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Chapter 14: Second Battle of the Bands

 

The weeks flew by, sweeping me up in an avalanche of paperwork. Adam's successful suicide and another attempt seemed to produce a weight of paper equal to or greater than the combined weight of the victims. It seemed so pointless. Adam's suicide was the pathetic gesture of a disappointed loser, and Dan was obviously a spineless dupe. I was relieved to get a break and go to the Battle of the Bands with Bill.

"We're going to be late."

"That's OK. Kim doesn't care. Besides, the Gland Puppies are the last band. We don't need to hear anybody else."

"No. I'm sure I don't. When I went to the Battle of the Bands last year, I couldn't even tell them apart. They all seemed like they were playing the same four songs."

"Hoho. That's not going to happen this year. No cover songs."

"I'm sure. Do you know what they are going to play?"

"Based on what they've been rehearsing, feedback and high-pitched squeals."

Bill fell silent.

"You're awfully quiet. Something on your mind."

"Kinda. Have you talked to Kim Eskew?"

"I don't think so. I'm pretty sure I've never interviewed her. That's whom we're going to get now?"

"Yeah. I've never met anyone like her. My relationships with women usually don't last. I meet a girl, I sleep with her for a few weeks, and then they just dump me. I don't know what the problem is. I love women. I bring them flowers, I sing them songs, I take them to nice places, I give them the best sex they've ever had, and it just doesn't seem to matter."

"I can't imagine why," I replied drily.

"I can't either," Bill replied, missing the irony entirely. "I think it's because I don't come."

"I beg your pardon?"

"And I absolutely refuse to let anyone give me a blow job. I hate that more than anything in the world. It's so humiliating."

"Excuse me?"

"I don't come. I try and try to have an orgasm, and I just can't come. You're experienced. Are most guys like that?"

"I've never slept with anyone but my husband, and I don't ever intend to, so I'm not exactly the voice of experience. But I do read. Based on my reading I would say no, I don't think that's usual. It sounds to me like this is a real concern for you."

"It doesn't matter. I don't really care. It's like - did you ever hear of the Oneida Colony?"

"Weren't they one of the turn-of-the-century Utopian communities? In New York?"

"Yes. They believed in free love, but in order to prevent conception they practiced male continence."

"Male continence?"

"Yes. Men learned to retard orgasm. They had to make a rule that limited the amount of sex people had, because they would make love all night and then they were too tired to work the next day. That's what I do. I practice male continence. I don't care if I come at all, as long as I make the woman happy. That's all I really care about. I don't even like sex that much. I just want to make a woman happy."

"I see. So you think that your desire to make women happy is interfering with your ability to have a lasting relationship?"

"Hehheh. I guess that doesn't make sense. But that's what happens. Kim is special. I don't know what it is. For awhile, we were just pretending. We told everyone we were using each other for sex, and we hadn't even slept together. We were just joking around. Then we slept together. She's not like any girl I ever slept with before, either. I would say that it was the best sex I've ever had. Except .... I wonder."

"Yes?"

"Is it - do - um .... Do you think women like to be - kind of - forced?"

"No, I absolutely do not. I think that's called date rape."

"No, oh no, I don't mean that. She just .... She likes me to ...."

"Bill. Bill, I don't think I need to hear about this."

"Yeah, OK. She's just great. I've never met anyone like her. We talk on the phone at night for hours. I call her and leave messages on her answering machine. One night I talked for half an hour about my feet. I think she fell asleep. But she didn't hang up.

"She's had a hard life. Her dad is some kind of monster. I like her mom, though. I think her mom likes me, too. I go over there and we talk. I think she's kind of attracted to me."

"Kim's mom?"

"Yeah, she's always flirting with me and stuff, telling Kim what great eyes I have and how she shouldn't trust me because I'm Irish."

"But you think Kim should trust you?"

"I would never hurt her. I love her. I told her I loved her. First I told her I had something to tell her. She said, 'Don't tell me.' Then I said, 'I have to tell you.' Then she said, 'Don't tell me.' But I had to tell her. So I told her. Do you think I shouldn't have told her? Maybe she didn't want me to tell her."

"It does sound like perhaps she was trying to tell you -"

"I had to tell her. I had to tell her the truth. But lately, she's seemed kind of ... kind of distant. I don't know. Maybe it was a mistake, but I had to tell her. I had to. But she told me not to. I wish I hadn't said anything. But I love her. I had to tell her the truth. Do you think I shouldn't have told her?"

