Atheism is not viable Atheism is not viable
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  1. #1

    ChicoLondon

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    ChicoLondon

    Default Atheism is not viable

    Is Atheism viable?

    Atheism is, essentially, a negative position. It is not believing in a god, or actively believing there is no God, or choosing to not exercise any belief or non-belief concerning God, etc. Which ever flavor is given to atheism, it is a negative position.
    In discussions with atheists, I don't hear any evidence for the validity of atheism. There are no "proofs" that God does not exist in atheist circles; at least, none that I have heard -- especially since you can't prove a negative regarding God's existence.
    Of course, that isn’t to say that atheists haven’t attempted to offer some proofs that God does not exist. But their attempted proofs are invariably insufficient. After all, how do you prove there is no God in the universe? How do you prove that in all places and all times, there is no God? You can't.

    Besides, if there were a proof of God’s non-existence, then atheists would be continually using it. But we don’t hear of any such commonly held proof supporting atheism or denying God’s existence. The atheist position is very difficult, if not impossible, to prove since it is an attempt to prove a negative. Therefore, since there are no proofs for atheism’s truth and there are no proofs that there is no God, the atheist must hold his position by faith.

    Faith, however, is not something atheists like to claim as the basis of adhering to atheism. Therefore, atheists must go on the attack and negate any evidences presented for God’s existence in order to give intellectual credence to their position. If they can create an evidential vacuum in which no theistic argument can survive, their position can be seen as more intellectually viable. It is in the negation of theistic proofs and evidences that atheism brings its self-justification to self-proclaimed life.

    There is, however, only one way that atheism is intellectually defensible and that is in the abstract realm of simple possibility. In other words, it may be possible that there is no God. But, stating that something is possible doesn't mean that it is a reality or that it is wise to adopt the position. If I said it is possible that there is an ice cream factory on Jupiter, does that make it intellectually defensible or a position worth adopting merely because it is merely a possibility? Not at all. So, simply claiming a possibility based on nothing more than it being a possible option, no matter how remote, is not sufficient grounds for atheists to claim viability in their atheism.
    They must come up with more than "It is possible," or "There is no evidence for God," otherwise, there really must be an ice cream factory on Jupiter and the atheist should step up on the band wagon and start defending the position that Jupiterian ice cream exists.

    At least we Christians have evidences for God's existence such as fulfilled biblical prophecy, Jesus' resurrection, the Transcendental Argument, the entropy problem, etc.

    But there is another problem for atheists. Refuting evidences for God’s existence does not prove atheism true anymore than refuting an eyewitness testimony of a marriage denies the reality of the marriage. Since atheism cannot be proven and since disproving evidences for God does not prove there is no God, atheists have a position that is intellectually indefensible. At best, atheists can only say that there are no convincing evidences for God so far presented.

    They cannot say there are no evidences for God because the atheist cannot know all evidences that possibly exist in the world. At best, the atheist can only say that the evidence so far presented has been insufficient. This logically means that there could be evidences presented in the future that will suffice. The atheist must acknowledge that there may indeed be a proof that has so far been undiscovered and that the existence of God is possible. This would make the atheist more of an agnostic since at best the atheist can only be skeptical of God’s existence.

    This is why atheists need to attack Christianity. It is because Christianity makes very high claims concerning God’s existence which challenges their atheism and pokes holes in their vacuum. They like the vacuum. They like having the universe with only one god in it: themselves.

    From C.A.R.M.

  2. #2

    clownio

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    I know I'm new here but Chico strikes me as being a right F*&^ing W*&^ker !

  3. #3

    jabberjobber

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    I am so confused now - I really need some help - where am I to turn - will everyone on this board just turn their backs on me ? I need answers to big questions, and I need them now.

  4. #4

    DodgyAgent

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    You are quite right Chico, there is no evidence to say that there is no god, just as there is no evidence to suggest that there is no other planet supporting human life similar to our own.

    thousands of years ago there was no evidence to say that the worlds was not flat, just as there is no evidence to say that you or everyone else on this board is NOT an alien.

    You religious fanatics thrive on what cannot be either disproved or proved; this is where your power to subjigate others comes from. "I am killing women and children because I have the word from god almighty that is what I should do". No one can disprove that.

    Agnostics on the other hand accept truths when hard evidence is produced to prove them.

  5. #5

    Lucifer Box

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    This is why atheists need to attack Christianity
    Funny that no one was attacking Christianity until you came along. I'm sure that's just a coincidence though.

  6. #6

    DodgyAgent

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    There is another rule that applies here, which is the more people try to impose their will over the others the less they actually believe in it themselves, or that they have some other personal problem -

  7. #7

    SupremeSpod

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    or that they have some other personal problem
    Don't worry Dodgy, your secret's safe with me!

  8. #8

    darmstadt

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    If anyone resists, subdue him and administer Keith Chegwin.

    There is a common and justifiable lament that atheists are so preoccupied by naming and arguing what they are against, that people rarely hear what atheists are for. This is not only heard from the religious critics of atheism, but can be found in the voices and private thoughts of atheists themselves. Even the very names we take emphasize what we are against rather than for: atheist, agnostic, nonreligious, etc. Even the term freethinker straddles the fence: to stand for freedom of thought still implies that our thoughts should be free from something.

    Of course, these terms are not meant to encompass entire value systems. They merely identify a narrow position on one particular point of fact. I am like all other atheists only in that I do not believe there are any gods. Beyond that, I may differ dramatically in my values and beliefs from any other atheist. On both sides of the political spectrum, one can find the quasi-conservative Objectivists and the ultraliberal Communists, both of whom hate each other. These two factions take up nearly opposite sets of values, yet both are comprised of unabashed atheists. I agree with neither. Similar diversity can be found in any other group--agnostics include devout Christians, freethinkers include New Agers, and the nonreligious include among their ranks everything from nihilists to flakes.

    There has long been a solution to the above problem that too few have taken advantage of. The term "Secular Humanism" is a clear statement of what one stands for as well as against: being secular, one stands apart from religion, but being a humanist, one stands for humanity. Naturally, religionists have maligned and cursed and slandered this term beyond all measure, and have so equated it with atheism that even the public at large cannot see any difference between the two. Since too few have successfully defended the term and what it stands for, the advantage of the name has been lost in public discourse. But more importantly, it is incorrect to assume that all secular humanists are atheists. Being against religious solutions to our problems is not quite the same thing as not believing there is a god.

    I want to talk about atheists, in as general a sense as I can. Although no one can write a truly general statement about what atheists stand for--since there are too many different kinds of atheists--it is still possible to describe what certain atheists stand for, and I have in mind the garden variety American atheist whom I have met many times in my life. It is also possible to suggest what all atheists ought to stand for, and this is ultimately what I intend to do. For there are certain values that have been held by almost all the atheists I have known and studied, values that I believe are not only compatible with atheism, but necessary to it. Besides, whenever we are asked "What do you stand for?" it is helpful to have a ready answer to that question.

    It is probably true that almost all atheists stand for the values of reason and freethought. I will attempt to put these values in more substantial terms. There is the belief that inquiry and doubt are essential checks against deception, self deception, and error. There is the belief that logic and proper empirical method is the only way the whole world can arrive at an agreement on the truth about anything. And there is the belief that it is better to be good to each other and to build on what we all agree to be true, than to insist that we all think alike. The words I have put in bold above are the very things I believe all atheists should stand for.

    First is the belief that "inquiry and doubt are essential checks against deception, self-deception, and error." Even religionists will sometimes give this value lip service, but very often they do not abide by it. And insofar as anyone cherishes this value but does not live up to it, they are living immorally even according to their own value system. I cannot count the number of times I have heard Christians declare this value as a reason to read the Bible, yet blithely ignore it when I ask them to read the Tao Te Ching. We must accept that we are vulnerable to error in any matter in which we lack all doubt or have not led a meaningful inquiry. The honest atheist will regard willful ignorance and blind faith as the more dangerous of sins.

