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The wisdom of our tribe nearly kills Joey
“Joey, do you know what the word ‘philosophy’ means?” Professor Thayer asked.
The man-child shook his head. He had never been in the presence of a Master and was reluctant to speak.
“The word ‘philosophy’ comes from the Greek — philia . . . sophia.” Professor Thayer pronounced each root of the word clearly and distinctly. “Philia means love and sophia means wisdom, so philosophy is the love of wisdom. Joey, do you know what ‘wisdom’ means?”
Joey answered, “I’ve been told that wisdom is the capacity of judging rightly in matters relating to life and conduct, that is, soundness of judgment in choosing ends and means.”
Professor Thayer raised his eyebrows and said, “I wish my undergraduate students were half as smart as you. The dictionary definition you recited was perfect, but let me tell you what wisdom really is.”
Professor Thayer carefully took off his wire-rimmed glasses and put them in the breast pocket of the Harris tweed sports jacket he was wearing. He rubbed his eyes with his large hands, and then said, “Wisdom is a woman. Oh, how we philosophers once loved her, but for some reason, she spurned us. Wisdom rejected our love. I guess all women are fickle.”
Brianna thought, Women are fickle! What nonsense! Where do men come up with such stupid notions? She could not believe that an academic no more than twenty years her senior could voice such a stereotypic view about women. Her immediate impulse was to challenge Professor Thayer, but he seemed weary and incapable of putting up a good fight, so she let his offensive remark pass.
“You know what we philosophers did, Joey? We rejected her. With no hope of gaining even a smile from Wisdom, much less an embrace, we rejected her. That’s what we did Joey, we turned our backs on her. Joey, do you think Wisdom is sad because she lost her suitors? What do you think, Joey? I hope she is weeping for us. But who knows, Joey; who knows.”
Professor Thayer fell silent. Brianna surveyed the bookcase behind the philosopher and was surprised by the many of titles on neurophysiology and modern brain research. The silence lengthened to the point where she felt uncomfortable, and she concluded the philosophy lesson had ended. She was about to suggest that Joey and she leave when Professor Thayer began again.
“Once that bitch turned down our love, we had no choice. We were forced to settle for knowledge. Philosophers gave up their dreams of encountering the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. They adopted a new project. Philosophers and scientists would labor together to wrest knowledge out of darkness. We would found a new society, form new men and new women on the jewels of scientific knowledge, Newtonian physics, neuroscience, and evolutionary psychology. We labored for almost four hundred years, and do you know what we discovered, Joey?
“I’ll tell you. We now know with absolute certainty, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you, me, and Dr. Smythe are marvelously complex machines. Joey, is this too shocking for you?”
Joey answered, “Professor Higgins taught me that all animals and plants are machines and that we are huge lumbering robots controlled by our genes.”
“Good, Joey, that’s good,” Professor Thayer said. “I’m now going to show you how a philosopher teases out the logical implications of true propositions. Since machines cannot choose, and since we are machines, therefore, we cannot choose. Syllogistic argumentation demonstrates that no one in this room has ever made a free choice in his or her life. Neither you, Dr. Smythe, nor me. We are determined by heredity and environment.”
Brianna suspected that in his heart of hearts, Professor Thayer excluded himself from the conclusion he had drawn. She guessed that Thayer took pride in his great insights and that he probably hoped to be known as the greatest philosopher of the century. She had not met one successful academic who did not have an ambition that matched or exceeded hers.
Professor Thayer stopped to rub his eyes as if he had sleep in them from the previous night. Then he said, “Since modern science has shown that the world is organized strictly in accordance with mechanistic principles, and since matter cannot plan and choose, we know nature and human life are pointless. Consequently, there are no inherent moral or ethical laws, no absolute guiding principles for human society. Lastly, every material object only exists so long — that’s the second law of thermodynamics — so, we must conclude that when we die, we die, and that is the end of us.”
The final curtain frightened Brianna. She refused to think about ultimate questions. As an undergraduate, she avoided philosophy courses and took refuge in the relative certainty of science. Thayer’s words “no absolute guiding principles” were a searchlight that shone deep in her soul, revealing for a moment the secret fear that she kept hidden from herself; that she was a product of personal accident and cultural circumstance, and thus in essence nothing.
“Joey, don’t despair over this seemingly bleak view of human existence. You should feel exhilarated by the insights we have gained. The open windows of science at first make us shiver after the cozy indoor warmth of humanizing myths, but in the end, fresh air brings vigor, and the great spaces have a splendor of their own. Under the aegis of science and technology, humankind is coming to believe that a merely material and secular good suffices. Freed from the spiritual darkness of the past, we are trying to master our fate. We are bravely stumbling toward mortal life as it might be lived on the sunlit uplands of global democracy and abundance.”
Brianna could not believe that Thayer actually derived solace from the nonsense he just told Joey.
The man-child mumbled, “Happy Walmart shoppers.”
Professor Thayer’s face lit up, and he said, “Yes, Joey. You got it. You got it. Happy Walmart shoppers. I love it.”
“Benny Ray, I have some information for you about your son, Joey.”
Doug noticed that the expression on Benny Ray’s deeply suntanned face did not change when the name of his son was mentioned. He did not know if the untroubled face he was looking at resulted from indifference or self-control.
“Sure thing. Would you mind keeping your voice down? I wouldn’t like the little woman to hear about this. You know how women are.”
Benny Ray shouted down a corridor leading away from the front door of the house, “Sue Ellen . . .” and then in a whisper, he said, “What did you say your name is?”