"I don't know, Bill. Only time will tell. I do know it's important to be honest about your feelings. I think you did what you had to do. You can't help how you feel. You're not responsible for how you feel, only for how you behave. You can't choose how you feel - it's out of your control. Well, you can sort of control how you feel. It's important not to wallow in negative emotions, in self-pity or despair. It's important also to realize that your feelings are real to other people. Your feelings give rise to feelings in others. Sometimes this works the way we want it to, and everyone is happy. Other times, those feelings backfire, and the response we get is not the one we intended, much less the one we desired. What's most important is that, however you feel, you behave honorably, that you consider -"

"Do you think she loves me?"

"What has she said?"

"She didn't say anything."

"Ah. It's hard for me to have an opinion about that, Bill. Kim and I don't even know each other."

"You'll like her, Janet. She's great." We pulled into the driveway of a modest suburban bungalow. Bill got out, rang the doorbell, and disappeared into the house. He emerged a few minutes later with an beautiful, exotic platinum blond. I got into the back seat and greeted Kim, who smiled enigmatically. She murmured something to me, but even though I asked her three times to repeat herself, I never understood what she had said.

The trip to The Barn was fast but otherwise uneventful. Bill and Kim sat nearly silent in the front seat and I mostly clutched my seatbelt and prayed for Bill's brakes. Bill spent more time watching Kim than he did the road, although she didn't seem to notice. He must've seen me looking anxious, because after two particularly close calls, he grinned at me and said, "Relax, I'm a professional driver." This remark did not noticeably lessen my apprehension.

We arrived at the Barn almost three hours after the Battle of the Bands was scheduled to start. When we walked into the auditorium, the Gland Puppies had already taken the stage, all we could see was a forest of microphone stands. The band itself was below the fan horizon, supine on the stage, playing "How the Mouth Walks." We could barely hear the music above the screaming crowd.

Ben sang, "Oh the sun is bright enough to burn a scalp!

"And oh what a scalp I've got!

"It will burn-burn-burn until I scream,

"Oh what a scalp I've got!

"I'll scream that over and over.

"I'll scream until you're deaf!

"Or I'll scream until somebody comes along

"and crushes my head with a bat!"

The crowd did not, however, sound particularly enthusiastic. The room was full of flying garbage, some coming from the stage. A knot of fans on the left kept holding up signs, flourishing them for a moment, ripping them apart and throwing the pieces into the crowd. The drummer, the only band member visible, seemed to be taking the brunt of the barrage, and looked far from happy at the prospect. I heard a young man near me, the first person of color I had ever seen at an Eagle Hills event, say loudly, "This band sucks. Poison is awesome." He immediately disappeared beneath a mob of Gland Puppies fans. I was struck by the contrast from last year's Battle of the Bands. The students this year were angrier, more destructive, more violent. The Gland Puppies seemed to thrive on, if not create, this atmosphere.

They were standing now, and announced, "The opinions expressed in these songs are those of the Gland Puppies alone. They in no way reflect the opinions of Eric McDonough, our ex-drummer and inspiration. What an ass." Then they began to play, but even I, who was fairly familiar with their repertoire, couldn't recognize what it was. Nothing was audible but a succession of high pitched feedback squeals. The Barn's soundman clearly had never encountered anything quite like the Gland Puppies before, and his equipment was less than equal to the task.

I looked closer at the stage. I thought I knew all the Gland Puppies, but I only recognized John and Ben. Ben looked very unusual indeed, with his long hair spiked straight up into the air (not a very flattering style for him). Who in the world was this bass player? Where was Rob? Who were all these people? Was that Ken Christ playing guitar? He was just a child, and obviously retarded. He looked happy but bewildered. This wasn't music as I understood it; it was an incitement to anarchy. People wandered onstage, screamed a few words into a microphone, and wandered off. The music was distinguishable from crowd noise only by its excessive volume and piercing shrieks. I milled with the crowd.

Finally the sea of angry faces washed me up on a friendly shore. It was Rob, standing right there in front of me. What was he doing in the audience?

"Janet?" Rob repeated.

"Rob! Hello?"

"Isn't it great? I'm leaving before it gets violent!" he screamed over the crowd noise.

"Why aren't you on stage?" I howled back.

"Are you crazy? Something awful's going to happen, and when it does I'm going to be safe at home watching T.V."

"What do you mean, something awful's going to happen?" I screamed, but it wasn't loud enough. Rob made a questioning face and floated away before he could reply. Students all around me had begun pushing and shoving. Directly in front of the stage I saw people being lifted up and passed along on upreached hands. "This is getting out of control!" I screamed at a boy who was shoved into me. I struggled to stay on my feet. He gave me a funny look and then rushed off to knock down someone else. I watched as if in a dream as students danced and heaved around me. A girl limped past trying to get out of the mob, holding her arm in obvious pain.

