An interdepartmental feud
Brianna Smythe took one look at Joey and said to herself, Bingo. There’s my ticket to the Big Time. The young psychologist immediately knew her trip to New Harmony, Utah and the subsequent hassle with the local rednecks over the whereabouts of the cabin that Joey and his great-grandmother lived in were going to pay off in a big way.
She observed that Joey established brief eye contact with her and then looked down at the porch floor. The young boy, who was a good six inches taller than his great-grandmother, took two steps backward to hide from the stranger’s observing eye. Brianna noted the boy’s behavior was childlike, something she would expect from an eighteen-month-old.
The great-grandmother was dressed in a pair of faded, bibbed overalls and a short-sleeved denim work shirt. Pulled down over her forehead was a man’s dress hat, the kind that went out of style in the late Forties. From underneath the brown felt, long gray hair stuck out in all directions. Brianna thought, The last time I saw a hat like that it was on Humphrey Bogart’s head in The Big Sleep. She concluded from the worn knees of the overalls that the old woman led an active, vigorous life. She guessed that the great-grandmother had a large garden and a chicken coop near the cabin and that she had split the wood stacked at the far end of the porch.
Brianna smiled at the old woman and then asked, “Mrs. Walsh, can we speak in front of Joey?”
“Call me Granny — everyone does,” the old woman said. “The boy’s not an idiot. He understands English.”
Brianna knew her face did not betray any emotion, even though the muscles in her lower abdomen had become tense on their own accord. She wished she did not feel so uncomfortable using terms of familiarity when addressing strangers. She forced herself to say, “Granny,” and then said, “I’m the psychologist from the University who responded to your letter. I’m very interested in Joey, and we at the University would like to offer Joey a full scholarship.”
“Land sakes alive!” exclaimed the old woman. “Why the boy cannot read or write a word!”
“No problem,” Brianna said. “That’s no longer an admission requirement. Half the students at the University cannot read or write — and the other half won’t.”
“Hear that, Joey.” Granny turned around and threw her arms around her great-grandson. “You’re going to college.”
Before Joey could leave for the University, forms had to be completed, signatures gotten, and histories were taken. Courthouse records confirmed that Joey’s mother, Mary Hope Walsh, died from injuries sustained in a car accident when she was eight months pregnant with Joey. The birth certificate gave no father, and although Granny knew his identity, she refused to divulge the “deadbeat’s” name to physicians, social workers, or Dr. Brianna Smythe. The birth certificate, if confirmed by medical authorities, meant that Joey was a unique occurrence in the history of science.
Dr. James Hoepp delivered Joey by Caesarean section in the emergency room and later was his primary care physician. The medical report he submitted to Dr. Smythe stated that Joey had contracted no childhood illnesses and that he was in excellent general health. The two Polaroids in the report showed a five-foot, eight-inch male with a babyface, free from scars, furrows, or other marks of personal history. The report stated that the genitals were normal for an adult male. At the end of the report, Dr. Hoepp speculated that from some unknown cause, the human growth hormone gene was triggered too early in Joey, for he was only eighteen months old.
Premature aging is an extraordinarily rare disease in children, but premature growth to adulthood is not discussed in medical textbooks nor a subject in the research literature. Neither Hoepp nor Smythe could find any single occurrence in the medical history of a man-child like Joey.
After her extensive interviews with Granny, Brianna was convinced that, except for Dr. Hoepp, Joey’s sole contact with humanity was his eccentric great-grandmother. Granny’s cabin, fifteen miles outside of New Harmony, had neither electricity nor running water. Consequently, Joey spent his short life in nature, isolated from the modern world.
The outside world had intruded on Joey’s life only because of Dr. Hoepp. He had convinced Granny to sign a letter he had written in her name to Dr. Lewis, an old friend of his and the Chairman of the Psychology Department at the University. The letter asked if researchers at the University would be interested in studying Joey.
