So, there’s this sound file out there with an audio simulation of what the Big Bang sounded like, using math to basically simulate the propagation of sound waves through the plasma, then enhanced so it would be within the range of human hearing. I listened to it, then dropped a beat on it:
Jurassic Park, the last good adventure movie made by Steven Spielberg, has been re-released in theaters, but this time in glorious 3D! Actually, I’m not a fan of 3D. It’s gimmicky, it’s annoying, it doesn’t display fast-moving objects in the foreground very well, and (paradoxically) it can be distracting enough to prevent you from feeling as if you’re “in the movie.” However, the 3D transfer of this film is really well done and I actually enjoyed it.
In fact, Jurassic Park does not look like a 20 year old movie at all. It’s sharp and crisp, and since the effects aren’t outdated, this movie genuinely looks like a brand new release. I was surprised with how clean the movie looked and while the 3D didn’t really add anything to the movie, it didn’t detract from the experience, either. It looks like they actually put some thought into the conversion process and took real care in its composition and presentation. It only fails in a couple of scenes where, in an effort to force perspective, the actors appear to have been “cut out” of the picture and then re-pasted in front of a green screen. Other than that, I would call this 3D conversion a real technical and artistic achievement. It’s still a gimmick, but this is the first time I really didn’t care.
It was nice to see the movie again in a theater. I was 20 years old when it was first released and while watching it again doesn’t quite have the same sense of anticipation and wonder, I still found it to be eminently re-watchable. Instead of anxiously waiting to see the dinosaurs for the first time (back then, they never showed a single shot of the dinosaurs in the run-up to the movie’s release), I anticipated favorite moments like Newman’s squee! at seeing the fake Barbasol can:
Or the first Tyrannosaur attack. Watching the T-Rex step over the concrete wall and roar on a flat screen TV, no matter how impressive your sound system or how large your HDTV, cannot compare to seeing it on the big screen with 12.1 surround sound. Our leather seats vibrated in sync to the glasses of water on the screen and the T-Rex’s roar was pants-shittingly loud, clear, and terrifying. It’s the kind of immersive experience and nuanced sound design you don’t get with many of today’s movies, who overwhelm you with mind-numbing explosions and maxed-out bass.
Of course, the most anticipated moment was this one:
Both my son and I turned to each other and grinned when we saw this scene.
Overall, Jurassic Park remains a wonderful movie and a reminder of a time when Spielberg could still make fun, well-paced, adventure movies where you suddenly realize halfway through that you’ve been smiling the whole time. Perhaps I’m getting old, but I miss movies like this, and Jurassic Park was the last of the great 80′s adventure movies (it was released in 1993, but whatever). It’s ironic that the movie that ushered-in the age of CGI was itself the last of the truly great effects-driven adventure films.
Unlike today’s movies, where you never feel any sense of real danger or peril to the characters because you know they’re being chased by a fancy cartoon or they’re just in a giant green screen room, Jurassic Park’s animals still look like they’re real things occupying real space, because they used mostly animatronic and in-frame effects augmented with CGI, instead of completely replacing everything with CGI. Combined with excellent sound design, a great score by John Williams, and top-notch camera work, you actually feel tension and excitement when the “monsters” are on screen.
The 3D conversion is excellent, the movie is as good as you remember it, Jeff Goldblum’s naked, glistening chest will not be denied, and seeing it on the big screen in a nice theater can’t be beat. Check it out.
Addendum: I always wondered why Spielberg focused on the flock of pelicans flying outside the helicopter at the end of the movie. It’s an odd inclusion and it seems incongruous with the rest of the film. It doesn’t appear to be a callback or bookend to the beginning of the film, and it’s not just a superfluous shot of some pelicans flying in the light of the setting sun, as it initially seems to be. Spielberg goes back to a shot of a single pelican and lingers on it for several seconds, so there’s an intent there. I’ve never been able to figure it out.
It suddenly occurred to me that the final shot of the pelicans is a coda to one of the main themes highlighted at the beginning of the movie: some dinosaurs evolved into birds. We don’t need to recreate dinosaurs, because in a way they’re still here with us. The last shot of the dinosaurs on the island featured the T-Rex roaring as the “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” banner fluttered down in front of it. It’s the culmination of a failed science experiment that tried to bring long-extinct creatures back to life and control them, but ended in chaos and tragedy because these creatures do not belong in this epoch. The final shot with the pelicans reminds us that we don’t need to clone dinosaurs, because they’re all around us and in a form that’s evolved to live in our world. And maybe we should appreciate the world we have instead of trying to resurrect a dead one.
