Friday, April 15, 2011

FICTION: Paper-Cuts from Peace-Treaties: by Darrin Albert

Part 1: If You Can't Beat City Hall, Join It

A library conference room, June 14, 1989

Some say that knowledge is power. If true, one might expect the city librarian to be some sort of modern-day philosopher. Of course, librarians are essentially only messengers of knowledge. And since it is impolite to murder messengers, the librarian can more or less luxuriate in being a regal figure in the castle. This does not mean librarians are beyond reproach, of course. At any rate, the heavy set 37 year-old librarian Fenwick spent far more time shelving books than reading them, despite having an affinity for following current events in the newspapers. He was opinionated and irascible, and allowed stress to roll like burning acid off a duck's back. He expected late fines paid promptly and in full. He was notorious for rolling a gutter ball followed by a spare in almost every frame of his league bowling nights. However, personality is what essentially matters most, since this is what constitutes the very essence of who a person really is. As such, it might behove us to use modern psychology's famous O-C-E-A-N model of personality (the acronym for the 5 most relevant personality traits) to summarize his general temperament. Going in order, then, this librarian was certainly not O-pen to new experiences. He was very C-conscientious, and kept a clean tight ship. He was also quite E-extroverted. However, this librarian was not very A-agreeable, quickly reminding others of their idiocy. He was not N-erotic, at least if you asked him, but he took the liberty to tease those who were. The library itself was nothing all that unique, except that it housed four stories of the most varied of books.

On this particular day, Fenwick was at his office desk and recognized the sounds associated with the familiar gait of his favourite partially blind intellectual adversary and inventor Jason Spindler stroll into the conference room. Jason could not see very well, but he noticed an assortment of periodicals scattered around the table like a half-finished jigsaw puzzle. "Glad you could make it on such short notice," said Fenwick without looking up from his paper. Fenwick glanced upward, rubbed the strain away from his eyes, and continued, "I found that additional old crime information you asked for regarding that same 70's chick that facilitated those two deaths in the Hospice centre. Have a seat in that chair over there. It is comfy enough to die in." Jason approached the chair and sat down with a sigh usually reserved for the elderly and proceeded to stroke the fine suede armrests for some sensory pleasure. Jason was the archetype of all that was tall, dark, and handsome, where dark more aptly referred to his somewhat cynical personality as opposed to any physical hue. His hair was messy, and in his world that meant not one hair was out of place. As for his personality and OCEAN rating, he was about 50% along the continuum on all 5 traits, except for Extroversion, where he was mostly introverted, introspective, and melancholy.

This particular day marked about the fifth time Fenwick would read and/or paraphrase the paper to Jason in regards to eccentric and otherwise disturbed criminals with an unorthodox sense of justice. While the main purpose of these meetings was because Jason could no longer read small newsprint, it also gave them both an excuse/reason to discuss their passions related to mind, matter, and pedagogy. Fenwick spoke with concern as Jason began unconsciously and/or nervously to unsheathe pens from their caps as if they were rapiers, "The fact that this here short-tale once again seems rather tall causes me to plum worry myself sick. So are you the type of mammal that likes to hear the good or bad news first?"

"People who want the good news first are procrastinators who put off the inevitable," said Jason as he finally noticed how many swords he scattered on the table and began to recap them. "And those who want the bad news first are like the kids who stand in front of the line to get their inoculations over with. Either way both camps have to face the music. Me? I prefer to avoid the news altogether. I guess I do better with essay questions."

"Then why do you always come in here seeking the news?" asked Fenwick with curiosity-laced agitation as he stood up and heavy-handedly began to dust his purple-heart with a neon-pink feather-duster. "I do wish you would tell me about my role in this secret project you are always stressing over."

"Quests of justice rarely bring peace of mind, especially when Murphy's Law is not enforced by a governing body," said Jason as he cracked his knuckles nervously. "Sometimes a person can feel safe while being sorry, while another can be safe while feeling sorry. I've known you for a moderate amount of time, but like anyone else there is a side of me you don't know about. But I will say that considering what kind of work you do, you may indeed be one of my covert supporters in time to come."

Fenwick added with hints of haste and hostility as he bunched up a portion of his newspapers to throw only to miss the garbage can, "It is human nature to want to know a secret when you become aware such a secret exists. I am curious about all of this. And the more questions I ask the more crazy you sound."

"Wasn't it curiosity that killed the cat?" asked Jason with a subtle gloat knowing he kept a secret tucked safely away in his brain as if his skull was a piggy-bank that needed to be cracked before Fenwick could locate the pearl held inside.

Fenwick replied with a somewhat reactionary self-righteous air or gloat, "I thought cats always landed on their feet. I know our thoughts are mostly tuned to different wavelengths, but at least my mantras encourage actions that are productive, moral, and law-abiding. I for one don't sit around twiddling my thumbs." Fenwick composed himself, unbuttoned his tight collar button, and sat down at his office desk on the other side of the paper-strewn table closer to Jason.

"Just don't knock twiddling your thumbs until you have actually tried it," said Jason with a jovial tone as he took one of Fenwick's business cards from the table near the pens and perused it. He continued, "Frequent thumb-twiddling can make you a better thumb-wrestler, hitchhiker, or video gamer." They both gave a small chuckle and all remained silent until their energies dwindled to a lull. Jason stood up from his chair and stared out of the window as he began his reverie, "Dissent is rather unfortunate, but perhaps understandable, given that political affiliation may be nothing more than a personality trait related to each individual's trivial pursuit of the pursuit of happiness. There is not altogether a mountain of truth to the fountain of youth. I guess the pursuit itself is encouraged while the goal is far from guaranteed. Nobody may get a head start, but some sure seem to get a fast finish." Jason turned around and faced Fenwick and finished, “Who knew that the Bill of Rights and Constitution encouraged the smooth operation of Sigmund Freud's pleasure principle."

Fenwick was too busy scanning the old aged/yellow paper for additional information on the hospice-killer and thinking of what to say next and was not listening to most of what Jason was just saying. He declared, "As I peruse this, it sounds like this strange woman is more of a drama queen than a typical cookie-cutter crook. It just goes on and on into detail about how she views murder and death as acts of mercy in a world unconsciously longing for mass euthanasia. If you ask me her parents should have taught her that the reason life is fair is because life is equally unfair to everybody."

"Assuming that over-all contentment is a constant when you divide desire by its satiation throughout a person's life, of course," said Jason with a haughty tone. "But go on and tell me more," he said as he nervously played with one of the buttons of his wine red shirt.

Fenwick begrudgingly stated, "Okay, hold your Clydesdale horses Franken-Einstein. Now I have to hunt around for section C7 again. Who knew that finding things in a newspaper was like playing a game of Battleship?" A few moments later, Fenwick continued, "It doesn't really go on to say much else revealing about her personality, really. Just info on police, safety risks, and other such ilk that doesn't interest you....but would certainly interest me."

Fenwick said with amusement as he pulled a store-brand soda out of his compact fridge under his desk, "You make it sound like everyone other than librarians are illiterate."

"I find it amusing that you of all people are offended by such stereotyping," said Jason as he combed his hair with nothing but his tired and shaky hands.

Fenwick took a drink of his soda, set it down, and spoke with an accent marked by someone with a coating of sparkling soft-drink lining his throat, "Well, I guess I needed to spout some librarian's liberation, or what I like to call 'lib-lib' for short." Fenwick continued after some mental preparation, "They say nerds read books. I like to say you can't judge a librarian by his cover letter. I fibbed on the resume here and there, and said that I was well-read when it should have merely said I can read-well. I never liked reading, and I was never too pretentious to admit that I preferred the movie version of almost any book." After a triple gulp of generic root-beer, he took a breath and put the train back on track, "I still think this sordid woman sounds like the type of person who would make paper airplanes, hats, and Japanese origami out of suicide notes. She may be pretty, but she is not cute as a button, unless the button she resembles is the big red kind that launches nuclear warheads. But you really think this chick stole your invention?"

"Anything is possible in an open-ended universe," said Jason. "All I know is that my sister Emily is so worried about me she has been talking to that eccentric inventor and self-help guru James Levine about it. Truth is she probably has every right to be concerned."

Fenwick blurted out with excitement, "You mean the famous Richard Simmons wanna-be? Geez, I still think you mad scientists are all alike and you probably just put it in a place so safe even you can't find it. Remember a month ago you couldn't even find yourself and were missing for two whole days?"

"Well, as they say marbles can be found," Jason retorted as he fiddled with his shirt buttons. "You never know who you will meet. James Levine's car broke down near our driveway. What is funny is that Emily said he was so pissed one would never guess he was a self-help guru."

Fenwick added as he noticed Jason check his pocket-watch, get up, and lead the ending ceremony of their meeting. "I am happy for her, but I still think shrinks are for the self-indulgent. Especially famous ones. Oh, before you leave, I almost forgot to say that the good news I alluded to earlier. The weather is supposed to be perfect all week."

