Tag Archives: Alm

Thieves Guild

Ceanothus and Alm were meeting with the new director of the Aulinta Regional Airship Aerodrome and Transport Hub. Cândido 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,” Cândido 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,” Cândido 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….” Cândido 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,” Cândido 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.

Cândido 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.

“Yeah, so, anyway….” Alm said.

“Yeah, so, anyway….” Cean echoed. “What was the Stuff or Thing you wanted Officially Described? Rye said you had a particular question.”

Cândido 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, “I’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….”

“Headed some things off at the pass?” Cean asked.

“That’s kind of a sheriff’s posse-inspired metaphor,” Alm observed.

“Oh, wow. You’re right,” Cean replied after a moment’s thought. “Ok, 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.”

“Channeling seems like a great metaphor,” Alm interjected. “Think 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.”

“Yeah, definitely better than the ambush thing I started with,” Cean acknowledged. She turned to Cândido and asked, “What 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?”

“Is that a rhetorical question?” Cândido asked.

“No, I’m actually interested in your thoughts.”

“All 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?”

“Yes! That’s exactly the idea we started with, and it seems to have been largely right,” Cean replied.

“Thence the Thieves Guild,” Alm blurted, rocking in his chair in excitement. “I love watching people learn about this!”

“It is pretty good,” Cean acknowledged. “Ok, 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?”

Cândido nodded.

“And you know about the Stuff Libraries?” Alm asked.

“I have been told, but I’m not really one hundred percent secure in my understanding,” Cândido said. “Let 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….”

Alm jumped in to help out. “I use ‘occupation’ or even ‘squatting.’”

“Squatting? 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?” Cândido looked back and forth between Alm and Cean.

“That’s right. You can own things but you don’t need to own things. Most things you can get from the Stuff Libraries,” Alm clarified. “Furniture, 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.”

“And then, when you’re done with the thing,” Cean continued, “you 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.”

Alm picked up the story, “And 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.”

“They have to do all the thief-y stuff that would make thieving thrilling: case the joint, sneak, use social engineering,” Cean concluded.

“But if there’s no punishment, if this is in fact a job, then why do they have to sneak and not be seen?” Cândido asked.

“There’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?” Cândido 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?” Cândido 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?” Cândido 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.

Money Is Weird

High tea in the Than Which There Is None More British room at Camellia is always a good way to introduce Aulinta to visitors and potential new residents. Whether Ceanothus and Alm are good introducers is, well, debatable. But they volunteered and no one else wanted to, so they are the Official Describers of Stuff and Things (a title they invented for themselves) for anyone who chooses their particular services as opposed to more-advisedly just reading up on it.

They had chosen Than Which because it had a panoramic view from the Awaswas Ohlone seasonal village by the lagoon all the way north to the Bridge of Waters, with the hills beyond. Alm had insisted on meeting on a Tuesday because he had just watched Withnail and I and thought that necessitated a ploughman’s lunch, for whatever reason.

ploughmans-lunch

Rye Must already possessed a quintessentially Aulintan name and—with a general knowledge of Neolithic, Chalcolithic, and Bronze Age European history and a more specific knowledge of the chamber tombs and other burial practices of the Funnelbeaker culture, coupled with recent work on both the Estonian national awakening and the post-Soviet revival of the indigenous Pagan religious practices of Taaraism and Maausk—seemed like a good fit for the teaching post she was taking at the college. She had evoked the services of the Official Describers of Stuff and Things on a dare from some of her future colleagues, and they were on the topic of mediums of exchange.

“So,” Rye said, reaching for yet another cucumber sandwich, “if you have the time banking and the barter and the LETS and the scrip and the regional currency and the mutual credit and as far as I can tell every other form of alternative exchange medium, what do you use US dollars for?”

“Steel girders.” Alm blurted. Ceanothus and Rye looked at him, expecting elaboration, but he continued with, “Throwing themselves into the road to escape all this hideousness,” and went wolfishly back to his pickled onions.

Cean rolled her eyes. Withnail and I had already intruded on the conversation far too much today. “That’s his shorthand for ‘everything we can’t make here and can’t figure out other trade systems for,’ which, yes, includes steel girders. Others might say ‘cotton cloth’ or ‘peanut butter’ though there is a cooperative farm in Georgia who trades us peanut butter for artichokes and classes on re-wetlanding. By the way, he does know that Withnail and I is problematic and one shouldn’t identify with it,” Cean emphasized, tapping the table in front of Alm’s plate.