The battery of psychological tests that Dr. Smythe gave Joey indicated that the man-child possessed the raw cognitive and verbal capacities of an adult, although he knew virtually nothing and spoke in only one- or two-word sentences. Joey was pure potentiality, primed for knowledge acquisition and socialization.
Joey, in essence, was a human person in a state of nature, untainted by civilization. In the history of science, the only event remotely similar to Joey was the discovery in 1801 of the feral boy of Aveyron, an eleven-year-old found running naked and wild in a forest. Jean-Marc-Gaspard Itard, a French surgeon, thought the wild boy of Aveyron was the Rosetta stone for deciphering human nature. He spent five years trying to train and educate the boy, before concluding that the boy’s prolonged isolation from humanity rendered him incapable of language.
Before going to New Harmony, Brianna Smythe studied Itard’s scientific memoir, Rapports sur le sauvage de l’Aveyron. Smythe and Itard shared two things in common: they were both the same age, twenty-six, when they discovered their “savages,” and both had overvaulting ambitions. Itard’s research ended in failure; however, Brianna knew she had the genuine key to universal human happiness and was not interested in whether Joey was or was not the Rosetta stone for unraveling the mysterious nature of Homo sapiens.
Brianna saw Joey as humankind’s newest and best hope for happiness. She knew from experience that fifteen or so years of dependence upon one’s parents screws up virtually every human being. Because of an accident of evolution, childhood for the human species is excessively long. If an individual matured to an adult within two or three years after he or she were born, then child-rearing could be perfected so that all the inevitable strife of family life would not occur, and every person would be guaranteed a happy life. How beautiful that would be. After three years, an individual would say adios to his or her parents — thanks, I can take care of myself, now — and the family would dissolve.
Brianna saw a grand future opening before her, and for humanity; Joey was a turning point in human history. Under her guidance and tutelage, Joey would become the first truly happy person, and, then, biochemists and geneticists would be impelled to do the grunt work to find the defective gene that caused Joey to mature biologically within eighteen months. Once the gene was discovered and synthesized, science would correct nature; human beings, then, would have the option to have children with greatly reduced childhoods. Furthermore, child-rearing would not be the disastrous intrusion into a woman’s life that it is now. A woman could decide to set aside several years for a child or two, and then later continue to pursue the main interests of her life.
From early childhood, Brianna knew she had a special destiny, but not until she saw Joey did she guess the monumental significance of her destiny. Scientists, philosophers, spiritual leaders, and political reformers, all sought at one time or another to make humankind happy, and all failed. History, fate, who knows what, had singled out Brianna to lead humankind to universal happiness.
“Gentlepersons, gentlepersons.” Professor David M. Lewis, the Chairman of the Psychology Department, called the meeting of the Joey Group to order by rapping his knuckles on the Formica-topped conference table. The round, oak tables and captain chairs had disappeared from the colloquium room three decades before. The modern furnishings of highly colored plastic and polished steel were in design and manufacture scaled-up versions of kindergarten tables and chairs.
“Gentlepersons, gentlepersons.” The Chairman rapped his knuckles on the table, more sharply than before, and the chatter in the room ceased. He said hello or gave a friendly nod to each of the eight researchers seated around the table. Then, he said, “Before we begin, I would like to tell you about something I learned when I was at the National Science Foundation. If a government funding agency throws a dollar bill on the floor in front of a group of scientists, ten researchers will pounce on it.”
All the members of the Joey Group laughed, except for Brianna Smythe. She was ready for a fight, and nothing could move her to laughter.
Professor Lewis continued, “I can tell you from experience that nothing dissipates the research efforts of a department more quickly than incessant fighting over funding and turf. I hope no one here denies that Dr. Smythe has made a monumental discovery, from which we can all profit.”
Lewis paused to allow Brianna’s detractors a moment of uncomfortableness. Brianna glared across the table at Doug Walker, and thought, I’ll never let that bastard get Joey away from me. When Walker returned her glare with a smile, she read it as a triumphant look and momentarily feared that the fair-haired boy of the department would best her in their battle for tenure.
