Sometimes I feel like an observer, watching Organza from behind a one-way mirror like in the police shows, especially when she gets excited. She does that a lot, reveling in the sensation of being righteous and virtuous. Her dark-green eyes light up with thousands of volts of electricity. Her pixie face, topped by short brown locks, transforms into a vengeful Greek heroine, and her normally soft voice metamorphoses into Pythia’s, pronouncing the decision of the gods. That’s why I love her. When we’re alone, Organza is my gentle and supportive companion but, whenever a topic of interest comes up, I step back and let the high priestess of Apollo take center stage. It works most of the time because people are overwhelmed by her wit, sincerity, uncanny memory, and attention to detail. Instead of dedicating her intense intellect to something mundane like politics or sociology, my consort has chosen to influence people rather than tell them what to do—unless they’re in the room with her. Organza writes an influential social blog, followed by the leaders of industry and government. Academia tries to ignore her from their ivory tower, but the self-proclaimed intellectuals of America acknowledge her perspicacity now and then.
But there’s something about Organza that I hadn’t seen until I observed her having a conversation with her best friend during happy hour. It was a Wednesday afternoon. I was watching from the other side of the one-way mirror. And apparently, I wasn’t alone.
Organza spotted Danielle Grant as soon as she entered the quiet, neighborhood bar where we were meeting for drinks and dinner. Her eyes lit up but she didn’t become Pythia, not right away. A hand flew up, waving animatedly to get the attention of a woman who didn’t look like a pixie or a Greek goddess. Danielle was…maybe the girl next door. Long, wavy, dark-blonde hair and bangs framed a friendly face with puffy cheeks centered on a full nose and wide, smiling mouth. She wasn’t beautiful. Or hot. But something about her confident demeanor—neither arrogant nor egotistical—got my attention.
“Oh my god, Organza!” Danielle began, anticipation crinkling her cherubic cheeks.
Organza interjected with just as much excitement. “I can’t believe you haven’t met Craig. He’s been my boyfriend for a while, but you work so much we never get to just…casually get together!”
I had the impression that Danielle wasn’t excited about meeting me. She hadn’t even noticed me yet. At Organza’s introduction, her brown eyes focused on me, full lips smiling, the excitement gone from her face. “Oh…hello, Craig, I’m so glad to finally meet you. Organza has told me so much about you…”
She was lying and we both knew it. Interesting.
Organza didn’t correct Danielle’s false statement but instead elaborated the fiction. “Craig’s been dying to meet you and…here we are…finally getting together.”
Danielle’s expression quickly changed from disbelief to acceptance as she shook my hand, her eyes saying that she was accustomed to the smooth blending or reality and fiction from Organza. But those dark orbs weren’t judging me or Organza, simply accepting the reality of…what couldn’t be changed. We shook hands and Organza signaled a server, a young man who instantly responded to her request. Danielle and I completed our obligatory introductions accompanied by meaningless pleasantries, with Organza looking on approvingly.
The formalities out of the way, I asked, “So, Danielle, what were you going to tell us?”
She’d had time to think about her announcement. Would she maintain the fantasy of being excited to meet me? I was pleased with her decision.
Danielle smiled sheepishly and said, “I am glad to finally meet you, Craig, but I have to admit that I wasn’t thinking about that when I arrived. I was excited about something that happened on the subway…”
Rather than inquire about her experience, I raised my eyebrows in Organza’s direction, waiting for her response. I was only an observer, the cop behind the one-way mirror.
Organza’s eyes shot open. “Did you get fired?!”
She wasn’t listening. Organza wasn’t a very good listener because she was always planning a response, which didn’t always fit the conversation. It didn’t matter most of the time because all her friends, including me and apparently Danielle, were accustomed to her inattention to details.
“On the subway? Of course not. I had an unsolicited and frightening—at least at first—encounter with several guys on the way over her. I’m used to having guys hit on me but this was different.”
I wasn’t sure which implication would elicit an immediate response from Organza. Her idea of sexual harassment was any guy talking to her before she addressed them. That’s how we met, in a corner bar during happy hour, when she interrupted my conversation with some guys from work to introduce herself.
I’m neither a movie star nor a body builder, so I figured that if a girl as hot as her wanted to meet me I would play along. Maybe I’d get lucky for once. My friends understood when I dumped them for Organza. I fell in love with her that night, having dinner and some drinks, listening to her talk about herself, explaining why she had picked me up, giving me intimate looks into her psyche. She was unpretentious, a rare personality trait in a woman as attractive as her. She didn’t like people who are so physically appealing that they take it for granted, like the guys who hit on her all the time, men who thought they were god’s gift to women. When I had a chance to speak at length, I asked her why she’d wanted to meet me, quoting sociological research proving that people were attracted to others with similar overall physical attributes. She’d scoffed and repudiated those Darwinian studies as nonsense reflecting the biases of the researchers. I was totally in love with her by the time she finished her tirade with a concise summary of my behavior, which she’d been watching for weeks at my favorite happy hour bar, and her analysis of my personality, a perfect match to her idea of a romantic partner. I was speechless. Romantic partner? She discussed her own physical flaws and my strengths on the way back to her apartment, much nicer than mine and in a better part of the city. I’d spent the night and moved in within a week. That had been more than a year earlier.
I was awakened from my reflections when Organza grasped my hand suddenly, giving me a quick, doubtful glance, before saying, “Did you call the police? That’s the first thing I would have done if accosted in the subway by a group of men.”
Danielle shook her head emphatically. “Of course not, Organza, they didn’t threaten me—”
Organza’s countenance told me that she was frustrated with such a naïve attitude. “Sexual predators don’t reveal their intent in public. They stalk their victims and strike at a vulnerable moment. Haven’t you been listening to me? Did you at least get a photo of them? For a future police investigation, after you’ve been…” Her eyes opened wide, revealing the frightened girl who’d been sexually abused by her father, a frightening memory she’d shared our first night together as she’d pressed against me in the dark, shivering.
I thought that Danielle should finish her story before calling the police. “What was different about it—your encounter on the subway?” I asked nonchalantly.
Danielle’s full lips curved upward in a playful smile as she pulled a small can from her bag. “I didn’t need to use the pepper spray you insisted I get, Organza.” She waved it around, causing me to chuckle and Organza to cringe, before continuing, “Instead I got the phone number of their ring leader…”
I laughed out loud, causing Organza to throw me a disapproving frown before she retorted, “You actually spoke to them?! I can’t believe you encouraged a bunch of sexual predators like that, Danielle! Have you lost your mind?”
Her grip on my hand had tightened, revealing the flow of painful memories she’d tried to forget, afraid that her best friend would suffer a similar fate. I squeezed her hand hard enough to get her attention before interjecting, “Let’s hear about this so-called ring leader of the gang that threatened Danielle before we call the FBI, okay?”