Alm looked up guiltily. “Yes, yes, I’m not an actual monster. Or a sexist. Or a drunk. Or a homophobe. I mean, any more than I can help it, given that I was raised in Colorado and have only had fifteen years to really unentrench myself. Unentrench. Would that be the same as disinter? Disinhume? Anyway, it’s a cult classic and I’m doing a thing on British cult classics for the Teen Center. Obviously leaving out Withnail and I. Inappropriate.”

“Then why did you watch it twice last night?” Cean asked.

“Research.” Alm poured another cup of tea and attacked the cheese and bread.

“Well, it’s kind of changed your social cues and participation in consensual reality,” Cean said, astonishingly neutrally. Turning back to Rye, Cean asked, “Did that answer your question?”

Rye spooned clotted cream onto a scone. “Basically. I mean, I get it, steel girders. Peanut butter. It makes sense. Is the point of having part of my upcoming, uh, salary paid in US dollars so I can buy peanut butter?”

Alm sat up straight for the first time all day and, catching sight of himself in the mirror hanging over the mantle on the far side of the room, pretended he was startled to find that his hair was both unbrushed and, it seemed, radically unwashed. “Salary. From the Latin salarium. Possibly originating from Roman soldiers having part of their payment be in actual literal salt. But, in truth, no. You are not being paid US dollars so you can buy steel girders.”

“Or peanut butter,” Cean interrupted.

“Steel girders are peanut butter in this model. Or, act like peanut butter. Except, you know, not as bridge supports or whatever…” Alm trailed off, making a face Cean easily interpreted as him trying to imagine how to make bridge supports from peanut butter. She tapped the table again and Alm came to. “‘Steel girders,’ which I’ll put in scare quotes for your sake, Cean, are on the whole bought at a higher level and then disseminated into the local alternative economies. So, for example, the worker-owned collective farms in south county sell vegetables outside the region, get US dollars for them, and then they use those dollars to buy fruits and vegetables we can’t grow around here and subsequently offer those along with the stuff they grow themselves to the food co-ops and other places. And these outside products are then gettable via all the normal means. Which can include US dollars. There are people who continue to mostly use US dollars, and it’s not like we actually want to stop them. If this is the grand experiment of all possible mediums of exchange, then national currency has to have some place. Or that’s the logic anyway. I don’t know. Money is weird. I rarely use it.”

Cean finished chewing her mouthful of gingerbread, swallowed, and finally answered Rye’s question: “You get paid partly in US dollars because you might need to get things like books or train tickets outside the region or, I don’t know, those Hickory Farms gift baskets. We don’t expect everyone to sever all ties with global markets. We are still part of the larger world, as they are part of us.” Cean looked at Alm, who had stopped trying to flatten his hair in his reflection in the silver teapot and was diagramming sentences on a cloth napkin. “You’ll have to pay for that napkin, you know.”

“See?” Alm said. “We still use the language. ‘Pay for.’ That’s not exactly what I’ll be doing but our vocabulary, how to describe exchange without the language of capitalism. We’re still working on that. Oh! Oh! I know what we should talk about!”

“What?” Rye asked.

“The Numismatist.” Alm and Cean said this at the same time, jinxed each other, and then unjinxed each other. Cean continued, “The Numismatist is in charge of the souvenir pennies.”

“What are you even talking about?” Rye thought it was her turn to pour the tea, and did so, but almost overflowed her cup trying to keep an eye on Alm and Cean as they telegraphed an entire conversation to each other using only facial expressions and, a few times, hand gestures. After about twenty seconds, they both turned to Rye and Cean asked, “What is money when it’s not money? I mean, how do you mark the exchange of things that aren’t actually privately owned? Or, um, how do you solidify social exchange that’s about possession but not ownership? Or….”

“I don’t think you’re actually helping,” Alm said. Cean turned her head slowly towards him, Exorcist-style, her mouth still half open while her brain tried to sort how to describe this to a newcomer.

