Dear Dr. Beidenbeck,
I am addressing this to you because I remember David speaking of you with particular respect.
I am currently living happily in Belize with Zeb Arens, an old friend of David and myself. I have refused all interviews, offers to ghost-write books, and so forth, not out of any burning desire for secrecy, but simply because reporters make me sick.
But, having just read Rickman's biography of David (it finally made its way down to Belize City), I have decided that it is time to set the record straight....
I have purchased this spiral notebook, and I have decided to fill it up with the story of my relationship with David. I don't know much about infonetronics, as David's ideas are now called. But I do know something about what was going in David's mind when he came up with these ideas -- and it is nothing like Rickman speculates. David wasn't some solitary heroic figure -- he may have been a genius, but his genius, if that's what it was, is incomprehensible outside of the context of his life....
Anyway, I guess I'll begin with my third date with David. Our first two dates were pretty lame, hardly even dates really. The first time we just had dinner, and the second time we met at the campus bar and had a couple drinks, then departed with our respective groups of friends. So the third date was the first time I went to his apartment.
Before I get started, I should probably say that I'm not much good at remembering dialogue -- I can remember the general idea, but never the exact words. But I'll just do the best I can....
I remember, as we approached the door, I said "I can't wait to meet this famous roommate you keep talking so much about." Or something like that. Of course, I wasn't really so excited abouthis roommate -- I just couldn't think of anything better to say. "Do you think he'll be home?"
"I guess so," answered David. It was obvious he was hoping that his guess was incorrect. "He's probably home now; he doesn't go out much."
Always the chivalrous sort, David held open the door of the apartment building and waited for me to walk in. He followed close behind me, making sure to close and lock the door. As I walked up the narrow rickety staircase, I looked back at him out of the corner of my eye. He was staring at my legs -- I was wearing a pretty short skirt. When he saw me look back at him, he got embarrassed and averted his eyes.
When we got to the third floor and walked into the apartment, David frowned. His roommate, Zeb, was home -- sitting in front of the computer, directly across the room from the door. He was staring straight into the screen, typing like a madman. The screen flashed every ten or fifteen seconds as he switched among different files. Occasionally he lifted his right hand from the keyboard to trace something on the screen with the light pen.
"He's oblivious," said David.
I nodded, scanning around the apartment. Zeb did appear to be oblivious; he did not respond in any way to our arrival. The desk at which he sat was surrounded by an impressive array of electronic equipment -- some plotters, a 3-D graphing interface, an amplifier and several loudspeakers, a piano-type keyboard, plus a number of things that appeared to be homemade. The walls of the apartment were covered by posters advertising old rock bands -- Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Beatles. There were also five or six colorful abstract paintings, amateurish and not to my taste. The place was remarkably neat for a bachelor pad, but there were a few odd electronic components and pieces of paper lying around.
"Do you want something to drink?" asked David brightly.
"A wine cooler OK?"
"Yeah, sure," I shrugged. "Whatever you've got."
He walked over to the fridge and got out two Seagram's raspberry coolers. Then he motioned me to come over to the couch.
"He's awfully intent" I said, indicating Zeb. "Is he writing a paper for school?"
"Naw," said David. "He doesn't go to school. He's just writing, I don't know."
David was obviously impatient with my line of questioning. But I persisted. "So what's all that equipment over there?" I asked curiously. "Which one of you plays the keyboard?"
"He does," said David. "He's also responsible for the paintings. I'm not the artistic type myself. I helped him hook up the keyboard through the computer, but that's about it."
We sipped our coolers and looked nervously around the room.
"So how do you like Philadelphia?" I asked finally, for lack of anything more intelligent to say.
"Haven't been here long enough to say, really," answered David. He paused a few seconds, trying to think of something more. "I mean, it's a big change from Seattle. A lot dirtier, a lot more homeless and stuff. But it's a totally different environment. There you just had the university, and then downtown, and that was it except for the suburbs. Here you've got so many different neighborhoods...."
"You've never lived out East before?"
"Nope. Almost did. I almost went to Johns Hopkins instead of U Dub."
"Mmmmm. So how come you decided to go to Seattle? Is that where you grew up?"
"Actually I grew up in Las Vegas, which is absolutely nothing like Seattle. Totally different climate, and obviously a totally different culture."
"Yeah ... Vegas," I smiled. "That'd be a weird place to grow up."
"Actually it wasn't," he said. "Where we lived was just like any suburb in any other city. I mean, when you're a kid you don't gamble anyway -- well, you try it out, but you know what I mean. The only weird thing was in every supermarket there're all these slot machines."
"That'd be pretty strange, I guess, though."
He smiled and put his hand on my shoulder, studying my face. I knew exactly what he was thinking. From my name, Deborah Ortega, he correctly assumed that I was Hispanic. But my facial features are not at all Hispanic; they're more Grecian than anything else. The only giveaway is the color of my skin -- the same gentle tan as my favorite suede shoes.
Finally, Zeb got up from the computer and walked over toward the couch. For the first time I noticed the length of his hair -- nearly down to his waist. He was wearing torn-up jeans and a tie-dyed T-shirt.
He noticed me reading his shirt. "This thing's a relic," he said. "It was my dad's back in the nineties."
"Weird," I said, smiling.
"You're Deb, I guess?"
"I'm Deb," I said, nodding.
"I don't meet a fellow eb very often."
I scrunched up my brow. "A fellow what?"
"Eb. As in Deb." He grinned. "My name's Zeb."
I laughed quietly.
"We're rhyming partners," he said. "What's Deb short for? Debra?"
"We're true rhyming partners," he repeated. "Full names and nick. Deb and Zeb, Deborah and Zebadiah."
"Zebadiah," I said, savoring the feeling of the word rolling off my tongue. "I've never heard that name before."
"It's biblical," he said. "My parents were pretty religious. I'm not, though. I always thought it was a bunch of shit."
"Don't get him on that subject," warned David good-naturedly.
"Don't get me on any subject, actually," put in Zeb, almost interrupting David. "I'm crazy, or didn't he tell you? I'm really insane."
I smiled indulgently, a little put off by Zeb's patter. I tried to think of an amusing way to end the conversation. "If you really were crazy, you wouldn't be telling me," I said finally.
"That shows what you know about crazy people," said Zeb. "Maybe I just told you I was crazy because I knew it'd make you think I wasn't crazy.... Actually, they just let me out of the asylum last week. Overcrowding, you know."
I shifted my weight nervously from one side to the other, wishing Zeb would go away. The conversation with David hadn't been going so well, but it had been better than this.
"I'm doing all right here in the real world, I guess," he continued. "The only thing is, I keep getting bruises on my head. I'm so used to living in a rubber room, you know."
"He really is a little crazy," said David, realizing that I was becoming uncomfortable. "Has been as long as I've known him. Hey, you want another cooler?"
The doorbell rang. Zeb walked over to the intercom, and asked "Who is it?"
"It's me," replied a soft, high female voice. "Hurry up and let me in, it's fucking cold out here."
Zeb pushed the button that buzzed the door open. About thirty seconds later a very slender girl walked in, wearing a hot pink ballet outfit -- tights, leotard and tutu. She grinned widely at Zeb, completely ignoring David and me. "Are you going to dance for us?" he asked her.
"Why don't you?" said David. I couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic.
She pressed her body close to Zeb's and kissed him on themouth. "Play me some music," she demanded.
Zeb walked over to the keyboard and pushed some buttons. His fingers began moving along the keys, and the girl started dancing. It was clear that she didn't know many fancy moves, but she was very graceful; it was a pleasure to watch her. The music was a little strange at times -- I don't know much about music, but it sounded as though Zeb were mixing up passages from different classical pieces, and mixing in melodies of his own as transitions. But the overall effect was very good; it was evident that the two of them had practiced together before.
When they finished, I clapped vigorously. She was pleased with the change of pace, as her evening with David had been going rather awkwardly.
"Deb, this is Julie," said David, when it became obvious that Zeb wasn't going to introduce the two of usn. "Julie, this is Deb."
"Hi," I said.
"Hi ho," said Julie giddily.
"You're in a good mood," observed Zeb.
"Oh, I just about got thrown out of school today," said Julie. "They were really pissed."
"Maybe you should try going to classes now and then," said David.
"Thanks for the advice," said Julie sharply. "What do I need a fucking degree for anyway? It's just a fucking piece of paper. I promised myself when I started school that when I get my diploma I'll use it to wipe my ass."
"You're so poetic," said Zeb.
"Poetry is a farce," Julie replied.
"Let's not get all cosmic," said David. "Hey, you want something to drink?"
"Ambrosia," said Julie softly, staring out into space.
"That's a dessert, not a drink," David pointed out. "And we don't have any." He was starting to get fed up with Julie; she was cute, but she was also kind of ridiculous.
"The nectar of the gods," she continued. Suddenly she looked over at the computer terminal. "You're building something new," she said. She walked over to inspect it. "What is it?" she asked, with a serious look on her face. "It's some sort of parallel thing, right? I see you've got the same component over and over again. What is that, a transputer? That's a weird pattern of connections, though."
"It exponentiates matrices," he said. "To solve differential equations."
Julie grinned. "Neat. So ... each horizontal slice of transputers is like one matrix?"
"If I ever need to exponentiate a matrix, I'll know who to come to."
"You're studying computers too?" I asked her, surprised at her technical knowledge.
"Voice," replied Julie. "I don't have the patience for computers."
"Well you seem pretty fluent with all the lingo," said Deb.
"Well, I mean, I know some basic stuff. I mean, I like to know what's going on in the world around me."
"You're such a showoff," said Zeb. "You really are."
"So what if I am," retorted Julie. "What're you gonna do about it?" She got a strange look on her face, and suddenly looked at her watch. "Oops, I've gotta go. See you later, guys."
"Where're you going," asked Zeb. His voice was just a little bit plaintive; obviously he wanted to go with her.
"Over the river and through the woods," replied Julie melodically. She kissed him on the lips again, then sauntered out the door.
"She's even crazier than him," said David after she left.
"She's pretty intense," I agreed. "Jeez."
We just stood there for a few seconds, no one knowing what to do. Then David glared at Zeb. I pretended not to notice.
Zeb got the message fast. Apparently they could read each other's expressions pretty well. "I've got to go to the library," he said. "I'll see you around, Deb. Fellow ebbite."
"Bye," I said, smiling.
David and I sat back down on the couch. "You know some weird people," I giggled inanely.
"I don't really care for Julie," said David. "Zeb's not as bad as he seems, though. He kind of grows on you. I've known him since high school, and we were roommates together in college, so I guess I know him as well as anyone."
"Oh, he didn't seem bad at all," I said. "It was weird how she just popped in and then popped out, though."
"She does that all the time. He's crazy in love with her, but she just teases him all the time. I think he should get rid of her."
"She seemed to know a lot about computers, though."
He nodded. "You'd be surprised. She seems like a total ditz, but that girl knows everything. I don't know where she picks it up, since she never goes to school. I mean, she's studying voice anyway, she probably never took any classes in computers anyway...."
"Have you heard her sing?"
"Her voice is really exceptional," he said. "She's an exceptional person, no question about it. I just wish she'd go about being exceptional somewhere else besides my apartment."
"You and Zeb are sort of an odd couple, for best friends," I observed tentatively, not knowing if I was touching on a sensitive subject. "I mean, on the surface anyway, you wouldn't seem to have much in common."
"I guess the only thing we have in common is that we've known each other for five years," replied David. "Really, to tell you the truth, I really do think he's getting a little crazy. I think he should have gone to grad school. Now he just spends all his time on the computer, working on his crazy system."
David scowled. "I don't know what it means. A philosophical system. He thinks he's Aristotle or something."
"That's sort of interesting."
"Not to me," he said acidly. "He thinks religion is a bunch of shit -- I think all that philosophy crap is too. We've argued about it too many times though. I don't really want to talk about it. I just think he's wasting his mind, that's all."
"If he's doing what he wants to, he's not wasting his mind," I persisted sanctimoniously.
David smiled weakly. "You can look at it that way."
"Hey," I said, trying desperately to salvage the evening.
"I think there's a film festival at the student center tonight. Let's go catch a movie."
"Okay," said David. I could tell what he was thinking to himself: Zeb and that goddamned Julie, they ruined my evening! He was cursing his bad luck that Julie happened to show up this particular evening. It was written all over his face: he'd brought me back to his apartment because he wanted to make out, and here I was proposing to leave. But our conversation had gotten me on edge; I was really in no mood for affection.
After the movie, I went back to my apartment, which my roommate Lisa had totally trashed. I was really fed up with her slobby ways; when I got in the door I started kicking around the junk on the floor and yelling. But my anger was wasted; she wasn't there anyway.