I knew that Organza trusted me when she loosened her grip and replied, “Sure, but it always starts with an innocent request…”
I kissed her quivering lips to reassure her, surprised to sense a weakness I’d never seen before. The defenseless young girl confronted by a terrifying situation had been awakened when someone she cared about was possibly facing an ordeal as terrifying as she had survived.
Danielle put the small spray can away and said, “Are you ready to hear about my experience—maybe it was an adventure?”
I waited for Organza to nod weakly before I said, “The floor is yours,” knowing there would be frequent interruptions.
“I got on at Lexington. The train was full so I stood near the door, ignoring the other riders. But then a guy got up and offered his seat to me, commenting that I looked tired, which I wasn’t but I guess he was hitting on me, so I thanked him and took the seat next to an older woman who was reading a magazine, but then he said that he’d seen me on the subway before so maybe I was commuting like him, so I pointed to his hip-hop gangster clothes and asked if he was in the music industry—”
Organza interjected, “I can’t believe you spoke to him so personally, what’s wrong with you? Now he’ll stalk you because of your ill-considered words…what were you thinking?”
Danielle scoffed and continued, “He showed me his business card. His name is Chima Taggert and, according to his business card, he runs a hip hop apparel business called Get it right.”
While Organza searched the internet to verify Danielle’s statement, I asked, “What about the other guys you mentioned?”
“They work for Chima. They’re all friends from high school but he’s the entrepreneur. They share an unfinished loft as living space, but he runs the business from downtown because he wants a really cool address to promote sales, and he doesn’t want to mix business and pleasure…”
Danielle’s animated expression reminded me of myself when I’d met Organza. She was overwhelmed that a successful entrepreneur had been publicly stalking her and wanted to meet her.
Her internet investigation complete, Organza’s head popped up, her attention focused on Danielle as she said, “Chima Taggert is black…”
I watched the two friends closely to see how this epiphany would go down. I personally hate classifying people using primary colors, especially black and white, which aren’t even colors but nothing more than their absence or presence. I was blown away by Danielle’s response.
“Naturally. Hip hop is an African-American phenomenon, like jazz and fried chicken, created by men like Chima although he doesn’t claim to be a creative genius, only a purveyor of cultural artifacts like t-shirts, hats, pants, and…well, you get it.”
“But…he’s black…you have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into, Danielle, even talking to someone from…a man with such a checkered past…I mean, those guys—hip hoppers and their like—they shoot each other in the street because of some kind of macho code of honor. Oh my god, what are we going to do!” Organza’s terrified expression and disingenuous concern for Danielle’s safety failed to hide her revulsion of the possibility of Danielle being interested in a black man.
Before I could encourage Danielle to expand her story’s introduction, Organza continued her tirade about the dangers of getting involved with someone like this Chima character, implying that living with other men in an unfinished building was proof that he was a drug dealer, equating his internet business with money laundering. She finished with a dire warning.
“Don’t trust anyone who approaches you in a public place, especially not the subway…” She thought a moment before adding, “Or a bar.”
I laughed out loud at her hypocrisy. Bolts of lightning shot from her green eyes, now those of Pythia, as she faced me, her countenance demanding an explanation of my juvenile outburst. Before she could announce the decree of Apollo, I asked, “Are there a different set of rules for men and women?”
She understood my meaning but, undaunted, replied in a condescending tone, “Of course there are, Craig. Women are almost exclusively the victims of sexual violence. I had a pretty good idea of who you were before I introduced myself whereas Danielle knows nothing about this guy she met on the subway. It all could have been a lie or he may be a businessman, but with a nasty hobby, like Jeffrey Epstein or Bill Cosby, not to mention Harvey Weinstein and…it doesn’t matter because there are no women on the A-list of sexual predators.”
She was right of course. But being more knowledgeable than me about famous misogynists didn’t erase the fact that she’d expressed racists views about the man Danielle had met on the subway, a black man who hadn’t behaved any differently than Organza. Men could be as uncertain of their actions as women, although it didn’t get as much publicity.
Usually I would have admitted defeat in her egocentric debate but I was spared such ignominy when Danielle said, “That’s why I wanted to get your opinion Organza, as my best friend, about a guy who would approach me on the subway and admit he’d been watching me. And I’m so glad to have Craig here too, to get a man’s opinion about Chima…”
I took my eyes off Danielle and focused on the front door, partially blocked by several groups of people standing around tables. Between their obstructing bodies and waving hands, holding glasses of beer, wine and cocktails, I glimpsed a young black guy entering the bar. He didn’t look like a rapper, dressed in black jeans and t-shirt; no dread locks, earrings or jewelry; just a young African American with a quirky smile. He didn’t even look out of place threading the suddenly packed bar. I stood up as he approached and extended my hand.
“You must be Chima Kimathi?”
His high forehead and weak chin reminded me of Organza, as did his piercing gaze, although his eyes were brown rather than green. He accepted my invitation to join us and took a seat next to Danielle. Organza was silently studying him as if he were a bacterium trapped under a microscope lens. He didn’t seem to mind, never taking his eyes off Danielle as she formally introduced him. Organza was fuming because she doesn’t like surprises, especially not in public. I asked Chima why he wasn’t wearing the apparel he sold for advertising and he explained that he wasn’t into the hip-hop scene although he’d grown up with it in Kenya. He’d come to America on a green card to work as an electrical engineer but had helped some friends sell t-shirts on the internet. Before long, his friends were working for him and he was making more than as an engineer, although he planned to return to steady work when sales dropped. It was a part-time gig.
Danielle queried Chima about his home in Kenya, prompting him to describe growing up on a subsistence farm with seven siblings, his parents’ savings paying for him to attend the University of Nairobi because he was the eldest, leaving his brothers and sisters to a life of poverty and misery.
Organza interrupted. “So, you took this golden opportunity, to attend a prestigious university and learn a useful skill, and dropped all that for short-term money made from peddling cheap merchandise on the internet…?”
Chima retorted, “In Kenya, eating is a daily challenge, especially when recent droughts decimated my family’s harvest, leaving them barely able to pay the taxes on their land. I send most of my income to support them. It’s an emergency, not something…” He glanced at Danielle, thought about his words and added, “You probably wouldn’t understand.”
Those were trigger words for Organza, who was as aware of the problems plaguing central Africa as anyone else. “It’s easy to make excuses when it’s personal, but you aren’t thinking about the long term, Chima, about what you will do when your internet business goes bust. That engineering degree you’re sitting on has a shelf life and it won’t be worth crap in five years, just ask Danielle. She is keeping abreast of the latest developments in a rapidly changing field rather than calculating the cost of shipping worthless junk back to Kenya…”
I could see that her words stung Chima. “I am supporting my family, a problem you probably never had to consider, I imagine.”
Organza never backs down when confronted by arguments based on emotional pleas. “You said you send most of your income home. What is your family doing with it? Have you ever asked them? I imagine that, with an average income of about two-thousand dollars, the money you’ve been sending home could have bought other farmers out. Is that what your father did?”