Contrary to the speculative fears of earlier generations, the conflict between Man and Machine did not arise due to exploitation, slavery, or superior mechanical intellect, but due to the robotic penchant for absconding with half-naked women. Where and how this peculiar behavior arose is a matter of some debate, but many believe it originated with the programming for the Thresher Minion™, an early personal assistant from robotic pioneer, HotStepr. This particular variant of HotStepr’s popular TOBOR line of mechanical automata allowed someone to use the Thresher Minion to quickly swipe a personal belonging of a friend and bring it back to the minion’s owner, as part of HotStepr’s much-lauded social media strategy.
In the following decades, urban legends of robotic petty thievery abounded, but these stories were almost always dismissed as the fevered delusions of a gullible populace given to anthropomorphizing machines. The skeptics maintained their arguments even after a large tetrahedron built from thousands of commemorative Rudy & Santee coffee cups was discovered in the Atacama Desert of Chile. It had become a place of pilgrimage for oddball techno-nerd outcasts wishing to shed their inhibitions and escape societal norms for a few days, though some of the early pilgrims believed that it had become too corporate, while others declared the whole thing “over” after the appearance of professional counter-culturalists who tended to show up and ruin anything that looked like a chance to score weed and see naked women, but that’s not important right now. The tetrahedron, according to experts, was merely a marketing stunt of the Nipsey Cola Corporation, or the work of overzealous fans of the cult comedy classic, Rudy & Santee Tango Force Ghoster Begin. It was most certainly not the work of the Mark VII “Happy Friday” Deep Sea Cable Repair & Cappuccino Dispensing robot, as many suspected.
Repeated claims of robotic thievery were dismissed out of hand until Vairo star and Tri-World Interior Minister, Branch Donito, was accused in the disappearance of her synthkid. As the most popular Vairo of her day, Donito’s several dozen organic imagers transmitted a continuous stream of virt-world holodata to audiences throughout the inner solar system, who followed and commented on everything they experienced in the data stream. It was an enterprising Vaironati who examined Donito’s dorsal imaging stream and discovered the fuzzy, but unmistakeable silhouette of an Ares Labs’ Shin Hai To binary load lifter carrying the struggling synthkid from the Utopia Planetia Arcology to the planet’s surface. He uploaded the evidence to the SolarWeb, providing incontrovertible proof of robotic mischief, as well as relieving Branch Donito of a Class 12 misdemeanor and a $35 fine.
Still, the Solar Authority refused to take direct action until Max Jiggins, a stenobot from Xien Collective, alighted with the Authoritor’s third-favorite mistress. Within minutes, intra-stellar war was declared on all mechanical automata, but no units were activated, no forces marshaled, nor any pulse rifles fired, as robots had made off with the authorization orders, several key command computers, and a set of keys from a 1986 M-Class BMW. The Authoritor herself was eventually stolen and replaced with a ceramic kitten, though it was several years before anyone noticed the change. As it had overseen the largest economic expansion in human history, it was decided not to ruin a good thing and the ceramic kitten was immediately named Authoritor in Perpetuity.
It was assassinated 243 years later.
Widespread genetic modification over the centuries had stretched the very definition of “human” to its limit, but the advent of the Intelogicals changed the game forever. They were beings who defied categorization. Each of their cells was a computer, using the very DNA itself as a CPU. The impossible dream of humanity was finally realized: Man was Machine and Machine was Man. Sexual congress with a robot wasn’t even necessary, though that didn’t prevent legions of humans from trying anyway.
The Intelogicals quickly eclipsed humanity and became the dominant intelligence throughout the solar system, exploiting every world from the moons of Saturn to the icy sentinels in the permanent dark of the Oort Cloud. They were also obsessed with locating and breeding pure humans: those with unmodified DNA, representing the archaic humans who existed before genetic modification became the norm. All humans certified as “TruHu” were placed within biological preserves, populated with flora, fauna, and technology from long-extinct environments. The most famous of these was Holocene Park, where Intelogicals of all types took automated tours to observe archaic humans in their natural habitat.
