Sunday, September 15, 2013

Never Say Anything

Preamble: I have been working without interruption for forty days. But today I'm not. So instead I typed up a half-assed excuse for a topical story. Though the tale may veer near real life elements it is entirely a work of fiction on every level. Enjoy!

(The story chatters beneath the fold.)

by Cheeseburger Brown

Exchange #1

"Do you still do investigative reporting?"

"What? No. I've never been a reporter. I write fiction. And the occasional autobiographical anecdote. But mostly fiction: robots and spaceships, time-travel and facile social commentary. You know."

"You used to write for that newspaper, though. Footsteps?"

"Magazine. Footprints. Sure."

"You investigated some stuff for that, eh? Didn't you sit in your car all night trying to see the Lefroy golem? You took a picture and everything."


"Really? It was pretty good."

"I'm sure it wasn't but thank you for saying so. Listen, I've got to get lunch together for my kids. What's this about?"

"There's a thing I want to talk to you about."

"I see. And this telephone conversation we're having isn't sufficiently forwarding the cause, is that it?"

"It's kind of a big deal. It's important that we're not overheard."

"Well I've got the cockatiel turned up pretty loud on my end."

"No, I mean overheard through the phone system. Can you meet me?"

"I'm just making some grilled cheese sandwiches now. But after that, I guess. Can it wait until after grilled cheese or are you bleeding to death?"

"I'm not bleeding to death."

"Who wants pickles on the side? Who wants olives?"


"Hold on. Sandwich time."

"You're breaking up. You sound like a Transformer."

"It's over, Prime."


"You want to do that place in Alcona?"

"The breakfast place or the burger place?"

"Burger. I'll want a pint."

"Yeah, you may at that."

"You're making me nervous, man. Tell me point blank: are you sick somehow? Is it cancer? I can't stand the suspense."

"Can we say quarter to two?"

"Yawlright. I'll leave in a minute. I can never remember which kid likes ketchup."

"See you a bit."

"Stop hitting your sister!"

Exchange #2


"Hey. How are you?"

"You haven't been waiting long, have you?"

"No, not at all. No worries. Have a seat. I ordered you a pint. Hold on just a sec. I don't mean to be rude. Let me just finish this sext to my wife."

"Ha, ha. Is that an iPhone? Is it the new one?"

"No, it's just a 4S. From a couple of years ago. Sorry, I'll put it away. All done."

"It's still binging."

"She does that. Some people text in paragraphs, others in sentence fragments. It's okay."

"So it's okay to turn it off?"

"You mean off-off?"

"I feel funny about asking, but."

"If this conversation is that off-the-record why did you ask about my investigative reporting?"

"You can take paper notes if it helps you remember but the notebook'll have to be burned. This is kind of a biological memory thing. I'm sorry. I mean about the phone. I know it all sounds very paranoid."

"No worries. Here, I'll power it down. Presto. It's just a brick of inert rare Earth lanthanides and glass now. Even spyware can't spy us if the device is unpowered, right?"

"Can you take the battery out?"

"No, it's from Apple."

"I wouldn't mind if you took it off the table. You know, just put it away totally."

"Eureka -- I'll stuff it in my pocket stuffed in a layer of obfuscating paper napkins and [unintelligible] ... No, that's not working. My pocket's not big enough. The napkins keep coming off."

"Forget about the napkins."

"Sorry. Hold on. There we go. Now. Okay. Where were we?"

"I need you to do me a favour."

"Oh shit."

"Don't make that face. It's not really that big a deal."

"Wait, you called me here saying you had to discuss a big deal that's no longer such a big deal? It's urgent but don't worry about it?"

"I'm saying it's important but it's not complicated."

"Like fitness?"

"Easier than fitness. But it's got to stay compartmentalized. Oh. Oh, yes. That's. Thank you."

"Thanks very much."

"That's a nice cold pint."

"M'm. Very nice. Compartmentalized?"

"I'm getting you to help on this because I trust you."

"You trust somebody you thought was an investigative reporter who chases Jewish Frankensteins in the night?"

"Shut up, I never said I thought the golem was real. I just thought you actually went out and sat in your car. With that tall guy."

"There is no tall guy. He was a composite of several tall guys."

"Whatever. I just thought it meant you were willing to put yourself out there and do something a little weird."

"So this small big deal is also a weird deal now?"

"Well it's unusual."

"Is it illegal? What -- shrugging? As if shrugging is an answer. Shut up with your shrugging."

"It's secret."

"So it is illegal."