The Chairman proceeded with the presentation of his plan to reduce departmental infighting and to get the research on the man-child back on track. “Joey’s biological clock is still ticking, and if we keep fighting over who has priority over Joey, this great opportunity presented to science will disappear, and we will all lose in the end.”
The Chairman addressed Brianna directly, “Dr. Smythe, I have talked in private to everyone present here. We all agree that you should have the final say about Joey, for he’s your baby, so to speak.” Lewis looked at Doug Walker, who nodded assent. “However, it is physically and intellectually impossible for any one person to carry out the research that should be done on Joey. I have worked out a research program for studying Joey, but, of course, it can be adjusted to meet your approval.”
Lewis handed each participant in the meeting a nine-page document, detailing schedules and protocols. The previous meeting of the Joey Group had ended in a shouting match between Doug Walker and Brianna Smythe, while the other researchers of the Joey group squawked like vultures, waiting to grab whatever they could. After that breakdown of intellectual decorum, Lewis applied pressure on each member of the group.
Brianna glanced briefly through the document. The Chairman had her by the short hairs, for she did not have tenure nor her own funding. However, she held a trump card — she had Joey, and no one knew where she was hiding him.
Chairman Lewis looked at Brianna and patiently waited for an answer.
She gave the shortest possible answer: “Agreed.”
“Good. Then, tomorrow Roger Peters will begin with language acquisition.”
The meeting was over, and Brianna smiled mechanically at the Chairman as she passed him on the way to the door.
Doug Walker moaned, “I’m cursed. Truly, I’m cursed.”
“Aren’t you being a bit melodramatic,” Roger Peters said.
“Why? Why me? I know what Oedipus Rex felt like. I can’t shake my accursed fate. What strange whim of the gods has caused my world-line to intersect with Brianna Smythe’s?”
After the meeting of the Joey Group had concluded, Roger Peters and Doug Walker retired to the Old German Restaurant for a few beers. Although Roger was ten years older than Doug and married, the two psychologists hung out together and considered themselves friends. Alcohol had brought them to the knife-edge that separates truth from chaos.
“Rog, tell me the truth. In the third grade, wasn’t there some smart little girl with freckles and pigtails who knew all the answers and enjoyed making you feel like a dunce?”
Roger smiled and said, “As a matter of fact there was. Her name was Margaret Zymanski.”
“Yes. I know her all too well. Margaret Zymanski, Linda Bukowski, Peggy Panovsky. What’s in a name? A rose by any other name . . . In the eighth grade, I lost the state spelling championship to Sally Maxwell, on what my father called a sucker play. According to him, I should have known how to spell every word in the English language that begins with the letter ‘x’.”
Doug suddenly stood up at attention, his arms at his sides. The surprised patrons of the Old German watched him, as he pronounced “xanthoroid” with great clarity, and, then, proceeded to spell the word out loud. A young woman, seated three booths away, shouted, “An adjective . . . having light-colored hair and complexion.”
Doug groaned and sat down. “See what I mean. Some smart-ass little girl has always been there to outshine me. And, now, it’s Brianna Smythe. We’re both up for tenure next year. But no affirmative action for me. I’m twenty-eight, fair-haired, light-skinned — and, oh god, I hate to even think of it — reared in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and I inherited from my auto-executive father the drive to succeed at all costs. It’s bad enough that I’m a WASP. Now, Brianna finds that brat Joey — who no one has seen. I tell you; I’m cursed!”
“You’ve blown this episode with Brianna out of proportion,” Roger said. “Look at me, I got tenure.”
“Yeah, but when you came up for tenure, talking apes were the rage, and the department needed a chimpologist.”
Roger Peters was the Director of the Primate Language Research Center. In academia, ideas are paramount, and titles often transcend reality. The Primate Language Research Center consisted of a chimpanzee, a graduate student, and a computer, all funded by a shaky grant from the National Institutes of Health.
“Don’t look now,” Roger said, “but your nemesis just walked in.”
