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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.
Testosterone thought appears to win
“Blah, blah, blah . . . Furthermore, blah, blah, blah . . . And, in addition, blah, blah, blah . . .” The Chairperson of the Philosophy Department took forever to say everything about nothing.
Lewis thought, Why won’t this idiot shut up? No wonder these meetings are interminable. Academics have absolutely no self-control when it comes to speech.
Once each semester the President of the University met with the department chairpersons. The meeting was always held at the Faculty Club, the only posh University building that the state legislature would fund. As a special favor to the University, the legislature passed an exemption from the state liquor laws so that alcoholic beverages could be legally served to faculty members and their guests. But no chairperson dared to order a Jack Daniel’s on the rocks, a Beefeater’s martini, or a tequila margarita when the President was present, for he was believed to be a teetotaler.
The Philosophy Chairperson ran out of words, and Lewis said to himself, Good. The meeting is about over, and I’ll head for the bar downstairs.
But Lewis was wrong. President Harlan said, “There is one other topic I wish to take up briefly before we adjourn. As you know much of our public funding and student enrollment depend upon the image the University projects. “And — “ the President looked proudly around the table before he said, “that image is magnificent. Every year our football team is invited to a post-season bowl game, and our women’s basketball team played in the NCAA finals last year.
“Gentlepersons — to put it bluntly — we must make the Faculty worthy of the football team. The Faculty of this university has no image.”
The chairpersons avoided eye contact with the President; some stared at the papers in front of them, others looked across the table at anyone but their leader.
“In the future, I want to turn on the television and see one of our Faculty advising the President of the United States or announcing a great scientific discovery or receiving a grant to write poetry.
“To project a Faculty image, we must have Pulitzer Prize Winners, MacArthur Fellows, and Nobel Laureates. We need intellectual celebrities.” The President paused to look around the table and then raised his hand in the air in what appeared to Lewis out of the corner of his eye as a Churchill victory salute. “We can get superstars in only two ways. We can hire them away from other institutions, and we can develop them on our own. Gentlepersons, what I need from each of you is a list of superstars that we may have a chance of hiring and another list of young faculty who are potential superstars.”
All eyes but Harlan’s were now focused on the table. The President asked, “Does anyone of you have a potential superstar in your department?” The artificial grain in the table had taken on a strange attraction to most of the chairpersons.
No one seated around the table spoke up. Normally, Lewis, too, would have remained silent. Like the other chairpersons, he knew that he would not make a career advancement move by proclaiming an uncertain result. However, his critical thinking had been temporarily short-circuited by the Philosophy Chairperson’s babbling.
“President Harlan, I have a young faculty member who has made a monumental discovery,” Chairman Lewis announced.
The eyes that flashed toward Lewis said, What are you doing? Are you mad?
“You do?” the President said. “What is this person’s name?”
“A woman. Good. Take a minute or two to fill us in.”
“Dr. Smythe has discovered an eighteen-month-old boy whose growth hormone gene is so abnormal that the boy has the body of an adult male. This man-child affords a unique opportunity to study language acquisition, emotional development, and socialization.”
President Harlan cut Lewis off. “Very interesting. Keep me posted on what is going on in the Psychology Department.”
Lewis thought, What an idiot I am. I should have waited until we had a great discovery that we could announce in the New York Times. Well, at least, Harlan didn’t ask to see Joey.
The meeting broke up, and the mental image of the bar downstairs propelled Lewis toward the door. Before he reached the door, he heard, “Professor Lewis, wait a minute. I want to ask you about — what’s her name — Brianna Smythe.”
President Harlan suggested the two of them retire to the Senior Commons Room, an oak-paneled study, rumored to be modeled after the headmaster’s rooms at Magdalen College, Oxford.
Harlan and Lewis sat in overstuffed chairs, facing each other. The President pushed a button on the small oak table separating the two men. An undergraduate dressed in black trousers and a white waiter’s vest entered the room.
“Lewis, allow me to order for you,” President Harlan said. He told the waiter, “We will each have two Bombay Sapphire gin martinis, straight up and with a twist.”
Lewis hated martinis and was repulsed by the thought of drinking two of them, but he did not say anything to the President. After the undergraduate left the room, he blurted out, “President Harlan, I didn’t think you drank.”
“Please call me Bill,” the President said. “Me, not drink. Whatever gave you that idea.”
