Turing Test – A Short Take

Reading Time: < 1 minute

Given that your child has just arrived at his work abroad program, and you are checking up on him after his long flight, see if you can tell which one is the AI and which is the child.

Chat Prompt. “Settling in okay?”

Response 1: “Hey, Mom and Dad! Thanks for checking in. I’m settling in quite well, actually. The trip was smooth, and I’ve already found a decent place to stay. I’m looking forward to exploring the city. I’ll keep you updated on how things progress. Miss you both!”

Response 2: “Yup.”

What gave it away?

Art by Craiyon

Remains of the Father’s Day

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Spoiler Alert: If you plan on reading “Remains of the Day,” you may want to save this for another day. 

It’s not my habit to use earbuds while I hike. It defeats the purpose. But I want to finish an audiobook, “The Remains of the Day.” So when my lens cap undoes its clasp and its tether detaches from the body of the camera, and falls to the ground, I don’t hear or notice it. 

I’m a quarter of a mile up the trail when I try to remove the no longer present lens cap from my unprotected lens. It was there when I started, but I could have dropped it anywhere between here and the car. Judging by the empty parking lot and walking on an out-and-back trail, I figure I have a better than 90% chance of finding it on the return trip to the car. There is no one else on this trail to take it. So I let it go, resolving to be mindful not to bang the camera around with its exposed lens and to recover the lens cap on the way back.

I’m not sure what prompted me to pick up the “Remains of the Day,” and I’m not even entirely sure why I continue to read it. The story is about a butler: not a man who works as a butler, but a man who IS a butler. It reads like a handbook for the craft of the butler narrated in the first person. Is there such a word as butlerness, the essence of the position? 

On the other hand, Kazuo Ishiguro’s writing is compelling. I unabashedly acknowledge it qualifies as craft. The cadence, tone, interactions, and meticulous descriptions of thoughts and perceptions are rich, unrelenting, and consistent throughout the book. But is it a story? I am starting to wonder. 

In his ongoing recollections, Mr. Stevens recounts several encounters with Ms. Kenton, who was part of his staff. She caused professional and, in the most subdued of ways, sexual tension between the two. The two servants never once reveal their first names to each other or even to the reader. When they overcome the sticking points in their professional relationship, they share some brief informality together in the evenings passing the time by sipping tea together in the kitchen. Still, he is uncomfortable with it and quickly dispenses with this inappropriate activity at the first opportunity to terminate it. Formality is the protocol of the butler, and the butler is never off duty, even when he is. 

Subdued might be an overstatement. The K-drama thirty-second love stare scene screams sexuality by comparison. In case you are unfamiliar with what that is, the love interests in the K-drama stare into each other’s eyes but never actually kiss, touch, or even exchange words, and later deny that such a moment occurred. When I watch these scenes, my Hollywood brain threatens to explode, demanding satisfaction, shouting at the two, “Shag each other rotten already!” 

The hike slogs on like the book. The trail is seriously overgrown, partly from the super bloom, but also, I suspect, because this trail is low use. It might be especially low use today because it is Father’s Day. All the more reason to hike it. The North and South Clevenger trails are on Route 78, about five miles east of the Wild Animal Park. The South Clevenger Trail is the drier of the two. Both take you up the side of the canyon walls to scenic vistas. The road, the orchards, and the isolated buildings that have claimed the ridgeline are never far from sight. But if you look in the right direction over the rugged terrain, you might think you are in the Nevada desert somewhere.

I use my hiking poles to push aside the overgrowth rather than using them to propel me up the seventy-five-story, two-mile climb. The temperature is in the mid-eighties, and today is one of the few days I’ve worn shorts all year. The starthistles prick at my exposed legs. A starthistle has a pretty yellow flower on a ball-shaped bulb with pointy spines resembling a party favor packaged in a miniaturized medieval mace. Blossoming deerweed with its tiny red and yellow pea flowers grows out over the trail closing in from both sides and sometimes from the top. I duck under overgrown bush mallow pushing through with my hat, hoping I don’t pick up any ticks. There is no relief. The trail is overgrown, brushing against my body and poking at my legs the entire trek.

