It’s been impossible to keep up with blogging for the last couple of days because we’re in training for a new job as a barista at Clutch coffee bar.Continue reading “That’s Cluch!”
Most of us are pretty impressed with how places like Starbucks fix a cup of coffee. You ain’t seen nothin’ till you go to Ethiopia and see a coffee ceremony. The lady in the glorious Gown is Sigest.
There’s a reason why this is timely. More to come.
Monday was dark and brooding. Gone was the endless blue of the day before. Overnight a ridge of low pressure had rolled down from the north, and brought with it towering masses of cloud and squalls of warm rain. It felt like a hell of a storm was about to be unleashed.
At the library in Salt City it was impossible to tell the difference. The Salt City domes made sure of that. Carlton stopped at an Airstream trailer near the domes for a big coffee and reported to work, received a perfunctory but courteous greeting from Ruth, who was deeply engrossed in whatever she was doing, then headed down to the main conference room. His hormones were raging, and he had been nervous about what to say when he saw her. In fact, it had been a restless night, as he fantasized about the relationship growing, maturing, blossoming, bearing fruit, and then the joy of growing old in the company of his cherished companion. Luckily he was not a love struck teenager any more, so when she had barely glanced up from her clipboard to greet him he hadn’t been completely crushed. Just somewhat crushed. But now that the greeting was already over and gone he felt more relieved than anything. Now he could focus on work, and pick up where he had left off the project of rigging computer terminals in the conference room.
He entered the elevator and hit the button for the lowest level. The elevator quickly dropped into subterranean depths below the library.
It was a small tiered lecture hall and right now it was a mess. There were four tiers of curved desks that tapered down from the top-level to the bottom. The room was basically a square and the desks all pointed to the lowest corner. It was set up just like a classroom with projectors and a screen, but it was intended that one of Carlton’s computer terminals would be at each seating position. 60 in total. Each of the 60 terminals was the same elaborate interface like the one at the circulation desk. The counter tops were beige laminate, very utilitarian. The carpet was nothing fancy, just beige colored institutional short weave.
The electricians were almost finished, but a light fixture or two flickered and made slight buzzing sounds. A step-ladder was arranged beneath it, but no one else was in sight. The floor and counter tops were strewn with cardboard boxes, Styrofoam chunks, plastic bags and heaps of other packaging material. Electrical components, connectors, wire splices, caps, clips and widgets were everywhere.
The size of this project was something beyond anything Carlton had ever built before, and it was highly elaborate. The plumbing was finished. The plumbing being the lines of silicone tubing that carried blood and water to and from each terminal. There was a series of pumps, or hearts, under the flooring of each tier on the right side of the room. Each heart supplied the terminals on that tier, then the blood was circulated back to the main reservoir along the left side of the room. The main reservoir itself was at the lowest level, tastefully hidden in a podium style presenters area. There were a few other terminals in the building, such as the one at the circulation desk, and they were all connected to this central reservoir. The water system was also similarly routed, but it flowed in the opposite direction, from left to right across the room. This was based on the concept of counter-current circulation, like in living bodies. The water was a buffered solution of salts, stabilizers and glycogen energy molecules. It was separate from the blood system except for a time in each terminal, where the blood and water solutions passed on either side of a semi-permeable membrane. Here the gaseous exchange took place, like in a human lung, and oxygen from the blood supply was exchanged for carbon dioxide waste.
The terminals were arranged so that a human user, or two, could be seated at each one. The major design objective was to allow unhindered translation of language. People speaking any and every language could gather in this room and communicate with each other through the terminals. A unique feature of this set up was special hoods that could be deployed to isolate each terminal in a sound proof bubble. This was to allow simultaneous inputting of language information at each of the terminals, without any interference from adjacent terminals. Carlton wasn’t sure why this had been part of the design specifications, but they were paying for it so he didn’t ask any questions.
The only thing left for Carlton to do was to unpack the monitor units and set them up. Everything else was done. The monitors were made close by in Salt Lake City by a technology firm that Carlton had helped get started. They were a couple of High School buddies that had gone on to college when Carlton quit school to start his business. As demand for his product had increased Carlton needed someone to make the hardware he needed, but he was too lazy to be bothered with running a serious company that would be needed to do the work. He talked his friends into starting their hardware company and now he was pretty sure they were doing better than he was.
