ysabetwordsmith: Cartoon of me in Wordsmith persona (Default)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This story was inspired by [personal profile] dialecticdreamer who sponsored the "teaching / learning" square on my 3-30-14 card for the [community profile] cottoncandy_bingo fest. It belongs to the Schrodinger's Heroes project, taking place shortly after the unaired episode "Why Pat's Not at Work."


"Learning to Fit In"


Chris stood in front of what he reckoned was a stove, trying to figure out how to work it. The thing had an oven door, but no real burners on top, just flat black glass with circles drawn on it. Above that, the backboard looked like a computer screen.

Chris wasn't so good with computers. He shifted from one foot to the other, with a can of beans in his left hand and a pot in his right, wondering what the heck to do.

Pat came into the kitchen then -- it was his, really, even though it served the whole team. He had skin the color of hard-working motor oil, after it had been in the engine long enough to ripen from yellow to brown, but long before it thickened to black tar that you had to drain into a can. His clothes said city slicker, all neat creases on the pants and shiny pinstripes on the shirt, but the kitchen looked mostly rustic.

"Do you need a hand with that?" Pat asked.

"Hand and an arm," Chris muttered, feeling like an idiot.

"Well, I can't blame you. It took me a while to get the hang of this stove. It's a beauty -- I picked it out of a hobby chef catalog, and that was before Alex and Bailey upgraded it," Pat said. His dark fingers danced over the screen, lighting it up. One stovetop circle turned red.

"Bit over my head," Chris said. Alex was smarter than a whole tack store full of whips, and Bailey not far behind. Chris had worked his tail off just to earn a C average in school. That made it hard for him to fit in here.

"Would you like to learn?" Pat said. He smiled, crinkles fanning out like crow's feet from his eyes. Pat always had a smile for Chris, since Chris saved his life not long ago and moved into the compound. "Alex made it user-friendly."

Chris had made the decision to move in here, because to hear Pat tell it while they were running for their lives, the world needed saving pretty regular. If Chris was going to live here, then he needed to know how to work the darn stove. "Yep," he said, and waiting for the nonsense to begin.

It didn't.

"Okay, watch what I do," Pat said. He turned the stove off. "Touch the screen anywhere to turn it on. See these circles? They're just like dials on an old stove. You can run your finger around one, like this, to turn on a burner. That's called an analog control." The burner turned on, then off again. "Or you can use this part of the screen here, the number pad, to type in a particular temperature. That's called a digital control." On, off.

"But that makes sense!" Chris said. "Why can't everyone explain things so they make sense like that?"

"It's harder than it seems. You have to know how things work, and how to describe them," Pat said.

"Reckon so," Chris said. He'd seen enough badly written manuals to know that much. He touched the screen, and it turned on just like Pat promised. Chris traced a circle, and the burner lit up. He set the pan on the burner. Then he put his beans in the pan.

"Would you like some bacon grease for that, or bacon or ham?" Pat asked.

"Never say no to that," Chris admitted, his mouth watering. Pat took a jar of bacon grease from a nearby cabinet -- who kept their grease jar in a cabinet instead of the countertop? -- and some leftover ham from the frigidaire. It smelled scrumptious.

"There's cornbread too," Pat said, opening the tinfoil to show half a sunny yellow loaf.

When the beans finished heating, Chris dished them into two bowls. The addition of ham and cornbread made more than enough to go around. "Thanks," he said quietly.

"You're welcome," Pat said.

Chris could work hard, and he could shoot straight, but he was nohow as smart as Alex. Living in this place made Chris feel like he was five again, struggling just to get his nose above the kitchen table. But just when he felt like giving up, along came somebody with a footstool for him to climb on.

Chris figured he could get used to it, and that warmed him more than the beans in his belly.

* * *

Notes:

A glass-top stove is a modern convenience that has a different set of pros and cons compared to older gas or electric styles of appliance. Kitchen equipment is also shifting towards computer interfaces, which is a nuisance if you want or need classic knobs instead. No, the computers in them don't work like this, Alex and Bailey made that.

One thing this show explores is what happens when you drop a redneck into a team of mostly nerds. There is a famous divide between jocks and nerds, rednecks and intellectuals, so of course Chris feels like a fish out of water. Fortunately this isn't high school, and Schrodinger's Heroes understand how to help a new member mesh with the team. The evolving friendship between Pat and Chris is a running thread throughout the episodes.

Analog and digital offer two different control methods. Analog is more intuitive and malleable, while digital is more logical and precise.

Bacon grease is a staple of southern cooking. If you use it about as fast as you save it, then it doesn't need refrigeration; the counter is more convenient, the cabinet less unsightly. If you use it slowly, keep it in the fridge.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-04-10 04:42 pm (UTC)
aldersprig: an egyptian sandcat looking out of a terra-cotta pipe (Default)
From: [personal profile] aldersprig
I think you handled Chris' voice very well. That's not easy.

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2014-04-10 08:30 pm (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
I don't know American accents all that well... and that still sounded right to me! Sort of 'classic cowboy' but more clipped.

LOVE IT!

Date: 2014-04-10 07:36 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Thoroughly, delightedly, HAPPY as I re-read the story this afternoon.

My only real "quibble" actually isn't. That Pat keeps the jar of bacon fat says a LOT of things in a very few words-

-Economy of resources. Either he grew up with those who made every kCalorie count, OR he dealt with a period of also needing to tug pretty hard to "make ends meet in the middle".