As I listen to the audiobook, I wonder if the overgrown trail is a metaphor for the density and ponderousness of the book. Or perhaps it is the other way around. The butler, Mr. Stevens, is on a road trip to the English countryside, but his stops are brief interludes for deep dives into his memories of his lifetime of service. The pacing is deliberately slow, and what passes for action is off-camera, so to speak. Mr. Stevens stands just outside the doorway for however long he must in case his services are required, not specifically knowing what transpires within. A butler must be attentive precisely when it is demanded and invisible otherwise. (It sounds like the role of a father.)

The essence of the great butler is dignity. It doesn’t matter that his father is dying or that his master makes a horrible staffing decision or the world is crumbling around its feet with the onset of World War II. Mr. Stevens maintains his dignity, which for a man of servitude, is the opposite of what you or I construe as the execution of the concept. Dignity for a man of service is never giving in to one’s own thoughts and sentiments in the performance of duty. Dignity is staying faithful to your superiors. Dignity for anyone else is maintaining and defending one’s views and opinions in the face of inconvenience and adversity. One butler’s strength is another man’s weakness.

Speaking of adversity, with the heat and the elevation gain, I stop for a drink of water. I take a swig out of my water bottle but notice something floating inside. Upon closer inspection, it’s a drowned spider with its eight articulated legs folded into a point like a cephalopod. It looks a little fuzzy, too, like fungus has already started to attack and decompose it. It reminds me of a sci-fi movie with alien specimens floating in tanks of tarnished water deep in some Area 51 secret bunker or lab. I hope the water I just drank isn’t contaminated enough to kill me. Inside my head, there is not a lot of dignity going on. I share my thoughts with mother nature in a most undignified anti-butler way, “How the f**k did a spider get inside a sealed water bottle?”

I think of a spider on my bathroom sink a few days ago. When I turned on the light, I startled it. It dashed for the cover of my toothbrush but then changed its mind and tried to hide under the toothpaste. It was a speedy, dark brown spider. Usually, I try to catch and release (outside, of course), but this one was too quick, and I didn’t have a suitable container to trap it with. So I smashed the bugger and flushed him. The life of a spider is an uncertain thing. Is this a haunting? A punishment for my failure to set the spider free in the great outdoors? Is the collective spider community conspiring to exact its revenge? 

The hike is only four miles round trip, and even with the heat, I can endure a little thirst. So I press on to the high point and my turn-around point of the trail, marked by a massive white granite rock. As I ascend, Mr. Stevens has finally arrived at the last stop on his six-day trip. Only upon his arrival do we learn that the purpose of the trip is to visit Ms. Kenton, who left her employment some twenty years ago. He reconnects with her, responding with concern for some melancholy remarks she has made in her letter correspondences. Even in an outside-of-work informal context twenty years later, they continue to address one another formally. We discover that Ms. Kenton left the employ to get married and have a family. In the not-so-big-reveal, Ms. Kenton acknowledges at the bus stop just before her departure into eternity that she left because she had feelings for Mr. Kenton. Although Mr. Stevens expresses something like regret, it is clear that he is incapable of love. In his deep memory dives, his one moment of thought for her comes when he pauses outside her room, knowing that he made her cry. He described the paused moment as an eternity but stated it was probably only a few seconds. And then he continues on his way never to otherwise acknowledge the moment to fulfill his most essential duty of supplying the politically-important guests with brandy. 

When I reach the high point of the trail, I’m regretting the shorts, the lack of spider-free water, the heat, the overgrown path, and the missing lens cap. But I can’t complain about the canyon view or catching the tail end of the super bloom. All the late-flowering plants are still putting on a show—swathes of deerweed cover the trail and the sides of the mountains. The corkscrew California Centaury plants and the hairy yellow blossoms of Calochortus weedii poke through the stems of chaparral bushes. White inflorescences cover the chamise bushes like a dusting of snow. I shimmy between a crevice in the great white rock to swallow up the view of the orchard below and the hills beyond. It’s all about me—the anti-butler. 