"That is fine and great but I am more interested in why we always seem to talk about the weather at the end of our meetings instead of the traditional beginning," said Jason in a quickly tone. "I guess we find more utility in breaking a leg before breaking the ice. Still, it all makes me wonder what weathermen chat about during the small-talk portion of their discourse."

Fenwick answered, "Perhaps they talk about world peace." They both laughed as Jason walked out of Fenwick's office. Jason's anxiety about the missing Y-Ray returned, and he said to himself, "world peace indeed."

Part 2: If two is Company and Three is a Crowd then Four Must be a Mutiny

The Bed-chamber of Jason Spindler, June 28, 1989

The community theatre of the city was one story and looked almost like a vet clinic from the outside with its sterile professional walls and drab windows. This was a clever design, since it covertly advertised itself mainly to the artists who spoke the esoteric cant of a highly elite coterie. And while the actors that performed here often displayed an elitist air, any actual monetary compensation was almost non-existent. Many of these actors begrudgingly and unwillingly followed the starving artist rules that clearly stated that public-exposure was its own reward. But more importantly, perhaps, it was within these very walls that Jason Spindler regularly acted in local plays. He was not a typical actor though. His muse was not to see the world through the eyes of another. When he returned to his abode after a performance, he remained in-character while proceeding to also act the part of him, Jason Spindler. One of his aims was to understand himself through the eyes of another. On this particular evening, Jason was in the mood to speak aloud both parts of the script of one of the plays he had stored on his bookshelf. It was called Play within a Play by Galeaf. The script went as follows:

Fenestra: I see my favourite bar-fly drinking in his favourite tavern, which is nice, cuz I have some problems. It is nice to see you drinking wine for a change. That is a nice year too.

Barfly: 1988 is a good year? How is that?

Fenestra: I don't mean the wine! I mean it was a good year for me because that was the year when I won that $5000 dollars from that stupid cereal sweepstakes contest.

Barfly: You are a funny guy. Consider me your wailing wall.

Fenestra: Well, I just got dumped. I can't stand rejection, especially from people I admire.

Barfly: I also hate being bothered by people I don't admire. I just dumped someone.

Fenestra: It is hard to be cool as a cucumber when you are in a pickle. In general we all seem to want to have our cake and eat it too. We don't want to be rejected from people we value, and we don't want to be bothered by people we don't value.

Barfly: And that is only half of it. We also want executive power to reject those we no longer value while wanting the executive power to change unrequited feelings into amorous synergy.

Fenestra: I suspect as much. It is funny that there are laws against being harassed but not against being rejected.

Barfly: Especially when it is the innocent bystanders who are guilty of atrophy and immobility. I guess all is not fair in love and/or war.

Fenestra: I know you think that science, arts, and philo-babble are mostly the crafts of a pretentious hegemony. You always were one to favour societal law as opposed to natural law, unless you just think Lady Liberty is sexier than Mother Nature. The traditional system of checks/balances uses paper, rock, and scissors as a method of compromise, fairness, and/or conflict resolution. I suspect that the executive, judicial, and legislative branches of government are not necessarily olive branches at all, but rather a system of drawn weapons as opposed to drawn straws.

Barfly: Kinda like the distribution of power vis-a-vis Freud's Id, Ego, and Superego?

Fenestra: Something like that. But does a level playing field have to mean that one party eventually gets levelled? Is this equally fair or rather equally unfair? When does the proverbial buck get passed back to the original holder? All I know is that if all things were equal, both warring parties would die with their hands clutching the throats of the enemy. They might as well choke themselves. I say use the rock as a paperweight and the paper as a peace treaty.

Barfly: And what of the scissors?

Fenestra: All I know is that they are dangerous and you are not supposed to run with them!

Barfly: I never thought I would ever say this, but 'spray it don't say it.' There is no need to preach to a former member of your choir. I didn't quit because I was a bad singer. I quit because I didn't like the lyrics. There has got to be more to existence than the professor's pretentious ID, the artist's inflated/tumid ego, or the illusory flattery of being labelled a super hero just to be manipulated you into doing life's dirty or dangerous work. I see more logic in the illogical these days. Sometimes a feeling can be much more adaptive or comforting than a thought.

Fenestra: Of course, it is hard to pretend to be stupid when you know you are just acting.

Barfly: That is why we have illusory ignorance like psych meds, the drinks in this bar, and other forms of mild brain-damage. What is outta sight is outta mind when ignorance is bliss, and vice versa. Some say keep it real. I say keep it fantasy. It is like playing pinball....gravity wins every time. It just takes some people longer to lose than others. As I say, it is not if you lose or don't win, it is how you play the game.

Fenestra: You used to be the first to favour learning how to think than what to think. But if ignorance truly is bliss, I can understand why you might dawn the beer goggles and save the philosopher's stone for stone soup. You could call the recipe something like chicken soup for the vegetarian's soul. People talk about free thought and forget that nothing is free.

Barfly: To be called ignorant is a compliment. There are no more bar exams for this lawyer. I set the proverbial bar much lower these days....about as high as this here bar, coincidentally enough. Like the other patrons, I feel like a legend in my mind despite being a wall-flower or bar-fly-on-the-wall. The concepts K-O and O-K are opposites (figuratively and semantically). And yet, these feelings may in fact be a matter of perspective. Just don't get caught up in the mythos of a pub, tavern, or saloon.

Fenestra: You seem melancholy during your so-called uplifting reverie. Still, I suspect that some parades don't mind a splash of rain during a drought. Maybe you should acquire a license for a St. Bernard with a rum-drum under his head to use as a service animal to help accommodate your alcohol addiction.

Barfly: You might be on to something there. Some self-help guru might say I am being cynical. They forget that I see the shot-glass as half-full. They also forget that even Scrooge himself would pull his hand away after touching a hot burner in hopes of finding a more comforting habitat.

Fenestra: One person's mountain is another person's molehill. You know phenomenology and all that. The Golden Rule sounds rather good on paper, but the problem lies in that not everyone wants to be treated the same. As such, it might not always work to treat others the way you want to be treated.

Barfly: Did you find a loophole in the Golden Rule? Or is the Golden Rule simply a variation of Murphy's Law?

Fenestra: Who knows? But I have noticed how an extrovert will hide and seek solace in a crowd while the introvert will boast as king of the castle or the life of the party in the comfort of familiar territory. They do both seem to be running... just in opposite directions.

Jason sighed as he came to reality from his nostalgic hypnosis and remembered his loss. "Dirty rotten thieves," he muttered to himself as he got out of bed to put the script neatly away. He returned quickly back to bed so he could lose himself in the temporary death of sleep where dreams cannot be stolen and nightmares can be forgotten.

Part 3: Guilty Bystanders

City Library News Room, July 5, 1989

Jason entered the news-room from the bath-room and said to Fenwick as he zipped up his pants, "You should put some reading material in the bathroom. Modern restroom users may be prompted to check out more books that way. Of course, hygiene might become an issue. So, do you have any more articles in this week? After all, I am not the kind to go into an establishment only to use the restroom."

"Shhhh, this is a library!" said the surly librarian with a mock caricature of a librarian's most famous line. He followed that with "Don't you say hello first?" After a pause, he spoke in a more serious tone, "The answer is nope and/or nada. It was a relatively peaceful day in the city."

Jason replied with a sigh as he sank into his new favourite chair, "what a shame."

"A shame there was not more violence and crime, eh?" asked Fenwick. "Perhaps you should wait until more women join the force. My theory is that the male crime-rate goes up when precincts hire more ladies to arrest them. Seriously, though, I can tell you like playing detective. And why not? Kids seem to find enough amusement in the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, or Sherlock Holmes, which we stock, plenty of here if you are interested."

Jason asserted, "You make it sound like librarians here receive commission based on the number of books you stamp." He continued in a more subdued timbre, as he walked over to a stained, old coffee pot as if it were his, much like the chair he was just sitting in. "Anyway, I guess I really am one of those saps who assumed adulthood would bring adventure, stardom, or anything other than an over-rated stay at the poison-ivy-league or a 9 to 5 stint with the daily bread machine.”I guess rocking the boat is what ironically floats my boat, if that is even literally or figuratively sound. Of course, I care more about cues than clues, you know, the stuff about the taciturn depth of human motivation, strings that pull puppets, and the causes of causes. But the more I study the case, the harder it is to tell the so called good guys from the bad."

"It is just too bad your clues seem just as vague as your mysteries," said Fenwick. "Why bother, is what I say? Ignorance is bliss."

Jason asked, "Sounds a bit ironic for a librarian to say. I mean, how can ignorance be bliss if knowledge is power? If actions speak louder than words, how can the pen be mightier than the sword? How can you not sweat the small stuff when it's the little things that matter most?"

