Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Motel 6 and The Very Dog Array


I do a lot of traveling and because I'm there (wherever there may be) to see and learn and do, pretty much all of it is designed so I'll spend as little time as possible in my hotel or motel room.  That's why I like Motel 6.  It's cheap and as a result I can stretch the year's travel budget further and spend more days on the road.

But a spurt of recent traveling involving recurrent stays at one particular Motel 6 has taught me that my business is only incidental to M6.  Their main source of income is blue-collar guys working away from home and looking for cheap digs.  Around 5:30 p.m., the place fills up with men with dirty work boots, blue jeans, and a sense of a day's hard work well done.  They pull up in pickup trucks with compressors and chain saws and big heavy tool chests, ready for tomorrow's challenge.  There may also be a bus or two of singers working the church circuit or actors going from school to school, introducing children to the wonders of Aristophanes and Tennessee Williams for seasoning.  Hard working folks.

These are the guys who make the world work. 

You can recognize their motel rooms by the empty boxes of Bud Lite and the barbecue grills outside them, evidence of human life on Earth and of their determination to make these necessary separations from their families as pleasant as their wives would approve of.

And I'm still writing a story a day . . .

Most recently, the following:

The Very Dog Array
Michael Swanwick

When Boyd Waters started doubling his dog collection, the neighbors didn’t think much about it at first.  Two dogs, four dogs, even eight dogs – that was well within the range of normal for Florida.  Sixteen dogs, however, was pushing the edge.  Thirty-two was definitely eccentric.  When the number passed sixty-four and showed every sign of continuing to increase, it was decided that something had to be done.  A committee was formed and, after deliberation, a retired judge was delegated to investigate.

“See here, Waters,” the judge said, doing his best to ignore the dozens of dogs swarming about his feet.  “Just what do you think you’re doing with all those mutts?”  When he was on the bench, he’d been known for his straight-talk.

“Dogs are very sensitive animals,” Boyd said.  “They can sense things that people can’t.”

“Such as?”

“Well, that’s what I’m trying to find out.”  Waters booted up the tangle of computers and screens he’d kludged together.  “Ever notice how people talk about dogs howling at the moon, but nine times out of ten they’re facing a different direction?  I think it has something to do with that.”

“You think?”

“I caught a bug in New Mexico that’s made a hash of my long-term memory,” Waters said apologetically.  “So I’m afraid I don’t recall my original scheme.  But I’m pretty sure that I’m beginning to get results.”  He tapped the screen.  “See all these individual lines?  Those are live readings from the dogs’ brains.”

“You put probes in their brains?”  The judge was shocked.  He genuinely liked dogs.  Though preferably one at a time.

“No, no, in their collars.  I appear to be measuring a mental phenomenon somewhat analogous to a resonating circuit.  The more dogs there are in close proximity, the stronger the signal.  I think they’re sending a message.”

The judge began to edge his way toward the door.  “Are they?”

“Yes,” Waters said eagerly.  “And if you look at the screen, you’ll see that the lines are starting to converge.  That means –”

As one, every dog in the house and the yard outside lifted its head and began to howl.  They were all facing one spot in the sky.

Too astonished to think, the judge stared upward at the descending spacecraft.

Boyd Waters, however, was glued to the screen.  “They’ve got an answer – look where it’s coming from!”

The judge turned slowly from the window and stared down at the star chart on the screen.  One star blinked rapidly.  In disbelief he said, “You can’t be Sirius.”


Above: Workingmen's jeans, left out overnight to dry.


Matthew Brandi said...

"Hard working folks. ... These are the guys who make the world work. ... And I'm still writing a story a day ..."

Oh, you're fishing, Mr. Swanwick!

It's OK, I'll bite: surely our hard-working writers of fiction are doing as much to make the world work as our strolling players, and likely a good deal more than our itinerant church choirs.

Markin said...

Oh lordy ... a Feghoot. Haven't seen one of those in ages!

Michael Swanwick said...

Brace yourself. There are almost certainly more to come.

BoydWaters said...

This really happened.

Thanks very much for the story! I think the Clarion workshop is a great institution, hope it was great for you.