alm replied. “Then the other part is that the Thieves Guild treats thieving as an art form. Not being seen is the highest expression of their art, the thing that gains the most admiration from the other thieves.”
“Their meetings are secret, and we only hear rumors about their lair,” Cean continued. “We know it’s in a cave. We know that one of the Master Thieves is named Lucien Praxis. But we do not know who Lucien Praxis is outside of the Thieves Guild. I mean, we could be friends with them, and not know it.”*
“So this really takes care of thievery? People truly do not steal things outside of the guild structure?” CÃ¢ndido asked.
“It really does seem to work,” Cean replied. “Part of it is the education system, of course. And then if you have a kid who starts, like, stealing from the food co-op for who knows what reason, well, if the kid is 16 or older then the parents or guardians can give permission for the Thieves Guild members to come and wake up the kid in the middle of the night and take them to their lair and train them.”
“But even that is tied into the educational system in a way,” Alm clarified. “The master thieves are all very good at reading people and learning about human motivation. They try to figure out why the kid is stealing things. Are they having some kind of trouble? Do they need to go out with Penske and do the slightly risky things that Penske facillitates, like climb the tall trees or swim in the ocean, or do they need to go with Colleen on a backpacking trip and have the adversity that attaches to long backpacking trips?”
“Or do they need to start at the trade school to train and become sky tram mechanics? Do they truly have that psychological set point that makes them need the adrenaline rush of doing a job that includes some danger?” Cean elaborated. “Should they become one of the people who dive down and work on the pilings of the wharf? Or, in the end, do they actually need to be thieves? In which case the Guild will train them and help develop their…I don’t know….”
“Their sense of artistry,” Alm concluded.
“You really don’t know where their cave is?” CÃ¢ndido asked.
“We really don’t,” Alm answered. “We’re pretty sure it’s somewhere near the amusement park, because reports from The Blackpools seem to indicate that some of the entities of The Blackpools are Thieves Guild members.”
“The Blackpools?” CÃ¢ndido wondered.
“We can go there later if you like. You’ll see. The thieves would fit right in I think,” Cean replied.
*They do not know it, but Ceanothus and Alm are indeed friends with Lucien Praxis, who in non-thief land is Celeste, a math teacher at the Radix Center.