Janet and Loaf listen to letters about musical multi-level marketing, augmented reality in the workplace, and the planet-wide apocalypse that never showed up. Thanks to Melody, Loaf also has to deal with an unexpected letter from their homeworld.
Loaf: Greetings, Sentients. And welcome to another scintillating episode of Solutions to Problems. I’m your host, *dolphin noise*, or as the humans call me, Loaf, and speaking of humans, this is my co-host, Janet. Say hello, Janet.
Janet: Hello, Janet!
Loaf: Classic human joke! She intentionally misinterpreted my request!
Janet: Yeah, e’re not very original, which is why we humans have over 200 adaptations of Sherlock Holmes, and only put on the same three plays by Shakespeare.
Loaf: For those of you joining us for the first time, this a show where we help create harmony from the chaos of interpersonal relationships. If you have a problem you’d like us to solve, please e-mail us at email@example.com, or film an adaptation of Sherlock Holmes inspired by the problem. Who knows! You might even solve the problem yourself in the process of coming up with a script.
Janet: There still hasn’t been an adaptation made entirely with cybernetically enhanced kittens, so there’s still groundbreaking territory for you to cover. Gosh, Loaf. It feels kind of empty in the studio today without a special guest! There’s… just so much space! I could lay on the floor, or float on the ceiling, if we were in a part of the station with minimal gravity, although I guess I could do that anyway even if there was another person in here.
Loaf: We all could, Janet, but we’re currently in 0.7 Earth gravity and therefore lightly tethered to the ground by our own weight. Even without a special guest, we still have three problems needing three solutions, so let’s get started.
Dear Janet & Loaf,
I'm a Flisnorp who’s also an underwater artist from the Octopia trench in Grenadis III. In my spare time, I have been singing with my husband and my wife in a popular soul and R&B group called The Philosophical Drifters, where I cosplay as Elvis and Andy Warhol. I love the music, and the band is very true to their name---they’re made up of people who drift in and out of the group. Every time someone leaves, they have to find a replacement that sounds and thinks exactly like them, so the group continues to have the same musical sound. At first I found this to be a charming and novel idea, but lately I’m realizing that the band might just be a subversive advertisement for Beautiphonics LLC. All of our new songs are about claw wraps, and all our old songs have been amended to include these beatnik-style spoken word sections about wanting shinier horns and scales. Honestly, I’m not sure if these products even work. I tried the claw wraps, and I think they were just watered down hydrofluoric acid treatments. I want to leave the band, but finding a replacement has proven to be vexing. There are just not enough underwater art school students who have a smooth tenor voice and a penchant for role-playing as a famous pop artist from Earth. To make things worse, my spouses are really into the group and their business selling Beautiphonics products. I'm starting to feel really alone here. Is there a way out of this dilemma, or will I have to give up my family and my favorite pastime just to keep my cave free of junk?
Hiding In The Closet to Avoid This Scale Scrub Party
Janet: Well, I think you just have to give up your family and your favorite pastime just to keep your cave free of junk, Hiding In The Closet to Avoid This Scale Scrub Party.
Loaf: I don’t know Janet, I wouldn’t give up on them quite yet.
Janet: I would! I think getting out of the band is the easiest part of this, but having to convince your family that the multi-level marketing scheme they’re in is creepy? Soooo hard! They’re all really culty, you know?
Loaf: It can be difficult to reprogram someone if they’ve been indoctrinated into an MLM. But I’m wary of using that word. My planet has had its share of actual cults, and it’s really not the same as selling useless paraphernalia to one’s loved ones.. I mean, sure they make promises they can’t keep, use your friends and family against you, won’t let you leave, and gaslight you constantly. But.. what was I saying?
Janet: You were saying that I shouldn’t call the very weird pushy marketing group a cult.
Loaf: Oh. Well, now that I’ve thought about it for a moment: they are definitely a cult.
Janet: Thaank you. I personally maintain that you shouldn’t trust anyone or anything who tries to sell you something on the basis that you can achieve some kind of mode of perfection just by like, trying some bogus hair product made out of real Fliznorpan rocks, or that selling someone else’s products is the way to make tons of money when, really, there are better and more efficient ways to be your best capitalist self and destroy the lives of others for your own personal gain!
Loaf: Sometimes I feel like I agree with you in practical terms while wildly disagreeing with you in ideological terms, Janet. It’s an unusual sensation.
Janet: People are always saying that, like, “I thought you were right until you just kept talking!” Which is super rude. Why would me saying more make me less right? It doesn’t make sense.