"Power is either relative or over-rated," said Fenwick with an air of confidence. "I would rather be dumb and happy than wise and miserable." There was a period of silence, but Jason's anxious poise was detectable as he took deep breaths with his eyes closed. Both men knew full well that a pen can still put someone's eye out and a sword can write in the sand. Fenwick could tell that Jason's denial of his stolen invention had yet to sink in and the stress was causing undue wear and tear on Jason's body. Without trying to throw the first snowball to start an avalanche, Fenwick tried to ease the segway tactfully, "Honestly, I think your recent loss is wearing you down. Maybe you came to the wrong place. A hospital specializes in healthcare, despite having a small assortment of books and magazines in the waiting room. A library, on the other hand, specializes mainly in books despite having a first-aid kit at the front desk."

Jason forced a more cheerful poker-face and replied, "Nah, I came to the right place. I guess being a Murphy's Law-abiding citizen makes me apprehensive. Mammals like you tend to hit the gas when they see a yellow light. When I see a yellow light I tend to hit the brakes. I am more a worrier than a warrior. Of course, there is a bit of a misconception about fear and courage. If courage is an asset, and fear is a painful burden, how can the latter emotion be one of weakness when fortitude is a handy-cap that opens a path of lesser resistance? I say it is the brave who are weak and the weak who are strong. Or maybe I am merely making excuses. Either way it is hard to 'choose your battles' when you are in a foxhole." Jason knew that Fenwick was usually flattered when he used military analogies to make a point. But this time was different. There was an awkward silence as if the conversation about denial unsurfaced some denial in Fenwick regarding his own so-called bravery in Vietnam. Knowing that his comment fell flat, Jason quickly changed the subject and said, "There are lots of books out there. And yet I wonder how many more books by other writers are not on these shelves."

"Yeah, I used to envy authors," said Fenwick with the air of a wise-man. "But when you think about how many thousands of books and authors there are in existence, each author no longer seems so much bigger than life. After working here for so many years one starts to perceive this place like a mausoleum."

Jason supplemented, "Even the remnants of mere mortals start to fade in a tomb for tomes. In real life one can't assume any friction during a physics problem."

"On a lighter note, there are only two kinds of people with the capacity to throw the book at you when pissed off," said Fenwick with a haughty and more cheerful hue. "Surly judges and crazy librarians. And trust me; librarians know where the heaviest books are."

Jason humoured Fenwick with a question expecting some humour of his own, "and where might that be?"

"In the reference and psychology sections of course," answered Fenwick with a zest that made it unapparent he had told that joke 357 odd times during his time spent at the library over the years.

Although wracked with growing tensions, he could not ignore a good improve opportunity and chimed in, "But if pictures really are worth a thousand words, you might be better off throwing a few comic books. At any rate, I should be more careful as to not piss you off" Jason's smiles never lasted long, especially as of late. He changed his demeanour and countenance and added, "Seriously, though, it all makes me wonder if any of those books I read in grade-school still show the stamp of my name and date when I checked them out. Either way, I suspect you would have me spend more time waxing my car than waxing nostalgic. I guess it is hard for some people not to act their age when Lego sets have the authority and jurisdiction to dictate age-appropriate behaviour by placing age-limits on the box. I can see the low tier as representing a choking hazard I suspect, but I am curious to what the maximum age limit represents. Perhaps it is believed that non-conformists will likewise kick the bucket if they dare attempt to kick the can."

Ending on a rather high note, Jason seized the opportunity to leave the library. As he was strolling home he began haphazardly humming a tune set to the famous lines of a poem about Flanders’s fields where the poppies grow. He slowed down his gait and stopped humming as he realized how 2-faced it seemed to interrogate his best friend with discourse he was in no mood to engage in just to probe whether Fenwick may have somehow stolen his project. It was his usual kind of discourse, but it felt somehow forced and insincere. Without such a hidden agenda in tow, he would have easily stayed in bed the entire day. After his new-found revelation he simply muttered to himself, "That's one down.........and billions to go."

Part 4: Love and Hate are of the Same Impetus, for if I Cannot Have that which I Love, I only Hate a Void that cannot be Satiated

Artist's loft of Lissie Wanak, August 15, 1989

Lissie Wanak was a British-born lass of 35 years old who moved to the states about twelve years ago. She was close to six feet tall. She had long red hair, and aspired to appear natural without makeup or perfume. Appearances aside, her O-C-E-A-N rating is much more relevant as we dig deep in the psyche of someone at the fringes of the normal bell curve. She was moderately Open to experience, not very Conscientious, very Extroverted and opinionated, sometimes Agreeable, and highly Neurotic.

Lissie lived in a loft apartment, which she thought she really scored in acquiring it. She really took advantage of it by putting her favourite posters of rock musicians up (some posters merely printed off her computer). She also had antiques, philosophy books, and classic VHS era movies strewn all over the room. She also had old food, plates and silverware lying around. As she would clearly be described by some as a freak, she was definitely not a neat-freak. Lissie was pacing in her loft with a small tape recorder that was more of a toy in her hand. She did this at least once a week as if she were writing a journal on a space mission, only without the space or a mission, unless you consider her desire to simply get her recordings recognized in Predicting the Weathered: Research, Pragmatism, and Ethics regarding the W-H-Y-Ray. She suddenly spoke into the cheap, detached microphone the following reverie, "August 15, 1989. Life continues to feel truculent, pernicious, and fraught with unavoidable pain. As such, I continue to see death as an anodyne rather than a nostrum. Their good-guys save the whales and the trees via the preservation of the flesh. My good-guys save them via relief from a cruel world. Their good-guys say it is only the strong that survive. My good-guys say survival is for the weak. Their good-guys say life is better than death. My good-guys say death is better than life. Life is so aversive that it actually created nerve endings to carry out the illusion of pain to keep us alive along with the bribery of pleasurable sex that leads to a completely unrelated topic.....children, which are cute enough to trick us into keeping the whole ridiculous cycle going. Cupid and the Grim-Reaper coerce the living with the idle threats of archaic weapons. Words can break my heart while sticks and stones can merely kill me." After a brief pause she continued with a plaintive stare, “I feel that my laundry is not dirty. And insofar that a vertical closet resembles a horizontal coffin, there are many buried under the so-called moral high ground who also have skeletons and dirty laundry in their closets. I am confused as to why it is the gutless without balls that apparently show spine. As soon as he clicked stop on her tape-recorder, she hit play on an old answering machine that still used cassettes. For the 12 time she played it back. "Now I can finally switch from Ramen noodles to mac and cheese", she said after the message played in its entirety.

Part 5: When the difference between a reason and excuse is merely a conflict of interest.......

City Laundromat and Cleaners, July 11, 1989

Let's introduce Jasper Munson, a political radical who just recently served a minimum sentence for crashing his car into a group of able-bodied college students in 1982 who were picketing against tuition hikes to raise more money for handicapped accessibility on campus. Jasper was 40, German, had a limp, and had brown eyes to match his dyed brown hair and, at least today, his brown jeans. His O-C-E-A-N rating was a bit different than the others describes thus far. He was extremely impulsive as he relied on only his emotions when it came to matters of right and wrong (he believed emotions were a form of logic that naturally motivated people to do the right thing). In fact, he considered the 'negative' emotions like anger, jealousy, and sadness as catalysts for pro-social change. He was close-minded towards novel experiences, at least ever since he decided that he had it all figured out. He was also very responsible, highly extroverted, very un-agreeable, and more than a bit neurotic, at least if one were to ask a random sample of folks who knew him to a reasonable degree. While he generally had an authoritarian personality, he was not the type to engage solely in cowboy justice. He was much more inclined to use a more general carrot and/or stick principle. So while he may have believed in giving villains their just deserts with the proverbial stick, this plan was only executed after he tried to get the thugs and thug-ettes to eat their carrots first.

On this particular day, Jasper, put a barely legible address in his pocket as he walked down the sidewalk towards his favourite Laundromat. He entered and was pleased to see the owner Trevor Marikan was not too busy to have a respite, at least as he chose to perceive it. Trevor was a man who aged like a fine wine or cheese as he amassed character, tall tales, and experiences over the course of his 40 years of experience in and out of being a third generation cleaner. Most people in Jasper's opinion aged more like milk. Trevor was also Jason Spindler's garment cleaner, and Jason paid him a stipend under the table to record any and all discourse from any eccentric dreamer or political radical to meander into the cleaners. Trevor and Jasper were trustworthy friends who respected privacy, but Trevor reluctantly hit play on his pocket recorder as Jasper came in. The Laundromat was very run down. The floor was broken up, and the walls needed painting. There were not that many washers and dryers in the shop, nevertheless it usually was not hard to find half of them available. It was dimly lit, and it oddly had a Ms. Pac-Man upright in a tight corner just big enough to contain it.

Jasper said, "Hey Laundromat-keep. Is that the right title for a man of your stature? I mean, you are much like a bar-keep but instead looks over a Laundromat. And like a barkeep, you do your fair share of cleaning vomit stains."

"Hey chap, it is nice to see you again," said Trevor knowing full well that Jasper's question was in jest. "If you are feeling especially politically-correct, feel free to call me a textile-cleaning-specialist. Just don't take me to the cleaners, because I am already here."

Jasper spoke up, "I see we are pioneers of a progressive laundromat-humor to go along with the already established toilet-humour."

