What is humanity? More importantly, why is humanity in existence? Most would say that we are merely a trifling species in the midst of a vast span of evolution and that the cosmos is far larger and grander than our minds can understand. However, despite the pessimistic modern outlook that humans are insignificant specks in this cosmos, there is a logical way to prove our importance in the universal chessboard. In order to do so, one must understand the workings of the human psyche and how it relates to the certainties of the universe. The details to be considered are the three cognitive elements of understanding, the reality of choice, reproduction and memory, the structure of human evolution, and the future of mankind, which would lead us to the ultimate purpose of all men and women.
The mind is the foremost important ingredient in creating reality. Hence, the first step in comprehending our place in the universe would be to catalog the three parts of cognition that allow our brains to function. These three fundamental constituents include memory, intelligence and imagination.
MEMORY is mandatory for storing data. It is absolutely necessary, for without the ability to recall ideas, objects and entities, there would be nothing to think about, and therefore no consciousness (as we all know, consciousness is a requisite of existence). Even nothingness is a thing in and of itself, and it is still possible to think about nothing. However, not to be able to remember nothing would be absolutely ludicrous and cause the mind to cease to exist. As will be described later, nothingness also happens to contain everything, which is another reason to cherish the capability of recollection.
More important than memory is the second mental component, INTELLIGENCE. Intelligence refers to the capacity to process data and draw from it conclusions. It allows humans to formulate strategies and tactics in the cosmic war so that they can better attain desired objectives. If memory is a solid mass of clay, intelligence is the liquid that allows it to be molded. Intellect can draw implications from information and sculpt datum raw material into cognitive art. Without this component of the mind, there would also be no thoughts, as memorized knowledge would just clump up at the depths of a dolts cerebrum, never to be utilized for constructive purposes. After all, silver in the mine is worthless.
The final and most significant factor of the psyche is IMAGINATION. This is the ability to create ideas from nothingness, drawing information from the voids of the mental multiverse. Imagination has no bounds, so it contains everything that can possibly be known or thought of. Not all humans have the capacity to extract concepts from nil, yet this is the cognitive element from which everything in the universe emerged. While it is the most important element, it is not at all necessary, as humans can survive without ever having to design a work of art or write a masterpiece.
However, survival alone is not the meaning of life. There are other options and choices.
Although metaphysicians frequently argue about choice in Ultimate Reality, few have come to a certain conclusion. However, when one speculates the aspects of destiny and causality, it is easy to see that human choice does exist to a specific capacity. In fact, it is a definite requisite of existence.
Since every event has a cause, it is implied that there was a beginning to time and that the laws of causality are always constant. Essences and limits prevent an infinite amount of causes from plaguing the world, so there must be a finite number of causes to every effect. Even the emotions and cognitive capabilities that humans utilize to strategically plan out their actions (as strategically as they are capable of) have limits by this reasoning and can also be understood in terms of quantifiable entities that can react with each other like billiard balls. Thus, everything, including choices, must follow a chain reaction that has already been laid out from the dawn of temporal motion. Therefore, destiny is real, and we are forever bound to it.
This is not to say that humans can never have a choice, though. The exact opposite is true. The ability to decide is an inherent part of thinking, for if we could not think, we would not be able to process the data of the universe, and thusly, the universe would not exist. Imagine trying to experience the feel of the morning breeze whilst all your neural functions are locked down, preventing you from intellectually ciphering any form of information. The breeze may as well not exist, because every feeling must be accompanied by thoughts, no matter how incapacitated the observing subject is. Analogously, the rest of the universe would not exist if we were aware of all things that were to happen in the future. Thought is an inherent component of consciousness and if we could not think, we would not be, as Rene Descartes so aptly put. Further, because thoughts are meant to create decisions, it is clear that choice is real.
Thence, we are all moving along a preset timeline in which all our choices have already been made, yet we are still making decisions within that timeline.
Everything was spawned from the Big Bang, from stars to lakes to steel. What makes us different from nebulae? Why is life any different from the quantum particles that make up the unified macrocosm-microcosm? The answer lies in the tendency of DNA to replicate.
Genetic material is different from all other matter in the universe because of its ability to record or memorize information. By recording the past, it can better duplicate itself and more importantly, it can better improve upon its ability to remain in existence. After all, the very complexion of evolution is to weed out the entities, organic or inorganic, that are less likely to survive. DNA is excellent at clinging onto existence, as it can potentially multiply without limit while enhancing its code and sparking advanced evolution. Furthermore, it too came from evolution, as atoms and nucleotides had to form in order for double helices and ribosomes to be. One might even say that although DNA came from the same point and time as everything else, it is special in that it has evolved to evolve.