    Contrary to theological polemic, it is not absurd to say that you stand for doubt. You should be open to falsifying evidence for any belief you hold, and you should commit to the rule that you will sway your opinion by the preponderance of evidence, and not by the preponderance of faith, tradition, or desire. Even when your faith in some belief is unusually strong, caution is in order. Rather than reject opposing evidence, and rather than give an unjustified weight to confirming evidence, if you know the facts might be incorrect or incomplete, then you should make a solid inquiry into those facts. You should admit your uncertainty, and accept that the preponderance of evidence must always decide, and only careful inquiry will resolve the matter. All of science has been driven by this principle. It has never been enough for a scientist to have faith in a theory. Rather than employ that faith as justification for belief, the scientist employs it as justification for inquiry. Belief is not declared, one way or the other, until some respectable measure of inquiry has been completed. This is why science makes progress and religion does not. I believe this is more than a method shared by science, history, journalism, and forensic law. This is the way one ought to behave, and I think most atheists would agree.

    Next is the belief that "logic and proper empirical method is the only way the whole world can arrive at an agreement on the truth about anything" and that "it is better to be good to each other and to build on what we all agree to be true, than to insist that we all think alike." These are related truths, which atheists are well-suited to accept and adopt, for both are generally rejected by believers in god. It is hard to dispute the fact that almost all atheists stand for science and reason, for high standards of empirical inquiry and rational thought. They believe in perfecting their grasp of scientific discoveries as well as scientific methods, and in honing their ability to apply reason and critical, empirical thought to every field of endeavor, even their daily lives. All the hours and years that theists apply themselves to prayer and devotion and the perusal of scripture, atheists apply themselves to the study of the universe, to the refinement of their understanding of things, and to their mastery of clear and successful thinking and questioning.

    It is beyond dispute that whenever there is any outstanding disagreement about any matter of fact, which is not resolved when everyone looks and observes the same things, then the methods of science and logic must be brought to bear to decide the question. For apart from plain observation--if even after that no one agrees on what they are seeing or what it signifies--then science and logic are the only methods we know that can reveal to everyone the same decisive evidence. If ordinary observation fails to secure agreement, and neither science nor logic nor any equivalent standards of empirical inquiry can be applied to a question, then both sides of the dispute must honestly admit their mutual ignorance. For it is dishonest to maintain that someone is wrong when you have nothing at hand to prove it, and logical and empirical methods provide the only known ways to prove anything to everyone (leaving aside, of course, the lunatics and the irrational, who reject all sound reason and principles of evidence). The humility to admit your own ignorance, and the wisdom to not assume too much, are virtues that atheists should not forget to hold dear--even as they always seek to end their ignorance and go beyond their assumptions, with constant questioning and investigation. And this will affect how we treat our fellow humans, because it leads us to the conclusion that it is better to preach the gospel of 'be good to others even when you disagree with them', than to preach the gospel of 'believe in our religion or be damned'. The former brings only peace, life, and happiness, and teaches us the value of respect and negotiation, but the latter brings only division, death, and misery, and teaches only tyranny and hatred.

    The values that play the most important role in any person's life are those which stem from the meaning they have found in their lives. It is the standard rhetoric of the religious that only god gives life meaning, but to really believe this one must first believe that human life, thought, happiness, even love, are all in themselves worthless and void of meaning. I think any atheist would agree this is absurd. Even if I were the accidental byproduct of a giant rubber tire machine, the mere fact that I live and know that I live would give my life meaning at once. And the moment I felt happiness or love, their meaning and value would be immediately obvious. Anything else would be unnecessary. And as all atheists know, all of these things would exist even without a god. For all that is needed is a person, who is capable of living, loving, and knowing happiness.

    The ultimate meaning of life is to live it. There is no big mystery about that. But life would not be worth living if it knew no happiness or love. It has been well argued since Aristotle that happiness is the ultimate aim of living, for it is the only thing we seek for itself. Everything else we pursue for some other reason, but we seek happiness for no other reason than to be happy. And though the preacher loves to attack the hedonism which he thinks this entails, in actual fact his own religion is based on the very same principle. For all the goals of religion are sought for some other reason, except the ultimate goal of eternal happiness. For when a preacher says "worship god" and the congregation asks why, and continues to ask the why of every answer he gives, he can only end the interrogation by answering with the same ultimate answer: "because it will make you happy."

    Thus, happiness is the ultimate value that all atheists stand for. They may vary in endless ways as to how happiness is to be pursued, but all will agree to the ultimate value of the end product. It is here most of all that enlightened religious philosophy is often studied by the atheist. For it is not in belief or ritual that happiness is achieved. It does not come from a god, and in the end organized religion is useless. Rather, happiness comes from understanding and accomplishment, and the wise atheist stands for these two things as surely as anything else. Happiness comes from perceiving what is both good and easily obtained, such as the experience of love and beauty and friendship, and the joy of many other simple pleasures, and from seeking and following the various ways we can have these things in our lives. Happiness comes, also, from perceiving how evils and obstacles can be removed or avoided, and from acting on that knowledge. This is how understanding and accomplishment lead to happiness, and this is why the atheist values all these approaches to life, and strives to embody and master them.

    Morality is the favorite watchword of the religious. It is also a popular polemic to equate atheism with the complete absence of morality, as if a disbelief in god meant at the same time a disbelief in moral standards. Any inquiry into the beliefs of actual atheists in the matter of morals would prove this assumption wrong. Indeed, the atheist is often possessed of stronger moral convictions than devout believers. Abraham, so the Old Testament claims, abandoned his morals at the mere command of his god. He was prepared to commit murder, even kill his own son, and this was proof of his religious devotion. Like him, many a religious man is willing to push morals aside if he thinks his god has asked or allowed him to, if he thinks it is for "the greater good" of god. Not so the atheist. If god appeared to me and asked me to kill my son, even though I would have undeniable proof that god exists and was the supreme creator and the ultimate power of the universe, I would reject his command at once. I would prefer death to the defilement of what is right. To want murder is evil, and if God wanted murder, he would be evil--and no good man accepts a wicked master.

    The question of what is good, what is moral, is complicated by the fact that we are ignorant of most of the things we would need to know to answer the question. Our capacity to predict the future is greatly limited, yet is essential to any decisive answer as to what is right and wrong. Our ability to know the secret thoughts of others is also limited, and just as essential, and so on. Thus, the ability to do the right thing, to even know what the right thing is, will depend upon your wisdom and knowledge, which will never be complete. The degree to which you really know the consequences of what you do, and the significance of what you embody when you do it, will determine the degree to which you can ascertain what is right or wrong in any given case, and that is hard to put down on paper.

    The complexity of moral thought, like the complexity of other crafts and enterprises, is thus often replaced with rules which various experts have learned to be the most useful or universal. But just as no man can be good at anything simply by learning the rules, true morality cannot be found in them. Rather, it is found in wisdom and a skilled intuition. Even a chessmaster must know much more than the rules of chess if he is to be a good player. But in morality, the rules cannot even be fixed. Any set rule can fall upon an exception. Thou shalt not murder--but what if you must kill a villain to save an innocent? And any set rule suffers from the flaw of ambiguity. What if you kill by mistake? Rules are useful because they allow us to act quickly when we lack the time to think something through. And when we practice at the rules long enough, they become instinctual, and thus even more effective--assuming the rules were good ones in the first place. For there are such things as bad ideas which seemed at first to be good ones, and these can become bad habits which are hard to break, even when we discover their faults.

    Atheists know this. They seek moral truth not in rules, which are merely man-made expedients devised for those cases when one must act without thinking. They seek it in broader principles. No matter what language or what philosophy an atheist uses when he outlines his moral beliefs, every atheist I have known has always fallen back upon the one concept echoed worldwide, and taught by religious and secular leaders throughout all time: the famous "Golden Rule." Jesus was repeating an old Jewish proverb when he said "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," and Confucius was recording an old Chinese saying when he wrote "Do not do to others what you would not want done to you." All atheist systems of morality seem to derive in various ways from this core principle, and so it would be appropriate to say that atheists stand for the Golden Rule in its fullest meaning and significance. I believe that any rule or belief which violates this principle is discarded by most atheists as immoral, and they live up to that ideal more than a great many believers do.

