Last week I got caught in the rain coming out of work. I didn’t want to get soaked, so I ducked into a bar and sat down to order a drink. It was still somewhat early in the afternoon, and I didn’t want to get drunk right away, but the rain didn’t let up, and I could only nurse my pint of beer for so long. I ordered another. By the third glass I couldn’t really make sense of my magazine anymore so I put it away and took a look around.
The bar was basically empty, save the half dozen or so people that were already well on their way before I stepped foot inside. Outside the sky was black and the streets were empty. I would have thought there’d be more of a crowd, especially considering the rain. I mean, that’s what drove me inside. But everyone else must have made a beeline to the subway. Maybe they all knew something I didn’t. Maybe the rain wasn’t ever going to let up.
I considered taking out my iPhone to do one of those weather checks, but the same inability to focus on my magazine made finding the right app similarly difficult. I put my phone away and thought about a next move. Should I go? The rain was coming down harder than ever. There was a little puddle of water accumulating by the entrance, seeping in through the crack under the front door. I figured, well, I’m already three, four drinks in. This night’s basically over already. I might as well ride it out here. No sense in getting unnecessarily soaked.
“I’ll take another beer,” I had to grab the bartender’s attention because, like I said, the place was all but empty, and he was busy watching the TV at the other end of the bar. “I don’t think this rain’s ever going to stop.”
Who said that? Was it the bartender? He had his back to me, filling up a clean glass. “Yeah it’s coming down pretty hard,” I responded, staring straight ahead.
“Rain like this, it makes you think about all sorts of dark stuff, about life, about the end of the world.”
It wasn’t the bartender. It was this old guy three stools down from me. I hadn’t even considered his presence until now. I had this feeling, I always get this feeling when I’m by myself and someone starts talking to me, someone I don’t know, it’s like a wall goes up, like come on man, leave me alone, I don’t feel like having an interaction right now.
But I’ve had this reaction for so long, so automatically, that a lot of the time I can recognize it as just that, a reaction. And so I get it, that wall, and I make a choice whether or not I want to get past it. I looked toward my magazine, as incomprehensible as it was ten minutes ago. My phone only had like twenty percent of its battery left.
Sure, why not, I’ll indulge this old timer in a little conversation.
“What do you mean?” I asked him, even though I knew exactly what he meant, “It’s got to rain some time. We need it, right?”
And he didn’t look at me, he didn’t look up from his drink, whatever it was he was drinking, a rocks glass, probably whiskey, he started in on this speech, I wondered if he was ever really talking to me in the first place, or maybe he was just talking to talk, to himself, to nobody.
“I know you can’t tell to look at me as I am now, but I used to be a productive member of society. A doctor. A physician.”
I didn’t know if I should reply or not. Really. What kind of doctor? Something like that. But he wasn’t looking up and I didn’t really feel like I had to say anything. He went on.
“One day a young man came into my office. He was complaining about his leg. Apparently he fell off his bike and worried that he might have broken something. He could still walk, not really a walk, but a hobble, he hopped into my office, he couldn’t put any weight on it. I said, all right, let’s get some x-rays and see if we can’t see what’s the matter. We sent him to radiography and twenty minutes or so later I had the results. I couldn’t make sense of them. I wondered, is the machine acting up? Did the technician make some sort of a mistake? Because nothing was where it should have been. Everything was wrong, off. And I looked closer, I looked at his leg, at his bad leg, and I tried comparing it to his good leg. The good leg, well, it looked like a leg, they both looked like legs, like my leg or your leg, but on the inside … I don’t know. The bad leg, something was definitely off.
“And even though I couldn’t figure out what was going on, I could make out right under his thigh what I though was an unusual looking growth. Was it some sort of cancer? Could this explain what was wrong on a more systematic level with his whole body? I had no idea, but I figured I might as well send him in for a biopsy.
“Well, you wouldn’t believe it, but that growth wasn’t a growth at all. It was a little capsule. The young man was just as alarmed as I was, but I didn’t want to scare him any further, so I sat up a little straighter and pretended to act like this was all within the realm of my expertise. I looked the capsule over in my hand and … and I don’t know exactly what I did to activate it, but the top opened up, like a little cigar case. Inside was a tiny scroll of paper, it was a hand-written note. It read:
If you are reading this note, you’ve realized by now that this young man is not a young man at all; rather, he is a highly sophisticated robot. I built him years ago to take care of my day-to-day work so that I might have more time to pursue my scientific experiments while at the same time saving a couple of hours each day for some necessary leisure activities. If this robot is in any way damaged, please look under the other leg for detailed schematics on how to fix him. Whatever you do, I urge you not to let him know that he’s a robot. I’m not sure if his positronic brain would be able to handle the shock.
“And that’s when I stopped. I had been reading that note out loud, and just as I got to the end, I could tell something was happening. It was like he was having a seizure. He twitched around for a little bit before collapsing. My nurse and I tried everything, but we couldn’t revive him. It was over. He was dead.”
The bartender wasn’t paying any attention and the old guy hadn’t looked up from his drink. I settled up, apparently I’d had six drinks, not four, and I wondered if there were any buy-backs I also didn’t know about. “Hey man, I’m sorry about that whole robot thing,” I said to the old guy as I got up to leave. I was out the door, the rain was just as heavy as it was an hour ago, one of those rains where, without an umbrella, I was soaked to the core within a minute.