She didn’t wait for a response before continuing, “Probably not. I’ll bet they have a new generator and even a refrigerator, boasting to their neighbors about their rich son living in America, sending money home…”
Chima was overwhelmed by her onslaught, but he recovered his aplomb before explaining that his father was saving the extra money to improve the farm. He was interrupted by Organza laughing out loud, sarcastically asking why anyone would choose to make financial investments in Kenya with money that originated in the U.S., which offered better investment opportunities. She challenged him to produce proof of these investments made by his father. He admitted that he hadn’t demanded proof of his family’s investments but his mother had mentioned sending one of his younger siblings to the university to study engineering. Organza admitted that an education was a worthwhile endeavor but pointed out that, despite having a useful degree, Chima was selling clothing on the internet. She finished her analysis by suggesting that he should sit down with his family and make a concrete plan for the long-term, including the education of his siblings.
He thought a moment before responding. “You like to give advice, Organza. Do you mind if I ask what you do for a living?”
Danielle interjected, “She gives advice. Organza writes a blog about modern life. She has more than a million followers worldwide, including in Kenya…”
Chima laughed and said, “At least I sell something people want. You give them advice they don’t need or want, but just for entertainment, like watching a movie. You are in no position to judge my choices, especially since you don’t know anything about my home.”
One thing I’ve learned about Organza, from reading her blog now and then, is that she doesn’t judge people or their choices. Her harsh analyses are based on what they tell her and all those ideas and facts she recalls at a moment’s notice. Her opinions sound like judgement sometimes, especially to someone who’s sensitive about the topic. I could see that she’d sown seeds of doubt in Chima’s mind, about what his family was doing with the money he’d sent home, and he was being defensive.
She was accustomed to people being sensitive so she just shrugged, implying that it wasn’t her problem to deal with. She’d told me many times that she liked writing the blog because she could solve other people’s problems without getting personally involved. The sense of detachment shielded her from the emotional pain and uncertainty many of them were dealing with. I thought of her work as clinical psychology with teeth; she didn’t shy away from suggesting, sometimes even telling people, a course of action to solve their problem. Apparently, a lot of people followed her advice and reported improvements in their lives. Maybe Chima would too.
To Organza’s dismay, I compared our meeting to Chima’s introducing himself to Danielle on the subway. His comment was directed at Organza.
“I can imagine how you responded to that…”
She faced him and retorted, “Danielle is my best friend and I worry about her. She’s such a sweet person that sometimes she can act very naïve, thinking others are as nice as her, and I was afraid this was one of those situations. After all, women who stalk men like I did Craig do as I did. We introduce ourselves when the time is right. The psychopaths depicted in thriller movies don’t exist in the real world. As you know, the outcome can be quite different with men…”
Chima was nodding as she spoke, finally saying, “I appreciate your relationship. In fact, I’ve seen you two together on the subway and I could tell how close you are. I knew that I had to win your trust, if not friendship, if I were to get to know Danielle and not be treated as a stalker.” He sipped from his beer and waved his hand in the air before adding, “So here we are, on a chaperoned date in a public place, just as if we were in my home town in Kenya.”
He was smiling broadly so I joined him in a toast to persevering to meet someone. Danielle was watching Organza.
I retreated to the other side of the one-way mirror as Organza began her interview of Chima. He probably didn’t know that she’d graduated at the head of her class from Harvard, with a degree in psychology. Writing a blog had been a choice she’d made consciously after a year in graduate school. Danielle must have chosen this meeting venue with Organza’s personal talents and background in mind. I risked a glance at her and realized she was sitting behind the mirror with me, smiling knowingly, observing the interrogation from an objective position. She and I were required to contribute to the conversation occasionally to keep it from appearing to be what it was. When she was satisfied with the results, Organza proclaimed her decision.
“From the way Danielle described your meeting—probably intended as a prank because of my naturally suspicious tendency—I was expecting you to be wearing the apparel you sell, decked out in jewelry and dreadlocks. I know that most hip-hoppers are decent men and women, but I don’t think she’s compatible with someone from that culture, anyway not for more than a few dates. The character of your meeting was ominous under those circumstances, but that’s not who you are, although I think your support of your family is irresponsible—expecting your father to make competent financial decisions is at best wishful thinking…” She stopped her tirade and looked at me for support.
The moment called for more than holding her hand, so I bent over and kissed her expectant lips, letting her know that she hadn’t gone off the rails like she sometimes does.
“How long have you two been together?” Chima asked when Organza was consoled.
Danielle interjected, “Craig moved in with Organza eighteen months ago. Aren’t they an adorable couple?” She was teasing us for Chima’s benefit.
His eyes opened wide. “So, are you guys engaged?” He glanced at Organza and added, “Or maybe you don’t want permanent entanglements…”
She glared at him so I answered, “She hasn’t asked me yet.”
Chima and Danielle laughed together.
Annoyed, Organza turned the eyes of Pythia on me but then something happened. They softened into the deep pools of affection I’d only seen in private. She glanced around the table and cleared her throat as she faced me again. “Why don’t we get married, Craig? It probably is about time.”
Review of “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty” by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson
This book is legit, despite the lack of footnotes and in-line references. There is a detailed bibliography at the end, disguised as “Acknowledgments,” which also explains a lot of behind-the-scenes research that was omitted in the text. I was skeptical of the support for their hypothesis until I read this section in full. The book makes sense, as the summary of ten years of research by the authors, culminating in enough work to justify a book. This work is not fluff, nor is it entirely original, instead being what most scientific publications are: The authors worked for ten years on the subject of comparative economics and finally felt confident to publish their work outside scientific venues.
It was published in 2012 so it doesn’t reference the work of Francis Fukuyama, author of The Origins of Political Order and Political Order and Political Decay, which are not meant for the casual reader. This book, however, is written for a non-political scientist and is very readable and interesting.
The authors have simplified all the factors contributing to the economic success of nations into a simple idea: political and economic inclusiveness or extraction, the latter being typified by colonialism and kleptocracy as in modern Russia under Putin. They do a good job or explaining the importance of chance on the economic development of nations, repeating the mantra that things could have gone in a different direction in Britain in the seventeenth century but for a few lucky breaks.
The hypothesis is somewhat dark in that it doesn’t suggest a recipe for success; chance or, as they put it, contingency is a major factor in the development of political/economic systems (i.e. nations) and so they offer no quick fixes for developing nations. In fact, given the importance of previous conditions and chance, they don’t paint a very happy image of the future. But I’m reading between the lines there.
The bottom line is that, despite the uncertainty and continuous change inherent in democratic institutions, they are the best hope to break the cycles of history; resistance to change by the elites is the primary factor holding nations back, getting rich quick for a few (i.e. wealth inequality) being the curse of death to prosperity. Maybe they’re wrong, but their arguments are persuasive even to a skeptic like me.
I recommend this book to anyone who wants to learn some not-so-well-known history and see the world through a different pair of glasses.