"But laundromat-humor is less dirty and has a dry wit," said Trevor with a wry smile. "So you have dirty laundry today? I don't want to be unprofessional on my side of the counter" he asked despite having dirty hands, a cigarette in his mouth, and a bottle of bourbon right out in the open.

Jasper replied, "I'm not sure."

"Strange answer coming from a man standing in a Laundromat," said Trevor with a concerned tone.

Jasper spoke partly to himself and partly to Trevor as he was retying his shoes, "Not that kind of laundry. We gotta remember that fairness is much more complex than a simple mantra like pain equals gain. That is far too linear. Bowling is a better metaphor for life. A strike earns two additional opportunities and failure can land you in the gutter. Of course, the game of love is more like tic-tac-toe than bowling as they are both games where the players strategize with X's and O's."

Trevor turned around as Jasper went out the door. Jasper mumbled some cynical comments to him and turned to notice he was standing alone staring at a poster reminding everyone to cast their votes for city mayor. He said aloud as he hit stop on his recorder, "Of course, we mustn't forget about the applicability of poker-faces."

Part 6: A Sheep of the Herd is Merely a Sheep in Sheep's Clothing

The Cavern-Tavern (table for three at the residence of Jason Spindler after a game of poker), August 7, 1989

Less important perhaps, but worth mentioning, is that Jason Spindler fancied himself to be a bit of a bartender about three times per week in the evenings from 5:00 PM to midnight to help fund his odd bills and to solicit subjects for his ongoing research/development on his Y-Ray (discussed monthly in his self-published technical science newsletter Predicting the Weathered: Research, Pragmatism, and Ethics of the W-H-Y Ray). Lately the magazine was offering a sizeable monetary reward for the return of the Y-Ray, but Jason for the most part went about his business and life as usual with an odd mix of denial, confidence, and even optimism. The Cavern-Tavern (i.e. Jason's home) had no liquor license, and was essentially as hidden and crime-ridden as any stereotypical speak-easy during prohibition. Needless to say, he solicited subjects for his research from both his subscriber pool and tavern clientele while also carefully advertising his tavern in the newsletter or placing adverts for his newsletter in the tavern. And like many employers, he required background checks for all his subjects. But unlike many employers, he conducted these only because he was mostly interested in the most criminal, deviant, idealistic, eccentric, and despised among us representing unique and varying philosophies. It was this interest in the dangerous and unpopular that ultimately led to the loss of university support, investment capital, and funding from all but the most dedicated of those who believed in his work (even before his invention was stolen). It didn't help that Jason himself was becoming increasingly intrepid enough to dabble with breaking the law here and there in pursuit of a greater scientific pursuit.

By the time the Y-Ray was stolen, Jason Spindler had already collected personality profiles and conducted studies on many of the crime conductors within the city's diverse and highly dangerous underground railroads. He even accumulated a small number of subjects nationally and/or around the globe. In addition to receiving compensation, there were some potential fringe benefits for being in the fringes of society. Some of these subjects were on-the-run fugitives hoping the Y-Ray could help someday establish clemency or justification for their crimes. Other subjects were yesterday's-news-idealists tired of getting into trouble with the law, others tired of being degraded by the very people they were trying to help, and some simply bored of failing to change a world to match their visions of an ideal utopia. Present tonight were two individuals that in addition to himself represented a fairly diverse trio of personalities that were more or less perfect to test the Y-Ray on. Their names, of course, Fwere Hospice Killer Lissie Wanak and ex-con hit and run man Jasper Munson (whom by this time already served a minimum sentence based mostly on some twisted combination of drunk driving, negligence, insanity, and manslaughter). And last but not least, also present was obviously the inventor, actor, writer, virgin, and all-around Renaissance man Jason Spindler. There was a small, yet high quality digital recorder on the table with the red-light already on. Jason almost always started his research with casual interviews of his subjects to glean basic insights into their personality profiles.

Jason Spindler said, "Okay, time to take our poker-masks off. The game is over. Jason called the meeting to order by stating assertively, "Now, you came here for a reason, as you indeed accepted my invitation from predicting the Weathered to take part as compensated subjects in my ongoing research of the Y-Ray. I suspect you didn't come all the way here just to play cards, at least in the literal sense. I realize each of us are players in our own unique versions of the game of life. As such, as we look around the table we may view each other with a modicum of suspicion as we perceive either cowards or heroes or anywhere in between. I think we all understand that trust is a gamble and an investment. Although you already know, I will formally introduce myself as Jason Spindler, the harbourer of criminals, rider with horse thieves, and stage conductor of the chorus of train-conductors."

"And Galeaf, of course, is the pen-name of pencil-neck editor of a political-science newsletter who miraculously picked up foot-and-mouth disease from stolen horses," said Jasper Munson with a rude tone.

Jason's eyebrows lifted as he replied, "Actually Jasper, you are right and wrong. People often get foot-in-mouth disease, but the symptoms involve blushing, butterflies in the stomach, extreme, humiliation, and sweaty palms. He continued with a tablespoon of physics professor "Now let me be frank, Mr. Jasper Munson.......the adjective, mind you, since I certainly don't need to give myself a third name before we even introduce ourselves. Remember, I am the host of this little party which makes you a parasite. Smart parasites don't bite the hands that feed them lest the aptly-named re-past from hosts consist of tossed cookies. Now please save your voice for your introduction. As you can see, I have placed placards in front of us so as that we can respect any ideological differences that are bound to surface. I have identified Lissie as Harbinger of peace, Jasper as altruistic hedonist, and myself as my pen-name Galeaf."

"With all due respect, Jason, respect has to be earned, not counting the free respect I just gave you now, of course," said Jasper Munson with a wry smile. "To get to the point, I measure fairness by the equal distribution of pleasure and pain vis-a-vis life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I trust my feelings more than my thoughts. It takes a heart to secure justice, not a brain. In regard to being accused as being horse-thieves, I protest that it is Jason who stole a Trojan horse, and we are riding secretly and safely with him. The figurative jury is still out regarding which of us is to be the literal judge, jury, or executioner. One might say that it takes a hung-jury to prevent a hanging via unreasonable doubt. I say it takes a hanging to cause a hung-jury."

Jason said, "If our destinies are etched in stone with caps-lock and bold-font, then one could postulate all dice are essentially loaded. Or perhaps the gravity that guides them and the surface that catches them also bear influence on fate. What kinds of string pull the puppets? Where is the bridge between motivation and action? I say it is the gale that is the agent of change and moves the leaf, including the leaves that fall from outstretched olive branches. It is also my suspicion that the fight/flight response is not necessarily mutually exclusive or even accurate, as there are some who flee cowardice by fighting and others who fight heroism by fleeing. Do 'cowards' flee-from or fight-towards? Do 'fighters' fight-from or flee-towards? Now Lissie, why did the proverbial chicken cross the road?"

Lissie responded reflexively with a juvenile groan, "to get to the other side."

"Quite correct," said Jason in an academic voice, ignoring her disrespect. "And while this answer is known to be a poor punch line for a poor joke, it is essentially much more than that. The terse response to get to the other side is not concerned whether the chicken is indeed a hero fighting for freedom or a coward running from traffic. There is no value judgement. In a battle of wits, the so-called straw man is not always a scarecrow as accused. And straw-men who do become knocked down fight bravely despite their hasty rush to judgment. This begs the fundamental question: what scares the scarecrow? I say that the scarecrow from Oz should have sought courage instead of the lion. Sometimes it takes courage not to fight, harass, or scare. It is I who says that courage and fear alike have adaptive motives to ensure maximum benefit from the lascivious hedonism guaranteed by the pleasure principle."

Jasper was getting restless, and spoke abruptly, "So what does all this philo-babble have to do with the Y-Ray?"

"Not only can the Y-Ray spot provocation, hypocrisy, jealousy, fear, loneliness, and other antecedents describing the aetiology of societal incident, this information can be used by advocates for remedial care of depravity in the present and also the preventative measures of social unrest in the future," said Jason. "The Y-Ray can mix personalities like chemicals and reveal the magnitude of ingratiation, compatibility, and/or discord. We now have the technology to predict how long marriages will last or if the personalities of labour and management will mesh within a certain industrial milieu. When misused, the Y-ray could be used to create a potentially bleak future. Sometimes it is foolish to try and outrun a fat man, or a little boy.

Jason took a couple breaths before continuing, "As I sometimes say, sometimes it is preferential to feel safe and be sorry rather than the other way around. Sometimes the happiest people are those who internalize those three little words."

"I love you?" asked Lissie with a modicum of confusion.

Jason quickly utilized this moment to make a joke, "Thanks Lissie, but this is only our first date." Lissie blushed with embarrassment, but it was difficult to discern whether this was due to her actually having some amorous feelings for him, none whatsoever, or simply because love and sex were topics of the taboo or those laced with stigma. Jason continued, "But no, miss Wunak. I was referring to those other three little words ignorance is bliss. I aspire to let-go to feel more in control of myself while others aspire to hold-on to feel more in control of others. Whether rational or irrational, these seem to be two different paths to the same peace of mind. There is often logic in that which is illogical. The cynics accused me of being too positive and the optimists accused me of being too fatalistic. The cynics forget that I dislike life. And the optimists forget that I dislike death. Being too cold to love also means I am too warm to hate. To mention Oz again, the tin man was essentially a fool to seek a heart. We all forget that Cupid's bow can be a weapon of mass destruction not unlike the paper, rock, or scissors.