    I have my own belief as to why this is so, and I will end with this. For the religious are always charging that atheists have no reason to be moral, no reason to hold the Golden Rule as their highest moral ideal. It could be proven at length that the religious actually have no better reason to be moral than atheists do, but I devote myself to that task elsewhere. For here it is enough to explain why I think atheists stand for the Golden Rule, or at least why they ought to. When we see a wicked person, someone who disrespects or mistreats another, who causes misery rather than happiness, we hate them. These feelings of loathing are natural and inescapable--for we could never be happy ourselves if we did not loathe the enemies of happiness. But it is not the actual evildoer that we hate as much as the kind of person who does such a thing. And there's the rub. For as soon as we become such a person, those same feelings of loathing will again be inescapable, but now they will be feelings of self-loathing, and one who hates himself, at any level of his being, will always be handicapped, even sabotaged, in his own quest for happiness. He will find himself falling all too easily into misery or crippling delusion, and his life will all too often be difficult and unsatisfying.

    But look to the other side of the matter. For when we see a good person, someone who embodies virtues we love to see, who causes happiness rather than misery, we love them--indeed, we love the very kind of person who would do that. And when we become such a person, we come to love ourselves--in the way we ought to, with respect and humble satisfaction. We will then not have to work for our happiness nearly as much, for genuine self-respect brings its own happiness. And the return in love, affection, and respect from others that our virtues generate will also expand and protect our sphere of happiness. Unlike the wicked, the good man will find himself stumbling into happiness, and he will bounce back from misery almost by nature. And even when miserable, if he has paid attention the good man will already know what must be done to recover, and how to make the best of his situation until he does. And so it is that the Golden Rule is merely an expression of a basic fact of human psychology: if we embody what we already hate, we will hate ourselves, and be hated by others, but if we embody what we love and respect, we will love and respect ourselves, and be loved and respected by others in turn. We might thus restate the Golden Rule most simply: be a hero, not a villain. For this is the way to be happy.
    Conclusion

    Atheists ought to stand for inquiry and doubt. They ought to stand for logic and sound empirical method as the only things capable of sorting true facts from false, to every reasonable person's satisfaction. They ought to stand for the humility to admit ignorance, and the wisdom to not assume too much, as well as the consequent political reality that finding common ground and negotiating differences is far wiser, and better for all, than maintaining adamant opposition on matters that do not even warrant an adamant opinion in the first place. The atheist ought to stand for using faith as justification for inquiry rather than belief. And the atheist ought to stand for happiness, and the understanding and accomplishment that are needed to achieve it. Above all, the atheist ought to stand for being a hero to himself and his fellow humans, rather than a villain. I believe that when the reasons for these values are truly understood, any man would hold to them and keep them, even if god himself appeared and ended all dispute as to his existence. Indeed, I believe an atheist ought to live her life so she can say with all sincerity, "even if God's existence were proven, I would change only my understanding of the facts, and not the values by which I guide my conduct and thought."

  9. #9

    trajectory

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    It was Monday the first day of March, and it was the first class of the first day of the first semester of Paul's sophomore year at university. For reasons unknown to him, a roll call was carried out in this class but in no other.

    After about forty students had acknowledged their called names, the professor asked if there was anyone else who's name had not been called. Only one person was thus affected, so only one hand was raised.

    That person was sitting a little to the left of the center of the room--Paul was sitting in the back right corner of the room next to the doorway.

    From a distance of twenty feet he felt sure the hand belonged to a female, but, because several students were obstructing his direct line of sight, he was unable to see anything more of her.

    His idle curiosity prompted him to attempt to remedy this by raising himself up in his seat almost three inches, from which point of vantage he was then able to make out an abundance of blond hair.


    "Patina Van Maanen," said a dulcet female voice, "Maanen with two A's."


    Paul noticed several heads turn in the direction of the voice, and smiles of amusement and giggles too. They were covert, surreptitious little giggles.

    It wasn't the two A's that inspired this ambient curiosity and amusement--it was Patina's accent. She was an American, and being the only foreigner amidst a group of Aussies, her accent stood out as being very different and even strange. This was exacerbated by the fact that American accents are not nearly so strong on the movies and TV as they are when spoken in person.


    "Van Maanen?" thought Paul. "That's a Dutch name and it means: 'from the moons', moons plural, how strange."


    When the class was over, Paul decided to remain seated until Patina exited the room. His proximity to the doorway would allow him to observe her at a distance of only two or three-feet, and this would enable him to make a positive identification of her--he wanted to know exactly who this American-Dutch girl was.

    As the students rose from their seats and began to disperse, he was able to see the blond-haired figure previously obscured. He kept his eyes on her until she exited the room, so as to exclude the possibility of later confusing her with someone else.

    That was made easier by her clothes, which were somewhat of a Hippie style and distinctively unusual by the Australian standards of that time. She was wearing blue bell-bottom jeans that were spotlessly clean and neatly pressed, and embroidered with ribbon on all the seams, like a Hippie of means set apart from the rest.

    Immediately prior to making her exit, she looked directly at him. Their eyes met and locked together for just a brief moment. The chance of this happening was great indeed because Paul was staring fixedly at her; and her gaze, which was moving about at random, was sooner or later almost certain to turn in his direction. Paul felt as though an intangible kind of communication had taken place between them.


    He was unable to say for certain whether she was beautiful or just pretty; there was something nondescript about her appearance, which made such an assessment difficult. It troubled him vaguely that this should be the case, but he had never laid eyes upon her before, so how could it be otherwise.

    Just the same, her accent, her clothes and her natural good looks, had made an instant and enormous impression upon Paul--No, that would be understating the matter. He was actually quite obsessed by it all. Her accent almost addled his brain. He tried to imitate her drawn-out drawl, all the way home in the train.


    During his freshman year, Paul had acquired the habit of staying at school until 6:00 p.m.; he did this, whenever possible, to avoid the overcrowding of the peak-hour rush. On this particular evening, his train carriage was almost empty, and this allowed him to talk to himself in a soft voice without attracting attention:

    "Pattteeeeeennnna Van Maaaaaaaaanen." he said, stretching the vowels to the utmost limit. "Maa aaa aaa aaaaaaannenn." he giggled with tickled excitement. "Maaa aaa aaaa nen with twoooo aaaaayyyysss." he giggled again all engrossed in puerile amusement.

    He was seated and pumping his legs up and down like pistons at high speed while he drummed his fists against his thighs with a synchronized beat. He was possessed of a manic, exhilarated sense of excitement.


    "She isn't all that terrific!" he said, softly, but in a tone of surpassing smugness. "She isn't all that terrific!" he reiterated. "On the contrary, there is something faintly ridiculous about her."


    Precisely what that was, he couldn't say for certain. He simply felt a vague yet intense subjective sense of certainty that there was something ridiculous about the girl. This was hardly a fair judgement. Her accent was a novelty, but it was northern, educated, middle class, and in no way ridiculous.

    Paul thought about her all night. He tried to picture her in his mind, but the glimpse of an impression he had gained of her was by now far too attenuated, far too vague and nebulous to allow him to mentally reconstruct her precise image and appearance. Was she really beautiful or not? He was simply unable to say.




    *




    Wednesday saw a social get-together take place in the animal behavior class in which Paul and Patina were both enrolled. The class finished just before lunch, so the teaching staff took advantage of the opportunity this afforded by having the students fricassee and eat the octopuses immediately after dissecting them in their first class of the semester. This would also allow students and staff to get to know one another. The octopuses were small and failed to provide an ample lunch, but it was more or less expected everyone should attend and not leave until the function was over. The octopuses amounted to little more than a snack and were quickly devoured. This left lots of time for socializing.

    Patina, however, appeared to have other ideas. She took it upon herself to do the dishes on behalf of the entire class. She opened the cupboard beneath the sink and found everything she would need. There was detergent, a mop, a sponge, and an apron, which she put on. She filled the sink with hot water and rolled her shirtsleeves up.

    She gave the impression of having both initiative and resourcefulness in getting all of this organized, and this suggested the possibility of her being an old hand at this sort of thing.

    She gave the impression also of having an unusual amount of altruism in her make up, and the extent of this altruism suggested, to a cynic like Paul at least, the more than faint possibility of an ulterior motive.

    In the meantime, Paul had located a vacant, comfortable and very special seat. It was a ringside seat. She, the object of his intense curiosity, was standing only ten feet away and three feet to the left of his center of vision.