“You never order a drink at our luncheon meetings,” Lewis said to him, and told himself, and, consequently, no one else does. “Rumor has it that you don’t drink because you’re a Mormon or a Baptist.”
“Hmm. Odd notion,” the President said, twisting his face into a look of disbelief. “Even if I were a Mormon or a Baptist, I wouldn’t let religion interfere with business, nor do I let alcohol interfere with business. First things first.”
The undergraduate waiter returned to the room and placed the drinks on the table. The President told the waiter to close the window before he left the room. The late afternoon breeze carried the smell of the University stockyards into the Senior Commons Room.
President Harlan took a sip of his martini and said, “I don’t see how Heaven could be any better than this, even if one were a Mormon or a Baptist.” The President took another sip of his drink, and then said, “Go ahead, Dave, try one.”
Lewis took a sip of his drink, fearing the worst. His eyes opened wide, and he said, “What a surprise! I’ve always hated martinis until this one.” He took another drink from the long-stemmed glass he held in his hand and kept the cool liquid in his mouth for a short while before slowly swallowing it. “Heavenly, indeed.” He was glad the President had ordered two martinis for him.
“Tell me about this Brianna woman and her great discovery,” the President said.
“The man-child’s name is Joey,” the Chairman said. “We believe he is the Rosetta stone for deciphering human nature. Joey is the closest that we scientists will come to having a full-grown adult, whose nature is not overshadowed by culture. If we scientists knew how, we would have produced a man-child on our own, so we could study the cognitive, emotional, and social development of the human being. By studying Joey, we hope to discover how much of the human being is hard-wired and how much is determined by culture; so that in the future, with the good genes that science will give us and with a halfway decent culture, all humankind will be happy.”
In his straightforward report on Joey, Lewis failed to mention that in the nature versus culture controversy, he upheld the position that the hard wiring of the human brain is of paramount importance, while Dr. Smythe advocated the view that environment, whether good or bad, always overwhelms mere biology.
The President frowned and said, “You plan to use Joey to establish baselines for learning, emotional development, and such like things. Is that correct?”
“Yes,” the Chairman said. He could see the President was not pleased.
“That is all well and good. But, Dave, we as a University could use something a bit more dramatic. You and your colleagues are not going to make it to Stockholm or even to the PBS Newshour by showing that Joey learned how to push the buttons on a computer twice as fast as some damn chimpanzee. Can’t some member of your department come up with something better than this?”
“But, sir . . .”
“Call me Bill,” the President said.
As when he heard the President’s first request to use his given name, Lewis detected no sincerity in Harlan’s voice. He suspected the President wanted to be called by his official title, not his first name, so the Chairman said, “Okay,” and after a pause continued, “I merely described the first step in our research program for Joey. Science advances slowly to truth.” Lewis wanted to put the best spin on the Joey Group.
The President of the University smiled. “Dave, you don’t still believe in that old-fashioned notion — truth — do you?”
“Well, sort of.”
The President’s forefinger of his right hand tapped twice on the arm of the overstuffed chair he was sitting in; then, his hand reached for the martini he had placed on the small oak table in front of him. The President took a sip, stared at the long-stemmed glass, and said, more to himself than Lewis, “When I was an undergraduate in English, I pursued truth, beauty, and goodness like a crazed lover, but now that I am older and wiser I see that all thought derives from particular standpoints, perspectives, and interests.”
The President looked straight at the Chairman and said, “Scientific theories come and go. Must I remind you of phrenology? If we were both in this exact situation a hundred years ago, undoubtedly you would be telling me the key to Joey’s interior life are the bumps on his head. Do you seriously believe that seventy-five years from now behaviorism, operant conditioning, cognitive psychology, and cellular automata will be anything but footnotes in the history of science?”
Lewis objected, “But some principles once discovered never change.”
“Such as . . .”
Lewis paused to mentally search through the subject matter of psychology and failed to come up with one timeless principle. He, then, drew upon physics and said, “The conservation of energy.”
“A mere tautology,” the President snapped back. “Energy is defined so that it must be conserved. No physicist can design an experiment to test the conservation of energy. But let’s not argue epistemology. We have more important considerations.
“You and I ultimately have the same interest in Joey — career-advancement. I need celebrities on my Faculty, and you want to be the V.P. for Research. Right?”
Lewis was shocked to discover that what he thought was his secret ambition was so publicly known. He looked at the parquet floor and said softly, “Yes.”