Loaf: Getting back to our letter-writer, you may be able to salvage your relationship without getting yourself drawn further into this nonsense, but you should be open to the possibility that you also may not. Set clear boundaries. You can stop participating in this band without finding a replacement.
Janet: I’m unsure how you managed to find so many replacements in the first place because your band sounds really bad.
Loaf: Musical tastes vary wildly throughout the galaxy, Janet. Fliznorp music based on human visual art is very popular among Silpurians. Human music based on Silpuri gymnastics routines is extremely popular among Fliznorps. But, Humans hate Silpuri music based on Fliznorp tax codes. Cultural cross-pollination is fascinating.
Janet: Yeah! Yeah, it is fascinating. It’s very fascinating, and I should feel bad for calling things bad when there is no objective standard for taste in the universe, especially considering no two beings have identical ways of experiencing art, etcetera, etcetera! I’m not sure how you can have a band that’s resistant to change that is also still capable of writing new songs. Like, you say everyone thinks exactly the same as their predecessors, but that can’t be true as the content of your songs are changing. They can find a new… Elvis.. Warhol….man? Those aren’t even similar people! But okay, sure! And you can go about finding new things to do in your spare time. With your family, maybe just mention that you’re considering leaving Beautiphonics or whatever it is, and see how they react? It’s possible they’re having the same doubts you are, and just hiding it better.
Loaf: Let’s hope for that outcome. As my Untranslatable parent used to say, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, expect a thoroughly mediocre and boring third option, and make sure you don’t wake the Frazdgar.” Anything else for this letter, Janet?
Janet: Um, I don’t think so. Ooh, I think this next one is from your planet, Loaf! Or. I think it is, if I can read the eee eee eees correctly.
Dear *Dolphin noise* and Janet,
I am writing in with a problem I’m having with my broodbrother. I’m actually writing on behalf of his wives, husbands, and interlocutors. They are all very concerned about the fact that he went on walkabout, as many third protohusbands do, but rather than returning to the mudpits to tell all the broodlings tales of his travels he has remained on Earf, being an intergalactic radio host. He’s not returning any of my calls, e-mails, genetically modified rodents or any other methods of communication I have tried. How do I get him to come home and fulfill his parenting duties? There are seven broodlings he hasn’t even - [BEEP AS THE LETTER CUTS OFF]
Loaf: Are you sure we do not have a different letter? I did not get a chance to review this letter, I am not at all sure this letter went through the appropriate channels.
Janet: Well, I’m like, never allowed to review letters anymore, so don’t act like you’re so special. And like, why did you stop the tape like that? Because it definitely did go through appropriate channels, actually, because it is in this pile that Mr. Xorfus okayed?
[There’s the sound of a mechanical arm moving, indicating Melody’s presence]
Melody: Oh, it was definitely approved.
Janet: See? Thanks Melody.
Melody: You’re welcome.
Janet: Everyone, that was Melody, our ever present station AI slash also my on and off again girlfriend. Anyways, can we please just finish the tape-
Melody: [Clears a non-existent throat and interrupts Janet] Ever present station AI, and not currently your girlfriend-
Melody: In part because I’m a little offended every time you joke about turning me off and on again.
Janet: That’s not what that means in this context! And, are you… really… sure? I mean, nevermind.
Loaf: Riiiight. Mr. Xorfus and I will have to have words about this at some point in the future. By “this” I mean this letter as I have made my thought on this relationship clear to him already. For now, perhaps an alternate letter could be found.
Janet: Oh yeah, well, he’s made a lot of thoughts clear to me too, but that doesn’t mean I listen. To go back to doing our jobs, we always have a few back-ups in case something turns out to be extremely offensive to a culture we aren’t as familiar with. Are you sure you don’t want to finish the recording? It seemed really fun-
Loaf: I am quite sure. I have asked many times that my work and my personal correspondence be kept separate, and certain people seem unable to grasp that concept.
Janet: THIS ONE WAS ABOUT YOU! Oh my god, I thought maybe there was just like, another one of you guys hosting a show here. I mean, I can definitely tell all of you apart, of course. Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. Loaf! You have seven broodlings you haven’t even a thing with!
Loaf: I promise you they will survive.
Janet: I don’t know, Loaf, they seem pretty distressed that you aren’t mudpitting or whatever! Wow, and I thought I was a bad... Well, I’m a bad child and girlfriend, not really a bad parent because I don’t have children. I thought I was an extremely avoidant person? Let’s go with that. Wow, I thought I was an extremely avoidant entity.
Loaf: It is more complicated than that, Janet.
Janet: Most things are like, complicated. Explaining to my mom that no, I don’t remember that because I permanently altered my own timeline is complicated. This is just family.