The author admits time and again that he tends to be long-winded. It’s true. This is the story of his life up through the killing of Osama bin Laden, although the childhood isn’t so much discussed chronologically as dropped in memories scattered throughout. I like that style, but the political career is in order, reading like a technical report rather than a personal story. He livens it up with regular sidebars about family life. To be honest, he admits that he and his wife worked to keep their family life normal and, as far as I can tell, they succeeded, so well that I got tired of hearing about putting the girls to bed. No family drama or horror stories about unwelcome advances on the family. Boring after the fifth or so time hearing it.
Obama writes well but uses a wordy style; however, to be a lawyer, he seems to have resisted the attempt by the legal establishment to brainwash lawyers into talking in circles. This book is clearly written and enjoyable overall. I guess he felt obliged to mention all the people who worked with him over the years, which added a lot of pages to the text. Between that and history lessons I didn’t need to hear (being older than him and interested in history), the book was at least 30% longer than it needed to be. He wanted to be thorough–no reader left behind.
I don’t read memoirs much (I think I read Bob Gates’ a few years ago), so I wasn’t excited about this but it was okay most of the time. He does a good job communicating his feelings about events and how surprised he was about the course his life took. I believed his sincerity on that point because his rise to stardom was unforeseen to say the least. Of course, any memoir by a politician or other celebrity can’t help but be self-promotional and a justification of their actions. With all the other self-deprecation scattered throughout the book, I was surprised that he didn’t address this natural concern, not even in the preface. There’s a lot of self-justification in these 700 pages, but also more than enough self-doubt and admission of making mistakes (just not on big issues).
Overall, I would recommend this book if you are either a reader of political memoirs or interested in this very interesting and successful politician who was truly an example of the common man, rather than the product of generations of wealth and elitism.
I’ll end this review with a list of the parts he divided the story into:
YES WE CAN
THE GOOD FIGHT
THE WORLD AS IT IS
IN THE BARREL
ON THE HIGH WIRE
Fitting subtitles every one…
I recently moved to a brand-new apartment building in northern Virginia, secured with the latest technology, a digital security system that relies on a smart-phone app. It’s all so hi-tech, what could go wrong?
I met a guy my age the other day who asked me to let him enter the building from the parking garage, open the door for him with my clever phone app. I let him in. Who wouldn’t? I wondered if he might have been a stalker, terrorist, burglar, or just mean guy. I wondered about my decision until…
I stepped out without my phone…
It was after six p.m. and there was no one to reach out to…I couldn’t “call” home…I was homeless…on the streets, or at least the parking garage entrance. Panic. Desperate, I made my way to the guest entrance, as contrite as a homeless beggar seeking a morsel to sustain them another day.
I offered my apartment number and name as proof of my legitimacy to the first person with a cell phone who came along, a young man who could have easily dismissed me as a person of doubtful character, but he let me in…
I was saved from homelessness by the kindness of a stranger…
But I could have been pretending, to gain entry into a Valhalla of unsuspecting people…like me or the young man who believed my story…
Extreme security naturally leads to error and confusion…
We are only reading monkeys after all…
Maybe it was the End of Times or something like that. Maybe the Mayans were right but we hadn’t known what to look for. It could have started in 2012. For all I know, it’s been going on throughout history, prehistory, before the world was created or came into existence. I don’t think I was the first to notice and definitely not the only one, but I’ll never forget what happened, even though others don’t seem to have noticed, even my best friend Marvin Franklin, who was visiting me for the Fourth of July. But Dr. Noyer remembers. We get together every week to remind ourselves that we haven’t lost our minds. It really happened and we witnessed it firsthand.
Marvin and I met at the University of Michigan. There’s no reason our paths should have ever crossed because he was a Marketing and Communications major and I was on the other side of campus, studying art history. He was a wide receiver on the football team, surrounded by beautiful women wanting to be with him, always partying with the in crowd, whereas I was a reclusive gay guy, not dating much and mostly keeping to myself. And Marvin is African American while I’m of Italian descent, my ancestors having a questionable ethical or moral foundation. They were illegal immigrants whereas his American lineage was unimpeachable.
Our meeting was inauspicious, to say the least. I’d been coerced into attending the football game against Michigan State. After the Spartans won, thanks to a last-minute reception by Marvin, I got lost on my way to the exit and ended up somewhere in the bowels of The Big House. I had to take a leak so I ducked into the men’s room to relieve my bladder. I was interrupted by a woman moaning and shrieking with ecstasy from one of the stalls. I finished my business and turned, to be confronted by a beautiful brunette pulling her dress down, her underwear dangling from her left hand. Despite her appearance, what got my attention was the black man who followed her out of the stall. Appreciation slipped out of my mouth.
“I’d like some of that if you’re ready for another round.” I was looking at Marvin’s still erect penis.
This perfect specimen of African American manhood ignored me and pulled his pants up, paying attention to the young woman. What a gentleman.
Weeks later, I ran into Marvin again, this time in a more public forum; I was getting a chef salad in the student cafeteria when he appeared in line behind me. He didn’t say anything until we’d both paid for our meals. I was looking for an isolated table where I could avoid other people when he said, “Do you mind if I join you?”
I was dumbfounded so I nodded hopefully, thinking that maybe he was bisexual. I was trembling with anticipation as we sat down at an isolated table. He wasn’t bisexual, but we became best friends that day while I ate a vegan chef salad and he devoured a roast beef sandwich with a salad and fries.
Our natural camaraderie, as strange as that might sound, continued for fifteen years, spanning the miles separating Chicago and Detroit; and now we were going to celebrate the founding of America together, watching the White Sox play the Tigers and rooting for our adopted cities’ baseball teams. It was going to be a great Fourth of July. Marvin would arrive at eleven a.m. according to Google, so I didn’t have to rush my morning routine.
My first awareness of the transformation occurred when I was shaving with a razor, enjoying the feel of steel sliding over my lubricated skin when my reflection was replaced by…I don’t know what it was, but I was looking at triangles and trapezoids glowing in every shade of the rainbow. No human face was discernible in the bizarre kaleidoscope confronting me, but I kept shaving as if nothing had happened. I wasn’t afraid or even upset. I shaved unerringly while the figures dancing before my eyes continuously changed color. I finished my task, convinced that I’d lost my mind. The hallucination disappeared without warning, leaving me confused. I didn’t feel as if I’d had a stroke or anything and I was clean shaven, not a scratch.
Marvin arrived exactly on schedule. He’s like that, always punctual, never early or late. He made himself at home in the spare bedroom that served as a home office, and we settled down on the sofa to catch up.
After a couple beers, I was relaxed enough to tell Marvin about my hallucination. He listened attentively to my description of triangles, circles, squares, and irregular angular objects, and their constantly changing colors. When I was finished, he expressed confusion.
“And yet you finished shaving? How could you do that? I mean, why didn’t you just stop?”