David told me later that, while he walked home, he consoled himself by telling himself I was too fat. But when he reached the front door of his apartment building, he suddenly decided not to go in. Instead he walked around the corner to Doc Watson's pub. After three or four beers, he felt a lot better. He ran into Joanie Ruse, a vivacious redhead from his class on semiconductor theory. She was also extremely drunk. They danced for an hour or two, then left the bar together at about quarter till three.
When David walked in through the door of his apartment, he was surprised to see the door to Zeb's bedroom wide open. Zeb was out all night -- a very unusual occurence. He wondered about it for fifteen or twenty seconds, then decided that Julie must have come by again and taken Zeb out somewhere.
Suddenly his thoughts were taking a turn toward the bitter. As soon as he thought about Julie, he thought about his ruined evening with me.
But then Joanie made her presence felt, and jolted him out of his drunken reverie. "Put some music on," she said. She flopped down on the couch, dropping her jacket on the floor. "God, I'm so fucking drunk I can hardly stand up."
David put on his new Guns 'n' Roses CD and sat down next to Joanie. She moved over onto his lap and kissed him fervently. Temporarily, at least, Julie and I were the farthest thing from his mind.
Meanwhile, as David had surmised, Zeb was with Julie. It was a memorable evening for both of them, one that Zeb recounted for me several times. After Julie left the apartment, she correctly predicted that David would encourage Zeb to leave. And where would Zeb go except the library? She found him crouched on the floor in the philosophy section, looking through the Collected Works of Charles Sanders Peirce, a series of eight musty volumes published in 1935.
Once she found him, instead of approaching him directly, she tiptoed down the aisle adjacent to the one he was crouching in. She reached her hand through the shelves of books and pinched his ass.
Disappointingly (to Julie), he didn't shriek. He only gave a frightened "Wha??!" A couple seconds later he said "Hi, Julie."
She walked into the aisle. "I'm getting predictable, huh," she said.
"Never," smiled Zeb, admiring her grace as she came toward him. She had changed out of her ballet outfit; she was wearing a tight black leather dress that came down to mid-thigh. There was definitely something special in the way she walked. No matter how many times you watched her move, you always felt as though you were seeing her for the first time. Her figure wasn't bad; she was narrow-hipped and small-breasted, skinny without being angular. But it was the way she held herself that set her apart. Somehow she gave the impression of walking on air.
"Is this anything to be doing at eleven Friday night?" asked Julie lightheartedly. "Shouldn't you be out numbing your mind with cheap beer?"
"I guess so," he said. "It's numb enough already though. What's up with you?"
"What're you reading this shit for?"
"Leisure reading, I guess," he said. "Peirce had some pretty wild ideas. He claims to have found the one true law of the universe."
"You want to find the one true law of the universe?" she grinned. She reached into her pocket and took out two small white paper squares with black dots in the middle.
"You want to trip tonight?" he said, surprised.
She put one of the squares under her tongue, and handed him the other one.
He followed her example.
"Let's get out of here," he said. "All these philosophy books'll give you a bad trip for sure."
"Not so fast," Julie said, smiling secretively. "The acid won't sink in for a while. We've got plenty of time." She walked over to him and kissed him on the mouth, while settling down on his lap. Expertly she unzipped his fly. "You're already ready for me, I see," she said, grinning.
"Not here!" he said, suddenly annoyed. "We'll get banned from the library. Christ, they'll fucking arrest us!"
"If you keep shouting they probably will," she agreed. "You'd better fuck me, Zeb, or I'll scream."
"You know you love it. If I stopped acting crazy you'd get bored with me in an instant."
"I'd never get bored with you," he said earnestly. "Jesus, you feel good."
By the time they got back to Julie's apartment, the acid was beginning to sink in. "Goddamn, look at this mess," said Zeb. "Isn't it time for your annual cleaning?"
"I'm never here," she said. "What do I need to clean up for. I just come in here at night, sleep, then wake up and leave. I should give the place up, save the money."
"You can move in with us," offered Zeb.
"Oh yeah, David would really like that. I'm just like the apple of his eye, right? Get serious."
"David likes you," he protested lamely.
"You guys have been friends for so long; I wouldn't want to screw it up. Hey, why don't ya put on some music."
Zeb pushed the "play" button on her portable cassette player. Al Dimeola's guitar rushed out of the tinny speakers, and suddenly Zeb felt that all-over tingly sensation that says "you're tripping, you're tripping, you're tripping."
He leaned back on the futon that was her only piece of furniture and looked around the tiny room. Actually, he reflected, this is a lousy place to trip. There's nothing to look at. We should go back to my place.
"When was the last time we tripped together?" she asked, rushing busily around the apartment.
"About three months ago," he said. "That was also the last time I tripped. I don't do drugs, on my own."
"Oh what a good boy you are," she giggled. "Check this out. I just bought it today." She shut out the light, and switched ona long fluorescent ultraviolet bulb. "These were supposedly all the rage back in the seventies."
Suddenly the room came alive. Half the clothing on the floor was white, and it let off an eerie alien glow that made the room look like the surface of another planet. The moment the black light went on, the peak of Zeb's trip began.
As we'll see, this trip turned out to have important consequences. Zeb's told me about it probably half a dozen times, but still, I'm not enough of a poet to do justice to someone else's acid trip. I found a note about the trip in one of Zeb's computer files -- it's written in Zeb's inimitably fluid style, and it captures the feeling of the trip much better than I ever could:
That incredible interaction with music/ visual music/ intricate infinitely enchanting spyderwebs throughout air and space/ spin silver castles full of pomengranate dusk/ I sank into every tiniest chamber of the music, every rhythm-within-rhythm, every counter-counterpoint ... music was my only tie with time. Time didn't pass so every note was a whole symphony. And through the phantasmagoric mayhem of shimmering sinusoidal bliss I sought to concentrate ... every time I make a definite statement to myself, erected a plot of conceptual ground for my conscious to stand on -- the very process of standing seemed to flip the plot out from beneath my feet. Assertion of X was impossible since the process of assertion invariably seemed to contain not-X ... and no less when the assertion was this sentence. This difficulty plagued the whole trip -- and yet I managed a few thoughts...
Zeb's recollection was that the "phantasmagoric mayhem of sinusoidal bliss" was interrupted only occasionally by coherent thoughts. Julie's memory, on the other hand, was that Zeb spenthalf the trip talking, sketching out plans and counterplans, describing visions with incredible lucidity. What Zeb and Julie always agreed on, though, the many times we discussed it, was the "fundamental visions" that Zeb described to her. It was an acid dream that only an academic could have. Many people, when tripping on acid, have visions that might be described as "monist." For instance, I remember that during my first trip I experienced the universe as being made of human flesh. The entire cosmos was a body, and I was part of it! To Zeb, on the ohter hand, human flesh meant next to nothing. He saw the universe as a gigantic, living equation -- a system of simultaneous nonlinear equations, to be precise. Each entity in the universe was a variable in some of the equations of the system, and also a function appearing in some of the equations. It was an equation in which the variables and the functions are the same thing.
This may not mean much to the reader. Let me give an illustration. Suppose f(x,y) = x + y - 2, and g(x,y) = x2 -7y. Then one can form a system of two equations from the functions f and g: namely
x = f(x,y)
y = g(x,y)
This trivial system of equations has the solution x=4, y=2.
Now imagine a system of equations in which the functions f and g are the same as the variables x and y. This is what Zeb saw, more clearly than the walls in front of him (which were covered with glowing colors, shifting geometric patterns and squiggling amoebalike forms). He was but one variable, and one equation, in the tremendously constantly changing system of equations that was the universe.
He described all this to Julie in great detail, sketching details in fluorescent marker on the wall. Then they tired of it and both began drawing pictures of psychedelic flowers.
Finally dawn broke, and the trip was starting to wear off. They left Julie's apartment and slowly walked along the earlymorning streets -- then they walked down to the riverfront and dipped their feet in the chilly Delaware water.
The night was full of weird touches -- such as when, suddenly afraid of getting frostbite, they sucked on each other's toes to make them warm again. Julie's feet were very ticklish, and they wound up rolling around on the concrete by the waterfront, embracing and laughing. Eventually Zeb rolled on some broken glass and Julie had to pick it out of his arm. This would have been a terrifying experience if the trip had still been in full swing, but the trip was almost gone: there was nothing left but that gnawing sleeplessness and inability to hold a coherent train of thought.
At this point, walking back to her apartment, Zeb had another striking vision. As they walked past McDonald's, she told Julie he could see into her mind. She contradicted him, so he asked her to put him to the test. "Pick a number," he said. "Think of a name."
"Nine Augusta," Zeb answered immediately. He didn't even ask if he was right; he could tell by the look on Julie's face.
They walked along a little further. Then Zeb said, "Pomegranate. You were thinking about pomegranates, Chinese apples. And the number twelve."
"You can read my mind," said Julie quietly. "I concede the point.
They walked along.
"Now you won't have to question whether I love you," Julie pointed out.
There had never been any talk of love between them before. This comment would have been very awkward had they not both been tripping. But as it was, nothing could disturb their rapport.
"I can read your mind," said Zeb, "because your independent existence is an illusion. This world is an illusion. It is a spin-off from the fundamental reality."
"What do you mean?" asked Julie sharply. Zeb put his handaround her waist and suddenly she was infinitely reassured. She felt as though they were one organism, as though the air that separated their bodies was actually part of their mutual flesh. "God, I love you."
"What I mean," said Zeb, magisterially indifferent to her declaration of love, although hours before he had been desperate for her affection. "What do I mean." He paused and looked up at the sky. "The sky looks like the inside of a giant eyeball. How come we can't see out?"
"You're rambling," she said. "Get back to the point before you lose it altogether."
He laughed good-naturedly. "In the real world, David and I are just one person. And you don't exist. You're a figment ... a sexual fantasy ... a dream. Every world has a certain probability of existing, and this is one of the lower-probability worlds.... The world we perceive is tentative, barely even here."
"I'm a sexual fantasy," she repeated. "I sort of like that."
"A sexual and metaphysical fantasy," he said. "David and I are one person, and we're dissatisfied with real women. They're stupid, they have no imagination. So we create a fantasy woman, and delude ourselves that she is communicating with us telepathically. You exist only in our trance states, in our delusions and our dreams. For a while we go crazy searching for you -- we look around every corner, we scan every crowded room. We don't want to admit that you're purely imaginary."
"I used to think I was the crazy one," said Julie. "You're really losing it."
"You believe it's true," replied Zeb simply. "I can tell. You're thinking that you were never quite sure you existed anyway. And for some reason, you're thinking that your mother never treated you properly. What's the connection there?"
Julie blushed. "I can't get over it! You can read my fucking mind!"
"Only temporarily," Zeb said. "Never to be duplicated. Or verified scientifically. I think we're both out of our fucking minds."
They reached her apartment building. Then, as they prepared to go in, Julie looked at her watch. "Holy shit, I have to be somewhere in five minutes!" she exclaimed.
"Your watch stopped at ten oh three last night," Zeb observed. "You forget, I can read your thoughts."
All of a suddenly Julie looked frightened. He had never seen her scared before. She tried to kick him in the balls, but missed and just hit his upper leg. Then she ran away.
Zeb walked back to his own apartment, and observed a woman's clothing lying on the couch. He incorrectly assumed that they were mine. Not yet ready to go to sleep, he began to play the keyboard. But it bored him; he felt as though he were just playing one note after another, with no feeling connecting them. Finally he flopped down on the couch and stared at the wall, reviewing the events of the last ten hours.
About four hours later, when Zeb had settled into a sort of half-consciousness, Joanie walked out of David's bedroom naked. Zeb closed his eyes and pretended to be sleeping as she gathered up her clothes. "I've got to be somewhere at noon," she said to David.
"You want to do something tonight?" he called out of the bedroom, his voice thick with hangover and sleep.
"I'll be at Doc Watson's," she said.
"You'll be there at like eleven?"
"Yeah." She slipped on her pants and sat next to Zeb to put her shoes on.
"Hey," said David. "I had a really good time."
"Me too," said Joanie. She walked back into the bedroom to kiss him goodbye.
Shortly afterwards Zeb fell asleep in earnest. When he woke up at half past ten that night, David was gone -- he showered, changed his clothes, and immediately walked over to Julie'splace. But she wasn't there. The two striking visions of the previous night still occupied his mind, as well as Julie's declaration of love. He didn't know whether to take any of it seriously. His basic inclination was to do so: the universe is a weird system of equations, this world is an illusory spin-off of the real one, Julie does love me. But on the other hand, he knew that telepathy was a common acid delusion, that the illusion of cosmic understanding was almost universal among acidheads, and that Julie couldn't be trusted. So he couldn't quite allow himself the pleasure of giving into his inclinations. He turned everything over and over in his head, unable to get rid of a nagging doubt.