"Buying cars they can't afford, Get off my toilet, One-stop ticket to me, Stop eating Shit!" sang/yelled Ben. I worked my way toward the injured girl to see if I could help, but before I could reach her, she was knocked to the floor as the boot of an airborne student struck her in the head. Then something hit me hard in the back and sent me sprawling. Someone else stepped on me, and I was afraid, but I managed to get up and pull myself off to the side.

I felt myself over for broken bones. "You're all in one piece, Janet," I murmured. I looked up and saw Bill walking off the stage. Airborne garbage was increasing, and growing in mass. John was taking bananas from a large brown box and throwing them into the center of the mob. A large globe flew out of the audience and into the drumkit. While the rest of the band played on, the drummer rose, collected it, walked to the front of the stage and stared menacingly at the audience. He hurled the globe pointblank into the crowd, where it bounced toward the rafters. Satisfied, he returned to his stool. Then from the side of the stage, John stepped forward and exchanged a few words with someone near the front. Without changing his mildly amused expression, John picked up his guitar and bashed it over an invisible head below him. He put the guitar back around his neck, played a few dissonant chords, unhooked the neckstrap and smashed the guitar into splintering pieces on the stage floor. The resultant clamor was deafening.

Suddenly, to my surprise, all noise stopped. My ears rang in the stillness. A pure, perfect silence filled the hall. The band silenced midnote. The crowd paused, stunned, then roared in disapproval. The management had cut the power to the sound system. The band's own speakers were inadequate to fill the huge, raucous room. Still, they carried on nobly, thundering the "Hokey Pokey" while the crowd surged and whooped around them. John stepped forward to the microphone and screamed, "JELLO JUMP" and the crowd stampeded toward the exits. The park district management in its wisdom chose this moment to cut the remainder of the power to the auditorium, no doubt hoping to silence the Gland Puppies' amplifiers. They accomplished this, and additionally plunged the hall into darkness. John and Ben exacerbated the confusion by shouting "Jello Jump!" and "Fire" from the stage. The crowd began to chant "Fire" and "Jello Jump!" with them as they heaved through the auditorium doors. Bill and Kim appeared from nowhere and hustled me out the fire exit. As we passed the backstage area, we saw the band stashing their instruments in a safe place, surrounded by a coterie of adoring freshman girls. We all left the Barn more or less in a group. As we walked outside, everyone (except me) ran towards a wading pool full of vegetable jello, a truly disgusting sight. The Channel 7 Minicam crew was already on the scene, filming, fire trucks and police cars were pulling up from all directions. Throngs of students converged on the jello pool, screaming incoherently, throwing rocks and snowballs, piling on one another in the tiny pool. Lit by the blue of the Mars lights and the glaring white of minicams, the scene looked artificial, but the rocks and bottles flying past me were all too real. I saw one bottle shatter on a police car. A band of behemoths in letter jackets (the varsity football team, I later learned) collected around another car and rocked it lustily. I felt an impact. There was no pain, but suddenly the light dimmed, and the sound slowed from 45 rpm to 33 1/3. I found myself lying with my face in the snow. I rested there for a long time, peaceful and bemused. Later I noticed Bill's face looming in and out of focus above me. I tried to ask him what had happened, and whether Kim was all right, but the lights and noise overwhelmed me and I lost track. The next time I caught up with reality, I was surrounded by the familiar sights and sounds of Central DuBose's Emergency Room.

"I know you," I said to the physician in front of my face, although the moment I spoke, I knew it wasn't so. I recognized the person behind him (who later turned out to be Dirk), but I couldn't remember the name.

"Good for you," he replied. "Who am I?"

Then things got foggy again.

"Janet?" someone said either a second or a week later. "Janet? Wake up."

"What?" I said, not very nicely.

"Do you know where you are?"

"Of course I know where I am. You woke me out of a sound sleep to ask me if I know where I am?"

"OK, tell me where you are."

I opened my eyes and looked around. I wasn't where I thought I was. "I'm in the hospital," I said wonderingly.

"Good," she said. "Do you know what day it is?"

I thought it over. "Is it still the day of the Battle of the Bands? That was a Friday. But it seems very late."

"That's good. Can you tell me your name?"

I was beginning to figure out what had happened. This was the hospital, she was a nurse, and she was checking my neurological status. A sudden burst of pain across the back of my head accompanied this realization, and I reached up to feel stitches across my occiput.

"I'm Janet Dawson, and this is Memorial Hospital and these are neuro checks," I said, obligingly touching my forefinger to my nose. "What happened?"

"You got hit in the head with a bottle in the riot," she replied.

"Riot?" I asked wonderingly. "What riot? I was at the Battle of the Bands ...."