I shook my head uncertainly and said, “I couldn’t. I just couldn’t stop. I was fascinated I guess, but I really couldn’t stop. It’s like I was watching myself through a kaleidoscope, I was shaving like normal but I was also seeing myself through this crazy filter…”
I’m a very down-to-earth guy. I’ve never done any drugs and I don’t even get drunk. Marvin knows this, so it was his turn to shake his head ambiguously. “It must have been a stroke, Lenny, we should get you to the hospital for an MRI or something. The next one could paralyze you or strike you blind. You don’t mess around with your brain.”
I agreed that if the vision recurred, he could drive me to the ER. Nothing happened so we had dinner at an Italian restaurant and then watched Zola, a quirky adventure that Marvin and I found a little hard to believe. He suggested that the original tweets were faked. My criticism didn’t go that far. Since he’d driven from Detroit, I’d volunteered to drive, which turned out to be a good thing. We were cruising along Lakeshore Drive when he became silent, not responding to my analysis of the unlikelihood of fake tweets. I took my eyes off the road to glance at him, to find his dark eyes wide open staring at me.
“Hey man, you okay?” I asked.
His head shook slowly. Words finally came out of his mouth. “I can’t see you, Lenny. Where are you? I think I’m looking at where you were a minute ago, but all I see are strange shapes, swirling, transforming, like you described this morning. I think I need to go to the hospital…”
I did as he asked and, ten minutes later, we pulled up to the emergency room at Northwestern Memorial. He still couldn’t see but had no difficultly climbing out of my Honda unassisted, even refusing help at the curb and the door. I had the eerie feeling that his experience mirrored my own. I held back as Marvin explained his symptoms to a skeptical nurse at the desk, before we took a seat along with what looked like the lower rung of society.
He was called after a half-hour, still suffering from the delusion, and I was left to wait along with the other visitors to the emergency room on a Friday night. There were broken arms, lacerations, bruises, mad rushes to the restroom, and a lot of bystanders. Family or friends, like me, who sat in uneasy silence as their charges were taken through the double doors that said, “Staff Only.” Marvin reappeared after an hour and a half. He looked confused but none the worse for wear, no bandages around his head, not limping, no sign of brain damage.
“Let’s hear it!” I blurt, unable to contain my anticipation.
“First, I can see again…” He looked around at the hopeless faces and whispered, “Let’s get out of here.”
We compared notes until well after midnight. He’d seen triangles and shapes like I’d described, and colors, but he’d also heard murmuring voices, undecipherable but definitely not speaking English. His experience lasted a lot longer than mine and he’d started making sense of it, comparing the bizarre images to what he “knew” was going on around him. He hadn’t figured it out but the sights and sounds were somehow related to what he’d been experiencing. He’d spoken to a psychiatrist, who’d expressed interest in the phenomena, giving him a referral to a neurological psychiatrist specializing in delusions. He’d been put in an MRI and his brained scanned, showing no abnormalities—a good thing, no stroke.
“No,” he said when I’d expressed support for the positive diagnosis. “I’m just crazy as a loon, and so are you, I’m just worse off.”
“So…do you think I should see this Doctor Noyer, or wait until I get back to Detroit? I’m sure there are plenty of…” He read the card carefully before continuing, “Neurological psychiatrists in Detroit. I mean, the whole city is crazy. Those brutal winters should have run all of us off years ago.”
I had to think about that. Marvin was pretty busy as a mid-level manager in a marketing consulting company, building his career, on track for upper management or even partner one day. He couldn’t just take a vacation whenever he wanted. On the other hand, he’d been working from home during the Covid pandemic and hadn’t mentioned any problems. “Can you telework for a few days?” I asked.
“Sure, I don’t have to be in the office until the fifteenth. You know, it might be a good idea to see a shrink in Chicago, keep it out of the gossip column—”
I scoffed and interjected, “Yeh, right, like the paparazzi are following you around. Not yet, pal, but maybe in a few years.”
“Sure, but investigators, even if they’re only working for a competing firm, can dig up records. They’re like bloodhounds. I think I’ll send her an email.”
“Go for it. I’d love to have you around for a few days. You can water my plastic plant when I go to work—”
“Shit, Lenny, you haven’t had an office in at least ten years. I’ll set up on the kitchen table and stay out of your way. Just don’t show up in your drawers while I’m on Zoom.”
I was glad to agree to that arrangement.
Marvin emailed Dr. Noyer. I hoped they would answer and have a sudden opening to fit him in the next week because I wanted to talk to an expert myself. After all, I’d had the same hallucination, first. Marvin had brought his Specialized Allez road bike, so we went for a ride around Chicago, staying off the busiest streets, favoring parks for the cool shade of trees wearing summer foliage. I struggled to keep up with what was probably a loafing pace for him. I was glad Chicago didn’t have any hills.
We were approaching Navy Pier when the hallucination returned in force. A million times stronger than before. Marvin, twenty feet ahead of me, turned into a collection of concentric and intersecting shapes, triangles like Hollywood uses for targeting in science fiction movies. I increased my speed and the forms changed to squares with a circle in the middle, colored in magenta and fire-engine red. I couldn’t see Marvin, the path, the trees; I was blind but still I avoided colliding with him as I pulled alongside.
“Let’s stop,” I said, not knowing if I was panting or speaking casually.
“Tired?” was his sarcastic response.
I shook my head, nodded, then said, “Of course, but the visions are back. I can’t see anything…”
We stopped under an oak tree. I couldn’t see the oak tree but I knew it was there, dappled shadows shielding us from the midmorning sun.
“What’s it like?” he asked.
I described what I was seeing; looking at him I saw only shapes and colors, but then something new appeared while I was talking. A wave of ocean-blue shapes came out of the sun like a tidal wave, threatening to drown Marvin and me. I grimaced and held my hands up to stave off the threat, to no avail. The wall of twisted figures flowed over us, engulfing me in feelings I’d never felt before, raising my consciousness to a new plane. I looked at where I knew Marvin was sitting, on a park bench, watching me closely.
“Did you feel it?”
“What?” he asked.
“Being one with…with the universe. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I don’t have the words to share what it was like…”
“Give it a try,” was his patient response.
I looked in his direction, the patterns swirling around, focusing on what I assumed was his eyes, maybe his consciousness. “A wave of…of particles that just flowed over us, threatening to drown us, but it didn’t…it was fucking amazing!”
Marvin looked at me doubtfully and said, “We should get back. Can you ride?”
I nodded emphatically. “Oh yeh, I can ride. I’ll race you back!” I jumped on the bike I couldn’t see and sped off, expecting Marvin to blow past me any second. The strange vision continued until I arrived at what I knew was my apartment building, even though I couldn’t see it. Then it ended. I felt cheated, deprived of something that had made me a better man, a better human being. I shook my head to clear the cobwebs that had suddenly enshrouded my mind and looked around to see Marvin a hundred yards behind, peddling furiously. He arrived, breathing as hard as I usually did to keep up with him.
“What the fuck was that?!” he exclaimed between gasps for air, filling his athletic lungs with oxygen. “When did you become an Olympic cyclist. “Goddamn!” He gasped again.
