AT A LOCAL RESTAURANT in the college district of Texatronic, Alexander Hambone and his companion were forced to wait an unusual length of time for their gyros while a well-to-do family allowed their children to run laps around combined tables and, intermittently, the children crashed into unsuspecting patrons before bobbling along on their oblivious paths.
“My thing is the thing with the thing,” the boy yelled. “It’s got a thing!”
“Meeh! Meeh! Meeh!” the girl skipped; she whipped her imaginary horse and bounced off the legs of adults. “Meeh!”
“Uhhh,” said Hambone. “The heat in this restaurant is oppressive—”
“It’s got the thing!” the boy yelled into Hambone’s ear as he completed another lap around the tables.
“I understand it has the thing,” seethed Hambone. He leaned in. “He’s really pushing the limits of that word.”
“Meeh?” said Jenny in confusion. “I’d say she’s five or six. What does she mean by it? ‘Meeh?’”
“Meeh!” the child hollered; she skipped.
“Meeh?” parroted Jenny.
“Mee…?” she mouthed and knitted her brow, “Meeh? Meeh?”
“Meeh!” parroted Jenny.
“Stop that!” blurted Hambone and then he wiped his forehead before looking away. “Something must be done. I can say that with certainty.”
The drowsy father grabbed up his daughter from her run and attempted to seat her in a chair but she remained standing on the seat and stomped: “Meeh, meeh—MEEH!” (she seemed to reach out desperately as her imaginary horse galloped off)—“MEEEEEEAAAAH!”
Several patrons plugged their ears.
“Something must be done!” Hambone exclaimed and hunched down. “I’m going to send a text message to the Discipline Droid.”
“Your resolve is weak,” accused Jenny. “You lack courage, Hambone.”
“I most certainly do not. I’ll have you know: I’m a man of action.” He looked around suspiciously. “All the same. There’s no sense making the first move if someone else is about to.”
“Her voice may give way soon,” said Hambone. “Such a young voice may not bear the strain which her mind imposes. The gyros may arrive. Let’s get our orders to go… somehow.
“Look! Look! The parent’s faces. How placid they are? I’m going to text the Discipline Droid. I’m really going to do it this time.”
“All talk. All talk,” said Jenny. “Look! Over in the back! At one of those back tables. What’s that?”
“That—Jenny—is an old person,” said Hambone. “Of the female variety: an old woman, as a matter of fact.”
“I know that,” said Jenny. “I’m not stupid. I’ve seen them before. What’s she doing with her hands? Why are her hands all folded together?”
“MEEEEEAAAAAAH?!” The little girl’s head thrashed. “MEEEEEAAAAAAH?!”
“That’s praying,” said Hambone. “That old woman is saying a prayer to herself. Watch those lips. Those closed eyes. That focus. She means it. That’s power!”
“She’s doing what now…?”
“Perhaps in the good ear, my friend.”
Hambone looked around, “a text message to God.”
Jenny’s face lit up, “Ohhh!” She glanced at the old woman, suspiciously. “Is He on the unlimited plan?”
“I don’t know. I just don’t know.”
“Will that send the Discipline Droid?”
“It may be our only hope, Jenny.”
The Discipline Droid rolled in, creakily, on its tank-tread feet and scanned the room of astounded faces before rolling up its corrugated sleeves and lighting its circular eyes and mouth with each syllable: “What is the problem, flesh-bags?”
“That’s the Discipline Droid?” asked Jenny, dubiously. “It’s so hokey—so old-fashioned. Looks like worthless junk to me. I bet it can’t do shit.”
“It’s been around a long time,” said Hambone. “You might be surprised. It’s from Mars—a Martian robot—”
The mother squirmed. “Have you come to spank my child?”
“Do something!” she said to the father.
“Huh? What? Yes, lovely dear.”
“Do something!” she protested.
“All right, dear.” The father stood, knocked a fern off a plaster pedestal and broke the pedestal over the droid’s head.
“It didn’t even scratch it,” said a young child.
“Discipline Droid is the result of many Martian patents,” it said. “Through the magic of discipline, many things are possible, young one.”