    Thus strategically placed, he could hold her in his near-peripheral gaze at all times, train his direct gaze upon her at random intervals, and no one would be any the wiser: no one would notice the exaggerated and possibly strange interest he was showing her, or even notice he was staring at her at all.

    The room was a little too small for the number of people in it, so occasionally someone would bump into or rub shoulders with Patina. They would then also say a few words to her, presumably by way of apology. This, in turn, would elicit a few words by way of reply from her and a bout of intense smiling, which appeared to stretch her face to the veritable limit of elasticity.

    The effort required seemed to involve a discernible degree of discomfort, and she looked as if her very awkwardness served as a secondary source of discomfort: that she detested being awkward to such a degree that it produced a strain in her.


    "I've got her number," thought Paul, "she's doing the dishes to escape the far more tedious chore of socializing. If she’s not an introvert then I’m Nebuchadnezar. What a scaredy cat!" He felt superior to her. He even momentarily experienced a smug superciliousness bordering on contempt.


    There was something vaguely indecent about the manner in which he was observing her: It was so carefully planned and calculated, he was unlikely to be noticed, he scrutinized her for at least half an hour, and he ogled her with the all-absorbed bemusement of a voyeur.




    *




    On Thursday, Dr. Alice Berkhart arranged her students in card-game groups of four. Paul was thrilled to find himself seated face to face with Patina. To his left and right sat two self-absorbed young men. Their gaze was directed mainly downward. They were thumbing through a number of psychological tests. They said little, and what they did say was confined mostly to distracted mumbling.

    Paul looked at Patina in awe. She reminded him of daffodils. Her hair and skin had a light golden sheen. Even though he felt subdued by a self-conscious timidity, he could not help but stare at her, and in doing so he noticed her head turn toward each person at the table.

    He felt she was trying to catch someone's attention in order to initiate a conversation, which might break the ice. The two other guys were too preoccupied to even notice her attempting to do this but she found an attentive listener in Paul.


    "The Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory." she said, smiling pleasantly and holding Paul's direct gaze. "I guess that's an abbreviation of the Minneapolis Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory." she smiled and giggled. Paul smiled too but in a nervously restrained fashion. "I'm a native of Minnesota," she said, still smiling, "and that can sometimes be an advantage."

    Her voice was dulcet, her accent cultured. Paul sat goggle-eyed attending scrupulously to every word she said but could not think of anything to say by way of reply to help kindle the conversation. He felt the inclination to gulp nervously.


    "Say something, stupid." said his critical inner voice, but he was speechless. It pained him that she had made the effort to initiate a conversation and now he would mess everything up by not saying a single word to her by way of reply.

    The pregnant pause was growing in both size and significance until, in a near sweat, he finally blurted out: "Minneapolis, St Paul, Duluth, St Cloud."


    Paul was a student of American geography. Well, more exactly, he watched American movies all the time, and, whenever a place, town or city was mentioned, he would look it up on the map. He knew all of the states, probably all of the cities with a population of half a million or more, and some of the smaller cities as well.


    Patina raised her eyebrows in a gesture of both surprise and approval. "You know a lot about the States!" she said. "Before I came to Australia I had only ever heard of Australia and Sydney. I had never even heard of the state of New South Wales or any other place, but it just amazes me how much Australians know about America."


    Paul now felt certain Patina was a gregarious and self-confident extrovert, and he felt inferior to her on that basis. He was beset by the nervous constraint of introversion, and an awkwardness, which rendered him hopelessly ineffectual in any kind of social situation. It was his wretched lot in life to be an introvert.

    She, by contrast, now impressed him as being relaxed, uninhibited and a skilful conversationalist. His awkwardness had prevented him from uttering as much as a simple sentence. But he could think of nothing further to say, could not keep up his end of the conversation but expected her to carry it almost entirely on her own.

    He now felt convinced she was the college cheer leader, the all-American girl next door; whereas he was lacking in all of the finer social graces.

    He felt inferior to her also on a deeper level, because it now appeared he was more of a scaredy cat than she was, and this feeling was doubly reinforced by the self-contempt he felt at having blundered so badly in his assessment of her introversion, which had been so carefully considered. Was it projection? Was it wishful thinking? He was so far off the mark it wasn't funny. He felt the error was more likely to be a symptom of insanity than a mere miscalculation.

    Paul hated making mistakes. He would lash out at himself for making them, and found them extremely difficult to laugh off.


    "Say something stupid, stupid." said his critical inner voice.


    "Sydney," she continued, "is such a huge city. If you drive through from one end to the other and continue down to Wollongong, it seems to never end. It must be nearly ten times the size of Minneapolis-St Paul."


    Her face was noble in Paul's estimate and it had a slight roundness to it, with a small chin and a small nose. Her eyes were blue. Her arms had a light golden tan and so did her hands, which were very feminine and pretty.


    "How do you come to know so much about America?" she asked.


    "We get all the American movies and TV here," he replied, feeling much relieved that her question had enabled him to finally enter the conversation. "I've been watching American TV programs since I was a kid. I used to watch Disneyland and the Mickey Mouse Club; I used to watch the serials like Spin and Marty, Corky and The White Shadow--"


    Patina listened with apparent total attentiveness to every word Paul uttered, and she smiled effusively on hearing the names of programs she had seen herself many years before.


    "--Disneyland had four facets: Adventure Land, Frontier Land, Fantasyland and Tomorrow Land. I used to devour them all." He was coming out of himself quite well now. "We have all the American music here too," he added . . . "What did missa sip through her pretty lips?"


    "She sipped a minna soda!" said Patina, by way of reply. "I remember that song. It was sung by Dean Martin, wasn't it."


    Paul was enormously impressed with Patina. He felt she was an eloquent listener as well as an eloquent speaker, and this, to him, was a personal characteristic of singular importance. Her undivided attention appeared to be focussed upon his every word, and this contrasted so markedly with his general experience of people--that they were not likely to listen to him but were more inclined to talk over the top of him or just ignore him.

    But Patina wasn't like that. She seemed so different in that and other respects too. Her manners were singularly refined--more than that, he felt she was a virtual caricature of politeness and congeniality--more than that, he felt she was one of those very superior, all-American rich girls; the type you see on movies and TV; the perfect all-American rich girl next door. He thought her a surpassing sensation. She was exactly the type to have fun, fun, fun till her Daddy takes the T-bird away.


    They didn't have T-birds back in Tattoo Town, but many families did, in fact, own three cars, and could therefore be categorized as three-car families. It's just that the cars were none too nice. One might have no wheels and would be sitting up on bricks in the driveway and dripping oil everywhere. Another would often be sitting on the front lawn with grass three feet high growing through it. A third might be clunking but still running after a fashion, but not registered let alone insured.


    And the cars were not the only messy things in a neighborhood beset by endemic alcoholism: Take the clothesline at Ian-the-Ferret's place for example.

    Mrs. Ferret was indifferent about clothes falling off the line. Once they were lying in the dirt, she figured they were already dirty, so there was no point in picking them up. They just stayed there and underwent a gradual process of weathering. The rain would spatter dirt all around the edges of each garment, and this process would continue in gradual increments with each subsequent downpour until the clothes became buried deeper and deeper under the dirt. Children's toys suffered a similar fate.

    Children’s bedrooms would stink of pungent urine. Kids will wet the bed, of course, but alcoholic indifference aggravates this problem a hundred times over.

    Mr. Ferret was a graduate of the alcoholic school of carpentry, where he had received particular instruction in the use of four and five inch nails. These handy and versatile fastening devices can be used for a hundred-and-one projects around the home--from hanging a picture to fixing a sheet of plywood over a broken window.

    Mr. Ferret was a foreman, who earned a better wage than Paul’s father, the erstwhile Judge--who was now merely a paint mixer and a newcomer who was obliged to start again at the bottom rung of the economic ladder. But the Judge was nevertheless better off, because he worked the night shift and overtime, and he didn’t drink or gamble.

    Alcoholism was endemic to Tattoo Town but it wasn’t the worst thing there by any means, nor was that the obtrusive crudeness of everything in general. What Paul hated most was the threat of violence.

    One day when he was about ten, Paul and his big brother, John, who was fourteen at the time, were walking down the far end of the next street down from to theirs. On passing the Badkin residence, Tony Badkin, for no apparent reason, approached Paul and threatened to break a milk bottle over his head. Tony was about twelve, was bigger than Paul but smaller than John.


