Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Chapter Twenty Four: Doors

“Ultimately, the main product being sold by human potential gurus is hope itself. It should be obvious that in itself this is not a bad thing. We all need hope. Without hope, there is no point in making plans for the future. Without hope, there is no point in working on a relationship or setting goals. Thus, insofar as [something] increases one's hope for finding one's way and for achieving one's goals, it is good. Even false hope may be better than no hope at all.”
~Robert T. Carroll

Although they took their time, and made a few stops along Route 66, the trek from Oklahoma City to Berkley was uneventful.   After several days of cramped driving and tiny motel rooms, the beautiful California college campus felt as much like the new frontier. They took their time to walk around a bit and stretch their legs, before making their way over to the building that housed the Philosophy Department.  As they stood outside the door, Epiphany was surprised to find that Edward had never bothered to make an appointment to see this Professor he so admired.
“What can I say?” Edward said, smiling, as her thumbed through the contacts list on his cell phone, “He never returned my emails.”
“So… What are you planning to do?”
Edward just winked at her. Sitting on a nearby bench he held up the Tablet with one hand as he dialed, and then positioned his far-too-thin cell phone between his head and shoulder so that he could type with, the other.
“Philosophy department, may I help you?”
“Yes, I’d like to make an appointment to see Professor Robert Todd, does he have any openings?”
“Professor Todd has regular office hours, are you a student?”
“Not exactly. I was hoping to see him today?”
“Unfortunately, Professor Todd is booked today, and his only open hours are for students only.”
“OK, I’m sorry to bother you, Miss…?”
“Johnson. Judy Johnson.”
“Excellent…” Edward punched her name into the tablet. He was going to make a note of how long her life was going to be, but it showed her dying on December 21, 2012 along with everyone else. He quickly jotted down that she would schedule an appointment for Edward to meet with Professor Robert Todd that afternoon, and then go on to live for another 200 years according to her own cognizance. “So, uh… When is our appointment with the Professor again?”
“Professor Todd will see you at 3 O’Clock this afternoon.” She replied back.
“Thank you, Miss Johnson, you’ve been a tremendous help!” Hanging up, Edward looked at Epiphany. “Who needs an appointment anyway?”
Epiphany just smirked and shook her head.
“I’m sorry, WHO are you exactly?” the academic was clearly confused. “I didn’t even see your appointment on my schedule until about half an hour ago, and the secretary didn’t include any information.”
“My name is Edward Carpenter, and this is Epiphany Wolport.”
“And you’re students here?”
Edward almost laughed out loud. Alhough almost forty, he looked more like a first year grad student. “No, no. We’re from Washington, D.C. and we’d like to invite you to partake in little… symposium of sorts… The kind of thing a well-known skeptic like yourself should find most interesting.”
“Wait a second… I remember you now! You used to email me a lot, on the Skeptipedia Britannica site!”
“Yes… And you USED to reply to my messages. Why’d you stop?”
“Because lately you’ve sounding more like a conspiracy kook! Show me what ‘really happened’ on New Year’s Eve, 2010? Give me a break. Why do you try telling me about the truth behind 9/11 while we’re at it?”
“Professor, please. You’ve read my messages over the years, and I’ve read everything you written that was intended for public consumption – your blog, your website –and I have all three of your books. You’re one of my heroes, seriously. I’m not here to sell you on some conspiracy theory. I’m here because there is simply no other opinion, in the entire world, that I value and trust more than yours.”
“If I wanted my ass kissed, there will be plenty of brown-nosing students in here during my regular office hours.”
“I’m just trying to show you where I’m coming from. The fact is that there is a lot of evidence related to what’s happened that’s been classified and kept from the public. What I’m proposing is that you let me fly you to D.C., first class, put you up at a five-star hotel for the weekend, and then take you to the White House, show you the evidence, first hand, that the Government doesn’t want you to see – namely videos of each and every suicide, as well as the manifesto that each person left behind, and see what you make of it. I’m offering you a chance to examine the evidence that the conspiracy nuts are already dreaming about.  And at the end of the day, if it’s all a hoax? D.C.’s still a pretty fun town. And you’ll still get an all-expense paid weekend out of it. Are you interested?”
The Professor studied Edward for moment. “Possibly… What’s the catch? What do you want form me?”
Edward nodded. “Well… I’d like to know if even you, a world renowned skeptic, can examine the evidence and not end up committing the divine fallacy. That’s one thing.”
“Not likely.” He replied flatly.
“And that’s fine. That’s why I want you. If there’s a reality-based, materialist explanation to be found, you’ll find it. That, or you’ll be the last one in the room to give up looking for it.  And afterwards, I’d like to talk to you about a job. A kind of high-level advisory position, at what you might call a public policy think tank…”
“Look, I’m not really…”
“At double your current salary.”