"No, it's secret. In fact it's a secret secret. We have no way of knowing about or judging the character of the secret secret's payload."

"What you just said could be turned into the tagline for a porno so easily."

"Ha, yeah. The thing is -- have you ever read Gödel, Escher, Bach by Hofstadter?"

"I only read every sixth word because I thought it was a code, so in the end it didn't make a lot of sense to me."

"Stop trying to be hilarious for a minute, okay?"

"Alright. I'm sorry. It's a bad habit. You're making me nervous."

"I am? Why?"

"Because any minute now you're going to start talking about something I'm going to have nod and smile about, right? People with secret secrets are always crazy. And I hope you'll forgive me for saying that. But I'm betting dollars to doughnuts your big small weird deal hinges on a concept that I'm going to have to be polite about."

"Like what?"

"I don't know. Aliens?"

"I have nothing to say about aliens."

"Okay. Okay, that's good. How about this: is the phrase ‘other ways of knowing' going to come into play at any time? You're hesitating. I don't like that. Please don't tell me you're really hesitating. Aw, hell. Seriously? You're going to talk to me about other ways of knowing? Damn it, man. I thought this was important."

"I'm not as funny as you."

"You're saying there's a joke I've missed. Over my head? Shoop!"

"It's true that I am going to talk about other ways of knowing but not in the way you're thinking."

"So this doesn't involve the fundamental quantum frequencies of love and positivity?" 

"Xenu and-or Tom Cruise?"

"Ha, ha. No."

"A miraculous new life-extending berry from Asia?"


"Will I be selling steak-knife sales kits to my friends and family members?"


"Do I need to invest in a time-share or let bikers sleep with my wife?"

"No, and, only if you want them to."

"Not really."

"Then no and no."

"Phew. Okay. Please, good sir, carry on. Excuse me? Two more pints? Thanks very much."

"Thanks. So, basically, I'm sure you've heard about Snowden and all that."

"‘So cold, so cold...' He was the guy who died at the end of Catch-22. Or I guess the beginning of Catch-22. Non-linear narratives are such a pain in the synopsis."

"Edward Snowden."

"Is he a vampire?"

"No. He was a contractor for the NSA. You know, Greenwald broke it for the Guardian. Mass-surveillance and everything."

"Oh, that guy. Sure. I don't like his taste in glasses."

"But you know what I'm talking about."

"Yes, I do. I may not have a television or a newspaper subscription but even I Google persistent memes people repeat to find out what they're on about. That's how a learned what a Bieber is, and that the bad guys from Deep Space Nine have their own spin-off reality show now."


"Is that not the case?"

"I don't know. Listen, so you know there's no privacy in electronics. You understand that."

"I'm not sure I ever thought otherwise. Does that make me an infowars hipster? Heh. I'm not saying that to cast myself as an astute futurist. I've just known too many sysadmins for the big providers to think otherwise, is all."

"Because they can't resist peeking at user stuff and talking about it?"

"No, because there are things they have to do they're not allowed to talk about at all."

"That's the kind of stuff I've heard, too. Like that Lavabit guy saying if we knew what he knew we wouldn't use email for anything. That's creepy, eh?"

"If you're planning a terror attack, maybe. I'm pretty sure the NSA isn't interested in me writing to clients asking them to pay their overdue bills. Or the jokes my mother forwards."

"Are you actually making the ‘if you've got nothing to hide...' argument?"

"A little. But only because it's easy. Ooh, our new pints! Thanks very much."

"Yeah, thanks. The point is any sane person should have zero expectation of privacy while communicating or contributing to the Internet. Right?"


"So, well, some people have developed an alternative. Another Internet."

"A darknet -- some kind of Tor thing?"

"No. A non-electronic Internet."

"A non-cyber cyberspace?"

"Actually, no. It's plenty cyber. But it's not cyberspace, it's regular-space. It's this space. It's...biological."


"Not like that. I mean it's people-powered."

"Like global warming?"

"No, like a guerrilla network."

"Dude! Don't let the Cylons hear you say that. Two more keywords and you're a hairsbreadth from being profiled. Level with me: have you been radicalized? Has some bad man been radicalizing you?"

"Shut up. Ha, ha. No, I have not been radicalized."

"Did he touch you down there? Did he try to fondle your jihad?"

"Ha, ha. Shut up."

"I'm sorry. Seriously. I'm such an asshole."

"I spit beer all over my arm."

"I'm sorry."

"So I'm a part of this thing."

