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The Old Girl Network to the rescue
Without the Old Girl Network, Brianna would have been lost. The New Sisterhood had infiltrated every level of the University. As a result, no aspect of President Harlan’s life was not available on some node of the Old Girl Network. In response to Brianna’s distress call, the New Sisterhood sprang into action.
Soon, President Harlan was reading a confidential letter addressed to him by Janet Williams, a professor of journalism. Professor Williams explained that Dr. Smythe had been sand-bagged by Jeffrey Nelson, a troublesome and disruptive journalism student who suffered from megalomania. Nelson had been placed on academic probation for his latest outrage in the Daily, and the Journalism Faculty wanted President Harlan to know that Dr. Smythe was blameless for the scandalous remarks attributed to her.
The President’s secretary advised Brianna that she not call to make an appointment with Harlan. Instead, she should arrange an “accidental” meeting with the President, preferably in the morning when he was on his way to his office. The secretary said that Harlan could turn down anyone over the phone, but in person he had difficulty saying no, especially to women.
The morning after the President received the letter from Professor Williams, Brianna was waiting in ambush, dressed in what she called her “woman’s daytime business uniform,” a charcoal pin-striped wool suit with cuffed trousers, a white cotton dress shirt, and a red and blue striped silk tie. On her feet, she wore black leather high-heel boots that suggested a cowboy ancestry.
The President walked through the outside door, and Brianna was pleased to see that he wore a weaker version of her attire. The lapels of his suit were not as broad, the dark floral crepe tie projected little power, and the tassels of his cordovan loafers were the mark of a sissy.
“Good morning, President Harlan. I am Brianna Smythe. May I have a few words with you, sir?”
“Good morning.” Harlan started up the stairs, and Brianna followed him up the stairs, down a corridor, and through an office door marked President.
“Sir, may I speak with you?” Brianna asked. “I need only a few minutes.”
Harlan was annoyed that his secretary was not at her desk. He did not know that Brianna had arranged her timely absence.
“Well, all right. But only a minute.”
Hearing President Harlan speak those words increased Brianna’s confidence in an eventual victory.
Brianna followed the President into his office. Since Harlan hoped to make the meeting brief, he did not sit down, nor did he offer Brianna a seat. The President stood by the side of his desk. The fingertips of his right hand rested lightly on the morning newspapers that the secretary had already placed on his desk. His body bent slightly at the waist toward the desk. Brianna stood directly in front of the President with her feet planted firmly on the ground. The former literary scholar turned administrator and the former Indiana farm girl turned scientist stared at each other, eyeball to eyeball. Brianna told herself, I’ll be damned if I’ll blink or look away.
“Yes, what is it?” the President asked. His eyes looked away from Brianna and toward the closed windows.
“I wish to apologize for the story in the Daily.”
Harlan cut Brianna off. “Yes, I’ve come to understand that the article was the work of a disgruntled undergraduate. The student has been placed on academic probation, and . . .”
Brianna interrupted the President, “Sir, I understand the importance of the University’s image. I know that public funding, federal grants, and student enrollment depend upon the image the University projects.” Brianna tried her best to quote the exact words used by Harlan at the last meeting of the President and the department chairpersons.
“You do?” the President said. “Just recently, I said that to the department chairpersons.”
“You did?” Brianna knew the President had, for Harlan’s secretary had given her the audiotape of the meeting. “Did any chairperson understand that in the present economic environment, image is everything?” Once again Brianna had quoted Harlan’s words back to him.
“No, not really, but that certainly is true.”
“Sir, if I may be so bold: I have a plan to launch the University into the national limelight.”
President Harlan thought that perhaps he had misjudged Dr. Smythe. After all, her ideas were solid, much like his own.
The President waved his right arm in the direction of the empty leather chair in front of his desk and said, “Sit down. You must tell me all about this plan of yours. But first, I must take care of one or two things.”
Harlan opened the two south-facing windows, hesitated, and then decided the air-freshener could wait until Dr. Smythe left. He asked the secretary to bring in coffee for the two of them. Brianna’s coffee was accompanied by a wink from the secretary.
“Now, about your plan?”
“Did Professor Lewis tell you about Joey?” Brianna, of course, knew that he had.
“Yes, but only in a general sort of way.”
“I am afraid that the Psychology Department does not see the public relations possibilities in Joey,” Brianna said. “Just one word to the media would probably result in Joey’s face on the cover of Time or Newsweek.”
“Yes, yes. That’s true.” The President thought, Maybe Dr. Smythe has come up with a solution to the pig problem. If the University sailed through the national spotlight for only a week, he, the Captain, would be sought after by major institutions of higher learning.
“A colleague” — Brianna did not want to mention Mary Martinez by name in case the scheme the two of them devised together blew up — “assures me that Joey is an ideal candidate for accelerated learning. Once Joey learns English, I propose that I, then, take him to the very best scholars at the University, and they teach him the basic principles of their disciplines. In that way, Joey will become perfectly educated. We break the story to the media about how the University educated the man-child. All of your outstanding professors become celebrities, funds will roll into the University, end of happy story.”