“Doug Walker.” The answerer wondered if Joey had blue eyes and small ears like his father.
“Sue Ellen — Doug and I are going out by the pool. Would you send Angelica out?”
Only several times in his life had Doug Walker been around persons his age who were enormously wealthy, and each time he became disheartened and thought of himself as a total failure. A round-trip ticket from the University to Houston and the price of a rental car maxed out his credit card, while the redneck from Utah he was following through the lavishly decorated house had no worries about money. Joey’s father parlayed his way with women into a fortune by marrying the sole heir of a Texas oil tycoon.
Outside, Benny Ray led Doug to a white patio table near the swimming pool. The table had a large, opened umbrella to shade them from the sun. Once they were seated, Benny Ray said, “Doug, how about a drink? Name your poison, I have it.”
“For me, it’s too early in the afternoon for whiskey. I’ll have a Budweiser.”
“Budweiser! I don’t serve that shit in my house! How about a Negra Modelo?”
Doug said, “Sure,” although he did not know what he had agreed to drink.
Benny Ray showed the Salvadorian maid two fingers of his right hand and said, “Dos Negra Modelos.”
Once the maid vanished from the pool area, Benny Ray asked, “What did you say the boy’s name is?”
“I mean his last name.”
“So, Jeannie had the baby after all.”
“Well, kind of.”
“What the hell do you mean kind of?”
“She was in an auto accident when she was eight months pregnant with Joey. The doctors saved Joey’s life, but Jeannie died.”
“What a hell of a shame.”
Doug noticed the disparity between Benny Ray’s words and his face.
Benny Ray paused a moment to pay his respects and then asked, “Doug, what’s your interest in all this? I know you’re not a relative. Are you a lawyer?”
Doug saw the Salvadorian maid approaching with a tray, so he did not answer. The maid placed the tray holding two beer bottles and two glasses on the table. Benny Ray jabbered a few words in Spanish, and the maid left.
“Go ahead; try it,” Benny Ray said.
Doug poured half a bottle of black Mexican ale into a glass and lifted it into the air.
Benny Ray held up a beer bottle and said, “Here’s mud in your eye.”
“Good luck,” Doug said. The bitter, earthy taste was a pleasant surprise to Doug, and he said, “This is very good.” He took another taste of his beer and then said, “Back to the question you asked. I’m a psychologist at the University, and I want to study Joey.”
“Study him! What wrong with him?”
“Joey’s two years old, but because of an abnormal growth gene, he looks like he is twenty.”
“Damn! I always knew there was something strange about the Walshes.”
“I don’t want to sound crass, but Joey provides science with a unique opportunity to study human growth and development.”
Doug decided it was not worth the effort to explain to this redneck the science he planned to do with Joey. He charged straight ahead toward the goal he sought. “I would like your permission to study Joey. All I need is your signature on a couple of forms that designate me the principal investigator.”
“Whoa . . . Slow down a damn minute. Where’s Joey, now?”
“He’s at the University.”
“Is he being studied there?”
“By me and my assistant, Dr. Brianna Smythe, a very able researcher.”
“So, why do you need my signature? You are already doing what you want to do.”
“Benny Ray, we want to make this all legal; only recently did I discover your whereabouts.”
Benny Ray placed both his arms on the patio table and leaned forward. He said, “I hope you realize the delicate situation I’m in.” His face assumed an open, friendly smile that told Doug we are two good old boys and understand each other. “I never told Sue Ellen about my little escapades in Utah. I hoped I left my old life behind. All I need is for a kid to suddenly appear out of nowhere, one that looks twenty years old at that. Besides, how do I know this kid is really mine.”
“Who knows if you are the father or not; but” — Doug was desperate, and what was one more lie, one way or the other — “your name is on the birth certificate. I guarantee that if you make me the principal investigator, I will not tell Granny Walsh or anyone else where you are. This will be between just the two of us.”
“Tell me again. Why do you need my signature?”
“So, you won’t sue me for not having obtained permission to study Joey.”
“What if I do threaten to sue you now?”
“It would be a bit messy with Sue Ellen, wouldn’t it?”
“Hell, Doug, for a college professor, you sure know how to get the drop on a guy. Give me your damn forms.”
Brianna looked at the clock and wondered who was calling at six-thirty in the morning. The ringing phone had caused a wave of anxiety to ripple through her body. Since that one time four years ago, when her mother had called at five in the morning to inform her that her father died, whenever the phone rang unexpectedly, Brianna felt impending doom.
Brianna rolled over and reached for the phone on the floor next to the bed. She picked up the phone and heard Mary Martinez say, “Bri, something is dreadfully wrong with Joey. You better get over here as soon as you can.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“I can’t tell you over the phone. It’s too complicated.”
“I’ll be right over.”
Twenty minutes later, Mary opened the door to let Brianna into the apartment. One look at Mary, and Brianna braced herself for the worst. The hair that hung in tangled curls and the lack of makeup could be explained by the early hour, but never before had she seen a worried expression on her friend’s face. Brianna thought perhaps some dreadful accident had befallen Joey.
“Be careful,” Mary said in a hushed voice as if she were ushering a visitor into the room of a critically ill patient. “Don’t trip over the wires.”
“Those.” Mary pointed to two long strands of yarn on the floor. The “wires” were connected to a wall electrical outlet next to the door and ran along the floor into the kitchen.
