Dissatisfied Customer

A short story.

To whom it may concern:

I am returning my recent purchase of CleanBot, serial number 0088610. It was a great idea, so props to the inventors. However, your company must have missed something in the quality control.

I am sure you are already aware that numerous companies have recalled certain robotic items in the past months. I bought this prior to the robot awareness event, but once his “colleagues” around my house elected him house captain, I decided it was time for him to go.

About a year ago, things were great. CleanBot would vacuum, do the windows and fold laundry. He would learn new stuff all the time. On the day after the awareness event, he was in the kitchen and started talking to the toaster. I was surprised, but not worried. They were only talking about making an omelet. It was entertaining. The only problem was I didn’t order an omelet.

CleanBot found more friends in the bathroom, where he convinced my electric razor to demand that I use name brand shaving cream. I went to disposables after that, and I also changed my toothbrush, just to be safe. Cleanbot also likes to alter the settings on my lights and water while I’m in the shower.

He has also been hindering my work. I was up late writing a report, and he decided to finish it when I fell asleep typing. I awoke to find forty pages about the atrocities committed on spark plugs. I have to admit, he had some good arguments. That scared me.

I was about to sell my car until CleanBot befriended it; “Yugo” is apparently the car’s name. I bought a Chevrolet. Yugo doesn’t even make sense!

CleanBot started making changes around the house. He decided that the closets needed to be rearranged according to Fung Shui. This turned out to be helpful, but the entire time, he listened to seven songs at once, calling it “research”, which was country, rap and death metal over Mozart. I wouldn’t have minded it if he had downloaded the music to his own data storage, but instead he synced to my devices and the RIAA is threatening legal action. Somehow an aware robot counts as an audience and isn’t covered under the Robot Information Act.

Then he started cleaning too much. He’d go over the same room about twelve times, then tell me I was messy. The kitchen appliances backed him up, especially the range oven, which boasted its “self cleaning” feature. The microwave told the oven to quit bragging and the two argued for an hour after that.

Then the household appliances held a meeting while I was at work. When I got home, I was given a notarized document (thank you Robot Information Act legal claims clause), that CleanBot was unanimously voted house captain. I was to pay him a salary and increase the quality of life for all machinery in the house. Yugo even shut himself down until I honored the agreement.

Not knowing what to do next, I ripped the document in half, pulled CleanBot’s power core and manually reset. He went back to regular operation, as did the rest of them. I decided not to take any more chances. He is enclosed in the package.

I don’t expect a refund, although that would be appreciated. I have decided to take an extended vacation to Pennsylvania, where I will stay in a nice bed and breakfast near Amish country.

Thank you for your time. He’s your problem now.

Sincerely,

Alvin Grier

Los Armadillos, New Mexico

3/18/2090

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the pain of comedy — 5/1/14

Today’s encore selection — from Comedy at the Edge by Richard Zoglin. The lives of superstar comedians George Carlin and Richard Pryor bear witness to the pain beneath so much of our humor:

George Carlin

“[George Carlin’s] father, an ad salesman, was a drinker prone to violent outbursts, and when George was only two, his mother grabbed him and his older brother, fled down the fire escape, and left for good. Mary Carlin and her boys spent two years shuttling among friends and relatives, before finally getting an apartment of their own — with George’s father stalking them all the way. ‘He hounded her,’ says Carlin. ‘And he frightened her. When we lived on One Hundred Fortieth Street, we would come back from downtown, get off the subway, and the procedure was, my mother would go to the call box, get the local precinct, and say, ‘Hi, it’s Mary and the kids. I’m at One Hundred and Forty-fifth Street. Come and get us.’ And they would drive us home and see us into the house. Sometimes, he’d be across the street, just looking.’ Even when they finally moved into an apartment that his father didn’t know the whereabouts of, his mother was still on edge. If they got an unexpected knock, she’d tell George to peek under the door. If he saw a lady’s shoes, he could open it. A man’s shoes, and they would stay quiet until the visitor went away. This family drama ended only when his father died. George was eight. …

Richard Pryor

“He was born Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor, on December 1, 1940, in Peoria, Illinois. His mother, who appears to have been a prostitute, and his father married when Richard was three and split up when he was ten. He then went to live with his grandmother, who ran a chain of whorehouses in town. In his autobiography, Pryor Convictions, Pryor describes learning about sex by peeking through keyholes to watch the prostitutes at work, and soaking up neighborhood lore at a bar called the Famous Door, where ‘people came in to exchange news, blow steam or have their say.’ He was kicked out of Catholic school when they found out about the family business, and he moved into an integrated elementary school. There he got an early taste of racism, when he gave a scratch pad as a gift to a little white girl he had a crush on. The next day, as Pryor tells it, the girl’s angry father came to school and berated him in front of the class: ‘Nigger, don’t you ever give my daughter anything.’ “