“Good. Then, can’t you, Dr. Smythe, or the Joey Group as a whole come up with a stellar event?”
The conversation drifted off into light pleasantries. Lewis did not realize he was seeing the world through an alcohol haze until he was outside the Faculty Club. Then, he moaned, and thought, What have I committed myself to? I don’t know where Joey is, and for all I know he could be mentally challenged. One more mistake like the one today, and Brianna Smythe will know she has me by the cajones, for if Brianna doesn’t deliver, Harlan will lop off my head.
“My monkey. I miss my monkey.”
“Roger, quit moaning about your monkey. People will think we’re two weirdos.”
Doug Walker hoped no one in the Old German Restaurant was listening to their conversation, although he knew otherwise. He really had to quit drinking in the afternoons with Roger Peters.
“I don’t care. I’m lonely. I want my monkey back.”
Doug whispered, “Roger, be quiet. In America, we’re only partially liberated. I don’t care if in public, you advocate homosexuality, transvestism, or gender change” — his voice on its own grew louder — “but America is not yet ready for bestiality.” Doug heard laughter from the booths around theirs.
“I miss my Kojo.”
“All right. All right. I’ll help you get your damn monkey back. When did you last see Kojo?”
“Three days ago, when Brianna ran off with Kojo. I should have known better than to trust a woman with my monkey.”
Doug heard more laughter, and in his peripheral vision, he saw a young woman with short hair and round wire-rimmed glasses stand up and then quickly sit down, obviously attempting to get a look at the two weirdo psychologists.
“Look here, Roger; think a moment. No matter what you think, Brianna is a brilliant woman, and she doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Kojo. She’s keeping Kojo for some reason.”
“I knew it. She’s fallen in love with my monkey. Ohhh. . .”
“No, no, no,” Doug groaned. “Forget about Kojo, and think about Brianna. She wants you to negotiate for your damn monkey’s return. You must have something she wants.”
Doug shook his head in desperation. This was hopeless, but he tried to reason out what Brianna could possibly want from Roger.
“Do you know anything about Joey?”
“Only that he’s retarded.”
“Mentally challenged, you mean,” Doug said. “I don’t believe it. Are you sure?”
“Compared to Joey, my monkey is a genius. Brianna’s boy flunked the language acquisition test.” Roger conveniently forgot to tell the truth; Joey learned Kojo’s keyboard faster than the Chairman of the Psychology Department.
“I don’t believe it!” Doug shouted. “Oh, happy day. Brianna is sunk. Things are looking up for me. Roger, I love you and your damn monkey. I’ll get Kojo back. Don’t worry, I’ll negotiate the captive’s return.”
The next afternoon Brianna, her friend Mary, and Kojo were standing in front of the Administration Building. The wooden sign behind them bore the blue and maize University logo; above the logo were the letters ADMISSIONS.
Kojo munched on an apple, oblivious of the yellow sandstone buildings and the barren trees. Brianna looked anxiously about and felt uncomfortable with the attention they were drawing.
“Where is that nerd, Roger?” she asked. “He was supposed to be here fifteen minutes ago.”
“I feel like a fool standing here,” Mary said. “I still don’t understand why we couldn’t have delivered Kojo to Roger’s lab.”
“Doug Walker said that whenever Kojo sees the outside of the lab, he goes gonzo, and runs off.”
Brianna gave Kojo the bag of apples she was holding. The chimpanzee cocked her head to one side to look carefully at an approaching young woman. She wore a black wool sweater and a full-length gauzy skirt and had a backpack slung over her shoulder. Kojo offered her an apple, and she pushed the chimp’s hand and apple away with her pack and scooted around what she took to be a threatening animal. From the throng of passing students, Kojo next singled out one dressed in Levis and a corduroy sports coat. Kojo chattered away at the young man, but apparently, the student did not understand Chimpanzee-Gesprach, for he did not stop to chat.
“Mary, I can’t stand this any longer. Please be a dear and call Roger.”
“Try his lab first, and if he’s not there, try the Psych Department.”
Mary pulled a cellphone out of her purse and stepped ten feet away to call Roger. He told her that for some reason, Doug must have given Brianna and him different times for the exchange of Kojo, but not to leave, for he would be there in ten minutes or less. When Mary finished the call, a crowd of students had gathered around Brianna and Kojo.
