Trump: Beyond Scandal

Howard Dean makes a weird noise? Dire political consequences. Chris Christie’s allies collude to create a traffic jam? Dire political consequences. Donald Trump suggests banning an entire religion, brags about sexual assault on tape, refuses to release his taxes, defrauds students and investors, and [insert 1,000 other scandals]? Over 60 million Americans choose to elect him president. Why?

It’s a little fascinating in a “hey, what’s this new lump on my body” sort of way. Trump once said, I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose.” It’s a ridiculous statement and it also rings terribly true as we look back on the 2016 campaign season. But, why?

Watching the election unfold, there came a point at which Trump’s scandals and shortcomings started to seem more like a protective shell around the candidate than any sort of liability. During the Republican primary, both ends of the political spectrum mocked the very idea of a Trump presidency. It felt like a ludicrous candidacy, a stunt, a bit of reality TV leaking onto the political main stage. Trump is, after all, the only president in the history of the country to have zero public service or military experience. And yet… he won.

It’s almost as if Trump has so many shortcomings it’s impossible to focus on a single flaw. It’s the “too many people through the door at the same time” principle of politics (a thing I totally didn’t make up).

burns-doorTrump doesn’t have one signature flaw or scandal that sticks in the mind, defining and tarnishing his brand. His brand is scandal. His brand is a grinning sucker-punch to established protocols. Framed like that, it even sounds kinda sexy, right? He doesn’t talk like a politician. He doesn’t act like a politician. He isn’t accountable like a politician. Political scandals don’t touch him because his one and only political virtue is in being outside our traditional image of a political behavior. He’s a businessman. He’s a locker room guy. He’s just your average Joe billionaire who shoots from the hip and isn’t terribly concerned with facts or figures or inciting bigotry and violence. He gets to say whatever he wants, right or wrong, true or false, and that characteristic has made him a hero to millions of Americans.

Trump is an asshole and a con. I really think his supporters know that. I think they are looking for an asshole and a con. The thing that they are taking on faith is that Trump will be their asshole, their con.

I have my doubts.

The problem is that Trump’s scandals aren’t just window dressing. They aren’t calculated aesthetics used in the service of building an outsider, anti-hero brand. Trump’s scandals are things of substance. They have consequences. I’ve heard Trump described as “a brick through the window of the establishment.” That may be true. I just worry we’re in for four years of treading on the broken glass and wishing we had a way to shutout the wind.

 

 

 

 

 

Market Forces and Melville’s Unfortunate Removal of Vampirism from Moby Dick: An Argument for a Mass Market Release of Melville’s Original Manuscript

Herman Melville’s obsession with vampires has been well-documented by scholars, but few critics have seriously considered the merits of Melville’s early vampire-centered drafts of Moby Dick. The final manuscript of Melville’s most celebrated work stands at just over 200,000 words, yet earlier drafts reached a word count of nearly double that final edit. I am prepared to argue that the literary world is ultimately poorer for these edits, edits shaped by a img_GanMelapublic hungry for adventure, travel writing, and exhaustive descriptions of whaling practices. While Melville’s contemporary audience may have been largely unreceptive to the more humdrum topics of vampiric whales and seafaring monster hunters, modern audiences often feel a deep resonance with omitted scenes like the fifty-page description of spectral bats coming to roost in the white whale’s blowhole or Captain Ahab’s long description of the dietary needs and proper hygiene of a “self-mastered foe of vampirekind” (3,244). Beyond question, Moby Dick; or, The Whale is a masterpiece of fiction. However, Melville’s first draft manuscript Mooby Gonk; or, The Vampire Whale-Fish that Ate Nantucket is a superior novel in ambition, scope, and subtle complexity.