The next day was bright and clear with an almost endless blue sky. A low ridge of luminous clouds was just visible to the south of the city, but it wasn’t threatening. Carlton had been caught off guard by Rachel’s invitation to church. It bothered him. The woman he had craved for over a decade was here, in his life, but weighed down with a bunch of annoying religious baggage. Carlton dreaded the thought of having to play church in order to have Rachel. Still, it was Rachel. It would be worth it, right? But then, religion. He gave an involuntary shudder. Being Sunday Carlton figured on sleeping late, so that he could say he missed church by accident. Instead he woke up early and spent the morning fretting about going or not going. He shaved and tried three different outfits as he tormented himself over it. Eventually he wasted enough time to be able to say that he didn’t get up early enough.
When he was just starting to regret that he didn’t go he heard the sound of a delivery truck churning its way up the hill. The familiar brown vehicle was headed his way, though he wasn’t expecting anything. Carlton watched with mounting curiosity as the truck pulled up with a loud squeak in front of his house. The driver checked his list then dove back into the cargo area out of sight. A moment later the back of the truck opened up and the driver jumped out. He hit the controls for the lift gate. A few hydraulic whirrs later and there were two large heavy-looking boxes on a hand cart being wheeled up his drive. Carlton got up to meet the driver and sign for them.
“Beautiful day isn’t it?” beamed Carlton, hiding his confusion about the delivery.
“Sure is, just sign here please.”
“No problem. Could you set that stuff in the garage, please?”
Carlton waited for the driver to get back into the truck and leave before closing the garage door on his new stuff. “Frank?’ he called out, “Know anything about the boxes that just arrived?”
“Of course,” came the reply, “Those are the parts you told me to order.”
“Oh yes, the parts that YOU told ME you were going to order.” Carlton smiled and began to unpack the boxes. He was delighted by this distraction and didn’t want to get involved in petulant banter. The boxes were very well packed, and contained a bare bones computer kit. Someone had worked their but off to get them here so quickly, even if Frank had ordered them Saturday morning it was very impressive. The main component was a heavy-duty tower case, professional quality, that Frank said was the perfect size to fit into the space available in the android body. It would be coming later in the week. There were many other sundry items, screws, nuts, bolts and rolls of the fine tubing.
Carlton thought of Biblio, what a surprisingly capable system he had turned out to be, not even considering his primary function. He carried the components up to his living room area and laid them out on the table. He resolved to give this project his undivided attention and create something masterful.
This was the type of job that Carlton would normally procrastinate for weeks before starting, but not today. He made coffee and got to work.
By the time he was done with all the explanations it was late. Even Rachel began to look tired, and, when the conversation lulled, she stretched and yawned.
“Carlton, this has been great, but I better be getting home.”
He looked at his watch, 1:25 AM. “Good grief, I had no idea.“ He looked around the empty Café. The bored Barista had all but given up on life. “You’re right. Thanks, Rachel, this has been the most fun I’ve had for ages.”
“You need to get out more.” She smiled. “OK, let’s get out of here. Walk me to my car?“
The Barista perked up when he saw them get up, followed them to the door, and, politely, wished them a good night. Rachel and Carlton both laughed. They walked in silence for a few minutes. Carlton had done more talking this evening that in the last two weeks put together and he was tired. He was also uncertain how to proceed. It was OK though, because Rachel, in her dependable way, began speaking again.
“Will you be doing the maintenance on the library computer?”
“Yes, and it will be under warranty for three years too, so if anything goes wrong…” he paused and inwardly winced, “you know who to call.” He felt himself being drawn to the edge of a precipice: emotional entanglement. Panic began to well up inside, warnings began to sound in his mind. In a millisecond Carlton lived through a whirlwind romance with Ruth all the way up to the inevitable painful ending.
“Great,” Rachel noticed the flicker in Carlton’s countenance, and summed it up with accuracy and insight. However, she was not here to play games, and had an agenda that Carlton knew nothing about. Her heart went out to Carlton. He was like so many others she had met, so desperate and so small. So afraid.
“They probably have your number at the library, but why don’t you let me write it down now?” She smiled, but did not look into Carlton’s face, rather, she rummaged in her pocket-book. Then they were at her car. She thanked Carlton again for a pleasant evening, and chuckled as he clumsily fumbled the car door. When she was seated she put the key in and rolled down the window.
