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Robo-Invasion!

SOS from 17A

Conversation between Robby the Robot, the courtly and groundbreakingly human automaton from the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet, and Robot B-9, the barrel-chested mechanical Man Friday with the clear-plastic noggin from the 1960s television series Lost in Space, overheard by Tailpipe last week in Boca Raton:

B-9: Warning! Warning! Starboard functionator is 11 seconds from melt-down. O-rings on the teppezoid are failing. Unless replaced immediately, the ship goes into deep-space signoff.

Robby: Say what?

B-9: Warning! Klingon death ship — approaching fast in the eastern vector.

Robby: Wake up, ballbearing brain.

B-9: Code Orange? Death ship is now at oh-247 and accelerating.

Robby: Wrong show. This isn't even TV Land, bubbletop. You're in some guy's garage. In Boca.

B-9: This does not compute. This does not compute.

Robby: Exactamundo. Our days as kitschy television technology icons are over, B-9. People don't want to see robots with blinking flashlight bulbs and tank-tread pedal extremities talking like mechanical zombies. The movies are much too sophisticated for the likes of us. The studios now have something called CGI. Computer-generated imagery. They can swoop into a scene out of the sky like a speeding bullet. You know. The bullet's-eye view. They can turn a rural landscape into earthquake-racked rubble in five seconds, morph a skyscraper into a parakeet, make a human being fly like an albatross.

B-9: Morph? What's this morph?

Robby: It'll take too long to explain. You don't have enough 21st-century smarts, big guy.

B-9: I... I am a general utility nontheorizing environmental robot.

Robby: Look, your movie days are over, B, unless they start making campy spoofs of early television shows. We're not even the originals of our characters. We're clones. The originals — or what's left of them — are in the hands of private memorabilia collectors. This guy Rick Newman bought us for $50,000 from Fred Barton, who built us from the ground up using original blueprints from Lost in Space and Forbidden Planet. Newman is a Boca Raton technophile who collects space souvenirs. I guess that includes you and me, though the closest I ever got to space was the vast empty distance between your ears.

B-9: I am here to serve humanity.

Robby: Well, thank the galactic force for that. Newman wants to use us to encourage kids to study science. In December, he's sending us to the South Florida Science Museum in West Palm Beach for an exhibit of robotics. We're going to give the kids some face time. Tell 'em to study their science and eat their spinach. (Well, hold the spinach for now.) For the moment, we're just about giving dull old Boca a little glitter. We're a couple of ex-TV stars in a town whose only celebrities are Marilyn Manson and Andy Roddick.

B-9: This does not compute. I am —

Robby: Stuff it, B. They could assign you to a SWAT team, you know. Make you the hostage-sit crew's first robot through the door. You ever take a bullet? Or maybe you want to be put back into mothballs.

B-9: Dubba-dubba splurg.

SOS from 17A

Weird things keep happening to Tailpipe on airplanes. The other day, this corroded car part was on Spirit Airlines flight 779 from New York to Fort Lauderdale when he spotted a group of attendants congregated for a troubled little powwow.

Apparently, passenger 17A was getting a little, uh, bonkers midflight. The gentleman in question had already attracted attention when he boarded the flight, announcing to no one in particular that he was on the plane, so it was free to take off.

About an hour into the flight, the passenger — who subsequently identified himself to the 'Pipe as Gary Levine, CEO of Atlantis Memorial Reef, which creates artificial reefs that serve as burial grounds for cremated remains — headed to the back of the cabin in serious need of the toilet. He found it occupied.

"Someone was in that bathroom, and I had to go," he later explained to police. "I'm a decent guy, and I did the best I could do."

The best he could do was to step into the airplane galley and relieve himself into a plastic drinking cup.

Otherwise, he would have pissed himself, he claimed.

"I had two choices, and I only had two," Levine said. "I did the best that I could do as a gentleman, which I am." Besides, it was just a small amount — "to relieve the pressure," he said. Then Levine hung around holding the cup until the pokey occupant vacated the airplane's only bathroom. He dumped the urine in the commode, trashed the cup, and headed back to his seat. It would have been the perfect crime if it weren't for a watchful passenger in seat 22C (who declined to give his name).

