TRAPPED IN A CITY OF CYBORGS
by Christopher Fulkerson
When in 1991 I experienced what were, for me, hitherto unknown difficulties in finding music work, difficulties I now believe have only begun to be explained in the new historical specialization called "1989 Studies" (A good introduction to this serious and apparently burgeoning field is given in the New York Review of Books issue of November 5, 2009), I turned to cab driving to earn a living. I dislike it, but it has been my economic salvation. I thought I would do it for just a few months, until something “real” turned up. This is one of the biggest jokes in the industry: still, after nineteen years at the time of this writing, nothing “real” has turned up, and, though some Catholics might think me a criminal for admitting despair, I live without hope that my music career will ever really recover. My workplace has gone from museums, concert halls, classrooms, and churches, to the very streets of San Francisco. I hate my life, and my mother understands.
Despite my first nightmarish weekend on the road, even as I noticed that there were prodigiously more hookers everywhere than I ever suspected, I began to catch on to what seemed to me to be a sense of continuous miracle that is possible on the street, of how events unraveling before one’s eyes are, at their best, the communicative manifestation of an incredible mind. I may not be a movie star, but I work in a “moving picture,” in which it is I with my passengers, instead of a picture on a screen, that moves.
I began, often haphazardly, to attempt to actively spiritualize my work. I had read some of the ancient Kabbalists who had worked on the streets, and began to understand a little more about their teachings. I taught myself Hebrew and read the Old Testament in both ancient languages while waiting at taxi stands. I decided that though I had some serious career setbacks, I would not cease to learn my European heritage; in fact, I went deeper into it. Parked outside the Centerfolds strip club on Broadway, I took some solice from the Biblical mention of the chariots that were part of the ancient Temple of Solomon. (That and another Bible were stolen from my old Jetta; a few months later the marquis at Jack’s Blues Club on Fillmore Street listed a blues band called Stolen Bibles, but I was too weary of it all, and maybe too afraid of abduction, to go.) On the feastday of the patron saint of cab drivers, St. Fiacre, I drove by with dozens of other drivers to have my cab blessed by the monks at the church of St. Boniface in the Tenderloin. I appreciated the free lunch provided by Yellow Cab. I got and read a copy of one of Ghandi’s favorite books, the Bhagawad Gita, which is of Hindu yogic teachings taught by Krshna, the King of the Gods, while wroking igngnito as a charioteer in the middle of a battle. I don't apologize for identifying with the charioteer. When the Greek tutor I hired told me he knew Sanskrit I curtailed lessons with my kleptomaniac Italian teacher with a name out of Boccacio and set to transliterating the entire Gita into my own system, called SaMSKrTa, which does not require a special typewriter. I found a marvelous and prescient “false cognate” between languages that I love: in Italian, the word “citta” means “city.” But in Sanskrit, the ancestor of all the Indo-European languages, “cita” means “brain.”
My workplace is a vast brain, a living mind, that is an entire city. And sometimes, for me, like the sylvan American Indian warriors of yore who learned to know from a leaf falling near them what was happening in another part of the forest, it is possible to read the events of the world from the circumstances around me. I won’t wax overly poetic about cab driving: it is enervating, frustrating, thankless underpaid toil with flagrant built-in violations of my Ninth and Thirteenth Amendment rights and resounding overtones of death row imprisonment, which have certainly been insinuated to me. But I try not to miss such opportunities at consciousness-raising that it offers. And, of course, as a cab driver, I keep my status as a “dude.”
I have witnessed some amazing things on the street. I don’t just mean the time the Muni bus driver came head-on at me on the wrong side of the street, or the nightmare in which a belligerent tough drove his truck straight at me, honking while thrusting his arm out the window and shouting “do you see that?” Of course I have gotten used to being cursed and “flipped off;” someday I’d like to collect, and put to good use, all those extra fingers I’ve been offered. Maybe they will call me the Thousand Fingered Mahabodhisattva. And if I’m “off,” I hope it’s at a moment when the flippers-off need me.
Being subject to manipulation like any other, the “mind” of the city sometimes changes abruptly. The method of manipulation is frightening. Automobiles with computers and passengers with online handhelds change circumstances in an instant, the situation is an invasion by electronic brains and all sorts of other mutually interactive paraphernalia. And in this town, the problem is most pronounced with the company I left a year and a half ago, Yellow Cab, the “Yellow Peril.”
