Tuesday, December 10, 2013
By OFW editor:
Published: November 20, 2013
By Carlos J. Cortes
Outside, the downpour raged unabated. Klieg lights slashed through sheets of rain over an endless line of limousines. Under a bevy of flashes, people splashed forth from cars to huddle under the drenched umbrellas of uniformed attendants, and scuttled into tents erected outside the theater for accreditation. After the ordeal, they would scamper into the lobby; wet pigeons cursing and ruffling moisture from their clothing.
Sonia Bruno brought a recording machine to her lips and added another comment to a file bristling with color, names, anecdotes and gossip for her daily column.
To a side, under large black and white prints of Cary Grant and Ingrid Bergmann, high-maintenance women checked their fur coats in dismay, now reminiscent of a cat’s pelt after its owner had licked it into place.
Well-heeled businessmen and politicians, from scores of foreign countries, jostled for the amphitheater doors and their seats, under the watchful eyes of large men forever blabbing into their lapels.
Already dubbed the event of the century, future generations would remember the gathering as the moment when modern civilization adopted another dimension of social culture and understanding. Tonight, Dr. Auberon Schumann, a brilliant mathematics professor and the most powerful man in the world, would reveal his methods: his formula to catapult humankind into a new era of awareness and enlightened consciousness.
Sonia had only managed a glimpse of the great man as he flashed though the lobby—spirited from his retinue of armored vehicles and outriders—surrounded by a legion of bodyguards armed to the teeth. A small man, his dolichocephalous cranium crowned with a cloud of sparse white hair, almost a halo, gave its owner a gnome-like appearance, tempered by lively mahogany-colored eyes and cherubim lips.
After publishing his seminal work
Event Prediction, and Forecast of Quantum and Fractal Interactions, with Irrational Tools
, politicians, industry tycoons, military and religious leaders had flocked to Professor Schumann. Now, only a decade later, no capital decision was ever reached anywhere in the world without first listening to his counsel.
Desperate people—lost in lone-wolf servitude—abandoned established cults in droves; churches closed their doors and Scientologists disbanded. From the world deserts issued forth a new race of oracles and seers, men and women who preached abstruse theories and outlandish rituals to lead their flocks through the uncharted quagmires of esoteric revival.
During these convulsed times, Professor Schumann became the indispensable binding agent to keep a little cohesion in a slowly crumbling society; counseling here, advising there, helping decision-makers with his wisdom or suggesting answers to intractable problems.
But the Professor was only human and couldn’t be everywhere at once. Over the years, demand for his counsel increased. Now Professor Schumann lived and worked aboard a special Boeing 969 forever hopping across continents.
Tonight, the weary Professor would hand over his tools and retire to the solitude of his island in the Maldives. Tonight, he would bequest the world his life’s work to afford everyone the means to unerringly plot right decisions without him. After tonight, Professor Schumann would be free, and humanity richer beyond bounds.
As people in the lobby thinned, Sonia reached to her handbag for a fresh set and replaced the batteries in her digital recording machine. It was a silly thing to do. Inside, the CNN had set an unparalleled array of cameras and microphones. Professor Schumann’s speech would broadcast live to a network of satellites and the billions glued to their TV screens. Still, she clutched her device and stepped toward the doors. One day I will show my children. I was here. I listened. I saw him.
Inside the theater, the atmosphere was unique. Nobody spoke, or fidgeted, or scrunched paper wrappers. Pores opened and sweat flowed unchecked in the unholy silence.
On tiptoe, Sonia handed her invitation to a burly attendant who scanned it, checked her face against a photograph in his palm-held and accompanied her to a seat, well to the rear and against a sidewall. Not a prime seat, but one the throngs soaking rain outside would have paid a million dollars to occupy. Not that her invitation would have granted them access, all eight thousand guests including dignitaries and the press had submitted to photograph, retinal scan and thumbprint identification before entering.
Lights dimmed and silence widened. The scenario blazed in a riot of light. A lone transparent lectern sat in the middle of a vast empty space against a background of crimson drapes.