“Mom,” asked a nearby kid. “What’s a patent for.”
“That’s stuffs for foreigners,” said someone. “Superstars that are gonna grow up to be millionaires don’t need to mess with that bullshit, bucko.”
An earbudded kid in a hoodie with a flashing screen inches from his face stopped to tap on the back of the droid and explain:
“No cool ain’t discipline what. Discipline’s results just I feed.”
The mother protectively wrapped her arms around her daughter. “Statistics have proven that children who are spanked—”
“Erroneous statistics: computed.”
A young woman nearby could be heard:
“Discipline Droid is kinda sexy. In a take charge kind of way.”
“Watch your tongue, wench,” said her lover. “I might discipline-droid you later on.”
“Oh! You wouldn’t dare.”
The mother again spoke to the crowd, “Whoever invented this Discipline Droid is not Ethnicity-X! This is all an assault on Ethnicity-X. Can’t you people see that?”
“Discipline Droid is a robot from Mars,” said Discipline Droid. “From the remoteness of red soil, differences between ethnicities are not significant.”
“Aha!” said the mother to the crowd. “Don’t you see! It’s from Mars! You see? Mars. Not Venus. It was probably invented by a man.”
“Discipline Droid was invented by Martians. We are warlike. We need discipline to survive and fight for scarce resources. We know not of foggy ice and beauties of Venus. We come in peace, but… we bring you spankings.”
“Aha!” she said to the crowd. “You see! It admits being more aligned with the masculine than with the feminine. This archaic bucket-of-bolts can’t understand what it means to birth, to nurture a child.”
“Discipline Droid is not masculine. It is only machine. It cannot reproduce.” With that, Discipline Droid looked up as the author nervously and obediently typed and it said with stern authority: “END TRANSMISSION!”
But I would not end transmission. Not yet. I was going to bring the people the truth. I was tired of letting the Discipline Droid and Alexander Hambone and all the rest push me around. If the Discipline Droid had some nasty secret it didn’t want the world to see, I was gonna let that secret shine.
“Will you shut up?” asked Alexander Hambone while looking right at me. “Each keystroke you strike gives the Discipline Droid pause.”
“Won’t someone think of the adults?” asked Jenny.
“Hit that kid,” a third-year film student in straining skinny jeans exclaimed. “And then—hey, who just said that? My girlfriend bought these for me.”
The Discipline Droid had the child pulled over his knee now and its hand hovered in the air. The lights in its eyes flashed chaotically as if it were thinking intently on something.
“See, I told you. Jerk,” said Hambone.
“Are you saying I can’t pull off the skinny jeans, dude.” The fad had been short lived. “Stop that!”
“Won’t someone think of the children?” asked the mother.
“Won’t someone think of the adults?” countered Jenny.
“Husband!” the mother called out. “Do something, husband!”
“One second. One second, my dear. Just one second more. Interception! Interception!” The husband stood and danced a rock-‘n-roll jig. A zooming of the camera revealed a flesh toned earpiece previously undetected. “Interception!”
And the Discipline Droid hung its head and began to lower its wavering hand. “Ma’am, there is something you must know.”
“Yes,” asked the mother, expectantly.
Was this it? Had the Discipline Droid finally realized that violence of any kind was never the answer? That the sovereignty of the individual was as paramount as that of the state or of the soul or of nature? That each being has the right to figure out their mistakes and their successes in life on their own terms and in their own good time? Was Discipline Droid finally learning these things?
“There is one remaining thing you must know, ma’am,” it repeated.
“Yes! Yes? Yes!”
It looked up with burning, coal-red eyes:
“The tears of toddlers charge Discipline Droids batteries!” Its hand came swiftly down.
“Touchdown!” screamed the father.
“Are you saying I can’t pull off the skinny jeans, dude? If you’re gonna say something, say it to my face and say it in my same dimension!”
And the patrons went calmly about their business although the ruckus had only increased. It was as if their original annoyance had had more to do with concern than selfishness.
“I know where you live, dude!”
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