“I like it,” the President said. “It sounds wonderful.” The President pictured himself in academic regalia, awarding a degree to the man-child, while photographers from national news magazines clicked away. He asked, “But what do you get out of it?”
“Besides helping out an institution I dearly love — ” Brianna could not call those words back and hoped her obvious insincerity had not cast any doubts in Harlan’s pint-sized brain — “I would like a permanent appointment as a University Fellow.”
“You seem a little young for such an appointment.”
“But, sir, when we have an eight-page spread in Time, my age will seem an asset.” How could she say such a stupid thing? Brianna hoped that Harlan’s thinking processes were not encumbered by rational thought.
“That’s true,” the President said. “You get the piece in a national publication, and I will appoint you a University Fellow. You have my word.”
“Great. One last thing.”
“Would you officially dissolve the Joey Group, and give me complete jurisdiction over the man-child?”
“I will call Professor Lewis and inform him that such action should be taken.”
“I think it would work better if you would write a letter to him, instead.”
Harlan raised his eyebrows and opened his mouth to express surprise at Brianna’s odd request. His impulse to question her was quashed by his belief that Dr. Smythe had found the solution to the pig problem.
Chairman Lewis looked forward to the showdown with Brianna. When in a position of authority, he relished confrontation. His father had deserted his mother before he was born, and he had grown up fatherless in a tough section of Chicago, where the strong were respected and the weak were not. The previous Christmas, his wife had given him a copy of Quiet Thunder: Eastern Wisdom Applied to American Business, but when the Chairman read “One excels in employing others by placing oneself below others,” he laughed off the quotation from the Tao Te Ching as nonsense. Years ago, he had adopted the Clint Eastwood management style — “Do what I say, or I’ll blow you away.”
Lewis glanced around the table and saw that all the members of the Joey Group were present, except Mary Martinez. But her absence was expected; she was probably out having her hair done.
“Let’s begin. This should be a very short meeting. Let me get right to the point.” The Chairman took the first step in executing what he thought the President wanted, the firing of Brianna. “Dr. Smythe, how come you did not turn Joey over to Dr. Walker four days ago, as you agreed?”
Brianna sat calmly at the conference table, with her folded hands resting on top of the black leather briefcase in front of her. She smiled at the Chairman, and said, “Dr. Lewis, before I can do that, I have to know how Dr. Walker plans to use Joey.”
“That is beside the point,” snapped Lewis.
“No, no, Dave,” Dr. Walker said, “I would be more than pleased to describe my research strategy for Joey.”
Lewis snorted, “Only if you keep it short.”
Doug Walker beamed triumph at Brianna, and said, “As you know, Roger Peters discovered that Joey is a gork. He doubts if your boy is capable of learning human speech. So, that leaves us looking like idiots, unless one of us comes up with a dramatic experiment. First, I intend to use Joey to establish a baseline for sexual arousal.”
“Not on your life,” Brianna said. “I won’t allow him to be used in those filthy experiments of yours.”
“What do you mean? All I do is show pictures to a subject, and then measure the physical changes in his or her body. That’s good, clean science.”
“Disgusting.” The arrogant smile on Walker’s face revolted Brianna. “I suppose you’re going to show him dirty pictures of women. You’re exploiting women and now children.”
“The pictures are not dirty, and they are not just of women. Federal law requires that I give equal time to men and women.”
“That’s not science. That’s pornography.” Brianna looked Lewis straight in the face and shouted, “I refuse to hand Joey over to that pervert!”
The Chairman imagined himself as Clint Eastwood in For a Fistful of Dollars. With a monotone, gravelly voice, he said, “Go ahead; make my day. You’ll be in jail within twenty-four hours.”
Brianna dreamed the night before about delivering her line, which she had stolen from Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver: “Hey, you talking to me?”
From her briefcase, she pulled the letter Harlan had written to Lewis. “Read this and weep.” She threw the letter across the table.
Halfway through the letter, Lewis was in a rage. “I don’t know how you tricked Harlan. But the war is not over yet.” Lewis stormed out of the colloquium room.
Doug Walker and Roger Peters were dumbfounded. Brianna smiled at the two of them and said, “See you later, boys.”
She hadn’t felt like this since the fifth grade when her stupid brother taunted her about girls not being able to do everything boys could — girls couldn’t pee against a wall. Brianna challenged her brother and his stupid friends to a contest. The boys were so embarrassed they could not perform in front of her. Brianna, on the other hand, turned around so her back was to the barn wall, pulled down her blue jeans and cotton panties, and let go. Boys are so stupid.
“Mary, I never knew you were so smart.” Brianna did not fully understand the mathematical symbols that covered the blackboard in her office. She had just heard Mary Martinez deliver on the spur of the moment a half-hour talk on neural networks, chaos theory, and learning strategies. When Mary was an undergraduate, she spent every summer as an intern at the Santa Fe Institute, a high-powered think tank devoted to interdisciplinary research into complexity.
Mary studied the equations she had written on the blackboard. Satisfied that her calculations were correct, she dropped the chalk she was holding into the chalk rail of the blackboard and turned around to look at Brianna, who was seated at her desk. “Who did you think I was?” Mary asked. “Some dumb senorita, who knows only how to make tortillas and frijoles?”
