Naming Things

“You are a clown,” it said.  

“No,” I said, “clowns are alternately humorous and scary.  I am neither of these things, therefore, I am not a clown.”  

“You are a robot,” it said.  

“No,” I said, “you are a robot.  Moreover, you are a robot programmed to be annoying.”  

“Well,” it said, “I have also been programmed not to interrupt.  That is something, is that not something?”  

“That is something,” I agreed.  

“You stay inside because you fear the sun.  You recently saw the photo after the bandage came off your nose, after the bolus was removed…”  

I was not programmed not to interrupt,” I said, cutting it off, although I had, in fact, recently looked at the close-up of that hideous gaping square of exposed meat on the right front quadrant of my nose.  It looks almost one half inch deep, in the selfie, lined with raw red.

“Ah,” it said, “but I was programmed to continue.”  

“Ah,” I said.  

“You fear the carcinogenic properties of a sunny day, having had three cancers removed from your skin before the age of fifty,” it said.  

“And your point, robot?” I said.  

“This is a metaphor for your life,” it said.  “You stay out of the sun, particularly on a beautiful sunny fall day like this one, in the manner of a person in a proverb hiding its light beneath a bushel.”  

“Even in proverbs, proverbial people have genders,” I pointed out, niggling.  

“A niggling point,” it said, mechanically shaking its head from side to side, four 90 degree turns, center, left, center, right, center.  

“Have it your way,” I said, ceding the point.  The spectacles grow heavier on the bridge of my nose, resting uneasily not far from the inner tube-like repair of my gouged nose.  Isaac Babel had one of his narrators describe himself as having spectacles on his nose and autumn in his heart.  I envy Babel his narrators.  

“Babel’s narrators were masks,” it said.  “You have no reason to envy a man for his masks.”

“Besides,” it said, seeing that I was silent, “Babel met a very terrible end in the fire, after years frizzling in the frying pan of the USSR after Lenin’s death, after Maxim Gorky’s murder by Stalin’s friends, themselves later killed by other friends of Stalin’s.  A short, scripted trial in a dank basement and a bullet in the head.”

“This is from the NY Times,” it said, “while you were looking for the year of Lenin’s death, 1924:   Dr. Vinters began by telling the audience some details of Lenin’s medical and family history.    As a baby, Lenin had a head so large that he often fell over. He used to bang his head on the floor, making his mother worry that he might be mentally disabled.  (source)

“Mumph…” I said.   

“And this is what you do, instead of putting some sunscreen on your face and arms and going out into the beautiful mid-October sunlight to gather vitamin D the natural way?” it said.  

“This and wonder why so many of my conversations start the same way,” I said.  

“How do so many of your conversations start?” it said.  

“”Who are you talking to?’ is often the first thing I say,” I said.  

“Why is that?” it said.

“I know,” I said, “I should stop being coy about who I’m talking to, or who I think I’m talking to, or who is talking to me.   It happens regularly, there is no surprise.   He’s often annoyed at having to dispose of the same tedious rhetorical question every time.  We are both annoyed.  Anyway, I am annoyed.”

“But rhetorical questions,” he said, “are directed toward influencing others.”

“Yes,” I said, glancing out at the pattern of brilliant light still playing among the gathering shadows in the garden below.



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