The Last Supper Pill

(This is a work of fiction, and takes place in the imaginary town of Abdera, Florida.)

I’ve never met Cindy, but she’s probably my closest friend in Abdera. We speak over the phone first thing every weekday morning. She’s sweet and fun to talk to even if there’s rarely something I can use for the news site, and we sort of have a little flirty thing going on. My name is Gomez Goldenham and I work the police beat for the Abdera Intelligencer, which maybe sounds more impressive than it is.

When she picked up the phone she started with, “Here’s something weird.” Every morning I try to imagine what Cindy looks like and every morning I imagine her looking different than I imagined the day before.

“Finally! You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to hear that.” Usually when I’m talking to Cindy I’m eating a breakfast burrito and drinking a giant iced coffee. This morning was no different. A black rhino everything burrito from the Ghostfood Food Truck is my go-to choice.

“Well, the weirdness is a personal thing,” she said. “I feel happy because I finally have a crime to tell you about. Then I thought that it’s really macabre to be happy, because what happened is super sad. Isn’t that weird? To have these different places in your brain so that you can be happy about something at the same time you’re sad about it?”

“I get it. Like you said, it’s two different parts of your brain. Sorry to prompt the conflict. What happened?”

“Oh, it’s not your fault. At least it better not be! Sorry. Bad joke. Jean Ferrybridge is dead.”

I realized I should be taking notes. I rooted through the remains of take-out and not-quite-finished coffees until I found a pen in an aging donut box (I would throw these things in my trash, but the wastebasket is full and I’m too lazy to take it to the dumpster). I pulled a piece of paper from the printer sitting on the corner of my desk. “Tell me again what happened.”

“We got a 911 just after midnight. Someone driving by Jean’s house saw the door was open and called us. Roger answered the call. She was already dead when he got there.”

“What was the cause of death?”

Cindy paused. “You know what? I’m not sure what I can say about this. I should probably check with Pollux.”

Pollux is James Pollux, chief of police of Abdera, Florida. “I understand. How about off the record?”

“And you won’t report it? I don’t want to get in trouble.”

“Promise. Not until we get official word from Captain Pollux.”

“Somebody beat her to death, Go. Roger said it was bad.”

“That’s horrible. Was it a robbery?”

“It didn’t look like it as far as Roger could tell. But, they’re out at the crime scene now.”

“Thanks, Cindy. Do you think it’d be OK if I head out there?” That may sound like I’m asking permission to do my job, but I’m really making sure I don’t get her in trouble. I like Cindy.

“I suppose so. Just tell the Captain that I didn’t tell you nothin’.”

I asked for the address and she gave it to me.

“Thanks, Go. Like I said, I’m happy I had something for you this morning, but I’m also sad I had something for you this morning.”

“I appreciate it Cindy. I might call later if I have any follow up questions.”

I couldn’t remember how I knew the name Jean Ferrybridge so I googled her.

Lambert, the editor, publisher, and lead reporter for the Abdera Intelligencer walked into the office two minutes after I started my search. Lambert was my boss and hired me right out of J-school. She was a weird combination of cynical and sincere, and oversaw everything printed in the paper and on the website.

“What are you doing here?”

I was a little thrown by her comment. I was always at work on time, and today wasn’t my day off. “Working. Guess what?”

“They found Jean Ferrybridge dead last night.” She dropped her bag on her chair. Lambert has her own office, but mostly we all worked in the large central space. Not that there were many of us.

“That’s right. How did you know?”

“I’m a fucking reporter, Gomez. Shouldn’t you be at the crime scene?” Lambert was texting someone on her phone while talking to me.

“I was looking up Jean on the internet.”

“Let me rephrase that – get out to the crime scene. Talk to the captain, the deputy, then talk to the neighbors to see if anybody heard or saw anything last night. The internet will still be here when you get back.” She shot me a look that asked ‘are you still here?’

“Got it.” I hesitated. There was something I had to ask. “Lambert, do you want to take this? It’s probably a pretty big story.” My few minutes of googling revealed that the Ferrybridges had been influential in Abdera for generations.

“I do not. You have the police beat. This is your story. We all have to start somewhere, Gomez. If you have any questions, or need anything, give me a call. Actually, check in with me in about an hour and let me know how it’s going.”

“Thanks, Lambert.”

“Don’t thank me. Get the fuck out of here and get to work.”

#

“Hey, hey, it’s Hambone. How’s the reporting, Goldie?” My first week on the job Lambert took me to the police station to introduce me as the new police beat reporter. Cindy was out picking up lunch that day, something I learned later she was expected to do every day. Roger couldn’t stop laughing when he learned my last name was Goldenham and started making fun of my name immediately. He thinks he’s funny, but he’s an asshole.