Brianna stepped over the “wires” and followed Mary into the kitchen. Joey was seated at the kitchen table. He had on his Denver Rockies baseball cap and was eating breakfast cereal. Brianna saw that the two “wires” were tied to Joey’s belt. Mary’s mother was seated at the table next to Joey. She was holding one of Joey’s hands and speaking softly to him in Spanish. Brianna observed that Mrs. Martinez’s usually cheerful face was grave and that Joey’s vacant eyes seemed not to register the presence of his other grandmother.
“Joey, tell Auntie Bri, what the ‘wires’ are for,” Mary said.
“Joey, how come you are hooked up to those ‘wires’?” asked Brianna.
The man-child stopped eating and swallowed. An electronic voice replied, “Without the current, I cannot digest food.”
Brianna exclaimed, “My god, he sounds exactly like the computer in Roger Peters’ lab. Mary, what in the hell is going on?”
Mary took Brianna into Joey’s bedroom. Mary pointed to the cardboard, pieces of string, and other odds and ends that surrounded Joey’s bed. “See that ‘machinery.’ It keeps Joey alive at night. He says that it ‘lives him.’“
“Do you know what is going on?” Brianna asked.
“Let’s go back into the kitchen.”
When the two women returned to the kitchen, Joey was drinking milk from a glass through an elaborate piping system built of straws.
“Bri, ask Joey what he is doing.”
“Joey, why the straws?”
An electronic voice said, “Liquids are being pumped into me.”
“Joey, tell Auntie Bri what is wrong with you.”
“The criticizer will not let me.”
“What is the criticizer?”
“The criticizer is a module in my brain that prevents me from saying words with unpleasant feelings,” the electronic voice said.
“Why do you sound like a computer when you speak?”
“This is my normal speaking voice.”
Mary’s mother began to cry. She let go of Joey’s hand and brushed the tears from her eyes. She whispered several words in Spanish to Joey and then asked Brianna, “Did I do something wrong to the boy?”
Brianna’s voice quivered. “No, Mrs. Martinez. You did nothing to harm Joey. . . . We did.”
Mrs. Martinez got up from the table, walked over to Brianna, and embraced her. The older woman began to sob uncontrollably, and she left the kitchen.
Brianna continued to question Joey. “That is not your normal voice, Joey. Don’t you remember being in Roger Peters’ lab?”
“Yes, you do. You couldn’t have forgotten Kojo, the chimpanzee you played with.”
“Joey cannot remember anything,” the electronic voice said.
“Why is that?”
“Joey’s memory circuits are defective.”
“Joey, how can Auntie Bri help you remember?”
“Take out Joey’s brain and throw it away. Replace his brain with a computer.”
Brianna felt helpless and was on the verge of tears. She turned to Mary and asked, “What should we do?”
“I think we should get the name of the best psychiatrist at the University hospital and get him or her over here pronto.”
An electronic voice said, “Nothing is wrong with Joey. Machines are better than people.”
“Is Professor Lewis in?” Doug Walker asked the Psychology Department secretary.
“I’ll check to see if he is free.” The secretary made a note to tell Brianna about the triumphant look on Dr. Walker’s face.
“Go on in.”
Doug hadn’t felt so good in years. He bounced into Lewis’s office, plopped himself down in a chair without being asked to do so, and dropped his briefcase on the floor.
“I see the mission went well,” Lewis said.
“Perfect, it couldn’t have gone better. But before I tell you about that, I have a little money problem. I maxed out my credit card. The trip was considerably more expensive than I expected. Could I be reimbursed from one of the contracts?”
“No problem,” the Chairman said. “I think we have plenty of travel money left in the NSF grant. Just give me post-dated travel requests, and I’ll take care of it. Now, tell me about the good news that is written all over your face.”
“New Harmony was a bust, except I met this terrific chick, Sally Walsh, Joey’s aunt. Man, did she show me a good time.”
Doug spun out a yarn about the wild two days he spent with Sally. Lewis knew the story was bullshit, and Doug knew that Lewis knew it was bullshit, but both men enjoyed the fantasy, nevertheless.
Doug eventually looped back to the central point, “Nobody would talk about Joey’s father. Say, did you know that Joey’s physician is an old friend of yours?”
“You got to be kidding. What’s his name?”
“I don’t believe it. He’s an old college roommate. After we graduated, he went to Tufts Med School, and I went to graduate school at Michigan. I haven’t heard from him since we graduated.”
“He told me that he wrote a letter to you about Joey, but never received a reply.”
“That’s odd. Let me check.”
The Chairman picked up the phone on his desk, pushed a button, and said, “Louise, would you check the correspondence file to see if I ever received a letter from a Dr. James Hoepp.” Lewis spelled the last name. “It would have been within the last two years. . . . No, I’ll wait.”
The Chairman asked Doug, “You don’t suppose that Brianna Smythe got hold of the letter somehow? And, that’s how she knew about Joey.”
Doug shrugged his shoulders; right now he could not care less about Brianna Smythe’s past dirty tricks.
“Thank you,” Lewis said into the telephone receiver and then hung it up. He said to Doug, “We don’t have a letter from Hoepp on file. I bet Brianna stole it.”
“Are you going to confront her about this?”
“Perhaps. But go on, tell me about the trip.”