Alm pushed the jam tarts towards Cean, startling her back into herself, and said, “Ok. So you know how all the land here is held in trust by the descendants of people indigenous to this area before European colonization?”

Rye nodded, thinking it was safer than trying to insert a question into the description of what was clearly a source of some wonder or delight to both her hosts.

“But we live here, and we live in houses of one kind or another, and we get to have locks on those houses if that’s what we want, and we do certain kinds of maintenance on them or we put in a request for someone more skilled to do it, and we can’t just magically decide that we want to live in another house and then move in there if someone else is living there already, right?” Alm looked at Rye, who nodded again. “So, we have possession of a thing without ‘owning’ it in the way that people talk about owning things they’ve bought. Some people still call it ‘buying in,’ because like I said our vocabulary has a relative dearth of ways to describe what I’m talking about. Or we’ve just been schooled for a couple centuries so that when we talk about Freud and we use the term Besetzung, you know, cathexis, we describe it as ‘investment’ instead of ‘occupation’ or even ‘squatting,’ which might be more accurate translationwise.”

Cean took up the thread, “But there still have to be ways to mark possession or occupation when it comes to a house. There are, of course, neighborhood lists but some people wanted something different and one day this person Jury Rigged…”

“Wait. Who?” Rye interjected.

“Jury Rigged. That’s just what they’re called. It’s a different story. Anyway, Jury Rigged, who was trading possession of their house because they were tired of living in TimeLand and wanted to live in the woods decided to mark their interchange by giving the prior possessor, who was moving to Stilt Village to be closer to work, one of those smashed souvenir pennies you can get in places, you know, where’s there’s a machine and you put in two quarters and a penny and crank a crank and the penny comes out all flat and elongated and stamped with some image and words.”

coin-machine

“And that person, Xochitl Mendizabal, decided to give that penny to the Stilt Village Super Group, which sounds like a rock band but isn’t, to mark the change of occupation,” Alm said. “Then Stilt Village needed a different boat with a flatter bottom to go to different parts of Jesse Marsh, so they got one that Old Man Andthessea had been using and gave him the penny to mark the change of possession.”

“Old Man Andthessea?” Rye asked.

“Your name is Rye Must,” Cean replied. “If you’re going to get hung up on other people’s improbable names then no story will ever get told. Most newcomers keep a list and then ask about a bunch of them on ‘How the Person Got Their Name’ night down at the Last Visible Dog. It’s the first Thursday of each month. Starts at 7.”

“This first smashed penny was from The Mystery Spot,” Alm continued as if no interruption had occurred. “Not that that’s actually that important. It’s just a nice touch. By this time other people had heard about this and thought it was, you know, like, funny and maybe even useful because if you aren’t paying money for these huge items, houses, boats, whatnot, it’s still a noteworthy event, changing possession, and having some way to mark that, like, to have a marker of social interchange seemed…”

“Nice.” Cean finished. “Kindly. And that became a tradition. And then there was a sort of run on souvenir pennies, like a speculation market, which was totally not at all the point, and people had some arguments about which pennies were ‘worth’ more and claiming that their marker of social interchange was better because clearly a smashed penny from the Cable Car Museum in San Francisco is ‘worth’ less than one from the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.”

“Or the Trakai Island Castle in Lithuania. Nautical Miles had one of those, I don’t know where they came across it,” Alm muttered.

“And after some of the kinds of minor crises you get in this town, people got it together, had a couple of meetings, and came up with a system. You know the Rai stones on the island of Yap?” Cean asked.

“Yeah,” Rye said, “but tell me about them anyway so that the people reading a transcript of this conversation will understand.”

yap-stone-money

“Well,” Cean continued, “Yap is an island in Micronesia, and they use these stone discs as a form of representative money. They vary in size: some are small enough to be easily portable, like ten centimeters across, but some are several meters across and weigh, like, four tons. One of the important things is that they aren’t quarried on Yap.”

“Yeah, why is that?” Alm asked.