A minute passed. Beside her, a tall tuxedoed gentleman wrung his fingers, his eyes riveted on the lectern.
As if seeking permission to enter, the slight figure of Professor Schumann entered the left edge of the stage, his fluffy candy-floss-like hair shining under the bright lights. There was a sharp intake of collective breath as the little man neared the center stage. He looked frail and weary.
Silence held. No applause. Sonia closed her eyes awed at the mass instinct. To applaud would belittle the Professor; he was beyond honors, wealthy beyond Croesus dreams, and respected like no other since Solon.
Professor Schumann hiked a step to the dais beyond the lectern and gripped the transparent top with both hands. He didn’t carry papers or notes.
“I can hardly give what you own.” His voice carried the strength of truth. “You have phenomenal brains with awesome intellectual powers, yet only use a tiny portion to your benefit. Everybody knows our brain houses conscious and unconscious areas, but perhaps you ignore the unconscious zones are exponentially larger and faster than the conscious ones. Our unconscious continuously scans random elements to distill hidden pointers, guides affecting everything we do, masked patterns where future time resolves into coherence and solid data.
“The future is all around us in random structures and constructs, in the seemingly erratic behavior of winds or a pall of smoke. Yesterday, national weather centers predicted blistering sunshine. This morning, when I arrived to your beautiful city I studied the lay of fallen leaves and ruffled water. The unconscious calculated hidden patterns before addressing the result with my conscious mind. Then I phoned the President. I advised him to bring an umbrella. A cautious man, he donned sou’wester and galoshes, you must have noticed when he arrived.
“Of course, weather being fickle, many variables might have changed after I warned the President and the sun might have shined after all. That would have been irrelevant in the grand scheme. He arrived prepared, and that’s what counts.”
A sea of nodding heads silently acknowledged the Professor’s wisdom.
“This anecdotic example highlights the problem that has brought us here today. I would have wished to warn you but it would have been impractical, my office doesn’t have your records and billing would have been a nightmare.”
The professor paused, reached for a glass of water and sipped.
“You may wonder why didn’t I call the press and asked them to update their inaccurate weather predictions. Simple. I am a professional. As long as I act as a consultant a bill must follow, it’s only fair.
“Now I must step down, retire from a race that has mined my health. What to do? Simple. I will give the world my method and won’t consult any further. There would be no need. Each of you and billions others can be their own consultants.”
Professor Schumann’s gaze roamed over the sea of eager faces.
“I must warn you, though. The method is simple, but it will call for changes, even the most intimate aspects of your life will need adjusting. My method needs no computers, no calculators, no pen and no paper, but objects you’ve relegated to oblivion, objects you’ve vanished from your homes, fashions and fancies you’ve adopted and by doing so plunged our present society into a swamp of self-doubt and alienation.
“Only by smashing the shackles fettering the delicate link between conscious and unconscious you will achieve the same results I do.
“How many times have you awaken, eyed the sway of flowers in your garden or gazed at the fractals oil makes in ponds to learn today would be the day? How many times at a noisy gathering you’ve suddenly tuned to a gentle whisper of conversation on the other side of the room? Yet these are generalities and wouldn’t serve in your daily endeavors. Events that will affect you, have the habit of revealing themselves through random events connected with your body: Your body speaks to the unconscious; if only your eyes can relay the graphic representations and patterns to your brain.
“Our civilization is in decline, people are alienated, riddled with insanities, psychoses, neuroses, compulsions, repressions and social derangements: terrified before the collapse of their gods and institutions they can no longer understand. Nothing makes sense anymore. What’s happened? When did our twilight begin? I’ll tell you. However unwillingly we have uprooted from our daily lives the elements our brain consulted, to unconsciously counsel our decisions. Everyday objects have changed, and with them our unconscious tools have gone. It’s been a stealthy change, custom and fashion insidiously leaching into our lives and starving our brain of data. Oh, we have information, indeed we have, there’s an avalanche of news out there. But news doesn’t mean data, but the digested opinions of writers regurgitated onto paper or spat into a camera lens.”