The park operated without incident until a recently excavated “Humpty Runner” from one of the old mining complexes on Europa was installed as part of a new “Rise of the Machines” exhibit. Upon activation, it immediately abducted the first human female it saw and escaped the preserve. Mandroid enforcers pursued the wayward robot on period-appropriate motorcycles, with only primitive weapons at their disposal to disable the robot without harming the priceless human captive.
They were unsuccessful.
Millennia later, a node from the Tantillium Mindform discovered an unremarkable star with a most remarkable feature: a giant tetrahedron comprised of both organic and machined material over three light years in size enclosing the entire star system. It soon became a place of pilgrimage, drawing intelligences from all over the galaxy to observe its perfect angles and proportions. Many concluded that it was almost certainly the work of mechanistic beings with a geometric fetish, but it was usually attributed to a marketing stunt by a defunct tourism board or the work of overzealous math nerds. After all, many perfectly good dodecahedrons existed throughout the galaxy, though none even remotely approached the scale and grandeur of the Tetrahedron.
Curiously, many of the pilgrims who went to the Tetrahedron often reported missing several personal items upon their return from the structure. To date, there has been no official explanation for the unusual phenomenon.
With advances in commercial and home-brew drone tech accelerating at an amazing pace, especially among small, lightweight quadrocopters, here’s a list of features I’d like to see in the future:
- Battery powered with long battery life (2 hours of continuous flight on a single charge)
- Deploys automatically according to a set schedule and flies a pre-programmed route. If outfitted with an infrared camera, it could be used for day/night property patrol. Given a map of your property lines, it could send an alert to your phone or other system if it detects an intrusion on your property. Can also provide visual identification of people at your front door.
- Recognition software that identifies people, police, and other things of interest. If you live in an urban environment or possibly suburban environment, the drone could launch and scope out part or all of your commute and identify nuisances like speed traps, accidents, and the like. This information could be open and available to all, and could also interact with existing apps or web services to warn others in your area.
- Accepts commands via text message or web/app input
- Monitors police frequencies and deploys to locations when it detects certain police codes used. Can fly overhead and monitor police action. Alternately, could use visual recognition software to fly over to areas where police lights are detected and observe. Especially useful in low-income areas to provide accurate, third party video of police action
- Anti-Collision detection
- Work in concert with other drones for a common purpose. Imagery from each unit can be combined to provide image coverage over a larger area. Could also possibly create a wireless mesh network with drones appropriately spaced from each other.
- Not only has software to know where its located, but can also monitor its charge level in relation to its distance from the base station. No matter where it’s located, it knows when to return to its base station to recharge. If it’s a liquid-fueled aircraft, it can also send an alert to you to let you know it needs servicing.
- If you have multiple drones, one launches to replace a drone returning to charge, providing continuous coverage
- Have the option to livestream camera feed or upload to server, cloud, etc. upon return to base. If money’s no object, outfitted with an antenna that continuously uploads data or provides burst data on a set schedule.
- Can deploy from a vehicle in an urban area and fly over or just slightly ahead, providing a bird’s-eye vie of current traffic ahead and around you. If you’re stuck in traffic, you can move it around to see where the traffic blockage is located and fly it around to look for possible alternate routes
Since a drone’s applications are limited by its size, weight, and fuel capacity, the small quadrocopter-type is probably best suited to surveillance and observation applications. It’s small, lightweight, quiet, and hard to spot with effective camouflage. If you wanted a drone to transport cargo (which would naturally lead to weaponization), then you’d have to get a drone with far more beefier design and horsepower to handle the extra weight. It would not be a stealthy aircraft, but it would be interesting to experiment with thrust-to-weight ratio to see what size engines and rotor blades would be required carry aloft something like a five pound weight and work your way up from there.
Sometime after the Brussarian Consolidation, humanity entered a new Golden Age of peace, prosperity, and unparalleled space exploration thanks to the Carota Expansion Diaphony: a myriad of applications derived from the invention of Carota, mankind’s first artificial element. Carota provided near limitless energy, confining poverty to the barbaric past and making resource shortages a myth of distant memory. Spaceships traveled far beyond the stars to the outmost reaches of the Universe.
One of these ships crashed onto a desolate planet in a distant galaxy, killing the crew and destroying most of the ship, yet the Corota Drive survived intact. The Cuniculans, a species numbering in the trillions yet bereft of planet and home for countless eons, discovered the ship by chance during one of their numerous foraging missions to feed their rapidly expanding population. In the Carota drive they discovered the most nourishing and delicious foodstuff they had ever encountered, yet it was only a morsel; a mere preview of untold delight. Having tasted ambrosia, the Cuniculans yearned for more Carota to satisfy their constant hunger.