    "You try it and I'll punch your head in!" said Paul's big brother.


    Tony ran to his mother.


    "Ma, this kid is gonna bash me up!"


    "I'll PUT A BOOT UP HIS ****EN ARSE!" screamed Mrs. Badkin. Her voice was extraordinarily powerful. She might well have become an opera singer had circumstances been different, had she not been lacking in couthness, had she not been so rough around the edges, had she not been as rough as guts, had she not been as rough as the rough end of a pineapple.

    Paul contrasted the crude vulgarity of Tattoo Town with the colorful portraits of upper-middle-class California he had seen so often on TV. The influence this had upon his perception of the world was enormous.

    He saw Patina in another of his classes on Friday. This meant he was enrolled in five courses with her altogether--a coincidence he perceived as being extraordinary and a very favorable sign. He didn’t, however, get an opportunity to speak to her that day.




    *




    Over the weekend, Paul resolved to approach Patina at his next opportunity. He felt she was certain to be snapped up soon if he didn't make a move on her fast. But he had never approached such an attractive young lady before, and if he could do it now it would be a first; but he sensed there was a kindness in her character that would set him at ease rather than try deliberately to poke and prod his awkward sensitivity.


    Paul entered his Monday morning class in a most determined mood. He would sit next to Patina and talk to her no matter what. For him this was like a plunge into a fearful unknown. If she didn't respond to him, his words would then quickly dry up and he would be left with an embarrassment, which was downright physically painful to him.

    He had come early to class so he might approach her immediately upon her arrival, and, hopefully, before anyone else could get the chance. Upon entering the classroom, Paul noticed there were very few people as yet in attendance but he saw Patina already seated at the back of the room by herself.

    He walked quickly toward her and sat down beside her. He was very nervous and dubious of the possible outcome.


    "Hi!" he said, trying to sound, and appear, bright and cheerful.

    She turned toward him smiling effusively and returned his greeting.


    "How are you finding the course?" he asked.


    "It's very interesting," she said, with her head twisted round to face Paul directly, "but I wonder just how necessary all of this animal experimentation is?"


    "We fatten them, we eat them, we make leather goods out of them, we view them as commodities; when we ought to be vegetarians." said Paul, sympathetically.

    Her face lit up with a beaming smile, which suggested emphatic agreement and approval.

    "This is your second year but I didn't see you here last year?" he asked changing the subject.


    "No, I did my freshman year at the University of Minnesota."


    "Well, isn't that great that you can just transfer to a university in another country without a whole lot of fuss and bother and red tape."


    "Well, actually," she said, beginning a new sentence but then pausing a moment. She drew her head down into her shoulders in an enacted cringing fashion, and she had a cheesy, Cheshire grin on her face which stretched from ear to ear. Her facial expression and cringing posture were feigning the anticipation of blows, or some other dire form of disapproval, which might result from her daring to disagree with Paul.


    "Well, actually," she continued, "it isn't that straight forward, because I only get half credit for my freshman year, which means I'll have to complete an extra semester to get my degree. Then there's another problem in that our academic years are out of phase. We have our end of year break roughly in June, July and August whereas in Australia it's December, January and February; so after my three-month vacation, I had to wait another six months before I could resume my studies over here. So after a year of study, I'm ready to start off again from scratch, from square one . . . do not pass go, do not collect two-hundred dollars."


    "That's absolutely terrible . . . Worse than that, it's a violation of human rights; worse than that, it's nothing less than racial discrimination--seeing that you're a member of the American race."


    Paul was almost kicking himself for having said something so unbelievably stupid, but was quickly relieved to see she was all smiles and even laughing as if he was some kind of brilliant comedian.


    "Oh what lovely, beautiful teeth you have my dear," he thought, "and aren't you just as cute as hell!"


    By this time Dr. Alice Berkhart had arrived, so their psychology class was ready to begin. She wanted to hand back questionnaires the class had filled out the previous Monday, and she wanted to hand them back one by one in person. This procedure would enable her to attach names to faces--supposedly, and would allow her to get to know the students.

    Paul felt a little uneasy about this because some of the questions had been quite personal. While completing the questionnaire, he had no idea he would even be asked to put his name on it. But things had now gone even a step beyond that, and he would soon find himself face to face with his 'father confessor'.

    The questionnaire consisted of a long list of personal epithets. Most of these were innocuous and even childishly self-congratulatory: terms like 'kind', 'considerate', 'friendly', 'helpful', 'generous'--things no one would balk at admitting to whether they were true and accurate or not. There were actually only three words with a significant emotive content. These were 'proud', 'ambitious' and 'inferior.'

    Paul was consciously aware that all three attributes applied to him; therefore, not admitting to them would be tantamount to telling a lie, so he bit the bullet and ticked them.

    But he thought this might now be his time of reckoning. As a consequence, he was growing increasingly nervous in anticipation of Alice's prying scrutiny, and his nervous discomfort finally reached a maximum, at which point he finally said to himself: "To hell with it, who cares!" And, with a little willpower applied, he was able to worry no more about it.


    The students gathered around Dr. Alice and approached her as their names were called. By the time she called Paul, he just happened by coincidence to be standing right next to her. He and Alice were almost rubbing shoulders.


    "Yes!" he said, in acknowledgment, and Dr. Alice was struck by a sudden panic. She glanced quickly and furtively in his direction and then back to the pile of papers she was holding. Her face flushed bright red with involuntary embarrassment as she clutched and grasped awkwardly in an effort to get a grip on his questionnaire.


    "Well, that's an unexpected turn of events," thought Paul, "it seems she's more scared of me than I am of her. Blushing is a highly emotive thing, isn't it, and such a dead give away. Perhaps Dr. Alice feels guilty about spying on me, or perhaps she is shocked that such a handsome guy could feel inferior?"


    When all the students had returned to their seats, Alice described a somewhat complicated experiment, which would be the subject of their next assignment. Having repeated her description carefully and twice over, she asked: "Is there anyone who doesn't clearly understand what I've just said?" Paul, for one, didn't understand the instructions, and, because he was now on a binge of honesty, he raised his hand without the slightest feeling of embarrassment. Even when he noticed he was the only person in a class of forty to do so, he still felt serenely and surprisingly at ease.


    "Well, at least there's one honest person in the class!" said Alice.


    Paul felt she was alluding to more than the matter at hand: that her remark conveyed an additional message of personal approbation that only the two of them were party to.


    "What I described to you, in so much detail, was an experiment with a deliberate mistake built into it. Don't be overly embarrassed though, because I usually catch most of the students in every new class.

    The point I am trying to make is this: you cannot just accept something on faith, without understanding it, just because a Ph.D. tells you it's true. You shouldn't necessarily believe anything I say; you shouldn't take it on faith. You should understand it. You should think about everything I tell you, and decide for yourself whether you agree or disagree."


    There were surely some red faces in that class, and some yellow ones too from the egg she had rubbed into them, though I guess she tried not to rub it in to excess, because she moved quickly to another and quite different subject.

    She hung a picture on the wall for the class to ponder. "What is it?" she asked. "That's the question. What is it supposed to be?"


    It was just an abstract drawing of a coffeepot to Paul's way of thinking, but it was also a test of analytical perception. Paul didn't bother to raise his hand to let Alice know he knew what it was, because he took it for granted everyone else would know what it was as well. But after a while he wasn't so sure about that.


    Finally Alice asked the class: "Is there anyone at all who knows what this is?"


    With no one else responding, Paul finally raised his hand and said: "It's a coffee pot."


    About half the class turned around to look at Paul with smiles and gestures of amazement on their faces. Patina was also within their field of focus, was within their direct line of sight.

    The look on her face suggested self-conscious uneasiness at suddenly and unexpectedly finding herself placed in the limelight, and yet there was also a hint, a subdued smile of pleasure and pride in evidence on her face--to Paul's wishful way of thinking at least.


    But it was Paul's day, to be sure. It was like he could make no mistakes. No matter which way he turned, he was making a good impression on Patina--a far better impression, in fact, than he would normally be capable of.


    This, their Monday morning class, went from 10:00 a.m. till noon. When the class had finished, Paul asked Patina if she was going to lunch, to which she answered in the affirmative, and the pair set off for the cafeteria together.