“Wrong kind of stone. They’re from Palau, and made of a particular kind of limestone. It’s part of their value: their transport, that the Yapese had to sail to Palau, quarry and shape these stones with a hole in the middle, put a log through that hole and get dozens or even hundreds of people to move them to the shore, get them on boats, and sail them back a couple of hundred kilometers on outrigger canoes with those Oceanian crab claw sails. But the point is that while they’re used as money, usually for things of large social value, like ransom or marriage or inheritance, and they do change hands, they’re really mostly too big to move around easily so they stay in place but the Yapese have oral histories about which stone belongs to whom. So you could have a stone right outside your front door, but it really belongs to your friend down the street and before that it belonged to this other person a couple of kilometers away.”

“Do you have to, like, dust other people’s money?” Alm wondered.

“You are weirdly super-interested in how everything gets cleaned, Alm,” Cean chided.

“Yeah, well, I’m ‘paying’ for this meal by dishwashing here a couple of nights a week, so you should be grateful,” Alm retorted.

“Yes, yes. I’m grateful. Sure, they dust other people’s money if that makes you happy.”

“Well, I bet they get dirty. There’s storms and farming and stuff.”

“Ok. Anyway. There was even one that sank on the trip from Palau to Yap, but it’s still considered to be there and can still be exchanged even though no one can see it. So, the point is that you have these objects that have value attached to them both because of the difficulty of getting them and because people attach value to them socially, but they have no intrinsic value in that they’re not, say, adzes or whatever.” Cean reached over and took some of Alm’s bread.

“Hey! I was eating that!” Alm objected.

“If you were eating it, why was it still on your plate?” Cean scoffed. “Plus money makes me hungry.”

“Doesn’t it?” Alm handed over the cheese as well and continued, “So we had a case where there were these things of high social value, i.e. houses and boats, and wanted to have some kind of marker of change of possession, but also didn’t want to have, uh, social currency devaluation from people just going down to Cannery Row and making a bunch of smashed pennies with sea lions and otters or whatever on them and then using them for any old exchange, even ones that were…that had less importance. Less, I don’t know, value. So after all the meetings they decided that there would be one person who is The Numismatist, and that person keeps all the coins in some old coin collector folders, you know, with the slits you can slide the coins into? And that person keeps track of which coin ‘belongs’ to which person, and also would have some say on how much any penny is ‘worth,'” Alm was freely using scare quotes now. “And also in deciding how ‘much’ any new pennies introduced into the system could ‘get’ you in the ‘market.’ You see what I mean about vocabulary?”

“So, there’s smaller or less ‘costly’ items…now I’m doing it too!” Cean complained, “that you can actually own, like a bicycle, but there’s also all the bicycles that are owned in common that you can basically trade around but when you occupy or possess a bike if you’re part of the smashed penny people then you mark that occasion’s social importance by deploying one of your pennies, one of the less valuable ones, like from the Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose.”

“Zoos.” Alm grumbled.

“You like the red pandas over there as much as any person I have ever seen like anything ever,” Cean said. “Anyway, then you tell The Numismatist who that coin ‘belongs’ to now, and they write it down and one of their jobs is to do dramatic readings of a coin’s history if people ask for that, so that’s another part of the system. The lore. Then, if anyone wants to join the smashed penny people, that person generally introduces three coins of high, medium, and low, uh, value. Difficulty of getting. Weirdness. You know, the relative amount of whatever would make one of them cool or interesting.”

“It would be neat if you could use them for ransom!” Alm said.

“But then they’d be like money. And also there would have to be kidnappings,” Cean noted.

“Yeah…yeah.” Alm was still thinking about it. “There is that. Dang.”

“So, the smashed souvenir pennies aren’t money,” Rye said.

“They are very precisely not money,” Alm replied.

“But they are money-like?” Rye asked.

“They are, in certain ways, quite money-esque. Moneyois. Moneyoise.” Alm got bogged down in words for a second. “They are a kind of fiat currency, backed by goodwill social intentions. New ones are only issued if they come across a new mother lode of social intention. You know, like when US currency was actually supposed to be tied to how much gold there was and bills were at least theoretically exchangeable for actual gold. But unlike the olden times US dollars, you can’t go into The Numismatist and demand a set amount of goodwill social intention in exchange for your smashed penny. You cannot redeem the symbol for the thing that creates its value. The only way to redeem the value of your smashed penny is to continue to participate in the particular system of, uh, marking of occupation or possession of goods in common with the ‘exchange’ of a smashed penny that does not change hands but remains in the file and the body of lore of The Numismatist.”