That stopped him in his tracks. “What?”
“You heard me. The money’s already there, and I would pay you that for nothing other than advice.”
“Advice on what?”
“Public policy in general, and educational policy in particular.” Edward held his hand up as the Professor started to ask a question. “I want to revamp our entire educational system. Specifically, I want to have a focus on critical thinking starting at the earliest age – pre-school, even. I think it’s absurd that we have college-aged students who come in here still needing to be taught how to think.”
The Professor nodded as Edward continued, “I want to create generation of Americans who will be immune to propaganda, immune to indoctrination, hell… immune to advertising, even. I want to put Madison Avenue out of business, or at least emasculate their cheap tricks, along with the Right Wing Noise machine. I want a society of people who have different opinions about what to do about ‘the truth’ as opposed to what we have now: People who think they’re entitled to their own ‘truth,’ each according to their political ideology and/or religion.  I want everyone to not just be entitled to their own opinion, but to have each and every opinion be an INFORMED one.”
When Edward finally got off his soapbox, the Professor just laughed, almost pedantically, as if he was hearing from an idealistic, and particularly green, Freshman. “So you want to change the world, huh?”
“I want to SAVE it.”
“From itself? Good luck. You certainly have a lot to learn about how the world actually WORKS, my friend!”
“And you would do well not to underestimate the influence I have. The President probably felt the same way when he found me sitting in his chair with my feet on his desk. He takes me seriously now.”
“You heard me. And you can ask him yourself, when you come to D.C.”
“OK… I’ll humor you. Let’s say you have some pull with the powers that be.  Do you honestly think they’ll just step aside and do what you say because you have a good idea?”
“No, but I think you’ll find I can persuade them to listen to us.”
“Oh?” the Professor sat back in his chair, folding his arms across his chest. “And how will do that?”
“The same way I got your secretary to give me half an hour of your time, even though your afternoon was booked. Go ahead: Ask her.”
Edward received a skeptical glance before the professor picked up his phone. “Judy? High, it’s Bob. Tell me: Do you remember scheduling this meeting I’m in with Mister Carpenter?  You do. Do you remember when you… Today?... About an hour ago?... I see. And what did he say to you?... Nothing?... Then why did you…? Judy? It’s OK, Judy, everything’s fine… Yes… So… So, you told him I was booked, and then he asked when he should come in and you scheduled him at three and… and you have no idea why?...  No, no it’s OK… I understand… OK… OK, thank you, Judy… Thank you.”
Edward waited a few seconds after he hung up before asking him, “Any idea how I did that?”
“Are you going to claim mind-control?” he answered sardonically.
Edward laughed, knowing that this was a pretty fair representation for precisely what happened, but decided that keeping it vague might be a better choice. “No, no. The thing is? I have no idea either. All I can say is that I tend to get what I want. Things just seem to work out for me.  It was literally no more difficult to get myself into the Oval Office, un-accompanied. If nothing else, I’d think you’d like a chance to observe THAT in action, and try to explain it.”
“I don’t spend my time investigating and debunking alleged paranormal phenomena. I do it teaching others to think critically about things, and not be fooled by them in the first place.”
“Which is exactly what I want: You to teach me and my colleagues to do this, and then help us implement age-appropriate lessons into our national curriculum starting from the first minute we start educating our children.  There’s more – a lot more – but if I told you everything right now, you really would think I was crazy, or a fraud, or pulling your leg, or whatever. It’s better that I just show it to you. That you see what I’m offering first hand… then you might be more interested in the rest.  And if you’re not? I’ll never bother you again. Worst case: First class and five star weekend, including a trip to the White House. My people will call you. What do you say?”
Robert Todd ran his hand over his graying beard several times, mulling over what Edward has told him. “OK, tell you what: I’ll think about it. What the hell? Have your people call me and we’ll see what happens. Unless… you plan on trying to coerce me into coming?”
Edward smiled. “If you mean by using my ‘spooky psychic powers,’ then, no. First of all: I don’t have any magical powers. But more importantly, I only really want you, if YOU want to come. This decision HAS to be yours. I wouldn’t dream of coercing it, even if I thought I could.”
“Well… Have them call me, and I’ll let you know.”
“Thank you for your time, professor. Just so you know? The evidence I plan on showing you is classified. And if you have any doubts about my sincerity on that point, I should mention that the two men who have been standing in the hallway for the past fifteen minutes waiting for us? They’re Secret Service.”
“Just have your people call me.”
“I’ll do that. Thanks again for your time.”
Once outside, Epiphany, who had remained silent through the entire meeting, finally asked, “DO you think he’ll come?”