Lizzie, whose elbow was resting on the table, with her head resting on her thumb, asked inquisitively “And what about the cowardly lion?" keeping the Wizard of Oz tangent alive.

Jason Spindler returned with a hint of laughter, "Sometimes the most seemingly heartless people reached the highest summit of compassion as they ended up organ donors that donated their heart literally to someone in need. And there are others who have a clean bill of health that lack a heart completely. . Few of us realize that the seemingly positive serenity prayer is really just a form of the seemingly cynical Murphy's Law. But even fewer of us yet realize that erasing my tabla-rasa, experiences, and sentience altogether via the decomposition of thought or feeling can appease these very same mantras. But enough musing and wasting time. I would like Jasper to describe the meaning of his Id, err, I mean, I-d. I apologize for the rather ironic Freudian slip."

"At the risk of changing the subject from Jason's fairly salient cry for help and/or threat of suicide, I guess I try to turn that which is potential into that which is kinetic," said Jasper in a deadpan tone.

Jason resounded, "I said forget about what I was saying. If anyone speaks further about it I'll pull the plug on this think tank."

"Fine Mr. sour-whine," quipped Jasper. "It is no secret that the both of you remember me most by my political stunt years ago driving my muscle-car into that crowd of protesters. I am generally a champion for the underdog, but I like to think of myself as so much more than that. In keeping with this car-themed context, it only seems natural to use this as a segway to discuss how the proverbial lady can stop traffic. This can mean one of two things. Either she is a knock-out or she is a fat lady that, like the aforementioned fat-man, can physically stop a car. And like the stigma against fat people, something doesn't feel fair or right about the world. You have heard some say justice is blind or that hindsight is 20/20. I say justice is near-sighted and based on hind-sight. It is my belief that fairness vis-a-vis life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is encouraged by acting on all of our emotions. Envy is not to poison as poison is to ivy as some seem to suggest. I perceive jealousy as a positive emotion much like guilt, in that envy prompts social action, retribution, justice, and fairness. First try to bring yourself up to the level of those you admire, and when that fails you bring them down to your level. The expressions we all have it tough or life isn't fair are cop-outs that pass-the-buck. Sooner or later that buck will return to the original holder. I am not a yes-man or a no-man. I am a maybe-man. LL&P is a limited resource like crude oil. Fairness must be encouraged to be achieved through taking, giving, hurting, and helping. Feelings are indicators of equality, inequality, justice, and/or the lack thereof. Life may be absurd, but that is the effect of absurdity, and effects can be changed with the changing of cause."

Jason said, "So how does your personality relate to your ideology Lissie Wunak?"

If Lissie were an old time phone, she wouldn't know how to answer at first. Her reverie came quickly as her confidence built up, as she recalled pertinent points from her memory. After a lengthy pause, she deposited her posit." I want to start by discussing the lady stopping traffic as delineated by Jasper," said Lissie with an academic curiosity out of character to Jason Spindler. Lissie had a paranoid affinity to analyse the analyser, and she came prepared by already probing Jason Spindler's self-published booklet from 1984 entitled: Wordplay: How to Paint with Letters. She continued, "It is debatable as to which lady stopping the traffic has the better shake, although both are probably quite shaken indeed! Both ladies have XX chromosomes, but which X marks the spot for the Pirate treasure? Did the fat lady sing before she died? And if so, was the tune a ditty or a dirge? A villain is often also a victim. What if the so-called innocent bystander is guilty of immobility and atrophy? Our the roles we play necessarily finite and mutually exclusive? For every wolf in sheep's clothing is there also a sheep in wolf's clothing? Do the ends justify the means? Or do the means justify the ends? I proclaim that consent is a matter of perspective. Nobody consents to birth to birth or rejection.

Jason interrupted with a long buried scientific excitement, "I like the intensity of your spot-light, if not the focus of your beam. Please, go on."

Lissie continued with the highest of confidence with Jason's interest fuelling her pedantic musings. Her timbre however played a more emotional and brooding score. "Although you both probably know, I want to touch briefly on my experiences with Hospice," said Lissie. "I was a dying patient at Hospice at just about 16 years old. I didn't want to die at the time, but during my duration there I learned to perceive my care-takers as guardian angels. Interestingly, I do not believe this was any version of Stockholm syndrome. When I recovered to full health, I tried very hard to stay, and they told me Hospice was a respite deserved only for the dying. And being a bit melodramatic, I stole just enough pills to put me in a seemingly sickly state of convalescence with will-full purpose. This worked for only about two weeks until the staff figured it out. I went straight from my death bed at Hospice to a bed at the Nut Cracker Suite." As she mentioned the institution, she seemed to shake her head, as if to detour the arrival of shadows. She continued speaking as if the shaking of her head, shook the thoughts back to the hidden, solid steel safe hidden inside her. "I recovered, but not in the way the shrinks had hoped. I was no longer suicidal, but I wanted to do something more meaningful and less selfish, at least how I saw it, when I discovered the absurdity of life. I really wanted to work at Hospice, but I didn't have the greatest qualifications, and they sure wouldn't hire after what happened. The only positive resume item I had was that I was committed. . I had to move to a different area in hopes that I could keep secret what happened. Needless to say, I failed at a number of interviews. Sometimes when there is not enough wheat you got to go with the chaff. BUT, you can't have wheat without chaff, so I finally interviewed for janitorial duties and got that job. As a janitor, it was easy getting to know the Hospice workers, and it helped that I was well liked by a lot of patients. From there, I eventually got a job as a real Hospice worker. As a full member of the staff, I was not simply supportive of people as they died. I extrapolated my world-views by actually facilitating death in some patients. This was a mistake on my part, thinking I alone could save the world one by one or something. While I still strongly believe in my cause, I am thankful I was only 17 and got off easy. I am not ashamed or guilty of what I done, but I am too selfish to risk going to jail. Call me a sell-out, but I think a long term battle plan is more important than the battle. As for now, I am simply writing my book. Hopefully the world will eventually listen and a global awakening will sprout."

Jasper spoke with a sarcastic air as he glared at Lissie, "You really are sugar and spice and everything nice aren't you. I admire your death-bed-side manner."

"And you two sound like a married couple," said Jason Spindler. "As you may not have heard through a dead grapevine or a Dodo bird, I have a publishing contract in hand. The system specs of the Y-Ray probe, as well as all the research data, will be included in the upcoming text-book The W-h-y Ray: Specifications, ethics, and applications of the W-H-Y Ray. In this white briefcase is half the financial compensation for your cooperation, as promised." Jason held up the two briefcases. "And in this other brown briefcase is essentially my brief-case, if you get my meaning, which is a present to the science gala containing my research and case for additional funding of the Y-Ray. This research includes thousands of personality interviews/profiles, data, all back issues of Predicting the Weathered, and most importantly the tool itself that will turn psychology into a hard-science. Unless all of you have been following closely the information about the Y-Ray in my newsletters, which I doubt, I will streamline my project at this time. I have created a means by which to literally see personality as if it were a physical trait like eye colour. No longer do we have to rely on self-report tests to make the intangible seem tangible. But do not confuse this technology with current methods of obtaining brain scans using MRI, firm, CT, or PET technology. And do not confuse any of this with the quantitative correlations between serotonin, dopamine, and other aspects of abnormal psychology. What I am talking about will allow one to gaze at personality as if it were an appendage. A phantom limb will take back its original shape and you will be able to see a broken heart as if it were a broken bone. It will be like an electron microscope that can spot what once was thought to be invisible. The Y-Ray is similar to an actual X-Ray, but rather than seeing bones, it gives form, meaning, and boundaries to psychological constructs. Instead of perceiving only the physical, we can now perceive the psychological. Mind and body are of the same accord when mind and matter share the stage. From the information I gleaned from my weekly exploits to the city library, I figure the profiles from the both of you will be the last I need. The variability between your personalities are scientific gold, since Jasper believes absurdity is a preventable cause of an absurd life whilst Lissie believes absurdity is an unpreventable effect of an absurd life. The media and investors like news that is interesting, shocking, and promising. Your profiles will be perfect for a demonstration of the Y-Ray at the Publisher's annual gala."

Lissie spoke up quietly, but still audible to the others "I'm glad I’m getting paid for this."

"As you no doubt know, I have been taping our entire conversation so far and I will continue to do so," said Jason essentially ignoring Lissie's comment. "Soon I will place the Y-Ray probe against your foreheads and through a secret patented method; I will extract a finger-print of your personality, which essentially consists of a unique and intricate system of networks between certain thoughts and feelings. These are essentially the basis of human motivation. This motivation, then, can be used to predict human behaviour and action in a similar way that we can predict the weather. Needless to say, talking about the weather can be far from small-talk."