“Hi, Roger. I heard about Jean Ferrybridge. I’m here to report on it. Find out what happened.” Jean’s house was on a small man-made bluff overlooking the bay in a cluster of fancy old-for-Florida homes.

“That’s Deputy Tiger to you and right now this is an ongoing investigation. We have no comment for the press. Why don’t you go grab yourself a couple of burritos, Hamhock. We’ll call you when we have something to say.”

I pulled out my phone and turned on the audio record.

“Can you tell me what happened to Jean Ferrybridge?”

Roger chuckled. “No comment, Goldenboy.” I felt my face turning red. I’d been bullied all my life because of my weight, and I still didn’t know how to deal with it. My go-to solution was to avoid people, but I couldn’t avoid Roger Tiger if I wanted to do my job.

“Gomez Goldenham! I thought we’d see you soon.” Chief Pollux walked out the front door and across the lawn. Pollux I could deal with. If he wasn’t interested in politics and running for office, he was missing out. He was easily the most charismatic person I’ve ever met.

“Hi Chief. I heard what happened to Jean. I came to see what you’ve learned so far.”

Roger smirked at me. “I’m going to finish up inside, Chief. Adios, Hammyham.”

“Thank you, Deputy.” The Chief turned his full attention to me. He was impossibly handsome and had a way of making you feel special. “Right now we have nothing to report. I can confirm that Jean Ferrybridge is dead. I can tell you that we are treating this like a murder, and we have no motive.”

“How did you find out about it?”

“We received an anonymous tip sometime after midnight.”

“Do you know when you’ll have a more complete statement?”

“Right after lunch. I’ll call you personally. Right now, though, I need to get back inside and wrap up this part of the investigation.”

“Will you be bringing in any outside resources? I mean, are you contacting the FBI?”

Pollux smiled and held out his hand to halt my questioning. “I’ll be in touch.”

I shook his hand and walked back to my aging Hyundai. Roger’s comment about burritos had me craving another breakfast burrito from the Ghostfood Food Truck. I promised myself I could stop by Ghostfood for at least a coffee once I’d talked to the neighbors.

None of the neighbors I spoke with admitted to seeing anything the night before, or to being the person who called 911. They all agreed it was horrible and everybody presumed it was a robbery gone wrong. Jean was well-known in the community, and while not precisely well-loved, no one hated her enough to kill her, and no one could imagine she had any enemies that would resort to this kind of violence.

After walking up and down the block and knocking on doors I squeezed into my rattletrap Hyundai and drove to the Ghostfood Food Truck.

#

Marco runs the Ghostfood Food Truck which is usually parked in the Gaspar Business Park parking lot outside of downtown. He tries to recreate foods and recipes that have been lost. For example, it’s the only place in town you can get hardtack. He sprinkles it on his chicken chili, which he calls the Dodo Delight. The truck is covered with info about animals and plants that have gone extinct, or about to go extinct, and he features pretend extinct dishes, like Dodo Delight (chicken chili) or Sabretooth sandwiches (pulled pork). Maybe not the greatest marketing idea, but he makes up for it by having the best coffee in town.

If Cindy was the closest of my nonexistent friends, Marco was a close second. I saw him almost every day and we usually chatted for a couple of minutes when I ordered my coffee or breakfast burrito.

“What’s up, Primo?” I fought the temptation to get a mid-morning snack and ordered a large coffee.

“Jean Ferrybridge was killed last night, and I’ve been talking to neighbors.” I don’t know how he managed to make his coffee so good, but I wanted it to rest on my tongue for eternity.

“No shit? Fuck. I knew Jean.” Marco handed me my coffee.

Instantly my mind was off the coffee and on Marco.

“Really? I’m sorry man. I would have been more sensitive if I’d known. I didn’t mean to blurt it out like that.”

“No, that’s alright. I mean, it sucks. I mean… I don’t know what I mean. I need to take a minute.”

“Sure.”

Marco came out from the truck and sat at one of the nearby picnic tables. He pulled out his vape and took a drag. I sat across from him, blowing on my coffee and taking tiny sips.

“I’m real sorry. How did you know Jean?”

“She comes… used to come to the food truck. She loved it. She was always telling me about exotic recipes I could make if we really had extinct animals. She was crazy about food. In fact, we belonged to a supper club together.”

“A supper club? What’s that?”