“Arrgh.” Doug bent over at the waist and moaned as if he were experiencing great pain. He sat back up and said, “Hide me. I can’t stand one more encounter with Brianna today. Throw a tablecloth over me. Make me disappear.”
Doug Walker, then, like a small schoolboy trying to avoid his teacher’s eyes, slouched down in his seat and hunched up his shoulders. Roger laughed but did the same.
Two or three nights a week, Brianna ate dinner at the Old German. She liked the heavy oak tables, the large booths, the dim light, and the heavy German food. The hostess recognized Brianna and directed her to a darkened booth in the back of the restaurant. She sat down with her back to the door and heard someone shout, “I’m cursed. I’m cursed,” but she thought nothing about it. Brianna ordered a glass of Oktoberfest beer and waited for her friend Mary Martinez.
“Bri, I’m sorry I’m late.” Mary slid into the booth and motioned to the waitress to bring her a glass of beer.
“What happened to you this afternoon?” Brianna asked. “You promised to be at the meeting.”
“I know. I’m sorry, but at the last minute, Lewis asked me to proctor the Senior Comp.”
“It figures. He didn’t want another woman at the meeting.”
“Tell me what happened. I’m dying to know.”
Brianna winced and uttered a barely audible groan. “I gave in. What could I do? The men in the department had me by the cajones. But the war’s not over.”
“Those brutes didn’t get Joey, did they?”
“No. I still have him, and part of the agreement is that he is never to be left alone with any researcher but me.”
“What about your research?”
“Only a minor setback. I guarantee that when Joey turns three, he’ll be the first truly happy adult.”
The waitress interrupted their conversation to ask if they wished to order. The two women said they needed a few minutes more.
Mary picked up the menu in front of her and said in a parody of a Midwestern accent, “Brianna, how wonderful! I see that they have Wiener schnitzel. That’s very good, you know. But I think we should order . . .”
“Don’t do that,” Brianna said through clenched teeth. She cradled her head in her hands and said, “I can’t stand to hear you talk like my mother.”
Mary laughed and, then, gave a perfect imitation of a blue-haired woman checking the work of her hairdresser. Not one strand of Mary’s black hair was out of place. That afternoon Kevin, Mary’s new hairstylist, gave her a basic layered cut, with the tresses cropped in graduated lengths to give maximum bounce and curl-hold, in effect, producing what Kevin called full volume and face-framing flattery.
“Brianna, don’t get so huffy. You know your mother is just trying to help you.”
Brianna did not know whether to laugh or cry. Her friend Mary was so funny, and her mother such a pain. Every time, as a child, she and her mother went to a restaurant, to a museum, to a park, went anywhere, her mother always told her what to experience. She could still hear her mother’s voice — “the sweet and sour pork is too sweet . . . Whistler’s mother couldn’t have looked like that! . . . that’s a Pink Peace Rose, how beautiful!” That was the worst part of her childhood. She would never forget that every time her mother intruded upon her interior life, she felt powerless. That’s why she had built a wall around herself, so no one could control her ever again. But today the wall failed. She was now under the control of Lewis and the other members of the Joey Group.
The waitress re-appeared for their orders. Mary Martinez ordered a soup and salad. Brianna picked the house special, rare prime rib with German fries and braised cabbage. Each of the women asked the waitress for another glass of beer.
“So, who do you and Joey visit first?” Mary asked.
“You gotta be kidding.”
“Nope,” Brianna said. “Lewis put him first on the list.”
“How are you going to stand it? He always smells like ape shit — imagine what his lab smells like.”
Brianna pinched her nose closed with the thumb and forefinger of her right hand, and the two women laughed.
“At least you don’t have to worry about Roger Peters,” Mary said. “That nerd is incapable of harming anyone. But, you better watch out for Lewis. He’s been snooping around. He asked me if I knew how you found Joey.”
“Oh, my god, you didn’t tell him about the letter, did you?”
“Not on your life.”
“Bri, tell me the truth. How did Joey’s grandmother’s letter to Lewis end up in your hands? You don’t think I believe that phony story you told me. You must have a mole in Lewis’s office. Right?”