The relatively believable problem is, that the character of the entire city irrefutably changes depending on the conditions and personalities of the cab’s, and the dispatch computer’s, operation and repair, and that disreputable people, such as those at certain cab companies, invade other companies’ business.
The most incredible problem is, that not all of the people involved are actually people. They are cyborgs.
This has been revealed to me on thousands of occasions, but the most common incidents, available for anyone to observe, are those in which an individual makes a nonsensical verbal utterance. Anyone who pays attention to what is said to them can begin to piece the situation together from these odd statements. They are usually harmless, but there are documented incidents involving such spoken phrases which are mistakenly explained as merely the actions of lunatics, such as when Dan Rather’s attacker kept repeating something like, “do you get the frequency, Kenneth?” while bludgeoning the newsman. Such an incident makes no sense as human behavior. But it makes perfect sense as the action of a radio-controlled cyborg gone mechanically berserk.
Not long ago a tow truck operator at work looked at me with a liquid, hypnotized look in his eye, and asked me whether a certain guy with a goatee was the boss, since he seemed to be acting that way. I said no he wasn’t, and mentioned the name of the president of the company. It was clear the fellow was "out of it," in a similar though more functional way than Dan Rather's attacker. Maybe you had to be there.
Before I left the yard once on a Monday the guy in the goatee walked up to one of the Chinese mechanics and very clearly said, “You want a cyborg.” I was standing just six feet away and am sure of what I heard. The Chinese fellow did not at first understand, so the guy in the goatee spoke at somewhat greater length, and the Chinese fellow nodded vigorously in the affirmative.
That day the entire city seemed to have gone to hell. Orders were crossed, the computer kept jamming, every manner of error occurred, with the result that business was bad. Worse than that, the whole city seemed to have an entirely wrong demography. It was like driving around in a ghost town. Around eleven o’clock I told myself, “this is so bad, it’s like being back at Yellow Cab.” At a lavatory on Van Ness Avenue I said hello to a passing acquaintance, Boris, from Yellow. He said, “So you’re back at Yellow Cab!” This would qualify as one of those wigged-out Robot Remarks I've been talking about. Was it because I once wore a goatee? Did I ask for a comedy writer?
My suggestion, based on experience, is that Boris is a cyborg, who gets his information through the airwaves. He’s not nuts, he’s just not human. Years ago while I was at Yellow he once said to me, a propos of nothing, “When you go to Russia you work for KGB!” That's interesting, I'm still waiting for the plane tickets to appear in the mail. Then, as more recently, he was wrong of course, but his conception seems to reflect some aspect of “programming” that has on innumerable occasions made my life miserable, and cost me lots of money in lost business.
Perhaps the worst thing about the cyborgs is that they seem capable of running the world, or at least certain aspects of a major city, according to false facts. Their paradigm of the world gets set to one date or criterion, and all their actions then enforce this paradigm as though it were law. People’s lives could get tragically affected by a mere phone call or an apparently ordinary parking ticket. I have more to say about this in an essay I am planning on what I call "Prime Point" foci in computer technology. It is based on ideas put forward by John Dee and later given more modern language by Stephen Hawking.
Another of the guys at work seems to me to be of the cyborg type. I was walking out the driveway yesterday morning when Ed B., who was at the time the chief computer technology consultant at the company, walked up the driveway from the computer room. Clearly he was not addressing me, the only person within earshot, when he spoke out loud as though to someone, “It’s like they’re flying into you!”
Apparently he was talking to a skyscraper. He spoke as though he were only just beginning to get an idea about something he was trying to explain, as though it had never yet happened, about what occurred on September 11, 2001. Yet I am sure that if 9/11 were mentioned to him, he would have immediately shown complete understanding. Like flipping the pages of a calendar, or the channels of a radio.
What percentage of the people around me are cyborgs? Do I work, even live, in a city of them? A nation, world of them?
I preferred my spiritualization project to "reality." The “incredible mind” is just a computer running properly. Life is far more meaningless, and cheerless, than I had ever previously, in my darkest moments, feared.
First posted 1/12/2010.