Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Night to Remember

Written Sunday, 5 November, 2006

A Night to Remember

The robot gorilla at the Wingo trivia lounge sits peaceably enough in its blue plush seat, but it’s in full robot gorilla mode. “MAKE WAY FOR THIS SUPERIOR SPECIES, PUNY HUMANS,” it shouts, as it kicks our puny human asses at trivia. When someone asks it to stop talking so loud, it replies, “THIS UNIT NOT EQUIPPED WITH VOICE MODULATION SOFTWARE.”

“Maybe in three or four million years you’ll evolve into a robot human,” I say in Chat, as I IM it and say “You’re funny.”

Today the robot gorilla is my friend. It’s name is Jesse Prior, and there’s a strange chemistry between us. Not that kind of chemistry—it’s just that when Jesse and Chey get together, things get really zippy really fast.

Out of ape costume, Jesse’s avatar is human; he looks much, I’m sure, like he does in RL. Tonight he tells me his avatar’s human needs to go to the laundromat and he won’t be able to stay in the sim long. Yeah. Right. It doesn’t work that way in SL.

The first time I hang with Jesse is Thursday, 2 November. We start our evening with a tour of the space my real life and Second Life friends Bill and Pam have been kind enough to allow me to use as my home-- an entire floor of their beautiful chalet by the sea. I show Jesse the giant Sony that plays music videos, but for Jesse the screen remains blank. No QuickTime?

We go outside and fly to the beach, watching a dolphin leap repeatedly out of the water in an animated loop. “I admire his persistence,” Jesse says.

“That dolphin has a porpoise,” I reply.

Next, I show him Bill’s guitar shop. This is an amazing place where you can buy t-shirts with the logo of just about any band you can think of. Jesse buys a shirt that reads, “I Scored in the Eighties.” He was probably born in the eighties. I show him the beautiful guitars Bill makes and sells, and the Beatles record player with a deliberate skip in the middle of “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Bill is an SL genius. Jesse is impressed.

While Jesse’s laundry waits in the wings, I take him to Arwen’s Cottage in Lothlorian, a Tolkienesque vision with heartbreakingly beautiful flowers and views. I climb into the little sailboat on the dock-- and then the night really begins.

Suddenly, before me, there’s Jesse in a white cigarette boat-- one of those torpedo-shaped craft you saw on Miami Vice, the ones that go scary fast.

I take a seat besides Jesse, and we’re away, careening up the river, which rapidly begins to narrow. Still, everything is fine until we strike a big rock that spans the stream and doubtless marks the edge of the region. Suddenly my world is gray, and I tumble about in mist until SL informs me I’ve been kicked off the server.

When I get back, the boat is gone and Jesse is nowhere to be found. “Want to take a ride in a UFO?” he asks in an IM. “Turn Fly on.”

When I take Jesse’s teleport assist, I see him in a classically gray, classically disc-shaped UFO. “Hop in,” he says cheerfully.

O-KAY. Why not? I climb aboard and we lurch away, spanning SL domains at blinding speed until I fall off and tumble through the air until I get kicked off the server again.

When I rematerialize in my home, Jesse sends me a TP assist. This time around it’s an open-cockpit red biplane. Looks like a Stearman. I perch picturesquely, if precariously, on the wing and we’re off, flying beautifully until Jesse banks too sharply and I start to slide.

I grab for a strut, but I’m too slow, and I’m falling again.

I thought the sim had crashed me again, but I seem to still be in SL. I realize I must be in a vacant domain, in empty space, floating in mid-air (I did manage to turn on Fly before I crashed into the ground-- or what passes for the ground in a place in which the ground has not been created).

I get a TP assist from Jesse, but I turn it down and IM him, telling him I see something close by. The arch in St. Louis? I fly to it and land on the grass beside a billboard—but it’s not a billboard at all. It’s a twelve-foot-wide flat-screen TV. The opening credits for the film Poseidon suddenly appear.

I TP in Jesse and we explore. The arch proves not to be not an arch at all, but the gangplank of the White Star Lines ocean liner RMS Titanic. I’m not getting a good feeling, as the credits of the whyever-did-they-bother remake of The Poseidon Adventure contine to roll on a screen on the main deck.

“Boat crash,” I say to Jesse. “UFO smash up. Airplane disaster. And now we’re on the Titanic. I don’t have a good feeling about this.”

And that’s how it goes with Jesse.

Together, Jesse and I have explored the Titanic, where he first played and then machine-gunned a piano; taken a hot air balloon ride (he entertained me by playing the accordion); drag raced (I in a hover craft, he in a Lamborghini); and pole danced in a nightclub (Jesse was in robot gorilla mode on the pole, and I have the photos to prove it). We often crash out of Second Life, as Jesse deliberately challenges the expectations of SL’s programmers by pushing the boundaries of the simulation-- by building a house two miles up in the air, for example. He’s smart, and funny, and adorable.

And he sure does know how to show a girl a good time.


Photo: Jesse in his Esperanto t-shirt.