On finding that Julie wasn't home, he went to Doc Watsons's, looking for David and Joanie. But his timing was off: David had been at Doc Watson's earlier, but now he was at home in bed, with me. So Zeb went back to the library, and resumed reading the Collected Works of Charles S. Peirce. He came across the following phrase: 'Matter is just mind hide-bound with habit.' Somehow this seemed to him tremendously important. It seemed to somehow be related to the idea that Julie didn't exist, and to his ability to read her mind. But he couldn't put his finger on just what the connection was....
David did go to Doc Watson's Pub that night, in search of Joanie. When I arrived at the Pub -- quite by coincidence -- I saw the two of them sitting at the bar sharing a pitcher of beer. I was in a terrible state of depression, and glad to see someone whom I knew. I took the stool next to David and tapped him on the shoulder.
He looked over, surprised to see me. "Hi, Deb," he said. "This is Joanie."
Joanie and I nodded at each other. It was an awkward situation, the two of us sitting on opposite sides of David, and if I'd been in a normal state of mind I would have left. But anyway David was enjoying it -- it wasn't often that he had two women competing for his attention.
Joanie was already pretty drunk, and she was talking very loud. She kept touching David's arm for emphasis as she spoke. I didn't know what they were talking about; it was difficult to hear over the music. I ordered a drink and gulped it down, then ordered another one. Finally David turned to me and said "How's it going?"
"To tell you the truth," I said, "my life is going to shit."
"What's the matter?" he asked reflexively. I couldn't tell if he was genuinely concerned or just being polite.
"Oh, you don't want to hear me bitch and moan," I said. My tone of voice, of course, virtually implored him to hear me out.
"Sure I do," he said. "You might as well get it off your chest."
I started speaking before he even finished his sentence. "It's my job," I said. "It's a piece of shit, I really hate it, and I think I'm gonna get fired, but I don't know what else I'll do.... I don't know, Christ...."
I spilled out the whole sad tale. A year ago I'd finished my bachelor's in Romance Languages, at the Pennstitution. I hadn't been able to face the prospect of being a college-educated waitress. So I'd taken a job as an "editorial assistant" at a medical newsletter. As the job had been described to me, it had sounded sort of interesting: I was to be checking up facts, rewriting articles, and so on. But as it had turned out, I was really nothing more than a glorified secretary, and getting paid less than the unglorified secretaries. So I was slacking off in my duties -- typing things wrong, letting punctuation errors get by me, and so on. I was begging to get fired, and yet I couldn't think of what other job I could get that would be any better.
"It's a bitch," nodded David seriously. "Zeb's degree is in philosophy, and I guess he'd be lucky to get the job you've got. He couldn't even get it, cause of the way he looks."
"What does he do for money?" I asked. I didn't really want to talk about Zeb, but I figured he'd listened to me long enough. "He begs his parents," David laughed. "And he works off andon at shit jobs. Usually he only lasts through one paycheck. Last month I got him a job at Five Star Parking, but I think he gave up on that one already."
"Maybe that's a better way to do it," I said. "I mean, if you can pay the bills without spending your whole life in some stupid office." I gulped down the remainder of my drink, and motioned to the bartender to get me another.
"Well, he can't really pay the bills I guess," said David sheepishly. "It doesn't work as well as all that. I guess I subsidize him a little bit. Anyway, we're dirt poor. It's no way to live your whole life. I mean, it's all right while I'm in school, but ... hey, enough about me. How much do you make at that medical place -- if you don't mind my asking."
"Thirty thousand," I said. "A little less."
"That's more than I get for being a TA," he said. "But still, what's the poverty line -- twenty two?"
"Twenty two five."
"You know, you could make more than that as a cocktail waitress or something. I mean, you'd probably enjoy it just as much. An office can be a real drag. You'd just have to reconcile yourself to doing a job you could've got just as well straight out of high school. You know, if you think about it, it's kind of weird that we have this idea that we have to identify ourselves with our jobs. The job is just to pay the bills, it's not like the be-all and end-all of life, you know."
"That's all right for you to say," I pointed out, "but you are going into a job that you want to do. I mean you're gonna be a computer engineer, not a waiter, cause that's what you want to do."
We talked it over for a while. Nothing we said meant much of anything, but I started feeling a lot better. Eventually Joanie tapped David on the shoulder and said she was going to the other side of the room to talk to some of her friends. He nodded politely and turned back to me. I felt like a real asshole for ruining Joanie's date, but all the same I needed the attention. David put his hand on my knee and I moved a little closer to him.
I decided not to have any more to drink: a couple drinks always makes me horny, but more than that leaves me incapable to perform the act, to do anything but just lie there. I guess some men like it when a woman just lies there in a drunken daze, but it always makes me feel kind of stupid afterwards. If I'm just going to lie there, he might as well be fucking a rubber blow-up doll, right?
Anyway, we went back to his apartment that night, and I tried to reward David for listening to me unburden my boring troubles. We woke up at ten and I made him breakfast. When we were in the middle of eating, Zeb walked in looking glum and went straight to his bedroom.
"What're your plans for the day?" David asked me.
I shrugged my shoulders. "You're the one who's going to school; I should be asking you. Don't you have homework or something?"
"I'm way ahead in all my classes," he grinned. "I've done every problem in the book for my differential equations class. I already built my final project for semiconductors. And the AI class is so easy I don't have to worry about it."
I said, "I always hated students like you."
"I wasn't always this good a student," he said. "But I mean, like you said last night, this is what I want to do. I want to design computer systems. I don't know how to do anything else." He paused, searching his memory. "I guess I do have some papers to grade, though. They've got me teaching basic math -- intermediate algebra. High school stuff."
"Papers to grade," I repeated, chewing. "You want some help?"
"You don't want to help me grade papers," he said. "It's a real drag. That's the only part of teaching I can't stand."
"Sure I do," I said. "Why not? I've got nothing better to do. What else am I gonna do, go home and watch TV?"
"It's not like a major project," he said. "Just maybe anhour or so of work. We're doing the quadratic formula." He was finished eating; he pushed his plate aside. "I guess I'll get a shower."
"Good idea," I said. "Mind if I join you?"
We had a very long and enjoyable shower. Then I helped him grade his papers, and we sat around and watched bad movies on TV, switching the channel every fifteen minutes. Before we knew it, it was dinnertime. I suggested we go to Rib-It, over in Center City. I knew I might be coming on too strong, but I'd been severely depressed for days, and now I was really enjoying myself.
We drove over to Rib-It in my car -- David's was in the shop, and Zeb didn't have one. Right nextdoor there was a brand new strip bar, called the "Metropolitan Room." Six nude girls twenty-four hours, said the sign. " That's what I should do," I said to David, as we entered the restaurant.
It was intended as an offhand comment. But to my surprise he took it seriously. "You could probably cut your workweek in half and double your earnings," he said. "It would probably be all right, as long as the place wasn't too sleazy."
We dropped the subject, and went on to have an excellent dinner. When we returned to David's apartment, Zeb was just getting up. "I'm going over to Julie's," he said, with a sour look on his face.
David and I had a relaxing, sensual evening, listening to old jazz CDs and making senseless small talk. I didn't leave till eight-thirty the following morning. The weekend was over, it was time to go to work.
But David's offhand comment about the strip bar stuck in my mind. Halve my workweek, double my paycheck. As I sat at the computer in my office, checking boring medical articles for spelling and punctuation errors, the idea seemed more and more palatable. As I left work that day, I decided to stop by the Metropolitan and check it out.
I walked in and asked one of the bartenders who I would talkto about working as a dancer. She told me to wait while she got the manager. Meanwhile I watched the dancers. There were two long narrow rectangular stages, each one with a bar surrounding it. One stage was occupied by an emaciated black woman, who was obviously on some kind of drug. She was dancing fast, faster than the music. Her pathetic performance gave me some much-needed confidence.
On the other stage, the one I was sitting at, there was this vivacious Southern brunette. Her legs were very well shaped, and breasts were pretty large, but the most remarkable thing about her were her incredibly large nipples. She hardly even had to dance -- she just sort of strutted along the stage, waving her tits back and forth and grinning, bending over now and then to show off her ass and her cunt.
The dancers were naked except for G-strings, which were so skimpy that they didn't cover anything up. The law requires the dancers to wear them, which is idiotic, but they do serve one useful purpose: they give the customers somewhere to stick their tips. The black girl's G-string was almost empty, but the Southern belle's was overflowing.
Finally the black girl went offstage, and a skinny blonde came on. This one was a highly skilled dancer. There was a pole in the middle of the stage, and she immediately leaped up onto it and twirled herself around, upside down, sticking her leg straight out so that it whirled over the heads of some of the customers as she spun. She came out on stage in a black leather teddy, which contrasted nicely with her bleach blonde hair, or so I thought, anyway. As the dance went on, she stripped the teddy off, revealing skimpy underwear and a lacy bra. Eventually those came off too, leaving nothing but a nearly nonexistent G-string.
After eight or ten minutes, the manager came. He asked me if I'd danced before, and I told him no. He didn't seem to care; he just looked me up and down several times.
"What do the dancers get paid?" I asked him awkwardly, just to stop his roving eyes.
"Tips," he said simply. "They can make up to six hundred, six fifty a night."
"So there's no salary, it's tips only," I repeated. I was hardly surprised -- as a waitress I'd only made $6.01 an hour, and about twice that much in tips.
"Well, you can make up to six hundred, but what do you think is about the average...."
"I couldn't say," he answered tersely, obviously tiring of the conversation. "It varies from girl to girl, and from night to night."
I just sat there, considering.
He asked, "Do you want to audition?"
He just stared at me. I felt incredibly stupid for being taken aback. After all, why shouldn't he ask me to audition? Hadn't I just walked into the bar and asked for a job?
He said, "You'll need some kind of outfit."
The more I thought about it, the more I knew I had to take the plunge. This may sound odd, but it was really a matter of self-pride. If I'd walked into the bar and been shocked or disgusted by what I saw, then I would have felt good about walking out. But to walk out just because I couldn't face what I'd already expected -- that would have made me feel like a world-class coward.
I said, "Sure, I'll audition. I've got an outfit out in my car."
This was a lie -- I didn't own a suitable outfit. I walked out of the bar -- supposedly to get the outfit from my car -- and was immediately flooded with misgivings. It would have been cowardly to walk out for no reason, I told myself, but now it's going to cost you money just to audition.
Then I remembered the black girl up on stage, and I realized that the audition was basically a formality. Certainly I could do better than that -- any reasonably attractive woman could. The question wasn't whether I wanted to spend money to audition, the question was whether I wanted the job.
While mulling it over, I walked around the corner to the lingerie store. I bought a hot pink lacy teddy, a purple lace miniskirt, and matching panties, bra and G-string. In the street I stuffed them in my pocket, and threw the plastic bag from the store in the trash; then I walked back into the bar.
The manager led me to a room at the back of the bar and told me to put on my outfit and then come out to the bar. I did as he ordered, and felt incredibly embarrassed -- there I was, half naked, standing in the middle of a bar. When the song that was playing ended, he motioned me towards the stage.
I tried to dance naturally, to pretend I was in a dance club and not on a stage. But all of a sudden I was intensely conscious of the men sitting at the bar. For some reason I hadn't really noticed them before -- I'd been looking at the girls, and the guys had just blended into the furniture. These men were staring at me, and worse yet, talking about me amongst themselves -- comparing me to the other dancers, critiquing the shape of my breasts or the flab on my ass. For a moment I just about froze, unable to confront the wall of staring eyes and blank expressions.
The only thing that saved me was the other dancer -- the Southern belle with the tremendous nipples was off the stage, replaced by a slim pale-skinned woman with small breasts and lovely long brown hair. She was dancing more than the Southern belle or the black girl, but not so expertly as the girl I was replacing. I watched her carefully, and imitated her moves -- everything she did, I did about ten seconds later. After a minute or so I got the hang of it; I didn't need to watch her any more. I ignored the guys completely, pretended the stage was in the middle of the desert. When the song ended, the manager had to yell to get me off the stage.
As I stepped off the stage, the black girl got back on. It seemed as though she could barely stand; it was hard to believeshe'd make it through the song.
"When can you work?" the manager asked me. I was a little disappointed with his tone -- I had sort of expected him to be impressed with my performance. But on second thought, I realized how ridiculous that was.
"Nights," I said. "Any night of the week. I've got another job during the day."
"You want to start tomorrow? One of our girls just quit."
He put me down for Tuesday through Friday.
I paused for a moment, and looked at his face. Up until that point, I'd hardly noticed him -- it was dark in the club, and I'd been busy watching the girls and worrying. But now the tense part was over, and it seemed as though his tiny eyes and pointy chin were the only things in the room. His face was skinny, covered with wrinkles that looked all the more hideous because he was obviously not old enough to deserve that many wrinkles. Probably he wasn't over fifty. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the girls walk around the room begging the guys for tips. The expression on his eyes and mouth left no question in my mind that this disgusting old man considered it his god-given right to gawk at attractive, naked young women all day.