“I don’t know.  He probably gets a lot of offers like this, from every crackpot out there trying to con him into endorsing this conspiracy theory or that one.  If he believes that I’m going to show him something that’s both legitimate and inexplicable, I do believe his curiosity will get the better of him. How do you think I did?”
“You did wonderfully, as always. I’m just not sure that this guy will be as easily convinced as John and Paul were.”
“I think you might have it backwards, actually. I think John and Paul acted enthusiastic, but are skeptical that anything’s going to come of it. I think Professor Todd is the opposite: He’s playing his cards close, but I’ll bet he’s already searching the ‘net, trying to find out what fringe group I belong to, and what it is I might show him. And is he’s already looking for counter evidence, that’s means I’ve got him.”
“So you think he’ll come?”
“I don’t know. But I’m going to have Gretchen get their travel arrangements arranged anyway, and hopefully West will get us a conference room at 1600. I didn’t clear that with him in advance though.”
“Couldn’t you just use your ‘spooky psychic powers’?” Epiphany ribbed him.
“You liked that bit, huh? Yeah, I could. But I’d prefer not to. Somehow I don’t think messing with the fabric of fate itself just to book a conference room is such a good idea. They had a good laughed about that, before Edward continued. “I’m also thinking we’ll ditch the car and fly back. Maybe not tell our two friends there until the last minute, just for one last parting shot. What do you say?”
“Oh: Yes, please. I don’t think I could take another week of driving back across the country.”
“All right then, consider it done.”
That night, Edward booked a one-way flight back to Dulles before calling Gretchen to give her everyone’s contact information and have her start making travel arrangements. He was pleased to learn that she had gotten at least one Member of Congress interested in his health care proposal.
“Do you think he’ll be able to help?” he asked her.
“Well… He’s new, and not much of a policy wonk, and he’s practically already been told that he’s a one-term fill-in and to not make any waves.”
“And that’s who our big Congressional ally is?” Edward interrupted, failing to hide his disappointment
“Well, let me finish.  Even though he’s been told to basically pipe-down and keep is nose clean until the Party back home can elect his replacement, he’s decided to make a break for it, and is looking for something to make a big splash with and force their hand. He figures either they’ll have to let his run for re-election or, worst case, at least he’ll have accomplished something in his short time there.”
“OK, yeah, that makes sense. Sounds a bit after my own heart, actually.”
“I think you’d like him. He actually reminds me of you a little bit.”
Edward felt better, “Ok, well keep me posted. And thanks so much for everything you’ve done. I really appreciate it.”
“It’s no problem. I’m happy to do anything for you... I mean… anything you need.” She blushed a bit as she said that, and feared that she had said too much. But it remained lost on Edward just how true this was, and to what extent she truly meant it.
After hanging up with Gretchen, he called West.
Everything was quiet on that front, though he mentioned that it seemed the service was going out of their way to keep him in the dark, “So don’t get to comfortable,” he added.
“That’s OK, I won’t.  Hey, there’s a couple of things I need to ask you about.”
“Name it.”
“First, is there any way when all these folks come into town, you could book us a conference room in the White House?”
“Ooooo. That’s going to be tough…”
“Wouldn’t they want to keep a close eye on us? On me?”
“Well, yeah… They DO… But they also don’t want you around. It’s a bit of a contradiction, you see.” Edward laughed at the irony. “On the other hand, I’m sure that one of the rooms in the Executive Building would be a natural fit.”
“OK. Second choice, but I’ll take it.”
“Anything else?”
“Yeah… I need you to get me a copy of all of Suicide Videos and the Manifesto that was written in blood. Can you do that?”
“That’s all classified, you know.”
“I know. Can you do it?”
“It won’t be easy, but… sure. I know people.”
“Yes, you do.  And finally, since I know it’s getting late out there, any progress on finding some new digs for us? Somewhere private? Secluded, even?”
“As a matter of fact, yes. I’ve got a pretty shrewd idea. Why don’t we wait until you’re back to discuss it though, OK? Also… there’s something I need to talk to you about.”
“What’s that?”
“The Major. He’s dying. They say…” West paused. “Maybe just another day or two. And you promised…”
“I know. And I am full well planning to deliver on that. I’m on my way back early tomorrow morning.  We’ll go right to the hospital from the airport, assuming you can stop at the Bank on your way to pick us up?” Edward had left the key to the safety deposit box that held the vial of Tears with West.
“Yes. Great. I’ll do that. And I’ll tell the Major to hang in there. The feisty old coot probably won’t die until he sees you again one way of the other.”
“We’ll go straight there. We land at One O’clock. Don’t be late.”
“I won’t. I’ll see you then.”

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