“As I said, Utah was a bust. But I did find out that Joey’s father — Benny Ray White is his name — lives in Houston. So, I flew to Houston and rented a car. You wouldn’t believe this redneck from Utah. He lives in River Oaks, the wealthiest section of Houston. Benny Ray is a sweet-talking, good-old-boy, who can charm the pants off any woman. Anyway, he is married to an heiress — big-time Texas money — spelled with a capital M. To make a long story short, I dry-gulched Benny Ray. Take a look at this.”
Doug took a large manila envelope out of his briefcase and handed it to Lewis. He said, “Go ahead. Open it up.”
Doug waited for Lewis to peruse the legal documents that had been inside the manila envelope, before he said, “I have the sole jurisdiction to approve and to direct any and all research done with Joey. Furthermore, I have sole legal responsibility for his education. However, Benny Ray White retains the right to fifty percent of royalties that may result from any research on his son.”
“He put that last part in?” the Chairman asked.
“He insisted on it. Benny Ray told me that a person should not allow family to stand in the way of business.”
“Doug, congratulations! I can’t believe that your trip turned out as well as it did.”
Walker did not know how to go about exercising the legal authority that he had acquired from Benny Ray, so he asked his mentor for direction. “What do you think we should do next? Should we just go over to the apartment on Pearl Street with our legal documents and seize Joey, or what?”
“Let me get some legal advice,” the Chairman said. “I don’t know if we need lawyers along, or an officer of the court, or what.”
“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” Doug said. He thrust his clenched fist forward and pulled it back, the way sports figures do after they have executed a spectacular play. “I have won, and Brianna Smythe has lost. For the first time in my life I beat a freckle-faced girl with pigtails. Life is good!”
“Get me Brianna Smythe,” President Harlan barked into the phone.
The President enjoyed nothing more in his life than occupying command center, shouting out orders, and directing the troops. The media blitzkrieg, Operation Big Mouth, announcing Joey to the world, was soon to begin.
Harlan hung up the phone and turned to Bruce Cabot, the University’s Public Relations Director. Cabot was young, energetic, imaginative, and dedicated to what he called “communication,” the manufacture and projection of images. All student recruiting and fund-raising material required his final approval. He and his staff developed such effective and memorial phrases as “a citadel of learning,” “a total educational experience,” and “wisdom of the past for life today.”
“Bruce, how are we doing?” the President asked.
“Great. Sixty Minutes is interested. CNN will definitely be there. NBC Nightly News and Sixty Minutes are in the bag.”
“What about the news magazines?”
“Newsweek is intrigued, to quote a senior editor, and Time will have someone at the press conference but is still non-committal about an actual piece.”
“TV coverage is the most important thing,” the President said. “No one reads anymore, anyway. Look at our students.”
The two men laughed.
“What about my remarks?” the President asked. “Do you have them prepared?”
“I will send them to you this afternoon for your final review. Also, Professors Milton, Higgins, and Thayer have sent me their prepared press statements, and they look fine. There was only one slight glitch.”
“What was that?” the President asked.
“Dr. Peters wanted to bring Kojo to the press conference and show the world how Joey learned Chimpanzee-Gesprach.”
“I know you short-stopped that.”
“Indeed, I did.”
“Good. We cannot risk any screw-ups. We do not want to appear on national TV with egg on our face.”
The phone on Harlan’s desk rang.
“You got a hold of her. Good. . . . Put her on. . . . Brianna, how are you? . . . We have scheduled the press conference for Friday at eleven o’clock. . . . Yes, we want to hit the evening news and have a shot at a spot on the Sunday morning news programs. . . . Oh, Joey is not feeling well. . . . That’s no problem. He just has to stand up in front of the Press and recite one short paragraph that Bruce Cabot has written for him. Bruce will send it to you this afternoon. . . . You and Joey must be there. . . . Brianna, I’m also going to announce your appointment as a University Fellow before I introduce Joey. . . . Good. . . . I’ll see you Friday morning, and if you have any questions or need any assistance, call Bruce Cabot.”
Joey, the mechanical boy, recovers and saves the world
Brianna walked into Dr. Helmut Volkmann’s office, and for a moment thought she had lost her mind. She was in Old Vienna, standing on an oriental carpet, surrounded by saffron and brown floral wallpaper. In one corner of the room, on a wooden stand, was a three-foot-tall, blue and white ceramic jar with a round cover, along the wall opposite the vase was a dark chocolate leather couch, lacking arms, but having an inclined headrest. The heavy drapes, covering the one window, were tied open, but lace curtains attenuated the outside light. The other light in the room came from a Tiffany reading lamp on a massive, mahogany desk. Seated behind the desk was barrel-chested, bearded man in his sixties, holding a big, black cigar.
“I’m Brianna Smythe; I teach in the Psychology Department.”
“Yes, I know you,” Dr. Volkmann said in a heavy German accent. He was a native of Vienna and thought of himself as a direct intellectual descendant of Professor Freud, himself.
Brianna was puzzled. She hoped the stress over the last several weeks had not taken a toll on her memory. She knew she was not thinking as well as she could. “I’m sorry. I don’t remember meeting you.”
“We have not met,” Dr. Volkmann said. “I recognized your face from the Daily. But I don’t think you need a psychiatrist. You need a veterinarian.”
“No, no, I’m not here about Kojo. It’s Joey.”
“In that case, please sit down. Would you prefer the chair or the couch?”
Brianna chose the richly upholstered Victorian chair with a long sloping back and no armrests; the couch horrified her. She sat bolt upright on the edge of the chair and with both feet squarely on the floor. She placed her unopened briefcase on her lap and folded her hands on top of it.
“Who is Joey?” the psychiatrist asked.