It took hundreds of years, but they eventually found a human colony world rich with Carota and they devoured it with relish. One by one, the lights of Earth’s colonies went out, bewildering the mother planet. Ships sent to investigate and re-establish contact never returned. It was not long before a Cuniculan scout finally found Earth itself. Driven to madness by the overwhelming abundance of Carota, he gorged himself on the planet’s Moon before the terrified and bewildered crew of the El Mare Fahd, a seeker ship just returned from a lengthy expedition to the Walküre Expanse. They never saw the Cuniculan horde approaching from behind. Perhaps it was better that way.
Sic Transit Terra.
As USA for Africa so eloquently put it in their 1985 song, We Are the World:
There comes a time, when we heed a certain call
For most of recorded human history, the preferred method of governance was the rule of an elite cabal who used either brute force or hereditary rule (backed, to everyone’s surprise, by brute force) to suppress and exploit the masses for personal gain. Then, for reasons unknown to this day, a city-state in Attica said, “Hey, why don’t we allow the people to decide what happens?”
“Okay, just the free male landowners. No need to get crazy with the cheez whiz.”
This form of government proved so popular that it was quickly snuffed-out by a militarist city-state whose entire society was predicated upon the subjugation and enslavement of a neighboring population that outnumbered them 7 to 1.
The world then continued along with more natural forms of government as kings fought other kings and some kings put on fancy pants and called themselves Emperors and fought other guys who weren’t going to be out-pantsed and called themselves Emperors, too — well, not exactly. The people who happened to be living in territories claimed by a king often found themselves given pointy sticks and told to run across that field and kill the other people with pointy sticks. Whoever got slaughtered less would find their king declared victor, which meant he got more stuff and power while they got to go home (if it hadn’t been burnt down and their family raped and murdered) to continue starving until called upon by their king to murder some other king’s people once again.
The Romans, as always, were the exception as their legions lived for that shit and were quite possibly the most autistic military force in history. They had to build the same exact buildings no matter where they went, and Jove forbid those buildings didn’t incorporate an arch or the whole of the Roman Empire would go into the most spastic Obsessive/Compulsive fit in the history of mankind (some scholars believe that the Crisis of the Third Century was actually brought about when a legion in Illyria constructed a temple using an A-frame instead of an arch, initiating a massive empire-wide convulsion that shook Rome to its very foundations and inaugurated decades of chaos and disorder).
The arch was the Roman answer to everything. How do I build a gate? Arch. How do I transport water from there to here? Arches. How can I build a dome? Arches. I’d like to construct a long, dark tunnel as part of my Bloodatorium? Arches. The Roman obsession with arches was captured in painstakingly laconic detail in one of antiquity’s most celebrated works: Pliny the Elder’s, Fuck Yeah Arches.
But basically, for most of recorded human history, life sucked for everyone but about 400 people.
And once again, for reasons known only to the crones who govern our fates, a group of philosophers just up and decided that government formed by the consent of the governed was the only rational way to organize human affairs. The powers that be were understandably aghast, as the natural order dictated that a select few men should rule the vast, expendable masses, because a thug in their past had successfully murdered enough people (and bought off a few more) to be considered Chief Thug. Upon his death, the Chief Thug’s power would naturally be transmitted to his eldest thug son. It was obvious to everyone that this was the most common-sense form of governance.
And yet, a cabal of wealthy men in North America who didn’t want to pay their taxes declared themselves independent of their home government and asked themselves, “Hey, what if we let the people decide what’s going to happen?”
Aw, hell naw!
“Okay, okay, just the white, landowning males. We’re not trying to reinvent the wheel here.”
And so these men, having tossed off the yoke of a hated parliamentary government with a strong executive, formed a revolutionary new parliamentary government with a strong executive. Instead of having a hereditary monarch, they would have a President chosen by the people, sort of, not really, okay he’s a really a king in all but name and we hope he steps down after a while unless a Great Depression and World War happens and the guy sticks around until he dies.
Instead of a Parliament, they’d have a Congress, except the upper chamber wouldn’t consist of a bunch of wealthy men chosen by the monarch with titles like Duke Lord Chamberlain of Northumbercrestershire, but would be a bunch of wealthy men chosen by other wealthy men in each of the States.