In 1826, Herman Melville’s father described his son as, “backward in speech and somewhat slow in comprehension . . . of a docile and amiable disposition, but ridiculously preoccupied with vampires” (Wiggles, 2).  Seldom seen in public without his “ask me about vampire whales” sandwich board, Melville is, by some historians’ estimates, the first writer ever to receive a punch to the face for, “refusing to stop blathering on [about the] undead,” (Pupu, 722). Known by his peers as a workmanlike occultist and sometime novelist, his works include Typee (1846), Redburn (1849), Omoo (1847), The Bloodsucking Whale-Brides of Vampire Island (1850), and Moby Dick; or, The Whale (1851). Modern readers will no doubt be familiar bellawith the incredible variety of popular Saturday morning cartoon shows based on Typee, Redburn, and Omoo, yet relatively few understand the degree to which Melville influenced our modern image of the vampire as a huge, aquatic mammal who sneaks into houses and onto ships to drink human blood from the soles of feet. When publishing Dracula nearly fifty years later, Bram Stoker originally referred to his famous Count as a “land-vampire or landpire” (Stoker, 555) in order to differentiate his villain from Melville’s more established vision of the standard vampire whale so prevalent in the public consciousness.

Examples of the ways in which the original manuscript outshines Melville’s final edit are too numerous to mention, but here’s one anyway. First, let’s look at the version of the text from the heavily edited Moby Dick; or, The Whale:

“Hark ye yet again—the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event—in the living act, the undoubted deed—there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. (567)

Compare that to the original passage from Mooby Gonk; or, The Vampire Whale-Fish that ate Nantucket:

“Hark ye yet again—the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event—in the living act, the undoubted deed—there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the mouldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the vampire whale is that wall, shoved near to me. (567)

The observant student of literature will notice that only a single word was altered from one version of this passage to the next, however, that one word sums up the key point of my argument. “Vampire” is a word that, independent of context, carries vast meaning and symbolic connotations ranging from biblical allusions to the spilling of Abel’s moby-dick1blood by his brother Cain to the popular Don Quixote figure Blade from the film Blade 2: Bloodhunt. What symbolic weight does the adjective “white” carry? None. The potential for meaning just isn’t there. The point argues itself.

When Herman Melville bowed to market forces and revised the life and soul from his novel Mooby Gonk; or, The Vampire Whale-Fish that ate Nantucket, the reading public was robbed of everything from Mooby Gonk’s eight foot fangs to Ishmael’s telekinetic battle with the brain-squid. I’ve spent countless hours in university libraries piecing together Melville’s early drafts. It was fulfilling scholarship and I was happy to do it, but I recognize that few have the time or resources to follow my path. Yet, booklovers everywhere should be able to discover the true poetry and genius of Mooby Gonk. I call on some brave publisher to make right old wrongs and release the full 3,000 page work Mooby Gonk; or, The Vampire Whale-Fish that ate Nantucket in an affordable paperback edition that can easily be enjoyed in the classroom or on the beach.

 

Why yes, my work has been mentioned in Vogue

A few months ago I participated in the Twitter hashtag #TheInternetNamesAnimals. There are few things I enjoy more than inventing silly names for things, so I made quite a few contributions to the conversation. A few of my tweets went viral. Since then, I’ve seen my name and my ridiculous tweets mentioned in publications ranging from The Huffington Post to Vogue. What a weird world. I spend a lot of time and energy as a writer trying to reach my audience and my most-viewed piece is now an absurd name I made up for an ostrich. I love the internet.

Thunder Goose

Murder Log

My Grumpy-Pants Response to a Grumpy-Pants Article on the Business of Higher Ed

So, the article “Welcome to Ohio State, Where Everything Is for Sale” by OSU History Professor Steven Conn has crossed my path a few times in the last couple days and it annoyed me to the point that I felt the need to analyze my reaction in writing. As a devout English major, I hold dear the idea that I don’t really know what I think until I write it down, so here we go. If you wanna play along at home, you can check out Conn’s article here.

The basic premise of the article is that the old OSU motto of “Education for Citizenship” no longer applies to the increasingly commercialized institution and, instead, the motto “Everything Is for Sale” would be much more appropriate. Conn writes, “Yes, sir, we are open for business! And by ‘open for business’ I mean: Make us an offer for something, and we’ll sell it to you like a pair of pants at a department-store closeout.”

Yes, indeed. How mortifying… the idea that OSU is selling something.

