Labusu derives from the ancient Sumerian word for cloth, originally used to wrap up stuff from the marketplace. In 2025, electric car manufacturers bundled labusu with self-driving cars as thank you gifts, but as soon as they became available, they zoomed to the top of everyone’s holiday shopping list, morphed from a Sumerian cloth into a flattened smart phone about the size of a baseball card. But that’s not what got me into trouble.
You see, people downloaded AI apps that allowed labusus to transform into dozens of other objects—a virtual pet, for example, to an awesome vibrator with multiple handles. They were cheap. Robotic factories stamped out millions. In short order, the Labusu company went public, but after the initial stock offering, consumers realized they were all identical—personalized maybe with Loïs Mailou Jones patterns, but with the same ten functions. App developers hit a wall, discovered that it would take years to reach the next level of AI programming. At the same time, the company didn’t want to kill its golden goose. That’s where I came in.
I work for J’Athena in Parkinsons, Nebraska, one of many robotic factories that dot the outlying areas of cities and are located close to Amazon distribution centers. Like every manufacturer, their bottom line was slipping as fast as the Arctic was melting, which might have been the only reason they bothered to contact me. I am (or was) a profile developer. My personality types have been employed in countless online games. You probably are familiar with them.
The company got the bright idea to distinguish labusu through their previous owners. Any labusu that had been held by guitarist Joe Bonamassa, for example, even if it only were to wipe his nose, became valuable. The representative for J’Athena who visited my mobile home, told me they needed me to develop celebrity profiles. “We want to make each one different. We want to drive sales through the roof. We want you to help us.”
I knew this was a fraud, but they didn’t give me a choice. J’Athena said that if I leaked a word, they would resort to “action” which in Parkinsons, Nebraska, could only mean one thing. They backed up their claims with the address of my ex and kid who lived in Detroit. I had left after something bad had happened to me. Let’s say I found the job offer compelling.
I combed through databases to identify every like or dislike of hundreds of celebrities—what they ate for breakfast, what books they read, what hair products they used—building new identities for unique labusus that were being traded on the web for thousands.
Instead of just having me profile celebrity artists who’d died from overdoses, they started to include ones who were still alive. Most celebrities were delighted that their names kept lighting up the tabloids until I started to uncover some interesting data about how so-and-so was raped by so-and-so, which started a shitstorm. J’Athena hung me out to dry, claimed that it was a nefarious smear campaign. I’m in jail now waiting for my hearing and my check. I keep having really bad nightmares.
November 1, Osher Marin JCC, San Rafael, 200 N. San Pedro Road, with Rose Black and Andrena Zawinski, 1-3pm
November 8, Poetry Center, 5th floor, Humanities Building, San Francisco State, 5pm (I’ll read for about 10-15 minutes from my new novel.)
November 12, Jewish Community Library, San Francisco, 1835 Ellis Street, 1:30pm
December 10, Brit Marie reading series at 1369 Solano Avenue, Albany, 3:30 to 5pm.