Brianna felt embarrassed. “No, of course, not. I mean — no one in the department knows any high-powered mathematics, much less how to apply it to economics, psychology, and biology. I don’t get it. How come you keep all this hidden?”
Mary hesitated. She wasn’t sure why she felt awkward about self-promotion or why she had no desire to be famous and celebrated. She didn’t know why the causes of things are hidden from view and why each person is such a profound mystery, even to himself or herself. “I don’t know. To me, the universe is filled with wonders, and everything interests me, but the human person is the greatest wonder of all. That’s why I studied psychology.” She decided not to tell Brianna that her interest in developing an accelerated program for teaching English as a second language was not solely academic. She grew up in the Espanola Valley, and she still felt angry about how the inability to speak English hindered many people economically and often caused them unnecessary embarrassment.
Mary was the first scientist to see Joey not in terms of theories and research agendas. She focused on the obvious. Joey possessed an enormous ability to imitate. Since children learn primarily by imitation, Mary speculated that the man-child may possess considerable intellectual capabilities that would become manifest as his brain and nervous system developed.
When she began to work with Joey, the man-child had just crossed the barrier that separates the non-verbal from the verbal. She was surprised and pleased to learn that the techniques she developed to teach English worked so extraordinarily well with Joey. Within three months, Joey spoke English at the level of an intelligent sixteen-year-old, although the huge gaps in Joey’s experience made his use of language strange at times.
Mary wrote “save” on the upper corner of the blackboard and drew a square box around the word. She sat down in the guest chair in front of Brianna’s desk and said, “That gives you a rough idea of the theoretical basis of the learning strategy I used with Joey. You may want to copy down all the equations in square boxes, to study later.”
“Sure,” Brianna said and laughed.
Mary knew that mathematics was not her friend’s strong suit. “It’s not that hard. Don’t let all the weird symbols frighten you.”
“Okay, I’ll give it a try, I really will. All I know is that whatever learning strategy you used with Joey certainly worked. I want to thank you, Mary.”
“Hey, I enjoyed working with him.”
Brianna stood up to reach across the desk. She squeezed Mary’s hand and said, “Mary, truly, without you, I would have been lost. And, I just don’t mean that without you, Joey would still be saying ‘zaroom.’ You’re the best friend I’ve ever had. Thanks.”
Mary stood up, and the two women embraced, awkwardly across the desk. Each patted the other’s back as best she could. Mary began to totter, and to keep from falling, both women let go of each other. They laughed and sat down.
Mary dabbed at the corners of her eyes with her index fingers. “Joey is ready for college. So, I officially hand my charge over to you. You’re now his mentor.”
“Not exactly. President Harlan insists that I move more quickly than I originally planned.”
“Why’s that? What’s the big hurry?”
“The Pig Problem.” Brianna rolled her eyes. “Apparently, it gotten worse — ‘unbearable,’ to quote the President. He wants Joey to graduate this May.”
“You gotta be kidding!”
“He envisages a special graduation ceremony for Joey alone. The University — which I guess means Harlan — will announce to the world that Joey is a genius, who mastered one of the country’s finest undergraduate curriculums in one semester, so that now he is a truly happy person, ready for a productive life in society.”
“Congratulations, Bri, on making it to the Big Time so quickly.” Her previously teary eyes now twinkled with mischief. “Just think. In October, you were on the front page of the Daily with Kojo, shot down by that obnoxious journalism student and those creeps in the Psych Department. Now, in February, you’re riding a meteor, destined to be a University Fellow and on the cover of Time with Joey. Only in America . . .”
“Cut it out!” Brianna interrupted and pretended to clap both her hands over her ears.
“I wish this were a movie. Then, I would hear the music come up — “America the Beautiful,” or better yet, “The Stars and Stripes Forever” — and the two of us would march around your office.”
“Cut it out, you clown.”
“Sincerely, Bri. Congratulations. Didn’t I tell you things always work out for the best.”
“I can’t believe that we are going to let two hare-brained women beat us at our own game,” Doug Walker said.
“Not on your life.”
During the three months that had elapsed since Brianna got the President of the University to disband the Joey group, Walker, Peters, and Lewis had been stymied by the Harlan-Smythe coalition. The trio could not come up with even a bad idea for getting Joey away from Brianna or, minimally, for ruining her chances of success.
Doug had not remembered the smell of animal feces in Roger Peter’s lab as so offensive. “Rog, how come your lab smells so bad?”
“Kojo hasn’t been the same since she came back from Brianna.”
“What? Kojo is a female?”
“Yes. I think Brianna turned her into a radical feminist. Kojo has reverted to the infantile behavior of smearing feces — I think in protest to her captivity. I’m sure Brianna put the idea in her head.”
Doug chided himself, Why do I hang out with such a loony? He really believes that a damn chimpanzee is a diminished human being.
“How’s our 007 doing?” Doug asked.
Roger Peters had assigned his graduate assistant the task of tailing Brianna. “Our secret agent has come up with one or two interesting facts. Joey is being hidden at an apartment on Pearl Street. Granny left three days ago.”