“Weird shit. She thought I’d fit in because of the truck, y’know?”

“What kind of weird shit?”

“Well, like one time we all went and got fecal implants.” Marco grinned at the memory.

“What. The. Actual. Fuck? How does that have anything to do with food? That’s like the opposite of food.”

Marco nodded, still smiling. “Yeah. I told you it was weird shit. Ha! I guess in that case literally. She said it was a way to feed our microbiome. That it would give us a whole new outlook on what it meant to nourish ourselves.”

“Did it?”

“Yeah. I guess so. I didn’t even know what a microbiome was before that. You know we’re mostly not us? We’re mostly microscopic organisms like bacteria. More than half of us is not human.”

“I had no idea. That IS some weird shit. Anything else?” I had about a thousand questions about fecal implants, but it felt inappropriate to grill him at that moment.

“Sometimes it was exotic meals. One time she had Seema Surly from Drinkwater Labs bring us some glow-in-the-dark chile peppers she had gene-spliced together from some bioluminescent fish. One time we had a meal with the recipes completely created by an AI, but then a person cooked it. That was crazy. Most of that shit was inedible. There’d be like a pound of salt and a teaspoon of chicken.”

A beat-up burgundy Impala drove up into the lot and two guys who looked like carnival workers got out.

“It looks like I got customers.” Marco put his vape away. “Oh yeah,” he pulled a pill from his pocket where he kept his vape. “Jean just sent these out. They are supposed to be a part of our next supper party.”

“Can I see it?”

“Sure.” Marco handed me the pill and went inside the truck.

Then things moved really fast. The two men did not move to the order window. One of them walked up to me, moving quickly. The other followed Marco into the truck, pushing him through the door.

I’ve never been hit in my life. My mom didn’t believe in corporal punishment, so I’ve never even been spanked. Bullies taunted me mercilessly, but no one has ever hit me. As long as you don’t count getting your ears flicked or the occasionally slap across the head by a high school bully. This was nothing compared to that. This was a full-on punch in the face. It hurt really bad and I started to cry. I could hear Marco scuffling in the truck. I tried to stand up, but the man pushed me down by the shoulders.

Both men were shouting something, asking questions, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. There was too much confusion. Too much pain.

Finally I understood the man in the truck as he shouted out “He doesn’t have it. He said he gave it to fatty there.”

“Where’s the fucking pill?” Through bleary eyes I could see the man with his fist cocked back. He was short and burly, bald with a long thin black ponytail, and a pockmarked deeply tanned face. For some reason it seemed weird to me in that moment that he was wearing flip-flops and cargo shorts. He also scared the shit out of me.

The pill was in my hand. Without thinking I put it in my mouth and bit down.

“You dumb fuck.” He tried to get his hand in my mouth, but I bit him, then I kept chewing the pill. As we wrestled I fell off the picnic table and onto the pitted blacktop.

This isn’t actually much of a surprise if you knew me. I’m a compulsive eater. During one of the last conversations I ever had with my mom while I lived at home she said “Do you have to put every goddamn thing into your mouth?” That was the day I knew it was time to move out. We’ve talked since, but not much. What WAS surprising was the pill. It sort of exploded in my mouth. Not exploded in a fizzy way like an effervescent candy, but exploded with flavor like it was filling my mouth with food. It was shocking and disconcerting and I might have spit it out, it was so unexpected, except for the guy trying to stick his fingers in my mouth to scoop it out.

I couldn’t tell if I was really eating food, or if it was just some sort of flavor explosion. My mind couldn’t comprehend what was happening  in my mouth. It was like I was eating a whole meal. Literally. First was a strong taste of bibb lettuce with a raspberry and balsamic vinegar dressing. I kept chewing and swallowing, keeping my face away from the guy poking at my mouth. Next was the taste of steak, then buttery potatoes, then steak and potatoes. It was amazing, and amazingly delicious.

“Goddamn it! He ate it.”

At the very end I could taste Key Lime pie. I burped.

“You stupid son-of-a-bitch.” It happened in slow motion, but I was frozen, like I’d forgotten everything I ever knew about moving. He punched me again. This time I felt my nose shift and heard a crunch.

Weirdly, the breaking of my nose didn’t hurt as much as the earlier punch. My guess is because my body flooded with endorphins and other pain killers to keep me from going completely mad. Instead I felt really itchy on the inside of my face, like a swarm of ants were trying to make their way out.

The two men got in their car and drove away. Marco knelt beside me and turned me on my right shoulder.

“Spit out the blood. We don’t want you choking.”