Brianna smiled and said, “Could be.”
The waitress brought their dinners. Mary looked at the globules of fat floating on top of the red blood on Brianna’s plate. “How can you eat that! I can’t believe you’re not a vegetarian.”
“What, me? I’m a good Midwestern girl.” Brianna knew she had all the marks of an Indiana farm girl — sandy hair, freckles, a sturdy frame, and a horsy laugh that she not only kept at the University but cultivated. She sliced a piece off the prime rib and held it in the air on the end of her fork. Blood dripped off the meat on to her plate, and Mary wrinkled up her face in disgust. “I’m a realist, not a romantic like you, Mary.”
“Yes, life lives off life.” Brianna pulled the red meat off the fork with her bared white teeth and slowly chewed it. She growled, licked her lips, and then sighed with pleasure as she swallowed the chewed meat.
“You’re disgusting,” Mary said.
“Heh, I was brought up on a farm; we slaughtered our own beef, pork, and chickens. Don’t give me that California, New Age nonsense about poor suffering farm animals.”
Mary held up her hands in protest. “I’m from New Mexico, not LA.”
“I know. But I thought all senoritas from New Mexico live on a diet of tortillas, frijoles, and cabra.”
“Not since we got cable and learned how the outside world lives.”
Mary was saddened by how much of the world she grew up in Northern New Mexico had disappeared. Her grandfather, a wonderful man with a droopy mustache, cold black hair, and a furrowed face, spoke little English but beautiful Spanish that prepared her for the poetry of Pablo Neruda. When she was a young girl, her abuelo would hug her and whisper in her ear, “La niña entre las rosas.” Mary’s youngest nieces and nephews spoke excellent English but little Spanish.
At the end of the summer, before the fall semester at the University began, Mary visited her mother and father in Nambe, New Mexico. While there, she attended the Spanish Mass at St. Francis Cathedral in Santa Fe, a Mass to celebrate the artisans of Spanish Market. Three hundred or so artisans processed into the Cathedral, carrying primitive paintings of Saints on pine boards, black lacquered crosses ornamented with finely cut straw, hand-woven altar cloths, and other traditional work of what was once a very poor people. All the artisans were there for the great honor of having themselves and their work blessed by Archbishop Meehan, who spoke fluent Spanish with a South Boston accent. Mary looked at the old men and women with gnarled, hard-working hands, at the young couples with small children dressed in their Sunday best, and at teenagers, some of whom sported tattoos. Tears began to flow down her cheeks. Her mother leaned over and asked, “Mary, what’s wrong?” She said, “Mom, it’s so beautiful.” Mary and many others in the Cathedral shared, if only momentarily, the intense Faith of the artisans. But Faith was still strong in Northern New Mexico. Life was still Familia y Fe. Although she attended Mass only three or four times a year, Mary knew she would always be a Martinez and a Catholic, but at the University she seldom revealed her roots.
When the two women finished their main courses, the waitress asked if they cared for dessert or coffee. Brianna went for the German cheesecake with some strawberry goo on top. Mary ordered only coffee; for although slender, she was always conscious of her tendency to put on weight.
To annoy Mary, Brianna kept insisting that she split the cheesecake with her or at least try a small bite of it. Halfway through the cheesecake, Brianna looked directly at Mary and said, “I can’t figure out why you’re my best friend. You come from a weird culture, you’re always making fun of me, and you’re never there when I need you — like this afternoon. But I still love you.”
“Okay, Miss Smarty Pants Psychologist.” Mary Martinez leaned away from the table, folded her arms, and tried to appear like a big shot. She said in a combination Spanish-American and Jewish accent, “So, tell me what I can do to get you to the Big Time.”
“Why don’t you Hispanic girls ever have cars. Talk about a male-dominated culture.”
“Hey, Bri. I don’t get it. What if I had a car, how would that help you?”
