I interrupt this holiday season to bring you this news.
Now, how to break it. Do I lead with this? Or with that? How do I go about revealing this incredible news? It must be perfect for this is truly momentous.
Okay. I’ll start here.
I have discovered my next career. I will be …
Drum roll, please.
Okay, that was kind of a long drum roll. My forearms are a little tired now. Let me catch my breath.
I will be quitting my job on Monday and becoming … a futurist.
Now stop that. I can hear the laughter. Cut it out.
A few years ago, I was having a conversation with my cousin in Illinois. I’ve always described her as my cousin, but I have no idea if that’s what she actually is. She is the granddaughter of my father’s sister. What’s that make her to me? Answers in the comments would be greatly appreciated as this is a mystery I constantly lose track of.
Chris grew up in Illinois but came out to California for a few years way back when. When? When I was with my psycho girlfriend from hell and living with best friend Jon, who died suddenly from a heart attack at a ridiculously early age. So, Chris and I have this past.
After a few years, she went back to Illinois. But we’ve kept in touch by phone over the years. I’ve gone to Chicago a number of times for conferences and stop by to see her. She came out here for my wedding and my oldest son’s bar mitzvah. And, two summers ago, she sent her incredible, charming daughter to us for almost two weeks. We spent that time going to San Luis Obispo and showing her the ocean and then to Disneyland. It was one of those small moments that is a highlight of my life.
But, back to the point. Chris and I were talking on the phone once upon a time. She was telling me about Maureen, a friend of hers. A friend she had since high school. There was something about the way Chris talked about Maureen that made me want to know more. “Who is this Maureen? What’s her last name?” Chris wouldn’t tell me.
Right about that time, Toasted Cheese ran a writing contest. Science fiction and rock, paper, scissors were the required themes.
You know, when you’re a writer, people ask you, “How do you come up with your ideas?” And unless you want to lie, your response should be, “I have absolutely no frickin’ idea? I believe it’s because I’m borderline insane and … they … just come to me.” All the while, you look at them. With a leer. With an oddly raised eye brow. Because, yes, you are borderline insane. Why else would you write, but to expose your demons?
So, I wondered who Maureen was, while pondering a science fiction story that included rock, paper, scissors.
Fast forward to today and I read this article.
Here’s the story I wrote all those years ago … Who is Maureen Nesbitt? Tell me I don’t have awesome powers. I dare you. (By the way, Toasted Cheese wasn’t too excited about this story, but I published in one of my short story collections. Like it? Go buy it and read a dozen or so more stories. None of which predict the future.)
Who Is Maureen Nesbitt?
Who is Maureen Nesbitt? A thought passed through my mind in the early morning hours, bringing me awake in a flash, wondering where the thought came from. Maureen Nesbitt? I’d never heard of the person. After ten or fifteen minutes of tossing and turning, trying to void my mind of her name, I gave up and walked out to the kitchen.
There was only one way to find peace. I went to ask Cal. At such an early hour, I was sure I’d have him to myself.
* * *
Through an odd quirk of quarks, neutrinos, artificial intelligence, and pure blind luck, a leap forward had occurred two years prior, pushing the Internet Age dramatically forward. Computers with internet connections, Google searches, and wi-fi hot spots had given away to Information Zones, or izzies. The technology, although still in its infancy, had revolutionized how people acquired information. Every building had an izzie–homes, offices, restaurants, schools.
To learn something, all one had to do was enter an izzie and ask a question. “How do I get to the pizza place at the corner of Clover and Griffin streets?” The izzie would provide the answer. “What is the capital of California?” “Sacramento,” the izzie would spit out.
Nobody really knew how izzie’s came to be. One day, a man by the name of Malcolm McPhee, standing in the lobby of a hotel, muttered aloud, “Where the hell’s the damn bellhop when you need him?”
“At the moment, he’s on the john, trying to push one out,” said a disembodied voice. “And you don’t have to have such an attitude.” Mr. McPhee was so startled by the response that he fell to his knees and suffered a fatal coronary event. Before he breathed his last, he was able to pass on what he had heard. Initially, people thought he was crazy as a loon even though the bellhop had, in fact, been trying to push one out at that very moment. Soon, reports of similar incidents from all over the world began to accumulate and izzies were everywhere, every single building had them.
The benefit izzies brought to businesses was incalculable. Stores no longer needed clerks. Customers could simply ask a store’s izzie questions about where merchandise was located and how much it cost. Servers were no longer needed at restaurants as orders could be placed with the izzie.
Some izzies developed personalities. The izzie that serves a friend’s apartment is a twenty-four-year-old woman named Elsa. Before answering any question posed by a man, she insists that he describe a sexual act he would like to perform on her.
The izzie at my apartment claimed to be thirty two years old and named Cal. Before he answered a question, he insisted that the questioner play something with him first. The other day, when I asked for a sloppy joe recipe, Cal insisted on playing “I Spy With My Little Eye” before he would provide me the recipe. It wasn’t until twenty minutes later when I finally figured out that the green object he spied was a fern in the northeast corner of the courtyard that I got what I wanted. Oh, how I wished I had Elsa for an izzie.
* * *
Now, sitting on the bench in the building’s courtyard, I popped the question. “Who is Maureen Nesbitt?”
“Rock, paper, scissors. Beat me, two out of three, or I don’t answer.”
“Fine,” I muttered. We began the game. The first round, Cal and I both said “paper.” The second round, Cal’s “rock” beat my “scissors.”
“You lose,” Cal said. For a brief second, I thought about what I was doing, playing “Rock, paper, scissors,” with an artificially intelligent, inanimate . . . aw, hell, there was no real way to even think of what Cal actually was.
“Let’s go again. You said two out of three,” I replied.
Again we tied, and began again. My “paper” covered his “rock.” Immediately, I began the third round, growing impatient at not getting an answer to my question. I stuck with “paper,” knowing Cal would expect me to change to “scissors” and he could defeat me with “rock.” Cal fell into my trap, repeating “rock” and I was victorious.
“Three out of five,” Cal whined.
“Then I don’t answer.”
“Fine.” Nobody could make an izzie answer a question unless the izzie wanted to.
I won again. As Cal whined for more rounds, I won the next five in succession. When Cal begged for one more, I had had enough. “No,” I yelled. “Answer my question now. I’ve played enough. You know I can just go to another izzie.”
“Actually, you can’t, young man. You’ll need an izzie that can tell the future. Like me.”
“Some izzies can see the future. Don’t ask me how. I won’t tell you. Your Maureen Nesbitt is somebody in your future. You’ll have to find an izzie that can see the future to find out who she is. There aren’t many of us. One more game. You win, I tell.”
I began to pound my fist on my hand. On the third pound, I blurted out scissors as my fingers made the familiar shape. I sensed a second’s hesitation in Cal as he said, “rock,” and immediately began making the sound of a rock smashing scissors.
“You cheated!” I screamed, rising from the bench and shaking my fists at . . . well, there was nothing to shake my fists at, so I just shook them.
“You mother . . .”
“Hey, no swearing at me. The user agreement you signed, paragraph 13, clearly states any information inquiry is voided by the use of abusive language.”
Cal was right. I was defeated. Maureen Nesbitt would remain a mystery until she entered my life at some unknown point in the future.