Constant Back and Forth
Three yards in from the road, next to Tucker's driveway, stood an oak tree. It was young, not more than fifty feet tall. It grew next to a row of pines. One branch from the oak stuck out parallel with the gravel drive. To Tucker's father, the natural arrangement looked like the right place for a tire swing. I didn't see him put it up. It was just there one day. Tucker introduced me to it.
His father may have meant it for Tucker's younger brothers but it was hard for Tuck to not try it now and then. He had never had a tire swing before. Maybe it seemed unfair to him that his father built one that was too weak to hold a teenager.
"I can't swing too much because it hurts the tree, I guess," he said. He shimmied into the rubber circle and kicked his legs. The branch dipped an inch from his weight. "But I can't swing a whole lot anyway. It makes me dizzy,"
"I'd forgotten about your balance problem." Hands on hips, I watched him for a minute. It was hard for me to comprehend how far the effects of his surgery extended. He looked perfectly fine. He acted fine, too, most of the time.
"Want to see something funny?" Tucker kicked his legs to the side. "I can spin in the tire for a long time. It doesn't hurt the tree as far as I can tell. It makes me so dizzy it's like being high."
"Okay. Let's see it." I was pretty sure he hadn't gotten the barest sniff of marijuana at that point in his life but I knew what he meant.
He ran his feet along the ground in a circle. Then he twisted and twisted until he couldn't get any more tension. He let go to take a spin and, sure enough, within half a minute he had lost his balance so much that he had trouble getting his feet back on the ground. I had to help him stand up in a crouch with his hands on his knees.
"I'm not sick," he laughed. "I don't want to throw up. It's just I can't walk."
Next, I took a turn, longer than his. After it, he took another short spin. We spent an hour switching back and forth, deliberately making ourselves dizzy. I mentioned some science news articles I'd read.
"Did you read the issue on brains because of what I said about my brain operation?" he asked as we meandered from topic to topic in the news. "'Cause I haven't even done that. And I'm the one who got operated on."
"I thought I might find something out." There had been a lot but the summaries had all been more general than I'd liked, nothing to give me a clue about where Tucker's spontaneous coordination problems came from. "Brain anatomy is a little interesting. They say balance is kept in a couple of places, ear and brain."
"That, I know."
"And intelligence is neat in general. Apparently higher cognition is all in the frontal lobes. I'm not sure if I believe that But it's what the books say."
"What about computer intelligence?" He had seen my father and I working on computers at home with sheet-fed line printers. He had eyeballed the output of BASIC language code and that was probably what prompted his question.
"That's a long ways off." Except for a few science fiction stories involving computers the size of planets, it didn't exist. "But it would be neat."
"Aren't you worried about them taking over or something?"
"Nah. I don't have any say over my life anyway." That part seemed dumb. Even the best robots were too clumsy and too stupid to last. Plus they wouldn't want what I had if someone made them smarter. "They can't take anything from me."
"Oh, yeah. Same, I guess." He glanced toward the road. It was my turn to spin and swing but I had drifted to a halt, bored. He asked, "What would you do if you could make computers intelligent?"
"Hah." I drifted in the tire and thought. "I would give cars emotions. Wouldn't that be great?"
"What?" He barked an outraged laugh. "Eric, that's crazy. Why would you do that?"
"Then they could complain when you slammed the door. 'Goddamit, I told you about that.' And when you got in an accident they would scream. 'Oh my God! I'm dying!" I gave the words my best mad, melodramatic car voice.
"You’re weird, Eric."
"But so are other people." His accusation seemed to come out of the blue. "Last week, you said Adam is weird."
"Yeah," agreed Tucker. "But it's not the same. He's normal inside but he's trying to act weird. Because it's cool. You're genuinely odd. You have weird thoughts."
"Thanks." That was my favorite sarcastic word, thanks.
"I don't mean anything bad by it." He raised both hands a little defensively. "But you think differently."
"Okay." The fact that he kept going on about it was starting to bug me.
"You're deeply, deeply weird and you're trying to act normal."
"Well, then it's working." He didn't answer me, so I glanced over. "Right?"
"A little." He gave me a sly sort of smile that let me know he'd made a joke. At the time, I didn't get it. It took me another year with him to realize what he meant by that little pause with a barely noticeable smile.