The problem with being married to a con-man is that you invariably approximate a con-version of something you might have otherwise done while being able to sleep at night. Not so with Mrs. Reef.
As stated previously, Mrs. R. taught Computers. The first day of class she let us stew in tepid anticipation for five or six theatre beats before stalking up to the board and scrawling, "VIDEO GAME." She then underlined it and circled it before opening the floor to questions. "VIDEO GAME" remained the only thing on the board for months and months before it was replaced by "CREATIVE WRITING."
"We're going to play video games?" someone ventured feebly.
"No," crossing back to her computer-less desk, "by the end of this year, each of you will have made your own educational video game that, for one of you, I will enter into a hypothetical National Youth Computer Programming Competition."
At that moment, the faction of the class who understood the technical limitations of an Apple IIe from 1986 embarked on their year-long study hall. Apparently, Mrs. R was under the impression that 17 year olds from the turn of the Otter Long Count knew as much about computers as she did when she was 17.
Mrs. Reef had watched some patented Inspirational-Films to prepare for this, and a few of them had really taken. Magisterially stalking up and down the aisles of desks, in a weathered, sweater-vest tone intended to imply equal parts "Quiet, people, quiet, please!", "Do not cross me, Mr. Soninso." and "Prepare! To be inspired!", she meaningfully emphasized most of the following words in order to give us just a taste of the kind of dense technical language we had yet to learn:
"We will begin today by designing the main character of your video game. Tomorrow we'll get started on his nemesis and enemies (hypothetical chatter begins to crescendo). It would behoove you to get accustomed with the idea of drawing the same thing over and over again! Eventually, eventually, people (hypothetical chatter potentially stops abruptly), you will be drawing all the levels in the game, so be ready for that!" (cue groans, hopefully) The cinematic effect was diminished somewhat by the absence of any textbooks being administered.
After finishing my initial patented Non-Nemesis; a motorcycle-riding, mystic Karate Shaman combined with a Rambling Con-man, I approached Mrs. R's desk to tell her I was finished. A good deal of the class hadn't drawn super-heros for awhile, if ever, and it soon became obvious to Mrs. R that there wouldn't be many software developers coming out of this group.
"What do I do once I'm finished?", I asked, practically trembling with joy in anticipation of seeing this whole thing play out.
"Oh! You're done so soon. Are you sure this is what you want?"
I was sure.
"Are you sure? Once we put it in the scanner you can't make any changes. It will permanently be uploaded to the Gaya Matrix."
I was okay with that.
After enlisting the help of one of the study-hallers, we managed to scan the picture.
"What now? How do I make him move around?"
Mrs. R hadn't written the curriculum out this far.
By the next day it was determined that we would basically be doing cell-animation and needed to draw our characters in every possible position we anticipated them being in.
"But my character just talks."
"Then I guess you should get busy drawing his mouth saying all the different words you plan on him saying."
"Isn't there a way of doing that in the computer?"
"Well, information is actually a 'super-weird substance' that all organic life is built on. Have you ever thought that maybe physical matter is just an epi-causality of intention and consciousness? I mean, DNA is just information; code, right? So the information embedded in your drawing is just an arbitrary re-configuration of the information embedded in a video game. You don't need a computer."
Most camera phones are now equipped with a highly-flammable flash-powder application that only works once before you have to download a new one. There's software available called "Darkroom" that sprays non-lethal amounts of metol, phenidone, dimezone, and hydroquinone into your face, at intervals you can customize, while standing in a pitch black closet waiting for your Spring Break pictures to develop. They've even pioneered digital cameras that authentically don't exist because they're modeled on cameras designed before the dawn of digital cameras. In this sense, I couldn't have yet appreciated what a visionary Mrs. R. actually was. After the snake sheds it's skin, I'm sure we'll all be interfacing with cave walls.