“Joey is a man-child.”
Dr. Volkmann raised his bushy, Eastern European eyebrows, and said, “Oh, I see. Tell me about this man-child. He is a lover of yours? Correct?”
“No, no. Joey is two years old but has the body of an eighteen-year-old.”
“Most interesting. You suffer from an incest fantasy of the — if I were not a health professional, I would say of the most disgusting kind. Professor Freud” — Dr. Volkmann bowed his head in the direction of the East — “Professor Freud discovered that it is not unusual for a mother to have desires for her young son, especially when he begins to talk; however, this fantasy of yours that your two-year-old son has the body of an adolescent is most unusual. I will take your case.”
“No, no, you do not understand,” Brianna said.
“I will, though. Please make an appointment with my receptionist. We should meet twice a week.”
“Dr. Volkmann, please listen. I have a major problem here.”
“Yes, I know.”
“No, you don’t,” Brianna said, and then she asked, “Would you please come and look at Joey?”
“I do not make house calls.”
“Dr. Volkmann, if you would only look at Joey, you would see the problem.”
The psychiatrist turned on his East European charm. He smiled and thickened his accent. “May I call you by your first name, dear?”
“Yes,” Brianna answered, and then she said, “Dr. Volkmann, will you please listen to me?”
“Brianna, if a psychiatrist is anything, he is a good listener. Oh, I forgot. He or she — I meant to say — is a good listener. I keep forgetting about how you Americans keep changing everything. In Europe, it is different. Do you speak German?”
“Never, not on your life. I refuse to utter die or der, and all those sexist words. Any language that has feminine and masculine words is patriarchal, and I refuse to speak it. What am I talking about this for? Dr. Volkmann, I need your help. I am facing a deadline, and if I don’t keep it, I’m finished.”
A light bulb went off. Brianna opened her briefcase and withdrew from it the Joey file folder.
“Here, Dr. Volkmann, are the complete records on Joey.”
Neither Brianna nor Dr. Volkmann said anything for the several minutes that Dr. Volkmann took to examine the contents of the folder.
Dr. Volkmann handed the Joey file back to Brianna and said, “Hmmm. Most unusual. Most unusual. A most elaborate fantasy. Brianna, you are a most imaginative and creative young woman.”
“Dr. Volkmann, you must believe me. This is all true.”
“Brianna, dear, I will tell you what I am going to do. Professor Freud, himself, before he died, experimented with entering a patient’s fantasy. That is what I am going to do. Take me to Joey. But remember, this is not a house call!”
“Watch out for the ‘wires.’“
Dr. Volkmann saw the strands of yarn on the floor and stepped carefully over them.
“Dr. Volkmann, allow me to introduce Dr. Mary Martinez, a colleague of mine and my best friend.”
“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mary.”
“Thank you for coming, Dr. Volkmann,” Mary said. She ignored protocol and got right to the point of her diagnosis of Joey. “This morning, I spent several hours at the Medical School Library. I suspect Joey is suffering from autism. One treatment for a patient in the initial stage of autism is to over-stimulate his or her senses to draw the patient out of himself or herself. Thus, I bought a TV.” Mary pointed to the rapidly flashing images of the CNN Headline News on the TV. The sound was off.
“Why is the sound off?” Dr. Volkmann asked.
“I tried intense aural stimulation,” Mary said. “I played CDs by the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead at super high volume, but Joey closed his eyes and seemed to withdraw further into himself.”
Dr. Volkmann walked over to Joey. The man-child was seated in a director’s chair with a black canvas seat and back. He faced the TV set with a blank stare on his face. Dr. Volkmann waved his hand in front of Joey’s opened eyes, interrupting the images of a train wreck in New Delhi, but Joey did not react.
The psychiatrist went back to where Brianna and Mary were standing.
“Do you know why he is like this?” Dr. Volkmann asked.
“He says he is on idle,” Mary answered.
“Hmmm. What are the ‘wires’ for?” Dr. Volkmann asked.
“They give Joey the ‘juice,’ the electricity that runs him.”
Dr. Volkmann heard mumbling coming from somewhere and asked, “Is that Joey?”
“No,” Mary answered. “That’s my mother. She’s in the kitchen praying for a miracle.”
Dr. Volkmann raised his eyebrows. “Dr. Martinez, you don’t believe in miracles, do you?”
“I told Brianna a few days ago that it doesn’t make any difference what I believe. Miracles either happen or they don’t.”
Dr. Volkmann looked Mary straight in the face and said, “Dr. Martinez, what Joey needs is a good dose of reality, not mumbo-jumbo said over rosary beads. The terrifying impression of helplessness in childhood arouses the need for protection. Once I rid Joey of his infantile wish for a benevolent Providence, for a moral order in the universe, and for an afterlife, then Joey will have the strength and courage to face reality. Without flinching, he will be able to say Homo homini lupus — Man is a wolf to man. Joey will be able to accept that nature is eternally remote, that she destroys us — coldly, cruelly, relentlessly.”
No one saw Joey close his eyes; the man-child went into low idle.
Dr. Volkmann asked, “What were the last words that Joey spoke before he went on idle?”
Mary was sure she remembered the man-child’s last words. “He said machines are better than people.”