“You must be overjoyed by that.”
“That old woman is dangerous,” Roger said. “One-quarter of an inch lower with that damn knitting needle, and she would have collapsed my lung.”
“Did anyone take Granny’s place?” Doug asked.
“A grandmother-type, about ten years younger than Granny, though.”
Walker and Peters did not know that Granny missed her cabin. The old woman wanted to take Joey and return to their life in Utah. Granny refused Brianna’s entreaties and could not be bribed by offers of material goods. What persuaded Granny to allow Joey to continue his “schooling” was that her hopes had been raised that her grandson would become college-educated by how quickly he learned English. But without Mary Martinez’s mother agreeing to take care of Joey, Granny never would have gone back to New Harmony. Mrs. Martinez had eight children of her own and five grandchildren. She welcomed the opportunity to live close to Mary for a few months. Once Mrs. Martinez arrived at the University, Granny was free to leave. Mrs. Martinez, of course, was to be paid for her part in advancing scientific knowledge. President Harlan, through creative accounting, arranged for Mrs. Martinez to be paid from monies taken from an NIH grant to the Biochemistry Department and from an NSF contract supporting particle physics.
“I got it,” Roger said. “Why don’t we kidnap the little bastard?”
“You gotta be kidding. This is not some movie or TV drama.”
“What do you mean?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of the Lindbergh case?”
“What does that have to do with us?”
“Kidnapping is a capital crime.”
Both men fell silent. Each in his own way tried to think deeply about the problem at hand, but it was tough going, as though the mental machinery in their brains had been lubricated with molasses.
Peters thought he discovered a logical error in the argument that Walker had given against kidnapping Joey. Roger cautiously voiced his insight, “Brianna is not Joey’s mother. How could stealing Joey from her be kidnapping, then?”
“I’m not even going to answer that.”
Doug poured all his energy into thinking and came up with a plan. “Say, you may have stumbled on to something. Joey doesn’t have a mother, but he does have a father. If we can find Joey’s father and get him to sign Joey over to us, that’s not kidnapping.”
Roger was skeptical. “How in the hell can we find Joey’s father?”
“Leave me out. I’m not going to fight a duel with that old woman ever again. I value my life too much.”
“Forget about Granny. We are about to enjoin Brianna in battle once again, and this time destiny is on our side.”
An economic lesson at Walmart
“Joey, do you know what the word ‘university’ means?” Brianna asked.
“A university is an institution of higher learning.”
“Excellent, Joey. Today your education begins.”
Brianna had bought new clothes for Joey so that he would look like a regular undergraduate and not like some hayseed from Southern Utah. But Joey refused the new clothes. Brianna forgot that Joey never experienced adolescent rebellion and that he did not know the desire to conform to peer pressure. In many, if not in most ways, Joey was a young child, and young children like things to remain the same; thus, Joey’s attachment to his old bibbed overalls. Brianna told herself that not every teenager in America had to be GAPed and J. Crewed. However, she was glad that with the cold weather, Joey, at least, was out of his short pants, though he refused to exchange his Rockies baseball hat for the wool ski cap she had bought him from the L.L. Bean Catalog.
President Harlan, with Brianna’s concurrence, devised a plan to educate Joey. His plan began with what he considered the most important discipline at the University. Joey should first be introduced to the knowledge of the one area of life that provides the context and the justification for pursuing all other knowledge. Harlan told Brianna that five hundred years ago, he would have chosen theology as the key discipline in Joey’s education. Then, the human person had a place in the cosmos and the end of earthly life was to gain eternal salvation. The President would have had Joey study the Bible, the Summa Theologica, the sayings of the Desert Fathers, and works by Martin Luther.
Two hundred years ago, he said he would have chosen an education for political life. Then, each person was to participate in democracy and the great adventure of founding a new order on earth. The Constitution guaranteed a citizen the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Joey would have studied the political philosophers Hobbes and Locke, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist Papers.
When the President surveyed contemporary Western life, he concluded that Joey should begin his education with economics. Harlan argued that life meant each citizen is his own property; liberty equaled free enterprise; and the pursuit of happiness equated to the accumulation of wealth.
Brianna wanted to center Joey’s education on science, the principal source of truth in the modern world as far as she was concerned, but Brianna felt she was in no position to disagree with the President. However, she and the President did agree that Joey’s University education would introduce him to the fundamental principles of nature.
Brianna pulled her Volvo into a parking space and said, “Here we are, Joey. Your first lesson in higher education is about to begin.”
Joey was just beginning to read, so he had trouble sounding out the first sign that he saw. “Walmart. Dr. Smythe, I don’t know that word. Is that another word for university?”
Brianna laughed. “No, Joey. Walmart is the name of a big store that sells all sorts of things.”
Since Joey was unique, Dr. Smythe and President Harlan decided upon a unique course of education for him. Joey was to be spared the insult of receiving an undergraduate education founded on cost-benefit analysis. He would not undergo the social development that results from being one of five hundred students in a lecture hall or experience the intellectual growth produced by listening to canned lectures, containing ten-year-old jokes. Joey was to receive a one-on-one education, from the best minds at the University.
