What I Did On My Sumer Vacation

by Don Jolly © 2003

I hadn't seen Jackson in four months when we met on the coffee shop in Buenos Aeries. I'd been off for the summer, and Jackson had been working at a rocket refueling station - running parts to and from various supply depots around the continent. It was good work for him because it let him use his busted up rocket for the runs, and it sometimes left him spare parts to fuck with. Jackson was really into his junky 2065 Condor with the rusted avocado leather-esque interior. This was a thing I could never figure. Then again, any strong attachment to a material possession is foreign to me. It comes with the territory of Techno-Nihilism, my drug of choice on the philosophical front.

On the physical front my drug of choice was caffeine. Hence, I met Jackson in a coffee shop in Buenos Aeries.

"Howdy," I greeted the portly rocket-addict as I slid into the seat opposite him.

"Hey," He spat back. "Good vacation?"

"Decent." I conceded.

It was a nice trip, I must admit. Made nicer because it was all on someone else's tab - an all expenses paid trip to the armpit of human history, the Sumer River Valley, right around when things started to get interesting on the anthropological front.

A great trip for an Anthropologist. A Decent trip for me. But I covered that.

"Cool," Jackson said, sipping his coffee.

"Yeah. Anything new on the rocket front?"

"The Condor blew a rear Newton Flange."

"Ugh." I had no goddamn idea what a Newton Flange was, but it sounded bad that it was blown.

"Yeah, tell me about it. How was Sumer this time of year?" He asked absent mindedly, taking another swig of his coffee. He seemed too cool to be taking real caffeine from the stuff. I suspect that rat-bastard sneaked decaf into his cup while I was glancing sideways. "It doesn't matter what time of year it is here," I reminded him, "I traveled back in time. The seasons in ancient Sumer have already happened - they don't fluctuate based on my position in the modern calendar."

"Jesus, it was just a figure of speech. Lighten up. Anyway, what was it like?"

"It was a tourist trap."

And it wasn't even a very good one. Once time travel vacations became affordable, teams were sent back to gear up set time frames for visitation. A crack bunch from Phillip Morris helped the Egyptians finish the pyramids of Giza in time for their public opening. Texaco turned D-Day in Normandy into the world's bitchingest roller coaster. The Safeway corporation got stuck with ancient Sumer. A few shitty rides, over priced cotton candy machines and dysfunctional educational halls later - and what was once the cradle of civilization became the Euro-Disney of the Ancient world. Nobody with disposable income to waste on a time vacation wants to visit Sumer. The tampering was too much for the touching anthropologists and historians - but not enough for the attention span stunted every man. Safeway had to give to tickets away.

To me, specifically.

"How do you mean - a tourist trap?" He asked, sipping his coffee - which I was now convinced to be decaf.

"I mean a tourist trap. Overpriced gift shops, crappy rides and fake plastic natives. The whole gross, waxy spiel."

"Plastic natives - like robots?"

"Nope. People desensitized by being caught in the entertainment business. Only robots on the inside. Fake people. Grotesque actors in a never-ending play intended to fill the gift shops morning noon and night," I said.

"I don't get it," Jackson shrugged.

"You ever been to Orlando?" I asked him earnestly. He nodded quickly, understanding.

Even the clerk at the goddamn Safeway was a fake person. The way he leaned over the counter, fake smile jutting in my face. "Congratulations! You're our 100,453rd customer!" He beamed so bright I thought I could feel my skin peel and crackle from the astounding heat of his radiance. "Okay." I said, the sun dancing purple in my eyes. They had me by then, I was locked into my Sumer Vacation. After all, it was free.

As I was leaving the store, I felt a flash of heat on the back of my neck. The clerk was beaming into the face of a poor woman who was just trying to buy a Slim Jim. ""Congratulations! You're our 100,454th customer!"

"So, did you feel any connection to your roots?" Jackson asked.

"How do you mean?"

"Like, as a human. Did you feel a connection to your primal ancestors - like a deeper understanding of man's quintessential nature?"

To a Techno-Nihilist, these are fighting words. Us techno-nihilists believe in no heritage or spirit behind man except the atom - which, at some point in the past, ran with a bad crowd of other atoms to form a single living cell. Things, as we see it, have progressed from their in much the same fashion. Atoms have been rearranged into many different things, but at the core of matters nothing has changed. Culture and heritage and art are just arcane configurations of atoms that have no intrinsic value. The second principle of Techno-Nihilism is to recognize all artificial machinations beyond the molecular level as false.

Despite this, I thought a minute about Jackson's question. I remembered the Sumerian janitor they had dress in full tribal regalia to sweep old popcorn buckets and sticky messes of ice cream from the main street. I remembered the Ferris Wheel they jammed atop the Ziggurat. I remembered the black t-shirts that said "Ask Me What I Did on My SUMER VACATION" in big, playful letters. And I remembered the existential despair clawing out the sockets of the old Sumerian working the counter.

Despite myself, I answered Jackson : "Yeah. Yeah I think I got a pretty good idea about our quintessential nature." I paused for a minute, thinking hard. "And I got a t-shirt too."

x x x

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