As quantum mechanics and relativity are unified and there is no rift betwixt the macrocosm and microcosm, then there is no reason to assume that quantum mechanics should not apply to our large-scale realm. Therefore, anomalies can occur in more widely perceivable ways. Examples of macrocosmic anomalies would be the mutations that triggered the ability of genetic material to change. Change permitted improvement, and the logical mechanisms of evolution steered the alterations so that only the ones that enhanced survival remained. This would not have been possible if DNA did not have the capability to store the past.
From this, one can conclude that all DNA-based life is special in that it is specifically crafted to seek existence. Nevertheless, it has to be held into perspective that all of our advanced human attributes were spawned from this need to reproduce. Procreation is in some way related to everything in our development, even if the evolved characteristic is one that contradicts the very purpose of multiplying. The flexibility of humans to choose not to reproduce or to possibly search for ways to eradicate all superior species (as well as one can define superior when quality is relative to so many universal factors) defies the virtue of spawning, but still results from the need to spawn and follows the laws of evolution and causality. Note that evolutions mechanics cannot be defined except in terms of probability and deduction because of superioritys malleability.
Considering that we are aware of evolution and can potentially affect it through conscious will, we actually do not need to reproduce anymore in order to sustain evolutions flow. There are many alternatives, including gene splicing, cloning, and artificial selection (which is ironically natural in a way, since our ability to use artificial selection is the result of natures development of our intellect). Nobody has to die and nobody has to have sex in order to augment the gene pool. With these sciences, it is possible to enhance the human race through eugenics or to damage it via breeding inferior units, which is not altogether unlikely, as humans are also capable of insanity. Nonetheless, before any action can be taken, one must consider the purpose of being able to tweak evolution to ones specifications. To do so, the chronology of the humans must be taken into perspective.
Structure Of Human Evolution
Why are humans so exemplary in the search for the meaning of existence? One reason is that we are competent enough to be a prime reflection of evolutions ultimate state. While this may sound offensive to some scientists, note that there are many reasons why this does not contradict the truth behind evolution in any way. In fact, the main focus that must be apprehended in understanding human development is the parallel manner in which the evolution of single-celled organisms to multicellular organisms relates to the evolution of multicellular organisms into societal orders.
Let us first consider the history of the most social animals Ė humans. The earliest ancestors of homo sapiens were mostly solitary, striving mainly for survival as lone organisms. Albeit our primate origins are still being hotly debated, it is generally accepted that humans did spring forth from some sort of non-social organism, whether it was the proto-mammalian reptiles of Mesozoic Era, or the Cambrian Amphioxous, or maybe even the primitive bony fish. Even if we evolved from none of these, it is unambiguous that we developed from cells, which started as solitary single-celled organisms. From these loner predecessors, which may have been a wide variety of species, we formed into small social groups to better increase the chances of survival via collaborative hunting/gathering. While this progression probably made humans much more submissive, it ultimately aided in reproduction, as larger bands of warriors meant a boosted probability of success.
The first societies were probably not very structured, and perhaps only consisted of a group of humans that temporarily united for tactical purposes. However, as banding became significantly effective and more commonplace, every civilization matured into three components Ė government, military and underlings. Governments consisted of the groups dominant member, the military was composed of physically superior units, and the underlings were the individuals that were less adept at physical combat and could be used for basal production purposes. With these essentials established, civilizations increased in size, building into more complex networks of humans that worked and behaved as one. Again, those that could not work together were generally less likely to survive and/or encounter mates to reproduce with, so inevitably, loners were mostly weeded out of the evolutionary game. As societies increased in size, there was little room for smaller and weaker groups, and thus, social orders evolved to become more and more sizeable, until alas, nations were formed.