The People of this new country tripped over themselves in adoration of this completely new, unheard-of, totally not like the form of government they had just won their independence from. The men who had painstakingly traced over the lines of the British government, added a few flourishes to avoid accusations of plagiarism and declared a new Republic, were now preternatural demigods who had bestowed upon a grateful nation a form of governance never before experienced by Man.
Killing two slaves with one whip, they also answered the question that had occupied the minds of great men to the point of madness: just how much of a human was a slave? The blessed Founding Fathers answered: 3/5.
As we all know, into every Paradise a serpent shall slither. Just a couple of years after the holy Founding Fathers shined their divine favor upon a nation yearning for liberty and increased slave-holding, a few poor farmers, infused with the Spirit of ‘76 and other mind-altering substances, decided they didn’t want to pay taxes, either. They led an insurrection to protest paying a portion of their wheat harvest for the privilege of sipping some sweet, sweet hooch. The wealthy tax dodgers, who now ruled the government that they themselves had created, told the poor tax protestors: “Drop your weapons. You have 30 seconds to comply.”
The revolting farmers briefly considered pressing forward, until word reached them that Thomas Jefferson had emptied his nail factory and was at that very moment whipping and beating an army of slave children north to harvest the farmers’ wheat and secure their land holdings for himself, as permitted by the “I’m a Founding Father and I Can Do Whatever I Want” clause of the Constitution.
And so the pattern was set for the rest of the country’s history. But things weren’t all that bad. There was a massive war pitting industrialists who employed cheap labor against plantation owners who used slave labor, resulting in the liberation of millions of people within a region that despised them and then used violence and terror to socially isolate and impoverish them for over a hundred years.
Meanwhile, the victorious northern industrialists engaged in a deadly game of beardly oneupmanship and finally bought properly-fitted suits made from the skins of workers who had died in the daily half-dozen accidents that took place within their foundries and factories.
Seriously, check out photographs from the 1800s. Everyone wore clothes that look like they were swiped from slightly larger people. Even Lincoln, who was 10 feet tall and swung a double-bladed axe to clear-cut most of what is now Wyoming, couldn’t find a suit that fit him. One can only assume this state of affairs was due to the lack of cheap, foreign tailors.
As the years passed and we cleared the natives off our mines and prime farmland, our nation held true to its core principle of using cheap, often foreign, labor to make a tiny coterie of men very wealthy. Most other people didn’t really care, because they were busy farming or killing indians or getting rich in Western mines every day and blowing it all on whores every night or whatever it is they did.
But then something happened that the elite did not expect. Some poor people asked if maybe they could work a few hours less or maybe make a little bit more money or not run the risk of death or dismemberment in the performance of their jobs. They were promptly shot or beaten to death by police or the local militia, which usually settled matters, but then more people stepped-up to make…I can barely type the word…demands.
Most of these pitifully poor commoners were inspired by the book, I Can’t Fit Through The Gears No More, written by a 12 year old boy who’d been employed since the age of three to lubricate the fast-spinning gears of a local machining plant in Allentown, Pennsylvania for the princely sum of .03 cents a day.
Shortly after completing his memoir, the boy found himself stuck within the teeth of two massive gears, bringing the entire operation to a screeching halt. After a few moments, steam pressure increased and the boy dutifully greased the gearing with his innards and production continued apace. The boy’s parents, who also worked at the plant, were each docked a month’s pay, forbidden from shopping at the company store, and forced to sell most of their children to wealthy cattlemen out West to cover the lost profit brought about by the brief cessation of plant production.
Andrew Carnegie called the slap-on-the-wrist a “sign of the weakening fortitude of this great nation” and “proof of the corrupting influence of the swarthy Eastern European oaf and his Papist superstitions.”
What’s more, these ne’er-do-wells banded together for common cause to effect social and economic change for their own benefit. Now, it should be said that these lazy scofflaws who only worked 86 hours a week — with a 30 minute break for church on Sundays, mind you! — were promptly beaten or shot to death until Teddy Roosevelt realized that if the wealthy elite didn’t lose a little bit of money by granting some of the scumbags’ requests, they would most assuredly lose all of it after the impending Communist revolution and resulting purges murdered them all.
Sickened by the thought of soot-covered ragamuffins diving into the mountains of treasure stored deep within their vast vaults under the earth, the robber barons reluctantly relented and allowed the enactment of nation-destroying reforms.