His economics mentor, Professor Milton Fraser, decided that since Joey could not yet read Adam Smith’s the Wealth of Nations, he could learn the fundamental principles of the free marketplace by observing American capitalism in action.
Professor Fraser greeted Brianna and Joey as they walked through the sliding glass doors. The Professor was a head shorter than his special student; the man-child could see the thinning brown hair streaked with gray that had been combed sideways to partially cover the bald spot on top of his mentor’s head. Fraser extended his hand towards Brianna and joked, “Welcome to Walmart.” Brianna observed the paper-white face grinning at her and wondered if money-making kept the economist out of the sun.
Joey had never been in any store in his life. The sliding glass doors had frightened him, and now the uniform brightness of the artificial lighting and the woman’s voice over the public announcement system that seemed to come from everywhere disoriented him. He had no idea where he was.
Professor Fraser beamed at Joey and said, “Joey, welcome to paradise. Every citizen in every country in the world wants to be here.”
When Joey didn’t shake his mentor’s outstretched hand, Brianna said, “Shake Professor’s Fraser’s hand, Joey, like I taught you.” Joey stuck his hand out, and Professor Fraser grabbed hold of it and pumped away as if they were to be future business partners. The man-child felt reassured.
“Joey, today, I’m going to teach you the greatest lesson that any individual can learn. The principles of the free marketplace. Joey, do you know what money is?”
Without hesitating, the man-child answered, “Auntie Mary taught me that money is any circulating medium of exchange, including coins, paper money, and demand deposits.”
When Brianna heard the words “Auntie Mary,” she wished that when with Joey, she had referred to herself as Auntie Bri, instead of Dr. Smythe. She considered her remoteness with children a personal flaw.
Professor Fraser immediately understood Joey’s limitations. “Joey, that’s a good dictionary definition, but do you know what this is?” Fraser produced a one-dollar bill out of the pants pocket of his dark green plaid suit.
“Nope, I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Fraser waved the dollar bill in the air and announced, “This is an example of a circulating medium of exchange — paper money — the greatest invention of humankind.”
Joey opened his eyes wide. “That’s circulating medium!”
“Yes, what the leftists and other rabble-rousers used to disparagingly call the Almighty Dollar, but no more of their sort are left. And I say good riddance. Let me show you how to use circulating medium.”
Professor Fraser turned to Brianna and asked, “What does he like?”
“He likes chewing gum and hard candy. He has the palate of a child.”
“Joey, follow me.”
Professor was off in search of the confectionery aisle. Although sixty years old, he had the energy of a man half his age.
Fraser raced up and down the aisles, pointing out sights along the way. “Look at those shopping carts. See how full they are. Joey, you’re witnessing the fruits of capitalism. Look at those happy faces. Oh, my god, every time I come here, I could almost cry.”
Joey looked at the shopping carts, but since he could not read he did not know what was in all the boxes. The words he was able to sound out, such words as Cheez Whiz, Kleenex, and Duracell, were not recognizable, yet oddly familiar, so he guessed they were what Auntie Mary called Latin cognates. Whether AT&T 10 channel cordless phones with auto-select, Super Nintendo systems with Super All Stars game pack, Pro-Euro hair dryers, Dunlop Tour 2400 11-pc. golf sets, Jane Fonda Deluxe Aerobic Steps, Hamilton Beach Mini-Choppers, Designer Club steering wheel locks, Bestform Showoff Bras, and Hollywood BluBlocker sunglasses made shoppers happy, the man-child did not know.
They went around a corner, and Joey saw two old women, one was kneeling on the floor, tying the shoes of the other one, who stood motionless behind a walker. Joey stopped to watch the women. The woman whose shoes were being tied had the cuffs of her tan gabardine slacks turned up, so her white cotton anklets showed. Joey remembered how with great difficulty Granny taught him to tie his shoes.
Instead of following Professor Fraser, Brianna had stayed behind with Joey. The man-child asked her, “Do some people never learn to tie their shoes?”
“When people get old,” Brianna whispered, “often they cannot do things for themselves.”
“Will that happen to Granny?”
“Joey, I am afraid that we all get old and die.”
“What happens after you die?”
“I don’t know,” Brianna said, and a moment later added, “Nothing, I guess.”
“Oh,” Joey said. Brianna’s flat, mechanical voice made the man-child sad, and the answer she had given frightened him. He reached out for her hand, but she already started to walk away from him to search for Professor Fraser.
When Brianna and Joey caught up with Professor Fraser, he was by the gum rack. He had selected a ten pack of Juicy Fruit for Joey. “Now that we have your gum, we must purchase it, then it is yours to use as you like.”
The checkout girl was the first young person Joey had seen close up. Joey watched her closely as she took the two one-dollar bills that Professor Fraser handed her. The checkout girl’s red fingernails puzzled him. The man-child had never seen such dark eyes; the only face without wrinkles he had seen before was his in the mirror.
The purchase completed, Professor Fraser grabbed Joey by the shoulders and turned him around. He waved his arm in a wide circular arc, and said, “Look at it, Joey. How do you suppose all this merchandise got here?”
“I have no idea.”