Nations perform on different modes, such as tyranny, oligarchy, democracy, etc., but they all have one thing in common. They all retain the three basic constituents of society Ė government, military and underlings. While they have changed greatly since the time of the caveman, incorporating vast systems of councilmen, judiciary and laws to construct the government, nuclear missiles, firearms and armies to facilitate the military, and specialist production underlings like doctors, lawyers and teachers to make the societal machine propagate, they have not diverged from the main necessities of all efficient civilizations. The government is analogous to a nervous system, the military is analogous to offensive and defensive mechanisms, and underlings are symbolic of the manufacturing organs that make every living thing function. The only difference between a nation and a primitive society is that the nation is far more complex, since the second law of thermodynamics demands that all systems must naturally increase in entropy. By the same reasoning, every social order, no matter the scale, also acts as a biological organism, and in fact, should probably be thought of as a demi-biological entity composed of cells that are themselves multicellular organisms. Let a Superorganism refer to a multicellular organisms composed of multicellular organisms.
Further proof of this is shown in the evolution of single-celled organisms into multicellular organisms. The earliest single-celled organisms lived completely independently. However, it was more beneficial for survival to cooperate with other members of their species, and thus, the independent single-celled organisms evolved to cooperate with others of their kind. The first interactions between separate cells were probably not well structured, yet efficient enough to give grouped cells more of an advantage than those that were solitary. Bonding to form networks in which the single-celled organisms aided each other in survival, they created multicellular organisms that had brain-like mechanisms, defenses (when it became evolutionarily necessary to destroy/compete with other creatures), and production systems to process nutrition. Early multicellular organisms had non-central nervous systems and obtained nutrition chemically or by the use of simple appendages or membranes. However, as time progressed, their neural, aggressive and productive bodily operations became more advanced, like the complex brain, somatic structures and digestive systems of an insect. Cells acquired specialization, like carrying oxygen (blood cells), transmitting synaptic information (nerve cells) and designing new variations of a particular multicellular organism (reproductive cells in sexual creatures). Finally, the entire process, which is still ongoing, led to the present-day humans.
Notice how the evolutionary path of humans into societies parallels that of the evolution of single-celled organisms into multicellular beings. The development of a complex, structured government from the disordered and non-centrally commanded mingling of ancient hominids is comparable to the growth of a central nervous system from a non-central one. The evolution of spears to missiles is akin to the flowering of harmful membranes to high-tech horns and poisons that some animals bear. In addition, the unfolding of simple underlings into specialized civilians is like the progression of single-celled beings into specialized cells. Therefore, societies act almost like multicellular organisms built of multicellular organisms, which in some ways are similar to the functions of single-celled organisms that also have nuclei, organelles and potentially defensive/offensive membrane weaponry. The only difference between the three is that they occur on different scales, further supporting the notion that the macrocosm and microcosm are undifferentiated.
From this, one can see that humans are really not that disparate from simple life forms, including Superorganisms (multicellular organisms composed of multicellular organisms, a.k.a. societies), which are actually simpler, and thus closer to cells than actual humans. This makes us not at all unique, but as DNA had evolved to evolve, we have evolved to consciously evolve. So we must ask ourselves Ė what are we supposed to do with our almighty gift? The answer lies in the future of humanity.
Science fiction writers typically craft stories about the future of humanity through the use of parallel universes. The limitless possibilities of a multiverse are, nevertheless meaningless unless one understands the purpose of life. Thus, there are multiple futures to humanity that should logically take place if certain actions are taken. All of this is, of course, not taking into account quantum anomalies that make probability moot (probability can be contradicted in the same way induction requires itself to prove itself). The irrelevance of these anomalies can be accounted for later.
If nations are like cells built of organelles that are humans, then it is logical to suppose that they will further evolve into grander beings. Similar to primordial cells, they can already perform mitosis-like behavior by usurping territory or dividing into multiple countries. If many of these countries gather, then they can initiate the spawning of a primitive multicellular organism composed of Superorganisms. Efficiency is increased when every element works in unison, but obviously, the nations of the world, and humans in general, are not prone to collaborating in total harmony. Can there ever be such a unified world, then?
Most humans inherently have tendencies to seek dominance, yet at the same time, they also exhibit the desire to consider the thoughts of others. These two instinctual traits are necessary results of evolution in a social order, since the societies that best survived were those in which individuals were competitive enough to speed evolution (another example of a reflexive evolutionary scheme in which those that are more evolved are the ones that were faster at evolving) through battle, and also benevolent enough to maintain order within the civilization so that it could function smoothly. Morals came to being because social humans innately understood that killing, stealing, and vandalizing for reasons contrary to the benefit of civilization threatened their interests. However, just as moral laws evolved to become instinctively wired into human brains so that they follow it almost automatically through feelings of guilt and fear, so did the need to rise to power. The desire for respect is inborn in humans because biological development favored the existence of those that could best command a civilization. Hence, both attributes coexist in most modern humans, sometimes contravening each other in weird ways. Albeit, they are excellent for creating mass conformity.