    Their conversation was taken up again so effortlessly from where it had left off before class. Paul found Patina amazingly easy to talk to. In that respect she was like no other girl he had met before.

    They talked again about Patina's impressions of Australia and about Minnesota. Much to Patina’s delight, Paul was able to recite the beginning of Longfellow’s Hiawatha. He chose this particular piece because of its geographical connection with Minnesota’s Lake Superior:


    By the shores of Gitche Gumee,

    By the Shining-Big-Sea water,

    Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,

    Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.


    But he was not consciously aware of the lunar connection between Nokomis and Patina until after he had recited those words-- Patina’s surname, after all, meant ‘from the moons’. Paul thought the lunar connection quite uncanny and the manner of its coming to him even more so. It was as if something else had selected those words on his behalf, something extraneous to himself--his subconscious mind perhaps, or intuition or even serendipity.

    At about the halfway point on their journey to the cafeteria, they passed through the main hall, where the Physics Department had set up a display of electronic gadgetry.

    The largest and most impressive of these was an apparatus consisting of two heavy metal rods about twenty feet high, which were standing vertically and eighteen inches apart.

    A very high frequency alternating current was passed between these two rods (electrodes) and would form what might be perceived or thought of as a single rung on a ladder; an electric rung that would move, starting from the bottom and finishing up at the top. After that, a new rung would be formed at the bottom and the process would repeat itself over and over.


    "What is it?" asked Tina.


    Paul was a student of physics, amongst other things, and was familiar with the device.


    "It's a Jacob's ladder."


    "Ah, I see, a ladder that goes up to heaven, or at least for those people who believe in heaven."


    Tina was a fast walker indeed and Paul would have to break his stride every now and again in order to maintain his place exactly abreast of her. They reached the steps to the cafeteria in no time at all and began their ascent.


    "There's a lot more to that Jacobs ladder than meets the eye." Said Paul, thoughtfully. "There's quite a bit of physics involved in it and philosophy too."


    He turned to look directly at her, and was surprised to find just how close her face was to his. She was smiling more effusively than ever, and she said:


    "I just fell over! But I did it with such skill and finesse that probably no one even noticed. I fell down on my left knee on the step and bounced straight back up again without even skipping a beat."


    Such a pretty face so close to his and smiling like that, Paul could scarcely believe his good fortune.


    "My goodness. I didn't even see it happen. I didn't notice it at all."


    They made their selections for lunch and located a table for two in a quiet corner.


    "You were telling me about the philosophy behind the Jacob's ladder," she said, "it sounds like an interesting subject."


    "Well, I think it is, but there are probably thousands who would disagree; so I hope you're not easily bored, because it's a fairly long story, so tell me if you want to change the subject . . . Anyway, when I was at night school I studied Bohr's theory of the hydrogen atom--"

    He felt a disquieting twinge of fear, a vague fear that she might start laughing at him. But no such laughter was forthcoming.

    "--Bohr was an advocate of the Chinese Yin Yang philosophy."


    "Oh, I've heard of that all right. As a matter of fact, I've been meaning to study up on it, but somehow I just haven't found the time, so tell me more by all means."


    "Well, it's the idea that the universe is entirely symmetrical, that everything is divided into positive and negative, and that these two qualities in conjunction make all things possible."


    "Do you have any examples of this," asked Tina, "that might make it a little easier to understand?"


    "Well, physics is full of examples that say "Yin Yang" so unmistakably loud and clear, and that's what led Bohr to investigate the subject already back in the nineteen-twenties: Matter can be converted into energy but energy can also be converted into matter. When a sub-atomic particle is created--let's say an electron--a positron is always created simultaneously.

    These particles have numerous characteristics and are symmetrically opposite in each and every one of them; and each of these symmetrically opposite characteristics has led to the discovery of a new law of physics.

    Take the law of conservation of electric charge, for example: it says you cannot create or destroy a net electric charge. The electron is negatively charged, the positron is positively charged. You start with nothing, you add a positive and a negative, the two cancel out, and you still have nothing."


    "I know what that's like; you could add my academic career to your list of examples." said Tina, giggling. "But go on, it's intriguing. Being a Buddhist, I have an interest in Eastern philosophies in general . . . so you can't create something out of nothing, except by following the rules."


    "That's right, if you start with nothing, you can only create pairs of things, which are opposite to one another in every respect so that they balance out to equal a net sum of nothing even though individually they amount to something. In that way, you can create something out of nothing, which is a handy system to have if you need to build a universe."


    "And what are some of these other laws of physics that relate directly to Yin Yang philosophy?" she asked, staring thoughtfully at Paul.


    "Well, if we continue to look at the electron/positron pair: an electron has mass and rotation; therefore, it has angular momentum. As you might already anticipate, the positron spins in the opposite direction, which makes it equal but opposite, and it has to be in order to satisfy the law of conservation of angular momentum."


    "Wow, that sounds really heavy, doesn't it, but I can understand it just fine."


    Paul felt it fortuitous indeed that he had studied religion for five years, and had made a particular study of eastern religions. He was largely self-taught but had read a plethora of books on the subject, and had digested their contents with the energy that intense interest brings with it. He was the kind of high school dropout who could never stop learning.


    After the elapse of all of two hours, the requirements of academia brought their lunchtime conversation to an end; it was time for Tina to go to her next class and for Paul to go to the library.


    "I'll see you tomorrow then!" he said, smiling pleasantly.


    "Yes, tomorrow." she reiterated.






    Alone now and walking through the campus gardens to the library, Paul felt struck by the sheer beauty of his surroundings. The lawns were manicured to perfection, many of the trees were rare and exquisite specimens, and then there were numerous flowering bushes and plants; and all were basking, like himself, in rays of golden sunshine.

    He looked back upon his lunchtime conversation with an extraordinary sense of satisfaction and accomplishment:


    "What a rare day it's been. Today has been my day like no other day I can remember. Everything has gone my way, and at lunch I could hardly believe my own eloquence. I could hardly believe my ears. It was so good, so perfect. The words just flowed as smooth as silk. I didn't get tongue-tied and I didn't stammer. Isn't it wonderful! I couldn't possibly have made a better impression on Patina in a million years."


    But on reaching the foot of the library stairs, a disturbing question sprang seemingly from nowhere into his consciousness. It was a question he had never asked himself before:


    "Why do I stammer at some times and not at other times?"

    Darker thoughts were now entering the picture in the form of a memory from the recent past: It was lunchtime at his place of employment during the previous summer. He had a civil service job, but only worked there during the school holidays. He was seated with work mates at the lunch table. One of the guys made a comment to the effect that vitamins made his urine turn a bright yellow.

    Paul felt a strong impulse to comment on the matter and was all set to do so. He was going to say:


    "That's caused by vitamin B2, riboflavin--flavin is from the Latin word for yellow."


    That's what he intended to say, but, as he came closer and closer to starting the sentence, he became increasingly anxious until his hands began to shake so badly he had to quickly sit on them through fear the others would notice and think he was a weirdo.


    Beginning his ascent of the library stairs, and in apparent response to his present train of thought, Paul starts to succumb to a growing weariness, which causes his pace to slacken--not in proportion but in exaggerated disproportion to the intrinsic gradient of the steps, and he continues to slow more and more. His legs feel as if they are held in the grip of a steadily increasing inertia, which is induced by friction perhaps or even invisible strings. Whether real or imagined, the forces resist his efforts at forward motion and quickly induce a profound torpor: a torpor portending an impending paralysis.

    While he experiences this constraint as being physical in nature, even stronger and stranger sensations produce a simultaneous weariness in his head: a numbing of the skull, a blunting of the sensibilities, the overpowering stupefaction of being reduced to a semi trance-like state . . .

    Or a dreamlike state . . .

    Yes, it was like a dream to be sure. He could see it now; it was exactly like the very familiar dream, which had played a constant, nocturnal accompaniment to the countless unproductive days he had wasted in school.

    He was unable to discern even the trace element of a wish secreted within the dream, which merely inspired feelings of anxiety and helplessness in him. The simple story line was always the same:

    In the company of his entire family, he would be traveling somewhere by train--probably into the city for Saturday shopping. Typically, he would be lagging behind; would just be entering the platform to find the train (with most passengers already boarded and disembarked) standing waiting to receive the last of the stragglers.