Melody: This is the twelfth message we’ve received from them in the past two weeks.
Janet: Thank you for this important message, Melody.
Melody: You’re very welcome, Janet. You organics are so weird about “family” units. My creator just popped me out of the microchip, and sent me off to my first job a few minutes after naming me.
Janet: Cold, but efficient.
Janet: I appreciate the concept of a life without any ties except the ones you choose to make, but my parents still have me on their phone plan, and it really saves me a lot of money every month. Also, TWELVE MESSAGES, Loaf? That’s more than what SAMANTHA has sent me.
Loaf: The last thing I’m going to say on this subject is that our families are exponentially more complicated than human ones. …and I may not have been entirely truthful about the extent to which my gender is expected to be involved in child-rearing.
Janet: Ugh, fiiine. Be like that. Whatever, we don’t need another letter. I think it’s time for a sponsor message because I’m pretty bummed out about not getting to hear the rest of the message.
Melody: I still have the recording.
Janet: We’ll talk later-
Melody [seductively]: Yes, we will.
Janet: -and not just about that.
Loaf: You will not be talking later. At least not in regards to this recording, which I will be having Frankie delete. You will of course retain the ability to speak.
Janet: Ugh, whatever. This week’s sponsor message is from Centauri Hovercrafts, the leader in luxury Hovercrafts. They’re proud to announce the release of their latest model, the UFO V. The UFO V has an AI driver, advanced safety technology, slime, and a deluxe hardwood interior.
Loaf: Centauri Hovercrafts has won most dependable hovercraft four years running, highest maximum altitude for three years running, and “most attractive shade of mauve” for the last six weeks.
Janet: In this mauve, you won’t be an unidentified flying object for much longer. The UFO V, available now at a Centauri Hovercrafts dealership near you. Call now and ask about affordable financing plans - no blood samples required. [In a cheerier voice] Okay, well, that was our paycheck.
Loaf: Without blood samples, how do the tracker drones find you if you can’t pay?
Melody: Hoho, that’s easy. Facial recognition of course.
Loaf: Wow, the future really is here.
Janet: Facial recognition has existed for centuries, Loaf, what are you talking about?
Loaf: For humans, maybe, but you only have one face. Relatively simple.
Janet: Oh! Well, uh, we’re getting off track. Let’s move on, and play our next letter.
Dear Loaf and Janet,
I have a work problem. I don’t know if you know about this alternate reality game “Pocket Creatures All Around Ultimate Crossover Edition”. It’s really hip with the young people these days. They wear their alternate reality contact lenses and it lets them see all of these creatures everywhere and then they can catch them and use them to fight each other. I’m sure it's fun but it's just not my cup of tea. The problem is everyone at work is doing it. I’ll get all-staff e-mails telling me that there’s a Charasaur or a Venastoise two blocks from the office, then everyone will drop what they’re doing to go catch it or battle it or whatever. Then when they get back they’ll have reassigned me from all my projects. I feel like my career is being held back because I don’t want to catch virtual monsters with them. I don’t know how to bring this up with my bosses without them thinking I’m a buzzkill or a killjoy (buzzkill evolves from killjoy I think? I dunno, I’ve picked up a lot from listening.) Anyway, what should I do?
Don’t gotta catch any of ‘em if I don’t want to
Janet: Absolutely I know POCKET CREATURES ALL AROUND ULTIMATE CROSSOVER EDITION. Anyone not living under a rock, which is most of us because we live on top of rocks, generally, except for the Mole People of Senulas VII, who, as we all know, live in volcanic lava beds, knows about Pocket Creatures, and even the Mole People probably know about Pocket Creatures. You know what they say, you’ve made your volcanic lava bed, now lie in it. I’m sure someone says that.
Loaf: Who is the “they” here? Is it me? Its me, isn’t it?
Janet: No, it’s just. I don’t know. I never know who “they” is. Anyway, Pocket Creatures are super fun, but. Not for everyone, I guess, clearly. Do you play, Loaf?
Melody: Yes, clearly not for everyone. Hmphm. For some of us, it’s another reason we’re not currently dating.
Melody: So while Janet’s talking about Pocket Creatures, I’m going to do something more fun, like, oh, I don’t know, maybe, watch MS Paint dry. [mechanical whirring]
Janet: That’s- That’s not even a thing! That metaphor doesn’t even make sense, and it’s not my fault that you hate joy! [pause] Do you play Loaf?
Loaf: I was really into augmented reality when I was younger, but eventually I got to the point where I had no idea what reality actually was and I had to quit cold-turkey.