All of a sudden, my trance was broken. "You have to walk around the bar and ask for tips?" I said, mostly just surprised but also a little alarmed.
"You don't have to," he said.
There was nothing more to say. I walked out of the bar, got in my car and drove over to my girlfriend Helen's place -- a tiny apartment in a hi-rise near Rittenhouse Square, about halfway between the bar and the university.
Helen was lying back on the couch watching TV. She asked me what was up and I said, "Nothing much." Then I told her the usual gripes about work, and about my weekend with David. She was sick of hearing about my job, but she wanted all the juicydetails about the weekend, and I filled her in. I couldn't bring myself to mention the strip bar -- several times I felt the impulse to, but it was hard to estimate how she'd react.
The next few days, things at the medical newsletter got worse and worse. I kept making stupid mistakes, and the boss kept bitching at me. I told her the truth, which was that she was giving me too many articles to edit each day, and it was driving me crazy. They needed another editorial assistant, but they were too cheap to hire one.
Meanwhile, the strip bar was just fine and dandy. The dancing was fun: I love to dance, I got to pick my own songs, and it was excellent exercise. And walking for tips was not as big a deal as I had feared. The music was so loud it was easy to avoid talking to the guys. I just walked around the bar and if someone wanted to give me money, they did. Sometimes one of the guys would yell something in my ear, but I just smiled and ignored it, not even trying to understand.
What really surprised me was the attitude I developed toward the guys sitting around the bar. The stage was at the level of the bar, so they were looking up at me. I suppose this was advantageous from their point of view, since they got the chance to look up between my legs. But it was also advantageous to me, psychologically. I was looking down on them, and this gave me a certain irrational sense of superiority, which just added on to the feeling of superiority that you automatically get from having a bunch of people pay money for the privilege of looking at you.
The week rushed by like an express train -- after all, I was working two jobs. That Friday David left a message on my answering machine; he wanted to see me that night. I had to work that night at eleven. But I called him back anyway, and suggested dinner at the Indian restaurant on campus.
The minute he saw me he sensed that I was holding something back. "How's your job going?" he asked. "You seem a lot more cheerful than you did last time I saw you."
"It's Friday," I replied, trying to dismiss the question.
"It was Friday last week too," he said.
I laughed uncomfortably, remembering last Friday, when I'd first come to his apartment. How awkwardly we'd conversed! The weekend had been so intimate and wonderful, but now here we were again, struggling just to maintain a conversation.
I reached a decision: I was going to be straight with him. "You remember that strip bar by Rib-It," I said.
"Metropolitan something," he replied. "I remember it."
There was an uncomfortable silence of maybe five or ten seconds. I was about to open my mouth when he said "You're working there."
I nodded. "How'd you guess?"
"It's written all over your face," he said. "Did you quit your other job, the one at the newsletter?"
"No," I said. "I'm sort of afraid to, I guess. I mean, strip dancing isn't much of a career...."
"No ... but I didn't get the feeling you ever really intended to make a career out of proofreading, either."
"I guess not," I admitted, shrugging my shoulders. "You're the first person I've told about it -- about my dancing, I mean. I haven't even told my best friend. I'm afraid what she'll think."
"Well, it doesn't bother me," he said. "Women strut around on the beach wearing nothing all summer, and they get upset if the guys don't stare at them, but then they look down on you if you do the same thing and get paid for it."
"You've got a point there," I replied. "I never looked at it that way."
"I guess for a lot of people, it's not the actual dancing that bothers them, it's the seedy atmosphere in the strip bars. All the drugs and the prostitution."
"Some of the girls I'm pretty sure are whores," I concurred. "And more than half of them're on some kind of drug -- for all I know everyone else is. But what the hell, I mean, you know, every job has its down side. At the newsletter my boss is astuck-up bitch, and at the strip bar my boss is a decrepit old lech. I don't know which is worse."
"How many nights did you work?" he asked me.
"Three so far," I replied. "And I'm working tonight, at eleven."
He grinned. "Maybe I'll catch your show," he said.
I smiled at him nervously.
"What? You don't want me to?"
Actually I hated the idea. But I knew I was being ridiculous -- after all, I'd made love with the man, why should I worry about him seeing me dance in a bar? "It's all right, if you want to," I said finally. "It's not really the best place to spend your Friday night, though."
"Well, no," he said a little defensively, "I never hang out in strip bars, if that's what you mean. But I never knew anybody who worked in one, either."
It was clear that, despite his pretense of objectivity, he had mixed feelings about my dancing. On the one hand he seemed a little afraid that I would get into drugs or prostitution -- a reasonable fear, I guess, since he'd only known me for a month. But on the other hand, he seemed excited at the thought that he was dating a strip dancer. There are a lot of plain looking strip dancers, and most of the pretty ones are either crazy or have nasty, hard-nosed personalities -- but all the same, there's a certain mystique attached to the profession of exotic dancing. Even the scientifically-minded David wasn't immune to it.
After dinner, we went out for drinks and dessert, and then he accompanied me to the strip bar. My shift ran till five; he left around two, but then to my great surprise he returned at four thirty. When I asked him, he said he'd been at Doc Watson's, but he'd gotten bored. I wasn't about to complain. We drove back to his place and made love on the couch (Zeb was sleeping in his room). I stayed over Saturday and Sunday nights, just like the previous week.
I asked the manager to give me the same schedule every week,and he agreed. I decided that if, after another week of dancing, I still enjoyed it, I'd give my two weeks notice at the newsletter. By the end of the week I had no second thoughts.
Meanwhile David was coming on very strong. On Thursday he came by the bar at four o'clock and came back to my place with me. He didn't have any classes Friday, and Lisa was at work, so we spent the whole day lazing around, talking about music, school, movies, all sorts of nonsense, whatever came into our heads. We made love after dinner and then we both fell asleep. When I woke up to go to work, I left him there, asleep. He showed up at the bar at three and hung around till my shift was over, then we went back to his place.
Actually, it was a little awkward having David around the bar. For one thing, the manager didn't care for it, because I tended not to walk for tips when David was there. I'd do my dance and then grab the barstool next to his, and we'd sit and talk till it was time to go on stage again. And for another thing, I think my dancing was a little more restrained in his presence. I felt a little funny waving my ass in someone else's face while he was sitting there looking at me. But I loved having him there to talk to; I wasn't about to tell him not to come.
I was looking forward to another lusty weekend. But when we woke up on Saturday, a little after two, he told me he was falling behind in his work. He said he was going to have to stay home and work for the rest of the weekend. It was the last week of the semester -- he had a test Monday and a big project due Tuesday. Stupidly, I asked if he wanted me to keep him company. He obviously didn't want me to, but he invited me over anyway, and proceeded to ignore me completely.
The first thing David said when we walked into the apartment was, "You'll have to get off the computer, I've got a big project." I thought his tone was kind of harsh, but Zeb didn't seem to mind -- after all the computer, like virtually everything else in the apartment, was David's property. Generally the twoof them shared everything, but it was understood that David had first priority, even when Zeb was the more regular user.
Zeb said, "Just let me finish up this page. I think I'm onto something here."
David nodded. "What's your obsession today?" he asked. "I assume you're working on your cosmological system."
"It's not cosmological," replied Zeb, annoyed. "You're just making fun of me. If anything, it's metaphysical or epistemological. Anyway, what I'm writing about now is biology as much as anything else."
"You don't know anything about biology," pointed out David.
"I know a little," said Zeb. "I've been reading some stuff."
I sat down on the couch and listened to them argue. It was interesting, in a boring sort of way. I didn't know much about Zeb at that point, but I'd heard David talk and talk about him.
"You really are a maniac," laughed David. "You're a mad scientist. All you need is a white coat and a hunchbacked assistant named Igor."
"I'm not a scientist at all," said Zeb harshly. "I wish you'd cut out the insults, all right." He glared at me. "You're just trying to show off in front of your girlfriend."
"I was just joking," said David. I realized immediately, from the tone of David's voice, that Zeb's accusation had been correct. I felt like a real bitch for forcing myself into the apartment.
David's voice assumed a conciliatory tone. "So you're not a mad scientist -- you're just mad, all right? That better?"
"Much better." Zeb recovered his composure. "Listen to this." He picked up a stack of photocopied pages from his lap, and started reading.
"'The "conquest of the land" by the vertebrates is achieved by a tenfold increase in thyroid hormone levels in the blood of a tadpole. This small molecule is responsible for the irreversible changes that oblige the animal to change from an aquatic to aterrestrial mode of life. The transformation involves the reabsorption of the tail, the change to a pulmonary respiration and other drastic modifications of the body interior.... If the thyroid gland is removed from a developing frog embryo, metamorphosis does not occur and the animal continues to grow, preserving the aquatic structures and functions of the tadpole. If the thyroid hormone is injected into such a giant tadpole it gets transformed into a frog with terrestrial characteristics....
"'There are species of amphibians which represent a fixation of the transition stage between the aquatic and the terrestrial form. In them, the adult stage, characterized by reproduction, occurs when they still have a flat tail, respire by gills and live in water. One example is... the mud-puppy.... Another is... the Mexican axolotl.
"'The demonstration that these species represent transitional physiological stages was obtained by administering the thyroid hormone to axolotls. Following this chemical signal their metamorphosis proceeded and they acquired terrestrial characteristics (round tail and aerial respiration)....'"
"That's neat," David admitted, hoping a few kind words would keep his roommate from continuing.
"That's from a book by some Scandinavian guy in the late 1980's -- Lima de Faria, I think his name was. It's more than neat -- the point is that the huge structural difference between a land animal and a water animal is not necessarily a huge difference of underlying genetic program. The two animals may come out of very slightly different modifications of the same algorithm."
"I understand," said David.
"So that's just one animal," said Zeb. "Now take a hundred thousand species of animals, all controlled by genetic programs that can potentially create totally different organisms if you change them only slightly. The programs are constantly mutated, and the mutations that lead to fitter organisms are retained -- but fitness itself is not an objective quantity; the fitness ofan organism is determined by the nature of the other organisms that it has to interact with."
"Interesting," said David, his tone making it clear that he was tired of the conversation. I myself didn't know what to make of Zeb's ideas, being totally ignorant of every kind of science.
"I think there's something big here," Zeb persisted. "It goes beyond just biology. I can't quite put my finger on it now, that's all."
They looked at each other for a while. I was about to open my big mouth, when Zeb broke the silence. "So what's this big project you've got to work on?" he asked.
"It has to do with data access," David explained, after a pause. "You want to send a sort of messenger into a computer network, that will not only retrieve data but create data out of the information provided by the network."
"So it's not really creating data," pointed out Zeb. "It's just combining existing pieces of data in new ways."
"You're just playing with words," David said.
"Maybe," admitted Zeb. "I wish I understood the stuff you were doing better."
"It's not that hard," said David.
"I believe it's not that hard conceptually. I just don't know enough math. I guess Julie could explain some of it to me; she seems to know everything."
David nodded agreeably.
"It used to be we were interested in the same things," Zeb continued. "We were taking the same classes and all. Remember?"
"I'm not senile yet," retorted David. He looked at me oddly, as though surprised to see me sitting on his couch. "The two of us used to take the same five classes every semester. It started by accident -- we both signed up for calculus, physics, computer science, biology and English, and we got exactly the same sections. We figured out the odds of that happening, they were incredibly small. It worked out so well that after that we decided to keep up the pattern."
Zeb grinned. "Chemistry, artificial intelligence, systems programming, differential equations, computer graphics, abstract algebra, linear algebra, symbolic logic...." He trailed off, losing track.
"We did our homework together," continued David, "studied for tests together. Once we even shared a notebook -- he took notes on Tuesdays and I did on Thursdays."
I couldn't help giggling. All of a sudden the two of them sounded just like a married couple -- interrupting each other and completing each others' thoughts as they looked back on the good old days.
"We had all the same classes till senior year, I guess," said Zeb. "You started taking all these hard-core engineering courses."
"And you started poring over the incomprehensible rantings of obscure foreign philosophers," replied David, pointing to Zeb's stack of books over by the couch.
"It must be all that acid I dropped that summer," Zeb suggested facetiously.
"Maybe it was," said David seriously. "I always said that stuff stays in your system forever."
"You're just jealous cause you've never tried it," laughed Zeb. At the time I didn't realize it, but he must have been thinking of his last trip with Julie.
"I'm not jealous," said David firmly. "You always say that, it's just a bunch of BS. I don't have any desire whatsoever to fuck up my brain. I enjoy having it in good order. That's the only thing that lets me feel superior over other people. If I made myself stupid, I'd probably develop serious psychological problems."
"Whatever," said Zeb. "All right, I'll let you get to work."