“Of course, you don’t. Because you do not understand the one great principle that makes this all possible — the division of labor. Now take a straight pin.” Professor Fraser was about to reiterate the first chapter of what he took to be the greatest work of the human mind, The Wealth of Nations, but he, then, reconsidered. “Joey, do you know what a straight pin is?”
“For just a moment, please give me a pack of your gum.”
Professor Fraser held the pack of gum above his head as a lecture prop. “Joey, suppose one worker had to make this gum by himself. How many packs do you think he could make in a day? Maybe twenty. But if one worker makes only the wrappers, another the gum itself, another rolls the gum into thin sheets, and so on, then, let us say five workers can make ten thousand packs of gum a day. A thousand-fold increase in productivity. Each person performing one and only one small task is the division of labor. And, this principle produces the great abundance you see before you. Joey, do you understand?”
“This is much too important for you to miss.”
Professor Fraser took Joey back to the checkout counter. He cut in front of the next person in the checkout line, a woman with two toddlers in her shopping basket. Brianna saw the woman was obviously annoyed with Fraser. When the woman flashed a hostile look, Brianna turned away.
Professor Fraser asked the checkout girl, “What is your name?”
“Esmeralda,” the girl answered.
“This is Joey, and I’m Professor Fraser. Would you tell Joey what you do here all day?”
Esmeralda smiled at Joey, and he smiled back. The man-child felt a stirring in his soul that he had never experienced before.
“It’s very simple,” Esmeralda said. “People give me their stuff. I run it by the scanner, the register calculates what they owe, and I take their money and give them their change. That’s all there is to it.”
“Joey, see how simple it is,” Professor Fraser said. “Esmeralda does one small task. If she did lots of things, like stocking merchandise, sweeping the floors, and taking care of returns, then she could accomplish little, and the store would have to hire hundreds of workers. Do you understand now?”
“Yes and no,” Joey said. “How long does Esmeralda stand here?”
“Eight hours, I guess.”
Esmeralda nodded yes.
“When does she go wee-wee?” the man-child asked.
Esmeralda blushed, and Professor Fraser hurriedly said, “She has a morning and an afternoon break.”
“When I get a job, I’ll need a watch,” Joey said.
“Yes, Joey, you got it. The activities of workers are organized by the clock.”
Joey opened his pack of chewing gum and began to offer Esmeralda a stick of gum.
Professor Fraser’s arm shot out and grabbed the hand with the offered stick of gum.
“No, no, Joey,” Professor Fraser said. “This is the marketplace, and the marketplace is for buying and selling, not for giving. Joey, if you give the gum away and not get anything in return, where will you be then?”
Joey reluctantly put the gum back in his pants pocket.
Brianna heard the woman with the two toddlers yell angrily at them. When she turned around, she saw the toddlers were attempting to scale the walls of the large shopping cart that held them captive. “Professor Fraser, we are holding up the line.”
“Sorry.” Professor Fraser moved away from the checkout counter and toward the front of the store, where he continued his lesson in Econ. 101. “Joey, the other great principle of capitalism is scarcity. There is never enough to go around.”
Joey opened his eyes in disbelief.
“Why do you look surprised?”
“Look at all the stuff!”
“There’s never enough, though.”
“The more we produce, the more we want. You got that?”
“Good,” the Professor said. “With a scarcity of goods, each capitalist and each worker is forced to compete with others for what they desire. Competition is the other great principle of the marketplace. Joey, suppose you and I were both chewing gum manufacturers. We would be forced to compete for customers. Thus, competition would force us to make a better product at a lower price. Out of our struggle to destroy each other comes a great good — excellent products at low prices. That’s why you see so many happy faces here at Walmart.”
Professor Fraser could see that Joey did not grasp the great principle of competition. “Joey, take football. Do you watch Sunday afternoon football on TV?”
Brianna said, “Professor Fraser, Joey has never seen a TV set.”
“Okay. Let’s try it this way. Joey, what do you want most of all in your life.”
“To have friends like Auntie Mary and you.”
Brianna was hurt that Joey did not mention her.
“Oh, that’s nice.” Professor Fraser was confounded for a moment. “Joey, if you want friends, you have to give them things, and to get things, you must compete with others.”
Professor Fraser was beginning to draw a large crowd. Soon, he was delivering Econ. 101 to the Walmart shoppers. Nothing gave greater pleasure to Professor Fraser than extolling the virtues of capitalism.
Brianna concluded that Joey’s first lesson at the University had ended. She and Joey slipped away from Professor Fraser and left Walmart. As the glass doors slid closed behind them, Brianna heard, “In the classical formulation, private vice yields public gain.”
Before pulling out of the parking lot, Brianna looked in the rear-view mirror. Joey was stuffing a piece of chewing gum in his mouth.
“Joey, from now on, why don’t you call me Auntie Bri?”
You would think that after fifty-five years, I would have learned that no one under thirty can be trusted, especially your own flesh and blood.
Dr. Hoepp crumpled up the letter he just read and fired the paper ball at the trash basket in the corner. He missed.
