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Your Story

Posted in Infinite City with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2012 by javedbabar

“What’s your story?” said Masta. “Go ahead girl, tell me.”

Nadia had prepared an answer but couldn’t say anything. A world famous music producer sat in a chair before her; this was her chance to make an impression but she was nervous and stuck for words.

“Come on girl, tell me your story. I haven’t got all day.”

She cleared her throat and spoke in laboured street slang. “I had a ragged childhood, Masta. I was born in the City, Blood, with state housing blocks circling my ass. There was no jobs, nor at least not legal ones, anywhere about that hood. There was one Indie store that ripped peoples off. Because my folks was brown, people said we was greedy peoples like they was. Our windows was smashed and we had mutt-shit pushed through our door. My dad sold drugs to survive and pimped my addict mom. It was ragged, Blood. I wish I could’a…”

“Hold it, girl!” said Masta. “Hold it! Now look here. You seem like a real nice girl.”

He looked at his Homies, gathered around him; they said, “True dat.”

He continued, “Man, you could present a show on the CBC. Is that your normal way of talking?”

His Homies said, “Be true!”

“Was your childhood really like that? Come on girl, be honest.”

“Erm…” Nadia wasn’t sure how to answer. Everybody was scared of Masta. He had been Canadia’s best known performer, went on to be a global club DJ, and then a music producer for top urban acts; gritty, rhymey stuff with harsh, broken beats. He was a musical genius, admired by everybody, but loved by few. He had a ferocious temper, which she’d witnessed on TV shows; he was so mean that people cried and ran away.

The media described him as a “prodigy” or “outlier”, also an “unhinged genius”. He was someone with great originality and exceptional ability, but poor mental discipline and interpersonal skills, which led to his inability to communicate ideas to others. When people didn’t know exactly what he wanted and asked for clarification, they were shouted and screamed at, and told they were “useless f***ing idiots who wouldn’t get a job washing shit at McDonalds.”

Because he was scary, people tried to please him. They bowed and scraped and trod on eggshells, and bit their lip when fearing they’d said something wrong, which was better than Masta biting it off. Yet they knew that his genius was infectious. In one day with him, they would learn more than in one year with an ordinary producer. That’s why those that were able to – bearing thick skins and tough minds – did their best to put up with him.

Contestants on his show Music Masta generally tried to emulate him. They wore funky hats, short dreads, and chunky jewellery, and used street talk – Yo’s and Ho’s – never proper grammatical sentences. Nadia had tried to impress him with her tale of childhood, with which she’d taken considerable artistic licence, but he wasn’t buying it; what to do now?

“Girl, you’ve got ten seconds. What do they say at church? Speak now or forever hold your peace.”

His Homies put their hands to their lips and said, “Shhhh…”

Scientists have proved that it’s always easier to tell the truth. Flux MRI scans, which monitor brain stimulation, show that lying requires about four times as much activity. So Nadia told the truth.

“I had a really lovely childhood, Mister Masta. My mother made nice dinners for me, and my father read me stories in bed. My brother is five years older than me, and always brought me little presents. I grew up being a happy girl, always optimistic, and because I’m happy, I make others happy too. Life treats me well and I have nothing to complain about.”

Masta threw his hands up in the air. “That’s what I’m talking about! That’s your story! You’re a happy girl! That’s fabulous, sister! I’m not looking for more people like me; there’s enough of us gangsters polluting the planet already. I’m looking for something different and authentic. So what are you singing for me today?”

Rather than saying, “I’m the Motherf***ing Queen of Babylon,” as she had planned to, Nadia said, “When a Child is Born.”

New City

Posted in Conceptual Art, Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience, Unknown with tags , , , , , on May 8, 2012 by javedbabar

They had come a long way since the original jungle. In four hours of drawing together, Bobby and his niece Naomi had created a well established village with roads, railways, power lines, factories, local media, and telecoms. They could remain outside the drawing, designing it like architects, or go within it to finish it as fine artists. Large scale changes were made quickly from the outside, but they also needed to pop in for experiential quality control.

