Rejection, Rejection, Rejection

by Ryan Cassidy, Chief Technician TrinkeTron Project at Unicorp Industries

The last time a working TrikeTron appeared in public was at the Honest Ed’s closing party, “An Honest Farewell” back in February 2017 in Toronto. It was both the most profitable, and highest-profile of all appearances for a TrinkeTron unit, and its successes ultimately convinced Unicorp’s R&D review board of the project’s viability.

Clockwise from top left: Honest Ed’s StoreFront, TrinkeTron 6750 with Chief Technician Cassidy and Jen the Intern, Stills from TrinkeTron’s facial recognition sensor, a view from above of the crowd gathered for trinkets.

Up until that event, the TrinkeTron project was simply an endeavour to establish  ‘proof-of-concept’. A few days after handing over the the thick, coffee-stained duotang containing my final report, I was notified that the higher-ups had been persuaded to allow me to keep my dingy sub-basement laboratory peopled with a cadre of oddly dedicated interns and a barely functional coffee machine. Unicorp would not however, be providing any further funding. This meant I had to get creative. Where to get funding? My first thought was “Rich People!”, because they hoard all the wealth like dragons. My second thought was “Government Grants” because that just seemed more reasonable, and I am a scientist after all.

Now, I naively understood Government grants to be a traditionally viable source of financial sustenance for Scientists, Artists, Entrepreneurs and various other socially-minded individuals and organizations in pursuit of a Greater Good, but after weeks of email-typing, voicemail-leaving, questionnaire-enduring, and hours wasted waiting for replies, I learned that  the assorted bureaucrats of assorted provincial and federal funding bodies would only relish insinuating repeatedly that the TrinkeTron was not likely Science, Art, Business, or any bastard combination of the three. They only seemed to enjoy suggesting that perhaps some other program in some other department of some other branch would likely approve my application, yet no such accommodating program, department, or branch could ever be found. Over the telephone, they all sounded like subtle variations of the same person, and each would end their email missives with the most unsettling of closing remarks, offering their warmest regards. I gave up in frustration, understanding that even if such a grant existed and I should have the outrageous fortune of being awarded it, the payout-to-time-spent ratio would be most unfavourable; my time would have been better spent working for minimum wage in a cafe.

I therefore returned to my original premise; to politely ask rich people for some of their money.

Here be Dragons.

Coincidentally, I had seen a well-targeted advertisement for Dragon’s Den auditions occurring nearby, and immediately decided to act. By bribing an intern with a free breakfast at Chez Cora’s, the 6750 unit was transported to the Delta Hotel’s conference centre strapped to the roof of a van. We had a lovely meal including perhaps a bit too much sliced melon and pale strawberry before joining the desperate ranks of dreamers, lunatics, and would-be entrepreneurs gathered there to audition. Each hopeful applicant was assigned a numbered tag, and throughout the day could be seen nervously pacing about the hotel lobby, talking to themselves, practicing pitches, uttering self-motivating mantras, or invoking whatever deities oversaw this particular area of their destiny. It was a weird scene, one which extended into the late afternoon until eventually, having sufficiently thinned out a lobby’s worth of applicants, the Trinketron’s number called by a production associate from the show. It would be in fact, the last audition of the day.

To get to the Dragon’s Den, you must first pass through the Delta Hotel’s Conference Room

Spoiler Alert: nobody was impressed by the machine at all. I’m not sure if they didn’t understand the concept, or the scientific jargon-laden pitch was too complicated, or they simply wanted to go home after spending the day interviewing so many idiots with terrible ideas, but I left the room feeling dispirited and headed straight toward the hotel’s lounge bar. After a half-dozen scotches and a dozen smooth jazzy songs featuring what could only be the tiniest of saxophones, I felt sufficiently re-spirited and wanted to get back to the lab. Fortunately I was able convince the restaurant’s vegetable supply man to transport myself and the 6750 unit in exchange for eight free trinkets, which he would dispense to his many children out of obligation to some unpronounceable cultural celebration I was previously unfamiliar with. I had failed again, but also perhaps I had succeeded in a smaller, and more meaningful way, by at least providing some children with amusing trinkets

Funding Pitch or Stand Up Comedy Routine?

The next opportunity to fail at receiving funding was met after auditioning for The Awesome Foundation, a group of philanthropically-minded business-types who meet monthly with a actual bag of money to give to a cause they determine to be “Awesome”.  As it turns out, the TrinkeTron was perceived as significantly less awesome than access to food and shelter for people from marginalized urban communities, a cause presented by one of the eleven other, more charitably-oriented competitors. This rejection didn’t hurt so much, for I was able to take some refuge knowing I could better access this food and shelter should I fail the TrinkeTron project utterly, finding myself unemployed and sufficiently marginalized. Still, months had passed since I embarked on my quest for funding. The seasons had changed from winter, to spring, to summer. A full beard had crept across and taken root upon my ever-aging and weary visage, and all the while my laboratory sat eerily quiet in idleness. Only one intern now remained, loyal Ronaldo, occupying himself with god-knows-what while I fruitlessly pursued funding opportunities day and night, like a hungry lone wolf, alone in the wilderness, all by himself, without any money.

No bag of money for you.

Having eventually exhausted all reasonable options, I ultimately decided to finance it myself by taking on a job in a local cafe. Forget asking for money, I would simply go out and earn it. Now, this all had to be done clandestinely, and I contracted my last remaining intern, loyal Ronaldo, to impersonate me in the laboratory while I worked night shifts at the cafe. Although me and Ronaldo look nothing alike, I needed at least one good intern to remain engaged with the project, and UniCorp’s inquiries into my affairs were fairly vague and infrequent regardless, so neither party seemed terribly put out by the charade. So long as someone in a lab coat could be seen at the computer on the surveillance footage, they remained unbothered.

Loyal Ronaldo’s dedication to the project is inspiring.

And so here we are: During the days I test algorithms, acquire and assemble components, run and re-run routines, and at night I desperately clamour for tips from the mob of patronizing patrons patronizing my employer’s cafe. Ronaldo just plays chess and looks at human skulls on the computer, performing for the camera quietly recording from the opposite corner of the lab. I regularly drink enough coffee to palpitate a rhinoceros heart in order to sustain these insanely long workdays, but at least this way, the path forward is clear. I’ve since come to believe quite strongly that making small incremental advances towards your goal is better than repeatedly failing to move forward at all, and therefore the moral of this little parable is as follows:

Don’t ask people for money because they never want to give it to you.

Proceed to the next Progress Report “The Drawing Board”