-He may have only learned it as part of cooking that particular regional cuisine. However, it IS such a heavy influence on the flavor of everything from beans to cooked greens to breads and biscuits, (the flaky, lovely dinner biscuits, not the flat sweet things the Brits and Aussies call biscuits!) that learning to take advantage of the grease, and making a HABIT of keeping a jar of it, is important to Pat's success with Southern dishes.

-Keeping the jar in the cupboard instead of the counter says something about Pat's personality and his preferences for his work space. That one detail let me picture the counters as almost universally empty. Only a large item like a KitchenAid mixer wouldn't be put away, to leave maximum working surface.

-Pat pays attention to every single detail in his kitchen. The jar is NOT in the fridge, or the freezer, which means that Pat doesn't allow it to sit long enough to go rancid. In our climate, that would mean checking the jar four or more times in a day, or cooking for a small army. I think Pat does the latter, LOL!

-Pat is likely to have a library of memorized recipes which are decently nutritious, rely on bacon grease as a component, and freeze well. Which hints at more than basic competence in the kitchen, and the kind of lifestyle the Heroes lead.

Interesting detail: I keep an old fashioned metal ice cube tray just for freezing bacon grease. It's easiest to freeze it without the levered divider, then cut into cubes when frozen. Throw cubes in a zip bag labeled with contents and use as needed.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-04-10 08:27 pm (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
Ok, now I covert that stove...! Mind, it wouldn't be hard to actually build that.

Re: Yes...

Date: 2014-04-10 11:43 pm (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
One Ardino control module and a hacked together touchscreen later and there you go... obtaining a large slab of gorilla glass would be harder. [but not impossible, you just need a dead plasma-screen tv.]

I've built a junkenstein computer, this would definitely be easier. [although playing around with 30amp mains voltage is a bit worrying.]

Re: Yes...

Date: 2014-04-11 12:13 am (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
Actually, building a desktop computer isn't much harder than playing with legos, as long as you pay attention to what's compatible with what...more like building something with legos when you have several not-quite-the-same kits from different lego clones.

Of course, the real challenge is when you don't have the luxury of picking and sticking with one compatible source of bits... getting them all to work together then is more 'fun'. Building and running the Tef would be easier some days... and I'm not a genius.

That said, I've done it. It wasn't pretty and not too damned efficient, but it worked...most of the time.. kinda... well, for a version of 'work' that didn't include asking it to do anything more demanding than web surf with flash turned off. But what can you do with zero budget and box of left over bits. Half of it was held together with zip-ties and duct tape.

I probably could build a super-duper UI for a a cooker... and cat-proof it too. [kind of an important point here] But I have this feeling that tearing down our cooker in order to 'improve' it wouldn't be too welcome, when we don't have a back-up if it all goes wrong and the magic-smoke escapes.
Edited Date: 2014-04-11 12:16 am (UTC)

Re: Yes...

Date: 2014-04-11 01:33 am (UTC)
mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
From: [personal profile] mdlbear
The really hard part about putting a computer together is remembering which parts were still working when tossed them into that box.

Re: Yes...

Date: 2014-04-11 10:55 am (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
Only to find out it's the fuse...

Re: Yes...

Date: 2014-04-11 10:54 am (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
Yes, that! Because it's not always obvious which part isn't working when all you've got is a blank screen.... which is why it's handy to have a couple of known good machines to swap out and test parts on...

Of course, the hardware is only half the fun... finding all the drivers and other software that works on your bastard hybrid is also something of a challenge. [which is why I stick with linux, as it has better legacy support.]

Re: Yes...

Date: 2014-04-11 11:30 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
I think I'm actually jealous. I haven't even wired a LAMP, but I'm not totally hopeless at swapping out parts for a laptop or desktop machine. It's the combination of both hardware AND software knowledge that puts me in the 'bystander' column for this particular hobby, though!

Re: Yes...

Date: 2014-04-12 07:25 pm (UTC)
siliconshaman: black cat against the moon (Default)
From: [personal profile] siliconshaman
*grins* Do I get bonus points for wearing a Stark Industries T-shirt at the time...? [hey it's my 'inventing' shirt]

As for cat-proofing and spouse skills.. it's called experience! Well, and looking at what went wrong and figuring out how to do it better next time. Mindfulness basically.

Still can't fold work shirts worth a damn though... despite trying.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-04-11 08:15 pm (UTC)
chanter_greenie: a lilac tree in bloom (Wisconsin spring: lilac season)
From: [personal profile] chanter_greenie
This is lovely, even though my thoroughly northern Midwestern self is shuddering a smidge at the bacon grease...

I admit that my first thought, slightly elaborated on with time, was 'I really hope Alex or Bailey or someone added a voice input, output, or preferably both interface to that stove.' Speaking as someone who otherwise needs knobs or raised buttons... Touchscreens with no voice output are not my friend.

(no subject)

Date: 2014-05-26 02:04 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] chordatesrock
I read this with an eye to the style, thinking about our previous conversation, and I notice the issues are present here but not terribly prominent.

I loved the line "but that makes sense!" and the detail about the bacon grease. :D

Re: Thank you!

Date: 2014-05-26 02:11 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] chordatesrock
Also, the discussion of Pat's skin color is awkward. It comes out of nowhere and it's a very long and odd comparison.

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