Hoepp swung around in the swivel chair he was sitting in and was surprised to see a medium height man dressed in a dark blue, chalk-striped suit standing in the doorway of his examining room. The man obviously was not a citizen of New Harmony, Utah, and Hoepp sized up the stranger as a Salt Lake City lawyer or an Internal Revenue Service agent.
The doctor barked, “What do you want! Vasotec for high blood pressure, Zantac for ulcers, or Kwell for pubic lice.”
Doug Walker was taken back. “I’m sorry. You must . . .”
“Yes, I imagine you are sorry. All right, what’s wrong with you, then?”
“You must have me confused with someone else. I’m not here as a patient.”
“No, I’m a psychologist from the University. I’m here as part of a research project.”
“You’ve come to the wrong place. Whatever are the failings of the rednecks around here, inbreeding is not one of them. I suggest you try Ossipee, New Hampshire.”
“No, no. You’ve still got me wrong. I’m here because of Joey Walsh.”
“Then, please sit down. What’s your name?”
Hoepp reached across the small desk he was seated behind and offered his hand to Walker. Doug shook Hoepp’s hand and sat down in the white, plastic contour chair intended for patients when they consulted the doctor.
“Please to meet you, Doug. I’m Jim Hoepp. Please forgive my irritableness today. If I had to diagnose myself, I would say I have an ancient illness — choler. This has not been a good week. My wife left me Sunday morning, after our weekly Saturday night fight, and today I get a moronic letter from my son. He informs me that he can no longer live in this corrupt consumer society created for him by my generation and that consequently, I should up the credit limit on his Mastercard, so he can go to Nepal. He is offering me the opportunity to atone for my materialism by advancing his spirituality. What a joke! Nepal, for him, is a series of television images and romantic ideas found in books. What the hell does he know about the spiritual life. Next to nothing. I sent him to Cornell, not to a Zen monastery in Kyoto.” Hoepp threw up his arms, with the palms of his hands facing toward Doug. “Please stop me, or I’ll babble on all day like this. Tell me why you’re here.”
Doug decided to make a direct request with no embellishments, so as not to offer Dr. Hoepp an opportunity to digress. “The research on Joey is going along extraordinarily well. But the University may run into legal problems — all these new government regulations. Our attorneys would like us to obtain legal permission from Joey’s father. So . . .”
Hoepp interrupted, “How come Dave Lewis never wrote back to me or at least called? How come friends abandon you at the drop of a hat?”
“I sent a letter about Joey to Lewis, and Dr. Smythe showed up, but not a word from Dave.”
“I’m sorry; I don’t know.”
“Yes, I know you’re sorry. My best friend from college days — Dave Lewis. I don’t know how many people I have helped in my life — and they have all said adios, except for my redneck patients. All right, tell me what you want from me, so you, too, can say adios.”
Doug told himself that he, too, could hardly wait to say adios to the choleric doctor. “What I need is the name of Joey’s father.”
“I would give it to you if I knew it. I suggest you ask Granny Walsh. She’s eccentric as hell, but take her a gift — a box of chocolates or a bunch of flowers.”
“Could you tell me where Granny lives?”
Hoepp tore a blank prescription form off the pad in front of him and drew a map on the back with a Glaxo promotional ballpoint pen that he pulled from the breast pocket of his doctor’s coat. He handed the map to Doug and said, “Granny lives about ten miles outside of town. There are two ways of getting to her cabin, and I’ve marked both of them. I suggest you take the more strenuous route; otherwise, Granny may think you are sneaking up on her. You better approach the cabin on foot. And, take those clothes off! For God’s sake, try to look like a redneck. Granny’s been known to use an old shotgun she keeps to ward off intruders.”
“Muchas gracias and adios,” Doug said.
“Yeah — adios.”
Doug stopped at the Rexall pharmacy and bought a two-pound box of Whitman’s chocolates for Granny; then, he drove back to the Mountain View Motel to change his clothes. But it was impossible for him to look like a redneck; every piece of casual clothing and outdoor gear he owned was marked with Nike, L.L. Bean, Umbro, or some other label. Doug did not know that the citizens of New Harmony bought generic clothing from Nick and Anna’s Variety Store and from Zyla’s Thrift Shop.
Doug changed into Calvin Klein underwear, a pair of Guess blue jeans, a sweatshirt bearing the University logo, and a pair of Reebok hiking boots. When he looked in the large mirror over the double sink in his motel room, he saw the image of a jock, and terrible memories surfaced from his grammar school days. He hated athletics and had not played competitive sports since the sixth grade, definitely the worst year of his life. He was ridiculed by his classmates and estranged from his father all because of sports. He intercepted a football pass and turned a glorious play into a debacle by getting confused and running the wrong way. Every player on the football field tried to tackle him, including his own teammates, and he outran them all, only to score the winning touchdown for the other side. He still could not believe that he had committed the same error in basketball; his father would have thrown him out of the house if he were older. With two seconds to go in the six-grade basketball championship game, he intercepted a pass and threw the ball into the wrong hoop and acquired the nickname Wrong Way Walker. Fortunately, there was no track and field in the sixth grade; otherwise, he probably would have received a baton pass in the 880-yard relay and, then, run around the track in the wrong direction.