I told David I was leaving; he got up and gratefully kissed me goodbye.
David's project was due Tuesday. On Tuesday he turnedsomething in, but he didn't abandon the project. He kept working at it night and day, so furiously that Zeb started writing his philosophical stuff out longhand -- he never got a chance to use the computer.
David didn't come by the strip bar at all that week, and he didn't even call me on Friday. Later I would realize that David always got that way when one of his projects wasn't going well -- he kept on fiddling and fiddling and fiddling, unable to think about anything else until he got it right. But at the time I was a little depressed -- after all, things had been going spectacularly between us, and now he was shutting me out completely.
On Saturday David finally gave me a call. He wanted to go out that night. We met at Doc Watson's and ordered some drinks. This time it was me who noticed there was something wrong. I pressed him, and he admitted he had some bad news. He was leaving on Friday, for two and a half months (most of the summer) -- going to Berkeley with his adviser to work with some new computer system.
We went back to my place, where he stayed through the weekend. But I suppose it wasn't quite the same as it would have been if he'd left a week before. He'd basically ignored me for a week -- thus, to my mind, leaving open the possibility that he would ignore me when he got back....
Track 2, Reel 4
After Molly ran off the plane, I continued on to Vegas (short of jumping out the window to my death, or holding up the plane, there wasn't much alternative). I arrived at the airport with three hundred dollars in my pocket -- that was it, that was all my money in the world. But still, there was no question in my mind. In two hours there was a plane back to New York. I went to the ticket desk, made my reservation, then ran off to the Ms. Pac-Man machine to wait for the announcer to call my flight number.
That afternoon I got my all-time high Ms. Pac-Man score: 242,768. It was an incredible game -- it lasted well over an hour. And the most amazing part is, when the announcer called my plane, I kept on playing. I didn't leave the machine until he made clear it was the last call; then I sprinted through the airport. When I got on the plane, they slammed the door behind me. I came so goddamned close to missing that plane. And all the time I was running toward the gate, I kept on thinking: "If you miss this plane, Solly, there's no point in waiting for the next one, she'll be gone!"
When I got to New York, I had her paged in the airport -- but she was nowhere to be found. I spent the whole night, and the entire next day, searching every place she'd ever frequented, asking everyone if they'd seen her. But it was hopeless. In a smaller city, there might have been some tiny chance of running into her -- but not in New York. And anyway, I had no way of knowing if she was still in the city. She could have caught the next plane to Nairobi, for all I knew.
I got a tiny "weekly apartment" in Harlem near Central Park East -- it was really more of an hotel room. To help pay the rent I looked in the classified ads and found some part timeprogramming work. I even started attending my classes at Columbia. I was a little bit behind, but it was easy enough to catch up. I thought about Molly probably five hundred times every day. At least ten times a day I considered trying to hunt her down. But every time, I decided it was futile. I didn't have the money to personally investigate every possible place where she could be. I even called Eliza and begged her to tell me where Molly was, but Eliza said she didn't know either, and she sounded sincere.
To my family's immense surprise, I actually finished the semester with decent grades. They thought I was turning over a new leaf -- how wrong they were! I told them I wanted to stay in New York for Christmas, and they didn't complain.
Somehow, I had gotten through the semester. For the first time in my life, I had managed to stop myself from reflecting, to concentrate exclusively on schoolwork and the mechanics of daily life. But then Christmas came, and the whole charade came to an end. I was still programming fifteen hours a week, but that was nothing. That left a hundred and fifty four hours to obsess about Molly, and I took advantage of every single minute.
To distract myself, I vowed to spend my time reading the ancient Greeks, something I'd never done before. Hours and hours I wasted sitting there at my desk staring at fat volumes of Plato, Euclid and Archimedes, checked out of the university library. Needless to say, I never got anywhere. I just sat there with the books open, obsessing on Molly, feeling like a goddamned fool. Occasionally I tried to put on the TV for company, but it just got on my nerves. One day, after a particularly annoying "Geraldo" show, I ripped the knobs off the front; and that was the end of that.
I deliberately turned my existence into nothing. My love life was obviously nil -- other girls didn't mean a thing to me; they were just moving bags of flesh. And I didn't once think of contacting John, or calling Malik or any of my other friends from ASU. They were just soft, mobile machines, playing complicatedrobot games without any light in their eyes. It was definitely the low point of my life. I -- I who had always been "the man with the plan" -- I really didn't know what to do. All my life I had been waiting for that magic moment, that look of total recognition, of pure reality. Then it had happened, and it had led to a beautiful relationship. And now it was gone. I wasn't suicidal, or depressed to the point of nonfunctionality. I was perfectly able to go through the motions of life. I just felt totally empty inside. I felt like a machine.
And I experienced a sensation I had never known before: intense self-hatred. I didn't hate myself for screwing things up with Molly -- not at all. I had a pretty fatalistic attitude toward the deterioration of our relationship: it wasn't my fault, it was inevitable, because the world was a piece of shit. What I hated myself for was still being so competent, for continuing to live in essentially the same manner that I had lived before. I hope you can understand the distinction: I didn't hate myself for not having the guts to commit suicide, I hated myself for not having the desire. I hated myself for still wanting life even when life had no meaning. Because this irrational desire for life condemned me to what seemed like an eternity of awful, grating, terrifying boredom.
Remember the myth of Sisyphus: he is condemned to spend eternity rolling a huge rock up to the top of a hill, only to have it roll back down again. Every day he pushes it up with backbreaking effort, then gets a brief break while it rolls back down again. Then, the next day, he sets to work once more. Camus thinks Sisyphus is supposed to gradually come to see meaning in his task. But my feeling was just the opposite. Sisyphus hates what he's doing, he despises it more than anything in his memory; he can find no meaning in it whatsoever. He feels like a bag of flesh and bones, capable of two emotions only: agony and neutrality. Every day he considers killing himself by throwing himself under the rock -- he thinks of this not once a day, but a hundred or a thousand times. But every time he thinksthe thought, he is forced to admit that he's not serious -- because, given the choice between pain and nothingness, he knows he has to choose pain. Why he feels this need to cling to life, he does not know -- it is a meaningless biological fact, an element of his makeup as fundamental as having to piss after taking a drink. He keeps on rolling the goddamned rock, day in and day out, constantly cursing himself for not wanting to die. I tried to force myself to doubt the reality of my bond with Molly. I told myself that though it might have been love, it hadn't been true recognition. But the effort was hollow. Deep down I knew exactly what the deal was. My relationship with Molly had been exactly what I had been searching for all my life -- a passion so intense as to overcome all intellectual doubts. A dose of total, true reality. And now it had vanished, leaving my existence a pointless sham. I'm not a good enough writer to convey the kind of despondency that filled my mind in those days -- it oozed into every crack of my life, there was nowhere to hide from it.
Eventually, out of utter desperation, I hatched an idea. I didn't even bother to question whether the idea had any chance of working. It was enough that the idea was there. All of a sudden there was a tiny flicker of light.
I decided that, if I took acid once again, I might somehow be able to relive that magic moment when we had "married." If I could just trip once again, and somehow move my mind into the proper location, then I could contact her, I could speak to her on a transcendent level, a level beyond space and time. After all, on that transcendent level, she had never broken up with me, she had never run off that plane: we were still together, loving one another as if there were no other possible ways to live.
I don't think that I really believed this plan would work -- I just wanted to have some kind of strategy, no matter how stupid; some potential of a way out. Anyone who has been in a desperate situation, either physical or psychological, will understand the crucial importance of a way out -- not a path to abstract "freedom," but what is infinitely more important, an escape from one's present conditions. Maybe the way out just leads to a different kind of torture -- "out of the frying pan into the fire." But even then, at least one has some variety to look forward to -- instead of just the same old grinding, nauseating, hackneyed, terrifying pain. Macabre as it may seem, there is a kind of ephemeral pleasure in the shift between different flavors of pain.
I went to see Lambert, one of John's guitar-playing doped-up friends from art school. He had plenty of acid to supply me with. Just to be sure I got the job done, I decided to take ten hits at once -- five times the largest amount I had ever taken before. Plus I took four hits of MDMA ("Ecstasy").
This extravagance was totally out of character for me; in my previous experimentation with drugs I had been extremely conservative. But even so, the plan didn't work. I had a trip, just a plain old trip -- not a particularly good one, but not a terrible one either. I saw the images I was supposed to see, I got carried away by the appropriate music, I forgot who I was and I forgot about time. But Molly was nowhere to be found.
The sensible thing would have been to realize that my plan had been a stupid one. But I was at loose ends. If I gave up my idea, then what would be left. Just sprawling nothingness. Before the trip had even worn off, I went back to Lambert and asked for something fifty times stronger. He just looked at me and laughed. "I can't believe this is Solly saying this to me. Fucking Christ, man, what's gotten into you?"
I grinned at him weakly. "Girl trouble."
He just shook his head. But I pulled out some large bills, and he wasn't in a mood to argue....
Track 0, Reel 4
6 pounds of butter,
3 pinches of salt,
two heaping drops of vanilla extract,
4 petri dishes of E. coli,
areas 17 and 19 from the visual cortex of a rhesus monkey,
13 micrograms of lysergic acid,
3 pinches fermented vampire bat venom,
2 milligrams fresh semen from a syphilitic teenage whore,
3 ounces corneal matter from the eyes of sharks,
1 pound confectioners's sugar
17 pounds orange cat (live)
Force-feed the butter, sugar, vanilla extract, E. Coli, Area 17 monkey cortex, and lysergic acid to the cat. Wait half an hour, then incinerate the cat and collect the ashes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine ashes with bat venom, confectioners' sugar and salt. Gently stir in corneal matter, until the mixture attains approximately the consistency of mucous. Place in an eight inch square cake tin and cook six hours or until completely charred. Scrape the remaining black crust off the pan into a small mixing bowl, slowly stirring in semen. Add Area 19 monkey cortex to taste. Place in coffee cup and cook for ten minutes in microwave oven, on medium high.
Makes 500 milligrams of intricately patterned lust.
Track 7, Reel 0
Once one realizes
Alive words pound
that the universe is irrational
against the inside of my skull
but that without some rational structure
like poisonous, accelerated drops of rain
one cannot act
They manifest themselves
there are four choices
to my ears
Mysticism, wavering conformism, fervent faith
as a constant sound
and then the other
of machine-gun fire
the more difficult path
Each time one hits
acceptance of that which cannot be accepted
I smell a body burst its skin
of the shapeless shaping force
always the same body
the force of abstract sexuality
the same curvaceous dark-haired girl
that plays with reason and unreason
without a face
creates from them music
My dentist tells me that the cause of this
a dazzling, frightening game
is my extra long teeth
the law of noncontradiction
She says that
is a jailer
the tops of my teeth protrude
it restrains each entity
into my brain
inside some group of categories
Skepticism, nihilism lets them out
the natural electrical flow
The shapeless shaping force
I don't believe her
pushes them in and out, in and out, in and out, ...
She is a curvaceous dark-haired girl
this is the form of abstract sex
I have never seen her body
Space and time may be understood
I am afraid to see her body
as a part of this process
afraid that she is the one
Intuition is an aspect
whose body I smell to explode
of the shapeless shaping force
every time my skull shakes
It forms new categories instantaneously
with the impact of an organism, a meaning
It constructs boundaries
One of these days I will have to see her body
Every boundary defines sex
Tonight I have asked her on a date
All frames of thought
We will go out to dinner
are merely denials
then I will bring her back to my place
of the universal flow of sex
I will lift up her shirt, unfasten her bra
To accept the shapeless shaping force
unbutton her skirt, slip off her underpants.
is to transmute into an abstract orgy
Her existence will be threatened
into a web of strands pulsing ever through each other
I will be afraid to open my eyes
I will explore her with my lips
expanding and collapsing spaces
never certain whether the body that I'm feeling
by the dynamic of sex
licking, tasting, is the one
Track 5, Reel 0
After being evicted from our Queens apartment at gunpoint, we had no choice but to leave New York. To last out the semester we moved into a run-down hotel in Harlem, at 104'th and Central Park West. Then we stayed with one of my distant cousins for a week or two, on the Upper West Side. I finished two of my four classes, and Molly finished three of her five. Then we ran as fast as we could. I knew some people in the math department at Temple University, in Philadelphia, so I decided to transfer there. We got a huge apartment in downtown Philly, for the incredible (by New York standards) price of three hundred a month.
