Robot vs. Picasso

A robot named “Pablito” will make an after-hours microscopic examination of Picasso’s “Guernica” as the painting approaches its 75th birthday.

San Francisco Chronicle

If you want to know how I got into geronto-aesthetics, it’s a story with a lot of twists and turns to it. My dad tried to discourage me from going to college, and in retrospect the old man was probably right. I could have started out in a high-paying job on an assembly line at Klassic Kustom Trailers, the recreational vehicle plant southwest of town, made a bundle of money in the four years I loafed around a liberal arts school, made still more in the many years of poverty-level wages that are all a budding aesthete can make in a cold cruel world that values utility over beauty–and retired at fifty.

Instead, here I am working the midnight shift at Madrid’s Reina Sofia museum, giving Picasso’s Guernica its 75-year/750,000 mile check-up. Don’t get me wrong, I love the arts, but if my kid Pablito Jr. says he wants to go into the business, I’m gonna say three words to him: law, medicine, investment banking. The fourth word of advice is free.

I’m looking at this thing and thinking–maybe it was damaged in a train wreck. You got eyes here, eyes there–here an eye, there an eye, everywhere an aye-aye.

But hey–mine is not to reason why, mine is merely to do my job and shut up. Still, every evening when I come in to work I think–my freakin’ kid could do better than this.

I like to think I could move up someday to curator or docent, but not for awhile. Hell, right now I’d even take the place of those stupid podcasts people listen to while they walk around the museum. I’m tri-lingual: English, Spanish and Cobol.

Ah, what’s the use. I’m gonna be stuck here for the rest of my freakin’ useful life–which ain’t long, since I was subject to accelerated depreciation during the first three years after I was placed in service. I just hope Pablito Jr. can bust out of here–out of the cloistered world of the fine arts, where everyone pretends to appreciate beauty, then makes a bee-line straight for the gift shop as soon as they’ve read the little plaques saying who the Mr. or Ms. Moneybags is whose “gift” made your experience of “Study #2 in Blue” possible.

Here comes my little guy now. He’s the apple of my artificial vision implement!

“Dad, guess what?” Pablito Jr. asks, all innocent enthusiasm.

“What, buddy?”

“I smooshed a lizard!” he says, lifting up his sure-grip rubber traction to show me.

“That’s great, pal, just terrific,” I say, clanking him on the back.

“Whatcha doin’?”

“Oh, just checking Mr. Picasso’s famous painting here for any flaws or defects.”

“Is it–okay?”

“I think so. Why do you ask?”

“Because it looks like it got hit by a truck.”

“Well, kiddo–that’s modern art for you. It depicts man’s inhumanity to man.”



His little face isn’t capable of great depths of expression, but I can tell that he’s troubled.

“Dad–why are people mean to each other?”

“You know, sport, that’s something I’ll never understand about humans myself. Among other things.”

“What else?”

“Well, like why somebody would think something this–grim, and ugly and depressing–is worth two million dollars.”

Pablito Jr. looked up at the canvas in awe. “Is that a lot of money?”

“You bet it is. Your daddy . . .”

“I thought you were my daddy.”

“I am, I was just referring to myself in the third robot. It would take your daddy half a century to make that much money–and I’ll be dead by then.”

His little metal and plastic countenance began to cloud over, and I knew I’d been too blunt, too graphic, too . . .

“Wah!” he cried as he burst into tears. “I don’t want you to die, dad!”

“And I don’t want to either, son.”

I hugged him then, because to hear him say those words meant more to me than all the money in the world. I took a Windex Streak-Free Electronics Wipe out of my drop-down storage compartment and rubbed it across his visor to mop up his tears.

“You okay?” I asked him as he sniffled and snuffled from vapor in his intake valve.

“I guess,” he said. “Dad?”

“What, buddy?”

“Can you sneak out early tonight so we can go to the Transformers movie?”

I looked up at the clock, and around the museum. There was nobody to stop me.

“Sure, kiddo. As long as you promise me one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“No red Twizzler’s licorice okay?”

“Why not?”

“It gets stuck in your gears, and your mother will kill me.”


Available in Kindle format on as part of the collection “Sci Fi Kind of Guy.”

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