I had become cynical with the video game industry early on after receiving a rejection letter for a game I programmed. It appears here in it's entirety:
Dear Mr. ______,
Thank you for sending along the newest installment of your ever-evolving proposal for "Bed Bug Mountain." As you can imagine, we receive a considerable volume of correspondence from people all over the country, and as such, cannot adapt the vision of every bed-wetting 10 year old that sends us a non-linear, satirical narrative for consideration. Maybe you should try drawing your own video game.
You'll be glad to note, however, that we will be co-opting various pieces of your non-patented intellectual property. The morally relativistic, sea otter Civil War stratagem, "Otters of Fortune" is in production now and slated to be shelved for tax reasons as early as May.
Enjoy your hike,
Correspondence Management Dept.
Johnny was a defected militant. In the past few years, the company in which he had dutifully served since boyhood (he was a member of the rural mountain class who's sons were more or less funneled indiscriminately into the military, and, as such, were rapidly disappearing from the cramped, teeming confines of the mountainside) had been stricken with an ideological infection at the highest level of command. The directly-democratic, civilian government had been slowly distancing itself from it's military arm. Unpopular arrangements, which allowed the military to contract out it's resources and services to private enterprises (typically with a General or two on the board) for a highly-transparent and accountable profit, were coming to the public's attention quickly, but not fast enough to prevent an attempted marshall coup. As each soldier was an equal shareholder with comprehensive health benefits, competitive wages, and an optional retirement fund (most soldiers were treated so well, and with such dignity, that they stayed in service until the day they died; either working in the orchard compound, practicing mindfulness, or composing subsidized works of philosophy, fiction, or landscape painting commissioned by the military's Quality of Life commission), very few within the ranks were compelled to reject the new regime.
"I cannot stand and watch as my homeland is over-run by bed bugs," said Johnny upon his discharge.
"You of all people should know that the military's only involvement with bed bugs is harvesting them. They are the perfect human-blood storage-technology. "
"My intel tells a different story." Johnny drew a crude sketch of a bed bug and slid it across the expanse of desk.
"Look, Reef, I don't have time to pore through all this embedded information. I have families to look after. Hell, one big family, come to think of it. If you don't want to be a part of that family, well, there's the door. But you should know, you are breaking my goddamn heart."
Time would confirm Johnny's suspicions. Bed bugs had in fact infiltrated the highest levels of command, and were devising a bloodless takeover, with plans to eventually transition into a resource-based economy where all people had the freedom and comforts necessary to live in a state of pure being, and pursue only what was most beautiful to them. They planned to liberate technology from the profit-driven model, so that visionaries and inventors could find real-world solutions for problems that, while lacking a profit-motive, profoundly affected people's ability to live free.
With military-funded road improvements preventing him from returning home anytime soon, Johnny set about assembling a band of unlikely rogues, each with a specific vendetta against the bed bugs' utopian shadow government.
While stopped at an inn on the river, Johnny noticed a mysterious figure hunched in a corner booth wearing a boogie-board brand sweatshirt; restlessly fingering an ornate glass pipe, visible from across the room.
"Soon [there' ll] be nothing left to steal," said the thief without looking up. "Wanna know where I stole this pipe from?" He took a deep drag and exhaled, "My son's best friend. How's he (his son) supposed to learn to look after anything if it can't be stolen? I mean, that's what dad's do," he added dolefully.
"That's a good question, stranger. I had a father-figure once, but he never had time to steal from me. He had 'families to look after.' Showed me the door."
"Sounds like military talk."
Johnny chortled knowingly. "That obvious?"
"If only bed bugs weren't so goddamn hard to get rid of."
"If only there was some way to completely isolate ourselves and live off the resources of other people while we built up a resistance."
"I've heard of a resistance camp on one of the islands, but you'd need an airship to get there."
"I wish I had those kind of resources at my disposal."
"Well, I know someone with two ships, but one of them he keeps docked to capitalize on market scarcity. He might be willing to help." The thief added laboriously, "There's a catch, though."