"There was a riot. We admitted four kids, and you."

"Who brought me in?"

"He just left about half an hour ago. He said to tell you The Raisin Man saved your life."

"Did he? Save my life?"

"I doubt it, but you took a nasty crack. You've got seven stitches and a concussion. There doesn't seem to be any intracranial bleeding, but they're going to keep you for 24 hours and scan you one more time before they let you go home, just in case. You were out cold for three hours. How do you feel?"

"Like homemade shit," I replied absently. "Saved my life. How about that. Who else was hurt? Anybody bad?"

"One young man, a Negro, took quite a beating. He has a few cracked ribs, a broken jaw and a lot of soft tissue damage. Another concussion. One broken wrist, comminuted, and one rule-out internal bleeding. Not your average Friday night around here."

"I guess not. What happened? I can almost remember, but every time I try to think about it, my head feels like it's going to explode." I hummed a few bars of "My Half-Brother Vomit Keeps Saying `Clotwurst Clotwurst Clotwurst Clotwurst Clotwurst Clotwurst...'"

"There was a riot at the Barn. Apparently one of these Satanic bands got up on stage and told everybody to go out and burn the city and loot and destroy and kill everyone."

"Satanic bands?"

"Something like that. They had a big pool of blood and there were cars overturned and the police and all. It was on TV."

I was confused, and suddenly very sleepy. I decided I'd figure it all out in the morning, and dozed off.

 

 

Violence Mars Park District Music Fest

Several students hospitalized

Violence broke out Friday night at the Eagle Hills Park District Recreation Center after a strident and destructive performance by local band The Gland Puppies. During the band's final piece, The Hokey Pokey, guitarist Christopher Johns reportedly smashed his instrument over the head of audience member Chuck Burris. Burris, hospitalized in the incident, described himself as "a loyal fan" and denied an attack by any band member. Burris contradicts many other eyewitnesses and attributes his wound to a collision with the auditorium doors when students erupted out of The Barn after The Hokey Pokey.

Serious property damage and further minor injuries occurred in the parking lot of the facility, where the Gland Puppies had filled a small wading pool with vegetable jello and were encouraging students to jump in it. Fans of rival bands began throwing bottles, cans, rocks and snowballs at the jello jumpers, who soon responded in kind. Several car windshields were broken and one automobile was overturned in the incident. Damages are estimated at $15,000.

Three additional students suffered minor injuries and one other is hospitalized in good condition with a fractured foot. Officer Fred Hampton of the Eagle Hills Police told this reporter that the riot was instigated by a small group of deeply disturbed students who have chosen the Gland Puppies' band as a symbol of their rebellion against authority. Police disbanded the riots and detained an estimated forty students but to date no charges have been filed. Officer Hampton stated, "The ringleaders got away clean. I'm not sure they were even there. But we know who they are, and we're keeping an eye on them."

A spokesperson for The Barn was unable to confirm whether the Park District would continue holding the Battle of the Bands next year. He acknowledged that stricter guidelines for participants would be a top priority in future planning. Brad Bentley, lead vocalist and band spokesman, responded to questions about the band's role in the alleged riot by saying, "Who cares?"

 

When I woke up again, it was light, and someone was bringing me a tray of clear liquids: tepid tea, tepid jello, tepid broth. I looked suspiciously at the jello. My memory was returning in fits and starts, and the words Jello Jump had figured prominently in my dreams. I was in less than excellent spirits. I wanted my toothbrush and a shower.

I hate hospitals. I hate the powerlessness, the impersonality, the mattresses and the food. My head hurt. Reading was impossible; my eyes wouldn't focus well enough. Television was unbearable. I was bored, I was tired, my back hurt and my roommate loved soap operas. When I saw Rob and John in the doorway, I was so grateful I began to cry.

"Hi, guys," I snuffled. "What's up?"

"I killed Felix!" said Rob. "How are you?"

"I have a headache, and they had to shave my hair to stitch me up, see?"

Rob blanched and looked away. John scrutinized my stitches and seemed satisfied. "That's cool," he said. "But it would've been funnier if they'd shaved off the whole side of your head."

"Thank you. You always make me feel better. What happened, anyway? Everything after 'Chicken Bomb' is a blur."

"Well, that's kind of how we remember it, too."

"Did you really hit that boy over the head with your guitar? He's in here, up on seven."

"He deserved to die," said Rob. "I'm going to kill him."

"Mmhmm, good idea, I'll let him know you were looking for him. John?"

"Actually, that's why we're here. He kept a vital piece of my guitar, and I want it back."

"Ah, that would be the piece that was still in his head, I suppose," I said, feeling quite a lot better all of a sudden.

