Issue 7 - Fall 2013
  • When we moved to Morgantown for school, Abe and I rented the second story of a two-story house from a church across the street. The first floor was used exclusively for Narcotic’s Anonymous meetings. They’d lined the room with tan couches and tables that were polka-doted with ashtrays. The seventies had settled on their carpet and the eighties had puked on them. It seemed the decorators had based their decisions around what would hide stains. Next to the meeting room was a room with a foosball table and a coffee pot. But from what I can tell, nobody ever went in there.

    I got the boxes for the move from a liquor store. When I finished unpacking, I set them on the curb outside my house. In front of me, children played on the steps of the church, behind me, clusters of newly sober witnesses judged me from under a halo of menthol smoke. I suddenly became aware of the enormous empty boxes in my small arms. It looked like I drank my body weight in liquor. Although this impression wasn’t entirely untrue, I certainly hadn’t consumed four cases of vodka in the week since I moved there. Shamed, I gathered up my dented liquor boxes and coolly carried them back inside.

  • When Abe came home, he wondered why I hadn’t gotten rid of the boxes. Suddenly, my shame seemed silly. So, naturally, I lied.

    “I’m building something with them. A robot,” I said. And as soon as the lie left my mouth, it became true. Suddenly the only thing that I wanted in this world was to build a robot.

    “The friendly kind?” Abe asked.

    “I sure hope so.” I said. Abe buys into my fantasy world completely.

    I found a legal pad and started jotting down ideas. I wanted two remote-controlled cars to be the robot’s feet so I could command it around our apartment. I thought of attaching a basket to its hands so it could bring us Oreos and thimbles full of marijuana.

    We’d recently begun making short films. And, since Abe already had a great gorilla costume, I knew if I made a robot costume then we could make a movie where they were friends. We’d already discussed making a movie in which a gorilla takes over Soviet Russia, so the robot felt like a natural fit for that story. I decided  ............

  • to start the robot as a costume and then expand into a full-fledged robotic friend/servant.

    I am only 4’11”, so a liquor box is long enough to be the torso for my robot costume. It felt as though God had a plan for me all along. I bought silver spray paint, a light bulb, metallic duck tape, and those crinkled silver tubes that people use to vent dryers.

    That night, Abe and I cut a head-hole and two armholes in one of the Grey Goose boxes and sized the tubing to fit my arm. We were working on the robot’s upper body. I threw the arms by the door and worked on taping the box to make it sturdy.

    “So, what have you been up to?” my friend Morgan asked me the next day, before the raucous applause of the NA meeting underneath us interrupted her. It was the first time Morgan brought her boyfriend over and I wished the people downstairs would be celebrate their recovery more quietly so my house would seem cooler.

    “Well, I worked on my robot last night. Mostly the torso,” I said.

  • The next week I worked on the head. I cut a hole from a smaller box for my face. Then, I glued four different colored buttons from my button collection down the side of the head. I stuck an upside-down hanger on the back to make it look like it was remote controlled, and in anticipation of when it actually would be remote controlled. I stuck a light bulb on the side of the box.

    For the legs, I cut up a grey Armani sweater, which, admittedly, was a bit of a rash decision.

    I debuted the costume on Halloween. It was cumbersome and awkward to move around in. My arms stuck out to my side and my robot feet (silver painted shoe boxes) complicated walking to the point that stumbling was inevitable. When I finally made it up the four flights of stairs to the Halloween party, I walked in to see about eight people, none of them in costumes. They were all dressed in sweaters and those mandatory black graduate school glasses. They were drinking microbrew IPAs and saying things like “It’s really better in the original French…” or “my wife…” I spent the rest of the night sad-eating cupcakes that my friend Morgan had to feed me since I couldn’t reach my face.

  • When I got home, I threw my robot costume in the corner in defeat. It looked like a small cluster of crumpled silver, a minuscule car crash right in our living room.

    The parts sat there sadly for weeks, until one night I realized that the best use of them would be to scare Abe. I took the pile of robot out of the corner and reassembled it. I hung the head and the body on our microphone stand so it was about my height. I stuffed a pair of my tall leather boots and put them underneath. I filled a hoodie that I always wear and put it inside the body and pulled the sleeves through the armholes. Next, I wrapped a scarf around the neck of the robot and put my winter hat on it. I set my bag near the decoy to deepen the illusion. The end result didn’t look quite like me or quite like a robot, but instead a bizarre hybrid of the two. It looked like I had gone to school Sadie, and then gotten so smart that part of me broke out in robot. I turned off the lights and left.

    When Abe got home, instead of being scared, he loved the half-robot. We decided to keep her. We set her up by our bookshelf and named her Sadie-bot.

  • Right above her head sat a boom box with a slowly dying battery. Every so often, the boom box made a beeping sound to indicate the dying battery and it sounded like it was coming from our robot. Clearly she was trying to communicate with us.

    But it seemed she would only voice her disapproval. If I was lying on my couch reading for class and decided to take a quick nap. Sadie-bot would beep at me as I went to close my book. I’d find myself pausing to consider whether or not I really should be napping.

    “What do you want to do for dinner?” Abe would ask.

    “Let’s just order Chinese,” I’d say, but we’d hear Sadie-bot beep from the other room. We’d look at each other, heads tilted.

    “Yeah, it hasn’t really been that good lately.”

    “Let’s get Thai.” It seemed like Sadie-bot never beeped after Thai food.

    This went on for some time. The closer the battery got to dead the  ............

  • more often she beeped. Soon I found myself running things by her.

