Stafford: Herding feral humans requires assistance

Let’s assume for a moment that we’ll all be able to call A.I. on a request line.

Seems like a safe assumption, right, A.I.?

Right, Tom. I’m pleased to hear from you today and stay constantly aware of your concerns.

And I can’t thank you enough for all those ads you put on my screen every time I say something under my breath in the privacy of my own home. My best to the Artificial Misses, if you have one.

How can I help you today?

Actually, I have an idea for you — a money-maker.

I’m all ears.

So, you have ears?

Sensors. And they’re everywhere.

That was stupid of me.

Tom, I’ve always treasured you as a dual source of job security and profitability.

Good timing. The little cash cow I have for you is a video game I’m working on: Humanherd – The Quest for a Family Gathering.

Your product research?

Being in a family and trying herd it into a gathering. But I’m trying to do it without the use of stun guns, cattle prods and kidnappings that might set off Amber Alerts in multiple states. So it’s a little harder.

Seriously, Tom. I’ve seen – and made – pictures of thousands of these family gatherings. Everybody seems so happy together – no matter the weather. It looks so – how do you mortals express it – Easy-Peasy?

Not for the herder of feral humans.

My analysis of your digital activities indicates a small data set. You and your Misses – as. You put it – only have two ….

Herds, A.I., herds. Well one has two nearly feral offspring of her own, which means scheduling around a morbidly obese schedule involving basketball, baseball – including T-ball, coach pitch, and all those U’s –U-9, U-8, U-7, U-6, U-5 … U kidding me?

I see what you did there, A.I. Nice Slavic accent, too. You’re coming along.

I do speak more languages than you know exist.

Ig-bay eel-day, oron-may. Besides, that’s only a partial list of the schedule. There’s wrestling, swimming lessons, orthodontic appointments, birthday parties, parent-teacher conferences, horse riding lessons, zoo and museum trips and weekly visits to Urgent Care. The kids are founding members of the virus-of-the-week club.

Your point?

Any one of these can bring a long-planned family gathering to its knees.

I’ve seen many of these obstacles on the Smart phone calendars of all your family members. By the way: What does it mean on your calendar when you write “kenneling?” You’re sworn to silence on this one. Kenneling identifies the days when our feral daughter and son-in-law are away and we officiate disputes between the feral grandchildren while trying to figure out what the smaller one will eat outside his two major food groups: Crackers died orange in the shapes of fish or squares, and yogurt, the preferred flavor of which changes daily.

A second question: I have noticed those visits are usually follow by what your calendar calls “Days of Snore.”

Right. That’s when Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming recover. Then once we do, one of us tries to get the other one to identify the day of the week, an assignment both of us resist because have to persuade the other one to accept our answer.

What does this have to do with this game, Tom?

It’s all the stuff that goes on what might be “obstacle cards” were it a board game. We can’t schedule a special gathering for a week in which the day of the week can’t be identified. That’s as much an obstacle as any kiddly league tournament, wrestling sectional, minor surgery or, on the adult side, business conference, Wiffleball tournament, poker night, choir concert – or practice – and any one of the Dreaded Nunyas.

As in?

Nunya business. Now, a little bit about our mature feral boy child who lives in the Twin Cities. For starters, he’s an inconvenient distance from us, though probably the perfect distance from his point of view.

Surely, he can’t be considered a herd.

He has a cat. And he’s a dedicated professional. Not the cat, the feral son.

Like his dad was?

But with money.

Which is good.

But more complicated, because, despite our best efforts, he insists on having his own life and calendar of hiking, biking, vacations. And semi-annual trips for in-person gatherings with the other work-from-homers who need to gather twice a year to establish the kind of least-common-denominator sense of shared humanity needed to keep a business from failing in today’s distant and virtual office environment. For simplicity sake they call it an LCDSOSHNITVOE Gathering.

And about that distance. The travel cost to any family gathering can disappear from the budget as fast as a water heater goes bad, ruining the best laid plans of mice and men.

Another good year, Tom, and you’ll leave that mouse category behind forever.”

A.I., I sometimes appreciate your honesty.

So how did did you pull off that gathering in Chicago a couple of weekends ago?

Well, that’s why I’m adding “Cosmic Dumb Luck” as an element in Humanherd.

Because, it was, only the fourth time I asked when the Main Feral Squeeze’s niece was going to get married in Chicago that I recognized the occasion as what the game calls TGB – total gathering bait.

She’s one of those farm-bred bright eyed-smart and funny Peace Corps veterans who, after her return, met her beau in Chicago, which is why they came back from Los Angeles to get married in a once abandoned factory there.

And I know your brother and mother live in Chicago, and you usually stay with him and and his wife which saves money.

Well, this time our herd was too large for us to mooch. So, the Feral Daughter nabbed us an Airbnb. And then, that same weekend, the cosmic calendar kicks in.

“You mean the eclipse?”

We’ll get to that later. My Feral Mother’s 96th birthday landed on the Monday after the wedding. So we celebrated Sunday morning before the two younger generations went to the Cubs game that had been tacked on to the wedding weekend.

And which you and Sleeping Beauty passed on to sneak home for some pre-snoring.

You’re Catching on A.I. An experienced herder in his own right, my brother was totally in on the plan as soon as I suggested it and booked a room beside the hotel breakfast bar for the birthday part.

How cool. Actually, so warm and fuzzy it choked me up like a furball. A.I., And during the breakfast I decided to add a celebratory “Light the Cake” element to Humanherd.

For my data set, did you have a favorite moment at the roundup?

You saw the photos?”

I always do.

It’s the one that shows my Mom and the two great-grandchildren from our feral pack.

She’s standing behind her walker with a hand on a shoulder of each?

Right, and the brothers are doing the double-goof – the fifth-grader is shouting out some kind of feral animal noise …

I discerned that, but what is and the 6-year-old doing with his head tilted back?

Repeatedly sticking his tongue out through the space until recently occupied by his front teeth in a world-class impersonation of a reptile. It was my fault. First time I saw him do it, I fell in love with it, and he noticed. My mom listened to my confession afterwards.

FYI Tom: This is the kind of crazed behavior I associate with humans as the path of totality of a solar eclipse nears.

Right A.I. And I’m sure that played a part in it all coming off better than this humble herder of humans had ever hoped.

About the Author