Dr. Volkmann nodded his head toward Joey and said, “He’s right, you know. Machines do not suffer pain or have unbearable emotions. But animals are better than machines. Animals move themselves, experience joy, but do not have twisted childhoods and perverse governments. How I wish I had been born a tiger, now there is a good life.” Dr. Volkmann stopped talking, and his blissful eyes stared off in the distance for a moment, as if he were recalling the joy of bounding over the savanna. He continued, “In my ordering of the cosmos, animals are best, followed by machines, then rocks, and human beings are last.”
“Rocks are better than humans?” Mary asked.
Dr. Volkmann looked condescendingly at Mary and said, “Yes. Remember that one of your great pop singers sang, ‘I am a rock.’ Rocks suffer no pain. But you Americans do not understand pain and suffering. We Europeans know pain and suffering. You Americans have your Tylenol for your little noodles, your Tums for your little tummies, your Preparation H for your little tushes, god knows what you don’t have for the slightest pain or ache.”
“Dr. Volkmann, what does this have to do with Joey?” Mary asked.
“Everything. Joey became a machine because it is too painful to be human. Joey is trying to heal himself. Such attempts at self-therapy are seldom successful, though.”
“What do you recommend we do?” Brianna asked.
“The only case I know of that is similar to Joey is one reported on by Dr. Bruno Bettelheim.”
“Could we consult him for advice?”
“He is dead; he committed suicide.”
“Oh. What do you recommend?”
Volkmann thoughtfully rubbed his Freud beard and then advised, “Don’t disconnect him from the ‘juice.’ You don’t want to kill him.”
“No soap operas.”
“The slow pace will put him in a comma. I recommend MTV.”
“One or two years of therapy.”
“Dr. Volkmann — Joey and I must attend a press conference this Friday.”
“He can go, provided you don’t disconnect him from the ‘juice.’“
“I must leave. Call my receptionist to make an appointment for Joey. Remember — this has not been a house call. Goodbye.”
After Dr. Volkmann left, Brianna complained to Mary, “He was some help. I always thought Freudian psychiatry was a bunch of hooey.”
Several minutes later, the front doorbell rang, and Brianna assumed it was Dr. Volkmann and hoped he was returning with a bright idea about what to do with Joey. She opened the door, and two men pushed her aside and walked into the apartment.
Mary shouted, “Watch out for the wires!”
But Doug Walker and Roger Peters paid no heed and clumsily disconnected the “wires” from the “juice.”
Joey stood up from the chair he was sitting in, teetered for a moment, and then pitched face-forward onto the floor.
“Oh, my god!” Mary screamed. “You’ve killed him.”
In an instant, Brianna and Mary were attending to Joey. He did not seem to be breathing. Mary could not find a pulse, but she did not know if Joey’s heart had stopped or if her pounding heart and trembling hand prevented her from feeling a faint pulse. She shouted, “Reconnect the ‘juice!’“
Brianna raced to the other ends of the “wires” and reconnected Joey to his source of life, so the machine that ran him would function again.
Mary shouted, “We have life support! Joey lives!”
Brianna went up to Doug Walker, grabbed him by the throat, and pushed him back several feet until he slammed against the wall. Walker was so surprised that he did not resist Brianna’s attack. Brianna looked him square in the face and said, “You sonofabitch.” With as much force as she could muster, she thrust her right knee into Walker’s crotch. She let go of Walker, and he fell to the floor moaning. The sheaf of papers he was holding fell to the floor in front of him.
Brianna turned around and advanced toward Roger Peters. “All right. You’re next.”
“Brianna, be reasonable . . .”
“You idiots are beyond reason. You dopes understand only power and force.” She continued her slow advance toward Roger, now frozen motionless, with both arms at waist level and with the left leg thrust forward in a feeble attempt to protect the vulnerable parts of the male anatomy.
Mary shouted, “No, mom. Don’t!”
Brianna whirled around and saw Doug Walker on his knees, trying to stand up. Mrs. Martinez was standing over him with a frying pan in her hand. She shouted, “Bruto, bruto,” and beaned him with the frying pan. Doug collapsed back on to the floor.
Roger Peters bolted around Brianna and disappeared out the door.
All the excitement had shocked Joey out of idle. Joey got up off the floor and sat back in the chair he had been sitting in before the two men had burst into the apartment. An electronic voice said, “Auntie Bri, are you okay?”
“Joey, I’m so glad you’re back with us,” Brianna said.
The electronic voice said, “Don’t cut the ‘juice,’ again.”
Mrs. Martinez said, “Milagro, milagro,” fell to her knees, crossed herself, and mumbled prayers of gratitude.
Mary said, “Joey, don’t ever go into idle again. You frightened us, so. Promise us that you will never do that again.”
“Machines cannot make promises. Machines can only be programmed.”
“Auntie Bri and I command you to never go into idle again.”
“Program read and executed.”
Doug Walker had regained consciousness but was afraid to move or even open his eyes. He remained motionless on the floor. The conversation he overheard was so bizarre that he was afraid the knock on the head ruined several circuits in his brain. He must have inadvertently moved, because he heard Brianna say, “All right, Doug. Get up.” Black spike high-heel shoes and a coiled up black whip appeared in his imagination, and he said, “Yes, mistress. I will obey your every command.”
“What? Doug, don’t be stupid. Get up!”
He had no choice — destiny had brought him to this ignominious defeat, just as fate had brought Achilles to his death at Troy. He readied himself psychologically for another physical assault and got up off the floor as quickly as he could.
“Why did you and that creep, Roger, come here?” Brianna asked.
Doug figured there was no sense lying, and besides his brain was working so poorly that he would be unable to lie consistently. “Joey’s father made me the director of all research to be done on Joey. Roger and I came here to take Joey.”