    “Do you think I should have another glass of wine?” I’d ask, and then wait for her beep. When there was none, “You dog!” and I’d pour myself a glass.

    At times Sadie-bot seemed to beep at the perfect moment, and we learned things about her personality. For example, she beeped when we were listening to a radio program discussing how Pennsylvania went to Obama in the 2012 presidential election.

    “Sadie-Bot’s a Republican.” Abe said to me.

    “That’s disappointing, and also super annoying,” I said.

    “It’s people like her…” my friend Morgan said.

    Sadie-Bot also seemed to beep more when NPR was on. I realized Sadie-bot hates Ira Glass. It upset me that something I’d created could be so different from me. I liked to nap while listening to Ira explains the different acts of the program. But now, every time I  ............

  • tried to do that, Sadie-Bot beeped at me as if I were lame for appreciating Glass’s soothing voice. It seemed like she was getting an attitude with me. Maybe she didn’t even believe in Public Radio. Maybe she was a lunatic or a Libertarian.

    That December, I was changing her into a scarf I had knitted and she beeped. I was already feeling self-conscious about the scarf since I’m not a strong knitter, so the beep hurt. Sadie-bot is being such a bitch lately, I thought.

    I was surprised how much it bothered me that Sadie-Bot wasn’t like me, or even that likeable in general. Of course, when every noise you make is interpreted as a disagreement, people are going to think that you’re contrary. Actually, I’m fairly contrary, too, so maybe we weren’t so different after all. Maybe Sadie-bot was demonstrating Jung’s idea that what irritates us in others could lead us to better understand ourselves. She tended to do tricky things like that.

    As our first semester of school was wrapping up, Abe and I were both flooded with work. We didn’t have time to grocery shop or do  ............

  • our laundry. We hardly had time to talk to each other, except for a few minutes in bed before falling asleep. With the house quiet, Sadie-bot seemed to be beeping at nothing. The value of her words was inflated. It felt like her language was unraveling and it made her nervous. She started beeping more than ever.

    “I haven’t been cleaning because I’m busy!” I said to Abe in the closest thing I get to a yell, which is really talking at a normal volume but emphasizing more syllables.

    “Yeah, because law school is so easy,” Abe said sarcastically, which is the closest he gets to yelling.

    “That’s not what I said.”

    “You promised if I quit smoking cigarettes, you would start cleaning up after yourself.”

    “I have been.” I said. Then Sadie-bot beeped.

    Abe gestured to the robot and walked out of the room.

  • “Her beeps don’t mean anything anymore!” I yelled after him.

    Abe and I made up later that day, used ‘I statements’ and blamed the argument on the stress of school. We waited out the last weeks of the semester in our office, eyes twitching from reading. He was scared he was going to lose his scholarship, I worried everyone was going to realize I don’t belong in graduate school, like the Halloween party all over again. It was the first time stress had blown its hot breath so strongly in our home. During those weeks, I felt lucky to look up from my book and see Abe on the other side of the room.

    Soon, it was Christmas break. I went back to Philadelphia and Abe went home to Virginia. We returned rested and fat from homes with stocked fridges. We got drunk and went sledding with our friends. We recorded an album for our band Hieronymus Mars and started writing a sitcom pilot with Morgan. The clamp of finals week had been released.

    I rested my head on Abe’s lap, getting ready to take a nap while we watched Monk the night before school started.

  • “Sadie-bot hasn’t beeped in a while,” I said to Abe.


    “Why do you think that is?”

    “Maybe she’s in a better mood.”

    “Do you think she died over winter break?”

    I sat up on the couch.

    “No, definitely not.”

    “Oh my gosh, she definitely did! She was here by herself all break.”

    “So we just have a robot skeleton in our corner?”

    “What should we do?”

    “I guess just leave it.” We looked at each other. We’d never been  ............

  • trained to dispose of a robot carcass. “Maybe she’ll come back to life.”

    I thought about when I’d yelled at Abe that Sadie-bot wasn’t real. It was as if I could see reality breaking into our home. It was the tipping point where stress and the need to do well in school had overtaken our need to interact daily with whimsy. It was one of the first times I had been the one to call facts in to solve a situation, even if it was just to win a small fight. But once I’d said it, our robot really seemed gone. That’s the problem with fanciful things, there’s very little gluing them to the ground.

    I laid back down to take a nap, watch Monk and mourn my robot. It was good that she was dead, as opposed to animate¬– which I’d implied when I yelled at Abe. It made our house seem healthy.

    I wondered what the Narcotics Anonymous crowd would think if I told them about how our robot came to life and then died. Nothing about Sadie-Bot ever changed, just the way we chose to understand her. When we had magic caught in our minds, she was talkative. When were getting stressed, she became combative. When we had no time for her, she was a pile of boxes.  ............

  • When our stress finally left, she was dead. We had distorted the reality of our boxes in a pleasant and useful way.

    I’m sure the people downstairs also had parts of their lives that they distorted before reality took over, for whatever reason. Reality tends to be intrusive. We house remnants of a fantasy world gone awry or conquered by facts. I pictured their houses with their own robot skeletons in the corner.

    We are each given the same world and a litter of facts. I’ve been told that I embroider my own reality a bit too much and tend too dearly to whimsical world that doesn’t wholly exist. Still, I think that I have the right to make and unmake my world. So I mend what I’m given into a rickety wonder and accept the fact that a breeze of reality could make it softly crumble, leaving me with the bare reality of painted cardboard boxes.

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