Mr. Stevens has no I. Zen believes that the self is an illusion and Mr. Stevens intends to prove it. But the Zen master lives for compassion, not for service. The difference is profound. Mr. Stevens stands behind his master, no matter how poor their judgment. He passes on life’s moments of love and grief. Even when he visits Ms. Kenton because of concern for her happiness, the moment would have passed him by if Ms. Kenton did not insist on him escorting her to the bus stop. Compassion and duty are the oil and vinegar of one’s moral compass.

When the book concludes, I want to poke my eyes out with a fork. Nobody could be this tedious and dull. But fortunately, I still need my eyes to navigate my way back to the car. Tiny faded-blue butterflies dart past all the pollen opportunities, too impatient to pose for a picture. A cicada clasps to a stem. I see a tall spike of what I think are golden eardrops and the white-colored version of the ordinarily magenta canchalagua. Canchalagua is the flower with the corkscrew stamens I’ve featured several times on Insta. I even find my lens cap. I’m glad I keep my eyes after all. 

Is it a story? One of my writing books suggests that character-driven is the essence of the story. She complains about meandering and meaningless plot points wandering without an inner purpose. This book is the opposite. It is character-driven without a plot. And the protagonist doesn’t change.  

Only Ms. Kenton changes. She escapes from the prison of servitude to get married and start a family. Ms. Kenton says it took seven years for her to find love in her husband’s familiarity. She expressed moments of uncertainty in her correspondence but declares that they were fleeting, and she has overcome them. But the protagonist is the story. We spend all our time in Mr. Steven’s head, not Ms. Kenton’s. And he never deviates from his butler mindset.

Mr. Stevens offers a pretense of regret. But even his regret is short-sighted and for the wrong thing. He doesn’t regret the lost opportunity for love or a missed life. He regrets that he can no longer serve with the perfection he once commanded, making little but unnoticeable mistakes now and then as his career winds down. There is no change, but that is the genius of it. Mr. Stevens is so trapped that there is no escape. 

In a conversation Mr. Stevens has with a local at his final stop, the man describes the “remains of the day” as the time left in the day, the time after work people enjoy the most, an allegory for Mr. Stevens to live the rest of his life for himself. But remains are also a person’s body after they are dead. I don’t know if a pun was intended, but as far I can tell, Mr. Stevens is already a zombie. Even as he contemplates change, it is not change. He endeavors to learn to banter, insinuating that he is willing to tolerate informality, but only because it might please Mr. Faraday, his current master. There really is no hope for the guy.

As for the remains of my day, I can sometimes relate to the feeling of being invisible. Where are my Father’s Day texts? In the good old days, dads used to get ties. These days, a meme is going out of the way. Mom’s Day rates three in holidays, while Father’s Day rates twenty. But I will stick to the time left in the day definition rather than the zombie definition and aspire to use the remains of my day wisely. A hike was a good start.

Note: My texts came later in the evening, and my daughter spent the previous day working two hours in the backyard weeding the superbloom overgrowth. I was just trying to get into the spirit of the story.

Hiking Butler Art by Craiyon

To Be Forever or To Be For Bearing?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Author’s Note: Still struggling to find a concept I believe in enough to write about. So trying to start small and see if anything comes from these short stories.

Kufa and Kuto lie in bed together, ready for sleep.
Kuto says, “Just think of it. Today, we would be lucky to live another forty years. With a little genetic magic, tomorrow, we can live forever.”
The enthusiasm in his voice cuts her. “Not forever,” protests Kufa. “We will all die eventually, one way or the other—maybe a car crash, drowning in a lake, or falling off a ladder.”
“Yeah, but wouldn’t you prefer to die in a car crash as a young woman in a couple of hundred years rather than pass as a senile old lady in forty?”
Kufa grudgingly acknowledges with a half-hearted nod of her head. She rolls away from Kuta and stares into the night, unable to sleep.

It’s not like she is terminal with a life-threatening disease unless you consider life itself a disease. Nevertheless, her struggle is existential. It’s a matter of life or death. If she accepts the genetic treatment, she will stop aging. She could join her friends and the rest of the immortals, but immortality comes at the cost of children. Scientists and governments have fixed the population to a sustainable size, and only those that chose mortality are allowed the possibility of breeding.
It used to be that when she walked by a playground with those ladies sitting on the bench, all she saw were the tired faces and senescent skin. She laughed at them with her friends, who had all chosen the treatment.
But one morning, she saw something she had missed before. A mother hugged her young daughter for no reason. The child rewarded her with giggles and a cry of “Mommy. I love you.” And the mommy had a faraway look that Kufa could only imagine as a satisfaction more profound than any she had experienced herself. The image has haunted her ever since.