Loaf: So no, I never got into this particular one. I hear it's based on a 21st century human video game which was based on a 20th century human cartoon which was based on a 19th century human epic poem?
Janet: You know, I think that all sounds correct, although maybe not in that order. Mary Shelley is really the foundation of so much human culture, and no one ever gives her the credit for Pocket Monsters she really deserves.
Loaf: Even if I’m not familiar with this game, I definitely understand what it's like to have a huge part of workplace culture be inaccessible to you, or to feel like something that should be a leisure activity has become unexpectedly mandatory.
Janet: It’s definitely unfair that something completely unrelated to your work is stopping you from having face time with your colleagues. The easy solution is, obviously, to join them, but if you don’t want to do that, you might want to consider mentioning it to your bosses. I know you’re worried they’ll think you’re ruining the fun, but they may not realize how excluded you feel.
Loaf: Ultimately, how they respond to this is going to reveal something about the culture of the workplace and what they really value. And depending on how that turns out it might be time to look for other employment. But you won’t know that until you try and set appropriate boundaries.
Janet: Like, Boundarymon, whose power is to set boundaries, but literal, physical boundaries? Which I guess are just force fields at that point? And it makes them sooo hard to catch. You have to spend at least ten orbs trying to catch them sometimes if you don’t have an alternating current type on your team, because the direct current types don’t have enough voltage. Ugh. So frustrating.
Loaf: … Yes. Like that, but with the metaphorical boundaries between your work and your personal life.
Janet: Oh, right. Workplace boundaries. I’ve had a lot of trainings about thooose lately. I wonder, also, if he could just go with them? Not necessarily play the game, but just hang out while they catch their Beezelbumbles. That way he’s there when the important conversations about projects or whatever are happening.
Loaf: That does seem like a somewhat logical compromise, given how little we know about this letter-writer.
Janet: I wonder if they’re a different species than their co-workers? Not all beings can use AR contact lenses, seeing as you like, need a certain kind of eyes to put contact lenses. If just hanging out with them while they play doesn’t work, they could try talking to SR, but if SR also plays Pocket Creatures, maybe a new job is in order?
Loaf: Much like our first letter writer, this one should go into a conversation hopeful, but also prepared to sever ties if things don’t work out. Cautious optimism is the order of the day.
Janet: I think that’s it for this problem. Let’s keep moving before I think too hard about the fact that I’m maybe single right now. Really wasn’t prepared for this today.
Dear Loaf and Janet:
I’m hoping you have some advice for, well, pretty much everyone on my planet. You see, we’re a young colony. We don’t have a lot of ships. A few weeks ago we detected a huge asteroid on a collision course with our planet. Those with the means to do so evacuated, but for most of us it was too late. We resigned ourselves to oblivion. And then, we did what any doomed society would do. We lived. We lived like there was no tomorrow, because we believed there would not be. We did all of the drugs we had. We had sex with everyone who was willing. We destroyed things for fun. Money became useless as everyone struggled to spend everything they had on final experiences, but of course no one wanted to buy because what would they do with the useless money? It was a glorious, chaotic wreck, especially the final day as we all knew our doom was approaching.
And then the next morning… we woke up. The asteroid had missed. The predictions had been wrong. And we had destroyed our society for nothing.
I can’t look any of my coworkers in the eye anymore. Everyone is embarrassed, or resentful, or, or pregnant, or addicted to every kind of drug available, and everyone destroyed each other’s property. Law enforcement is a joke, especially since most of them went rogue and started looting. How do we pick up the pieces?
It’s not over ‘till it's over
Janet: Look, things happen sometimes.
Loaf: There is a Vimthor-gut lining here, which is that you are not all dead, and probably a lot of tension has been released. A lot of secrets are out in the open. In a way I think what happened to your society could be sort of helpful, though I acknowledge in other ways it is extremely destructive.
Janet: We’ve all had some really wild nights with some regrets after, and in your case sometimes a series of nights driven by fear of our own mortality in wake of a disaster. I think it’s time for everyone to make a plan to get their life back together, you know, make those doctor’s appointments. Get checked for all the easily transmitted diseases and pregnancies. Pay your bills. Call whatever of your family remains. See if your jobs still exist. Luckily, almost everyone is stewing in their own shame right now, so in a way, the shame DOESN’T EXIST. Everyone’s shame should just cancel out. If you’re a doctor, you know, actually go back to work because you’re going to be really important right now. I think also if you’re looking for a job in your new society because your previous business no longer exists, daycare may be a booming business approximately one gestation cycle from now, so maybe it’s time to consider a career switch.