He also seems to be lumping together the trustees, all administrators, and the state legislature as a big ol’ “them” to stand against the “us” of the faculty.

Ahem.

Look, as I begin to articulate my annoyance here, I have a sudden fear that I’m about to erode my liberal arts street-cred. I worry that my former English grad school buddies are going to think that somebody clubbed me over the head with a copy of Atlas Shrugged and I’ve gone all neo-con. That’s really not the case. I’m an English degree evangelizing, NPR pledge-drive supporting, intellectual-loving, liberal poet/fiction writer. Honest. This article just strikes me as sloppy thinking on a subject I’ve been contemplating for years.

Quick caveat: my comments here are about the humanities. I understand that a lot of my comments below don’t apply to the sciences, trades, career/tech, medical disciplines, etc.

Let’s go back to 2011. I had recently earned my MA in Early Modern British literature and had been accepted to a couple PhD programs when I decided to leave academia. I stuck around as an adjunct for a bit and then moved on to nonprofit/development work.

Why did I do that? Well, in short, I began to feel like academia was insulting my intelligence. The workload to unemployment risk to likely compensation ratios for the career path I was on just didn’t add up for me. So I began honestly asking myself, “why am I doing this?”

I really do think that there are good/solid motivations for dedicating your life to being an English professor, but I didn’t have those motivations. I didn’t have a calling to teach. I had a pretentious fantasy. I found my motivation was rooted in old ideas that I now consider to be misconceptions and misinformation. When I was younger, I believed that the academy was the great, noble seat of the humanities (and really had a monopoly on quality thinking on, and the production of, great art and writing). I’ve since come to realize those ideas are false. They’re inventions. The thinkers/artists/writers I respect most are not fixtures in English or Art departments. The academy does not own intellectual discourse or creation. It is not standing at the helm of culture or creativity. The academy is just the most famous path to a life of the mind. It’s the tidiest path. The one you see on TV the most. It’s well-branded and well-marketed. It has the most attractive packaging. It’s the commercial version. It’s commoditized. It’s a business. It’s positioned itself as a key benchmark achievement of class and status in America. It sells.

When I was an adjunct, I used to be very upset about my pay and my lack of benefits. I was indignant, especially in light of what I suspected the administrators were making. But here’s the thing… you know how you can tell that adjuncts and professors are making the correct amount of money? Because there is no shortage of qualified people who will take those jobs. I knew the moment I left teaching, someone was ready to step in to my role. Heck, they never let me forget that fact.

A cold, calculating comment that also happens to be painfully true.

If, say, 90% of the available pool of people qualified to teach Freshman comp classes as adjunct instructors suddenly decided that the terms of their contracts were insulting and found other jobs, then I’d expect adjunct pay would rise dramatically. That whole supply and demand thing (which matters here because the academy is a business, not a golden city of truth and learning –that’s just marketing).

Meanwhile, let’s think about what that bloated administration that Conn bemoans does, shall we? Think of your favorite English or History or Art professors. Now imagine them plucked out of the context of the academy. Imagine them renting a space in a shopping mall and paying for some facebook ads. We’ve cut out the greedy middlemen. How much, outside of the huge and complex political/marketing/business machine of the academy, do you think people would be willing to pay for lectures on literary criticism? I’m going to suggest a lot less than they are paying within the context of the academy –a context that is NOT simply born of the merit and innate value of the intellectual vigor pulsing through the halls of academia. That context is an expertly designed construct. A carefully crafted business pitch (to individuals and local/federal government bodies and private corporations). Apparently, the administrators who engineer and sustain that branded context do a pretty good job because lots and lots of people are still paying tuition. Pretty remarkable. right? They create demand. They create value and keep the machine working. Sounds like a real skill to me, but Conn seems to be suggesting that the admins are lamprey-like financial parasites on the underbelly of the faculty. That kind of position seems to come from the idea that the academy really runs on its own self-sustaining excellence and the quality of its educators. Wow. Those marketing departments really are talented.