Conformity is an imperative factor in constructing a Super-Superorganism, a multicellular organism that is composed of multicellular organisms that are composed of multicellular organisms. Humans are ideal for this, as their social bounds operate in such a way that evolution will eventually draw them to be, in the future, cloned according to function. Like animals, Superorganisms have immune systems that are designed to eliminate all foreign particles and dissenting units. Governmental agents and police forces are used to ensure that unruly humans obey the regulations that the neural centers of the nation decide on and to battle threats from other nations. Although rebellions frequently occur throughout human history, in most cases, people do not revolt against a government, which makes it even easier for a singular mind to take control. In fact, unstable social orders are more prone to failure, and thus, those that contain units who are less inclined to dissent are more likely to reproduce more units and enjoy augmented efficiency at the same time. Thus, those that conform will ultimately win the biological game, rendering a very flat gene pool in a society where ranks are established by lineage. If the nonresistant breed enough along these lines of ancestry-based status, a society in which cloned specialist units will rise.
Such a state would be great news for the Superorganism, which would be as evolved as a regular single cell. At that point, it would be able to unify all humans and control them in an attempt to continue its survival across the globe, and the universe as a whole.
Should an ideal society, one in which everyone operates in total harmony, actually develop, it would probably be able to expand across significant stretches of space (assuming that the laws of physics allow for it). Since it is based on humans that reproduce in generations that survive for 80-100 years, it would not truly ever die lest all its human components are killed. Therefore, it would exist in its own deep time, and can stand to wait for thousands and even millions of years for its cosmic mitosis to be completed. Understand that the humans, if they were perfectly operable clones, would not have any choice, and thus, not truly be conscious. They would not be able to cease this process unless an anomalous mutation occurred, like a unit who was intelligent enough to place his own interests and the truth above the weaker-minded majority and deal damage to the large-scale societal creature in much the same way as a virus would damage a soma.
Supposing that these anomaly viruses are quickly destroyed by the less conscious humans, this intergalactic Super-Superorganism would eventually take on a consciousness of its own, utilizing the lesser Superorganisms as unconscious cells. In perhaps billions of years, it could attain a brain as advanced as that of a human, except that its mind would be as large as a galaxy. Indeed, it would be the next level of evolution, and the whole process can repeat until it reaches a scale as large as space and time and the universe itself.
But heres the question: WHY???
In an infinite loop of iterating evolutions of prototype organisms into human-like consciousnesses, what would be the purpose of having evolution in the first place? What does the size scale matter when the consciousness type is identical (the macrocosm and microcosm have little differentiation as quantum mechanics and relativity are conceptually unified in that they require perception to create reality)? After all, human sentience must be the highest form of sentience because it implements logic, contains all conceivable emotions, is aware of itself and can ponder its place in the cosmos. Even if there were intelligent extraterrestrials in the universe, they too must be in some way human in that they must also be able to experience to a certain degree the same emotions and to use the same logic we do. Can you imagine a taste sweeter than honey? Can you fancy a smell worse than that of excrement? Even if you could, it would exist in the realm of abstraction, because it is simply not possible to create a new emotion. The very notion would be meaningless. The fact that no human can imagine anything beyond its own limitations (as limited as imagination can be, which is unlimited), proves that by the Uncertainty Principle, there must be nothing beyond our ability to perceive and conceive.
So what can we conceive about our place in the cosmos?
Humans are the only creatures that have evolved to consciously evolve, yet the whole point seems purposeless, as there is really no greater gain from having a humanlike creature as large as the universe. Eugenics would definitely improve intellect, imagination and memory, thereby aiding the quality of life, but it would still be pointless in the long run, as causality must have a purpose that terminates existence. Survival alone is not a reason for living in and of itself.
Our psyches are the most capable of responding with conscious choice to Ultimate Reality. What then, does Ultimate Reality have in store for us?
A thin bracelet of blood adorns my wrist. Its still warm as it slides down and pools in the palm of my hand. The pain is dulled, numb compared to what it was ten minuets ago. I miss her. I reach for the bottle of Scotch sitting on the white tile near my feet, and pull it to my lips. I shutter as the heavy liquid slips past my tongue and burns my throat. I hate the stuff, but Caitlyn liked it. Scotch neat. I twist the ring around my pinky finger with my thumb and take another drink. At first, I hated her for not telling me. It took her passing out and going into hypovolemic shock before I knew a thing. By then it had already metastasized, by then she was already dead.