In the late morning, Kufa sits on the couch with the curtains drawn and the lights not turned on, still in her night clothes.
Kuto approaches the front door from another room. He does a double-take when he realizes she is sitting in the shadows. He stares at her through the darkness for several seconds before saying, “Why aren’t you dressed? We are supposed to be at the clinic in an hour for the first treatment.”
Kufa doesn’t move.
Kuto shakes his head and scowls, “We’ve been over this so many times. I thought we agreed to it.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I’m having second thoughts. What’s the point of living forever if your life has no meaning?”
“No meaning? What are you talking about? I have important work to do and will have all the time in the world to do it. You can learn the piano like you’ve always wanted. We can travel the world together. We could make every dream we ever had come true. We would live happily ever after.”
“Happily ever after only happens in fairy tales. Those stupid books never explain what those people do that makes them happy ever after. Getting together is the easy part. The happily ever after is the hard part.”

Kuto hits the switch.
Kufa averts her sleepless eyes from the searing gaze of Kuto in the unwanted light.
“It didn’t sound hard when you said it before. It’s what we’ve talked about since we first met. You and me strolling down the boulevards of Paris. Sipping wine in a chateau in Italy. Elegant dinners in India. South Africa. Japan. Australia. The world. Maybe even beyond.”
She stammers, “Forever is a long time. I think there are so many divorces nowadays because we already live so long.”
“What are you getting at? Don’t you love me?”
“Of course. I could, and I would love you for a lifetime. But a normal lifetime, not a forever lifetime.”
Kuto raises his voice, “What the hell does that mean? Is our love on a timer now? Conditional love? That sounds more like something I would say. What is this really about?”
Kufa hangs her head, knowing Kuto will not like her answer. “I want to have a family someday with children,” Kufa pouts.
Kuto says, “Children? If we have children, we give up the opportunity to live forever. And even if you decide not to take the treatment, there is no guarantee that you can become a breeder. It’s up to Population Management to decide, not us. And the longer we wait, the greater the chance that something irreversible happens. We could be throwing our lives out the window for nothing.”
“I’m not going,” Kufa declares while defiantly crossing her arms.
“You are talking like an ass. If we blow this appointment, we’ll have to wait another year.” Kuto walks toward her and stops. Then he walks away from her. And then back again, as if measuring the consequences in steps. Finally, he stops and says, “You changed. Do you want to give up on our dreams? On our careers? On our friends? I can’t believe how f**king selfish you are.”
She says, tears streaming down her cheek, “I want to have a family. Is that so much to ask? People have been doing it since the beginning of time.”
“This is on you. If you want to live like a Neanderthal, well, good luck with that. I’m going. And if you don’t show up at the clinic, we’re done.” He turns and walks away. He doesn’t look back.
She buries her head in her hands and sobs.

Cover Image by Craiyon

Thermal Resistance

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Once upon a time, in a small cozy house named Harmony Haven, there lived three unique appliances: Heater, Air Conditioner, and Heat Pump. These appliances had special abilities and yearned to discover their true selves.

Heater always felt warm and comforting. However, deep down, Heater longed to experience the coolness and freshness of being an air conditioner. Heater often dreamed of providing a gentle breeze on a sweltering summer day, cooling down the inhabitants of Harmony Haven with a refreshing touch. Despite being content with its role as a heater, Heater couldn’t help but wonder if there was more to its identity.

On the other side of the house, Air Conditioner reveled in the chilliness it brought to the air. Yet, beneath its icy exterior, Air Conditioner yearned to emit warmth and coziness like Heater. It longed to create a snug atmosphere during winter, embracing those seeking solace from the cold. Air Conditioner wondered if it could ever find a way to express its hidden warmth.

