Month: December 2012

  • First-World Palindrome Problems

    Back in the USA and the first thing I see is The Rats.
       No, not pet-rats, or pest-rats- –’ Task-rats™’.
    Now, living in one of the least ‘banana’ of the ‘republics’ in the third-world Middle East,  how could I not have even ‘heard’ of this revolution?

    Quick previous ‘duh’ moment:
        On one of my earlier trips, years ago, I noticed that something mysteriously called an ‘SUV’ was quite the controversy. And since I’d ‘tuned in late’, as it were, neither the papers:
    (USA Today: ‘So what does the man-in the street think of SUVs?
     A: Dingbat 1: “I’m fer ‘em, a hunderd percent!”
    Numbskull 2: “I’m against ‘em. big time!)…
     nor the TV, the ‘babbling fireplace’ in the terminal hall offered a clue.
    I threw down the airport  paper and watched CNN for a few minutes; A panel show. ‘Pro and Con’ something’. Yeah, ‘something’. Can you believe that after ten minutes I still had no idea what a SUV WAS? Really. No one thought to define it to a newbie. Heard stuff like “My wife has one and she loves it! followed by “They’re ruining the environment!”
    No help there. In the end a counter-girl in a quickee-mart explained it all, patiently, but with a hint of ‘What else don’t you-uns know about?’ on her sweet face.
    There were no rats doing unskilled labour in those days, otherwise I’d have had an excuse to prolong the conversation.

    Forward to 2012: Rats. they’re everywhere.
    Loading docks, excavations, industrial assembly, mail-sorting, perimeter security, ‘loss management’ at all the major chains. Genetically engineered and repeatedly cross-bred for the task, hence the generic ‘Task-Rats’. Re-gened, and with their pleasure-centers hard-wired to implanted chips, they just never give up, and a typical model, working in say, earth-moving, will dig to China before even thinking of taking a break, unless switched off.
    My buddy Roy Starkey, who works at the Holtwood electricity generating plant down on the river told me over a non-descript American beer that ‘they gone over to treadmill-rats year or so ago, after the perimeter-guard rats proved ‘emselves.”

    We finished the other 5 beers while he answered some, not all of my questions. I mean, this ain’t like some SUV story; it’s a downright revolting. oops, I meant ‘revolution’.
    I’d parked my trusty ’91 subaru in the airplane hangar almost out of gas while I was gone, so my initiation to the brave new first world wasn’t long in coming:
        The instructions on the pump said something like ‘Place the cash in the tray near the base of the pump. Your attendant will ring you up and turn on the pump presently.’
    I did as told, half expecting the furry little vermin to grab the dough and run like hell to buy a bag of crack. (One of the pejoratives I’ve heard them called is ‘crack-rats’, probably from their zombie-like single-mindedness.)
    But seconds later, after he’d (she’d) crawled through a little hole in the office, the pump sprang to life. I shook my head and laughed a little. No longer a virgin to the new order, huh?

    Yet the smell. Ya can’t not notice it. Not a rat smell, mind you, more like…um…phenolic resin.
    I mentioned this to Starkey, who knew just what i was talking about.
    “Yeah, we don’t go near ‘em much without the masks, but they don’t work. Who knows?”
        Well I know. Now. After considerable legwork.
    See, the rats do something very unexpected, at least by their developers at Hamlin Solutions®, the giant G-E firm who still holds the patents on the critters, and stands to be the world’s next Microsoft, some say.
    I say the next Thalidomide. What Hamlin is obviously not going to broadcast (in fact, they vehemently deny it) is that the rats do what’s called ‘ghosting’. Take trace volatiles from, in this case, the implant chip’s packaging and synthesize them in their musk glands, then release them when worried or upset for any reason. And that’s what I smelled at the gas station as the rat sensed my reticence to feed a fifty to a rodent(!)
    Internal documents leaked from Hamlin call the bug ‘Aroma-ghosting’. ‘Aroma’ is better used for a pot of fresh coffee. In the rat’s case we’re talking ‘carcinogenic fumes’. A colleague of mine working at the little-known New York Dep’t of Development in White Plains was on a rare leave in PA and we met in the parking lot of Dunkin’Donuts, just to be safe. He’d quickly changed the conversation when I’d called him at work, so I knew something was up.
    “Roger, {not his real name} what’s the bottom line on this, you know, the furries?” I asked him.
    He looked over each shoulder then kinda hung his head:
    “OK SIR, the headline’ll read: ‘TASK-RATS DO ‘GHOST-AROMA: NYDOD.”
    If anyone knew the truth it was Roger, it turned out. They’d had five of ‘em working in mail-processing, returned three after jumping bureaucratic hoops with Hamlin, and claimed the other two had died. Yes, they have an excellent forensics lab at the institute.
        I immediately thought of Starkey, wearing his useless dust-mask. Hoping his model was somehow immune to the bug, I asked Roger about the treadmill version:
     “DO DYNAMO RATS?” I inquired, shaking.
    He nodded sadly.
    “OH GOD! STARK’S AT RISK!” was all I could get out.

    I finished my coffee, or what didn’t spill in my lap, at speeds exceeding… well… on my way to Stark’s house.
    “Rats!”   I cursed as the hot coffee tried to emasculate me. Are we allowed to say that these days?


    Wu: big tail, small dog.
    Me: Oh no! Not you again. Who bought you a ticket?