"It was a mere flesh wound. The guitar was much more seriously injured. But that's pry because I stomped on it."

"Most likely." I yawned.

Rob, who had been turning progressively greener as he studied my roommates various tubes and drains, said, "You're tired. We shouldn't bother you."

"No, I'm OK, I'm just bored. Dirk brought me my Walkman, but he only brought one tape. I love the news from Lake Wobegon, but three times was enough. My eyesight is so blurry I can't read, and TV makes me dizzy."

"Me, too, that's why I like it so much," Rob affirmed. "But we brought you something to do."

"Really? Me? What?"

John held up a tape.

"What's this? I can't focus."

"This is our new tape. Secret Love. Don't tell anyone."

"Of course. It's a secret. Dinosaur?"

"Toilet seat."

"Mmmm. I can hardly wait."

"We brought you a story, too."

"Oh, how nice. But I can't read. Rob - could you read it out loud? How long is it?"

"Well - uh - sure, I could read it. I guess."

"We could walk down to the lounge, so we don't bother Mrs. Larkin here."

Rob looked relieved. I found my slippers and collected my balance.

John walked with us to the door, and then turned toward the elevators. "I'm going to get my guitar parts. I'll be back." He looked deep into my eyes for a moment, then loped away.

"Wait, leave the tape," I tried to say, but he was already gone. I shivered and reached for him, but of course he was gone.

Rob and I walked up to the lounge. This was my first extended journey out of bed, and might have been a tactical error. I reached out to steady myself against the wall and accidentally bumped Rob's arm. He recoiled, I stumbled, and I sat down on the floor. Rob was obviously reluctant to touch me anywhere, so it took me rather a long time to struggle to my feet. Rob stood by, looking awkward and making encouraging noises. "Are you OK? Can I get you some help?"

"No, Rob, I'm fine. I'm just a little lightheaded. Why don't you go on down to the lounge there and I'll meet you."

Rob fled gratefully and I groped down the hall, alternately hoping that he at least had the good sense to save me a chair and despising his weakness. John would never leave me helpless and alone, I thought. I can trust John.

When I got there, the lounge was deserted and Rob had bought me a Coke from the machine. It tasted wonderful.

"This story is called 'Choices,'" he said. "Are you sure you don't want to read it yourself?"

"I can't even read the name on my soda can, Rob. I'd like to hear it, but I'm sure I can't read it."

"OK. This story is called 'Choices.' Ben wrote it. I think it's the most important thing in my development.

 

 

Choices

by Ben

 

Stain sat in his cabin in the woods. He was quite depressed, for he was faced with a very troublesome dilemma and was running out of time to make a decision. He had examined and reexamined both sides of the argument countless times, but to no avail. His mind began to wander, and he began to recall the various events which led to this terrible situation...

 

It was about one thousand years ago, thought Stain, when Andy Pandy, the spiritual leader of the human race, climbed the tallest mountain to speak with God. He was gone for about a year. When he returned he spoke these words to his eagerly awaiting people;

"I have spoken with God, and this is what he has said; to say that an act is right means to say that an act is at least as stupid as any of its alternatives; to say that an act is a duty means to say that it is more stupid than any of its alternatives.' Thank you and goodnight. Please drive safely."

Someone yelled, "Wait! What does that mean?"

"Oh yes," replied Andy Pandy. "I almost forgot. God made me memorize a list of actions which are intrinsically stupid. Number one: Hitting a car with a whiffle bat. Number two: Saying `ear'. Number three: Crushing skulls with anvils. Number four: Eating as much food as possible. Number five: Improvisa-"

At that time Andy Pandy's skull was crushed by an anvil, and the list was lost forever.

 

The confusion which resulted from this event was astonishing. God stopped talking to people after Andy Pandy died, so most people were simply unable to determine which actions, other than the ones listed by Andy Pandy, were truly stupid; and, in fact, very few people actually cared. So for about nine hundred years most people spent all their time hitting cars with whiffle bats, eating food, saying 'ear', and crushing each others' skulls with anvils.

"But then I came along," thought Stain. "I sure changed all that!"

Stain was a child prodigy; he was always coming up with something new and stupid to do. He was aptly characterized by his mother who once said:

"Stain?! Stain is definitely not the type of child who would poke your dog's eyes out, no matter how hungry he is. But he has been know to sexually molest a goat on occasion, if you know what I mean."