English departments. History departments. Art departments. They can exist in their current states, within their august edifices, BECAUSE of administrative machinery, not in spite of it. It’s business. It’s math. I’m not saying I’m happy about this, I’m just saying refusing to think about it in real terms is intellectual laziness.

Does this mean that I think this makes the administration beyond critique? Of course not. What bothers me about Conn’s article is that I’d like to see a little awareness of the administration’s role. A word about context. A little less black and white.

Believe me, this is not my attempt to insult the humanities. Check out my essay here on why I think a degree in English is immensely valuable. Literary analysis taught me to see the big picture and to make connections within complex systems. The skills I learned being an English major are the exact same skills that allowed me to reassess my understanding of the business of higher education in America (and realize that I needed to rethink my involvement within that business).

I love and respect professors in the humanities. I deeply value the education I received at OSU and OU. I just find Conn’s article to be painfully simplistic. If I was a History Prof at OSU, I would be very happy that it was somebody’s job to make deals with Coke and wake up every morning trying to find new ways to monetize the work of the university. The humanities (especially) need those people and I think it’s much more intellectually honest to admit it.

Let’s Stop Apologizing for Being English Majors

If I had a nickel for every time I heard English Literature mentioned as one of the least practical majors on news programs, I’d have… well, I don’t know what I’d have. I was an English major. Math really isn’t my thing.

*Rimshot*

Hilarious. I know. Yet, chances are, if you are or were an English major, you’ve faced no shortage of jokes about your skills and future prospects. Perhaps even worse than the jokes are the sincere questions from concerned friends and family members. Questions like: So, are you going to teach? But, what will you do for a job? What did your parents say about that choice?

Okay English majors. Nobody knows the ins and outs of stories like we do. So, let’s start taking control of our own public narrative.

I have a BA and MA in English Literature. And, yes, I did teach college English once upon a time. I also worked in commercial real estate development. I worked in database management. I am currently the Operations Manager for a nonprofit. I’ve had a rewarding and eclectic career and a career that may seem contrary to the public view of what an English major can/should do.

I don’t know where the viewpoint that being an English major is a liability originated, but I know it’s time for it to stop. Not just because it’s annoying and incorrect, but because when this narrative isn’t challenged it becomes the predominant narrative. It becomes true. It becomes the narrative your prospective employers consider when they see your degree listed on your resume.

So, what assets do English majors bring to the table? English majors just, like, read poetry and talk about their feelings right? NO! (Well, sometimes, but let’s not talk about that right now.)

I think the most significant skill that I acquired from studying English is the ability to construct and deconstruct complex narratives. People understand the world through stories. This concept is important to marketing and to making the case to potential donors in a nonprofit context, but it’s more than that. Every business, every occupation needs to own and tell its own story. Moreover, defining and understanding any organization’s story is just the beginning. The story then needs to be told through a variety of lenses depending on the intended audience. Studying English gives us the tools to deal with these complex and essential issues (and much more).

If that sounds too abstract, let’s shift to a more practical and concrete topic. Writing.

The internet has changed everything. It also means that we live in an increasingly text-based world. Who creates a text-based world? Writers!

In my experience, a lot of people are just plain terrified of writing. So, if you’re the person in the office who speaks up and takes on writing related tasks, you quickly become an invaluable member of any team. Plus, as the writer, I often feel real ownership of the story/identity of my organization.

Do I know a bunch about Hamlet? Yes. Yes I do. Is that all I got out of being an English major? Not even close.

Do you need to make a complex case for funding? Hire an English major. Do you need to explain to a number of audiences why they need your product? Hire an English major. Do you need somebody who can understand the subtle internal interplay of office politics and still communicate effectively across an entire organization? Hire an English major.

I have never felt that my chosen course of study was a liability. In fact, I find that the skills I gained as an English major have placed me in leadership positions again and again. I understand complexity. I know how to communicate. I know how to own a story.

So, English majors, let’s go take control of our narrative.

The Outlier (Drabble – 100 Word Story)

The Outlier

Aisha didn’t consider herself superstitious, but science had let her down. She had heard numerous versions of the “fact.” Four a year. Ten. Twenty. But, how could anyone claim to know how many spiders a person swallows in an average year? How could they know, unless they were there?