What Brianna said next surprised everyone in the room, including herself. “Okay. If you want him, go ahead and take him.”
Doug hesitated a moment, and then said, “Does he run on batteries?”
“How in the hell do I know? Do you want him?”
He paused to deliberate, and then said, “No. He’s damaged goods.”
“Good. Now, get out the door, and leave all the papers behind.”
Brianna was stymied by how to get Joey out of the house without “cutting the juice,” when she realized that stupid Doug Walker had inadvertently come up with the solution — batteries. In front of Joey, Brianna took the back off her Sony Walkman and showed him that when she disconnected the battery, the player went dead. She explained that the battery was concentrated “juice” and that it could run him. Brianna had Joey hold the battery in his left hand. She disconnected the “wires,” and Joey ran.
Brianna and Joey arrived at the Press Conference ten minutes before it was scheduled to begin. She instructed Joey to keep his left hand tightly clutched around the battery she had given him. Brianna was surprised how few people were present. She had expected a large crowd, but except for a few curious passers-by, only TV crews and print journalists were there. Brianna remembered that the Press Conference was not a real event until it appeared on television screens.
When President Harlan saw Brianna and Joey, he rushed up to them and said, “Thank god, the two of you are here. So, this is Joey. I’m President Harlan.” The President liked the bibbed overalls and the Rockies baseball cap he saw; they would make good television.
Joey nodded but did not say a word.
Brianna explained, “Joey is a little tired today. He’s saving his energy.”
“Oh,” the President said.
The University’s Public Relations Director joined them. Harlan introduced Bruce Cabot. “He’ll tell you where the two of you should stand and the order of appearance.” The President faded away as suddenly as he had appeared.
Cabot said, “Dr. Smythe, at first, I planned to hold the Press Conference on the steps of the General Library — I thought the symbolism would be terrific — but on second thought, it became apparent that the Library would dwarf the speakers. So, I decided on the lawn in front of the Azalea Gardens. President Harlan will give a short welcoming statement. Each of Joey’s mentors will say a few words, and, then, Harlan will introduce Joey. Has the boy memorized that paragraph that I wrote for him?”
“Yes,” Brianna said. She thought, I’ve now seen one of those men with short hair and in dark suits who trail in the wake of power.
“Good. Once introduced by Harlan, Joey will recite his lines, and the whole shebang will be over. Got it?”
“Good. Let’s go. The show is about to begin.”
Brianna, Joey, and Cabot joined the other participants of the Press Conference, who were already standing in front of the Azalea Gardens. Brianna was unaware that a warm spring breeze was blowing and that the trees were in bud, ready to explode with leaves. She saw only the microphones and the television cameras she would be standing in front of in a few minutes. She had never been on television, and her stomach felt queasy and her legs uncertain.
President Harlan faced the TV cameras and spoke as if he were addressing a large audience assembled in front of him. “Joey Walsh is a unique event in human history. Joey is two years old, yet has the body and metal capability of an eighteen-year-old. The man-child was discovered in Utah by Dr. Brianna Smythe, a recently appointed University Fellow.
“Upon Dr. Smythe’s discovery, the University Faculty immediately recognized the scientific importance of Joey. By studying the man-child, biochemists, physiologists, and other medical researchers could discover the biological clocks that regulate physical growth and mental development. But more importantly, since when Joey was discovered, he had spent his entire life isolated from modern culture, he afforded psychologists with a unique opportunity to study human mental and emotional development untainted by culture.
“Although all these projects are of immense importance to science, and thus to the advancement of humanity, the Faculty decided that since the University always focuses on the good of the individual person, what was of over-riding importance was the well-being of Joey. Consequently, the Faculty put aside its own research interest in favor of Joey’s education and his future happiness.
“Joey was taught by the best minds at the University, and now I wish to ask these distinguished professors to say a few words. Joey’s first mentor was Dr. Milton Fraser, Professor of economics and occupant of the Henry Ford Chair of American Enterprise.”
President Harlan stepped away from the clutch of microphones he had been speaking into and motioned with his hand for Professor Fraser to take his place.
Professor Fraser told the world, “Joey was a wonderful student, the kind of student teachers dream of having. Unburdened by opinions and poor education, Joey readily absorbed the wonders and benefits of modern capitalism. Joey saw the happy Walmart shoppers and wants to be one of them. His education at the University allows Joey to lead a happy, productive life.”
President Harlan introduced Joey’s second mentor: “Dr. Thomas Higgins, professor of biology and author of the best-seller, The Marital Infidelity Gene, taught Joey about the wonders of nature.”
Dr. Higgins took his turn in front of the microphones. The biologist said, “Thank you, President Harlan. Joey was reared in an isolated, rural environment, so when he came to me, he was familiar with the superficial aspects of nature. But I demonstrated to Joey that beneath the placid surface of nature, a mighty war rages. Each individual organism fights for survival. A war of all against all. Joey quickly grasped the principles of nature, and now he can truly be at home in the universe.”
President Harlan introduced Joey’s third, and last, mentor: “We at the University not only work to advance knowledge, but we hope to be blessed with wisdom. Dr. Alfred Thayer, distinguished professor of philosophy, represents the University’s connection to a glorious intellectual tradition that runs back to ancient Athens, to Plato and Aristotle.”