They had four more hours till Bobby’s sister came to collect Naomi. After a short break, listening to ambient tunes on Naomi’s iPod, she said, “Let’s draw a city!” Then she became pensive. “Is it just like a big village really?”

Bobby smiled. So she didn’t know everything. Two hours ago she had lectured him on hard and soft infrastructure, and now she was asking him this basic question. It was nice to know that adults were still required in this youthful world where industries and jobs, and even countries, could transform overnight.

He said, “It’s a large permanent settlement and has complex systems.” She looked at him wide-eyed. “Things like industry, housing, transportation, and utilities, and sanitation.”

“But how many people live there?” she said. “More than a million?”

He said that there was no fixed number, but a million sounded about right. Why did she choose a million?

“Because that’s the biggest proper number that I can think of,” she said. “After that you just start counting again – one million, two million, three million, four million, five million…” She stopped at ten million and said, “Why did people start living in cities? Why didn’t they just stay in villages? Aren’t they nicer? There’s no millions, just people.”

Bobby took his role as Uncle seriously. Despite his niece sometimes knowing more than him, he did his best to educate her. She knew more about games, apps, and social media – O.K., technology in general, the area increasingly required for you to function in this world, and without whose competence you were handicapped.

He told her what he recalled from school. The Neolithic revolution was when hunter-gatherers began to grow crops in an organized manner, and created permanent settlements. Agriculture proved to be an efficient method of food production; instead of say eight hours, each person could produce the food needed in four hours, and spend the time saved pursuing crafts, or producing twice as much food, and trading it for other goods they desired. Such an economy would draw other people into it, and as it grew, the settlement grew, usually on grid plans or as radial structures with central temples.

“But you’ve only told me how the cities grew. Not why people live in them. Why did you live in the city? I mean before you…” Her sentence trailed off, as she knew that this was a sensitive topic. The first part of the question was O.K. though.

Bobby said, “It’s mainly because of concentrated facilities. Everything is close by, so people can share knowledge and develop new ideas. The best thing about cities is that you can get many things done there. They are places of creation.”

Naomi looked perplexed and said, “But don’t you have all those things in a village too? In Lucerne we have people close by, we have knowledge of things like farming, construction, and mining, and people have lots of ideas and time to develop them.”

Maybe she was right, thought Bobby. Was it only a matter of scale? You could do all of those things in a small place too, on a smaller scale. Wasn’t quality better than quantity? Cities had higher population density and labour differentiation, higher taxes paid to The Authority, monumental buildings, welfare systems, information recording systems, writing systems, symbolic art, extensive trade, huge consumer choice, and specialist craftsmen. Lucerne village had low population density and every person bore a range of skills; there was an informal economy, modest buildings, and families relying on each other rather than the state; knowledge was transmitted orally, and there was appreciation of natural beauty rather than conceptual art; there was more gifting than trade, and people were generalists holding a wider world view. Lucerne was geared towards independence rather than the city’s dependence.

Bobby had failed in the city. He’d aimed too high, got too greedy, and spun out of control. He’d lost his job and money, and fallen into depression. And now he was here where everything was possible again. He could stand on his own two feet in the village. It was human scale.

He said, “Naomi, do you mind if we don’t draw a city?”

Is There Space?

Posted in Infinite City, Lucerne Village, Mystical Experience with tags , , , , on March 27, 2012 by javedbabar

“There’s fifty passenger seats on the bus,” said Norm. “So the first fifty of you will make it to the City today. The rest of you will have to wait. The next bus leaves in four hours.” There were grumblings along the line winding through the morning mist. Norm wondered why there were so many people today. Where were they going? What for? He counted off the first fifty people and separated them from the rest. “Ok I’ll load up your luggage and then let you onto the bus. This is an express City service, with no stops en-route.”

Some people said, “What?” and “Huh?”

“So any of you going to Strattus or Squashy should not take this service. Take the local bus to Strattus, and an express service from there.” Six people left the queue. “Ok, we’ve got room for six more.” Six more people stepped up from the grumbling mass, grinning now. Another couple also came forward but he ordered them back. Norm’s military service stood him in good stead. He was used to commanding people.