She slid the brand new Ouija Board from its box. Following the instructions, she tried to think spidery thoughts as she posed the question to the collective mass of arthropod souls in the beyond. The indicator moved with a decidedly arachnid skitter. Aisha’s eyes widened. After the sixth digit, she fainted.

spiders

Twabble on the Drabblecast

Hear an itty-bitty 100 character story by me after the featured story on episode 324 of the Drabblecast. I really love the Drabblecast. They have some stiff competition, but I think they are the best fiction podcast out there. This week’s featured story “The Ball Room” by China Mieville is really great. Think spooky, atmospheric horror that delivers serious creepiness the ol’ fashioned polished prose way. If you’re not listening to the Drabblecast on a weekly basis, you are really missing out on some wonderful fiction delivered with incredible production quality. I’ve been hooked ever since i discovered it.

drabblecast_324_greg_cravens-250x250

NBC’s Hannibal: The Devil in the Details

Three days ago, I discovered NBC’s TV series Hannibal and, thanks to iTunes and a love of binge watching episodes, I am now all caught up on the series. I have some nitpicks with the writing and the first season’s use of quasi-amnesia tropes feels like the narrative equivalent of pulling a rabbit out of the hat (“but, I saw the killer do it… but, did you? Dun Dun Dun!). Still, I really enjoy the show and I’m tapping my foot waiting for the next episode to be released. The series has really captured the one part monster, one part super hero, one part cultural ninja, one part dandy mix that makes Hannibal Lecter America’s favorite cannibal (sorry Texas Chainsaw Massacre family, maybe if you knew more about wine selection).

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I often find myself rooting for Hannibal to elude and/or munch on his would-be captors. If I am alone, just kidding everybody. No need to forward this to the FBI.

The series does a great job of balancing the charm and almost cartoonish nature of Hannibal’s murderous disdain for the rude and banal with his more unsettling brand of cruel indifference and outright horrifying brutality. That attraction/repulsion balance is the hallmark of all my favorite villains –really all my favorite characters.

Hannibal Lecter

Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter

I feel relieved when Hannibal dodges accusations and stays a step ahead of the FBI. After that relief, I usually find myself thinking, “wait, why do I want the mass murder to get away?” The push/pull attraction and repulsion with the character becomes a push/pull within my own self-reflection. That internal uncertainty really seems to give me a stake in the narrative tension of the show. I feel something similar when I read comics featuring the Joker, but if I’m going to pull a comparison for Hannibal, I think I’ll go a little more old school than the Joker (Hannibal would approve).

In Paradise Lost, it’s hard not to root for Satan. Milton writes God’s speeches as kinda stuffy and utterly bland. Meanwhile, Satan is (seemingly) cast in the role of the brave underdog, fighting against incalculable odds to win freedom from tyranny and achieve personal sovereignty. Satan wants to do what he wants, when he wants, how he wants and Milton arms him with the best speeches and most stirring rhetoric in the poem. Even though Milton gives the reader a poke now and then to remind us whom we’re dealing with here, Satan remains the most compelling character. He, like our pal Hannibal, seems to be ready willing and able to stick it to authority and take his personal freedoms by force. His wine is the fanciest and his suits are the snazziest. The tension comes when we begin to look past the carefully constructed personae of these characters and glimpse the substance beneath. Moreover, that tension becomes a tension with ourselves, it raises the question, “wait, what did I just fall for?”

Stanley Fish explores this tension as a teaching tool in his book Surprised by Sin. Fish argues that this push/pull relationship is an intentional construct used by Milton to lure us into siding with Satan and then, once our mistake is realized/analyzed, we can learn a moral lesson from our own rhetorical fall. In understanding why you fall for Satan’s pitch, we might be more ready to resist that pitch in the future. Of course, the poem doesn’t just tell you this lesson. It involves you in creating the understanding on your own. As Fish writes, “Paradise Lost is a dialectical experience which has the advantage traditionally claimed for dialectic of involving the respondent in his own edification” (49). You don’t just watch Satan fall. In siding with Satan, you experience your own fall. You, in a sense, become Satan and learn from the experience.