"Damn it, there are never catches!" Johnny did an infantile frustration dance and wet his pants.
"It's a long journey uphill to his place."
The Captain was a Falstafian, part-time mushroom farmer who lived on the far side of the mountain from where Johnny had grown up. Since no one had ever found a way to make a profit building a road from one side of the mountain to the other, the Captain was unused to seeing strange figures making the long ascent up his dirt drive, past the rows and rows of mildly swaying mushrooms.
Taking a seat in the Captain's sitting room, which was disgusting beyond the descriptive powers of the written word, the unlikely trio embarked on what would be one of many fruitless head-scratching sessions around his high-gloss tree-stump coffee table.
"So you want to find the resistance, do you?", the Captain chuckled swarthily as he poured scalding, rust-colored mushroom tea into the cupped hands of his guests. "You think they know something you don't? Think they've got some kind of hidden knowledge? You think that by virtue of them being born more intuitive than you that they've been able to stumble across some exotic truth that will solve all your problems?"
"Of course!", howled Johnny, who hated being led to answer mostly hypothetical questions on mountains.
"And you think that just by talking to them, you'll be able to gain access to that particular information? And, in turn, that information will transform you? Set you free?"
"Yes! Yes! How else are you supposed to access hidden truth? Some words are non-true and some words are true and to find patented Truth you need to hear as many potentially-true words as you can! Then at the end of your life you tally up all the truths against all the non-truths you subscribed to and that's how you determine whether or not you were right! Do you really need me to explain it to you?"
Captain Falstaff nodded thoughtfully and led Johnny and the thief out to the yard.
"There something I want to show you." The Captain plucked a sheath of tall grass and twirled it attentively in his fingers. "This soil holds tools more powerful and mysterious than anything even the bed bugs know, but you've stopped listening." The sun had just begun to set, casting pretty heavy-handed swaths of orange and purple across the silent mountains' berth. The air was spiced with eucalyptus, jade and bay leaves, the far-side of the mountains' only exportable goods. The Captain placed a clothes-iron hand on Johnny's shoulder and quietly asked, "See those fields of mushrooms? Kind of looks like they've been speckled by star dust." The Captain put his hands on his hips and gazed directly into the sun. "We're high enough up it wouldn't surprise me. Now guess what those mushrooms grow out of."
"Honest mountain dirt, obviously."
"Wrong", the Captain whispered huskily. "Manure."
"How embarrassing! Manure is an objectively negative abstraction. It's unclean!", Johnny spluttered, Griffith-like.
"That's right. No one likes manure. Underneath that manure I have stockpiled a huge armory of weapons from my travels all over the world. Death is the only truth man knows. Now, what I need you two to do is help me collect and burn all these mushrooms, because the bed bugs just love them and I'm afraid that eventually they'll discover my guns. If you help me do that I'll give you a ride to the island. Based on your description it really sounds like they know what they're talking about."
"But that will take weeks!", said Johnny. "Not to mention the fact that my hands are severely burnt."
"I'm sorry, I designed a Mushroom-Harvesting Mechanism, patented and everything, but this is the only market where these mushrooms grow and with the number of harvester units I'm likely to sell, it doesn't really justify the costs of testing and development."
"Well, I can't argue with that!" said the thief from the cockpit of the Captain's airship.
"That's what dad's do!", squealed Johnny as he jumped in the passenger seat.
Coincidentally, their non-traditional take off took care of the mushrooms.
"I need to start taking better care of my shit," the Captain learned.
The island wasn't easy to find, as the shuddering wails of the thousands of beached sea-otters washed up on the shore interfered with the ships patented sonar navigation system. Compounding the issue was an unidentifiable gibberish flooding the ships' carefully calibrated landing software. Through the deafening blather Johnny was able to make out the occasional,
"Come down! We just ask you come down! Come down in this place O ____!"
"I think we've found it! Land here!", commanded Johnny.
"I can't see anything!", protested the thief.