I struggle to stand. I cant see well beyond the spots of black and yellow blocking my field of vision, but I want to see myself one last time. Coward. Thats her voice in my head, not my own. She wouldve hated me for taking the easy way out. She wouldve hated me for breaking my promise.
Im sorry, I mutter to my reflection. And what about him?
Hes better off. Hell be fine.
When she woke in her hospital bed, I was there. I hadnt left her side in nearly three days, and I was sure I was beginning to smell, but she just smiled at me.
Its going to be okay, she said, her voice rusty like shed swallowed a bag of nails.
I cant believe you didnt tell me. I reached for her hand.
Why? So you could wallow in self-pity and worry about everything we never got to do. Dont be so selfish, Michael. I started to protest, to tell her I just wanted to be there for her, but she knew me better. Thats exactly what I wouldve done, its what I was doing.
Wheres Mikey? Mikey is her eleven-year-old son. My namesake, but not my son mind you, because ever since we were teenagers she never let me touch her. She had always told me it was because she cared about me too much for us to get sexually involved, that she didnt want to loose what we had. I always thought thats just what women say when theyre too repulsed by the thought of going to bed with you, but Ive been in her life for nearly sixteen years, while every lover either of us has ever had came and went within a few months. So who knows? But I know she never loved me the way I love her.
Hes at your mothers, hes really worried about you. I tried to find Jacob,
butų, She held up her hand silencing me.
Dont bother. He left and he doesnt want to be found. She wasnt bitter, but very matter-of-fact. It amazed me how she could show so little emotion over the father of her child. When he left I wanted to murder him for abandoning them, but Caitlyn just dusted off and moved on.
She squeezed my hand with a renewed force I didnt know her weak little body even possessed.
I need you to do me a favor.
Asshole. I stare at my pitiful reflection solemnly, in her bathroom mirror. The blood on my wrist drips onto the sink and down to floor. She would hate me for making such a mess. I grab a lavender hand towel off the rack and begin to soak it up. No, thats a decorative towel you jerk!
Shit. I toss the now worthless rag aside and fall back to the floor. I touch the gash lightly but pull back when a sharp sting tears through my arm. I had always heard that for a suicide by wrist slashing to be successful you had to find an artery then cut in a vertical line down your arm, but that sounded like it would require much more precision than I was capable of at that moment.
You have to take care of Mikey for me. I want you to adopt him, I remained silent, unsure of what to say to her, Youre all he has now, Michael.
He has your mother.
After the way that lunatic raised me, you think Id let her take my son? You are all he has. You have to promise me.
Of course Ill take care of him, havent I always? But, you have to stop talking like youre already dead. Youre gonna be fine, stop being so damn morbid. I didnt even believe my own lie enough for it to sound convincing to her.
I brought the boy to see her everyday for a week, and he wouldnt touch her. He said he was afraid hed unplug her. I got so angry with him, one day in the hallway outside Caitlyns room I started to shout.
Why wont you give her a hug? Dont you love her? I know it was cruel, but I needed him to understand. He didnt say anything.
You might not get another chance, dont you get that? He hit me then. Not hard but I suspect he gave it his best. He ran into her room and threw his arms around her. She cried and so did he. It was the first time since she got sick that I had seen either of them cry, and I wanted so badly to cry with them but I couldnt. He walked back out into the hallway minuets later and shoved his hands in his pockets.
Im sorry I hit you, he said.
Im sorry I yelled.
Can I sleep at your house tonight?
I didnt cry at the funeral, though I never knew I could feel so much pain. It was muted though, everything was. It was like this for days. Then the pain dulled and I couldnt feel anything. I wasnt even sure if I was still alive. Then I got a call from Caitlyns lawyers, time to settle the estate. I didnt have the energy for this, but there was going to be some question as to who would take custody of Mikey, so I needed to be there.
I was wrong. There was no question. A year and a half ago, as soon as Caitlyn suspected she was sick, she took out a substantial life insurance policy. She was so pessimistic; I always told her that. She said it kept her from being disappointed. She had named me and Mikey co-beneficiaries. I couldnt process it at the time, but she left me everything. Shed also drawn up adoption papers. The lawyers talked and I nodded, though I didnt hear a word they said. They talked, I nodded. Sign there, there, and there. Initial there, and there. I walked out a millionaire and a father.
