SOCIAL DISTANCING, Chapter 57: In Which I Assist In A Brain Transplant

By Liz McLeod

Still Your House Manager

“The appointed hour is long past!” proclaimed Miss Carol T. Cat as I stumbled in thru the back door and threw my jacket in any old direction. You live alone, you can get away with that. Make a note of it, kids, it’ll come in handy someday.

Miss Carol’s gleaming green eyes traced my route as I reached for a can of Friskies Tuna and Sardines In Gravy and pulled off the lid with perhaps more force than the situation might have warranted. She pushed my hand away as I unfurled the can’s gloppy contents into her dish, gaining for her haste a dollop of fishy sauce atop her furry forehead. Oh well, nice to know she’s glad to see me home.

It’d been a long day, if you will excuse a lapse into the passive voice. I’m too tired to write in the active, you know? Twelve and a half hours had gone by since I left home in the morning, on the heels of another twelve-and-a-half-hour day before it. It’s been a busy week at the Strand. A very very busy, very intense week. I took a deep breath, applied a can opener to a small tin of Campbell’s Pork and Beans, and dropped my incipient supper into a saucepan. As the mass of processed legumery extruded out of its container, it made a sucky sound like a moose extracting its foot from a quicksand bog. I examined my meal for any traces of pork among the beans, but as ever I knew I’d be disappointed. Whattaya expect for fifty-six cents, anyway? Someday I’m going to write a long and angry letter to somebody about that. But not now. As the beans slowly simmered to life, and as the gentle slurping sounds of Miss Carol’s graceful dining echoed in the background, I let my eyes close long enough to not quite fall asleep on my feet. Yeah, that’s the kind of a day it was.

You know, or maybe you don’t, and if you don’t, well, sit back and I’ll tell you. Movie projectors ain’t what they used to be. When I first became acquainted with the technology as a wee child, watching my mother’s clattering Brownie 8 casting images of my youthful antics on the side of the refrigerator, projectors, no matter how big or how small, were all pretty much the same basic technology they’d been when the Brothers Lumiere unleashed them upon the world back at the tail end of the nineteenth century. A light source shined thru a moving strip of celluloid, moved from one spool to another across an intermittent movement and behind a shutter, and thru a lens that cast the images recorded upon the celluloid upon whatever flat white surface one might happen to have had on hand. That’s all there was to it. And for over a hundred years, despite enhancement of the basic tech by such extravagances as sound and color, that continued to be all there was to it.

Those were happy times, simple times, when if something went wrong it wasn’t anything you couldn’t cure with a  screwdriver, a wrench, a can of Esso Household Oil, and a roll of splicing tape. As I watched my beans blurping in the pan, inhaling the gentle fragrance of their steam, I shed a tear for the lost innocence of my youth. Yeah, because projectors now ain’t nothing like that. Ooowee.

Since the Digital Revolution burst gaudily upon we of the cinema business in the 2010s, life’s gotten a whole lot more complicated. A Digital Cinema Projector was designed by three disparate groups of people – electronics technicians, software developers, and lawyers. The developers ensure that the proprietary encryption necessary to the protection of the lawyers’ intellectual property rights is completely impenetrable and proof against movie pirates, while the technicians are charged with building an infrastructure capable both of living up to the marketing hype and to actually functioning in a day-to-day theatre environment with a minimum of disruptions.

We’ve been lucky. Our Christie Solaria One, purchased at the end of 2013, has been astonishingly trouble free except when it hasn’t been. But finally, this January, one of its key components – the “Integrated Media Block” – decided that it had done just about all it was going to do, and laid down dead. The “IMB” is, in civilian terms, the “brain” of the projector. It takes the digital movie file, determines if we are legally allowed to possess and present that movie, and if we pass muster, it decrypts the file and allows it to be projected, within a span of time decided for us by the terms of our contract. And if the IMB refuses to do so, there will be no movie shown. Simple as that. Nothing you can do will cause this triumph of technology to renege on its Prime Directive. So when an IMB dies, it must be replaced. It cannot be fixed, it cannot be reprogrammed, and it cannot be bypassed in any way. If you so much as touch a single component that you are not legally authorized to touch, it will “brick” the projector, and then won’t you be in a fix.

“Your meal,” interjected Miss Carol, “is burning. I find the odor of incinerated beans in a corn-syrup based tomato sauce offensive. Please open all windows at once. And silence that smoke alarm!”

Roused from my reverie, I sighed and complied, and scraped what salvageable beans I could out of the saucepan. Live the dream, baby. And still no pork.

And as I gorged myself on my lavish repast, I continued to think about all I had seen and done. The replacement of an IMB is no small task. You have to be a Christie-certified official technician to even unseal the compartment in which the device is sealed inside the projector casing, so a tech from our booth contractor down in Boston had to come up for a couple of days to do the heavy lifting, while I stood by to assist. It’s a delicate, nervewracking procedure surrounded by anti-static wrist straps, insulated rubber mats, and lots and lots of microscopic screws that have the unsettling habit of vanishing into a pocket universe whenever you try to replace them.  And once it’s in, it must be configured. And all ancillary components – hearing-assist devices, captioning systems, file storage devices – must also be configured to recognize their new commanding entity. It’s not like that Star Trek episode where Bones replaces Spock’s brain by putting on a funny helmet. I wish it was, but once again Hollywood has deceived us. Nothing is ever that easy. Instead, there are consultations with manuals that turn out to contain erroneous information, there are phone calls with tech support people who say “well, read the manual," and there are repeated attempts to work around the work arounds that don’t actually work.  But finally, when the final screw tightens down and the lid is closed and you switch it on and it ACTUALLY WORKS, well, that’s about as rewarding as it gets.

Miss Carol jumped up on the table and wrinkled her nose with disgust at the lone bean remaining on my plate. I felt sorry for that bean, and speared it with a fork to put it out of its misery. “It is time,” Miss Carol declared. “You have been gone far too long, and it is time for you to lie on the living room floor while I bat your head with my paws, roll on the floor myself, and purr. You have been lax in your obligations these past two days, and I am here to collect what is due. We must begin at once to make up for lost time.”

“Lead the way,” I sighed, assuming my position on the worn old rug. And I was fast asleep before a single claw found its mark.

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