An undergraduate stepped out of the crowd and asked Brianna, “Ma’am, could I be of assistance? Do you and your son need help?”
The students near the undergraduate snickered. Brianna ignored the dope in front of her and hoped the idiot would go away if she did not speak to him.
“He sure is a cute little guy. Does he take after you or his father?”
The undergraduate waited for the laughter to trail off, before he said, “May I take a picture of the two of you? I’ll call it ‘Mother accompanies son to college.’”
The undergraduate whipped a Nikon out of the backpack that rested on the ground in front of him and snapped several frames.
The comic turned to survey the crowd. Following rule number one of the public speaking course he had taken at the University in his Freshman year, the comic attempted to make eye contact with as many members of his audience as he could.
He turned back to Brianna and said, “You may not know it, but this is a highly selective university. And, your boy seems — how shall I put it? — a tad hairy and a bit on the primitive side. Your boy’s IQ and SATs may not be good enough for admission to this fine university.”
Brianna could not contain her anger any longer; first that nerd, Roger, and now this dope. Brianna asked herself, Why does a high level of testosterone produce idiotic behavior? She could see no survival value in it. Her anger forced her to counter the comic’s verbal attack. “From the looks of you, I think this chimp could graduate from here summa cum laude.”
“Do you think that the admissions standards of the University have sunk so low that a chimpanzee could be accepted here?”
“Yes. You’re living proof of that.”
“Do you seriously believe that a trained ape could outperform the average University student?”
“Undoubtedly. If you are the average student.”
“Finally, do you think the University should adopt a species blind admissions policy and actively recruit chimpanzees?”
“Definitely. If it gets rid of the likes of you.”
“May I quote you on that?”
“Thank you, Dr. Smythe, for the interview.”
The undergraduate picked up his backpack and started to force his way through the crowd.
“Wait a minute!” Brianna shouted. “How did you know my name?”
She started after the undergraduate but stopped when she heard a voice behind her say, “My monkey. My monkey.”
Brianna turned around and saw Roger embracing Kojo. The crowd roared with laughter. The undergraduate escaped into the crowd, and Brianna failed to learn his identity when she questioned a number of the students surrounding her.
Brianna sat in her office with the lights off and watched dust motes dance in the golden light that streamed through the half-opened Venetian blinds. She wanted to be completely by herself, and on a late Saturday afternoon, the Psychology Department was deserted. Brianna tried to focus her mind on a single dust mote and grasp its erratic course, but she failed. She did not want to think about anything, but she could not help herself. What a terrible day, Brianna thought. She was furious at Roger Peters, his stupid monkey, and the anonymous student who had verbally assaulted her. And Doug Walker, too! She could not figure out why he had given Roger and her different times for the exchange of Kojo. She was sure Doug was up to no good. Right now he was probably spreading rumors about how Joey was mentally handicapped and how Peters’ chimpanzee was smarter that Brianna’s man-child. None of which was true, but on the field of department battle, truth was irrelevant.
For all she knew, Roger Peters could be right. When it came right down to it, she knew virtually nothing about Joey, and what she thought was her ticket to the Big Time could turn out to be her undoing. She had to get to know Joey better, but she was never very good with children, and she did not know quite where to begin.
On the way home from her office, Brianna stopped at the apartment where she was hiding Granny and Joey. She had not seen Joey in the three days that had elapsed since the debacle in Roger Peters’ lab.
When Granny told Brianna that Joey was taking a nap, she was disappointed.
“Dr. Smythe, I have one other thing to tell you.”
“What is that, Granny?”
“Joey and I want to go back to Utah.”
“Joey’s education is not working out too good. It breaks my heart to hear him speak. He sounds like that machine — or he talks in that monkey-talk, and I can’t understand a word he says.”
“I bet you are just bored. Why don’t I get you a television set, so you’ll have something to do when Joey is sleeping.”
“I’m never bored.”
Brianna was in a panic. If Joey left, she might as well pack up and leave, too, for her future in the department would be nonexistent.
“Truly, Granny, we must think of Joey’s welfare, first. I don’t think going back to Utah is the best thing for Joey. To get on in this world, Joey must be educated.” For a brief moment, Brianna thought about quoting from a recent speech by the President of the United States on the world economy and job training but then decided against it.
“But Joey misses his animal friends,” Granny said.
“What animal friends?” Brianna asked.
“No children live around us, so Joey plays with the animals.”