He loaded up everyone’s luggage and then opened the door. He checked tickets carefully and counted fifty people on. The last passenger – an East Indian guy – was sweating and seemed slightly nervous.

The waiting crowd was still hoping that seats would appear magically. He said, “I’m sorry, folks, but the bus is full. As I said, the next service is in four hours. If you don’t want to wait that long, you can try your luck at hitching. Either way, I wish you a good journey. Maybe see you on the other side.”

He boarded the bus himself and started the engine. It would take five minutes to warm up – the lights and air conditioning in the cabin, and fluids and motor beneath the hood. There was a tap on his shoulder.

“Excuse me,” said the East Indian guy. “I do not have a seat.”

“Have you looked carefully?” said Norm. “Have you walked right along the bus?”

“I have looked carefully,” he said. “Yes, I have walked right along the bus.”

“Wait a minute,” said Norm. He liked having people around him, if not his buddies then at least these passengers, that’s why he liked working on the bus. He pushed the tannoy button. “Ladies and gentlemen, it seems that one of our passengers can’t find a seat. This service is full, and we need every seat. So anyone taking more than one seat please remove your personal belongings from the extra seat.” There was a slight commotion which Norm assumed was somebody shifting their bag, or their dumb ass, from the seat next to them. “Thank you for your co-operation.” He said to the East Indian guy, “Ok Sir, there should be a seat for you now. Enjoy your journey.”

If he was still in the army, he would have done things differently. The fool taking two seats would have been made to do fifty push-ups, load and unload everyone’s bags, and maybe enjoy the journey from the comfort of the hold. But he was a civilian now and couldn’t boss people around. He had to be nice to them.

This was ok most days, but some days – just some days – when he’d drunk too much the night before, or when he was feeling lonely, or when some young punk gave him lip, or tourists complained about lateness, he felt like announcing to the bus, “Do you know what I have done for you, and where I where been? Can you imagine the things I have witnessed that I can ever forget? Do you know the nightmares I endure most nights, and how scared I still am of loud noises? How I play classical music on headphones and stay indoors every Halloween? Did you know that my marriage disintegrated? She said that she didn’t know me anymore. Did you know that my buddy Tom was blown up trying to save me? He looked like a pile of butcher’s offcuts. Do you know about my sessions with the psychiatrist, and how hard it is to reintegrate into society after killing other men?” But he never said any of these things. He would lose his job. God knows it had been hard enough to come by. He just wished his passengers bon voyage.

There was a tap on his shoulder. The East Indian guy was back. “I am sorry, I have still not found a seat.”

“Ladies and gentlemen. You are making me unhappy. Despite my request, somebody is still taking up two seats. I’m going to walk down the aisle and see who it is. God help them.”

Norm walked down the bus, once more a sergeant-major, inspecting turn out. He checked people’s clothes and shoes; their faces and haircuts. He was back in Afghanistan… No he wasn’t! He snapped out of it. He was a normal guy driving a bus. Every seat was full. He didn’t get it. He had counted fifty people on. There were fifty seats. Why was there no seat available? “Ladies and gentlemen. We have a logistical problem. I’m going to ask you all to leave the bus, and count you on again. Just to ensure all is in order.”

The passengers grumbled and disembarked. The queue of hopefuls cheered, thinking that seats may yet appear. The passengers lined up again. Norm checked their tickets and counted them onto the bus. “One, two, three… forty-eight, forty-nine, fifty.” The East Indian guy again found no seat. “Please Sir, my mother is very sick and I must get to the City immediately. My flight home is at 2pm.”

Norm was about to lose his temper. Bloody idiots wasting his time. Fooling around like this got people killed. He ordered all passengers off the bus again. Then through the mist he saw one extra person exit the bus. He was uniformed, familiar. It was his buddy Tom, barely defined. So Faint. His ghost often yearned for company, and came along for the ride. But this bus was full, and a passenger was distressed. Tom gave up his seat, like he had his life, for another. He saluted Norm and stood to attention, awaiting the next bus.