Stain simply had a great intuition, a knack for the stupid. As a youth, Stain developed the Sponge-filled Duck Shirt and the Bucket o' Urine, among other things. As he matured, Stain discovered the art of giving speeches in public restrooms, the most famous and stupid of which was How the Mouth Walks:

"Most people would disagree with you if you said that a mouth could walk. But they are all... right! But if one could, this is how it would. He would start with a `stomp stomp stomp' and a `shuffle shuffle shuffle', and he'd move across the floor. He'd then turn left and walk for 13.6 feet. Then he'd do a flip! Assuming that he landed on his feet, the mouth would then turn right three times and take twenty paces. The mouth would then realize to his amazement that he was directly diagonal from his original starting position. Ear!"

"Ah, those were the days!" thought Stain. "If only things were that simple now!"

Stain soon became a hero of sorts, and was elected "Chief Conditioner of Stupidity," a title last held by the late Andy Pandy. He enjoyed his celebrity status at first; but as time wore on he became increasingly annoyed at the fact that people didn't really know very much about stupidity, or even care about it.

"How in the world are we going to maximize the amount of stupidity in the universe if nobody knows what it is?" he complained. "There must be something that is the most stupid thing to do, and it's my job to find it and tell everybody what it is."

So Stain began his search for the most stupid action, and announced that he would be accepting suggestions from the public. The news of his search sparked a renewed interest in stupidity; several people were even quoted as saying that they wanted to be the ones to discover the most stupid action. As Stain received more and more ideas, he found that they could be grouped into two similar, but nonetheless distinct, types. This was apparently due to an equivocation over the word "stupid". One group seemed to define "stupid" as "ignorant", which resulted in ideas like "eating everything" and "Stain, you dork, why don't you shut up and find something better to do before I kick your ass?!" The other group defined "stupid" as "Pointless", resulting in ideas like "eating everything" and "scratching you head until you drop." All of these ideas fit into one or both of these categories, and all were quite stupid; so Stain naturally decided that the most stupid action must be one which maximizes both ignorance and pointlessness. Soon it was quite obvious to Stain what the most stupid activity was.

"After much serious deliberation," announced Stain, "I have determined that the most stupid action is the one which maximizes both ignorance and pointlessness; and this has led me to an historic decision. It is quite obvious that trying to blow up the sun is the most stupid activity, and it's also pretty neat! So from this day forward, in accordance with Andy Pandy's thesis, the human race will be unswerving in its dedication to fulfilling this end; all human efforts will henceforth be directed towards blowing up the sun. Ear."

Stain's decision was hailed as a stroke of genius, and for quite a while everyone was quite content to spend all their time working on trying to blow up the sun, comforted by the belief that they were being truly stupid. But one day, one of the leading philosophers of the time, Captain Fee-Fob, made the astute observation that if the sun were actually blown up, the potential for stupid actions in the future would be eliminated; therefore, he concluded, blowing up the sun must not be the most stupid action, for it would clearly not maximize stupidity.

This began the greatest controversy in the history of mankind. Never before had society been so divided on an issue. Hard feelings ran deep on this subject; families were ripped apart, as brother was pitted against brother and sister against sister in a battle of theories that grew more and more violent by the minute. Even the majority, who didn't really care about the issue, were drawn into the conflict because of the simple fact that, according to one protester, "all this controversy is pretty fun!" Stain himself rather enjoyed the controversy at first, and toyed with the notion that arguing about whether or not to blow up the sun might be even more stupid than actually blowing it up. But as the tension between the two sides escalated into a flurry of skull-crushing, Stain knew something had to be done; he just couldn't figure out what. So he arranged a conference with Captain Fee-Fob and several other of the most formidable thinkers of his day to help him decide whether or not to blow up the sun.

After a few meetings it was pointed out that even if blowing up the sun eliminates the potential for stupid action in the future, it may be the case that the stupidity of blowing up the sun would outweigh the sum of the stupidity of all potential future actions. Another important issue was raised by Mrs. Penny, author of the controversial and critically acclaimed book called The Void of Stupidity (My Toilet) Mrs. Penny pointed out that before we can know whether blowing up the sun is the most stupid action or not, we must know whether stupidity is contingent upon human existence. If not, then it really doesn't matter whether or not the potential for future stupid action is eliminated; after all, what state of affairs could be more stupid than the absence of humans?

Then came the hardest blow to Stain's plan. It came from Captain Fee-Fob, who pointed out that "trying to blow up the sun" has a goal - namely, the destruction of the sun - and therefore is not really pointless, for pointlessness implies the lack of a point or goal. Therefore, according to Captain Fee-Fob, blowing up the sun fails to meet the requirements for the most stupid action.

"If we're concerned with being stupid, we're not concerned with ends," said Captain Fee-Fob, "and should not be concerned with blowing up the sun."

This upset Stain very badly, and he disbanded the conference. Then he received this news from his chief scientist in charge of blowing up the sun, Mr. Poo:

"Mr. Stain, I believe that we are now ready to blow up the sun. We have finally created a rifle powerful enough to fire toilet seats directly into the center of the sun at speeds of over 120 miles per hour."