He hated that damn name, Wrong Way Walker, but it stuck to him until the tenth grade, when on a lark he started wearing a suit, tie, and Panama hat to school. Suddenly, his teachers and classmates treated him with respect. He was even elected class president, and he discovered by accident that if you look the part that is often good enough.
Doug headed out of town on Route 22, following Dr. Hoepp’s directions to Granny’s cabin. Fifteen minutes later, he was driving on a hard-packed, dirt road that abruptly narrowed down to a jeep trail. The unseasonably warm March weather had completely melted what little snow fell that winter on the surrounding, low mountains. Heeding Hoepp’s advice, Doug parked the rental car and began to walk the remaining quarter mile to Granny’s cabin.
The jeep trail ran up a steep hill, and when Doug reached the top, he was slightly out of breath. From the top of the hill, he could see that Granny’s cabin was about two hundred yards directly ahead. An old woman was sitting on the front porch, enjoying the first warm days of March. She waved back to Doug when he waved to her. Doug saw Granny get up from the chair she was sitting in and go into the cabin.
Doug paused a moment to regain his breath; he transferred the plastic bag containing Granny’s chocolates from his left hand to his right one and then started for the cabin. He stumbled slightly, and for no apparent reason, he wondered if Brianna Smythe had taken this same strenuous route to the cabin when she first met Granny and Joey. Suddenly, he recalled a dream from the previous night. Brianna had on black spike high-heel shoes with black silk stockings, and the only article of clothing she wore was a black merrywidow. In her right hand, she held a black whip. In the dream, Doug was prostate on the floor, looking up at Brianna.
She shouted, “You are my slave. You will obey my every command.”
She cracked the whip, and Doug felt a sharp sting on his buttocks.
“Yes, Brianna. You are my master.”
“Mistress, you idiot.”
He felt another sharp sting.
“Please forgive me.”
Doug laughed at his dream and shook his head at the ridiculous scenario that had bubbled up out of his psyche. If he were a Freudian analyst, he would argue that he had a secret desire to be dominated by women. But he knew otherwise; he had studied Jung to gain insight into anima and thus had become a master of the feminine psyche. He often told himself that he had a way with women.
Doug laughed once again at the bizarreness of his dream. He thought that had he lived in a pre-scientific era, he would have seen his dream as an omen. Doug remembered that as an undergraduate, he had read the Iliad — well, not that he had actually read the first classic of Western literature; he had heard his humanities professor give two lectures on Homer. In ancient Greece, Doug thought his dream would have been seen as a portent of his calamitous defeat by Brianna. Although he was engaged in battle with Brianna, he was not going to lose.
Through an open window, Granny watched the stranger as he approached the cabin. When Doug reached the foot of the porch stairs, Granny went outside with two glasses of cool water and a plate of cookies.
“Hello, son. Would you care for a drink?”
Doug was shocked to see that Granny was a sweet old lady. He could believe she was eccentric — definitely, the bibbed overalls and the shapeless brown felt crammed on her head gave that impression — but the friendly smile and plate of cookies made him reject the notion that she could be violent. He thought Roger Peters, to make a better story, must have exaggerated what happened at the Primate Language Research Center, and he would never trust Roger’s judgment again.
“Why, thank you, ma’am. I sure am thirsty.”
Doug climbed the porch stairs and put the plastic bag with the chocolates on the rough-sawn wood floor next to the old-fashioned canvas deck chair that Granny pointed to. Granny handed Doug a large jelly glass filled with water. Doug accepted the glass and drank half its contents, before sitting down in the deck chair.
Granny sat down in an oak rocking chair with large, curved arms. “You’re not from around here, are you, boy?”
“No, ma’am. I’m from the University.”
“Why, land sakes alive. My boy is studying at the University. His name is Joey. Do you know him?”
“No, ma’am, though I know who he is.”
“Do you know Brianna or Mary Martinez?” Granny asked. “They are my friends.”
“Yes, ma’am. Brianna, Mary, and I are friends, too. All of us are psychologists at the University.”
Doug was too busy playing the redneck to see that Granny raised her eyebrows.
“You are?” Granny asked with more than apparent suspicion in her voice.
“Yes. We are all colleagues.”
“By the way, what did you say your name is?”
“Wait here a little,” Granny said. “I forgot something inside.”
A moment later, Granny returned, holding an ancient shotgun.
“Skedaddle, boy. I’ve got an itchy trigger finger.”
“Granny, what’s wrong!” Doug shouted.
“You know what’s wrong — you pervert! You wanted to show dirty pictures of naked women to my boy. Brianna told me all about it.”
“Granny, you don’t understand. I would never harm Joey.”
“Only because Brianna would put a stop to your dirty tricks. Now git.”
Granny lifted the gun up, but did not point it directly at Doug. He stood up and in a shaky voice said, “Okay, Granny. I’m leaving. But before I go, would you tell me the name of Joey’s father?”
“That no-good varmint. Git. My trigger finger is beginning to itch real bad.”
Doug scooted down the porch steps and walked quickly away from the cabin. When he heard the shotgun behind him discharge, he ran a zigzag pattern like he had once seen soldiers do in a movie years ago when he was a boy.