Indecision: A Short Story: Part Two
What did she know about string theory? Did she have any thoughts on the subject?
Tom thought not.
Was she thrown for a loop, as he had been, to learn that Dumbledorf from Harry Potter, was gay; not out of homophobia or anything like that; its just that it came out of left field, you know?
Tom thought not.
Did she even know who Dumbledorf was?
Tom thought not.
Did she share his conviction that the so-called Neanderthal man was not a separate species from so-called modern man that had existed contemporaneously? Did she even care? Did she realize the implications for today in the social sense?
Tom thought not.
But perhaps if he had investigated he might have been pleasantly surprised, and found that he and Janet were compatible -- though he doubted it. But then again, if it could happen to Steve Urkel, maybe it could happen to Tom. Steve Urkel was the next door neighborhood boy, the nerd from the sitcom, Family Matters. Urkel wore suspenders, high-water pants, thick glasses, a stipped shirt, and a sweater. His uniform.
Steve Urkel always barged into the house of Carl Winslow, the "big guy," without knocking and saying, in that unforgettable voice, "Hi, Laura." Or he would trip over his own feet, knock something or a group of people to the floor, survey the wreckage and say, "Did I do that?"
His obsession with Laura Winslow cooled, temporarily anyway, when he met a stunning young lady who did not, in any way, look like a fellow nerd, but whose interior landscape turned out to be as brilliant and eccentric as Steve's own.
Quitting time. As Tom and Dave exited from the building together, Tom listened to a litany of Dave's woes in the affairs of the heart.
Three years ago when Dave had first started sharing, he asked Tom, "You have a girlfriend?"
"No," Tom said.
Tom was amazed, Dave said this like one could just go to the girlfriend store and pick one up anytime one wanted. He said this as though personal willpower were involved. He said this like it was the easiest thing in the world. Get yours today!
Tom said, "I'm waiting for Tyra Banks to come to her senses, come down to this factory, and declare her undying love for me."
"Well, its good to have a dream," Dave said.
Now Tom and Dave were knocking off for the day. Dave asked, "You will read it tonight, won't you?"
"Yes I will," Tom said. Not like he had anything better to do, he thought but did not say. Mainly because he really didn't have anything better to do.
Tom was back in his studio apartment in a not quite damned but seriously challenging section of the city. The rent was cheap as a result and despite appearances Tom was a young man who could handle himself, if he had to. He was sitting in front of his easel. He was pursuing a career in art. He meant to specialize in the field of fantasy art. By the way, did Janet share his obsession with the paintings of Boris Vallejo?
Tom thought not.
He had sketches strewn all about his domicile, towers of filled sketches books like pillars all around. He had canvasses a plenty. He had abandoned, half finished, and works-in-progress all over the place. He usually had to clear them from his Murhpy bed before he went to sleep at night. He was a bohemian suffering for his art.
And he was very prolific. The fact that he had never shown any of his work to a gallery was beside the point. He was still learning. He was mastering his style, perfecting his technique.
When the time was right he would explode onto the art world. And that world would not know what had hit it. His paintings would represent such staggering genius that competition would flee the field. People with paint brushes, foollishly thinking of becoming artists would break and throw away their brushes in resigned defeat. Tom's greatness would make them hang their heads in shame and go out and paint houses instead. Tom's entry into the art world would bear a divine light that would destroy all who were not worthy. Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Haaa!
A banging on the paper thin walls came. A masculine voice was shouting, "Hey, Tom, shut the fuck up in there before I kick your narrow black ass!" Tom was surprised. He must have been saying all that stuff out loud. He hadn't meant to. Mrs. Peterson certainly was vigorous for a fifty-eight year old widowed pensioner.
Tom obligingly shut the fuck up, put his arms down, returned to his seat from half way across the one-room apartment, and sat back down at his easel. He was working on a piece called 'The Evolution of the Centaur.' Tom was aesthetically bedazzled by the wide array of sentient creatures to be found in science fiction and fantasy. He had a particular fascination with centaurs. He thought these creatures were magnificent. He had seen a picture of one done by Boris Vallejo which had particularly delighted him and made him take on a heightened esteem for the four-legged humans. Tom had been impressed by the sensitivity and detail which the fusion of the human torso had been blended into the horse half of the anatomy.