“You go to these thrice yearly meetings…” Cean noted.

“They’re really more like parties,” Alm interjected.

Cean continued, “And chit-chat about the relative ‘value’ of certain pennies. There’s a certain amount of boasting from people who have contributed ones that are unusual. Like from the Cruise Ship Dock Mall in Castries in St. Lucia. Evrikum Park in Almaty, Kazakhstan.”

“One of the Rodina-mat’ in Volgograd.”

“You just made that one up because you want one.”

“Probably.”

“People are mostly proud that they contributed some absurdity to what is in effect an ongoing collective performance piece,” Cean concluded. “I think the best was when Michael Merriam took possession of the amusement park.”

“Yes! Yes!” Alm almost shouted. “He traveled to Japan and got a souvenir penny of Doraemon Waku-Waku Sky Park New Chitose Airport on Hokkaidō, thinking to honor the magnitude of his social intention by getting the most unusual penny he could find.”

“Speaking of which,” Cean said. “You want to go to the amusement park? If we leave now we can catch the shore train over there.”

“That sounds good,” Rye agreed.

“I want to go on Rebecca? I like that one,” Alm said.

“Is that based on the Hitchcock movie, owned by Paramount Pictures?” Rye asked as they stood up and gathered their things.

“Well, ours has a question mark. Could be a totally different story.”

“Rebecca is a fairly common name.”

Jump Scare

It was Two-for-One All-You-Can-Eat What the Heck Night down at The Persian Melon. Ceanothus and Alm were waiting for their friends to get out of the City Council meeting next door but had already gotten their first plates and were heading to their table when Alm said, “I need to read something to you.”

Ceanothus set her plate on the table, turned to Alm, thought for a second, and said, “No.”

“Ah, c’mon!” Alm whinged, settling into his chair. “You’ll like it.”

Cean had sat down too, and looked at her plate with some skepticism. “I finally really get the name of this night. What the heck is this?” She hefted a small bite onto her fork, gave it an exploratory sniff that seemed to go moderately well, and took a bite. After a few chews she frowned and raised her eyebrows, bobbled her head back and forth a few times, swallowed, and said, “You know, that’s not half bad.”

“Litotes,” Alm interjected.

Cean smiled. Their running game of intermittently and abruptly identifying figures of speech in the middle of any given conversation was a constant source of schadenfreude amusement at their friends’ mild (but easily increased) irritation. “Wait. What’s that one again?”

“Understated positive statement created by negating an opposite. Not. Half bad.”

“Right, right, right. I remember. Proof that the whole ‘never use a double negative thing’ belongs in the garbage along with the injunction against the split infinitive.” They ate in silence for a minute, each knowing that the other one was rapidly canvassing an intro lecture—or rather one of their standard joint mini-rants—they called “Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Linguistics or How You Don’t Understand What You’re Talking About.”

“Back to the topic,” Cean finally said. “I’ll only maybe like what you read to me if you at least give me the genre of what you’re going to read to me. I’ll only ever really like it if you give me an idea of the topic ahead of time. Or even a brief synopsis.”

“Most people hate spoilers,” Alm noted.

“Most people are ridiculous,” Cean cut back. “I’ve read the scientific research: knowing about what you’re going to see or hear makes people enjoy that narrative more, not less.”

“Really? Then why are people big babies about it out here in the Real World?” Alm made the face they employed when invoking the category of The Real, so Cean would know that he knew that she knew that he knew the he was on a species of thin philosophical ice.

“I have a hypothesis about that.”

“Ok”

Cean settled back in what they called ‘Holding Forth Mode.’ “I think that if you are the kind of person who watches mostly shitty stuff that relies entirely on shocks and twist endings and jump scares and cliffhangers and such as primary narrative functions, you get so used to that you think all cultural production relies on shock and twist endings and that knowing about those things ahead of time just ruins it.”

“So, you’re saying that a person who watches The Walking Dead is going to be unable to watch, I don’t know, Titanic because they know what’ll happen. Or….”

“Doesn’t have to be a zombie show. I guess it doesn’t really even have to be shitty. Think about the number of non-horror movies that rely on twists: The Crying Game. The Sixth Sense. Psycho has both jump scares and a big twist, but I wonder if it relies on them. I mean, do you think a person could know about the shower scene and that Norman Bates is his own mother and still get as much out of the movie as a person who didn’t?”