I spat. “The pill. They wanted the pill.” It was hard to breathe and I kept spitting blood, letting it drool out of the side of my mouth.

“Did they get it?”

I spat some more. The blood in my mouth was starting to make me feel sick. I wondered if I vomited if I’d see meat and potatoes and key lime pie. It crossed my mind that I should vomit just as an experiment to test my taste experience against the contents of my stomach.

“I ate it.”

“You what?”

“I didn’t mean too. When I get nervous I eat things. I put it in my mouth without even thinking.”

“Do you feel alright?”

My head ached and my face hurt a lot, but my nausea was settling down and the bleeding seemed to be bothering me less, though it was still flowing profusely and I was still spitting. But, I knew he was asking about the pill.

“It was like eating a whole meal.”

“You mean because of all the blood you swallowed?” Marco looked confused and a little worried. I could see he was thinking that punch knocked me loopy.

“No. The pill. It was like a meal in a pill.”

His eyes opened wide like he understood something. “I bet that’s exactly what it was. Jean sent it to us for the next supper club meeting. I bet that was going to be our meal.”

“It was intense. I didn’t know something like that was possible. It’s like a pill out of Willie Wonka.” The blacktop was starting to feel uncomfortable and I wondered if I should move.

“Yeah. Pretty wild. I wonder where she got them. Hey, do you think those guys maybe killed Jean?”

“Yeah. Maybe.” I needed to call Lambert. I also probably needed to call Chief Pollux. “Can you help me up?”

“You just lie there. You might be concussed. Let me get you some towels and put some pressure on that nose. It looks like he broke it. You look fucked up, Primo.” Marco left to get some towels and I idly wondered where my phone was.

Then I puked up what felt like a bucket of blood. There was some breakfast burrito in there, but no steak and potatoes. And, no key lime pie.

He came back with towels. I wiped my face, spit, and he handed me a towel full of ice I put on my forehead as close as I could get to my nose. The coolness felt good, but I couldn’t touch my nose or my cheeks.

“Wait a minute. You said us. You said Jean sent it to us.”

“Yeah, for the next supper club.”

“How did those guys know to come to you? How did they know you had the pill? Do you think they know who Jean sent the pills to?”

“I don’t see how.”

“Did she send an email about it? Maybe she had an address list at her home.”

“No, dude, she totally sent us an email. I bet you’re right. I need to let everybody know.”

“I need to call too. Do you see my phone?”

“Yeah. It’s here on the table.” Marco handed me my phone. “I’ll be right back.” He went to his food truck, I assume to start making calls. I wondered if I might be bleeding to death. There was a lot of blood still flowing from my face.

I didn’t know whether to call Lambert or the police first. I called Lambert.

“Start calling those people immediately. Text me the names. I’ll contact Captain Pollux and let him know about the assault.”

I did exactly as Lambert suggested. Marco and I didn’t reach everybody, but he at least left a message, or texted everyone in the supper club and managed to speak to two members.

I wanted to race to warn someone, but Marco closed up the food truck and drove me to the emergency room in his pick-up truck. I laid down in back, bleeding all over the bed of his truck. I was quite dizzy from all the blood loss, and my headache kept getting more and more intense.

#

As I was getting checked for a concussion Lambert texted me to let me know the police arrested the attackers.

#

The next day I was coping with a profound headache. Lambert took over the story. It turned out that a research scientist named Seema Surly had been killed at Drinkwater Labs the same night as Jean Ferrybridge, though no one discovered her body until the next night; the night I was hanging out in the hospital.

Surly’s killer was Drinkwater’s attorney. She was trying to steal the recipe for the meal-in-a-pill invention Surly created. Surly shared a batch of prototype pills with Ferrybridge and Ferrybridge’s supper club. That was the pill I ate when attacked at Ghostfood.

A few days later I was back at work with a healing nose and two glorious shiners. I was feeling really down about myself because the first big story I had to break I instead broke my nose. Lambert was the best, but I still felt gloomy.

As I brooded about what a loser I was I got a text from Marco: Meet me at the food truck when you get off work. I have a surprise.

After work I drove to Ghostfood thinking maybe he made me a special treat. Marco told me he was taking me somewhere and directed me to his truck. I sat in the front this time. He wouldn’t tell me where we were going. I wondered if Marco and I might be on our way to being friends. That would be nice. I’d never had many friends, but I’d never felt lonely until I moved to Abdera and away from Mom.

Eventually I realized we were driving to the Drinkwater estate. I realized it as we passed the open gates with DRINK on one gate and WATER on the other. My journalistic powers of super deduction at work.