Brianna explained in a tortured manner, as if she were a character in a movie about nuclear espionage, that beginning the next day, she would have to transport Joey to various research sites, and she did not want anyone following her back to where she was hiding Joey. If she had another car, she could switch vehicles and make it more difficult for her to be tailed by some creep, like Doug Walker.
With a smug look on her face, Mary said, “It just so happens, Miss Smarty Pants, that I have access to a car. My kid brother had to go back to New Mexico on family business — my oldest brother is in jail again — and Jimmy left his car at my place.”
Brianna knew nothing about Mary’s family or her life in New Mexico. “Really? I didn’t know your brother was here at the University. What’s he doing here?”
“He’s studying physics.”
“Cool. Most impressive. He’s going to be a real scientist.”
“Yeah. He jokes that in the Espanola Valley, he had three choices: go on welfare, deal drugs, or make bombs at Los Alamos. He resolved his moral dilemma when he met Crazy Eddie.”
Brianna had no idea what Mary was talking about. “Who’s Crazy Eddie?”
“You know, Edward Teller, the father of the H-bomb. He gave a science lecture at Espanola High School, and Jimmy was hooked.
“You can use Jimmy’s car if you like. But one word of warning. Don’t so much as scratch Jimmy’s car. He’s still into the Hispanic cultural symbols, and if anything happens to his car, he’ll go completely — totally — insanely — crazy.”
Before going home for the night, Brianna stopped at the apartment where she was hiding Joey and his great-grandmother. Brianna had hoped to leave Granny in Utah, but that turned out to be impossible, since like most children approaching the terrible twos, Joey suffered extreme anxiety when separated from his primary caregiver.
Granny answered the door, and Brianna was still amazed to see how Granny had been transformed by her Sunday clothes into a sweet old lady. At the University, she wore only floral print dresses, a pair of white, labelless sneakers, and, outdoors, a straw hat with a black satin band. Granny told Brianna that Joey was asleep. “The poor boy’s done tuckered out. We spent the whole day in the — how do you say it? — arboretum. Joey sure loves animals.”
“That’s good,” Brianna said. “Because tomorrow, you, Joey, and I are going to visit a chimpanzee.”
“Is this part of Joey’s college education?”
“Well, sort of. My colleagues in the Psychology Department want to give Joey a few tests before we begin his education per se.”
“These tests aren’t going to hurt him, are they? — like when you took blood out of his arm for the DMA test.”
“You mean the DNA test.” Brianna slowly pronounced each letter of the master molecule of life, as if she were correcting an error that Granny had made in religious dogma. She did not further correct Granny; the blood draw was for a complete metabolic panel; DNA sequencing only required a saliva swab. “The upcoming tests will not hurt Joey. They are only long and tedious, so Granny, bring your knitting along tomorrow.”
“New car!” screamed Joey. “Zaroom! Zaroom!”
For a brief moment, the world gave way beneath Brianna’s feet, and she felt as if she were falling into an abyss. What if Joey’s limited vocabulary meant the man-child was retarded? Then she would be sunk. Her dreams of tenure, lucrative contracts, conferences at posh resorts, and consultantships to political powers would never be realized. If Joey were a retard, incapable of little speech, then she could forget about the Big Time, especially the Stephen Colbert Late Show. Once as a young girl, she had seen Carl Sagan on the Johnny Carson Show; since then she believed that the pinnacle of success for those scientists in disciplines not recognized by the Noble Prize Committee is an appearance on late-night television.
Brianna had exchanged her Volvo station wagon for Jimmy Martinez’s low rider. She should have guessed that Jimmy owned a maroon Honda Accord with the tiniest chrome wheels imaginable that protruded a good six inches out of the wheel wells. At least the heavily smoked glass windows would prevent anyone from seeing them when they were inside the vehicle.
Brianna ushered Granny and Joey into the back of the car and got them seat-belted in. Just as she was about to pull away from the curb, Brianna accidentally tripped a switch that caused the Honda to perform wild antics. The front of the car lowered, the rear went up, and the entire car hopped forward a few feet. Then, the car stood in place and bucked up and down, like an Espanola Bucking Bronco.