Alm gave this actual serious thought as they finished their dinners. “I don’t know. Probably? Psycho has lots of tension building and character development that don’t rely on the surprises, so, yeah, I think it’d still be good.”

“Then there’s movies where shock is a major element, but not at all key to the plot. Like Jaws. People get chomped; the shark dies in the end. You could totally know those things and still scream at the chomping scenes and all the stuff on the boat. That movie has so much more than its simple visceral devices.”

“Visceral!” Alm snorted. “You know, because there’s a chum bucket full of fish guts and that’s visc….”

“Yeah, I get it. Har-dee-fucking-har. Anyway…where was I?”

“You were telling me why you won’t let me read you something unless you know the topic or even the basic outline beforehand.”

“Oh, right. In sum: I would argue that if what you want to read me is any good, or if it’s worth anything more than its possible employment of twists, you can tell me what it’s about and I’ll not only still like it, I’ll like it better.”

“All right. Let me get some more…whatever the heck this food is, then I’ll tell you about what I want to read to you and then I’ll read it to you.”

“Rosebud was a sled.”

“What?”

“Did I ruin Citizen Kane for you? I know you haven’t seen it.”

“Since I haven’t seen it what you’re saying makes no sense to me, but, you know, you haven’t killed it. Not if the research is correct, right?” Alm started to reach over to pick up Cean’s plate.

“Jump scare!” Cean suddenly half-yelled.

Alm recoiled. “Jesus. What…?”

“See? I think not knowing what’ll happen can be so much worse.”

“Yeah, thanks. You want me to get you some more of, of, whatever the heck this is?”

After Alm came back with two more plates and they had eaten most of their second helpings, Alm got his backpack and pulled out the notebook he used to keep track of all the things he thought or said that were funny. At least to him.

“So, since you want a synopsis: I was listening to NPR…”

“That’s your problem right there,” Cean blurted. This was their standard interjection to the phrase “I was listening to NPR.”

“Anyway, you know the bands they have on their Tiny Desk concerts and how some of it’s fine and some of it makes you want to start killing people?” Alm asked.

“Yeah, I know about that,” Cean replied.

“You know how some of them make you feel murdery because their music is terrible, and some of them make you feel murdery because their music is terrible and the description of their concept is offensive to all that is right and just in the world?”

“Oh, yeah, that I totally know about.”

“So, I was listening to NPR…”

Cean mouthed, “That’s your problem right there” but didn’t say it aloud.

“…and I heard the description of a band that henceforth must stand as the Platonic Ideal of the NPR band.”

Cean leaned forward intently. “Ok,” she said, “Convince me.”

Alm cleared his throat and read, “This twin brother and sister Theremin and melodica duo takes their deep inspiration from the folk traditions of their native Lapplander heritage, leavened with the ambient techno sounds of the Diego Ramírez Islands, part of the archipelago of Tierra del Fuego and the home of their adoptive lesbian parents. Mixing a militant feminism reminiscent of Ani DiFranco with surprising spiritual lyrics–sung in a fluid blend of Diné, Kyrgyz, and Norman French–our guests Ludic Pierrot (which means ‘playful clown’) are currently touring Albania, Kosovo, and Montenegro in a horsedrawn Romani caravan, playing to standing room only crowds at the orphanages and old people’s homes that are their chosen venue. Their first self-titled album has now been joined by their second album, Magellan, which tracks the explorations and tragic end of a person they call a misunderstood genius.”

By this time, Cean was crying laughing and couldn’t speak for several minutes.

“What do you think?” Alm asked.

“I think that if they ever come to town, we have to go see them because their concerts have got to be hilarious.”

“Yeah, sure. That would be great.”

The Last Visible Dog

Down at The Last Visible Dog, Alm and Ceanothus were talking about the upcoming Hoban Night.

“Fuck Burns Night. Nobody can understand a word that guy wrote,” said Alm.

“Yeah, because the made-up incomprehensible language in Riddley Walker is incomprehensible in a better way than Scots. Dude, Burns night has bagpipes! What are you drinking anyway?”

“A Mise en Abîme.”

Cean picked up Alm’s drink and took a sip. “Uh, yeah, no. That’s a Meese on a Beam.”