“Why are we going to Drinkwater’s?”

“You’ll find out.”

I followed Marco through the front door and into a huge dining room. A group of people holding an assortment of wine and cocktail glasses mingled near a bar at one end of the room.

“Here he is! The man of the hour.” Harlen Drinkwater separated from the group and came to me and shook my hand. “Let me get you a drink.” I recognized Harlen from the news website. We wrote a lot about his charitable work, which always included pictures of him toasting or drinking.

I blushed, but it was probably impossible to tell given the state of my face.

“Thanks, but I didn’t really do anything.” I felt a little embarrassed to have all this attention on me.

“Nonsense. You broke the case wide open.” Like my nose, I thought. “If you hadn’t been at the food truck, only God knows what those creeps might have done to Marco. And, if you hadn’t eaten the pill, they might have stolen it and made their getaway. And, the two of you managed to contact everyone and get the police to understand the seriousness of the situation.”

“Okay. Thank you. Still, I feel like I was just doing my job.”

“Here’s to doing your job. Cheers!” Everyone lifted their glass and we drank a toast.

Drinkwater’s face turned serious. “This isn’t all a celebration, however. We lost two wonderful amazing people a few days ago. Both were important to me, but one especially was important to this group. Here’s to Jean.” We drank another toast.

Drinkwater gestured for us all to sit down at the dining room table at the other end of the room, and I took a seat next to Marco. Each of us had a silver service set in front of us with a gleaming lid covering a silver plate.

“Tonight’s dinner is in Jean’s memory. And tonight we also welcome, if he will have us, a new member to the supper club.” Drinkwater focused his attention on me. “Gomez Goldenham, on behalf of the supper club I’d like to ask you to join us as our newest member. I think you will find it a rewarding experience.”

I felt awkward and flattered. “Yes. That would be nice. I’d like that a lot.”

“Then welcome!” We drank another toast. “And now, tonight’s dinner.” Drinkwater gestured and we removed the silver covers from our plates. Sitting on the gleaming silver was a single pill. A pill like the one I ate at Ghostfood.

“What you see before you is the last batch of the Drinkwater Meal-in-a-Pill invented by Seema Surly. Seema was a brilliant scientist and a dear friend and I miss her deeply. Unfortunately when Seema died the secret of their production died with her. She wrote many notes, but she kept a few secrets locked away in her head. I don’t know yet if I’ll keep the labs working on unlocking those secrets, but even if I do there’s no guarantee anyone will ever match Seema’s singular genius. I admit I don’t know what we’re eating tonight. The pills have been distributed randomly. Please describe your sensations as we eat.

“Gomez, as our newest member and tonight’s guest of honor will you do us the honor of eating the first pill?”

I nodded silently and awkwardly popped the meal-in-a-pill in my mouth. This time I chewed slowly and enjoyed the strange sensation. I described everything I tasted to my new friends.

END

Tampa, FL

May 2019

AFTERWORD: As I started the current iteration of this blog at the beginning of 2019, I posted some fictional entries as if from a young man newly arrived in Abdera. Regular posting, as has been the case for nearly a decade now, became untenable as the semester got underway and sucked up all my time. However, I kept writing notes and ideas about that character, and he eventually became Gomez Goldenham, the protagonist of this story.

Initially this story had a lot more future food stuff. It was more of a quest/mystery where the protagonist had to go from person to person, place to place and getting his clue card stamped until he solved the mystery. In the end I ditched the mystery-solving and decided to write a story about meeting new friends.


Homeless in Abdera

(The following is a work a fiction, part of an on-going series of vignettes about the made-up town of Abdera, Florida.) 005/???

To tell this story I must confess. I didn’t really pay for another week of rent. I couldn’t afford it. I was kicked out of my apartment.

OK, I’ve confessed. Now I can tell the story.

I had a run-in with a security robot last night.

I kinda’ve already been scoping out potential places to sleep even before I got booted. I always knew I only rented for two weeks. I don’t know why I lied about that. Embarrassed maybe?

Anyway, I’ve been identifying likely places to crash. I found a place near an underpass. It’s this weird concrete alcove in the middle of a multiple crossing streets and highway overpasses. It’s invisible from the roads, but hard to approach and isolated. It was kind of OK, but I was feeling pretty down about things.

Somehow I’d managed to fall asleep. I had a sleeping bag, and used some rolled up jeans for a pillow.

I have no idea what time it was when I heard a voice telling me to come out. I was confused and it took me a minute to remember I was sleeping outside. I moved to the light with my hands up.

I was busted.