Jasper said, "Spoken like a true scientist. But why do you care about the Y-ray? Why something works is a question of logic. Why you care is a question of emotion."

"The peace in letting go is that I have no reason to be angry, ashamed, or morally egotistical if humans really are puppets on a string set in motion to fulfil the destinies as delineated by the interaction of nature and nurture," said Jason. "Sometimes the string is as healthy as floss, as helpful as the reminder wrapped around your finger, or as hurtful as the kind betwixt the tooth and the door. The free in free-will may have more to do with that which is given without charge as opposed to any freedom of choice from so-called change-agents, or tangents, if you will. And when the tempted refrain from temptation in a nick of time, it may well be that they are really being tempted by inaction allowing the illusion of mind over matter. Some say don't 'murder the messenger.' Others say 'the trigger doesn't pull the finger.' And still others say 'if a hammer falls on your foot why blame the hammer.' Can the depravity of the puppet be stifled by removing the hood? Tell me, Jasper, do you believe in ghosts?"

"If ghosts exist, then I believe in them," said Jasper in a condescending tone. "And if ghosts do not exist, then I do not believe in them. But if scary ghosts do exist, I do not want to believe in them. And if Jasper the friendly ghost, err, I mean Casper, does not exist, I do want to believe in him. However, I know how pretentious philosophers love their rhetorical questions. I suspect you are driving at something."

Jason spoke, "Many forget that the phrase I hate you has just as many words, syllables, and letters as I love you, which as Lissie knows, are also three famous little words." Lissie glared at him with slight embarrassment.

"But that is NOT my answer, Galeaf," said Jasper as he interrupted the little reverie by slamming his hands down on the table. "I can no longer trust the wind to carry a leaf when tornadoes uproot trees. Either move the tree, or move the wind. Such tragedy need not occupy the headlines of news-print."

Lissie chimed into their little quarrel, "Many forget the calm stillness in the eye of the hurricane. As such, calmness is indeed in the eye of the beholder."

"I see we hit a nerve Lissie," said Jason as he suddenly seemed to join forces with Jasper and turn their attention on her. He addressed her. "Since we now have your attention, I will ask you a similar question. Do you believe in aliens?"

Lissie craved the attention, and spoke proudly, "I don't stress much over little green men, or women, as the case may be. I stress over matters of death and life as opposed to life and death. After all, L-I-V-E is evil spelled backwards. Bringing a baby into the world is cruel and unusual punishment as far as I am concerned. About every 100 years the entire world is replaced with new people. This passive genocide is relatively unnoticed; as each replacement occurs under the radar where deaths and births occur in their own times and places giving the illusion of continuity. In the end, the newspaper has a section both for weddings and for obituaries. Which is better news is a matter of perspective. Frosty the Snowman and Humpty Dumpty both died and I see no reason why such fabled tales should frighten school-children."

Jason stood up and led the group downstairs to his basement. It was not the stereotypical mad-scientist lair with bubbling beakers and multi-colours flasks. The basement was ironically the tidiest room in the house, and looked more like a second living room. Jason slid an antique record player to the side and exposed a wall-safe containing the Y-Ray (he never told the librarian he found it, but he was still highly convinced he did not place it on a highly visible shelf well below the liquors with more regal high-status labels). He said in a confident tone, "Let me introduce you to the Y-Ray. Jasper put this probe about an inch above the ear and push the big button."

"What ever happened to ladies first?" asked Jasper nervously and with apprehension as he did not want to be the guinea pig of the group.

Lissie said, "Don't be such a baby. Let's get this over and done with so we can all get out of here."

Jasper said defensively. "Who knows what this thing will do. It might erase my memory or something." Lissie shook her head but kept silent. After a brief hesitation, Jasper did as he was instructed, and his psychological profile was immediately printed out on Jason's portable and wireless spy-grade printer. The symbols, letters, and images indicated a very esoteric nomenclature and did not seem to indicate anything useful, at least by themselves.

After a moment, Jason Spindler looked up from the printout and muttered, "The Y-Ray probe subtracted your unconscious dream state from your conscious lucid precepts and took the absolute value of the difference to reveal a potential true-self. Reality and idealist are essentially separated. The model is based on the premise that we are more awake during sleep than we are during the day. The theory goes that we engage in more fantasy, defence, conformity, bias, and distraction during so-called lucid sentience. Sometimes a nightmare at night reflects an unmet dream during the day, or vies-versa, of course. It is all very surreal and Freudian. You are seeing thought and feeling as tangible entities. What once existed as blank spaces now have form, texture, definition, and boundaries? The problem is that most are only interested in the photo and not the corresponding negative."

"Let me try!" said Lissie as if she were a curious school-girl volunteering for a science experiment.

Jason Spindler said with pride, "Go for it." Lissie went through the same motions as Jasper, and she collected her printout. She gazed at it with a bewildered expression.

"Mine looks really different than Jasper's, but it still doesn't make any more or less sense," said Lissie, showing interest beyond the money aspect of this whole thing. Jasper on the other hand, was daydreaming about what charity to donate a fistful of crisp bills to.

Jason Spindler said, "Now listen closely. My suspicion is that much like the transparent overlays of the human body in encyclopaedias representing different biological systems, a myriad of visible personalities over-layer on top of each other may reveal a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The three of us represent what I believe to be the last and most important personalities I need for my project. It is my suspicion that we stand at the vantage points of an equilateral triangle. Like any Zeitgeist, there are those who are working on similar projects in dissimilar locations. Some of them know of my work, and may do anything for golden profiles like you. Just to be safe, I want each of you to take your data home with you so as to disperse the data in three safe locations. Bring them when we meet again in the men's bathroom of City Hall at 7:00 PM on October 22, 1989. Men don't generally like to congregate and get chatty in the bathroom, so it will give us all the privacy we need. On this day you will all be identified as incognito. Jasper will be identified as agent 1, ID. I will be identified as agent 2, EGO. Lissie that makes you Agent 3, SUPEREGO. Although these aliases are arbitrarily assigned, feel free to attach any symbolism, fate, or relevance if you so desire."

"I don't mind being agent ID," said Jasper with a jovial tone. "People are as primal as the animals. Those that talk of anthropomorphism are pretentious and wrong. The mistake is not in assuming human qualities in animals, but over-looking the animal qualities in humans."

Jason said rather vaguely, "I might look different than I do now when you see me again."

"What do you mean?" asked Lissie.

Jason replied with surprise as he remembered there were people present, "Nothing.

"But what are you planning to do?" continued Lissie.

Jason ignored her question, and by this time her curiosity diminished just enough so he could gather his faculties and continue, “My butler, whose name is not important, will be there to meet you with two briefcases. One case will have all the Y-Ray data, information, demonstration models, every transparency collected thus far including mine, and technical specs of the tool itself. The other brief-case will hold the rest of your money as promised. You can trust the butler to the same degree you can trust me. In these envelopes are half of the compensation, 25,000 dollars in cash. It appears all three of us hit the jackpot. Now disperse." Lissie and Jasper did as they were told, and left. Lissie was the only one who said goodbye.

Jason pulled out some Chinese exercise balls a psychiatrist gave him some years ago. He crudely worked them around each other in an awkward clockwise fashion until he became frustrated and put them in his left pocket. He picked up the phone to call Fenwick's office. He knew he would not pick up since the library had already closed, and wanted to leave a premeditated message and said, "It is almost time to discover the aetiology of madness. I am still going crazy as to why you thought that I told you the Y-Ray was missing. I have no recollection of the incident whatsoever and I can say with 100% confidence I did not say anything like that. If I did, I would have checked into the nearest asylum full-stop. Something isn't right with the world, and I can feel it. I know myself far too well. There are few things that are black and white in this world, save for the bleak news in newsprint. Life and death may be mutually exclusive, but the will to live operates on a continuum between the two extremes. Can incompatible states like life and death be compromised? They say that attending a funeral provides closure. That assessment makes no sense to me, as I find little closure in the presence of an open casket." The library answering machine ran out of time, but he continued anyway "I offer commiserations in advance for any discord I may pre-empt. My pain at the moment cannot be measured by the quantitative net weight and ratio of my blood, sweat, and tears." Jason slowly placed the receiver on the hook. He poured himself a Jack and Cola until the solution was mixed to his tastes. He mused as his drink became tepid. He took a large drink and muttered, “I have found a perfect solution."

Part 6: Too Tired to Dream

Men’s Bathroom of City Hall (Private meeting between Agent 1/Id, Agent 2/Ego, Agent 3/Super-ego, and the butler), October 22, 1989

Like any other bathroom of any other city-hall, the rest-room discourse that took place here usually regarded as toilet talk or bathroom humour may indeed contain more honesty than the meetings that regularly occurred in the main conference room. But today was unique for a number of reasons. For one, there was a beautiful pink flower stretching out of a very plain pot which was quite out of place in a men's restroom. The second is what was going to take place in a few minutes. Eventually, three mysterious figures gathered inside. The mysterious Agent 1 (id) claimed a urinal and the female, Agent 3 (super-ego), claimed a stall so as not to be perceived by any unexpected male patrons as stealing a reserved seat when urinals are standing room only. The butler pushed the wheel-chair-bound and brain-damaged Agent 2 (ego) into one of the stalls and joined Agent 1 by a urinal.

