Friday, May 15, 2015

Robots in the Tempus Fugit.

I'm, as usual, feeling a lot of pressure at work. And when 2:18 rolled around last night and I still couldn't shut my eyes, I threw on an old pair of jeans, a sweatshirt and a pair of sneakers and headed with Whiskey in tow, uptown to the Tempus Fugit.

I made my way down and up the various stairways, hallways and egresses. Through an assortment of steel-reinforced doors, past a dozen or so 60-watters hanging naked, and finally arrived at the amber incandescence of the joint.

I took my usual stool one in from the end, and Whiskey took her usual place at the foot of said stool. In a trice, the bartender was around the bar with a bowl of water for the pup, then back behind the hardwood, frothing my glass with a Pike's (the ALE that won for YALE!)

By way of salutation he offered this: "Tis an ill wind that blows no good," he said.

I looked around the joint. It was the same as it ever was. Everything was in apple pie order except for one table in the back, near the signed glossy of Gene Tunney, heavyweight champeen of the world from 1926 to 1928. On the table, open to the racing form was a well-read copy of "The New-York Journal-American." It was last published in 1966.

"That's lugubrious for an otherwise sterling night," I said, draining my Pike's.

He pulled me some more ounces of suds, wiped the teak in front of me and presented me with the brew.

"I have read an article," he began, "that leaves me more than a little distraught."

Mechanically, he slid over a small wooden bowl of salted Spanish peanuts. I pushed them away to my right, saying, as I always say, "A pound in every nut."

"I fear the rise of robots," he continued. "They build our cars, defuse our bombs, stock our warehouses, vacuum our floors. I'm told that soon they will slice our onions, wash our tomatoes and even make our hamburgers. They say robots will write our newspapers, film our TV shows, record our music, drive our automobiles, perform our surgical operations, make our machines--even machines that make more robots. And all the while, these robots will be getting smarter and learning and doing more."

He drew me another Pike's.

"It won't take much," he said, "to put a robot in the Tempus Fugit, capable of dispensing equal parts programmed wisdom and pulling the Pike's tap for sallow-eyed sots like you."

"I can see the reason for your torpor," I said. "I too fear a future that gets steadily worse everyday. Like the Mets."

He grabbed his damp terry and polished the already gleaming woodwork. I stared deep into my glass and saw a mechanical Scylla and Charybdis, reaching and screeching at a small ship of humans trying to sail by.

After some uncomfortable moments of silence, I pushed two twenties across the teak in his direction.

"There's one thing robots won't do," he said, brightening.

I waited for the night's only good news. "What's that," I straight-manned.

"They won't ever say, 'on me.'"

Whiskey and I walked quietly home. Choosing to ignore every traffic signal along the way.

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