“What do you mean? How does he play with them?”
“Why he talks to them. There’s not an animal sound he can’t make. He can chatter like a squirrel, howl like a wolf, and sing like a bird. He can speak any animal-talk — except human-talk, he’s not too good at that. He can even imitate how animals walk and run. Joey’s not stupid, you know. He’s just different.”
Suddenly and all at once, Brianna grasped the truth about Joey. She told herself, No Joey is not stupid, but I am; why didn’t I see this before?
“Granny, you can’t take Joey away, now. I promise that in a few weeks, we will have him speaking human-talk real good.”
President William Harlan led a highly regulated life. Like old Kant, the former English professor directed his life with clockwork precision. He arrived at his office each morning at exactly nine o’clock. Winter or summer, he began his workday by opening up the two south-facing windows in his office one-eighth of the way. Once the windows were opened, Harlan lightly perfumed his office with an air freshener sprayed from an aerosol can. The President believed that without this operation, the odor of pig manure in his office would be overpowering by the late afternoon. His attempt to get the Animal Science Department to deal with what he euphemistically called the “pig problem” always ended in failure. He was told “nature could not be overruled.”
Every morning, President Harlan renewed the pledge he had made to himself after the first week he came to the University: Someday, he would head an institution of higher learning that did not have pigs on its campus. He hoped to move on to the East coast, to the Little Ivy League, where animal science meant ethology, comparative anatomy, and neurobiology, not meat and milk production.
After opening the windows and freshening the air, the President sat for a few minutes in his leather executive chair. His morning meditation was the part of the day that he enjoyed most. Peacefully, he reflected upon his position and the great University he directed. He occupied the apex of a great pyramid, and he alone was responsible for charting a course through stormy seas. (The former English professor now despised literature as being intellectually “soft,” and viewed the prohibition against mixed metaphors as the mark of a narrow mind.)
After his meditation on success and a brief reflection on the future greatness in store for him, President Harlan turned to the newspapers that his secretary had neatly folded and placed on the left-hand corner of his desk. He first checked the lead stories in the Wall Street Journal and then the previous day’s closing prices of the three mutual funds he invested in. He, then, checked the closing prices of Northrup and Raytheon; his father had bequeathed to him a few shares of these two defense stocks. He always thought the same thing when he saw the closing prices: Poor dad, he worked his ass off all his life and never had anything to show for it. The President knew he should sell those dogs, but he kept the stocks out of nostalgia, for they were the only material assets left to him by his father.
He next turned to the University Daily, the student-run newspaper. This morning he was mildly irritated when he saw that his secretary had placed the Daily on his desk with the headlines underneath, hidden from his view. He thought, God, this would be a truly great University, if we only didn’t have students. If we did only research supported by corporate and federal funds, that would be paradise. Whoever thought up the crazy notion that a University should also be in the teaching business.
When President Harlan turned the Daily over, the Captain of the University shouted for the First Mate, or as they say in every bureaucracy the world over, “The shit hit the fan.”
“Gimme that idiot!” Harlan shouted into the phone.
His secretary thought a moment. What idiot could he possibly mean? There’s only about two thousand of them around here.
“Sir, what idiot?”
“You know. What’s-his-face.”
Harlan’s mind cleared for a moment. “Dave Lewis, the Chairman of the Psychology Department.”
Within a few minutes, the secretary had Chairman Lewis on the phone. The President said, “Hello, Dave. How’s your day going? . . . Mine’s not off to such a great start. Have you seen today’s Daily? . . . You haven’t. I suggest you look at the front page. . . . Well, have your secretary take one out of the faculty mailboxes. I’ll wait. . . .”
A minute or so later, Harlan said, “So, what do you think of your potential superstar, now? . . . Lewis, this is not the kind of image I was talking about. We do not need our Faculty saying that the apes trained in the Psychology Department outperform our students. Oh, my god, if this hits the mass media — and, it will Lewis, it will — I’ll have your head. Get rid of Smythe. . . . I don’t know how, just do it!”
Brianna was amazed at how easy it was for a person to become paranoid. All-day long, everyone in the department seemed to be avoiding her. But she knew it was all in her imagination. She had not been to her office during regular departmental hours in four days, not that she had sloughed off. Brianna wished she were more like Mary Martinez, who could leave everything to mañana and not feel guilty. But no, she had a good WASP background and could not help being a workaholic. While Brianna had Kojo in her possession, she had read fifteen scientific papers closely and scanned through several monographs on child development. If she did not have the Joey Group meeting, she would have taken the afternoon off, perhaps, to play racketball with Mary. That’s what she needed, a good physical workout. But that was out of the question, so she went into her office to kill some time by playing with a new statistical analysis package she had just gotten for her PC.