I wasn’t breathing hard, drawing a lungful of air through my normally congested nasal cavities. “Don’t ask me, Marvin. I couldn’t even see where I was going. But the hallucination has ended. I’m back to normal although I’m not tired. I’ve got to say that that bike ride was a lot of fun. No wonder athletic guys like you enjoy intense sports like football. I feel great!”
He pushed past me with his expensive bike and said, “I think we need to see the…neurological psychologist together. We are seriously fucked up…”
As if aware of our dilemma, Dr. Noyer had responded to Marvin’s email. She could fit him in on the fifth of July because of a cancellation. That left us with three days of unpredictable delusional episodes to deal with. We could be one episode away from a massive stroke—on the Fourth of July. Not knowing when we might suffer another episode, we spent the rest of the day in my apartment and had food delivered. We watched science fiction movies, hoping to get some insight into what was happening, and I’m here to tell you that nothing was off limits. From, The Matrix to Inception, we entertained every possible scenario, discussing them in depth, sometimes interrupting a movie that was inapplicable. Then we stumbled across a film adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.
“That’s it!” Marvin exclaimed when the movie ended. “That’s what’s happening to us. We have fallen down some kind of interdimensional rabbit hole, just like Alice.”
Although I agreed with his conclusion, there was a problem: Marvin and I were sharing a delusion whereas Alice had experienced it alone. We could back up each other’s claims. I pointed this fact out and Marvin thought a minute before saying, “Do you think we should go to the game tomorrow?”
“Why not? After all, I apparently rode my cheap bike at breakneck speed, dealing with traffic and pedestrians, even crossing several streets, without a problem. And even if one of us is slammed with an out-of-body experience, we have each other to fall back on. We’ll take care of each other. No problem.” Little did I know.
We went to the game. It was more than we had expected. Like Alice in Wonderland. We got some beers and took our seat in the outfield stands because Marvin had always wanted to catch a homerun ball; and with his new-found allegiance to the Tigers, he was certain that one would come his way. When I asked why he was so confident, he responded, “I can feel it in my bones, Lenny. Today is the day.”
I scoffed and said, “You may catch a homerun ball, but it’s going to be from a Sox bat. Sorry about that.”
The pretense of team rivalry continued for six innings.
We went to the men’s room before getting some hot dogs when everything changed. Marvin and I were using adjacent urinals when the transformation occurred. I looked at him, now represented as a blue area in my field of vision, and said, “Shit. I’m in an altered state, man. Don’t let me go haywire, got it?”
“What the hell are you talking about? You’re nothing more than a little bit of yellow, or maybe that circle spinning off into the distance. I’m fucked up Lenny, maybe we should leave?”
I finished my business and was able to close my fly without pissing on myself, so I said, “Let’s have fun and get our hot dogs, with a large order of fries to share, and play it by ear, unless you feel nauseous or anything…I feel fine.”
He finished up without making a mess and said, “Okay. We can always leave if we feel sick or…whatever.”
After a ten-minute wait in line, we faced the young woman behind the counter, busy putting together an order before she faced us. I couldn’t see her as I started to tell her what I wanted.
“Yes sir, will there be anything else?”
I was speechless, so Marvin said what he wanted. She pushed his hotdog and large fries and beer front and center. Smiling as if she knew us, she added, “Yessir, it’s all ready.”
Marvin and I checked the order we hadn’t made, agreed that it was correct and started to pay but were rebuffed.
“Thanks for your business. We hope to see you for the next game.”
We gathered our order together and got out of the way of the next hungry sports fan. We made our way, despite being blind, to our seats and settled in. I took several large bites of the hotdog that was visible, possibly, as a green splotch in the upper-right quadrant of my field of view. Every bite was accompanied by an explosion of shapes and colors in the lower-left quadrant of my visual field. It was disconcerting but, for some reason, not a cause for alarm. Marvin and I finished our dogs and his fries, which I helped him with, washed down with ice-cold beer.
“Does any of this seem strange to you?” he asked.
I scoffed. “Hell, no. I been living on LSD for years. Didn’t you know?”
One thing was certain: I felt intensely alive, as if I’d just been born. Maybe this was what the first moments of life were like, overwhelmed by strange new sights and sounds, senses topsy turvy, unaccustomed to the world.
Marvin’s premonition proved accurate, about catching a fly ball, only it was hit by a Sox batter. He caught the ball in his left hand, not spilling any beer and, without a word, stood up and threw it at the runner as he was passing first base. The ball hit the guy in the leg, knocking him down. During the ensuing confusion on the field, I turned to Marvin in awe.
“When did you become…whatever that was…maybe the world’s best baseball player?”
He looked at me sheepishly, or at least that was the impression I got from the pastel blues emanating from his direction. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I hope that guy’s not hurt.”
The runner was back on his feet and jogging around the bases, favoring his right leg.
Dr. Patricia Noyer was a tall woman in her forties, blonde hair streaked with brown, a patrician nose highlighting a wide mouth that didn’t smile much. Her inquisitive brown eyes switched between Marvin and me when we entered her office in Kenwood. She introduced herself and expressed curiosity at the appearance of two men instead of one.
“Are you two together?” she asked.
Marvin and I had recovered from our July Fourth episode without a relapse, so I was seeing what she actually looked like rather than shapes and colors.
Marvin answered her question. “I’m Marvin Franklin, and yes we are together but not like that…”
“Like what?” she began.
I interjected, “My name is Lenny Bianco. Marvin and I have been best friends since college and we’re also sharing the same experience, so I thought we should both talk to you together. We’ll be glad to pay double…”
Marvin was nodding emphatically.
Dr. Noyer nodded agreeably and explained her specialty. She studied unexplained neurological phenomena, which certainly described our experience. She summarized what she’d been told by the ER physician and suggested that Marvin—maybe me too—was presenting stroke mimicking, with the hallucinations. She was surprised they didn’t involve real objects as was common in stroke victims, but only geometric shapes. I interrupted to tell her about my sudden cycling power and Marvin’s unbelievable skill with a baseball.
“That was you? I heard about it on the news. You actually threw a baseball more than three-hundred feet and hit a runner?”
Marvin nodded sheepishly. “It was an impulse. I was mad because he’d hit a game-winning homerun and the Sox beat the Tigers. I couldn’t even see him at the time, at least not with…not consciously. And I threw it left handed but I’m right handed, not ambidextrous. And I never played baseball in my life.”
That got her attention. “I think we can rule out a psychogenic cause. You two are definitely suffering from a functional neurologic disorder, one I’ve never heard about…”
She then explained that our symptoms indicated a biological cause. It wasn’t in our minds. But she had no idea what was going on; however, rather than order a lot of unwarranted diagnostic tests, she led us to another room and had us play computer games. They weren’t real games but only psychological tests of our visual, cognitive, and motor skills, designed to see how our minds functioned in the real world. They were pretty boring. Marvin and I were in cubicles separated by screens like they have in libraries to keep people from being distracted. I was looking at rapidly changing images of people and objects, pushing buttons to indicate what I thought I saw. Then I relapsed. But it was different this time.