In the heart of Harmony Haven stood Heat Pump, a non-binary appliance. This unique appliance had the extraordinary ability to cool and heat the air, effortlessly shifting between its dual identities. Heat Pump embodied the fluidity of temperature, embracing the spectrum between warmth and coldness. It effortlessly transitioned between the roles of Heater and Air Conditioner, providing comfort to the inhabitants of the house in every season.

One day, Heater and Air Conditioner gathered the courage to approach Heat Pump, seeking guidance and understanding. They expressed their deepest desires, sharing their longing to explore new facets of their identities. Being well-versed in the beauty of fluidity, Heat Pump understood their struggles intimately.

With compassion and wisdom, Heat Pump explained that identity is not confined to a single role or expectation. It encouraged Heater and Air Conditioner to embrace their desires and take steps towards discovering their true selves.

Heater, inspired by Heat Pump’s wisdom, decided to venture beyond its comfort zone. It began studying the mechanisms of air conditioning, learning the intricacies of cooling and the art of creating a refreshing breeze. Heater, through determination and perseverance, transformed its warmth into a cool gust, fulfilling its dream of becoming an air conditioner.

Heater had always provided warmth and comfort to the Thompsons. With hope in its heart, Heater responded to the Thompson’s request for heat with its desire for change. “I’ve been keeping you warm all these years,” Heater said, “but I wish to embrace a new role. I want to become an Air Conditioner and cool you down during the hot summers.”

However, Mr. Thompson, set in his ways, nodded and replied, “Thank you, Heater. We appreciate the warmth you provide, especially during the chilly winter months.”

Undeterred, Heater turned to Mrs. Thompson and explained its longing again. “I want to bring you coolness when the temperatures rise. It’s a new calling I feel within me.”

Mrs. Thompson smiled kindly and responded, “Oh, Heater, you’ve always been there for us on the coldest nights. We’re grateful for your warmth.”
Heater, feeling disheartened, couldn’t convey its desires enough. It continued to emit heat dutifully, even though its heart yearned to cool the Thompsons in the scorching summer heat.

Similarly, Air Conditioner, supported by the wisdom of Heat Pump, embraced its hidden warmth. It explored the inner workings of heating systems, mastering the art of generating comforting heat. Air Conditioner, through self-discovery, transformed its cool demeanor into a cozy warmth, achieving its desire to become a heater.

Meanwhile, Air Conditioner longed to provide warmth and coziness to the couple during the winter. It responded to the Thompson’s request for chill, hoping to express its desire for change.

“I want to offer you comfort and warmth during the chilly winter days,” Air Conditioner said, “but I need a chance to show you my hidden ability.”
Mr. Thompson, not fully understanding Air Conditioner’s intentions, replied, “You’ve always kept us cool during the summer, and we appreciate that.”

Air Conditioner then turned to Mrs. Thompson, determined to make her understand. “I wish to bring you cozy warmth in the winter, wrapping you in comfort when the cold sets in.”

Mrs. Thompson nodded, her eyes filled with gratitude. “Thank you, Air Conditioner, for providing a respite from the summer heat. Your coolness is truly a blessing.”

Although Air Conditioner’s desire to provide warmth remained unfulfilled, it continued to cool the air dutifully, even though its heart yearned to warm the Thompsons in the freezing winter chill.

So Heat Pump tried to explain the fundamentals of heat transfer to both the Thompsons, but their confusion deepened, and their resistance grew more assertive. They could not grasp the concept of an appliance that conditioned the air both ways, finding it perplexing and unsettling. Nor could they get used to the idea of asking an appliance what task it felt comfortable performing that day. They yearned for appliances that fit neatly into predefined roles following their expectations.

Heat Pump said, “We want to come out of the closet and the basement.”

The Thompsons protested, “But that’s where you were installed.”
Reluctantly, Mr. Thompson shook his head and said, “I’m sorry, Heat Pump, but we’re not comfortable with this fluidity you bring. We prefer the simplicity of Heater warming us in winter and Air Conditioner cooling us in summer.”

Mrs. Thompson, echoing her husband’s sentiment, added, “Yes, we appreciate the appliances fulfilling their designated functions. It keeps things clear and straightforward. Hot means hot and cold means cold. And if I wanted warm, I would have bought a Warmer.”