"This meat-Internet."

"Yeah. I mean I said I'd do a bit. And part of my bit is I need two friends to do some bits, too."

"This is where the multi-level marketing comes in, right? Tell me: how sharp are these steak-knives? Like, really sharp?"

"It's easy."

"Who's your other friend?"

"I can't tell you. Like I said, it's all compartmentalized."

"Is it your girlfriend in Canada?"

"Shut up. That joke makes no sense when you're already living in Canada."

"No, it does make sense. It just implies that your imaginary girlfriend is all the more pathetic."

"I'm married."

"I know. You're wife's hot. Hey, is she your other secret-secret friend?"

"Are you going to help or aren't you?"

"No, I am, I am."

"Good. Cool."

"So what do we have to do?"

"Well, first we wait until the salt shakers on every table are on the left of the pepper."

"I'm sorry?"

"See how the salt is on the right?"


"So we have to wait. How's your beer?"

"I'm fine."

"I'm going to get another."

"You hoser."

"Believe it or not our waitress is too occupied to take your order. She's switching the positions of the salt and pepper on all the tables at the end. Here she comes."

"Could I just? Yeah, thanks."

"I'm good for now. Thanks very much."

"Okay, now what happens?"

"Now I go to the washroom."

"Is that part of the plan?"


"I'll hold the fort here."

"You do that."

"Sorry, excuse me."

"And you're back."

"I'm back."

"What's that?"

"Piece of toilet paper. Drawn on."

"A triangle. This is part of a message? Oh, you're shrugging again."


"What do we do with it?"

"Draw a dot in the middle and leave it on the table when we ask for the bill. Are we ready for it? Are you getting another?"

"No, I have to drive."

"Could we get the bill, please? Thanks. Can we do debit at the table or do I have to come up there? Okay, great. Thanks. Is it insert or swipe?"

"Or tap. Sometimes you can tap them now."

"Thanks. Here you go."

"Give me the receipt, will you? I'll figure how much I owe you."

"Forget about it."

"This is one interesting receipt."

"Can I see it? Ah, yes. Perfect."

"That's an address and a time?"

"Exactly. Memorize it. It's for you."

"Shit, really? Can't I use my iPhone to memorize it for me?"

"No, you seriously-seriously can't."

"I'm joking."

"See this at the bottom? J. That stands for XOR. Do you know what XOR is?"

"Is it a Boolean operation?"

"Yes, exactly. It's a logic gate, for processing bits of information. You're going to have to XOR something. It means ‘exclusive or' and it works like this: if you have two of something and they match, the answer is no. If you have two of something they don't match, the answer is yes. It's a fundamental function of universal computation."

"Okay. What exactly am I going to have to...XORify? Another shrug, eh?"

"Sorry, man. You'll find out at sixteen minutes past eleven tomorrow. Do you know where this address is?"

"I can find it. I've got a GPS in the car."

"Please take the GPS out of your car before you drive there. Don't use the GPS."

"Shit. I'm lost without my GPS."

"Get a Perly's map book."

"Oh so now this is costing me money? This small big weird deal is getting worse every minute."

"Pray I do not alter the terms of the deal further. Ha, ha."

"Ha, ha."

"Sorry, I'm almost done here."

"No rush."

"I guess the final thing I have to say is that we can't ever talk about this again. If you try to bring it up, I'll pretend I don't know what you're talking about. And you've got to promise to do the same."

"Honestly? That's hardcore. Why?"

"Compartmentalization. You're to assume anyone asking about what happened here today and what you do tomorrow is a mole. Anyone. Including me. You never know what pressures might be compelling people to speak."

"Alright, man. Why not? We shall never speak of this again! Do we need to spit in our hands now?"

"No thank you."

"How do you know all this?"

"This isn't my first errand. Technically I'm what they call a byte."

"A byte with a why?"

"Yeah. A computer byte. You're just a bit."


"Don't forget your jacket there."

"Thanks very much."

"So you'll do it. No fail? It's kind of important."

"I know, I know: it's a big small weird deal. Don't worry -- I'll do it."

"No fail?"

"No fail. Sounds like a lark. I'm tickled to be included."

"I owe you. Have a good one."

"Take it easy, man."

Exchange #3


"Hey. It's me."

"What's up? How you doing?"

"I'm fine, I'm fine. But, look. I know you said not to. Right? But there's a thing."

"A thing?"

"There was an issue. You know, yesterday."


"Yeah, when I was doing my part."

"Your part of what?"