He stood, lights crowning his head with a glorious halo.
“Shampoo, liquid soap and tea bags are driving our species to destruction.”
A sharp intake of breath bounced off the frescoes decorating the ceiling.
“You’re not going to say anything? No screaming foul? No boos and catcalls? You don’t think I’m crazy? Deranged?”
“Maybe—perhaps there’s still hope for you, for me, for us. Haven’t you wondered why our civilization has begun its inexorable decline?”
“How many of you use tea bags?”
He leaned over the lectern. “Come on, raise your hands!”
Over a sea of arms, an image of the Nuremberg Rally Sonia once saw on a grainy picture flashed through her mind.
“And, how many of you use tea leaves? Hands up!”
The professor craned his neck and guarded his eyes against the glare of studio lights. “I see... how many of you peer at the leaves at the bottom of the pot?”
The stretched arms sagged in waves and droves until there was none proud.
“Tea arrived in Europe sometime during the 16th century, but only a few could afford the brew. During the 17 and 18th centuries’ larger and faster ships brought increasing quantities of tea to Europe and its use stopped being a perk for the rich. But it wasn’t until the 19th century, and the arrival of Clippers that tea became commonplace. Even the lowliest serf consumed tea. The industrial revolution exploded and civilization leaped forward at an unprecedented speed. Unknown to the people, their unconscious attuned to the intricate patterns of soggy leaves guided their instinct.
“Do I detect doubt? You think it’s all a matter of tea leaves? Nonsense! You must reach beyond. The lay of boiled herb fragments is but a random disposition of elements, similar to scores of other instances. Random, that’s the key. In the twentieth century society removed the linchpins that held the wheel of our greatness; we invented tea bags, medicated shampoos and shower gels. Then we relegated soap bars to oblivion.
“These changes have brought us to our knees. We embraced science as a panacea to regulate nature and assumed we understood the principles of phenomena. But science does not assume that it can know a priori either what these principles are or what the order of any set of empirical phenomena is. But here is the secret: nurturing your brains with the graphic representation of chaotic elements can.”
Sonia glanced at her next-seat neighbor. The man looked cyanotic, but still he held his breath.
“Take the peppering of dandruff on people’s shoulders in mid 20th century; there was chaotic randomness there. One would glance at snowed-over shoulders and brush the flakes away, but not before our phenomenal brain distilled a treasure trove of fathomless wisdom.
“Speaking of which, there’s an old tale of the lady who read the future by gazing at her suede shoes. She shunned underwear. But I digress…
“Yet, tealeaves and dandruff are, what we may call minor arcane, like in the Tarot. Cognoscenti, those few whose brow has been touched by the anointing finger, know the supreme future-reveling device is not the glass ball, cards, Ouija or even entrails. Far from it. The definitive prediction device to afford our brains a glimpse of eternity remains in the bars of soap. Its use, I’ve structured into an organized science of forecast built on unconscious axioms: statements of natural laws like those of the physical sciences. Have you ever wondered why whenever I counseled any of you I always demanded you took a shower? Never wondered why I insisted you used a soap bar. Didn’t you care about why I always locked myself in the bathroom you had just vacated?”
People shifted in their seats, looked around and exchanged nervous glances.
“Obviously you didn’t. Scrutiny of hairs stuck to a soap bar will reveal, at times in graceful cursive or even palace script—depending on hair length—the most hidden details about hereafter. Pubic hairs are exceptionally verbose, their lie speaks volumes of times to come, and the same could be said of leg, chest and underarm hair.
“I detect nervous ticks, and intelligent sparkles in many eyes. Has the coin dropped? Have you guessed what comes next?