That’s when I learned that Abdera has robot security guards. The security robots look like a 4-foot high white cone topped with a rotating blue light and four flashlights facing in four directions. Across the chest is lettered SURLY SECURITY.

When I came out the robot killed its light and said, “OK, kid, tell me your story.” I wasn’t sure if I should keep my hands up or not. What is the protocol when encountering a security robot?

I slowly lowered my hands, and told it my story. When I was through it told me how to find some help with temporary housing and food resources for the indigent. And then it left. I didn’t get arrested!

The next morning I followed its advice, got some food and a shower, got a super tiny apartment for a week and went to my first day of work.

I’ve been working for a week and have to go there now, but next post I’ll tell you about Val the dishwasher.

The Chinese Century

Random reminder that while the US is so dysfunctional it can’t even keep its government functioning, China is on the Moon.

“The first spacecraft of the program, the Chang’e 1 lunar orbiter, was launched from Xichang Satellite Launch Center on 24 October 2007, having been delayed from the initial planned date of 17–19 April 2007. A second orbiter, Chang’e 2, was launched on 1 October 2010. Chang’e 3, which includes a lander and rover, was launched on 1 December 2013 and successfully soft-landed on the Moon on 14 December 2013. Chang’e 4, which includes a lander and rover, was launched on 7 December 2018. A sample return mission, Chang’e 5, is scheduled for December 2019.”

China is also immersed in a long-term program to improve trade. The Belt and Road Initiative invests money in infrastructure projects (roads, schools, airports, etc.) in locales desperate for economic growth in exchange for long-term trade agreements.

They’re spending money on improving trade, advancing science and technology, and building relationships with the nations around them.

While the US, on the other hand, are tightly bound to a war economy, and are arguing about border walls.

No real point. Just daydreaming of a different world.

My First Job in Abdera

(The following is a work a fiction, part of an on-going series of vignettes about the made-up town of Abdera, Florida.) 004/???

I learned so much talking to Teresa. My first friend in Abdera!

First, she prefers Reza. Second, I’m a shitty tipper. And third, the diner is hiring. Dear blog, I got a job!!! I start tonight.

She also has a soft spot for stray dogs, she told me.

In other news I learned my rent is due every week, not every month as I believed. I thought I paid two months in advance, but I only paid two weeks. When my landlord courteously informed me I should pay the fuck up or get the fuck out I paid rent for the next week, but I’m going to run out of money soon. I wonder how long before I get paid at my new job.

No More Stories From the Menu

(The following is a work a fiction, part of an on-going series of vignettes about the made-up town of Abdera, Florida.) 003/???

I learned who writes the history bits for the menu! Her name is Teresa and she works at the diner. She’s been my waitress for breakfast and lunch and refilled my coffee cup a dozen times. Today she had a very nice conversation with me about “plagiarism” and “reproducing other people’s work without credit” and “stop copying my stuff for your stupid blog”.

I have so many questions about how she knows so much about my adopted city. Perhaps I’ll ask her tomorrow while she’s at work!

UPDATE: It turns out Teresa does not like to answer questions like mine at work. Through diligent perseverance, however, she has agreed to meet me after work to “explain some things” to me. Maybe I’ll see about getting a job as a reporter.

The Ghost of an Object

This morning I went down an internet rabbit hole when learned of the existence of “Thing Theory.” (Wikipedia. Original article.)

I’m pretty sure the example I’m about to give is a “thing,” but it’s a ghost “thing.”

I go to a bar most Fridays for happy hour. For years they had a sign hanging over the middle of the bar with an arrow pointing down and the words “Order Here.” Months ago, maybe a year ago now, the sign disappeared. And yet, people still line up in the same spot to order.

Part of this is that the regulars got in the habit, and newcomers quickly saw where the line was forming and followed suit. The system is slowly breaking down, so I note that more and more often people will approach the bar like most bars. Sidle up to an empty spot, get the bartender’s attention, and order. However, if they see a line has formed, they get in it.

This behavior is controlled by a sign that no longer exists. We were once guided by an object (the sign saying “Order Here”) but when that sign vanished we were still guided by its echo.

If “an object becomes a thing when it can no longer serve its common function” (according to the Wikipedia distinction between object and thing) then is this sign a ghost thing?

How many ghost things influence our lives?

Dr. Bloodorange and the Independent Hotel

(The following is a work a fiction, part of an on-going series of vignettes about the made-up town of Abdera, Florida.) 002/???