“Whoa,” shouted Joey, and Granny exclaimed, “I don’t like to ride in cars!”
Roger Peters welcomed the trio into his laboratory. The Primate Language Center occupied two ground-level rooms with gray asphalt floor tiles, cinder block walls painted white, and bright fluorescent lighting. A wall with a large window divided the experimenter’s room, cluttered with video-recording gear, computer equipment, and office furniture, from the subject’s room, outfitted with rubber beach balls, swings, and a jungle gym.
“So, this is the little guy.” Peters always felt awkward around children, and today he felt doubly awkward, because he did not know if he was standing in front of a child or an adult. Peters found everything about Joey confusing: a “child” dressed in cut-off, bibbed overalls with a Denver Rockies baseball cap (given to him by Brianna), yet as tall as him; a “man,” yet with no history on his face. He noticed that just like when his chimpanzee, Kojo, met someone for the first time, the man-child wrinkled his nose and inhaled rapidly several times. This similarity between Joey and his chimpanzee made Peters feel more at ease.
“Joey, there’s Kojo.” Peters pointed to a fourteen-year-old pygmy chimpanzee, visible through a large glass window. “That’s where Kojo lives and plays. Would you like to meet my animal friend?”
Joey did not say a word, but he grasped Granny’s hand more firmly.
Roger turned to Brianna. “He doesn’t say much, does he? He’s not retarded, or anything, is he?”
“No, of course not! He’s just a little fearful. Why don’t you tell me what you want him to do, and I’ll work with him.”
The welcoming smile on Roger’s face disappeared. Roger squinted his eyes slightly and turned down the corners of his mouth to inform Brianna that what was to follow next was serious and important. “First, let me explain my research. I’m examining the links between the animal and the human mind. I hope to contribute to the ultimate answer to the Big Question: How the human mind evolved from our ancestors. We know that man — excuse me, Brianna, I’m not a sexist, what I meant to say is Homo sapiens — is a trousered ape, and now we have to demonstrate that scientifically.
“Kojo cannot utter words; it is nearly impossible for a chimpanzee to switch rapidly between vowel sounds. Homo sapiens alone has a vocal tract that permits the production of vowel sounds. Although Kojo cannot speak English, she understands it. She communicates with me by punching symbols on a special keyboard I designed. Let me show you how it works.”
Peters took the trio over to a corner of the laboratory to show them his invention, a two-foot-by-three-foot, flat panel, composed of ninety-two keys. The panel stood two feet off the floor and was mounted horizontally, so it could be easily moved about the laboratory by Kojo.
“Go ahead, Brianna. Push one of the keys.”
Brianna pushed the ( — ) key, and an electronic voice said, “Coconut.”
Joey giggled, and Granny said, “Land sakes alive. You’re not going to teach my boy to talk like a machine, are you?”
Roger and Brianna ignored Granny’s question.
Brianna was fascinated by the machine. She pressed several keys at random and heard a speech synthesizer say, “Banana . . . lettuce . . . Perrier.” She pressed another key, and nothing happened. “Say Rog, what’s this key a symbol for?”
“That key does not represent any physical object,” Roger said. “It’s the Levi-Civita symbol.”
“The Levi-Civita symbol. It’s used in general relativity.”
“No, I’m not. I want to present Kojo with the outer limits of the human mind, present her with the envelope, so to speak.”
Brianna said to herself, Boy, am I glad I didn’t go to grad school at Oklahoma. That where all these loony chimpologists seem to come from.
“What’s Joey’s role in all this?” Brianna asked.
“I want to use Joey to establish the baseline for language acquisition. Then, I can compare a chimpanzee’s language capacity with Joey’s.”
“All right. What do you want Joey to do?”
“I’ll teach him the same way I taught Kojo. For example, I’ll hold up an apple, push the key for apple, and then repeat the sequence again and again, until Joey grasps the connection between the symbol and the thing.”