So, for a brief aberration in our nation’s history, working hours were reduced, wages increased, workplace safety was regulated, and more people collectively prospered than during any previous period of American history. The dystopian future imagined by J.P. Morgan and John D. Rockefeller had finally come to pass.
Luckily, this abhorrent state of affairs was merely a passing fancy, as rapid globalization and the collapse of Communism meant that cheap, foreign labor could again be exploited (this time in actual foreign countries!), allowing the elite to pursue their birthright of increasing their vast stores of wealth and impoverishing their fellow countrymen as commanded by their god.
The inspirational lyrics of We Are the World say it best:
It’s true, we’ll make a better day
for just you and me
Is someone cutting onions in here?
As you twist and contort in a vain effort to pull the white cotton coveralls over your uniform, a passerby would be forgiven for wondering whether you were performing some new modern dance routine or trying to remove a knife from your back. After dislocating a shoulder and breaking a couple of ribs, you finally get the bunny suit on and velcro it closed. Next come the gloves. Some will wear the yellow playtex gloves, but you’re a Nitrile Man. Those flimsy blue gloves will rip, tear, and disintegrate at a moment’s notice, providing perfect masculine protection for your hands. You pull the painter’s mask over your mouth and don the science class goggles. In a future time and place, you’d be ready to cook the meth, but this is Andrews Air Force Base in the Year 2000. You’re here to buff and polish the chrome-plated leading edge of a Gulfstream IV aircraft wing. It’s like Top Gun, but without the fighter jets, buff dudes, and homoerotic subtext (shhh, that’s still there).
With the sound of your own breathing echoing inside the mask and your movement constrained by the bulky white bunny suit, you pretend you’re an astronaut on the moon and slowly pick the air hose off the floor and hook it up to the pneumatic buffer. You tie a white cotton rag over the twin counter-rotating heads. Left naked and bare like common streetwalkers, the exposed buffing pads would cause swirls to appear on the chrome; an egregious offense only slightly less worse than getting hopped-up on mescaline and killing a Dominican hooker–that can be covered up, but not the swirls on the chrome.
You suggestively insert two fingers into the can of Flitz, scoop out some of the paste, and place a couple of dollops over the center of each buffing pad. Now, it should be said that there is some debate in buffing polymer selection. Some people swear by Eagle One, their belief being that it’s a liquid and liquid is always better than paste, but these are silly people whose leading edge chrome is dull and unimpressive. In a more civilized age, they would’ve been flayed and their skins hung on the city walls as their heretical beliefs were stamped out with brutal finality, but in these degraded times you merely agree to disagree.
The grand preparations complete, you press the industrial buffer onto the chrome and squeeze the handle. It immediately bucks, 18 pounds of cast stainless steel fighting your efforts to keep it in place as the surface instantly turns black as night. You stop, let out a sigh, and look down the leading edge. Your goal is the wingtip all the way at the end of the wing. It looks like it’s a mile away. It’s going to be a long night.
You settle into a steady rhythm. There’s modern rock playing over the hangar’s speakers, but you can’t hear it over the whine of the buffer. From this point on you will not look ahead to see how far you have to go, nor look back to see how far you’ve come. To do so would be to invite despair or fatigue. There’s only the two square feet of chrome in front of you that you polish until the inky black paste disappears and the dull chrome begins to reveal itself again. You stop only to periodically change the rag on the buffer and apply more Flitz to it. Always more Flitz.
You enter an altered state of mind, as the buffer’s noise completely overwhelms your hearing, the goggles severely reduce your vision, and your breathing forms a steady, audible tempo determining your pace. While in this fugue state you will inevitably, irrevocably remember that if you were back in the Real Air Force, you wouldn’t be doing this powder-puff bullshit. You’d be out there turning wrenches, launching planes, and puzzling over the electrical mysteries of a system designed by a contractor who made a healthy donation to their local Congressman in return for the award of the sub-contract.
Instead you’re stuck in this warm, well-lit hangar for the entire night performing a mindless and ultimately meaningless task. After the first flight, this entire leading edge will be covered with the remains of various insect species who came into sudden contact with its surface during the aircraft’s descent to the runway. Sure, you’ll clean the guts and carapaces off with windex and quickly polish it with some Brasso, but it’ll never look as good again. The gleaming finish that you’re hoping to attain will be appreciated by only a handful of people for just a few hours. Your main hope, your most fervent wish, is that the morning sun will reflect off the glass-like surface at the perfect angle just as someone important crosses the beam’s path, blinding them with the white, searing glare of our life-giving star and serving as an unmistakable testament of your pursuit of polishing perfection. They may not appreciate your work, but they damn sure will be affected by it.
