Saturday, March 29, 2008

What Aesop skipped

SUMMER: when your kids are parked at home, think quickly to avert a situation.

Juan announced that by the end of March, he would be done with his final exam and scouting camp.

Replying to the unspoken but important implication—unlimited computer time—I started to mouth, “Wa ka kuyapi? Over my dead…”

But the nine-year-old beat me to the draw. “I know too much time playing computer games”—I looked at him with narrowed eyes—“will destroy my eyes and vocabulary”—I didn’t blink, didn’t look away, in case I missed a trick—“so I was thinking of raising a pet”—I relaxed, was about to smile—“can you afford a calf?”

I blinked. On the opposing wall, a pair of watercolor trees he painted years back when he still spelled, “Moomy,” resembled a meadow devoid of something.

“Calves”—I cleared my throat—“are drawn to greens”—like pastures, bank accounts, agribusiness fortunes—“why would a calf anyway want to live in our garden”—I look out of the window, for inspiration or in desperation—“when it smells of cats?”

Thankfully, my generation is a bit better read. So, before he suggested we trade in the cats for a chocolate milk-producing cow, I told him about a dude named Philip K. Dick who wrote about life after the war that ends all wars.

All the living things are dead, if not killed by the war then by the radioactive dust settling after the fallout. While technology can create the simulacra of any living thing—from humans to animals—the survivors covet what is nearly impossible to find: real pets.

In the radioactive shell that is San Francisco in the year 2021, most humans have fled to Mars (for new settlements like New New York). Among the stragglers living in nearly deserted buildings, there’s no need to compete for space. The new status symbol is a pet since, by definition, all animals are endangered.

According to the listing of “Sidney’s Animal & Fowl Catalogue,” anyone can buy a horse, theoretically. For instance, if a Percheron colt was listed in italics, this indicated that anyone with five thousand dollars could buy such an animal if three conditions were in place.

First condition: if, theoretically, a Percheron colt could be found. Second condition: if, theoretically, one had five thousand dollars to buy such a colt. And last condition: if, theoretically, one had money to spare since the italics indicated that five thousand dollars was the prevailing price then when a Percheron colt was still available and, were one to be found, a Percheron colt would no longer fetch only five thousand dollars.

That is the predicament of Rick Deckard in “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” Deckard abases himself when he has to confess to his neighbor, the exalted owner of a live horse, that his sheep is not really made of wool and guts.

“He wished to god he had a horse, in fact any animal. Owning and maintaining a fraud had a way of gradually demoralizing one.”

The neighbor assures Deckard that he will not tell his shameful secret to the others. He suggests the bounty hunter should bid for a cat, a cricket, or a mouse since this went for as low as twenty-five dollars in the Catalogue.

Deckard figures he’ll just earn the money to buy a horse, a cow or a sheep.

Quick to smell a coming moral—“to get what we want, we have to study and work”—Juan left my side to look for his brother.

Philip K. Dick was not yet done, but I didn’t call him back. The fable, which the classic movie, “Blade Runner,” is based on, is set in a future where humans have invented “andys,” or androids, to make life a little better.

When these human-looking robots rebel from serving mankind, they are hunted down and “retired.” Tests are later conducted to establish if it was indeed only machinery that was shut down or if a mistake had been made on a genuine article.

Theoretically, it did not matter, neither to the thing in its retirement nor to hunters like Deckard: “The bounty from retiring five andys would do it, he realized.”

mayette.tabada@ 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Mar. 30, 2008 issue

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