I paid no attention to my classes, except one, the "Problem Seminar," taught by Temple's star mathematician -- let's call him Dr. Oldman. Every day he would give us a number of difficult problems in "elementary" mathematics: number theory, geometry, calculus, probability, logic, approximation theory, etc. We were expected to solve them by the following class. The class started out with ten people, but by the third week only three of us were left: a Chinese student who understood no English, my friend Seymour who had just graduated from Yale with a degree in English and knew almost no math, and me. If ever Oldman asked "Who solved this problem?" and no one answered, he would fly into a rage, shouting "Who the hell let you idiots out of Calculus I.??!!" So I was stuck solving almost all the problems -- many of which were ridiculously hard, requiring not only knowledge and calculational prowess but the ability to come up with bizarre tricks. About two thirds of the way through the semester Oldman had a heart attack -- surprise, surprise! -- and someone else much mellower and much less brilliant took over the class.
Also, I had come down with a truly phenomenal case of cold sores in the mouth -- it was incredibly painful to talk. I was spending all my time writing, trying to invent a new form ofsurrealistic stream-of-consciousness science fiction poetry. The chronic pain put me in a mystical state of mind, and I was seeing recurrent visions of a beautiful women who claimed that she lived in a distant city and was communicating with me telepathically. But I could only see her body, never her face. Sometimes her smile, or her eyes -- but never her whole face. Never a full view of my mysterious dark-haired girl.... My life began to center around these experiences.
One time I saw a French movie called Beatriz, and the actress in the movie -- Julie Delpy -- looked so much like this vision-woman that I nearly passed out. Actually what happened was that I felt a little dizzy, probably due to the sores, and then I tried to make myself pass out, in order to convince myself in some warped way that the actress actually was the woman of my visions. I saw the movie several times, and when one Christmas we went to Paris I looked for her name in the phone book, hoping to contact her.
Meanwhile Molly was studying art across the bridge at Rutgers Camden. Not the best art program in the area, not by a long shot, but remarkably inexpensive. All of a sudden, she had decided that painting was her true vocation. Her artwork was somewhat erratic, but I was impressed with it. I told her I was destined to be a great writer, and she a great artist....
I had obtained a teaching assistantship at Temple, so I was paying the bills for a change. But for some reason, when summer rolled around, I couldn't get any summer teaching. Most likely I applied too late. Neither of us wanted to work through the summer -- I wanted to spend all my time writing; she wanted to spend all her time painting. So we decided to get married, and ask for cash instead of the usual useless wedding presents.
I was philosophically opposed to the concept of marriage, maybe because my own parents had divorced when I was ten. But on the other hand, Molly -- whose mother had never married -- had just the opposite idea. And I must admit, after the deed was done, it really pleased me to hear her called "Molly Sluzhyak." Molly fucking goddamned Sluzhyak! After all, why not my name instead of her crazy old mother's? We tied the proverbial knot in an informal ceremony in my mother's back yard. The "minister" was a Rutgers professor, a colleague of my father's. John was the best man.
For the first time in the two years since I'd graduated college, our lives were stable: we had food money and we even paid our bills. I was going to get my Ph.D. in two or three years, and she was going to get her art degree....
To save money, we took in a number of different roommates. First my college friends Sergei and Malik, which didn't work out too well; then Molly's cousin Susie, which worked out even worse. John visited a lot, and we would drink and blast the stereo and throw the furniture around when Sergei and Malik were supposedly studying. Actually they did very little studying.... But anyway, none of that mattered.... My mind was on something else....
Track 8, Reel 1
Excerpted from the note-files of Zeb Arens
I have been writing a lot about computation. Indeed, the Church-Turing Thesis, which I have been vigorously defending, implies that computation is fundamental in a truly cosmic sense. However, I have not yet touched on the historical significance of computation. Computation is much, much more than a technological trick. The emergence of computation is a landmark development in the history of man, comparable to other tremendous advances such as the discovery of tools, and the emergence of language.
To understand this better, let us consider a somewhat arbitrary list of six essential metapatterns -- six essential methodologies for recognizing and creating patterns. Each one of these marks a dramatic advance in the biological or cultural evolution of man.
METAPATTERN 1: TOOLS
The first real watershed in the emergence of man from animal was the systematic use of tools. Tools allowed us to shape our environment in sophisticated ways -- to systematically cause the detailed patterns within our minds to appear in external reality. And they spurred us on to making our mental patterns more intricate and concrete: making something real requires that one works out all the fine points.
METAPATTERN 2: LANGUAGE
Following tools, the next landmark development was language. Language, as discussed above, is a sort of surrogate reality, a surreal medium in which one may represent patterns that are too complex or non-concrete to be expressed in physical form. Language consists of tools for shaping language. It transcendsthe dichotomy between tool and physical reality, in true dialectic style.
With language came the construction of the imaginary subject. And from the imaginary subject came the reflexive self-concept which is a large part of what we call consciousness. Before language there was no rift between internal and external reality -- because external reality was the only medium in which to inscribe patterns.
METAPATTERN 3: MACHINES
Machines are tools applied to tools applied to tools.... Machinery is a language whose sentences are made of tools rather than words. Types of machinery are like parts of speech; and the logic of machine construction is like a grammar.
The world of machinery, taken to its logical extreme, is a sur-real-ization of the physical world. It is not a solid physical realm being acted upon by external tools; it is nothing but tools acting on one another.
METAPATTERN 4: MATHEMATICS
Mathematics consists of machinery for shaping mathematics. It is therefore a special kind of language.
Just as tools are only fully exploited within machinery, the true power of language is only revealed in mathematics.
Mathematics may be interpreted as an extra step of sur-real-ization: it is a language made of language. Its parts of speech are entire types of linguistic forms, and its grammar is a body of unspoken high-level inference rules.
METAPATTERN 5: COMPUTERS
Computers are machines which have achieved the flexibility of language. Programs consist of tools for shaping other programs.
This is the true meaning of computation, more fundamentalthan any formal definitions.
A computer chip consists of tools acting upon tools acting upon tools ... acting upon tools, to a level of iteration that exceeds direct human comprehension. In this way it is a realization of the potential for reflexivity inherent in the very concept of machinery.
METAPATTERN 6: COMPONENT-SYSTEMS
Component-systems are machines which have attained not only the flexibility of language but the power of mathematics. They are computers made of computers rather than merely made of tools. A component-system is a language whose parts of speech are computers, whose grammar is a body of complex interconnection protocols between computers.
We have argued that the universe itself is a component-system. Another example of a component-system is the human brain.
METAPATTERN 7 ?
The preceding six metapatterns are part of modern human reality. But, hard as it may be for us to accept, we are not the ultimate in subtlety and complexity. It is not impossible to grasp, in an abstract fashion, what sort of novel metapattern might arise in our distant descendants. We have achieved language, and language made of language. But language made of language made of language is not unthinkable.
In the broadest view, ordinary spoken language and machines, including computers, constitute one level. Mathematics and component-systems form the next level up: they are, in effect, languages whose units are complex linguistic forms. Given these two levels, it is natural to postulate an infinite hierarchy of languages made of languages made of languages....
Mathematically, we can show that such an hierarchy exists, although we cannot comprehend the elements of this hierarchy in aconcrete way. This hierarchy is a feeble attempt at describing something fundamentally beyond our powers of description -- but not beyond our powers of intuition.
We have not yet succeeded in creating "artificial" computer-based component-systems. However, it seems likely that we will achieve this -- and that, furthermore, the next step up will probably be achieved by huge artificially intelligent computer networks. This idea has been explored by several science fiction writers. For instance, the global computer "matrix" at the end of William Gibson's novel Neuromancer embodies a form of metapattern beyond anything humanly conceivable. And the same is true of "Honest Annie" and the other hyperintelligent computers in that Stanislaw Lem's story -- I can't remember the title....
It is not clear whether the consequences of the next step can be meaningfully estimated. For instance, language brought with it a new type of immortality -- an immortality different in kind rather than degree from anything offered by physical reality. What analogous revolutions will the next step bring?
Track 6, Reel 2
The first month of the summer was basically uneventful. The dancing was losing its novelty, but it was still five times better than the newsletter had ever been. I spent a lot of time reading, and sitting around my friend Helen's apartment talking bullshit.
David called a couple times -- maybe four or five times, actually -- during the first two weeks. Our conversations were affectionate, but for some reason we didn't have much to say to each other. Our relationship faded.
Then, at about ten of eleven Wednesday morning -- four weeks and five days after David's departure -- I ran into Zeb in the campus Burger King. He was looking sort of depressed. I asked him if he'd heard from David lately.
"He calls me every couple days," he said, surprised at my question. "I thought you'd been talking to him fairly often."
"We haven't talked in a couple weeks," I said. "Is he having a good time?"
"I wouldn't say that," said Zeb hesitantly. "He's still working on that same project, actually. He's getting kind of pissed -- he can't get it to do what he wants it to."
"I thought he went out there to learn some new computer system."
"I don't know what that's all about. I'm sure he's learning it, though. He's always been a good student."
It suddenly struck me as absurd, this questioning Zeb about David. If I really wanted to know what was up with David, I had his number -- why didn't I call him up and ask? "So," I said, "what's going on with you?"
"Same old same old," he replied in a monotone. "I'm slaving over my obscure dusty philosophy books, the ones David likes to laugh at. At least I've got the computer to myself for a change."
"You don't sound so excited about it," I observed.
"No, no, the work's going really well, at least by my standards. Which are the only standards I care about." He paused. "There's no problem with that. I guess I am a little down, though. It's just personal stuff."
I took a guess. "Have you seen Julie lately."
He grinned at me wryly, and I saw that my guess was correct. "Not since that night you saw her," he said. "She's incredibly unreliable. I mean, she'll throw herself at me for a few days, and then disappear. I don't know where she goes."
"She seemed like a pretty strange person," I said.
He laughed loudly. " Strange? You think you've seen her act strange? Let me tell you about the night I first got to know her -- now that was strange." He looked at his watch. "It was a really weird night. I'll only bore you for about three or four minutes."
"Okay," I said, smiling.
"It was our first semester here; I met her in the library. She told me she was studying for a test, in a course on the philosophy of science. I told her I had some knowledge of the philosophy of science, and I offered to help her study. She accepted my offer.
"Things were going pretty normally for a couple of hours, until we got to Karl Popper and falsificationism -- probably the least interesting thing in the course, but not the way she looked at it."
Julie had been reading from her class notes in a serious tone: "According to the falsificationist point of view, the meaning of an experiment is determined by the class of all conjectures which the experiment has the potential to prove false...."
Zeb had asked her for an example, and she had put her hands on her chest.
"My breasts," she had said. "From your point of view their existence is only potential. In fact, for all you know, my bracould be padded with toilet paper. Or I could have no breasts at all -- I could have had breast cancer, and had them removed. What you have been staring at so lustfully for the past two hours might be nothing more than two lumps of cloth."
Zeb had blushed and gotten nervous -- had he really been staring at her breasts? "So," he'd asked her, trying to get back to the philosophy of science, "what would be the meaning of the experiment of removing your blouse and bra, of exposing your chest?"
Julie had answered pedantically: "The class of all possible conjectures which the experiment has the potential to prove false."
"All possible conjectures as to the nature of your breasts. The meaning of the action of stripping your chest is the class of all possible forms that your chest might take. Your breasts, once I uncovered them, would have only one form. But the act of uncovering them contains all possible forms, contains the breasts of every woman in the world, and every possible type of simulated breast."
"No, not every woman in the world," Julie had cautioned. "It's clear that Dolly Parton's breasts wouldn't fit inside my shirt."
"No!" Zeb had said angrily. "You're wrong! You said all possible conjectures. Once you restrict it to some individual's subjective notion of plausibility, you've ruined everything. All possible conjectures that the experiment has the potential to prove false."
"You're right," Julie had conceded, a sudden tone of wonder in her voice. "You're right. I think I'm finally beginning to understand this stuff.... I never realized...."
"Never realized what?" he'd asked her gently.
"How significant it is -- the simple act of taking off my shirt. That's why we wear clothes, isn't it? That's why we wear clothes."
Zeb had shrugged his shoulders warily.
"The purpose of wearing clothing," she had continued, "is to preserve the infinite significance of the experiment of removing clothing."
Slowly, she had lifted her shirt up over her head. Her lacy pink bra had left the top halves of her breasts uncovered. She had said, "You have just experienced half of infinity. Of the infinite variety of hypotheses regarding the nature of my breasts, half of them have now been proved false, since half of each of my breasts has been revealed."
Zeb, straining to take the conversation seriously, had said, "That's only a rough numerical estimate. You don't know that exactly half of the possible hypotheses have been proved false. What if you had revealed one breast entirely, and left the other one totally covered. Then would it have also be the case that exactly half of the total cleass of hypotheses had been proved false?"
She had agreed with him. "The measurement of proportion is arbitrary."
They had sat in silence for a couple of minutes, Zeb carefully examining the exposed portions of her breasts.
Finally she had said, "I disagree with your previous point. Plausible hypotheses should count for more. The conjecture that my breasts look like Dolly Parton's was already proved false before I took off my shirt -- it was proved false by simply looking at my figure."