"Of the thing. The thingy-thing. The meat-based dealie. The you know."

"I'm sorry but you've lost me, man. Can you start again?"

"Remember when we went for a beer the other day?"


"The day before yesterday?"

"I believe you."

"Alcona. We had pints."

"Good times. We should catch a drink again soon."

"Yeah, okay, so I need to talk to you about it. Can I swing by?"

"I can't go for a drink today, I'm finishing up the walls in the rec room."

"But I'm saying I could just drop by. I'm not far away."

"Yeah, no, probably not a great day for it. I've really got my hands full here."

"I could give you a hand maybe. It's drywall?"

"Don't worry about it, man. Maybe some other time?"

"What? No, dude, I'm saying there was an issue yesterday. It's kind of a big deal. Dude? Am I losing your signal? Can you hear me now?"

"Listen. You can't come by. My wife's in the hospital."

"What? Oh shit, what happened? Is she alright?"

"I just want to say that you probably shouldn't come by. My wife's in the hospital."

"Excuse me for sounding crazy but you keep saying those things right next to each other with, like, a verbal semicolon. Are they linked? I'm saying, are those two statements related? Hello? Dude? Did I lose you again? Hold on, I'm going to call you right back."

Exchange #4



"On your way home?"

"Yarp. ETA's like twenty minutes. Jumped off the four-hundred. Stupid cottage traffic. So crashy."

"Well at least you're in my car, with the cruise control and the air condish."

"I appreciate it, darling."

"Some guys came by to ask about your car, though. That's why I'm calling. Can you talk? Is your Bluetooth thingy working now?"

"No, but it's okay. I feel no cop-like disturbances in the force. I've got my phone on my knee down here. Some guys want to buy my car?"

"They wanted to know about the billiard balls sitting in your back window. Sweetheart?"

"Yeah, no, I'm here. Billiard balls?"

"Yes. In your back window. You can't have not noticed them. They've been rolling back and forth back there for two weeks."

"Oh, yeah. Those. Are they for billiards?"

"You're so sporty."

"Shut up. I thought they were for some kind of miniature lawn bowling. Micro-pétanque."

"So where the heck did you get them from if you don't even know what they are?"

"Oh, it's all part of some thing. It's like an art project or something I guess, fella asked me to do a little part in it. Logic gates operating in the real world, that kind of thing. The balls are bits, black and white bits."

"Bits of what?"

"Data. I don't know. Probably porn."

"Well these guys assumed you were playing in the big Barrie billiards championship since you had your own gear. We were just chatting about it outside. I think they're in town just for the championship maybe. Nice guys. I think one of them was a white Jamaican. The accent is always so surprising."

"Ha, ha, yeah."

"So you don't have a secret life on the professional billiards circuit?"

"No. I was just dabbling in amateur billiards circuitry. Well, not purely billiards, I guess. There were some napkin and spices-based parts as well. I'll tell you about it when I get home. T-minus fifteen now."

"Okay. Kisses."

"Kisses, missus."

Exchange #5

"That's better, my phone was totally totally dead. These toys just don't juice up like they used to. But it rebooted and now it's all cool."

"My phone's being weird."

"You always think your phone is being weird. And what do I tell you?"

"'Have you tried turning it off and on again?'"

"That's it, hot stuff."


"So, did you?"

"I'm doing it now."


"Shut up."

"If that doesn't lick it you can always reset and restore. That's like turning it off and on again for grownups."

"Don't be condescending. I find it patronizing."

"That was over my head. Explain to me what 'patronizing' means."

"Shut up."

"Ha, ha."

"I read a thing today about how some people say the powers that be can use your phone as a surveillance device even when it seems like it's totally off. How could that even be possible?"

"I can't imagine. Sounds like bullshit."

"But I guess if the screen isn't powered on there's pretty much no other way to tell if a phone has juice or not. I mean, it's not like it vibrates or hums."

"It gets warm."

"Not if you're not doing much."

"That's true."

"I'm just saying. I could imagine a few ways and I don't know anything about how the hardware works."

"You're right. Spooks could be listening in on us right now, transcribing our every word."

"Yeah, because international intelligence agencies are all hot and bothered to find out whether or not we rented that DVD legitimately or downloaded it from Sweden like terrorists. Okay, my phone's rebooted."

"Ha, ha, yeah. Is your phone still all retarded now?"

"I don't know. I can't tell. Is yours slow to load Facebook?"

"I have no idea."

"I guess it's okay. Ooh, there's an update for Candy Crush."