Am I saying that the creators of NBC’s Hannibal are trying to teach us a moral lesson founded on tricking us into uncomfortable self-reflection? Yeah, maybe not. But, I do think Paradise Lost is one of the best and most enduring poems in the English language for a reason and if I feel inspired to draw parallels between Hannibal’s lowercase “d” devil and Paradise Lost’s uppercase “D” Devil, then I think the show has a pretty solid antagonist.

I may not be overly concerned with the teaching of moral lessons, but I am concerned with stories that engage, that inspire me to ask questions of myself and wander around my own brain flipping over rocks and peering into cupboards. I think Hannibal is that kind of story. The show may not win any awards for originality. It may be a little (or a lot) self-indulgent with its sensationalist flourishes. Hell, it may be a string of cheap thrills and more than a few plot holes, but I can’t wait to see how season two ends! If you have a problem with the level of cheesiness in Hannibal, then allow me to quote a famous philosopher (I believe it was Immanuel Kant) who asked, “why so serious?”

Plots and Plotting Plotters

As of today, I’m about 12,000 words into the new novel I’m working on and I feel like I’ve built some momentum. I try to slip some sleeping pills into my inner editor’s mashed-potatoes when I work on the first draft of a novel, knowing that the heavy lifting of editing and rewriting will come later. But, the editing can’t come until I have the first freaking draft done. I’ve been writing all day and my brain is feeling mushy, so I’m taking a break from novel and turning to the blog. Sorry, blog. Don’t take that personally. I love you in a different way.

I’m not sure why, but while working on this new project I keep garth_greenbeing haunted by the idea of plotting. Specifically, I keep feeling pangs of jealousy about writers whose processes involve plotting/prewriting. I guess this jealousy is born of the feeling I get when I finish a scene or chapter and suddenly feel overwhelmed by possibility. Sure, I have a general sense of my overarching plot and I have ideas about a handful of points of conflict and subplots, but I don’t have a road map. I don’t have an outline. I’m getting to know my characters as I write.

I know that I’m not alone in this approach. I recently reread Stephen King’s On Writing and King has a downright adversarial relationship to plotting. He writes:

“I distrust plot for two reasons: first, because our lives are largely plotless, even when you add in all our reasonable precautions and careful planning; and second, because I believe plotting and the spontaneity of real creation aren’t compatible.

A strong enough situation renders the whole question of plot moot. The most interesting situations can usually be expressed as a What-if question:

What if vampires invaded a small New England village? (Salem’s Lot).

What if a young mother and her son became trapped in their stalled car by a rabid dog? (Cujo).

These were situations which occurred to me – while showering, while driving, while taking my daily walk – and which I eventually turned into books. In no case were they plotted, not even to the extent of a single note jotted on a single piece of scrap paper.”

I remember feeling a little bit vindicated when I first read that quote a decade or so ago. On the other hand, plenty of writers engage in exhaustive plotting processes. Take Jim Butcher for example. Butcher plans out plots and subplots on notecards and makes a physical narrative arc on the floor before he starts drafting. That man has a roadmap. He has a whole damn atlas before he dives in.

The fact is, this is just a case of the grass being greener. I can’t use the plotting approach. I’ve tried. It feels almost disingenuous to me. Artificial. I find myself thinking, “I don’t even know these characters yet. How do I know how they would react when their van is teetering on the edge of the hell-chasm. (Read all about it in my upcoming novel, The Van and the Hell-Chasm: A Tale of Teetering.)

Alright, internet. This concludes my procrastinating. Back to work.

 

Widdershins

The robot was a heap of a thing. Its body was half covered by an avalanche of old papers, bits of wire, and solder. Slack-jawed, its lump of a head hung drunkenly forward like it was trying to throw itself off of the flat slab of the thing’s shoulders. In the dead center of the robot’s chest, there was a big red button about the size of a can of tuna.

It looked lifeless. It looked abandoned. It had a reasonless, homespun menace that was hard to pin down.junkbot

“Just poke it with your foot, Rich.”