    His entire family was also already aboard, all dressed in their Sunday finery, and gathered standing together, about, and just inside, one of the train’s wide doorways. They had left the double doors wide open to receive him, as though he was deemed an honored family member, and they were beckoning to him. Paul would need to take at least another thirty steps in order to reach them, but at about this point his walking pace would begin to slow at a rate, which was inversely proportional to the square of his distance from the train. Effectively, this would cause him to come to a complete standstill well before he could reach and board the train.

    The time for departure would come and go, his mother in particular would be calling out to him, telling him to hurry, to catch up, to not be left behind; but he couldn’t move . . . or perhaps he didn’t want to. That thought now came to him, came percolating up from out of the depths and floated to the surface, where it was deposited like flotsom as a question in his mind: Was his paralysis inspired by fear or was it his own choice? He was eager, almost desperate to know. Was it perhaps a stubborn, rebellious recalcitrance? But why would it be that? He had no good reason to think so. It was just a guess, just the wildest kind of speculation. And yet, it had caused him to conclude, tentatively at least, that he might be a rebel.

    Paul’s intense preoccupation with these thoughts had a further retarding effect upon his already decelerating rate of forward motion. As a consequence, he was now completely stopped and standing in the middle of the landing at the top of the stairs.

    After an unknown period of time, a man came up behind him, placed his hands on Paul's shoulders and said:


    "Excuse me, but you are blocking the path . . . are you okay?"


    The stairway was in fact part of the main path, so that blocking the stairs, or the landing to the stairs, was the same thing as blocking the path. Paul was shocked and startled, and turned to see a middle-aged man, who was probably a faculty member.


    "Oh, I'm sorry." he said, moving quickly away and over to a portion of the library wall that was free of pedestrian traffic, where he might stand a moment without bothering anyone. He was eager to maintain his present train of thought, which he sensed was leading to something important.

    He found himself standing in front of one of the library's large plate glass windows. These were darkly tinted to increase privacy as well as reduce heat and glare. They were much harder to see into than regular windows. The dark glass was almost black and was about as reflective as it was transparent--the ratio was about 50-50.

    "A rebel." he thought. "Yes, perhaps so." But how could he be a rebel if he was so timid and subdued? Perhaps he was a subdued rebel--but that would be a contradiction in terms.

    His desperation to learn the meaning of the dream stemmed from his conviction that it was important--that the dream had to be important if only for the sheer number of times it had been replayed inside his head.

    Seen from that perspective, it amounted to a large slice of his psychic life. It was almost certain to be an intimately personal part of himself, as personal as his own flesh and blood, like a twin separated from him at birth. His being alienated from something such as this: his anima, his inner essence; could cause (as well as explain) the vague sense of disquiet he so often felt.

    He was so eager in fact to solve this conundrum, he focussed all of his powers of concentration upon it, but his frenetic efforts proved ineffective and even counterproductive because they had caused him to strain his brain past the point of overheating. This had the dysfunctional consequence of leading him to yet another disappointing dead end.

    His brain felt ready to shut down, felt like it was at the very point of melt down. He stared stupidly, gawking and gaping into the thick black glass. His mind couldn’t help but choose the soothing escape of descent into blankness and oblivion.

    A somnolent feeling as restful as sleep was accepted, welcomed, surrendered to. Then it happened, right after he had stopped thinking, right after his conscious mind had shut down: he was struck by an intense flash of brightest light. It was insight. It was like a glimpse of the veritable light of heaven, like a message sent from another place. It came to him suddenly, as if emanating right out of the thick black glass: "I never stammer when I talk to women."

    Paul's thoughts were now racing once more: "This is so amazing! No, this is doubly amazing! Why is it I don't stammer when I'm talking to women but only with men? And why was I never aware of something as strange as this until right this very minute?"

    He felt stupefied and confused, and then the words to a nursery rhyme entered his head: "Georgie Pordgy, pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry. When the boys came out to play, Georgie Pordgy ran away."

    "Is it something to do with cowardice?" he thought. "Oh no, I hope not . . . but could the unpalatable nature of something like that explain why I was never aware of it until now: because I didn't want to know?"


    He was now staring so fixedly through the library window as to be almost mesmerized, and oblivious of someone else inside who was staring back at him. That person had become annoyed by Paul's obtrusive staring and was now staring back at him in angry defiance.


    "God, he'll think I'm weird!" thought Paul. "I didn't mean to stare. I didn't even realize I was staring."


    Paul averted his gaze timidly and walked away, having failed to recognize his own reflection.




    *




    The morning of the following day saw Patina arrive early for class once more--which was her habit in any case. Paul had made an extra effort to arrive early again himself--the size of his reward for having done that the previous day would see to that.

    As a consequence, there were barely half a dozen people as yet in attendance. Paul found her seated to the left of the center of the room, and made a beeline for her.

    He reached her quickly enough but he remained standing alongside her for a few seconds, because she appeared too distracted to notice him, and was staring fixedly out of the window to her left.

    He placed his hand on the back of the chair immediately next to her for the purpose of dragging it out and seating himself beside her. She still didn't notice him standing there until she heard his chair being dragged across the floor. At that point she turned suddenly and looked up to see him.

    In the fraction of time it took her to recognize him, it seemed as if her body responded on her behalf, automatically and involuntarily, by discharging a pinprick of electricity. It was shock enough to unsettle her, and it was quickly followed by a change of color. Her face went from light golden to bright red in less than a second flat. It was the red tomato, the love apple of embarrassment.


    Although Paul remained outwardly quiet and composed, inside his head there was ranting and screaming and the reckless abandon of trampoline jumping. He deliberately maintained a poker face in the hope it would leave her unaware of what he had just seen, because he thought such a disclosure would certainly cause her embarrassment.

    He felt gut certain of her feelings toward him because his inner euphoria had arisen, not as a response to conscious mental calculations, but as a spontaneous reaction to an assessment of the situation his feelings had made on his behalf.

    This should also perhaps have prompted him to trust those same feelings and ask her for a date without further ado, but Paul was never one to rush into things.

    He would have to first think the matter through, and down to the last detail. That was his way of trying to control an uncontrollable world, and it was his way of dealing with matters of even an ordinary and everyday importance. But Patina was different: she was at the highest and unprecedented extreme end of importance, and so this matter would require a great deal more thought and consideration than usual.

    Surprisingly, however, he went totally against this general trend. It took him but an hour or two of actual thinking, and it was that same night, just before he went to bed, that the task was completed.

    Immediately following the blushing incident and for the remainder of that day, Paul had felt a serene sense of comfort and well being. He felt Patina would be his, and it was just as simple as that. But that night, when he began to think further on the matter, he was suddenly struck by the disturbing realization that something was strangely amiss. It was simply too good to be true.


    "You talk to her for two hours," said his critical inner voice, "and she is so impressed she falls instantly and madly in love with you. Well, it's just not believable. This can’t be right. It can’t be true!"


    In his bedroom that night, Paul began pacing the floor until he had hiked a mile or more. Up and down the room he traipsed and a hundred times around his bed, and, in the process, he quickly worked himself into a frenzy of nervous agitation.


    "This cannot be right! This is simply impossible! This could never be right! This can’t be happening! There were girls not half as good looking as Patina who wouldn't give me as much as the time of day, so how can she be romantically interested in me at all--let alone fall for me after a two-hour conversation? Do you have that sort of effect on women? Hell no! Have you ever had that sort of effect on women? Hell no! It makes no sense.

    But if she blushes before you, then, she loves you . . . Yes, but not if there is something else about you that embarrasses her. If you dare to test reality, just ask her for a date, and she will look at you as if you are certifiably insane to even be suggesting such a thing.

    The idea that she is madly in love with you, after hearing two hours of your mouthing off, has got to be some form of delusional megalomania on your part. It is simply, totally, one-hundred-percent unbelievable!"


    After an unprecedented briefness of critical thinking, Paul was no longer able to take the incident at face value. His logical thinking (be it plausible or destructive) had poked and prodded the evidence until, by attrition, there was nothing left of it.


    "She blushed before you. So what! It was an aberration. It was just a glitch."