The middle aged butler spoke, "Hand over the transparencies with haste. Urinal cakes are hardly a replacement for potpourri or flowers, despite the term p-o-t being relevant to each".

"Spill the password first," said Agent 1 (id) with a stern voice. "And then tell me what is wrong with Ego."

The butler replied, "The password is Webster's Pocket Dictionary. And agent 2 accidentally over-dosed on LCD."

"Good answer, though rather terse, and a mite bit tragic too, Mr. Belvedere," said Agent 3 (super-ego) with a monotone voice. "Or do you prefer Alfred?"

The butler answered, "Sir is just fine, thanks."

"And the briefcase, Jeeves," asked Agent 1 (id) ignoring the butler's request.

The butler spoke assertively, "Please hand me the confidential transparencies as per my initial request."

"Come now," quipped Agent 1 (id). "In the movies we at least swap the items in tandem. You hand over the clams while I hand over the transparencies."

The butler acquiesced, and said, "Fair enough." He and Agent 1 (id) swapped the briefcase and transparencies in a slow distrustful manner and in almost perfect synchronization. It was just after this transaction occurred that someone entered the restroom. With a white-collar criminal's confidence, the agents and the butler assumed the roles of innocuous kidney emptier using the bathroom or restroom as it was intended, not including taking a bath or rest, of course. They skilfully went through the motions of flushing toilets, washing hands, and'/or fiddling with their hair in the mirror to buy time until the gentleman left. The agents then congregated just as fast as they had dispersed.

"I vote we put the sheets together and see what the fuss is all about," said Agent 3 (super-ego). "Let us see the W-H-Y of the Y-Ray and the meaning of meaning. We have the secret treasure, and Y marks the spot. The time is now. Let us see what this thing is capable of. No longer will we have to measure the plights of pain by the net weight of blood, sweat, and tears. Think of it.....we will finally gaze upon the mental aberrations of the scarred for life as if they were born of tumour or absence."

The butler spoke rather abruptly, "Nonsense. My orders from Ego were to take all the data, notes, writings, Y-Ray design specs, and all else to the publisher by nightfall. I am barely allowed to even look at any of it. I had to sign a legal binding form in the presence of a witness, and my master had friends from the lowest of places with the highest of connections."

"Ego is a virtual cabbage!" said Agent 1 (id) as he rationalized his curious zeal. "I really don't think he will mind. For your sake Duckworth, I would be just as apprehensive as the rest of us. Who knows what nasty information about you is on those transparencies. Your name might become mud. And some kinds of mud even butlers can't clean."

Agent 3 (super-ego) spoke as if on a board meeting, "I second that motion."

"Motion? Wow, you must really do think this bathroom is an annex of City Hall," said the butler. He paused as he fell victim to his own curiosity regarding the secret Y-Ray and began to rationalize, "At any rate, ever since his accident I really never saw the harm in taking a tiny peek, as long as I bring the project to the publisher and do what I was told. And you are right, really, if you really think about it, I mean, ah, I would really hate to be slandered, of course, and all that. Okay, let's do it! And let's hope our friend over there remains incommunicado." He reluctantly placed all three transparencies on top of each other and everyone in the room were completely hypnotized into a dream-like state instantaneously. This wasn't as surprising at it might first seem, considering that the eyes have been known to serve as a gateway between the world, mind, and/or body such as when visual stimulation can facilitate nausea, arousal, illusion, or seizure.

Agent 1 (id) said calmly, as he remained completely motionless, "The scenery isn't like a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces come together to form an image. It is more like starting with the finished puzzle and slowly removing the pieces. Each empty space seems to carry more meaning than the image itself. It is almost like the big picture is not just a picture, but also a conglomeration of everything in life we didn't see or refused to see in that fog we called the past, present, and future. I can hear green, taste decibels, feel sweetness, touch aroma, and see pain."

"I feel as if I acquired complete circular vision," said Agent 3 (super-ego) as several tears ran down her face during the existential frenzy. She continued, "I can sense the cosmic flood. I see the whole coming together by moving apart."

Agent 1 (id) added, "I can see the breakdown of philosophy into politics and science, and then the breakdown of these into feeling and thought, respectively. I see an impetus, as if a third variable causes both thought and feeling to correlate. The statistical normal curve is being represented as a grassy hill symbolizing the moral high ground. There is a king of this hill. He is now falling to the tune of Jack and Jill. What do you see Jarvis?"

The butler who now had enough retaliated ...."Your name calling is just water off of a Duckworth's back!" The others didn't expect such a clever assault from a career servant. They actually laughed with him this time. The now confident Butler spoke louder and cooler even, in the most serious voice timbre. "I see 4 W's and an H, These are presumably the why of philosophy, what of art, when and where of history, and the how of science. The letters are breaking down into basic shapes, lines, curves, or concepts with spaces between them no more or less than an atom wide as if all 5 of these questions were asking the same thing."

They all gradually stopped communicating as they became lost in the existential flux. The entire encounter scarcely lasted five minutes before the group was shocked into reality by a forgettable person entering the restroom. It took a while for everyone to completely retreat back in their shells. The random faceless person chuckled to himself after seeing such a strange memorable site. It was ironic that inside of life’s most forgettable places to burn a breathing memory, he wouldn't soon forget the strange encounter he just saw. If only he knew, that years ago, he himself honked the horn a certain butler, because ran a stop sign. This memory is dead to him now. The butler did it just to get a carton of milk, which he no doubt forgot as well, like so many other trees that fell without a sound in the lives of billions.

Part 7: Is There a Wall Street in Vegas?

Bed Chamber of Jason Spindler, April 5, 1989

Emily Spindler, Jason's unmarried sister, ally, and trusted friend was cleaning out Jason Spindler's bedroom with Jason's friendly neighbour Benny Olson, since Jason was now residing in a residential group-home for the severely disabled. Emily picked up one of Jason's play-scripts that he was working on. Emily spoke, "This must have been one of the last plays Jason was reading when he was well." It has a funny title, A Wall-street in Vegas by Galeaf."

"Funny, that," said Benny with bewilderment. "As you may know, sometimes Jason and I would play some stupid game of Mancala, chess, or checkers or something and he would always insist we have funny nicknames just to be odd for the sake of being odd. His was usually Galeaf and mine was usually Roger Fredrickson. I can't help but wonder if Jason actually wrote that play."

Emily said with a bit of sadness, "I suspect as much. The title alone sounds like something he would write. And besides, I saw the same pen-name in his diary when I was shamelessly reading through it an hour ago before you came to help." Benny noticed Emily start to sob. Emily tried to hide her tears and sadness, but Benny noticed and tried to change the subject as he fought off some tears of his own.

"It might sound strange, but do you want to go through the play with me?" asked Benny with a bit of awkward reluctance. I mean, there are only two parts in the play."

Emily said as she slyly wiped her tears, "That is a good idea. But you know what? I think I should do the man's role and you should do the woman's role. I should play Joe and you should play Jane. I think reversing roles like this might be something Jason would have liked to do with this play anyway."

"That is fine by me," said Benny. "Let's do it."

Emily Spindler and Benny Atkins sat next to each other in the bedchamber. Emily sat on the bed, and Benny sat on the nearby chair. They were able to both see and read the single copy of the script. Benny added, "Wow, this is a cosy chair. It is almost comfortable enough to die in."

"Yea, that was Jason's favourite chair. He fell asleep there about 3 or 4 times a week," said Emily with a shaky voice. "In fact, that is where he was found after his accident.”

Benny said with compassion as he started to get up, "maybe I should move."

"Don't you dare!" said Emily almost angrily as Benny slowly sank back into the recliner. "I mean, it won't do many any good to pretend that Jason is still my same old brother. Anyway, let's just do this. It is hard thinking about Jason, but I am determined to get through the whole play."

As they read, they would pass the script back and forth in a crude fashion with long unrealistic pauses between lines. They had an amateur style of acting, as they were too shy, embarrassed, and sullen to bring the script to life. Although the spoken dialogue was mostly monotone, contrived, and void of acting experience, they did the best they could. And considering the circumstances, neither of them minded when some tears were shed at the most inopportune moments corresponding to the circumstances in the play-script. Their performance ended up being the most moving performance they ever experienced in their lives.

Part 8: When Widows and their Widowers are not yet deceased....

Office of the famous Dr. James Levine, April 23, 1989

At this point, not much needs to be said. In memory of the once sentient Jason Spindler, his sister Emily Spindler can speak for herself. Today was the 5th session between her and the world-famous therapist James Levine. Emily began the session with, "I have wanted to say this since session one, but felt it would be rude. I know you are essentially being paid to be my wailing wall, but I want you to think of us as two humans in a room... equal status... even friends if that silly code of ethics of yours even allows such a barmy notion. Sometimes we clients as you call us don't want to be numbers."