The computer screen had transformed into an irregular polygon with a lot of sides and I was aware of the displayed objects by fluctuations in the coloring of an irregular star-shaped object within the “screen.” I typed on the keyboard, seen as an odd-shaped figure in blue. When the test was over, a fact I knew without knowing it, Dr. Noyer entered the room, approached me, and calmly said, “What’s going on, Lenny?”
She was no longer unrecognizable, now identifiable by a triangle face with her eyes highlighted in magenta. “I’m…I’m having a seizure or whatever it is…”
“Can you continue?”
“Sure. No problem. Did I screw up?”
“Not at all, but you entered all the correct responses before the test was even half finished. I didn’t want to continue if you were under physical or emotional duress, which would make the results meaningless. Should we continue?”
I nodded and we continued. I enjoyed the games more in my altered state.
Dr. Noyer called in person that evening and asked Marvin and me to come in for some more tests the next day. My fugue had ended and we went out for Chinese cuisine, from a takeout shop, and ate in the small park near my apartment. It was a pleasant summer evening. The food was great but we were unsettled by the manner in which it was delivered. Instead of asking for our orders, the young man behind the takeout counter produced several bags, smiling pleasantly. Remembering the baseball game, I thanked him and didn’t bother offering to pay, turning away. Marvin insisted on paying but the young man had become the Buddha, steadfastly refusing to be paid twice for the order. And he thanked me for the tip.
We found a clean park bench to eat our Sesame Chicken, Beef and Broccoli with Oyster Sauce, and Crab Puffs.
“What the hell was that about? I could understand a mistake at the baseball game, but that guy wasn’t stoned or confused. He got our order—which we never voiced—perfect and didn’t let us pay. What the fuck is going on?!”
I shared what I’d discovered. “I was billed for the hotdogs and beer.” I pulled out my phone and checked my bank account. Sure enough, the cost of our current meal was listed as a recent purchase. I showed my proof to Marvin and added, “I think Dr. Noyer is going to have to come up with something bigger than a functional neurologic disorder to explain this.” I wasn’t going to worry about it anymore because it was out of my hands.
We ate in silence, except for an occasional comment that the food didn’t taste as good as the ballpark crap when we were stoned—for lack of a better phrase.
The silence continued on the walk back to my apartment, with a stop for a couple of bottles of wine. Settled on the sofa, we surfed the web for experiences like ours, projecting the results on my big screen monitor. We didn’t find anything, not counting LSD trips described by new-age bloggers. We were watching an old man talking about his experiences with LSD in the seventies, when Marvin hissed, “Psst.”
I turned to him, seeing the world normally.
He continued, “Do you see that figure standing in the corner, with a recognizable body and head, watching us?”
I look in the direction he was pointing. There it was. It wasn’t solid but it wasn’t a random geometric figure in outline either. It was looking at us. I wasn’t having an episode and I asked Marvin if he was in a trance or whatever.
“No, Lenny, but I can see that goddamn thing watching me.”
“I can see it but, for some reason, it doesn’t bother me—”
“Why the hell not?!” he exclaimed.
I had to think a second to come up with a response. “It’s part of whatever’s happening. I don’t think this is the end of the world, at least not like religions imagine, but only the beginning of something new, something better than what we have now. The birth of a new species of human…”
He looked at me incredulously. “Did you just now come up with your theory of a new world order, or did I miss something in all those movies we watched?”
All I could think of was, “Let’s watch 2001 A Space Odyssey.”
We did and it explained a lot, sort of.
The next day, we returned to Dr. Noyer’s lab for more games/tests. She wasn’t as calm as before when she asked, “Have either of you had another episode?”
Marvin volunteered, “A strange creature appeared in Lenny’s apartment and watched us all night. It looked solid but I could pass my hands through it. We both saw it. It was like the geometric shapes and colors we described before but it had recognizable facial features, even limbs, but nothing like a human.”
“It was a phantom,” I added.
Dr. Noyer’s blondish eyebrows lifted in surprise. Anticipating the morning’s activities, I said “Marvin and I are looking forward to giving you more data, so that you can figure out what’s going on.”
She shook her head in denial before explaining. “That’s not how it works, Mr. Bianco. Even if you were in an altered state right now and talking to the phantom you described, it would mean nothing to neuropsychiatry because we don’t have a model for such phenomena. I would be unable to diagnosis what is happening…”
Marvin interjected, “You sound as uncertain as Lenny and me, as if you’ve experienced the same…phenomena as us. Did you?”
Her head nodded.
“Well then,” I asked, “What’s going on? You must recognize the disorder if you’re experiencing its symptoms yourself.”
She took a long breath before answering, speaking slowly and deliberately, “This isn’t a virus or a bacterium, at least nothing like science has discovered, or a lesion or a blood clot, or anything. In fact, it is entirely outside the realm of science. This is something entirely new and…and unforeseen.”
Marvin tentatively asked, “So… you believe us?”
Dr. Noyer laughed, regained her composure, and answered, “I am no longer an objective observer Mr. Franklin because I’m part of whatever is happening. Psychiatry is based on objectivity. I’ve lost that. I’ve seen the phantom although I haven’t shared your other experiences. Those were probably the early signs of a completely unknown phenomenon. I wouldn’t be surprised to find myself seeing my children in such stark, transcendental forms tomorrow morning…”
She was scared but I wasn’t. “It’s not the invasion of the body snatchers or the end of the world Dr. Noyer but something benign. I know this to be a fact even though I can’t explain it. It’s just a feeling I have.”
She nodded quickly and said, “You’ve had time to accept what’s occurring. But I wonder if it’s a global phenomenon or limited to a few, susceptible individuals.” She rambled for a while using long words that I didn’t understand and finally said, “We should stay in touch on a regular basis so that none of us feels isolated. Whatever this is may be unknowable, but the response of the human brain to unexplainable phenomena such as this is well understood. I don’t want any of us to feel alone or helpless. We have each other.”
I nodded my agreement, but Marvin had doubts. “What are you saying, that we three are like, alone in the universe—that’s something from a science fiction movie. Is that all you can offer? I mean…really?”
She quietly replied, “Our shared experience—the polygonal creature watching us—may be nothing more than a phenomenon I have studied. However, I’ve only studied historical accounts of such group manifestations, so I don’t know how it works on an individual level. It’s possible that—”
I interrupted her delusional explanation. “What about the credit card bills I had from people who’d prepared our orders before we’d even arrived? Marvin and I weren’t having an episode at the Chinese takeout diner…”
She nodded quickly, accepting defeat. “Historical examples are limited and usually restricted to people with something in common, like being in the same community or sharing similar beliefs, so the group size is usually small.”
