Friday, February 29, 2008

Tunes Out

[One day while listening to the radio, a young man, renamed Connie by his high school friend (and secret crush), is in a serious auto accident. He undergoes an experimental neural implant operation. The implant is meant to restore his lost hearing and impaired speech. He has an affinity for static and out-of-tune radio noise. His imparied hearing often gives him that kind of sound when listening to other people. Over time, the implant becomes a powerful, nanoneural receiver that collapses his speech ability into the radio signals he receives. In other words, he eventually can only speak what he broadcasts. Over time he learns to control his reception and becomes a walking jukebox. When he sleeps or is at a loss for words, he emits static and radio jumble. Ultimately, he is able to capture old radio signals in space, such as Churchill's and Hitler's speeches, etc., so that he takes on a messianic proportions for large swaths of the pop audience.
He lives in a society dominated by politically correct censorship, or "verbal shariah". In the mass media, conventional language is so religiously, politically, and ideologically charged among contending advocacy groups that pretty much the only words not censored are cuss words, trivial conjunctions, etc. So a news discussion will sound like. This will take on comic dimensions, but is also basically a grim satire on the corrosion of speech based on "special interests" and "neutrelativity".
A further problem in the society is that copyright laws are draconially reactionary. Specifically, it is illegal to sing copyrighted songs without a license. This means guys cannot croon to their girls without calling a hotline (976-Shake-4-Me), drivers get pulled over for singing along with the radio, control teams burst into showers to stop bathers from singing in the showers, etc. Again, comical but basically grimly satirical.
The problem is that, since our protagonist can only speak by using the radio, he is in constant violation of copyright laws and he can't help but utter the unassumingly blunt language of past ages in songs, jingles, speeches, etc. The climax is unclear to me right now, but I think he will ultimately be enshrined––dare I say imprisoned––in a cultural sanctuary. He can be observed as a national, living artifact.]

Tunes Out

by Elliot Bougis

The blessed sound of a radio out of tune. He liked it. It made him feel at home. Not the only one, or the only thing, at least, out of tune. In search of a tune. In search of the right frequency. In search of a sending station. Making noise but not making any sense.
This is ORM Radio. This is KTLM Radio. This is MMT Radio. But what is this, this life? This life he and everyone he knew lng enough tacitly agreed to call his real life. Day after day it was broadcast, always scratchy, hissing, flickering. Things happened and things turned the knob. People cut in and cut out and the programming changed before he even got a playlist. All he seemed to control was the volume. And even then he had trouble with a trigger finger. If someone tweaked the antenna of his heart too suddenly, or too persistently, he would blare out like a walking feedback machine. Driving helped him lower the volume.
So Connie was driving. Listening to the radio rattle out of tune. His friends usually asked him to just turn off the radio when he drove, since he enjoyed an out of tune radio so much, he left it that way on purpose. Not flagrantly, in the presence of company, but just enough off the mark to chop up the DJ's voice like a man trying to finsih his sentence as the committee pulled the mic from his hands. That made him feel good too. Hearing the DJ lose his voice in a wave of static. He wasn't the only one who couldn't speak right. Everything he said drifted away from him in the ocean of speech, a message in a bottle no one ever found. Or, if they did find it, open it, they never wrote back with the reply he was seeking. What could you expect when most of the ocean was froth? People can't breathe underwater, so they tread water on the surface, kicking up froth and passing it off as if from the deep blue. Connie preferred the silence of sunken ships to the froth he had to eat most the time.
So let the DJ get paid for talking. At least he could break a pro's stride with some static. Competition on the airways. DJ Drew Dragomore. Unbelieveable, but payable. Who makes up these DJ names? It wasn't any sane mother who gave these names to their baby. What self-respecting woman would carry someone named Drew Dragomore in her stomach for nine months?
Connie knew about fake names. His name wasn't really Connie. That's the name Galinda––or, "Galinda"––gave him when they graduated high school. And Galinda is the name he came to give her.
"The end of a season. The start of a new season."
"Fallow season, you mean."
"Jackass. Don't hate. We're done with school. We can leave these people behind. Be new."
Be new. Newbie.
"What if you don't want to leave them behind? What if you don't want to be new?"
"Why not, jackass?"
"What if you'd rather stay old, go back, and do it better a second time?"
"A second chance, a new start, whatever, man, it's all the same. You can make a new name for yourself."
"I haven't even made an old name for myself."
"Holy crap, man. Can't you ever take things less than Newtonially heavy?"
His smile almost toppled him it was so heavy.
"Did you just say 'Newtonially'?"
"What can I say? I'm a poet trapped in an idiot's body."
Trapped in her body. She kept talking so he had to pull himself out of the lines on her forehead. The spell she cast when she raised her eyebrows.
"Okay, then, give me a new name."
"What if you don't like it?"
"Well, it's not my name, so I can change it later."
"Not fair. If I come up with a name for you, you can't just junk it."
For me. For you.
"Well, I just won't tell you if I junk it."
Her forehead crinkled up as if to touch her hair. To touch her hair. He slid his hands in his pockets, his shoulders loose and desperately debonaire, swept around for pocket change, but then remembered he had no money on him. She kept talking as his hands crept behind him to restrategize.
"I'm not talking about a nickname. I mean a whole new name for you to call yourself when you wake up in the morning. You don't even have to use it with other people. But at least you will know you are new."
At least you will know I am new.
"Hmm, why do I have the feeling you've done this before? Did you see this on TV?"
"No, not quite. On the radio, though. It was a charity drive idea for immigrants or something."
"Like tagging people as they cross the border?"
"They weren't illegal aliens, jackass!"
"Totally legal aliens."

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