"That's how you know it's real!", reasoned Johnny.
"That doesn't make any sense!," cried the thief.
"Look at the way the wind is battering our airship! Are you going to tell me invisible wind isn't real?", countered Johnny.
"What about solar winds? Solar winds are highly visible! Do you use naturally-occurring phenomenon to corroborate all of your philosophical processes?", mindlessly quibbled the thief.
"Solar winds were discovered long after that argument was conceived! Not to mention that that particular metaphor has been a handy teaching tool for thousands of years! What have solar winds, or anything visible for that matter, ever done?"
"I'll land, I'll land!", screamed the thief. "Please stop talking!"
After a few long days of paddling the gigantic, surprisingly buoyant, airship to shore, Johnny and the thief were horrified to discover that the bed bugs had reached the island long before them. What was worse was that the bed bugs and human resistance appeared to be co-habitating the island in relative peace. At charming, sunlit corner cafes all over the island, bed bugs and freedom fighters were having coffee or tea, engaged in lively conversations about any number of things. Strangely, however, everyone seemed to be talking in languages non-native to them, if they could really be called languages at all.
"What's going on here?" yelped Johnny, decapitating a pair of bed bug just as their paninis were coming out.
A human waiter put the paninis down and said, "New to the island, are you?" Glancing down at the twitching abdomens of his customers, he reassured Johnny it was fine, as these two had been sitting here for hours just using the free wireless to give themselves cancer.
"Where the hell is the resistance?"
Visibly baffled, the waiter asked, "Are you looking for the Civil War re-enactment?"
"No, I am looking for the literal Civil War! I'm here to fight the occupation!"
"Well, you're a little late. The resistance disbanded after we signed the treaty. Here, I have a copy on my camera phone."
"This is a wooden box with a mirror in it!"
"Oh, you haven't seen one of these yet? They just came out."
" What language is this? I can't read any of it!"
"Oh, wow, so you're really out of the loop. The bed bugs taught us a new way to communicate using raw data and pure intention. They gave everyone their own individual language and though you have no idea what you're saying, the bed bugs are able to make the necessary deductive leaps in order to discern what it is they think we mean. There haven't been any problems since."
"But can't they just interpret what you say any way they want?"
"You shut up! That is not true! You've got a lot of gall coming in here and slaying two of my best customers and then threatening to enslave me!"
"I said nothing of the sort!"
The waiter giggled like an idiot and said, "See, it's possible to misinterpret people no matter what language they're speaking. I know that you thought you were doing the right thing by murdering those bed bugs in cold blood, but the bugs and us were just having a communication breakdown. What we called 'being poor', they called a 'reality-based economic principle.'" Does it really matter what you call things? Is a land governed by a benevolent military complex dedicated to civil service inherently worse than a civil government castrated by bureaucracy and political ambition? I mean, sure, it doesn't always work, but no system can work for all people all the time."
By this point the Bed Bugs seemed to be in the thralls of a massive Collective Death-Euphoria and had begun to drag their headless corpses to a nearby, really hot, hole in the ground, leaving behind two sinister smelling streaks of gore. "Here everyone just assumes that no one else is saying anything cruel or false and it all works out. The only real problem now is what to do about those sea-otters."
"God, what a miserable racket," said the thief.
"We have pretty strict noise ordinances around here."
Johnny grossly misunderstood what the waiter had just said and struck him down before asking directions to the Civil War re-enactment.
Through the burbling blood Johnny was able to make out, "It's a free event at one of the various community centers."
Naturally, the thief grabbed the camera phone which the waiter had carelessly dropped on his way to the ground.
The rest of the game is essentially the meta-bloodbath of deeply confused Bed Bug Civil War re-enactment enthusiasts. Johnny is equipped with two interchangeable weapons: a tongue sword and indecent exposure. Upon completing the game, the player has the option of playing again from the bed bugs' perspective, but they don't carry any weapons and the game is decidedly less action-packed.