Marvin added, “The banks being in on the game tells me this is global, not just a few of us having a common schizophrenic delusion…”
Dr. Noyer wasn’t listening to Marvin because her attention was focused on the creature sitting on the window sill, watching us with interest. Her eyes were open in fear but I felt calm, so I took the lead. I faced the patchwork figure, constructed of both solid and outlined triangles of different colors, lacking eyes or a mouth, and said, “What’s up, dude?”
The figure seemed to shrug but no sounds were emitted from its head, no thoughts appeared in my mind, no contact. Without warning, Dr. Noyer started waving her arms in the air as if directing traffic, using sign language, which was confusing because if the creature didn’t understand voiced English why would it respond to American Sign Language? I was wrong. Appendages appeared from the trapezoid located where its chest might have been. They weren’t arms per se, but more like connected segments of multicolored lines. Dr. Noyer seemed to understand the meaning of the gestures because she waved her arms some more. They had a conversation. Marvin and I didn’t interrupt. After a couple of minutes of this back and forth, she lowered her hands and the creature seemed to shrug again.
Dr. Noyer’s expression was difficult to interpret when she looked at me. She may have been uncertain about what had been communicated during the conversation, or simply afraid to tell Marvin and me what she’d learned.
She cleared her throat theatrically and began, “I don’t know where to begin…I didn’t really learn much but the entity…” She nodded towards the figure, now standing near the door, and continued, “Well, Lenny, the entity we all saw—”
Marvin interrupted her. “I was videotaping your conversation, but all I got was you using sign language. The—whatever the hell it is—isn’t in the video at all…” He offered his phone as evidence, and there was only Dr. Noyer waving her hands, brow knotted with concentration.
She shot him an exasperated look and continued, “I’m not surprised because…if we could see the entity and communicate with it, while everyone else is unaware of its existence, including electromagnetic devices, we may be experiencing the effects of an unknown quantum field…but what I was going to say Lenny, is that the entity we all saw claimed to be you…I mean it was you and it was as confused as us by what’s happening to it…him…you…whatever…”
I looked at the figure, now hovering in a corner, then at Dr. Noyer, shaking my head in disbelief, but I was way past incredulity. A respected psychiatrist, a specialist in medically unexplainable neurological phenomena, was sharing our experience so I felt comfortable with the situation, but I was curious. “So how does this alternate Lenny Bianco see us?”
“The same way apparently. He’s confused and doesn’t know what’s happening, and he doesn’t live in a world of geometric shapes and vibrant color spectra. His world is, as well as I could ascertain under the circumstances, just like ours.”
Marvin’s jaw was agape when he said, “Does this otherworldly Lenny know what the fuck’s going on?”
Dr. Noyer shook her head. “I think we’re seeing the alternate Lenny represented as simple shapes because our minds can’t translate what we’re experiencing. We’re using familiar concepts—symbols in this case—to make sense of an unfathomable phenomenon. He’s experiencing the same thing for the same reason. You aren’t concerned Lenny because it’s you we’re communicating with, just as the other Lenny accepts whatever is going on. You two are connected in some way…”
Her explanation made sense to me, but not to Marvin. “What’s going on, Dr. Noyer? Is this a time warp? A black hole? The end of the world? What the fuck are you talking about?”
I interjected, “Calm down, Marvin. Nothing we do is going to change what’s happening so let’s just go with it, make the best of an uncertain situation. Dr. Noyer has offered her best guess and I agree with her. This is either some kind of dimensional shift like in the movies, or a spurt of evolution but not just for people, all the plants and animals are along for the ride. I’m not worried personally.”
Dr. Noyer added, “I concur with Lenny’s analysis. We just need to keep our heads clear, avoid panicking, and don’t act precipitously. If we don’t do anything drastic, we’ll get through this. It’s not the end of the world, just an anomaly, an event we weren’t supposed to notice. That’s all it is.”
Marvin started to protest but was interrupted.
The room began to spin and change size and shape at the same time, making me dizzy. I fell to the floor, unaware of Marvin and Dr. Noyer, or the other me, the one from a different dimension who could speak sign language. I had to close my eyes to stop my stomach from turning inside out. I felt as if I were in a dryer, spinning and spinning and…
Like I said, Dr. Noyer (I call her Patricia now) and I get together to remind ourselves that we’re sane, that it really happened. I didn’t pass out during the transformation or merging of dimensions, whatever it was, but I lost track of time and space. She did too. Marvin is another matter.
I regained a sense of reality sitting in the chair across the desk from Patricia. She was wearing a confused and uncertain expression, which is probably how I looked too, but Marvin was saying, “…so I’m concerned about the fact that I’ve started having dreams like Lenny’s, after he described them to me. I mean…am I like, I don’t know, trying to be like him?”
Patricia tossed a questioning look at me and I nodded emphatically, certain that she was as aware of what had happened as I. She turned to Marvin and said, “It doesn’t mean anything, Mr. Franklin. However, it was a good idea to accompany Mr. Bianco today, to alleviate any doubts you may have had. Nevertheless, it’s clear that we’ll need to look closely at the root cause of his delusions, especially the manifestations of his dreams while awake.” She looked at me quizzically, expecting a response.
“Definitely,” I said. “It’s one thing to dream about meeting a version of myself from another dimension and something entirely different to think I actually saw such an apparition. I’d like to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible.”
Marvin was nodding as he patted my arm condescendingly. “We’ll get you through this, Lenny. It’s probably just stress after the pandemic, that’s all. You’ve been spending too much time alone. You’re a people person, you need to get out more.” He looked convinced but neither Patricia nor I accepted his delusional words.
It was obvious that Marvin had made the transition smoothly.
“Well?” I began, “Why do you and I remember what happened?” Patricia and I had stopped meeting in her office but instead got together for lunch every week. She was working on a theory about how people with no personal connection could share an experience so vivid and interactive as meeting an alternate version of one of them.
“We are not delusional. Neither of us shows any sign of changes in our brain activity, at least nothing that can be measured by an EEG, a Cat scan, or an MRI. I’ve been speaking to a theoretical physicist who’s interested in quantum biology—quantum neuroscience to be exact. He tells me that physicists don’t even know what a quantum field is, not really, and they know even less about the physics of the brain, not to mention consciousness. What happened is real and it’s persistent. I’ve been having experiences like yours even since the—”
“The transformation,” I interjected. “You mean the hot dogs and Chinese food?”
“Yes, and I’m aware of what’s happening, just like you were before…well, I don’t think we were meant to or…”
“Maybe we were,” I finished. “Maybe you and the physicist you’re working with will get some insight into quantum biology or whatever and explain why I don’t have to order food anymore and neither does anyone else, as far as I can tell. We’ve all become mind readers.”
She smiled nervously, nodded quickly and responded, “It’s disconcerting isn’t it? My husband and children take this strange new world for granted, as if it’s always been like this, while I keep making a fool of myself, asking for things as if I couldn’t read minds, but the truth is that I’m not part of this brave new world. I don’t fit in…”
I nodded hopefully. “Maybe we’re observers…”