"Constant novelty is the soma of our times."

"Steve Jobs quote?"

"What? No. That's the sort of thing only said by people who don't have iPhones."

"You have an iPhone and you just said it."

"I'm a jester. I don't have to mean what I say. That's boring. Truth trumps hypocrisy."

"Now you're truthing me about hypocrisy?"

"It's foreshadowing for my new big hip hop career. MC Velveeto Saltini."

"You're an Italian rapper?"

"Si, yo. I put the crack in saltine cracker."

"That doesn't even make sense. Plus it's kind of racist."


"No, my stupid phone is still being completely stupid."

"Let's do a hard reset. Hold down -- yeah, both those. Keep holding. Is it off?"

"Yeah, it's off. Totally off. Can I have more wine?"

"More wine for the pretty lady."

"Shit. Oops."

"Thanks. That's great."

"Hold on, I'll get a tea towel."

"Nevermind I'll just take my pants off."

"I like where this is heading."

"Get me the soap from the laundry room."

"I'm sorry I spilled on you."

"That's okay, sweetheart. It's not wholly unprecedented. But I love you anyway."

"Phew. Okay, here's the laundry goo."

"This is coming right out."


"Grab me another pair of pants from the basket?"

"What? Why? I like this look."

"I'm chilly."

"I'd say you're hot, actually."

"Ha, ha. Pants please."

"Yawlright. How's your phone? Did it boot up yet?"

"Oh, I forgot to boot it. It's still off, here -- oh, that's funny."


"It's very warm."

"Well, it only got turned off a minute or two ago. Takes a while to cool."

"Yeah, I guess."

"What, do you think a police botnet is parsing my flirtatious banter for criminal content?"

"Probably not."

"Indeed. Where were we? Oh yes, pouring more wine to get you nice and easy. Ahem, I mean -- relaxed."

"Ha, ha. Here's my glass."

"Cheers. Are the kids settled?"

"Cheers. Totally. It's just the two of us now, darling. We are at long last alone."

"How nice."

"Very nice."

"I so look forward to this part of the day."

"Me, too. No feeling quite like it."


"I love you."

The End.


Smiley K said...

Ok, I don't get it.

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Rambly and leaves you wondering. "Paranoia fodder comedy" should be your new genre.

Mark said...

So topical it should be an ointment. And I should stop typing now.

SaintPeter said...

I read this shortly after it was posted and I've been mulling on it ever since. It actually feels more like an old school 'slice of cheeseburger' story than a 'Footsteps' story. Slice of Cheeseburger stories have always a been personal favorite of mine - I enjoy the loose style and amusing torture of narrative structure and descriptive language.

That said, I was a little lost. could totally see the first part happening - I've got paranoid friends with grandiose ideas, but I got lost towards the end. Yes, it was amusing in and of itself, but I couldn't see how it tied into the first part. I was so drawn in by how this "human internet" might work or have been conceived to work and the obvious ways it might fail and, generally, the silliness of it. The second half of the story, though, failed to follow through on that aspect. I didn't feel like I got good closure on it.

The second half was the sort of silly Cheeseburgeness that I love, but without context it seemed disjointed.

In some ways while it partially succeeded for me as a "this is my life" story, it didn't really as a "story story". It was neither fish nor fowl and so it failed on both parts.

Don't get me wrong, it was a fun read. I'm glad to hear you're still alive. Just not my favorite CBB offering.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Smiley K.,

You may or may not remember my mentioning months ago about how being up on the news is a habit with little return on investment.

Well, when I was very busy with my day job work I succumbed and read a bunch of news one day. I experienced a personal set back, so to speak, and this spill of text is the result of that spell of illicit newsing.

For reference, it should be obvious that the news story I'm referencing here is the ongoing leak of radioactive water into the Pacific from Japan's ailing atomic power station, a retro-converted WWII battleship called the Yamato.


Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Sheik,

I don't think I'll go there often. I'm off the news again.

Unless an explosion is loud enough to hear from my house, I don't want to know about it. The only government agency I need to understand the workings of is the revenue service, and that only to the extent required to sign whichever lines require it on the pages an accountant prepares. I don't want to know about the loudest opinions on mystic-food-health or politico-religiosity.

Because when I do I get seized by this irrational desire to write culturally buzzy and timely textual responses. Which is dumb, because that's really not my bag. My true calling topicality-wise is more personal than that and at least two layers of metaphor removed. I don't do well pretending at wider relevance.

Ignorance is like a warm bath. It's good to be back.