“Have you just realized our downfall has followed a parallel path with the fancy fashion of shaving? I’m not referring to man’s faces, a custom carried over since time immemorial but of chests, legs, underarms, crotches and even asses. Is light seeping into your boated brains?” His voice rose with messianic overtones. “Have you finally guessed why so many of you have such bleak futures?
! Hold the soap-bar lightly, lather yourself, and think about your problem or predicament, mentally express your riddle as a factor of a dualism: Should I wear gray or blue? Does he deserve to live or die? Is she faithful or not? Must we declare war on Tierra del Fuego or not? Rest the soap on a holder or shelf and rinse. Now, peer at the soap’s surface, peruse the hairs, explore the lay of their lines and the answer will flash at you. Don’t doubt, your brain will not fail you. When you’ve reached a decision wipe the soap clean, it will prevent you from unnecessary checks or changes of heart. The first decision is always right.”
The professor reached for a sip of water.
“Naturally this is an oversimplification. The art is harder and needs preparation. Like all future revealing devices, the bar of soap must be conditioned, prepared for the task. The bar must be softened to the correct degree, not too much and not too little.” His face sagged. “I recall the first time I softened a piece of soap. I was a student, a boy really, roughing it at a bedsit in Islington. Out of curiosity, I had tried a semester of cock divination. The teacher would draw a wide circle on the floor, slit the cock’s neck and wait for the thrashings to end. The blood trails and splatters would paint an unerringly accurate picture of the subject’s future. Not the chicken’s, that was a foregone conclusion, but supposedly the patron’s. I wasn’t impressed. The technique had a critical flaw; the bloodstains were chaotic but held nothing from whoever sought counsel.”
Professor Schumann’s eyes unfocused.
“Where was I... yes… at the Islington bedsit the bed was infested with bugs. The landlady refused to admit it. I doubt you are aware of it, but bedbugs are shy of the light. With the bed uncovered and the lights on, there was no way to convince the hag. A suitably softened bar of soap was just the ticket to provide irrefutable proof. After a period of silence and with the lights turned off, I suddenly jerked the bedcovers back and banged down repeatedly the softened bar of soap over the sheets in—you guessed it—a random pattern. With the lights back on, the bugs embedded in the bar of soap provided the necessary support to my claims. Later, as I studied the insect’s lay I realized their chaotic disposition opened untold possibilities; thus started my research culminating years later in the theories that have brought you here.”
The professor nodded once. “It’s time for me to leave. You must go forth to shape your destiny, and that of your employees and subjects, and the citizens of your countries. Only now you’re armed with a mighty tool to enrich lives with unparalleled wisdom.”
Professor Schumann backed down from the lectern as the theater erupted in a pandemonium of hurrahs. A standing ovation thundered, unchecked tears wetting the faces of the joyous spectators. Shouts of
“Torero, torero, torero...”
echoed like a never ending mantra.
As strangled sobs racked her chest, Sonia closed her eyes, her being suffused with an indescribable sense of freedom. When she opened them, Professor Schumann had left the stage and a crowd of smiling people beamed at one another, slowly making for the exits.
Sonia concentrated on the fickle dilemma that had worried her for the past days: should she quit the New York Times and take up the Fresno Bee’s offer? Standing clear of the shower’s throbbing jet, she lathered her crotch. Her legs, underarms, areolas, toes, and upper lip didn’t have the necessary material
, but her crotch sure did. After a while, she deposited the soap bar—hurriedly rescued from the drawer where she kept her underwear—on its holder. She hyperventilated and stood under the shower to rinse, her heart thumping.
When she finally dared to inspect the soap, she blinked once, twice. Her legs weakened. She reached to the taps for support, her body racked with violent convulsions. She stared at the contorting tracery of her pubic hair half-embedded in the soap and collapsed on the shower floor, her eyes awash in tears.
Sonia laughed so hard her belly ached.
In an instant of sublime lucidity, her mind filled with Auberon Schumann’s dolichocephalous cranium haloed in wispy hair. His name crumbled in its constituent letters, which flew in chaotic whorls to regroup into a blazing line: Baron Munchausen.
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