I'm at Keyes Toyota in Van Nuys, waiting while my 2007 Camry is serviced. I brought my laptop here, planning to write. The goal was to loosen my tongue by viewing the world from a new perspective, that of Keyes Toyota. It seems to be working.
It's ironic that, after two months of writing nothing, I am set free in this distracting venue. Van Nuys was an early grab at the San Fernando Valley by Los Angeles. Van Nuys Boulevard features the 70 year old art deco Valley Municipal Center and several miles of car dealerships, of which Keyes Toyota is one. I'm in the waiting room, sitting at a high round table attended by two bar stools, perfect for writing. A counter nearby offers apples (uneaten) and donuts (going fast) and a luxurious coffee dispenser that produces a latte much sweeter than Starbucks'. On the wall two feet to my right, looming over my head, is a flat screen TV tuned to CNN. The volume is low, but I hear the murmur of the lawyer for the lawyer who is defending President Trump from charges he mistreated a porn star. The dealership's sound system is louder than the TV; as I write it fills the room with a Taylor Swift song which I associate with my granddaughters, who sing the words and dance to it. Now Taylor Swift has competition for my attention from a man in a baseball cap who has his cell on speaker and is listening to a comedian tell jokes to a laughing audience. He continually chuckles and turns the volume too high, then lowers it, then turns it up again. I should point out to him that some people might be trying to view the whole world from Keyes Toyota; I should ask the management to turn off all music and get rid of the flat screen whose scroll continually mesmerizes me- like right now with the story of how the Kentucky legislature pulled an end-run around state teachers by weakening their pensions in a bill about sewers. I can hear people cheering: "Yay, stick it to the greedy teachers!" That is a distracting thought. A man two tables away just asked the lady next to me if she would watch his stuff while he went to the restroom. As soon as he left she went to the donut counter. I wondered if the ethics of the situation demanded that I watch his stuff while she was away. Are ethics like theoretical physics, where if no one sees something happen, it may not have happened? The man came back from the restroom at the moment the lady returned with her donut. He observed her apparent indifference to his stuff, then my eyes and his locked briefly. It was distracting for sure.
Yet in spite of the continual distractions, or because of them, I sit here and write. How does the world look from Keyes Toyota? It looks like a fantasy, like a science fiction novel about a society of engineers that is engineering itself out of existence, embracing its replacement and waging wars to keep from thinking too much about it.
Keyes Toyota is not part of the fantasy. This place is sane. The peaceable customers; the efficient, friendly service; the donuts- it's all sane, none of it part of the sci-fi horror outside.
But I'm the writer here, I remind myself, which gives me pretend god-like powers over make-believe things. I wonder if, to enhance its palatability, I should insert an idea about sensible people into the sci-fi story unfolding outside, and suggest that, even in a human world run largely by emotion, the right mix of sensible people might handle the politics of animal dominance and turn that politics, in the case of the United States, into something that, if not a true democracy, at least would not be a true kleptocracy, plutocracy, oligarchy or military coup.
"But how would the sensible people accomplish that?" I ask myself. "Would they form a new political party, the Sensible People's Party? Would only sensible people join? How many people would that be? Would the party have any money?"
I retract the idea. The view from Keyes Toyota is that even in a sci-fi horror fantasy, the Sensible People's Party would fall on its ass, too much a fantasy even for fantasy. People are just not that sensible.
Real new parties may be coming, I ponder, but they are not here yet. There was a tentative gesture in a full page ad last week in the Los Angeles Times, announcing a new party as an alternative to the Democrats and Republicans, called by the acronym "SAM," for "Sure Aggravates Me!" or something, which seems to have fallen into the void the day it was posted.
Minus real-world new parties or the hope of a Sensible Peoples' Party, what can a sci-fi horror story bring us?
Keye's Toyota's large east facing windows are allowing in the glare of the rising sun; it's getting warm in here. I'm going to write an anti-war party into my sci-fi horror story- plausible or not- because hopeful stories get better ratings. This party will not be called an "Anti-War Party"; it won't oppose war per se, only war that is mediated through profit motive and/or designed to manipulate our side rather than win. We can think of this party as an informed assessment of likely reaction to the coming elimination of almost all human jobs due to automation. The party platform will assert that when the world's managers realized the difficulties inherent in virtual total human unemployment, they determined that the best way to control the restless unemployed would be to set all definable groups against each other, leading to a multiplicity of wars of such complex and convoluted origins that no anti-war movement could keep up with the process. War, in its backers' estimation, will serve to occupy the unemployed and drastically reduce their numbers, while making vast fortunes for the war industry, fortunes that will then be used to further war politics.
The new anti-war party will sound the alarm about how painful and deadly war is- for those who might not know- and will suggest alternative emotional therapies to group hatred of the "other."
The new party will be able to keep up with the war parties because it will be backed by visionary billionaires who are outside the war profit network, and it will have some sense of what the electorate sees, feels and understands, a sense that only Trump and his operatives had in the 2016 presidential campaign.
In my story the new party will be ready by the 2020 campaign. It will reflect not just a wish to conduct foreign and domestic policy outside the dictates of the military-industrial complex (which will no longer be a jokey term) but a desire to make the transition from traditional human civilization to the new engineered civilization as peaceful and trauma-free as possible. The sci-fi story unfolding in the world around Keyes Toyota will feature a new American party that at least tries to be sensible, because hopeful stories do get better ratings.