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Detritus: It’s Only Ever Detritus When I Go Home And Unclench

At the end of my flight back I started listening to the white woman seated near the aisle in the row ahead of me, who was talking to the two black men who were her seat partners about her work. She said she was some sort of massage therapist, and the work she did involved entwining her body with her clients’. Not in a sexual way, though, she protested; it’s just a very intimate massage. The men made polite conversational noises. They apparently had not been to LA before, so she was telling them what was what. You really should go to Venice Beach, she was telling them, it’s very New Age.

I swear that never happens to me, encountering people like that out here, even though it’s supposed to be par for the course in LA. It was sort of a nice, if strange, welcome home. My own seat partners were orthodox(?) Jewish guys with hatboxes, and the garrulous one of them kept saying things peppered in Yiddish to the cute one, but they never even made eye contact with me. Are the days of stranger-on-the-plane conversations over?

* * *

I had the fantastic good fortune to return home the day before the Caltech ME72 contest and to be free at two in the afternoon to see it. It’s basically a more genteel version of BattleBots, in case you’ve never been. This year ME72 students were charged with playing a sort of reverse game of Capture The Flag where your team had to remove its flag from a holder on your side of the card-table-like arena (one point), get it to the other side (another point), and plant it in the opposing team’s holder (another point), with an extra point awarded if you knocked your opponent’s flag off the table. More complicated than ones I remember. As usual, it was great fun; the audience filled the Big Wedding Cake and roared mightily for opponents to knock each others’ bots off the table, which was really peripheral to the action.

As usual, the highlight of the event was the frumious Doctor Placebo, usually the Caltech mascot (a beaver, this time dressed in a pink bunny suit) attached to a bot brought in to fill holes in the contest seeding… Since this year’s setup involved two bots per team, the second bot was a Miyazaki-esque device with propellers which was flown into the arena attached to a huge cloud of gold and black balloons. (I wish I had a picture, but I didn’t notice which TV stations had cameras there.) It had a fork underneath it to grab the flag, but since this wasn’t exactly rocket science, and the TAs who made it had been stuck at Caltech while the lead professor, Erik Antonsson, is the one currently working for JPL, the thing sort of floated aimlessly around, misdirected by its propellers… Erik said it had made it all the way up to the Beckman balcony in an earlier test.

Anyway, while looking at the program I had a strange flash where I realized the exact place and time I had learned a word. Back in the days when it was held in Ramo Auditorium, the ME72 contest was where I first heard the word “placebo.”

Unfortunately, the contest was won by men again; all the teams with women on them were eliminated before the final rounds. We’ll have to wait another year for the first female winner. In their absence, I was rooting for Salomon Trujillo, whose blog doesn’t do justice to what a showman he was… it’s always best when the participants jump up and down, grab the mic to announce the birth of new robots backstage and generally ham it up. (I mean, for crying out loud, these are machines we’re cheering on…) The picture the Star News featured was of him blowing on his bot when it wouldn’t move. Alas, my hero’s team lost on a technicality when he bumped his opponents’ flag out of its holder.

* * *

I was going to say that dad and stepmother tend to only display family photos in the house which are very serious, but that’s not at all true. The ones on the fridge and in their room and various other places are frequently silly. They just have this hallway which has lots of photos which for some reason are very serious.. It’s like the Hall of Gravitas. Weddings. Funerals. Aniversaries. Family Vacations. Ancestors. Birthdays, with everyone right there in the picture. Graaaavitaaaas.

* * *

I’m reading The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. I would recommend it to anyone who hasn’t read it, but it really is a bit much to bear right now, with religious fundamentalists saturating the various offices of government. I also saw The Stepford Wives for the first time recently. It’s a little strange to be absorbing two somewhat heavy-handed dystopian feminist parables so close together. Really, it’s depressing. It makes me want to pee standing up, in a public place. I’m serious. That’s the first thing that came to mind.

* * *

My dad just came in and asked me to take dictation to a Mr. John Moglia in Arizona. Dear Mr. Moglia, I wrote, Get bent. He has auto parts I want, said Dad. Dear Mr. Moglia, I wrote, after erasing the earlier dictation, We don’t know who you are, but Dad says you have parts. You don’t give good secretarial, said Dad. I aim to stay out of that line of work, I replied.

Dad’s keyboard doesn’t have pgup/pgdn or delete buttons. I HATE it.

* * *

I have to fill out a job application which asks for my typing WPM. I am going to list my score from Typing of the Dead. (Note: That article is outdated… Dreamcast keyboards, and Dreamcasts and the games themselves, are now muuuch muuuch cheaper. Your local school’s job-training programs NEED this game, as tomorrow’s workers must be able to type lightning-fast AND pick off approaching zombies to survive in a Bush economy… give back to your community — and yourself! — this Christmas!)

* * *

If you are in town and wondering why I didn’t tell you when I was getting back, don’t. I had a super-top-secret job interview and I have grad school application essays to write, and I’m not really going to feel free to fraternize until after the 15th.


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