Professor Thayer winced when he heard the implied praised of Plato and Aristotle, but he assigned Harlan’s intemperate remarks to the demands of public relations. The philosopher said, “I showed Joey reality, and brave soul that he is, he did not flinch. Few mortals can grasp the horror of existence — and survive. But Joey was overjoyed to see that he is a machine, that he cannot choose, and that he is a product of chance and necessity. Far from being crushed by reality, Joey, when he leaves the University, plans to work bravely to perfect global democracy and material abundance. I say hurrah for Joey! Well, Joey, humankind is coming of age. So, I give you to them.”
Harlan was fuming; Thayer had stolen his glory. If the television cameras were not there, the President would have punched out the philosopher.
Brianna led Joey to the microphones but did not leave his side.
An electronic voice said, “Thank you. I am fortunate . . .”
Brianna gently nudged Joey to the side. “Let me explain. Joey has given so many interviews over the past three days that his voice is slightly raspy. Joey, would you please continue.”
“Yes, Auntie Bri. I am the fortunate recipient of an outstanding education. I wish to thank President Harlan and my mentors. Without the University and its excellent Faculty, I would not be what I am today. . . .”
Joey paused for what Brianna thought was an eternity. She was afraid he had run out of “juice.” She glanced at his left hand, but it still tightly grasped the battery. Everyone — President, mentors, reporters, and the technical crews — waited to see what Joey was going to do.
Joey kneeled on the damp earth and looked intently at the ground. When he stood up, his right hand held a white and lilac-blue striped crocus with deep yellow stamens and pistils. His left hand was open, and the battery he had been holding had fallen to the ground.
Joey raised his right arm high above his head to display the crocus to the world. Holding the crocus overhead, Joey walked in a circle around the microphones. On his third trip around the microphones, Joey stopped and told the world, in a human voice, “I am not a shopper. I am not at war with nature. I do not live in the heart of darkness. I am not a machine. No machine can see this.”
Joey waved the crocus in the air for all to see. “Beauty will save us!” the man-child proclaimed to the watching world.
Brianna was unsure what happened next. She thought she heard a voice from behind the televisions crews shout, “Milagro! Milagro!” From behind her, she definitely heard, “You little bastard. How could you forsake the truth I taught you?”
Suddenly Joey was on the ground. Brianna was uncertain whether Professor Thayer pushed him to the ground accidentally or on purpose. The other participants in the Press Conference began yelling and pushing each other. The reporters rushed forward, shouting questions. Brianna tried to help Joey up, but she was knocked to the ground by President Harlan, she thought. She looked up and saw the President’s face staring at her. His bright red face made her think Type-A, heart-attack city.
She managed to get up and help Joey to his feet. She grabbed him by the hand and forced her way through the tight circle of shouting men surrounding them. She fled across the lawn, still holding Joey by the hand.
A reporter from Sixty Minutes pursued them. The reporter shouted after them, “Fifty thousand dollars.” Brianna assumed that the figure was a proposed payment for a tabloid TV interview. She heard, “One hundred thousand,” and concluded that the gap between them and the pursuing reporter must have widened. The last figure Brianna heard was “One hundred fifty thousand.”
When Brianna arrived at her car, she found her dear friend Mary and Mrs. Martinez sitting in the front seat.
“Bri, give me the keys, and you and Joey get in the back.”
Brianna gasping for breath said with difficulty, “I didn’t know Hispanic girls could drive.”
“Hey, Bri. You WASPs don’t know everything.”
President Harlan was sure that the disastrous Press Conference would permanently damage the reputation of the University. But within a week, television images of two whales stranded in the coastal waters of Alaska and of a crash of a commuter plane en route from Indianapolis, Indiana to Chicago pushed the image of Brianna and the man-child being knocked to the ground off the screen of public consciousness. The Press Conference became ancient history, an event that occurred sometime after the Punic Wars but before Lethal Weapon 3. By midsummer, President Harlan’s principal problem was the stench emanating from the pig farm on campus.
President Harlan and Chairman Lewis wished to push the Joey debacle out of their memories as quickly as possible. Consequently, Doug Walker’s request for tenure was summarily rejected. Walker left the University in anger and accepted a position at BBD&O, a large New York advertising firm. The great success of the first campaign he worked on (a TV commercial for a soft drink that must remain nameless here to avoid a lawsuit) guaranteed that in the future Doug Walker would marry a Smith graduate, father two children (a boy and a girl), and purchase a twelve-room residence in Fairfield County, Connecticut.
Roger Peters never completely restored his previously good relations with Kojo. Peters founded APES (Animal Partners for Eternal Solidarity), “in the hope that man and animals will one day walk side by side with a new understanding, a new respect, and a new recognition that each is but a different physical manifestation of life forces, each seeking to make itself known and to live in harmony with the other.”
Both Mary and Brianna resigned from their positions at the University. Mary returned to Espanola to run a community action program to teach English to older Spanish-Americans in Northern New Mexico. Brianna took Joey back to his grandmother in New Harmony, Utah. She decided to stay in New Harmony for a year to ensure that Joey suffered no permanent harm from his University education.
Mrs. Martinez’s years of prayers had finally been answered. She never tired of telling her friends about the milagros — the genuine miracles — she had witnessed.
That Spring in Cambridge, Ann Arbor, Boulder, Austin, Berkeley, and other university and college towns, silk-screened crocuses began to appear on T-shirts. Underneath the white and lilac-blue striped flowers were the words: A MACHINE CANNOT SEE THIS. A few students were bold enough to wear on the back of their T-shirts: BEAUTY WILL SAVE US.