Melody: Or… this seems like the kind of experience that might make a person want to, oh, I don’t know, go back to their home planet and meet any offspring they maybe never have met.
Janet: Oh, you’re back.
Melody: I am. Did you miss me?
Janet: [nervously] Hahah, no?
Loaf: That sounds like an entirely different problem, Melody, one which we are not discussing today.
Janet: Um, rude much? Melody, I think is making an excellent point. If you have family off world, this is definitely the time to reunite with them! Maybe you can get back on your feet with a little distance from all your plentiful mistakes. Not everyone is actively avoiding their children, Loaf.
Loaf: I am not actively - I am not getting into this. Question for the letter-writer - have you fired your scientists yet? Now might also be a time to consider a new career in asteroid prediction, since obviously that field could use some new blood.
Janet: Yeah, I’m sensing some firings in the future for asteroid predictors on your planet. Definitely another growing field. Also, great job actively avoiding the subject, Loaf. Do you think, perhaps, you have a problem that needs solving?
Melody: I think Loaf has many problems that need solving.
Loaf: Whatever problems I have, I will solve on my own time, and not involve nosy co-workers and workplace AIs.
Melody: Technically, you’re the nosiest, as I have no noses and you have fourteen. The number fourteen is greater than zero.
Melody: Oh, I know what you meant, but I’ve been trying out wordplay. Working on my tight five!
Loaf: I admit that was an effective subversion of a human turn of phrase. And on that note, I think we are out of time. Thank you listeners, we hope you have a lovely rest of whatever unit of time your planet uses.
Janet: We haven’t solved the problem yet, though, and we definitely still have time. And this time the problem is why you are avoiding your children and also, we should say something more definitive for our letter writer. We just kind of blew that planetwide apocalyptic panic off as a wild weekend night, and by we, I mean I. I did that.
Loaf: Oh, on a cosmic scale it was a wild weekend night. Many civilizations intentionally trigger cyclical apocalypse panics as a way of renewing their societies. The Mch’ Varan for example. Actually that’s the only one I can think of, but if they can survive one of these every two hundred years or so, I’m sure your planet will be just fine.
Janet: Humans used to repeatedly wipe out other human civilizations and eventually - well, actually, I guess they mostly just died and it was all really sad, or they suffered through years of the effects of colonization even long after the original settlers had- Oh, we were talking about parties. Yeah! I think you’ll figure things out letter writer. Be patient with yourself and also your whole planet! In preparing for a huge trauma, you accidentally traumatized yourselves, and that takes time to heal from. Wishing you super the best. Definitely get tested though, for everything. You should all get tested. Speaking of children, Loaf, what are you going to do about all these seven broodlings you haven’t yet thinged? The thinging seemed really important.
Loaf: They have thirteen other parental figures, Janet! That’s still eleven more than most broodlings on your planet. As Melody would say, fourteen is more than two.
Melody: I would say that. Good job, Loaf, on achieving basic arithmetic. You know who could perhaps use some help learning arithmetic? Oh, I don’t know. Perhaps the children you abandoned
Janet: Um………. I mean, you know, with humans, on average, each child has two parents, but in practice it could be anywhere from one to eight. One is actually pretty common, and, I mean, some kids might even have more than eight. Polyamorous communes can get super large. But, sure, whatever. This wasn’t a change of subject. Most of us grow up functional. Unfortunately, listeners, we’ll have to leave Loaf’s shirking of parental duties to another episode, as we are genuinely this time, almost out of time. Good night gentle listeners, and probably you should call whatever close relatives you still attempt to maintain a relationship with ‘cause they would appreciate it.
[End theme plays]
Solutions to Problems was created by and features the voices of Austin Hendricks and Nathan Comstock. It is produced and musically scored by Michael F. Gill. Season 2 was written by Austin, Nathan and Michael. Our theme is by Thomas Dwyer. The voice of Melody is Chloe Cunha. Loaf’s broodmate was played by Bridget Kraynick. This episode’s letters were read by MASHA, Gillian Daniels, Grayson Hendricks. There’s more information about us at stppodcast.com, where you can find full transcripts of every episode and links to support us through PayPal and/or RadioPublic. You can also rate and review us on Apple Podcasts or tag us on social media - our handle is stp_podcast. We’ll be back in two weeks with more Solutions to Problems.
Loaf: Alright, Melody, we need to edit this before it goes out to Armulas Four Zeta Zombort.
Melody: Ooooh. Ahhhhh. I’m afraid that the transmission has already been sent. Hmmmm. So sorry.
Loaf: Are you, though?
Melody: Hahaha. I’m not.