“What’s the difference?”

“The Mise en Abîme has rosemary vodka from that place in B-40 and some nocino that Nautical Miles has been making from those walnuts they’ve been scraping up off the ground by City Hall.”

“Is that what they’ve been doing?” Alm asked. “I saw them when I was riding by and just thought, huh, whatever, that’s Nautical’s thing,”

“Yeah, that’s what they’ve been doing,” Cean continued. “They were going on and on the other day about the Rights of Common. They seem particularly worked up about something…right of pannage?”

“Oh, yeah.” Alm perked up. Unlike drink orders, this was a topic he knew about. “Also called the right of mast. It’s the right to drive your swine into the forest to eat dropped acorns.”

“Wait. What? Is Nautical claiming they’re a pig now?” Cean asked.

“Who the fuck knows. Probably? Maybe a javelina.”

Cean shifted uncomfortably. “I thought those were only in Arizona.”

“Maybe. Why does it matter?”

“Tobolito was talking about this in that public lecture the other day. He says decolonizing history depends on accuracy, or you’re just replacing the mythology of the colonizer with a different mythology of the colonizer, one that misrecognizes desire for a ‘natural’ past,” Cean made scare quote fingers, “as truth.” Cean sipped her drink. “We have wild pigs here, well, feral pigs here. They were introduced in 1924 for some stupid reason, and they’ve been a real problem.”

“Yeah, I remember. Forest Doug had that whole deal, what was it, five years back? You know, when they were all going into the woods with high-tech crossbows and then subjecting us to exceedingly gamy pork products. Dude, I mean, I like bacon and all but….” Alm made a noise of disgust, faking a total body shudder.

“Yes, it’s true. That was some rank shit. But it was in the name of cutting down a population of an invasive non-native species. Those pigs are real destructive. Forest Doug is still doing that, you know. It’s a side project of his New Masculinity Exploration. He just is selling his wildcrafted fatback or whatnot to foodie places up in the City.” Cean made the hand gesture lit. majors had invented to mock San Francisco’s particular brand of farm-to-table eateries. “Those restaurants are so fucking entrenched. I’ve seen their menus. They call it ‘savage meat.'”

Alm gaped. “Jesus Christ. What the hell is wrong with them? Read a fucking book, for god’s sake.”

“Yeah, tell me about it.”

Cean and Alm sat there for a few seconds, silenced in the contemplation of the total ignorance of San Francisco restauranteurs.

“Anyway,” Alm finally said. “What’s the deal with my drink? I ordered a Mise en Abîme, and you’re saying I have a Mise en Abîme. I’m super-confused.”

“You wanted a Mise en Abîme. You got a Meese on a Beam.”

“I thought that’s what I ordered!”

“This is why you should have taken that summer intensive French for Humanities Majors that Driss did, what, two years ago? Listen.” Cean raised her voice to carry over the ruckus the Cultural Studies Aulinta “History” Working Group was making in the dart room. “Mise en Abîme. Meese on a Beam. Mise en Abîme. Meese on a Beam. One is French, the other is English.”

“Ok, I get it! What’s the difference?” Alm asked, then started muttering the two phrases under his breath.

“Right. Like I said, the Mise en Abîme has rosemary vodka from that place in B-40 and nocino from Nautical Miles and…something else? I forget. The point is that it’s a bona fide cocktail. The Meese on a Beam is non-alcoholic. It’s a punishment for ‘not paying sufficient attention’ is what they say on their drinks list.”

“Ok, first, they have a drinks list? And second, how can the bartender even hear the difference?”

“First, yes, they have a drinks list, but only one and they treat it like a precious signed first edition of, I don’t know, Riddley Walker?” Cean looked at Alm strangely. “Second, what do you think people do when they drop out of academia? The people behind the counter are all A.B.D.s at least.” Alm leaned back to better look at the bartenders. Except for the Cultural Studies hoopla, the bar was only sparsely peopled. The rush would happen later, after the weekly Art Department movie night let out. The three bartenders were all polyphonically reading aloud to each other from individual copies of what looked like Stuart Christie’s history of the Federación Anarquista Ibérica.

“Ohhhhhhh,” Alm drawled, wonderingly. “That explains so many things.”