Though 22C was engrossed in reading Aminatta Forna's Ancestor Stones, he had noticed Levine pacing back and forth in obvious agitation. Then, the pacing stopped. 22C looked up from the collection of African women's tales only to glimpse Levine crouched in the corner of the galley, his member in full view.

"I was disgusted," 22C said. "I figured he must have had a problem controlling it."

Unaware he was spied, Levine returned to his seat as 22C alerted the crew. One flight attendant with wispy blond bangs, who believed there to be piss on the floor, was particularly disturbed. She did a walk-by and found Levine — a dark-haired man clad in a shiny silver button down and a thick gold chain — with his eyes shut.

"Sir, I understand that you urinated in the galley," she said, according to Levine, who took notes on the scolding. "I'm telling you not to ever do that again."

Other passengers overheard this, and Levine was, of course, embarrassed.

When the flight landed, Levine approached three BSO officers and told them his version — that he did his best as a gentleman — and presented a $49 bar tab from La Guardia as evidence. Then he complained about the flight attendant.

"To lean over two passengers and do that to me — that was wrong," he said. "Am I right or am I right?"

The BSO officers, who also declined to give their names, didn't think Levine was right. "That's extreme," one said. "Let's call it what it is. It's a lack of discretion on his part."

No punishments resulted, though, and another officer called the situation a "nonincident."

Levine doesn't see it that way. "There is a very strong possibility I will litigate this airline," he told the Spirit Airlines supervisor before heading to baggage claim.

The 'Pipe went to the nearest bar and started working on a $49 tab of his own.

Leg Breakers Inc.

Hey, all you wheeler-dealer grifters out there. Here's a cute new way to make money.

Last January, Guy Christopher, a Hollywood subcontractor, was trying to get a general contractor to pay him for some cement jobs he had done. Coincidentally, he got a phone call from somebody at Foster, Jones & Mason, who said his firm could help him collect what he was owed. No charge. Christopher told the guy to send some information to his office and he'd look it over. On January 24, Customer Service Representative Joey Barrett faxed him a letter thanking him for placing his confidence in Foster, Jones & Mason and asked him to "SIGN & RETURN" an agreement to hire the firm.

Christopher was skeptical and never responded.

Still, that same day, the firm got in touch with the contractor, Coastal Contracting & Development Inc., and settled Christopher's claims for 15 percent of what he was owed. Coastal wrote a check for $1,500 to both Cougar Construction and Foster, Jones & Mason. Bank of America cashed the check, according to a copy of the bank statement and the check that Coastal later provided to Christopher.

Christopher says he never endorsed the check. And he's never seen a dime of that money.

The day after the check was issued, Lee Foster of Foster, Jones & Mason filed documents with the Broward County Clerk of Court releasing Cougar's liens against Coastal.

Christopher (whose wife works for Miami New Times) is, of course, eye-poppingly angry. It's not just about being hustled by a fly-by-night collection agency — the phones at Foster, Jones & Mason have since been disconnected and their Sunrise office vacated — but also because, he says, he can't seem to get the attention of law enforcement agencies. Too small potatoes maybe. The Florida Bar Association's unlicensed-practice-of-law division looked into the bogus firm in July but couldn't find any of the Foster, Jones & Mason principals.

The Sunrise cops finally got back to Tailpipe last Thursday to say, hey, they are looking into Christopher's complaint. Lt. Robert Voss told the 'Pipe a detective from the economic crimes unit is investigating Foster, Jones & Mason for possible criminal activities in multiple jurisdictions. There have been other complaints, it seems. The detective had been on vacation but returned last week.

Meanwhile, Christopher thinks the boys from Foster, Jones & Mason have reopened under another name.

Tailpipe wonders how this can be happening in a tough law enforcement state like Florida.

— As told to Edmund Newton


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