Only minutes before Professor Lewis came into the colloquium room to chair the meeting of the Joey Group did Brianna realize something was wrong. Every person she looked at either quickly looked away or smiled too large a smile. Her mind raced wildly, seeking an explanation for the odd behavior of the persons around her. How she wished Mary were here, but she was probably off having her hair done.
Lewis walked in and said, “This will be brief. We have a major problem.” The Chairman looked directly at Brianna and said, “Dr. Smythe, you will have to tell us where you are hiding Joey.”
“Why’s that? You don’t trust me?”.
“We . . . The government through the NIH has substantial funds invested in Joey.”
Brianna thought that creep Roger Peters must have lied about Joey’s verbal tests. Peters refused to admit publicly that Joey may be a genius. The best Brianna could do in her negotiations for the return of Kojo was to get Peters to promise to tell the Joey Group that the results of the man-child’s language acquisition session were inconclusive. Brianna knew that a person’s word meant nothing at the University, but she had a trump card for old Roger. She tried to sound cold and scientific. “Are you worried about the care of or the quality of the subject?”
The Chairman did not take his eyes off Brianna, but he did ignore her question. “Dr. Smythe, you have directly or indirectly already spent over twenty-one thousand dollars of NIH funds. If you do not immediately turn Joey over to Doug Walker, I’m going to have the University’s accountants and lawyers investigate you.”
Brianna was genuinely confused. “I don’t understand. What’s wrong?”
“You haven’t seen today’s Daily.”
“I never read that stupid rag.”
“Well, you should have today.”
Everyone seated around the table roared with laughter. Brianna was more confused than ever.
“Here, take a look.”
Lewis threw a tightly folded newspaper at Brianna. The paper soared over her head, hit the wall behind her, and then fell to the floor.
“You have twenty-four hours to surrender Joey to Doug Walker. This meeting is over.”
A victory celebration and a wake were taking place at opposite corners of the Old German Restaurant.
“How sweet it is,” Doug Walker said for the tenth time that evening. “Roger, I got your damn monkey back, and tomorrow I’ll have Joey.”
“You were lucky in many ways, though.”
“What do you mean lucky. Everything went according to my plans.”
“Only with the help of Lady Luck. If Kojo didn’t like Brianna, my chimpanzee would still be running. But more to the point. What if Brianna did not accidentally have a run-in with the reporter from the Daily?”
Doug laughed. “You think that reporter just happened to be passing by the Administration Building when Brianna and Kojo were standing there? Not on your life. I arranged for Jeffrey Nelson — really, an obnoxious young man, but an excellent reporter — to be there.”
“How do you know him?”
“This semester, he’s in Psych 410.” For the past three fall semesters, Walker taught Psychology 410: Behaviorism and Applied Behavior Analysis. “Nelson hopes that psychology will help him develop new interview techniques that will be the basis for what he calls the In-Your-Face School of Journalism.”
Doug lifted his glass to propose a toast. “Here’s to Lady Luck. Who needs her?” The two men clinked their beer glasses and laughed.
The two women seated in the opposite corner of the restaurant would not have dared to offer such a toast.
“I’m absolutely sunk.” As Brianna spoke, a pained expression came across her face. Her heavy arms relaxed and weighed down her shoulders.
“Come on, Brianna, nothing is ever that bad,” Mary Martinez said. “So, the front-page story in the Daily is embarrassing, but that will be soon forgotten.”
Brianna drank the little beer that remained in her glass and then mumbled, “I don’t know.”
Mary had never seen her friend so low before. “If I were you, I would eat crow and admit I made a mistake in demanding that Joey was exclusively mine. I would offer to share Joey with Lewis, Peters, Doug Walker, and anyone else in the department.”
“I think it’s too late for that.”
“What do you mean? Is there something you haven’t told me?”