The painting made Tom believe that such creatures could actually exist. Furthermore, that painting had made Tom wish that such creatures did exist. For four years Tom had been trying to imagine an evolutionary scenario to explain the existence of such creatures. Is there a way evolution could have gone in such a way that the centaur could emerge?
He had done a lot of reading at the public library, important research... intersped with flipping through magazines, reading mystery novels, thinking, ruminating and cogitating too. He had not been able to come up with anything convincing. Then all at once, it had struck him one day, today actually: what if there was a group of people, no, a group of people of another planet? What if they had become afflicted with a strange viral disease that wipe out all human, animal, and plant life, except, for some reason, horses? What if the people decided to save their society by storing their knowledge and civilization into nanobotic information preserving capsules of some kind?
Generation after generation of horses would come into the world with all this knowledge rattling around inside of them. Confusion would come first, to say the least. But the personalities of the people have been downloaded as well. Desire would be created to express this culture. With desire would come evolution of the means to carry it out, over time. In other words, the humanity of the people would reassert itself. But in a different form. Yeah, Tom thought.
Then what if there were another group of people on this same planet who had a different experience? What if people live in a region that was plagued by earthquakes of increasing frequency and intensity? What if relocation were not an option? Suppose they decided to transition themselves to a life in the skies by genetically engineering themselves with wings? Suppose they developed the technology to build their cities in the clouds?
Then suppose there were yet another group of people who lived in a region of this same world, which is four times the size of an average planet, that was constantly flooding over? You know what that means. They transition themselves to living underwater. They genetically engineer themselves into Mer-men and Mer-women (one doesn't like to say 'Mermaids,' some women might take offense at the suffix 'maid'...). We can have them starting off as two-legged water breathers. In time they realize that two legs for a life spent underwater just won't cut it in the long run, so they make it so that the lower halves of their bodies become large, flapping, you know, tails or whatever.
Then suppose another group of people on this world (this would have to be a mighty huge world, each region the size of a standard planet in itself) had destroyed themselves by nuclear war and wiped out all life. Now this region is bathed in this radiation. It finally dissipates but its mark has been left. The whole amoeba to infinitely more complex organisms cycle of life starts again. This time, however, life returns on a much, much larger scale than before, including the humanoids (average height: 13 1/2 feet tall for women; 15 feet tall for men), descended from twenty foot gorillas....
There's some kind of story in all that, Tom thought. Maybe he should write a novel as he is always advising Dave to do. Or maybe the concept is more suitable for a graphic novel. At once, Tom set aside his canvass, preparing himself to go in a different, more ambitious direction. His painting would be a panoramic epic piece, yes.
The centaur would remain his favorite creature. To Tom they represented the perfect comibination of human intellect and animal or superhuman power.
Tom wondered why it was that centaurs were usually depicted as naked by fantasy writers. Why do they do that? Yes, Tom understood that there was something of the animal in the centaur, something of the wild with all this implies. But the fact remains that centaurs are human beings. Human beings with four legs, but still human beings. Why are they not credited with a sense of modesty? Why does nobody think to clothe them?
How does a centaur go to the bathroom? Specifically, how does a centaur defecate? These poor creatures cannot use toilet paper. Their arms cannot reach around back that far. So they have to rub their bottoms on the ground like other animals. Perhaps there is a deep-seated collective anxiety about this among the centaur nations. An unspoken collective resignation: If I cannot relieve myself like a man, I will not pretend to be like a man in his ways and customs. I will roam free and unclothed like the wild horse that is my brother.
Tom was thinking about all this when the phone rang. He reached for it. Before Tom answers we should tell you that it will be Dave on the other end of the line. Tom's insularity and the infrequency with which he makes new friends, makes it all but impossible that it could be anybody else. We should tell you that Dave is calling to find out if Tom has read the screenplay about Akhenaton, and to badger Tom about his opinion.