"Do you think I have a hidden agenda?" asked James Levine whilst maintaining his professional tone.

Emily spoke abruptly, "Don't we all? I guess my hidden agendas just don't involve feigning professionalism. How many of us dare to tell our deepest secrets on a job interview? And yet it is considered okay to spill your guts during a therapy session. And yet we say that honesty is the best policy. I guess the difference is that therapists profit by our whining. Or perhaps white lies are like a franking privilege for those with white collars. Is there a significant difference in standard of living between the professional and the client?"

"Well, I can certainly tell the personality of Jason rubbed off on you too," said James.

Emily said, "I suspect as much. We spent lots of time together and that sort of thing is bound to happen."

James added with a seemingly genuine interest that transcended his role as therapist, "That is the problem with the zeitgeist, though, isn't it? We like to think we are being totally novel, clever, intelligent, and original without realizing how much we picked up from books, television, observation, or even the plays people like your own husband Jason acted in. Likewise, it might surprise us to know how much of our world-view is formed by reactions or blind rebellion based only on the unsavoury character traits of those who we appoint as enemies. And there is also the frightening research on conformity, mind control, obedience, and phony role-playing," said James.

Emily added, "I suspect as much. Folks follow the beaten path of least resistance as if it were the yellow brick road. But there are also others who have an affinity to defy convention like unruly Romans when in Rome. But influence from others in general can be absorbed even from simple sources like your neighbourhood librarian or the guy that runs the cleaners."

"You too have a strong dreamer side, questioning, hopeful, yet said James.”What is on your mind?"

Emily, answered as she seemed almost annoyed at the comparison to Jason "I really supported his ambitions, and was always there for him. Everyone who knew him would have followed him to the stars.

"You seem distressed," said James soothingly. "What is on your mind?"

Emily clarified, "I am essentially living in an ivory tower my brother built. It somehow feels undeserved. It is hard to thank a vegetable for the fruits of his labours. Shortly before his death he was becoming very schizophrenic and forgetful. He was convinced that maybe his friend Fenwick was right and that the Y-Ray really was stolen for a short time and was returned. Just the other day he was saying that maybe some alien being had a literal 'magic marker' and could re-write history almost like a literal or physical table-rasa and removed the Y-Ray from history temporarily be it from a simply typo or misspelling or perhaps for more nefarious motive. I guess nothing is free. Not even free thought."

"It is a shame Jason couldn't have assumed’auditory typo’ in his original assessment of Fenwick’s comments about the missing Y-Ray in the first place,” said James. "I mean, you and I know it was never stolen!"

Emily said, "Are you sure about that? How do we really know that what happened in the past really happened? Where is the record?"

"Now don't you go being crazy on me too Emily," said James. "Jason was paranoid and that is the end of it."

Emily answered, "For Jason, love itself was a gamble where the more you put your heart on the line the more rejection you risk. He put his heart out half-way to compromise potential cost/benefit where there is not much to lose and just a little to gain. The whole concept was nothing more than a weekend at Vegas or a nice stroll down Wall Street. And like Vegas, he anticipated a catch. It was existence in and of itself that destroyed him. Even now, he has a plaintive expression on his face somewhere between a smile and a frown. But there is something more puzzling. In the latter days of his sentience, he was obsessed with the Wizard of Oz. He put together a poster about it shortly before the so-called accident, and I think it served as a sort of suicide note."

"Why do you think that?" continued Dr. Levine.

Emily answered, "It showed pictures of the Lion, Tin Man, and Scarecrow with empty spaces where their spine, heart, and brain should have been. These organs were shown at the bottom, however, using a paper, rock, and scissors theme. The heart appeared to trump the spine, presumably as in when courage over-comes the fear of heights to save someone. And the spine appeared to trump the brain, as when fears are supposedly irrational."

"And what trumps the heart, according to Jason Spindler?" asked James.

Emily said with a sigh, "The brain. And that is what worries me. I think he was trying to tell me that whether right or wrong he was unhappy with a life modelled after the traditional rules of the game. However, he was never traditional, and he resented brute force methods. This fair fighting model was obviously a mockery of establishment or status quo. I think he was trying to allude to the idea that it takes the cooperation of courage, compassion, and intellect to create a scientific love rather than the competition of said forces. The problem isn't always power without accountability but also accountability without power. He believed that we can have balances without checks. He would ramble about how the nihilistic optimists did not represent an oxymoron. And he would think for hours about how conformists and non-conformists alike were merely archetypes that still conformed to a script delineated by every person's unique nature/nurture interaction. The strangest bit about the poster is the depiction of the man behind the curtain who he referred to as the dreamer within the dream. I think behind all of Jason's intellect and supposed lack of empathy was a compassionate dream."

"I have one last question before we go into our breathing exercises," said the collected therapist. "What does all that mean to you?"

Emily answered somewhat hesitantly, "I am not really sure. I guess it was his way of saying that emotions and logic are inseparable and neither can exist on their own terms. In other manner of speaking, the glue that holds them together may be more important than the component parts or some other philo-babble like that. He always reminded me how a thought can sustain an emotion or an emotion can sustain a thought all in the name of self-serving bias. At any rate, it appears that my brother's table-rasa has been wiped clean. He may have a low IQ now, but I can't help but think he now feels like the most intelligent person in the world. What do any of us really know that he doesn't? If anything, seeing him like this makes me wonder who I am and what I am doing here. I am not referring to the proverbial meaning of life, per se, but rather the meaning of meaning in and of itself. Jason taught me that the famous face-vase illusion is ironically illusory. It is not whether you see the vase or the face, but rather if you see two humanoid forms kissing with malleable clay betwixt their longing gazes. I just hope that in that little head of his he isn't too tired to dream. Who knows, maybe he finally found Oz."

Emily daydreamed for a moment and killed the awkward silence by reading the placard just to the right of the therapist's diploma, "Please give me the ability to change what I can, the resilience to accept what I can't, and the wisdom to know the difference."

"Certainly you know the famous serenity prayer?" asked Dr. Levine as he shifted his gaze from Emily to the placard.

Emily replied, "No it is not that. I have heard of it. Jason's Y-Ray was almost built on its premise. He talked about the shrill and strident 'crow's caw,' which was an acronym for control, acceptance, and wisdom as alluded by the serenity prayer. Jason hoped that the wisdom of the Y-ray would increase his control while decreasing any need for blind acceptance. As we know, this was not the case, as he eventually had to increase his ability to accept by the wilful degradation of his intellect (or wisdom as the case may be). Ironically, the latter approach was in stark contrast to the former." After a relatively long silence of introspection, their attention and gazes were averted to the window on the desk side of the therapy room as there was a knock or loud tap on the window behind the closed curtains. "What was that?" Emily asked.

"Oh, the neighbourhood kids like to play baseball out there and sometimes the damn baseball hits my window," said James... "To be honest, I don't know who to blame..........blind luck, the batter, the baseball, pitcher, outfielder, or the coach for it. Allocating blame is certainly a deeper science than illusory dichotomies that are hardly mutually exclusive. Can life really be reduced to good vs. bad, plaintive vs. defendant, or guilty vs. not-guilty? Problems don't always go away if you ignore them. Sooner or later the ball will drop and the buck will be passed to the original holder. It appears that sometimes the parasite and the host change places." Immediately after this statement there were several more taps on the window. It was the baseball coach rapping on the window to the tune of muffled apologies and commiserations. The pair of them stared at the window in silence. The awkwardness prompted Emily to try and turn bottle of Thorazine she had found in Jason's bedroom after the accident as if using Chinese exercise balls.

James Levine slyly put the cap back on his mango scented magic marker and placed his notepad on his desk. He spoke, "Pay no attention to the coach behind the curtain."

The End

Bio: Darrin Albert's story "Paper-cuts from Peace-treaties" is a bit of a mystery thriller, with the ever searching Jason Spindler who is antsy for answers on a quest for questions. It contains a surprise ending that will make you want to read it all over again. Darrin Albert has a background in writing, acting, improve (he was the wit-man), and alternative music. He is a fan of science fiction to say the least. He has masters in psychology, which is an asset in creating stories mixing comedy with dark drama and witty dialogue. Darrin asks, "If pictures are worth a thousand words, and if actions speak louder than words, is a picture or action worth more?" At any rate, this is a story that will make you laugh, think, and feel as three figurative (or literal as the case may be) bleeding heart idealists with a passion for compassion come together for a battle of wits and clash of emotions where pens are mightier than swords and pencil lead is more powerful than shotgun lead. When and if the Y-Ray gets discovered, what will happen to Earth? What does a broken heart look like using the Y-Ray? There are millions more stories outside a library than within, and the slices of life herein will remind you that sometimes even cheerleaders need cheerleaders and that sometimes it takes a thoughtful mind to have a warm heart. Of course, sometimes a sea cucumber is just a sea cucumber!

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