“One last thing. Do you go to church anywhere?”
“Yes, I just started going to Anchor Baptist Church, why don’t you come Sunday? Oh, Tomorrow!”
Carlton frowned, talk about curve balls. “I’ll think about it.“
“OK, bye.” She checked the mirrors, looked over her shoulder, waved, and drove off into the night.
A chasm opened up below Carlton’s feet, and her stared down into oblivion. So, not only was he going to get his heart broken, again, but he was going to get drawn into a bunch of religious clap-trap while it was happening. He sighed. Shook his head in an attempt to clear it, then walked to his own car contemplating the trials and pitfalls of life. Only yesterday he had been safe and secure in his introverted bubble. Now he was naked and exposed in a situation that, though he had dreamed of it for years, he didn’t want to be in.
It was Rachel though. It wasn’t some random woman that he blundered into. His heart was already leaking blood from the anticipated wounds as he made his way home. Home, that was a convenient distraction, but another situation that he really didn’t feel like dealing with right now.
Carlton knew the perfect place. A hip counter-culture coffee shop with an independent label brand. The kind of place where poets and students hang out. To Carlton the coffee had a very slightly burnt taste, like they were trying too hard to be cool, but it was cool because it was local. Carlton liked it. It was in downtown Salt Lake City, an hour away, but Carlton lived near there and it turned out, Rachel did too. This was the place where, in his daydreams, he had gotten down on one knee and asked this woman to marry him many times.
Rachel was a constant bubble of questions about the computer, Salt City, and Carlton’s life. She kept it up quite easily which was fortunate, because if the conversation was left up to Carlton it would probably been a few nervous murmurs. Carlton felt like a kid again. They laughed about old times, old friends, and 10 years of lonely life evaporated out of Carlton’s mind.
She would not stop asking about the computer. Every time the conversation strayed to some childhood event, Rachel steered back to Carlton’s computer at the library. It wasn’t so bad, Carlton got to explain how it worked, and how he had developed the systems that ran it. Let’s not forget that he was the genius who had revolutionized computing. Even though, however, the revolution had turned out to be a minor blip in the march of progress. He felt self-conscious and he checked over his shoulder more than once.
Carlton had rehearsed conversations like this one, with Rachel, in his daydreams. He had played out his scene in a way in which he was completely prepared, composed, in charge, and directing the action. Now that he was speaking with her for real it was strange, not like he had thought at all. He was nervous, disconnected, and frequently exposed, unaccustomed to any scrutiny or expectation of accountability, suddenly being scrutinized and held accountable. He had imagined her gazing at him with big school girl eyes like a star-struck kid. Not so. Here was a mature woman who was not going to take any crap, and was certainly not going to swallow Carlton’s usual line of bull. Yet she kept on asking questions, and he kept on answering them.
At times his answers became deeply technical and he was afraid he was boring her. Rachel, however, did not seem to have have any difficulty grasping the details. Rather, she was quite familiar with the back story of how the blood-based computer system came about. She knew about some of the recent breakthroughs and developments too. After a while he relaxed. It was delightful that all the time he talked he could gaze into her face. It was too much to be true. Not only was she sitting here with him, but he actually had an excuse to look at her, and looking at her was what he wanted more than a dying man in a desert wanted a glass of water. It was the face of his dreams, both awake and asleep, but now it was not a girl in his memory, but a woman in his presence. It was a far more beautiful face than his imagination had dreamed of, it was a woman, not a kid, there were lines and a seriousness that was startling, but there was a girl in there too and at times if emerged with a flourish. The best part of it was that she kept on smiling, listening and asking questions.
As time ticked by Carlton noticed that the coffee shop had emptied out. They were getting irritated looks from the Barista, who clearly wanted to be elsewhere. Carlton tried once or twice to wrap up the conversation and move on, out of a weird sense of wanting to do the Barista a favor and let him close up the shop, but Rachel was a lively stream of questions and comments so he gave up. They talked and laughed. Carlton felt himself falling in love, for real, not in an imaginary way. Yet he could already feel the pain of another failure, it brooded at the edge of his thought. He lived the emotions of the whole cycle of acceptance, trust then dismissal and being crushed. But this was Rachel. He would go through all of it for her, that was his dream come true.