Dave is a fledgling actor with the usual resume of audition calls and bit parts. When he told Tom about it he had actually said at one point,"... but what I really want to do eventually is direct." In any case, Dave is a fledgling actor who desires to establish a presence on both sides of the camera, as it were. He had the idea that maybe he could get his foot in the door as a writer. "Anyway," Dave had said then, "Letterman started out as a writer on Saturday Night Live."
"Really?" Tom said.
"Are you sure," Tom said. "Letterman. Dave Letterman?"
"Well... one of those late night guys," Dave said.
"An easy transition from writing comedy to performing it, is it?" Tom asked.
Dave shrugged. "It's like anything else..." He let his voice trailed off, adding nothing more.
"Cause if Letterman used to be a writer on Saturday Night Live, no less, then you would think when they had that writers strike that time, he would have just written his own stuff."
"They couldn't do that. They were barred from using written material."
Tom said, "I thought they couldn't use the material that other writers had written, which is fair enough. But what was to legally prevent Letterman and Leno and the rest of them from keeping their shows going by sitting down and writing their own material?"
"Is that what you would have had them do, Tom? How long could they keep that up? A month? Six months? A year? Indefinitely? You have a merciless side to you. And anyway, that would have been twenty years ago when Letterman wrote for SNL."
"You''re sure it was Letterman?" Tom said.
"Yes, damn you."
"So they can't write any more after twenty years? Is that how it is? They lost their talent?"
Dave threw up his hands in despair.
Now let's listen in as Tom answers the phone. "Hello, Dave."
"How'd you know it was me?"
"I'm calling from a pay phone," Dave said.
"So, you're the only one who has my number."
"That's pretty sad, Tom."
"I thought you'd be honored at the exclusivity of your relationship with me. Just think you are the only one in the world with direct access to me."
"I feel slightly less insignificant when you put it that way."
"I thought maybe you were calling from jail and you needed me to come bail you out. Thought maybe po-lice picked your ass up on a DUI. How do you feel now?"
"Stop it, Tom. My sides are splitting."
"Okay, I'll stop it. What's up?"
"What's up yourself? Did you read it?"
"Yes, I said I would. Don't I always?"
"What do you think?"
"You've written a fantastic story, Dave," Tom said, "but I don't think it fits into the structure of a movie script..."
"Oh God, not that again."
"Dave, what is the customary length of a movie script?"
"It varies. It depends. Some are longer than others... That's what editors are for..."
"One hundred and twenty pages, Dave. I looked it up. I'm holding two hundred and forty pages in my hand here. There's enough material for a nine hour trilogy. I'm not complaining as a reader. I'm just saying that you have the sensibilities of a novelist rather than a screenwriter. You leave no nuance unexplored, no character's depths unplumbed. You should write novels and sell them to Hollywood."
"I hate the idea of writing a novel. I don't see how anybody does it. Filling hundreds of pages with narrative and dialogue, and keeping it consistent throughout. I can't concentrate with such focus for so long a time, goddamn it."
"This is a novel you have given me, Dave, goddamn it."
When Dave stopped moaning Tom could tell him the specific merits he found in the screenplay, which wasn't really a screenplay but was more the guts of a novel. After which Tom would urge him, once more, to think about writing novels.
The Revenge of Akhenaton was a historical fantasy. Akhenaton himself was an Egyptian pharaoh of the mid fourteenth century B.C. He was the frail second son to a larger than life pharaoh, rising to the throne instead of the more likely first son, Thutmosis, who had been the handsome, vigorous son of their father. Akhenaton was a religious reformer who tried to bring monotheism to his land. His reforms threatened the power of the ancient priesthood. The focus on a single god, whom Akhenaton called 'The Aten' had real economic consequences for the traditional religious order.
It meant that attendance at traditional temples, as well as income from them in the form of donations or offerings from the faithful, would decrease. The pharaoh married a woman named Nefertiti and made her his queen. He seems to have been a competent strategic planner, though he lived in a time of relative peace and quiet on the internationa front. Also, it seems that Akhenaton introduced a new and disturbing style of art.
In the "screenplay" we see that Akhenaton adopts his nephew as his heir, and we see the great king raising the lad from an infant.
And now part three.
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