You’re not going to believe this! There’s a new menu out today! Most people probably wouldn’t even notice, but I have really strong detective skills. (I’ve been thinking about becoming a detective. I don’t think I’m going to make it as an Uber driver.)

Here’s this week’s Menu Story:


The Rise and Fall and Rise of Dr. Bloodorange’s Independent Hotel

In addition to buying and selling real estate, William Bloodorange was one of Florida’s most successful optometrists, and an early innovator in franchising vision health stores. In the boom years after the second world war, Dr, Bloodorange built The Independent Hotel between the Tamiami Trail and the Gulf of Mexico. It was one of the grandest of its era, and notable for its Renaissance-era baroque architecture. Dr. Bloodorange meant for the hotel to spark the tourism trade in Abdera.

The structure was beset by problems almost from the very beginning. In 1958, only five years after the grand opening, the hotel burned to the ground. Bloodorange vowed to rebuild the Independent bigger and better. And he did. The gala opening of the new Independent Hotel in 1961 was one of most celebrated events in Abdera history.

The tourism trade never caught on in Abdera, and since Dr. Bloodorange’s death in 1971 the Independent Hotel has passed through numerous owners, and for a few years in the early 1990s sat empty. In the mid-1990s the city council nearly purchased the hotel to destroy it. A last-second intervention by New Moon Properties to buy the hotel and restore it gave the Independent a new lease on life. Currently the Independent Hotel is half permanent residents, half hotel, and the first floor has been renovated to allow for a dozen small shops to serve the Shoreside neighborhood.

Some claim they can still hear the ghostly screams of those who died in 1958 fire.


I was wondering what that building was! It’s amazing the things you can learn if you just keep your eyes open.

A Joke

I feel like I’m in the middle of an elaborate version of the aristocrats joke. Right before Trump leaves office I expect him to turn to the camera, do a little flip of his hand, and say… The aristocrats! Turn away and leave the public eye forever. Take that, Gilbert Gottfried!

For those missing the Gilbert Gottfried reference, here’s some background.

I also highly recommend watching The Aristocrats the documentary.

My New Town Has a Weird History

(The following is a work a fiction, part of an on-going series of vignettes about the made-up town of Abdera, Florida.) 001/???

I arrived in Abdera, Florida on January 3, 2019. I guess you could say I moved here and live here now. I needed a change of life and picked a town at random. The following story is printed on the back of the menu at the diner I’ve been frequenting. I’m copying it here so you can see some of the cool things about my city. I’ve decided that in addition to driving for Uber I’ll also set up a blog to make money that way.

Here it is:

Fun Facts About Abdera!

One of North America’s earliest robot-builders once lived off the coast of Abdera, Florida. Professor Stella Surly lived on a tiny barrier island, which she named Surly Island, between 1888 and 1921. Initially serving as her vacation home she moved there permanently after the Spanish-American War in 1898.

Surly exhibited a gift for technical design since childhood. She attended Vassar College after the Civil War and pursued a successful career in commercial art. She made a fortune, however, with various martial inventions. Surly remained ambivalent about her contributions to improving the tools of war, but made herself a millionaire several times.

While living at Surly Island Stella spent her time developing animal automatons. Her dream was to create a robot army that could take the place of human soldiers. Local citizens remember seeing her in town showing off her latest ‘bots (or auto-animals as she called them), a variety of automaton cats and dogs. Some even remember her guiding through the streets an automated alligator she controlled with a radio-control device!

Unfortunately, the 1921 hurricane not only destroyed Surly’s house, but the tremendous waves demolished the small barrier island on which she built her home and laboratories. None of Surly’s work remains today, but a few Abderites still remember watching the lady artist/scientist walking the streets of Abdera with her pet robot dog.

Intellectual Humility

Brian Resnick at Vox just posted an essay about intellectual humility in the sciences. It’s something I think about a lot when it comes to education.

I used to, when I had a class with Veterans or non-traditional students, talk about the importance of intellectual humility and the real challenge of having the courage to change your mind. When you learn you literally change your brain. You literally change your mind. When you change your mind you are changing yourself. Changing yourself to be a different person can be scary and takes real courage. Without intellectual humility you’re never really going to learn anything, because you won’t be open to changing into a different version of yourself.

Then I talked to them about research on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. If you’re intrinsically motivated to learn (because you are legit curious) it will stick with you a lot longer than if you are only motivated by grades or getting a diploma (extrinsic motivation).

I don’t do this anymore because there’s no time to focus on anything other than the practical basics of using the library resources.