"My God," replied Stain.

"Our best calculations estimate that it will probably take at least ten or twelve toilet seats fired at that speed to blow up the sun. We are now merely awaiting the go-ahead signal from you. Ear."

"Thank you, Mr. Poo. The signal will be as follows, but remember that I am now only telling you what the signal is, not actually giving you the go-ahead. The signal will be: `Mr. Poo, you may now begin the countdown sequence for the demolition of the sun.' But now I must go, for I have a very important decision to make, as you well know. I will return to announce my decision in exactly one week."

So Stain set out to his cabin in the woods, built at the very spot where Andy Pandy's skull was crushed by an anvil.

"And here I am," thought Stain. "I've been here for six days, twenty-one hours and thirty-three minutes, and I still haven't made any progress towards making a decision. Is blowing up the sun the right thing to do? Is it in fact my duty? It seems that Captain Fee-Fob may be right after all. If "stupid" means "Pointless", then, strictly speaking, blowing up the sun is not really stupid. But does "stupid" mean "pointless"??

Stain pondered this for a while.

"If it does, then it hardly seems possible for anyone to act stupid; for if one is trying to be stupid, then stupidity is a goal. If one is trying to produce the most stupidity, one is striving for a state of maximum stupidity, which is a goal; one is therefore not acting pointlessly, and hence is not acting stupidly."

Stain thought some more.

"In fact, it may be impossible for anyone to act pointlessly. For example if I eat food, I have a goal - namely, having eaten food - and so I could not eat food pointlessly except by accident. In fact, the only way I could do anything pointlessly, strictly speaking, is by accident. But I can clearly act stupid; otherwise Andy Pandy's thesis would be wrong. Perhaps I have made a mistake in defining the most stupid action as the one which maximizes both ignorance and pointlessness."

Stain though about this for a long time.

"Perhaps even trying to define the word `stupid' was a fundamental mistake. Perhaps `stupid' cannot be defined in terms of other, more simple qualities - perhaps it is irreducible. It seems that neither `ignorant' nor `pointless', nor any combination of the two, really captures what is meant by calling something `stupid'. But what else could it mean? `Irrational'? `Senseless'? No, those seem to be more complicated terms than `stupid'. I must have been fooled by the fact that all things which are stupid seem to be either pointless or ignorant, into thinking that `stupid' actually means one or both of those terms. No, I think that stupid is a simple, foundational quality upon which other terms such as pointless and ignorant are based."

Stain considered the implications of this.

"Well, even if I can't define `stupid', I can at least try to determine which things possess the quality of `stupidity'. It seems that, in general, actions are more stupid than objects; while a Sponge-filled Duck Suit may be somewhat stupid, wearing a Sponge-filled Duck Suit is considerably more stupid. So it seems that the greatest amount of stupidity must be produced by some action. Would blowing up the sun produce the most stupidity?"

Stain asked himself this question over and over.

"It does seem logical to say that human existence is necessary for the greatest amount of stupidity; for if actions are generally more stupid than objects, then the absence of humans engaging in stupid activities would greatly decrease the total amount of stupidity in the universe. This dismisses Mrs. Penny's theory, which is unfortunate; for now I am left with the task of determining whether the stupidity of blowing up the sun outweighs the sum of the potentials of all future actions. Maybe I could just try to blow up the sun, but make sure that I fail. Then the stupidity of all future actions could be added to the stupidity of trying to blow up the sun. But if I make sure that I fail, it wouldn't really be trying; it would just be firing toilet seats into the sky - very stupid indeed, but clearly not the most stupid action. It is my duty to determine whether blowing up the sun is the most stupid thing to do. But how? I guess there is only one way."

Stain left his cabin and went back to the city, to where he was scheduled to announce his decision. A crowd of over forty people had gathered for his announcement, but at least that many more were watching on TV as Stain stepped up to the podium.

"OK, everybody, I guess we're going to have to take a vote. Those of you watching at home can vote using the electronic voting devices connected to your television sets. Ready? OK, hands up, everybody who wants to blow up the sun."

Stain paused for 17.3 seconds.

"Now everybody who doesn't want to blow up the sun."

Stain paused for 22 seconds.

"The votes are in, and it's a tie - six votes for, six votes against. I guess we could flip a coin, but I don't have any change. Does anyone here have change for a dollar?"

Nobody had change for a dollar, but someone said, "I have a nickel you could borrow."

"Thanks dude," said Stain, and flipped the coin - then caught it in midair.