Brianna nodded her head sideways, and Mary thought that meant no. “All you Anglos take life too seriously,” Mary Martinez said, with not an entirely forced cheerfulness in her voice. Always the eternal optimist, Mary believed that no matter how bad things ever get, they always work out in the end, not that she spoke from the experience of making disastrous missteps in her life or suffering great misfortunes. “Look at it the way it is. If you weren’t such a workaholic and so driven by success, you would be laughing over this. Just think, you had your picture on the front page of the Daily with a monkey.” Mary smiled, but her friend did not.
“I’m not like you,” Brianna said. “I can’t go back to Espanola to live on tortillas and beans and spend all day listening to Radio Coyote.”
“Who’s going back to Espanola?” Mary sat up in her seat, and with the hope of eliciting a smile from Brianna, she ran the open palm of her right hand and then her left hand over every curl of her hair to check if Kevin’s latest creation was in place. She slowed her normally rapid speech down to that of a Berlitz language tape, so she sounded like a mathematician explaining the prime number theorem to six-graders. In the past, her smart-ass speeches delivered in a slow, sing-song manner always made Brianna crack up. “I have no doubts that I am going to get tenure and have a cushy job here for life. I’m a woman and Hispanic — a combination guaranteed to win, unless I screw up. And, the worst way I could screw up would be to appear hardworking and intelligent. The men in the department are threatened by anyone with intelligence, not just women. Lewis, Peters, Doug Walker, and the rest of the gang expect me to be a knockout Latino woman, somewhat on the lazy side. And, I’m willing to project that image for a few more years.”
Mary’s speech fell back into synch with her quick mind. “Bri, your field is psychology, use some. Girl, you have to wise up.”
All the while her friend spoke, Brianna concentrated on tearing her paper dinner napkin into the tiniest pieces she could manage. With effort, she said, “Mary dear, how can you be so cynical, so unprincipled.”
“Unprincipled!” Mary shouted. “Who’s the romantic, now! Since when is following reality not living according to principles. It’s you and your fellow WASPs who are living in a fantasy world, and that’s why the Anglos keep screwing up everything.”
“Please, not today,” Brianna said. She knew that Mary was joking, but she refused to accept the playful verbal gambit that her friend offered. “Don’t give me that litany again — How the White Man has corrupted the indigenous peoples of the world. After this afternoon, I may agree with you. I have no idea what to do next. Mary, do you have any good ideas, or is my situation hopeless?”
“Hopeless! You got to be kidding. None of this is of any consequence.”
“My whole future is at stake. Everything I’ve worked for is in the toilet.”
“And that’s where it belongs.” As soon as she said those words, Mary felt like an idiot and wished she could call them back. She saw that Brianna was suddenly on the verge of tears. “I’m sorry, Bri. Truly, I am. Forgive me for being so stupid. I was just trying to cheer you up . . . in my own weird way. Please forgive me.”
Brianna cursed herself for not telling Mary the whole story. It wasn’t Mary’s fault; it was hers. She couldn’t shake her old habit of revealing herself to another person only a bit at a time, if at all. “It’s worse than you think.”
“How can that be?”
Brianna forced herself to divulge that her life had ended in total, complete failure. “My mole in the department office said President Harlan, himself, demanded that Lewis terminate me with extreme prejudice.”
“Holy frijoles! I don’t believe it! The University, itself, has declared war on you.”
“Yes,” Brianna said, and sobbed twice. Her entire body shook convulsively, and immediately she felt better. She gathered up all the torn napkin bits on the table and formed them into a small ball. She dropped the paper ball into her empty beer glass. She wiped the tears from her eyes and said, “Mary, I need some good advice.”
Mary placed her hand on top of Brianna’s and squeezed it. “We’ll fix those bastards. Don’t worry. Let me think a moment.” Mary quickly analyzed the various schemes her mind readily concocted. In high school, she won the New Mexico state chess tournament, but she liked poker far better than chess, because a champion poker player had mastered the art of bluffing.
“Forget about Lewis and his rat pack. You have to go after the Big Kahuna, Harlan, himself.”
“How can I do that?” Brianna asked. “I’m a lone guerrilla fighter.”
“First, find out what he wants most of all, for that’s his weakness.”
“Are you talking about sex?”
“No, you silly girl. Quit thinking like a man. Once you figure out what he truly wants, you have a secret weapon.”
“No. You’ve been corrupted by testosterone thought. Your secret weapon is knowledge. You know something men don’t know.”
“Something sexual. Right?”
“No, no, no. What you know that men don’t know is that all men are fundamentally stupid and easily manipulated by women.”