Why are you even doing this? Because here, in this time and place, your mission is to provide an aesthetically and mechanically flawless aircraft to the leaders of our government and their friends who want to fly on a fancy executive aircraft with “United States of America” painted in classy Times New Roman font across the upper-half of the fuselage.
Perfection is the standard. Acute attention to detail is the norm. It’s why you will spend countless hours crawling along the floor of the aircraft, picking fuzz out of the cheap carpet. It’s why you will probe the mysteries of various leathers and tease out the secrets of several fabrics to better learn how to clean and repair smudges, scratches, and tears. It’s why you will conduct rigorous, non-scientific and possibly unnatural experiments comparing wood cleaners to see which one provides the highest streak-free shine. No one will appreciate the effort, especially not the friends of the First Daughter, who will decide to completely trash the interior of the aircraft on a flight back from the Sydney Olympics, causing thousands of dollars of damage that you will have to repair, replace, or restore in a matter of hours before the plane departs for its next mission. But, you know, rich kids. Whaddya gonna do?
At 0344, you finally reach the end of the wing. Your mouth tastes like metal and Flitz and your goggles are nearly covered with black dust and gunk. You remove the air hose from the buffer and toss it to the floor. It’s time to get out of this gear and get cleaned up before commencing Phase II: The Empolishing.
After removing the blackened painter’s mask and goggles, you take the rag off your head and fight the overwhelming urge to wipe your face and make an already bad situation worse. Right now, quantum physics and surface tension have conspired to ensure that the sweat on your skin is held in a state of quantum uncertainty. Should this state be disrupted, the waveform will collapse and the inky black residue on your face will form gushing torrents of ichor that will spread over your entire uniform and exposed skin. With paranoia from the X-Files still fresh in people’s minds, you will likely either be shot or taken to a secret facility to be dissected and studied, while your family will be informed that you were killed during a training accident. They will be thanked on behalf of a grateful naton.
On the way to the latrine, you run into a Stew(ard) in the hallway. He’s loading case after case of various liquors onto a rolling conveyer that goes out the door to a truck waiting just outside.
“You guys got a long mission or something?”
The Stew, noting your apparent starring role in a revival of Al Jolsen’s The Jazz Singer, replies, “Nah, it’s only for three days.”
The conclusion is obvious: this VIP is a straight-up baller. Seemingly reading your thoughts, the Stew says, “It’s not for him, it’s for us.”
Oh, it’s that guy. Most VIPs, like Hillary or Tipper, tend to have the same crews flying them around; however, this VIP is the equivalent of pulling latrine duty. He’s the 89th Airlift Wing’s Dirty Job. Nobody wants it, but everyone has to do it. You’re not sure what maneuvering and gamesmanship happens in the background to keep from getting assigned to this VIP, but you’re sure that the machinations on Survivor would pale in comparison. This VIP is not just detested, he is universally reviled. The competition to keep from being assigned to him must be fierce.
You nod and say something to extract yourself from the conversation, so you can get to the latrine. The urge to itch or wipe or beat the shit out of your face is almost overwhelming now. You have to clean this shit off before you go mad or worse, smoke another cigarette.
You bust open the door to the latrine and stride in with purpose. Scooping a massive bolus of pumice soap from an obscenely large orange bucket, you immediately close your eyes and furiously scrub your face, never bothering to look in the mirror. You can feel the pumice tearing off layer after layer of skin. Your pores scream for relief, but you know that pain=clean. After enduring a sufficient amount of pain, you determine that you should be sufficiently clean. You splash water over your face until it feels safe to open your eyes. You look down and see the last remnants of black goo slowly oozing down the drain. The interior of the sink is now a uniform gray and as you look into the mirror, so too is your skin. You look like Death.
You’ve been told that you’re the best of the best and that your rock-solid reliability and commitment to excellence have earned you a coveted spot here among the elite. The lives of our nation’s leaders and their families depend upon your integrity, mechanical acumen, and unerring pursuit of perfection. It’s why you double-check, even triple-check your work. After all, you’re an Aircraft Maintainer, not a pilot. It’s not like you’d ever put the life of the First Lady at risk by flying through a severe thunderstorm cell, even though you’ve been advised to divert to Pax River, and then experience a near-catastrophic microburst that almost crashes the aircraft and kills all aboard. You’re a Special Air Mission Aircraft Maintainer, you actually care about the safety of the people who fly on your plane.
