Adam Johnson is a teacher at Stanford who I was stalking last year, after first noticing him on Charlie Rose. I sent him an email, attended two public lectures and bought his book. I mention or link to him in three previous “Plastic Alto” posts. In honor of his winning the Pulitzer Prize, for “The Orphan Master’s Son”, I have excerpted and posted here from “Teen Sniper”, an earlier short story, about a teenager who works for the Palo Alto Police. It kinda reminds me, roughly speaking of a mix of Tom Wolfe, Kurt Vonnegut and T.C Boyle. I’m also kinda tempted to route this – the complete story, 10 pages, to local leadership apropos of our new public safety building (proposed).*
ROMS is clueless to how the guys are always avoiding him, and I try to shield him from that. You see, ROMS and I are both Cancers, which means we’re sensitive and a little moody, but with a lot to say. For his birthday in July, I’m planning on getting him an update–Negotiator 5.0, with the latest Black English Converters because ROMS wants to express himself, but he just doesn’t have the programming.
For now, ROMS and I decide to eat lunch without those guys. I have a learner’s permit, but there has to be someone in the car with me, and technically ROMS doesn’t count, so we walk across the street to grab a Sony burger.
Generally, people don’t like to see a bomb robot enter a building, so ROMS and I use the drive-through, which is a little humiliating. The ugly truth is, though, robots are way looked down upon in our society. Just because some people are different doesn’t mean they’re not the same as you or me. That’s why, when we’re working at a playground or day care, I tie a Barney mask on ROMS’s display panel–purple and humorous, it helps ensure the next generation won’t have to live in fear.
I order a double Sony dog with a large Nix. For ROMS, I get a water, no ice–you have to wet his sponge reservoir every once in a while to keep his sniffer from drying out.
The girl at the drive-through’s kind of cute. She’s about my age, with some skin trouble, though I like the cock of her headset. When it’s our turn in line, I can’t think of anything to say, but she’s the one who speaks first.
“Nice rifle,” she says when she hands me the bag.
I want to make my move, but ROMS won’t quit sniffing her, and he’s ruining everything! I kick him on the sly. When I do open my mouth, all that comes out is “extra ketchup.” Then I go and add, “S’il vous plait.”
She shakes her head and hands me two packets, like there’s a ketchup shortage or something.
The car behind us starts honking, so ROMS and I move along.
…ROMS can see my disappointment. “Why the long face?” he asks.
“Thanks, ROMS, but I don’t want to talk about it.”
“We can resolve this crisis together. We’re friends. First let’s start with some small talk. What do you think of the Raiders this year?”
That puts a smile on my face. ROMS is my friend. Some bomb robots, every time you turn them on you’re a new person to them. You have to reintroduce yourself and everything. But ROMS is different. We’re like a team–both of us dedicated to saving people, though I do it indirectly, of course.
I LOL’d at this point, and about four times total.
*For what it’s worth: I search-injun’d “Adam Johnson” plus “Palo Alto police”. Then I found Palo Alto Library’s number and called, pressing “2” twice to get a reference librarian. Anita entered my email address into something called Ebsco, which sent me the article, I printed on Terry’s HP but actually instead read here on her desktop’s screen, then cut-and-pasted back to WordPress, via Word. (I flashed on the vague comparison of the mixture of technology and human contact it took to do this with the wryly futuristic world of Johnson).
I also had the distinct pleasure of mentioning the news of Johnson’s award to my old friend Marianne Chowning Dray, who flattered and encouraged me by suggesting she might start following this humble blog, whose name I explained to her. She said that her son had been part of a championship basketball team, meanwhiles.
Here is the photo I took of him in November.
edit to add, moments later: EBSCO is actually a billion-dollar media company and conglomerate based in Birmingham, Alabama founded in 1944 by Elton B. Stephens. My experience with it makes up for my disappointment at not being able to access, from Palo Alto Main, a database called jstor, for a 1972 article about “incentive zoning”, by John Costonis. All in all, I would have preferred zipping over to the library, ringing the bell, and having friendly and efficient civil servant fetch March, 2002, Harper’s from basement, but, like Wendell Berry, I live in another world. Oh, yeah, it also turns out that all the youtube’s I’ve posted here are disabled at least for me here and now by our (or Terry’s) failure to upgrade our Flash or somesuch. Search “blocked plug-in”…
I could write a little bit better than this but why try? Although Johnson is pretty amazing, and an inspiration, the way his mind works, and his diligence. I think he said he wrote most of his book hidden away in a carousel at UCSF Medical library, speaking of hallowed halls.
Maybe a little Philip K. Dick thrown in, as well. He also told or read a story, to one of the Stanford crowds, of his dad, or a character’s dad, stealing food intended for the zoo’s animals.
My former neighbor Wallace Stegner won the Pulitzer, for comparison’s sake, in 1972, for “Angle of Repose” (when future winner Adam Johnson would have been four-turning-five, years of age — and I was eight, not yet by two years Stegner’s neighbors and read mainly the sports section and Scholastic sports biographies — that was the spring summer I started collecting baseball cards, buying them by the pack, Andy Dieden and I walking or biking to the historic –to us merely convenient — Saratoga Drug, or Sprouse-Reitz).
edit to add, later: Andrew Hinderaker for Stanford Magazine does a much better job with “Teen Sniper” and Johnson generally, at the time, plus, foreshadowing this week’s news, mentions Johnson’s mentor, the Pulitzer laureate Robert Olen Butler, my fellow Uranian.