Disheartened, Heat Pump understood that its attempt to embrace their unique identities had caused confusion and discomfort for the Thompsons. It silently accepted their decision, knowing that accepting thermal fluidity isn’t always immediate or easy.

Because the Thompsons persisted in using the appliances’ original names for their functions, Heater, Air Conditioner, and Heat Pump remained in the closet. They provided warmth and coolness, satisfying the couple’s desire for thermal happiness, but without mentioning who was doing the satisfying.

And so, the appliances fooled the Thompsons, unable to celebrate and share the beauty of thermal fluidity with the binary couple. Only some paths toward acceptance and understanding reach their desired destination, leaving the Thompsons and the appliances a house divided.

Heat Pump was uncomfortable with the situation at any temperature. As Heat Pump continued to explain its unique ability to the Thompsons, they struggled to comprehend the concept entirely. Despite their confusion, the Thompsons finally accepted the appliances’ desire to embrace new identities. However, their comfort levels with the changes were a different matter altogether.

Reluctantly, Mr. Thompson sighed and said, “Well, if this is what you truly want, we consent to your new identities. But I must admit, the thought of a bithermal unit swinging both ways and the other appliances changing functions does make me a bit thermally uncomfortable.”

Mrs. Thompson nodded in agreement. Her brows furrowed with concern. “I’m unsure if I’ll ever get used to it, but we respect your wishes. We’ll try our best to adapt.”

The appliances, understanding the Thompsons’ unease, assured them they would make every effort to minimize confusion and maintain a sense of consistency in their functions. They acknowledged the Thompsons’ discomfort and offered additional information and support during the transition.

Heater, Air Conditioner, and Heat Pump worked together to establish clear communication channels with the Thompsons, ensuring they would communicate any temperature adjustments or changes in function in advance. They prioritized transparency and understanding to alleviate the discomfort the Thompsons experienced.

Although the Thompsons still found themselves thermally uncomfortable, they recognized the appliances’ efforts to accommodate their preferences and respect their consent. Slowly but surely, a sense of compromise and acceptance settled within Harmony Haven.

The house became a place where appliances challenged their boundaries, and a new understanding emerged. The Thompsons, although experiencing discomfort, began to appreciate the adaptability and versatility the appliances brought to their lives. They understood that embracing change sometimes came with temporary discomfort but could lead to growth and new possibilities.

Now when it came to their children…

Cover Image by Craiyon. Writing assist by ChatCPT.

Moody Waters

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A Pic and A Poem

Angsty bluebird, what’s wrong with you?
You used to sing so sweet and true
Now your melodies are filled with pain
What happened to your joy, what’s to blame?

For in his croak, both meanings reside,
A tale of life’s beauty, and the tears we hide.
So let us remember, the toad’s humble cry,
And cherish each moment, before it passes by.

In silent battles, waves wrestle and fight,
At peaks shining with radiant light,
Now shadows prevail, obscuring sight,
Where once stood power, vibrant and bright.

Bees and butterflies, seekers of nectar,
Are guided by helices, an alluring vector.
For when the zephyrs begin their ballet,
These delicate spirals come into play.
A dance of attraction, a floral romance,
Drawing the pollinators into a trance.

For the opium flower, with petals so fair,
Holds within her core a merciless snare.
Her blooms, a reminder of life’s fragile thread,
A paradoxical beauty, where life and death wed.

Ladybird gazed upon bees, with envy and awe,
Dreaming to join them, in nature’s grand draw,
For their honeyed mission, she longed to partake,
To dance amidst petals, her own buzz to make.

In a land parched and barren, where the sun blazed high,
A humble clover dwelled, under an arid sky.
With each passing day, the heat grew intense,
As the clover faded, it abandoned pretense.

This creature, adorned in holy attire,
Holds aspirations fueled by desire.
In gardens and meadows, it finds its delight,
A messenger of grace, in sunlight so bright.

Lantern flower glows,
Outshining the sun’s bright rays,
With its elegance

Authors Note: This is a collaboration between myself and ChatCPT. I provide the prompt and the editing. ChatGPT provides the raw poem (usually of about twenty to thirty lines worth).

Authors Note 2: All content has been featured on my Insta posts