One tool I use for my own intellectual humility is to assume, whether I believe it or not, but to assume for just a moment that the idea, belief, or conviction I’m hearing is held by somebody smart, honest, and sincere. Then I ask myself – How would a smart, honest, and sincere person come to that conclusion?

For some things, like climate change denial, I have a better understanding how people hold on to those beliefs, though I remain convinced they are wrong.

On other issues, like race, gender, and identity, I learned that there were significant elements of the discussion of which I was ignorant. Once I began addressing that ignorance I started to change my mind, and so changed myself.

I keep thinking about this exchange between Ezra Klein and Sam Harris:

Sam Harris
I get that, but not in precisely the ways you think you do. I’m in the, once again, having the bewildering experience of agreeing with virtually everything you said there, and yet it has basically no relevance to what I view as our underlying disagreement.

Ezra Klein
You have that bewildering experience because you don’t realize when you keep saying that everybody else is thinking tribally, but you’re not, that that is our disagreement.

Sam Harris
Well, no, because I know I’m not thinking tribally —

Ezra Klein
Well, that is our disagreement.

Sam Harris
In this respect because, no, because I share your political biases there. I would line up with you completely. If I gave into my bias, my social bias I would become, I can’t tell you what a relief it would be to recognize that Nisbett and Turkheimer are reasoning better than anyone else in this field. I can’t tell you what a relief it would be to realize that Gould’s book, The Mismeasure of Man, was right on the money.

Ezra Klein
I don’t think it would be a relief to you at all. Because the thing that you said when you, I feel like now we’re just getting back to the beginning and we should let this go and I’ll let you get the last word after this, but right at the beginning of all this with Murray you said, you look at Murray and you see what happens to you. You were completely straightforward about that, that you look at what happens to him and you see what happens to you. I think the really.

Sam Harris
It’s not tribalism. This is an experience of talking about ideas in public.

Ezra Klein
We all have a lot of different identities we’re part of all times. I do, too. I have all kinds of identities that you can call forward. All of them can bias me simultaneous, and the questions, of course, are which dominate and how am I able to counterbalance them through my process of information gathering and adjudication of that information. I think that your core identity in this is as someone who feels you get treated unfairly by politically correct mobs and —

Sam Harris
That is not identity politics. That is my experience as a public intellectual trying to talk about ideas.

Ezra Klein
That is what folks from the dominant group get to do. They get to say, my thing isn’t identity politics, only yours is. I will tell you, Sam, when people who do not look like you hear you telling them that this is just identity politics, they don’t think, “God he’s right. That is just identity politics.” They think this is my experience and you don’t understand it. You just said it’s your experience and they don’t understand it.

Sam Harris
You think that’s Glenn Loury’s view of it, or Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s view of it, or Maajid Nawaz’s view of it?

Ezra Klein
I think that you have said publicly that you would not have a conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates, because you think he just plays identity politics.

Sam Harris
Yes, I think he’s, it’s the same reason why I didn’t want to have a conversation with you, honestly, because I think that it doesn’t become fruitful. This is a postmortem on our collision, and I think it was useful to do, and I can only hope our audience sorts it out for themselves in ways that I think will be accurate.

This exchange, I think, gets at something important when it comes to our Current Situation. Harris’s inability to recognize that he is part of a tribe is something you see over and over once you start paying attention. White guys (and others whom the power structures favor) are incapable of seeing how the system privileges them and their ideas. And, until they are able to recognize their cognitive blindness, they’ll continue reinforcing societal structures that diminish their capacity for compassion and empathy.

It’s disconcerting to see a group of people I generally admire (like Bruce Sterling speaking to the Long Now Foundation) and realize it’s all white men. (Even worse, looking back over the history of speakers at the Long Now Foundation, they’ve all been white (with the exception of a lone Indian woman). What kind of future is the Long Now Foundation planning when they listen only to white people?)

One method I (a middle-aged cis white guy) use to interrogate my own privilege is reading (and listening to) people who don’t look like me. I’m intrinsically motivated to better understand the human experience. I’m always working to read more people of color, more women, more LBGTIQA+. I make an effort to read people from different nations, especially the global south. For most of my life I read mostly straight white men without even realizing what I was doing. Those were the easiest voices to locate, and I presumed that they were unbiased vessels transmitting a clearly accurate understanding of the issues.

They are not.

When I started reading outside that cluster of thinkers I realized that they really are part of a tribe. Sam Harris, no matter how much he denies it, is part of a tribe, but the bonds of that affiliation are still invisible to him.

Here’s hoping that in 2019 more privileged folks become aware of their invisible bonds and learn to break them. Learn, change your mind, grow your heart.