Roger worked with Joey at the keyboard for the entire morning. If either Granny or Brianna tried to leave the laboratory, Joey became upset; so the two women occupied the corner of the room that was farthest away from the ongoing “language acquisition session.” Granny alternated knitting and dozing, while Brianna tried to plow through photocopies of scientific papers that speculated how the animal and the human mind are composed of independent computing modules.
Just before lunch, Roger shouted, “Brianna, come over here! Look at these results! Joey’s learned the keyboard faster than any human I’ve tried. He beat Professor Lewis by a mile.”
“What about the Levi-Civita symbol? How’d he do on that?”
Roger ignored the smirk on Brianna’s face. “Forget that. Joey may be a genius.”
Suddenly, both Roger and Brianna realized that Joey was no longer standing behind them. They both turned around and saw Joey was not in the laboratory. He had disappeared. They rushed out of the room, but the man-child was not in the corridor, either. Roger and Brianna frantically looked in the adjacent rooms — but no luck.
“Roger, what are we going to do?”
“I don’t know. We have to search systematically. You start on the first floor, and I’ll go outside. Where’d you park your car?”
Brianna had to keep Roger from seeing the Espanola Bucking Bronco. “I’ll go outside. I don’t know the interior of this building.”
Five minutes later, the two psychologists found Joey in the obvious place, Kojo’s room. When they peered through the large window in the wall that separated the experimenter’s room from Kojo’s, they were astounded to see that Joey had taken off all his clothes, except for the Rockies baseball cap, and was conversing with Kojo.
“Brianna, don’t do anything,” Roger whispered. He threw a switch, and chimpanzee sounds filled the experimenter’s room. “Listen. Joey knows how to speak Chimpanzee-Gesprach.” Peters used German whenever possible; he thought Gesprach sounded more scientific than ordinary English speech.
Joey and Kojo bounded around the chimp’s closed quarters. The man-child scampered about with a bow-legged hop and swung his arms from side to side.
“Look! I don’t believe it,” Roger shouted. “Joey moves exactly like Kojo. They could be siblings. Brianna, we’re on the brink of a great discovery. I’ve always said that serendipity is the source of all great science.”
Joey caught sight of the two psychologists peering through the window. He walked over to a door that opened into the laboratory containing the keyboard and sleeping Granny.
Once Roger got the door opened, he grabbed Joey by the shoulder and said, “Tell me! Tell me! What did Kojo tell you.”
In a computer-synthesized voice, Joey said, “Me eat me eat me banana you banana me you give you me banana me banana you banana me me me eat.”
“No, no. Tell me Kojo’s innermost thoughts.”
“Me eat me eat me banana you banana me you give you me banana me banana you banana me me me eat.”
Roger shouted, “What is wrong with you, you stupid little boy! Tell me what the damn ape said.”
“Me eat me eat me banana you banana me you give you me banana me banana you banana me me me eat.”
“Brianna, the boy is an idiot. A mental retard.”
“That’s not true. It’s your damn monkey. She’s sub-human!”
“No, she is not. Kojo is intelligent. It’s your boy that is defective.”
“He is not.”
“No good science can possibly come from studying Joey. He’s absolutely hopeless. I’m going to tell Lewis that I want out of this project.”
“Don’t you dare!”
The repeated shouting finally awakened Granny. She took one look at Joey and nearly fainted.
“What are you college professors doing? You’re turning my boy into a heathen. Listen to how he talks. You’re turning him into a machine.”
Granny got out of her chair and advanced toward Roger. When she reached him, she challenged the heathen to a fencing contest. But Roger, not having a weapon and being slow on his feet, made the mistake of turning to avoid the old woman’s thrust with the knitting needle. Granny yelled, “Take that!” and the chimpologist received a number two Farnsworth in the ribs. Roger fell to the floor and uttered tiny groans.
“Joey, get your clothes on!” Granny shouted. “It’s indecent for a naked man to be in front of a woman like Brianna.”
Once Joey got himself dressed, he gave a little whistle to Kojo, and the trio became a quartet and headed for the Espanola Bucking Bronco.