"Oops, I forgot to say what `heads' or `tails' mean. `Heads' means we blow up the sun, `tails' means we don't"

Stain flipped the coin which landed on it's side and rolled into the gutter.

"Damn!" yelled Stain. "I owe you a nickel, dude. Does anybody else have change?"

Nobody did, but a little boy said, "I have a tennis racket at home. There's a letter `P' on the end of the handle, and you could spin it around and see which way the `P' lands."

"Well, what are you waiting for, kid? We don't have all day! Don't just stand there with that stupid grin on your face! Go get it!"

The boy ran home and returned about thirty minutes later with the tennis racket; by that time, however, a large portion of the crowd had dispersed.

"Thanks, kid," Stain said, "You're a sweetheart. Now if the racket lands with the `P' right-side-up we will blow up the sun; if it lands upside down we won't."

Stain spun the racket, which landed on it's side and rolled into the gutter.

"Strange," said Stain. " Now what do we do? How does one decide these things? How about `rock, paper, scissors'? I'll need two volunteers."

Two people raised their hands.

"OK, come up here you two. Now on three, form your hands into the shape of a rock, a piece of paper, or a pair of scissors. Remember, rock breaks scissors, scissors cut paper and paper covers rock. The winner will make the final decision. One...two...three! Oops, a tie. Try again. One, two, three! Another Tie! This isn't working at all. Let's try something else. We could draw straws! bring some straws up here."

Some straws were produced.

"I'll hold the straws and whoever draws the shortest one gets to decide. Now each of you can come up here and pick one straw."

Just then a gust of wind blew the straws from Stain's hand and into the gutter.

"Damn!" yelled Stain. "Well, that just about exhausts the conventional ways of making decisions. I guess we'll have to think of some new ones. How about.. the first person who can... smash their head into a tree! That person will decide. Ready, go!"

Nobody moved and someone yelled, "I'm not doing that!"

"OK, how about the first person who can smash their head into a dog!"

Several people began chasing a dog, but the dog tripped and fell into the gutter before they could catch it.

"Thumbwrestling! We will thumbwrestle to see who decides. You two, come up here. The two of you will thumbwrestle and the winner will make the final decision. Ready, go!"

The two people, we'll call them person x and person y, began to thumbwrestle and person x won.

"All right! I won!" yelled person x. "Now what are we deciding again?"

"I think we're deciding whether or not to start a volleyball league!" said someone from the crowd.

"A volleyball league? Of coarse I want to start a volley ball league!" said person x. "Let's start right now! Come on, everybody! Let's go to the volleyball court!"

"Wait, don't go!" shouted Stain. "Come back! We haven't decided whether or not to blow up the sun!" But nobody heard him - everyone was too excited about the volleyball league, and who can blame them. "Mr. Poo, come back! After all my hard work! Oh God..."

Stain grew very angry.

"I'm going to do it anyway," he said, making his way to the laboratory where the toilet seat rifle was kept. "I just can't let this opportunity go to waste."

Stain entered the laboratory, found the toilet seat gun, took aim, and fired several toilet seats into the sun until it finally blew up.

 

EAR!

 

"Thanks, Rob. That was great."

"It's just like what I've been saying. Everything is pointless, it's all determined. It's a perfect trap. We're all determined. Do you think I should tell Ben about the desire to lose desire?"

"I think Ben is way ahead of you on the desire to lose desire, Rob."

Rob looked hurt. I was tired, I felt dizzy, and I didn't relish the trip back to my room at all. My heart lifted when John showed up at the door. I was even glad to see Dirk at his side.

"Honey, could you go get me a wheelchair?" I asked. "I can't face the long walk home."

"A wheelchair? Coming right up," and Dirk was off down the hall.

"Well, guys, thanks so much for coming, and especially for reading me the story. They're going to send me home tomorrow morning unless my head explodes or if someone crushes it with an anvil. I'll probably be back at school by Tuesday."

John and Rob made farewell gestures, then John stepped back into the room and pressed a copy of the tape into my hand. "You inspired this," he said in a low voice, and walked out. My face flushed and my vision swam briefly. "I'm just tired," I told myself. "It's just my head." I tucked the tape into my pocket and waited for Dirk to get back with a wheelchair.

By the time he finally found one, I was exhausted. I fell asleep the minute I got back in bed, and never talked to Dirk at all. When the night nurse woke me up at eleven for neuro checks, I felt a lot better and put Secret Love in the Walkman. I stayed awake playing it on and off for the rest of the night. When the day nurse came in for another set of neuro checks and asked me how I was, I sang "Listen John, to your destructive cat/ It's saying it loves you, it wants to cut out your tongue." I had to recite all twelve cranial nerves and play the song for her to keep her from calling the neurologist.


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