Doug was using his older brother voice. It didn’t matter than both men were well into their thirties.

“Shit, Dad wasn’t smart enough to make anything dangerous. I just don’t want the thing to start throwing sparks and catch the U-Haul on fire,” said Doug.

Rich gave Doug a long-suffering look.

“Don’t give me that look, I pulled that dead raccoon out from under the storage shed a piece at a time; this one’s yours.”

Rich sighed. “It’s just… What is all this junk? I thought Dad was holed up over here watching old game show reruns.”

“Yeah, well, you can ask him at the funeral home tonight, but I don’t think he’ll answer. Anyway, the sooner we get this place cleaned out and on the market, the sooner we’ll be done with it.”

“Couldn’t we just hire somebody to deal with all this?” Rich kicked a box of old electronics manuals off of one of the robots legs.

“You mean dip into the vast fortune dad left us and hire a company to deal with the estate stuff? I guess we might be able to sell off the fleet of limos.”

“Hilarious,” said Rich, kneeling down to take a closer look at the red button. He shrugged with his entire body and shook his head. “Just… why? Why this?”

“Why? Why the fuck did Dad do anything? It’s probably just full of jars of coins or fingernail clippings. Just make sure the damn thing isn’t going to catch fire so we can haul it to the dump.”

Rich suddenly felt like he was twelve years old again, hesitating on the edge of the high dive with Doug tapping his foot behind him.

“Fine. Whatever.”

Rich stood up and prodded the button with the toe of his sneaker.

Nothing.

“There you go. It didn’t even budge. It’s probably just decoration,” said Rich.

“You barely touched it!”

Rich planted the ball of his foot on the button and leaned his weight into the thing. The robot settled back a few inches with the sound of crunching cardboard. It felt dense. Heavy. Surprisingly resistant to Rich’s shove.

Rich turned toward his brother and spread his arms.

“Satisfied?”

Doug leaned in and squinted at the button. “Maybe it turns. Like a dial.”

“I pushed it. You ‘turn it like a dial’ if you want.”

“Three words: Dead. Raccoon. Smell.”

“Jesus Christ,” grumbled Rich, rolling his eyes. He kneeled down and twisted the red cylinder clockwise.

It moved. The button turned almost effortlessly. It had a smooth, deliberate-feeling action, and the weight of quality. There was a strange, ratcheting feel as Rich turned the button, and a faint nearly inaudible hum.

Rich pulled his hand back and stared at the robot. It was silent and still. He looked up at Doug, but his brother’s face showed nothing. He hadn’t felt it. He hadn’t heard anything.

“Nothing,” said Doug. “Try turning it the other way.”

Rich hesitated. “I think that’s enough,” he said. “I pushed it. I turned it. A bump in the road isn’t going to accidently turn this thing on.”

“Hey, Rich, what do you call a grown man who’s afraid of his dead father’s old art project?”

“Oh, shut up.”

“Jesus, fine, I’ll do it.”

Doug pushed past Rich, bent down and grabbed the button. Rich made a wordless noise of protest, but Doug twisted the button to the left without any discussion.

There was a deep, rumbling sound that filled the tiny basement.

Wide-eyed, Rich took hold of his brother and pulled him back from the robot. The sound seemed to be coming from everywhere.

Doug shot his brother a reproachful look, then registered the sincere fear on Rich’s face.

“Good God!” yelled Doug. “Don’t let it taste human blood. Quick! Call the National Guard! Call a priest! Call the FBI!”

Rich’s gaze shot from the robot to Doug. The initial shock still colored his expression.

“Rich…” said Doug slowly. The growling rumble stopped. “That was the sound of the garage door opening. Dad built a robot that opens the garage door.”

“Uh… Oh,” said Rich.

Doug shook his head. “You are hopeless.”

Rich turned and kicked the robot square in the head.

“I wouldn’t do that,” said Doug. “We still haven’t tried pulling on the button. What if it holds a grudge? ”

Rich shut his eyes and ran his fingers though his hair. “I hate you, Doug.”