"Then you're looking at this experiment as a sub-experiment of a more general experiment. In the beginning, when the whole experiment started, every possible hypothesis deserved equal consideration. But then the class of possibilities gets whittled down."
"But when did the whole experiment start?" she had persisted. Now she had sounded excited. Zeb had seen her nipples stand on end, through her flimsy pink bra. "Did the experiment start when you first met me -- no, because you already knew that I was a human woman, and that told you something aboutmy breasts, for instance that they weren't covered with long orange fur."
"But what if, through a genetic abnormality, some woman were born with orange furry breasts? It's not impossible."
"It's not impossible," she'd admitted. "I guess you're right."
Then he'd said, "Half of infinity is infinity" -- changing the subject for some reason.
She'd put her hand on his leg and squeezed it. "Did you feel it go by?"
He'd looked at her, questioning.
"The half of infinity, escaping out of my shirt. Instantaneously it left me, it rushed away from me and distributed itself with equal density throughout the universe."
For a moment, Zeb had considered that she might be seriously insane.
She had reached around her back and undone her bra. "Are you ready to feel the rest?"
"The other half of the infinite hypothesis space?"
She'd thrown her bra across the room, thus ending the study session.
Zeb took a deep breath, as he finished recounting the story. "Ever since that night, I've been obsessed with her. I'd never met anyone like her before, and I know I never will again. She was so enthusiastically intellectual, I couldn't help respecting her. But yet she was giddy, crazy, ridiculous -- her frilly clothes, her girlish mannerisms, her instinctive vanity. I don't know...."
"You're a hell of a story teller," I said. "Whoa."
He smiled, embarrassed. "I've been over that night so many times in my mind," he said. "It's sort of an obsession."
"Yeah," I said, "but I could never remember conversations that well."
"I don't remember normal conversations," he replied. "Buttalking to her is like talking to the Sphinx."
I laughed and said, "I told you she was strange...." All of a sudden I felt incredibly comfortable talking to him. "But you're really in love with her, huh?"
"I don't know about that," he said. "I hardly know her well enough to be in love with her. I don't know if I'd be able to get along with her if she was around all the time -- I mean, she really freaks me out."
"You described her so well, I feel like I was there," I said. "You should write the story down."
"Maybe I should," he said. "But I've been writing all day every day ever since David left; it's starting to be a drag."
"What are you writing about?" I asked. "That biology stuff you were talking about with David...."
"That's part of it," he said. "It's really crazy stuff. David's right, I'm a mad scientist. It's crackpot stuff, I guess, but I can't keep it out of my head. If I didn't write it down it would drive me crazy. Of course, maybe it'll drive me crazy anyway...."
"You don't really think you're a crackpot," I said.
He shrugged his shoulders. "Part of me does, part of me doesn't," he said. "The part that doesn't is in control. Actually, if it weren't for David, I might go completely over the edge. He keeps me from going completely crazy."
"So now that he's gone for the summer, what's gonna happen?" I asked lightheartedly.
"Well, I'm making better progress than ever before," he said seriously. "In a way I think talking to him holds me back sometimes. Just explaining things to him makes them sound stupid sometimes ... I don't know. He's got such a scientific attitude, you know. But I'm not trying to be a scientist, I'm trying to be a philosopher." He gave a self-deprecating laugh. "I guess that's the problem. I'm trying to be a philosopher but I don't know how."
"Is that what you studied in school?" I asked.
"I double majored in philosophy and computers." He seemed a little annoyed at the question, although I couldn't figure why. "David double majored in computers and computer engineering. We both minored in math.... But studying philosophy has nothing to do with being a philosopher...." He scrunched his face up, struggling for words. "I mean, what the people who call themselves philosophers do today is just fiddle over technical details of this or that theory. That stuff makes me sick; it's of no interest to me at all. What a real philosopher does is to give people a new way of looking at the world."
"I never studied much philosophy," I said.
"Academic philosophy is boring," he said. "Take Borges -- he was a great philosopher. I'll always remember 'The Garden of Forking Paths.' That's some deep thinking for you. When you toss a coin, it only appears to land on one definite side. There are actually many different universes -- in some of them the coin comes up heads and in some it comes up tails. The same thing when you ask a woman out -- there are universes in which she says yes, and universes in which she says no. Every possibility is an actuality, in some universe."
"That's a good story," I agreed. Actually I'd always found Borges a little too intellectual for my taste, but what the hell -- no need to spoil a good conversation. "So what's this philosophical stuff you're always writing about, though? I mean, can you put it in a nutshell?"
"In twenty-five words or less?" he said, smiling. "I guess not. Hey, we're both done eating breakfast. What're your plans for the afternoon? I can't bear the thought of going back to that computer."
"Actually this is my off day," I replied. "I've got nothing planned until eleven tomorrow night."
"Let's take a walk," he suggested. "I can tell you all my crackpot ideas and you can pretend to be interested."
"Sounds good to me," I said, laughing.
We spent the rest of the day walking around. We walked intoCenter City -- a couple of miles -- and then sat in Rittenhouse square for a while, watching the bums and the pigeons. When it started to get dark, he suggested we go somewhere for dinner.
It was a very nice dinner, at a cozy little seafood place two blocks off Rittenhouse square. He had talked enough about his philosophy during the day, so we just joked around. After dinner we caught the bus back to the university, and then he said goodnight. We returned to our respective apartments.
The next morning, I woke up and found myself thinking about the things he'd said. He'd started out talking about biology -- about how a tiny change in the DNA can cause a huge change in the form and behavior of an organism, about how the DNA of a human and an ape are ninety nine point something percent identical. About how every organism is adapted not only to the physical environment, but to the other organisms around it -- the ones that it eats, the ones that eat it, the ones that it competes with and the ones that it symbiotially interacts with.
Talking about the biology, he'd sounded perfectly normal, very much like David. But then he got a funny look on his face, and I realized he was about to talk about his own ideas, rather than the ones he'd studied. I smiled my warmest smile, wanting to encourage him.
"A species," he'd begun, "is just like an idea. An idea is not stored in the mind whole, it is stored in a coded form, and the process of recollection is a process of decoding, very much like the process by which an organism is 'decoded' from its DNA. The DNA is the electrochemical patterns in the brain that encode the idea, and the organism is the idea itself, which is only developed or decoded when there is a need for it.
"And the evolution of ideas is just like the evolution of species," he'd continued. "No idea can survive in isolation. It only survives if it fits in with the ideas surrounding it in the brain. That's just survival of the fittest, just like Darwin said....
"Does this make any sense to you? You can tell me if it'stotally off the wall."
"You want an honest opinion?" I'd said.
"Of course," he'd replied, sounding a little offended at the question.
"I don't know enough to say."
He'd seemed to accept that, which had taken me off the hook -- I hadn't had to approve or disapprove.
"It's a weird way of looking at it," I'd added. "You don't believe the human mind is logical. Someone thinks something just because it fits in with the other things they're thinking...."
"Isn't that the way it works? If you tell someone something that goes against their ingrained belief system, they won't accept it -- it won't survive inside their minds."
"I can't argue with that," I'd said agreeably. "The only thing is, what do you mean by 'fits in.' They have a specific meaning for that in biology, don't they?"
"Not really," he'd said quickly. "I had thought that there would be one, a specific definition. But no one seems to know what it means. Basically, they say something fits in with its environment if it survives long enough to have kids. But that's circular, it's stupid, it doesn't say anything. I had to make up my own definition. That's mostly what I've been working on these past couple weeks -- I'm trying to use some abstract mathematics, some abstract algebra, to give an exact definition of what it means for one thing to fit in with another. But I won't bore you by talking about that."
"I'm not much good at math," I'd admitted coyly.
All this was going through my head as I lay in bed, watching the sun shine through the window. It occurred to me that I had probably dreamed about Zeb, but I couldn't recall any dreams at all.
I kept thinking that, although I'd known David pretty well over a period of a month, he'd never said anything at all to me about the stuff he did at school. Whereas Zeb seemed hardly capable of having a conversation without touching on hisphilosophical preoccupations.
At first I ascribed this to the fact that Zeb was more self-centered than David. But this explanation didn't quite satisfy me.
On closer thought, I came to the conclusion that there was something very peculiar about Zeb's personality. He seemed to make no distinction between his public and private selves. David, being a fairly normal person, adjusted his behavior to fit the expectations of the people with whom he was interacting. But Zeb always acted the same, no matter whom he was talking to. His personal mannerisms, his tone of voice, his topics of conversation were always the same.
I didn't know either of them very well, but yet that morning, as I lay in bed, I was certain that I understood their personalities, down to the last detail. I was absolutely confident that I could have answered any question whatsoever about either of them. I suspect this sort of feeling is the closest I'll ever come to the sense of "inspiration" that real scientists and artists get.
After I got up and out of bed, I decided to call on Zeb. He was at home of course -- sitting in front of the computer. I suggested that we go across the river to the Camden Aquarium. He liked the idea, but thought we should wait till after lunch. So we had lunch in Chinatown, then took in the Aquarium.
When we were taking the bus back from Camden, he asked me when my next off day was. I told him Saturday, and he suggested that on Sunday we get up early in the morning and drive down to the beach. I thought that was an excellent idea -- I hadn't been to the shore all summer.
We didn't talk to each other till Saturday, when he called to confirm our date. (Maybe I shouldn't call it a "date," since there were really no romantic overtones to our relationship at that point. But that's what it was.)
We had an incredibly pleasant day at Wildwood Beach. He looked incredibly skinny in his bathing suit, a lot skinnier thanDavid, who wasn't fat himself. "Don't you ever eat?" I asked him jokingly, poking him in the ribs.
"David usually cooks all the food," he explained. "Since he's been gone I've been living off of peanut butter on crackers."
I was wearing a rather revealing bikini, and I noticed that Zeb hardly looked at my body. In truth he was less like a mad scientist than an absent-minded professor, always staring off into space with a thoughtful look in his eyes. It seemed strange to me that he wasn't in school; he seemed like such a natural student, always reading and writing. I knew it was none of my business, but I couldn't help wondering what he was going to do with his life. After all, he couldn't live off David forever! He was obviously unsuited for any kind of practical work....
We splashed in the waves, and built huge, rambling sand castles. I got splinters in my feet on the boardwalk, and he picked them out, laughing every time I squealed in pain.
After that day at the beach, it was a real drag going back to the strip bar. I was tired as anything, and I had no tolerance for the customers. Some scummy old man tried to touch my ass while I was walking for tips, and instead of just ignoring him I slapped him in the face.
The next day I slept till three, at which time I called Zeb. "You're always home!" I laughed. "Don't you ever go anywhere?"
"Well," he said, "in the last week I've been to Rittenhouse Square, the Aquarium and the beach. Besides that, I've hardly been out of the house."
"At least you're not working or anything," I said lightheartedly.
"I may have to soon," he answered sadly. "David left enough money for the rent, but nothing for food. I'm getting awfully goddamn hungry."
"Why don't you get a part-time job," I suggested. "Just a couple hours a day should pay for food. Get a job at McDonalds, then you can eat for free."
"That's not true," he said. "I worked there before. You can't eat for free; they charge you for it.... Besides, I hate to work. I know, no one likes it, but with me it's more than that -- it's like a phobia. As soon as I get into the office or behind the counter, wherever, I feel like I'm temporarily dead, like I've signed my whole existence over to someone else in exchange for something totally meaningless -- I don't know, I can't explain it right."
"I think I know what you mean. I mean, I don't feel that way, but I was starting to feel that way at my last job, at the newsletter. I'd sit there, staring at the clock, counting the minutes till the hour was up."
He nodded uncertainly.
"But the dancing," I continued, "is totally different. I mean, I don't love it or anything; the bar is pretty disgusting. But it's not so much like work; it's something different altogether."
"That's great," he said warmly. "I'll bet you can't hack it for a whole year, though. You're not hard-boiled enough."
I shrugged my shoulders. "My big problem now is my roommate," I said. "She's such a total fucking slob, she just leaves her plates all over the table for days with food piled up on them. And her dirty clothes from last month are all over the livingroom floor. To tell you the truth, I think she's developing a serious drug problem."
"I've seen her shooting up something in the bathroom. I'd never ask her about it, though. I mean, we were never really good friends or anything. But anyway, she's a total slob, but the real problem is, the rent was due two days ago and I haven't been able to find her. Usually I get the money from her and pay the landlord. But I haven't seen her in two days. Actually it's her apartment, it isn't mine; her name is on the lease. But I always end up bringing the money to the landlord because she's so fucking unreliable."
When I mentioned the rent his eyes suddenly met mine -- as if until that point, he hadn't really been paying attention. "How long do they give you?" he asked. "How many days before they evict?"
"Five days," I said. "Then the eviction notice gives you a few days to move out -- I don't know, I've never been evicted."
