Robots Don’t Think

The toddler hangs straight-legged from his arm cradle while he bangs with the side of his fist on the plate glass of the storm door that he had to re-install because her husband knew nothing more on how to do anything but sit on his ass and have somebody else do it. When she comes to the door, she greets him with not a smile or a frown but something more placid; a plain, closed-mouth, “Oh yeah, it’s you.” He hands the child off with less congeniality than a package deliverer and turns to walk to his running pickup. The toddler puts both gloved hands in the air for him, unsure of why she was handed off and not given a goodbye. She whimpers a soft “Daaaa,” as the storm door shuts and her mother carries her away from it and him. He exhales a condensate of a sigh into the deep winter air. He is layered against it; in dark blues and grays of clothing and stained heavy brown boots that while wearing makes him feel a bit indestructible; a human robot ready to be outside for as long as possible, flinging topsoil and mud and root and clay until the job is finished. Today is another Saturday where he will be digging in the hardened ground because a landowner needs to build a structure. He once found it noble; his work, his pigskin gloved hands in the soil, laying down lines so structures can be built. Out in the fresh air, the sun above, the birds surrounding, feeling the pulse of the day while earning a living not inside one of the structures he was helping to build. But now he finds it dull, unnecessary even, and wonders what will become of all the millions of buried lines in the Earth when they become decrepit and no longer work and must disintegrate into something else. What will be that something else? And what will the future civilizations think of the people that needed all those lines to make the Earth more habitable? It is his deepest thought, but he doesn’t allow himself to think about it that often. He used to believe life was best lived without deep thought; that what was needed to be believed, what was needed to be thought of, had already been so and should be left well enough alone. Hell, maybe even a little less thinking could make the world a better place. But now, he’s unsure of his beliefs and thoughts from the past. He used to believe he loved her. He used to believe he would be a terrific father. As he puts the pickup into gear and checks his mirrors, he wonders if he has been wrong all along. Not just about her and him and his ability to be a good father, but All Else. Is it all a lie? A rock song plays in his mind as if a radio knob was tuned to a station. Was Freddie fucking Mercury right? Is this the real life? Does nothing really matter? The keys to existence surely could not have been discovered by a rock singer. The New Testament according to Freddie. He turned the pickup’s heater down from max and took a drag from the Doral Full Flavor cigarette still burning into one big ash in the ceramic dish he carries in the middle console. The long ash disintegrates into a flutter around his darkened eyes and unshaven face as he takes a final pull down to the filter and stubs what’s left into the ceramic dish. He suddenly recognizes the actual sound from the radio as a local commercial as it seems to blast into a part of his brain otherwise unresponsive until the familiar catchy jingle is heard. He mutters a curse word between his teeth and puts too much pressure on the gas pedal and squeals the balding rear all-weather Goodyear’s on the asphalt in front of her house. She will think he is pissed and being immature again. “What does it matter?” He responds aloud, as the smoke from the Doral exits his lungs and he eases his foot from the gas pedal. He then remembers the paranoid, hearsay-filled discussion at the end of a union meeting, when they’d all had two cups of coffee and three yeast or jelly-filled day-old donuts, and seemingly, like a collection of chicken heads pecking at grain, they all talked in raised voices about automation replacing them. About robots doing the job of humans, about getting pushed out of a job so an unpaid robot could do it. Oh what anger would be aroused then? He thought at the meeting, where he remained quiet, as if enough of his fellow workers weren’t already angered when an immigrant comes in for a lesser wage, next they will have robots to be angry with. Seated next to him, a near-retirement black man with a thick white mustache, who smelled of coconut oil and cigar tobacco, mentioned the movie RoboCop and a future of destitution and crime when workers have no jobs because the robots do it all. “We need to work to live,” he said as he leaned forward and his big stomach hung over his belt line and one arm braced on his knee for support . “If you take away our jobs, you take away our purpose.” No resolution was made at the meeting, just talk rising to a feverish peak then fading away in muffled affirmatives and head nods. If anything, they agreed they would fight the robots when the time came. He wondered then, driving down the road, if the future for the toddler in mittens, the one he no longer believes belongs to him, is a dark and dreary future out of a Hollywood movie he watched one time late at night in his youth; some memory of images and story consumed and forgotten until now. He didn’t like the violence he saw in the movie then, and now the thought of the toddler living in a world with such violence, scares him enough to want to prevent it. At a stop sign, he lights another Doral and his thoughts dissipate when a car in the opposite lane blows the sign and keeps moving. He honks his horn and curses at the driver. And that’s it, he thinks. Thoughts come and go. Deep or shallow. Best not to think at all. Robots don’t think.

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