Ghost in the Machine

Eighteen Months in the Info-Quarry.

The second movement of the Mahler crashes in my ears. Kräftig bewegt. Proceeding strongly. One hundred numbered Sprague Dawleys are collected and injected or squirted in the eyes or nose with an unidentified material. The rats are monitored and given the treatment again and again during the test period, which may run on for days, weeks, or months. The object is to determine the maximum tolerable dose, the point when the damage done is still bearable and just before irreversible reaction or death sets in.

Across from me an elderly man finishes a microwaved tray of frozen fettuccini alfredo. He now sips green tea.

When the prescribed procedures are completed all the rats are sacrificed by intravenous injection, electrocution, cervical dislocation, decapitation, or asphyxiation.

Two rows over, a coder shouts "double play." His pastime, in earphones, is relaying play by play in shorthand. He once bellowed NBA-playoff and Twins-game fragments simultaneously, coding with proficiency all the while.

The Teamster walkout at UPS is the talk of the coding room. As the days go by, coders say to each other, "They're still out." One of the issues involves sticking up for part-timers. Imagine.

Some experiments on the Sprague Dawleys test the long-term effects of the subject material on vital organs or disease indicators. Excessive lethargy. Hunched posture. Ragged fur. Soiled anal area.

Time for a break. The sticker on the tissue dispenser in the rest room stall says, "Please use the smallest roll first." The word "smallest" has been neatly crossed out and "Small" is written alongside. But "Small" is also lined through and another hand has written "Smaller." Coders sidetracked into content.

On the way home that night a bumper sticker on a rusty GTO ahead of me on I-494 comes into focus. It reads: "I CAN'T GO TO WORK TODAY BECAUSE THE VOICES TOLD ME TO STAY HOME AND CLEAN MY GUNS."

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