"Neither have I, but I probably would have if not for David."
I started complaining some more about my roommate's messy ways. But Zeb started staring out into space again. Here was another difference between him and David. David had listened very attentively to my gripes about work. Zeb couldn't care less about my roommate, and his demeanor made it plain. I know it sounds stupid, but I like to complain sometimes; it helps me forget things and relax. But I have to complain to someone -- complaining to the wall, or to a person who's obviously off on cloud nine, just doesn't work.
Three days later, that scummy bitch Lisa still hadn't shown up. I was basically home all day, except from ten thirty at night to five thirty in the morning. I wasn't about to pay the entire rent myself -- if she'd asked me, I might have lent her the money, but that wasn't the situation.
Thursday afternoon, an eviction notice appeared on the door. I decided to move out as soon as possible. Most of the furniture was Lisa's -- all I had was a bed and a bureau. So I didn't need to rent a truck; I could move everything in two or three trips in my car.
My plan was to stay with Helen while I looked for a permanent place. I decided that it would be best to get my own place this time -- I'd had enough of roommates.
But as I was packing up my stuff, the phone rang. It was Zeb. I told him the situation, and he made a suggestion: why didn't I come and stay in David's room? After all, David wouldn't be back for over a month.
"I do have an ulterior motive," he admitted laughingly. "I'm hoping you'll bring some food into the house. Don't worry, though, I don't eat much."
David's room had much to recommend it over Helen's couch, so after a moment's consideration I decided to take Zeb up on his offer.
I moved my stuff there that day. My bed and dresser were shoved up against the wall in David's bedroom, as were my seven cardboard boxes full of clothes, books and assorted junk. Zeb was ecstatic -- he couldn't stop milling around and grinning.
Those first few days with Zeb were some of the happiest I've ever had. Things certainly got more interesting later, but as far as simple comfort goes, those first few days were perhaps the high point of my life. We didn't do anything exciting, we just sat around talking and goofing off. After three nights, I didn't sleep in David's room anymore.
I felt a little strange about the relationship, seeing as I'd been going out with David only two months before. I knew that Zeb was probably calling David every couple nights, while I was at work. But I had no idea whether my name even came up in their conversations. Zeb never mentioned David's name, and I followed suit. Things were going so swimmingly, I didn't want to disturb them.
Every day Zeb would tell me what was going on with his philosophical "system" -- it became an indispensible part of my life. In fact, I envied him his system; for a while I actively wished that I had a system of my own. I envied him precisely because he slaved over his ideas night and day without any hope of any tangible reward. An independent artist, musician or fiction writer has at least some distant hope of becoming rich or famous or well-respected. There is, after all, a market for novels, songs and pictures. But what possible hope is there for an independent philosopher?
A philosophy professor publishes papers in academic journals, and can achieve fame or respect within that limited circle. He can even work his way up to a pretty high salary, ifhe publishes a lot and moves around from school to school. But the stuff Zeb was doing was way too wide in scope for academic journals -- even the tiny little world of academic philosophy was out of reach for him.
Possibly Zeb could have won acceptance in the academic world. He would have had to get his Ph.D., then publish fairly normal papers for a decade or so. Then, once he had a reputation, he might have been able to gradually publish some of the ideas he was really excited about. But that wasn't the way Zeb's mind worked: he had to do what he wanted to, when he wanted to.
So Zeb worked without even a faint hope of reward. He worked for four, six or fifteen hours a day, sometimes unsure about the quality of his ideas, but never doubting the value of the effort. I respected Zeb's work ten times more than David's, not because it was of higher quality (I'm not a competent judge of that), but because David had every reason to continue his research. It was bringing him praise and money. David was passionate about his work, but Zeb's work was sustained purely by passion.
Zeb told me about his ideas, about his college years with David, and about his childhood in Las Vegas. I told him about my rough-and-tumble childhood in one of the better parts of the Bronx, and about the various colorful characters I met in the Metropolitan Room at night. One night I convinced him to accompany me to the club -- he stayed my whole shift, but he hardly saw me dance. The whole time he was staring out into space. He never went back again.
Our life was idyllic. It was, as they say, too good to last. After three weeks, fate threw a monkey wrench in the works. Julie showed up.
Zeb had claimed not to be sure if he was in love with her. I could see what he meant. She was more of a faerie than a person -- "love" was too human a word. He felt for her what a very young child feels for her imaginary playmate: somethingmagnificently secret, something both more intense and less solid than the love felt for real human beings.
When Julie knocked on the door, Zeb and I were sitting on the couch watching a movie on the VCR -- Dr. Strangelove, one of Zeb's old favorites. We weren't touching each other or even sitting particularly close to each other. But still, Julie immediately intuited the nature of our relationship. She grinned at Zeb slyly. She said, "Stealing roommate's girlfriend is good way to find self without roommate."
Zeb laughed and said, "Ancient Chinese Proverb." Apparently it was a private joke (but not a very funny one, really).
She walked over to the fridge and helped herself to a soda. Then she sat down crosslegged on the floor in front of the couch. "Great movie," she said. "I could watch it a hundred times." And she sat there and watched it with us.
When it was over, she stood up and did one of her graceful ballerina twirls. It didn't look quite as nice as the last time, since now she was wearing cutoff shorts and a tie-dyed T-shirt instead of leotards, tights and tutu. But still, the way she moved was unsettlingly lovely.
She reached into her purse and pulled out three little squares of paper. "You've got to try this stuff," she said to Zeb. Then she looked at me. "Do you trip?"
"Sometimes," I answered, without a trace of hesitation in my voice. I had never dropped acid before, or taken any drug more serious than pot, but I wasn't about to let her spirit Zeb away to never-never-land while I sat there helpless. It wasn't so much jealousy as resentment -- of the way she just assumed she could pirouette into our apartment and leave with Zeb, never mind boring old Debbie.
Anyway, we stuck the papers under our tongues, and sat there waiting. "What's so special about this stuff, anyway?" Zeb asked her.
She just grinned and said, "You'll see." After a few moments she added. "This drug is so new it's completely legal --they haven't got around to banning it yet. Its closest relative is a drug that was popular in the late 1980's, called MDMA."
"A new variant," I repeated. "Have you ever tried it before?"
She shook her head no.
I suggested that we make some dinner. Everyone seemed to like the idea, and we prepared a splendid meal: breaded pork chops, apple sauce, baked potatoes,.... By the time we were finished eating I was starting to feel a little strange.
We sat in the middle of the livingroom floor staring at each other for a while, waiting for something to happen. Then Julie said, "Let's play a game." She reached into her tiny purse and pulled out a large plastic sheet. She giggled like a little girl. "Did you ever play this when you were a kid?"
"What is it?" Zeb asked, shaking his head.
"Twister," she said, laying the sheet out on the ground. It was covered with colored dots. "To start, each player is assigned a color. You have to touch a dot which has that color. Then, each player is assigned another color, and has to touch a dot which has that color, while still touching the first dot. And so on, like that. The last person to fall down, wins."
"Is there some reason you want to play this now?" Zeb asked her. Meanwhile my skin felt as though it were covered with tiny drops of cool water. The feeling made me squirm ever so slightly, and as I squirmed the dots became bigger, until I was covered by an invisible coat of liquid.
Julie smiled coyly.
"It's the skin," Zeb said. "The skin." That was all he had to say -- I knew that he was experiencing the same thing as me. Acid hallucinations are mainly visual, but this stuff was different.
I noticed that Zeb was taking off his shirt and shoes. The sensations were getting stranger and stranger: my skin was covered with tiny vibrating diamonds, folding in and out of each other, forming different geometric patterns. Then the diamondsturned into pentagons, hexagons, septagons, octagons, nonagons -- I was feeling every possible shape, with my entire body at once. It was unlike anything I'd ever experienced. You know how when you get an itch, your attention is suddenly focused on one little part of your body -- you can't get it out of your mind. This was the same thing, but all over. It wasn't exactly an itch, it was more like being tickled -- but not being tickled on the outside of the skin, more like being tickled just beneath the skin. I guess it's futile to try to describe it. It was as though my skin were coming alive, as though it were made of millions of tiny living organisms, cooperating to form vast patterns of sensation like ants in a colony.
Soon enough clothes became intolerable. We all sat there naked in the middle of the floor, encased in our individual shells of changing sensation. Then Julie suggested we play the game. She said "Debbie, red."
I got up and was amazed that I didn't fly into the air. I had the sensation of zooming through the atmosphere like a supersonic missile. Then, as I walked toward the plastic mat -- no more than two or three steps -- my legs became pliant sticks of rubber. They felt exactly like your tongue does when you're in the middle of chewing food. My buttocks became hot air balloons, lifting me up and up.
I touched the red square. She said, "Zeb, green." And she assigned herself yellow. I didn't even wonder how she came up with the colors. But, in the back of my mind, I was incredibly impressed by her coolness. Surely her body was playing just as many tricks on her as mine was on me -- but she was dealing with it, she was functioning about as normally as she ever did.
The game probably lasted about two minutes, but it felt like hours and hours. Every time I moved it was a new universe of sensations -- none of them totally new to me, but most of them misplaced. My arm would feel like a jaw, and my belly like a thigh. Also, everything I saw would become a feeling. The posters on the wall turned into a snakelike tingling, as thoughmy body were suddenly a cavity filled with thousands of tiny worms. The colored circles on the Twister board were hungry sucking lips, pulling my flesh in all directions.
And every time my skin touched Zeb's or Julie's, I had the unmistakeable sensation that whatever they were feeling was transferred to me. As though the effects of the drug were a kind of electricity, that flowed from one person to another instead of one wire to another. Zeb's sensations had their own distinctive flavor -- they were slower than mine, and less rectilinear, more based upon ovals and gentle curves of force. Also, they had more to do with temperature: when I touched him my body got hot and cold in patches. Waves of temperature change passed across my body in chaotic orbits.
Julie's feelings, on the other hand, were quick and localized -- as though she were feeling something different in each part of her body. After touching her, my elbow and my hand were always moving in different directions. My legs and my pubic bush were parts of different bodies entirely. One was the billow of a cloud, and the other the root of a towering tree. Or one was exerting itself past the point of exhaustion, the other was lying on a feather bed after a good night's sleep.
After the game was over, we sat back down on the floor. Julie started giving us backrubs, and we followed her lead, massaging each other fervently on the arms, legs, neck and back. I looked at the clock from time to time, but it was meaningless; I couldn't keep track of anything.
At one point Zeb walked into the kitchen and returned with a can of whipped cream, which he sprayed all over Julie and me. We ate most the whipped cream off each other, so he went to get some chocolate syrup. We were making an absolute mess of the carpet, but we didn't even think about it. It occurred to me that the effects of the drug were wearing off -- why else would Zeb suddenly have gained the presence of mind to plan things? The shifting geometric shapes were gone, as were the cloud billows. The waves of temperature change were still there, but they werefading. My skin was still a colony of living beings -- but the beings were settling down for the night, getting ready to go to sleep.
Zeb was tenderly touching me between the legs, and I was responding to him vigorously. Before, during the peak of the trip, I had had no sexual feelings whatsoever. My whole body had been so alive that sex would have been a distraction. Sex requires rhythm, and thus an intuitive sense of time. My body, awash in irregularly fluctating sensations, would have been unable to tell how long it had been since the last pelvic thrust.
Now that the trip was ending, my skin was still sensitive, but some parts were more sensitive than others. I was still in a bit of a daze -- not certain what part of the room I was in, or what position my body was lying in. But I was definitely a human body.
It didn't even occur to me that Julie and I were both having sex with Zeb, that the three of us were exploring some odd geometrical positions. It didn't occur to me to wonder who was kissing me or fondling me where at any given time, or which part of whose body I was squeezing. I can't say it was the best sex I've ever had, but it was pretty good, and it was definitely one of my most memorable experiences of any kind. How long we kept it up for I can't say. When we finished, we just lay there, bodies touching, till we all fell asleep.
I woke up before Zeb or Julie. I had missed my shift at work. I called the bar up to apologize, and they laughed it off -- none of the dancers were particularly reliable. Then I made three servings of scrambled eggs and bacon, and set the table.
I looked over at Julie's sleeping body and much of my old hostility was gone. As I thought back over the trip, I was impressed anew by her confidence and self-control. I looked down at my own naked body with pleasure. Two months of dancing had slimmed me down and developed my muscles. I felt more beautiful than I ever had before. Looking over at Julie's puny, girlishfigure, I felt like an idiot for being jealous of her; I felt that she was no threat at all.
Then my mind turned to David. In two more weeks he would be home. What would happen then? I was so comfortable living with Zeb. Could David accept that? Could I?
And what about Julie? Was she going to take off again, for three months, and then show up again with some weird new drug? Where did she run to, anyway? She was never in her apartment, she was never at school....
Converted by Andrew Scriven