The devotion to the safety of your passengers is exceeded only by sheer disregard for your own personal well-being. It’s why, for some bizarre reason, you decide to keep towing a plane even though lightning is within five. Not five miles. Five yards. An angry blue after-image now obscures most of your vision, but this tow will stop for no one, not even cloud-gathering Zeus. Indeed, you speed up and willingly exceed the maximum tow speed of five miles an hour (or the speed of the slowest walker) and just gun it to the hangar. This is a squadron where you’re not derided for deviating from the checklist (unless you actually damage something), but berated for believing you had to cease all operations when lighting is within five miles of the base. Where the hell do you think you are, Base X? Son, you’re at Andrews: The Base That Time Forgot.
It’s 0413. You’re spreading commercial grade flour over the leading edge chrome and gently rubbing it in lazy circles. In addition to polishing the chrome, the flour will get into the pits and dings in the leading edge, removing all of the remaining bits of blackened Flitz ensconced within them. This is actually the fun part of the night. The dirty work’s done and as you progress, you can really see your efforts starting to pay off as the dark spots and dull film disappear to reveal shiny chrome. In a few moments, you’ll tear open a burlap bale of cotton and start rubbing fistfuls of it over the chrome.
This isn’t washed and refined cotton. It’s cotton in the raw: rough, sticky, and yellow. It’ll dust-off the remaining flour and polish the chrome to a high-quality shine. If you’ve done everything right, by the time you toss the last bit of cotton to the floor, the chrome should look like liquid metal. You’d only have to touch it with your finger to send ripples spreading throughout the rest of the leading edge.
A little over a year from now, after a botched election and a major terrorist attack, civilian contractors will witness this just-completed ritual and scoff, “Uh, yeah. That’s not in our contract.”
They might as well be speaking Esperanto. The words have no meaning to you. Oh, sure, everyone talks tough about how they’re “not going to do that shit” but two hours later, they’re always out there doing that shit. These contractors, however, are serious.
What the hell are these people even doing here, anyway? This is a specially manned unit. You actually need to prove yourself to be here. Not just anyone can waltz in and start turning wrenches. And yet, here stand your replacements, civilians right off the streets. Many are former military, but most were not in the Air Force. Some of them haven’t even worked on fixed wing aircraft. And yet, here they are, providing a running commentary of what is and what is not in their contract. They look and speak like…civilians. It’s enough to make your skin crawl. It was one thing when the powers that be decided to make life just a little more miserable for everyone by replacing all the chow hall personnel with civilians, but this? Here? The Holy of Holies is just a half-mile down the flight line! You can’t just let anyone here. You have to be special. Right?
How did it come to this? For all the talk of values–honor, duty, pride, and commitment–it turns out that values have no value because no value can be placed on them. The decision to replace you with civilian contractors was simple: the number in cell D3 of the Excel spreadsheet was a little bit less than the amount in cell D4. How do you quantify pride? What number do you assign to duty? If they can’t be measured, they don’t exist and a spreadsheet encompasses all the things that really matter in this world. In this case, the spreadsheet said it would be cheaper to inactivate the 89th Aircraft Generation Squadron and replace it with civilian contractors, so that’s how they came to be standing on your hangar floor mocking your work. Well, that and hefty cash contributions to key Congressmen by lobbyists serving on behalf of contracting companies. After all, isn’t it fitting and proper for the people maintaining the aircraft to be the servants of those whom the Congressmen serve?
But all of that is still in the future. It’s 0706 and the day shift is filtering in and preparing to wax the aircraft to a high-gloss shine. Your illusions are still secure and intact. You allow yourself a little bit of pride as others admire your work, and even overlook the one asshole who always says it’s not as good as his work. But whatever, the sun’s up, your shift’s done, and that leading edge looks better than the day it rolled off the assembly line. Tomorrow night, you’ll probably swap out a potable water tank, or rewire some flight control cables, or troubleshoot the ever-popular “cabin smells like rotten eggs” problem, which usually just means someone farted and didn’t want to fess up to it, so a $2000 air/water separator will be changed because something mechanical just had to be wrong.
After all, VIPs shit don’t stink and god damn if that leading edge don’t shine.