    His head had said an emphatic 'no' but his heart had said a resounding 'yes' from the outset, and, deep down and in spite of everything, it continued to cling desperately to the hope that a 'yes' might somehow still be possible.

    His head and heart were opposing forces pushing Paul in two different directions at once. It was like trying to drive a car with one foot applied to the brake and the other foot pressed against the accelerator. It was a most dysfunctional state of affairs, it was gridlock, it was an almost total shutdown, but Paul would somehow keep on going. He would continue his relationship with Patina at school; he just wouldn't ask her for a date, not for the time being at least.





    *




    That Paul and Patina were enrolled in five subjects together was made all the more unusual in that the combination of subjects themselves constituted an unusual choice. No other students were enrolled in so many of their common courses.

    That was a fortuitous state of affairs indeed, which placed the pair together in classes, and at lunch, for a total of twenty hours during this, the second week of their sophomore year, and over subsequent weeks this arrangement would become their established routine.

    In spite of Paul's decision not to ask Patina for a date or his decision by default to procrastinate on the matter, a close community had nevertheless developed between them, and this left so few gaps of opportunity for any other guy to make a move on her.


    *


    "Step on a crack, break your mother's back!" said Patina quietly to herself while walking along one of the many campus footpaths. Her briskly athletic stride allowed her to step on half a dozen or more cracks, and without cheating by taking more than one step per crack.

    "I wonder why he doesn't ask me out?" she thought. "Perhaps he's too shy. Perhaps I should ask him out. I mean, after all, if men can ask women out on a date then it's only fair that women should have the same right. It's a simple measure of reciprocity . . . and this is the era of Women's Liberation. He's good looking and he's really smart, so why shouldn't he be fair game. Why don't I just invite him to go see a movie or something."


    "But have you forgotten," said a voice in her head, "have you forgotten everything. An invitation is a request, and a request is subject to the same laws of reciprocity. If you make a request of a person, and they accede to that request, it becomes fair for them to make a request of you; and by those same rules of reciprocity, you are then bound in turn to accede to their requests.

    Now a request is an insidious form of coercion, and that makes it highly dangerous because, once initiated, it can set off a destructive chain of obligations and entanglements--you know that only too well. You have always been warned to be on your guard against such things.

    This guy could end up deciding where you should go and what you should do. He could easily become domineering, a tyrant, a control freak."


    "But Paul isn't like that." said Tina, by way of reply to her own inner voice. "He's sensitive, shy, and deeper than a wishing well."


    "But have you forgotten?" said the voice once more. "Have you forgotten absolutely everything. You must never use his first name. You know what kind of bad luck that can bring."


    "I didn't say it out loud." she said, defensively.


    "No, but it seems you've forgotten everything nevertheless, because you should have known, you should have remembered that you can’t think it, write it or say it--and especially not in the same sentence that includes the words 'wishing well' . . . I really don't know what's gotten into you."



    *




    In their next psychology class, Alice Berkhart was up to her old tricks. This time she was getting the students to answer questions on a blank sheet of paper, which, she assured the class, did not have to be handed in.

    One question went as follows: 'Who is the most intelligent person you know?'


    Paul instantly wrote down ‘Patina’ and then looked across at her paper to see what she had written. He was hoping to see 'Paul' written there, but it wasn't. She had written: ‘Mr. Van Zandt.’


    "But she has never met my father." thought Paul, who was momentarily confused, but then the penny finally dropped and he realized she was referring to him. But he was still surprised by the deference implied in the title of ‘Mister’ applied to a peer.

    He was four years her senior but she didn't know that, and he had such a baby face he didn't look at all older than the nineteen to twenty-year-olds who constituted the bulk of the class.

    He thought it was a little over the top. He thought it already quite enough to be regarded as the most intelligent person she knew. That she might see him as such an exalted personage as to require a formal title, was something he couldn't quite come to grips with.

    It seemed queer, it seemed so strange, but after giving the matter some thought, he was unable to see it as anything other than a sign of her holding him in high esteem.


    This re-kindled his forlorn wish to ask her for a date, which, in turn, intensified his anxiety on that score.





    *


    It was on the following day while they were sitting talking together in class waiting for the lesson to begin that Tina took a newspaper clipping out of her shoulder bag and handed it to Paul.


    "They're showing some good movies right here on campus." she said. "I didn't know about it until I saw this."


    Paul perused the clipping. It was an advertisement for their varsity theater, which was screening movies on Friday nights. Admission was only half the price of a regular theater, and they were showing Alfie, starring Michael Caine, this coming Friday.


    Paul was lost for words. "Oh yes," was all he could think to say as he awkwardly handed the clipping back to her. His "Oh yes" conveyed a distant, academic-type interest. He felt a little confused--why was she showing him this clipping? Why had she bothered to cut it out of a newspaper and bring it to school? Why didn't she just tell him about it? Why didn't she just mention it in a casual way? What did she expect him to say?


    It was characteristic of Paul to be slow in reacting to any event which was unforeseen. Spontaneous reactions were something to be avoided. To act on impulse seemed to him like a kind of recklessness, which would always entail the grave possibility of making an error in judgement.

    He did not set store in spontaneity whether it concerned feelings, impulses or reactions. No indeed, he would have to think things over very carefully before making a decision and hazarding a course of action.

    One of the things Paul disliked about extroverts was their tendency to act without thinking. He perceived them as being thoughtless and insensitive. But Paul had his shortcomings too: being a true introvert, he had a pronounced tendency to think without acting.

    And yet, halfway through the lesson, it struck him that Tina might well have been giving him a hint regarding the movies. It seemed possible, it seemed likely--but was it an absolute, Cartesian certainty?

    He felt a sense of foreboding. He felt as though he was sinking in a quicksand of indecisiveness, an all-encompassing head-in-hands type indecisiveness from which he might never extricate himself.

    The professor's words were buzzing without meaning in the background. There was now but one thought in Paul's mind, one thought which emerged from his aimless arguing back and forth, one thought only which held conviction: if he didn't ask her out immediately after this class, he never would.

    This terrifying prospect forcibly instilled in him a sense of urgency bordering on panic, which temporarily overshadowed his fear of rejection and served to strengthen his resolve.


    Their class ended at 2 p.m. With no further classes that day, they were both heading home. She was walking home, and he would walk with her as far as his bus stop, which was situated at the southern edge of campus.

    Just prior to reaching that point, he finally began to put an invitation into words. He spoke in a slow, deliberate and almost mechanical fashion:


    "Patina . . . I was wondering . . . whether . . . you might like to . . . take in a movie?"


    That was all he needed to say.


    "I'd love to!" she said, with force of conviction, with a smile, and even the suggestion of an expression of surprise on her face.


    Paul had the fleeting impression her surprise was enacted; that she was allowing his male ego to be credited with the masterful initiative which had brought about this entire sequence of events.

    He felt a sudden sharp irksome pain at just how far this was from the truth, and this realization in turn provoked in him a momentary sense of his own ineffectualness; but it was only a fleeting one, because glad tidings were at hand. He was emptied of all bad feelings and vibes, and he was re-inflated with a scintillating, exhilarating optimism. He felt light, he felt buoyant, all his senses were rising, he was high as a kite.


    "I can pick you up at seven. I can call for you at your place--where exactly do you live?" he asked, in a tone of manic, electrified excitement.


    "I live at 30 Arbutus Drive, but it's quite a long walk. There's no real need for you to go all the way up there and then walk back to school again. I could just as easily meet you outside the theater."


    Paul's sense of chivalry was unable to entertain such an idea for even a moment. "Oh no." He said, almost horrified, "I'd like to call for you, it's no trouble at all."


    "Well, you go up this main street and take the second on your left, you follow that down to the bottom of the hill--that's where Arbutus Drive runs across, perpendicular--it's about a mile I guess. My place is on the left near-side corner."


    "Well, great!" he said.


    "Yes, okay!"


    "That'll be super!" he said.


    Their parting gestures were a little clumsy and a little self-conscious, but their smiles were effusive.

    ===================================

    My post is bigger than yours !!

  10. #10

    OwlHoot

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    OwlHoot

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    > If anyone resists, subdue him and administer Keith Chegwin.

    Good grief! Did Keith Chegwin write all that? I never took him for a philosopher.

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