This morning I went to clean out her house. I still hadnt shed a tear over her death, but I thought I was ready. I was going through this little ballerina jewelry box she had on her dresser and I found it, right on top. This cheap glass engagement ring I had given her when we were fifteen. I had asked her to marry me then and I promised to buy her a better one someday. She told me in that lovely, flirty voice that she reserved only for me that shed think about it and let me know. I was still waiting.
I ransacked her kitchen until I found the Scotch in the cabinet underneath her microwave. I broke down. I cant be sure why I did it except that I felt something for the first time since the funeral. I knew I was alive, but not for long. I grabbed a kitchen knife and trenched into the bathroom, her ring on my pinky. After a few hesitation nicks I dragged the heavy steel across my left wrist and collapsed, sobbing on the cool tile floor.
That was two hours ago. I guess I shouldve cut the other wrist too, I expected to be dead by now. Selfish bastard.
I love you, I whisper.
Nothing. Screw it, Mikeys gonna be home from school soon anyway. I grab the bloodied towel and wrap it around my left wrist. I stand carefully, conscious of my flaccid limbs, and head out to my car, Im sure I have some gauze in a first-aid kit somewhere out there.
I squint as the sun assaults my eyes, and I stumble down the front porch stairs. One of Caitlyns neighbors is at my side taking hold of my elbow, his eyes drawn to the blood stained towel on my arm.
Hey, are you okay buddy? Do you need some help?
No, I say, Its just a scratch.
by Donnie Cox
Even death will have exits like a dark theatre
Too spent to calculate
the sum of scattered thoughts,
he sits bent forward,
hands folded in front of his face,
like that Sunday school painting
of Jesus in the garden,
praying for a way out.
Hell spend the little time left
holding to slippery half-truths,
trying to convince himself
that he did what he had to do.
Pushed to the edge,
he lost all balance & stumbled
into a hole so deep
there was no way to gauge the fall.
Suddenly, as if stunned
by his own desperation,
his body shudders & a short moan,
like the parting sound of hope,
escapes from some dark place
very near his soul.
Just to be moving,
he gets to his feet & walks
to the small cell window,
where he watches a thin cloud
slowly shroud the half-moon.
In his head,
he begins to gather
struggling to frame
the still distorted scene...
...Standing just out of range
of the street lamp,
he eyes a cab as it crawls along
an otherwise deserted avenue.
His attention shifts
to a small, unlit house on the corner.
When he spots the beat-up blue Chevy,
that belongs to her new friend
still sitting in the driveway,
something close to a smile
plays along his face.
Every lousy little detail,
behind those cheap curtains,
burned, by time, into his brain:
every corner, every crack in the floor,
every angry scar on every faded wall,
every broken glass, & every broken promise.
Every meaningless minute spent
begging mercy for every wrong thing.
Feeling strangely numb,
his hand moves against
the cool metal of the .45
tucked inside his jacket pocket.
Somewhere, a lost dog howls...
Slowly, as if on cue,
he lets a spent cigarette
drop from his left hand,
steps from the curb,
& is taken,
like a wind-blown bird,
into the crazy night...
...No last words
He lies flat on his back,
Arms & legs strapped tight
to the contemporary cross.
Staring straight up
into an overhead light,
he fights hard to stay awake
as the fatal fix roars,
like an express train,
through his veins.
For the first time in weeks
things slow down
enough to allow
his brain to latch
onto a clear thought...
if youre real,
& can look
concrete & steel.
After having seen
what youve seen,
what you know,
can you still
that altruistic suicide?
Copyright © 2004 D.B. COX. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
What is that stench? Charles asked aloud after repressing the thought as long as he could.
He had taken his usual place at the small, mahogany desk in the corner of the living room, settling in for an evening of overtime after an already exhausting day of work as the regional manager for The First American Bank. He had been crunching numbers into a worn out calculator when a progressively reprehensible smell began to permeate through the entire house. No longer able to bear the frustration of being disturbed, Charles left his desk to investigate the mysterious odor.
He went into the kitchen and dug through the trash. Perhaps, he thought to himself, the remains of a thrown away rotisserie chicken had rotted and was now letting him know it was past time to take out the accumulating waste. No such easy resolution. Despite his concerted efforts, Charles could not find the source of the decay amidst the discarded milk cartons and empty soup cans. Feeling helpless, Charles ventured on to other areas of the house, peeking in various bedrooms and closets in a vain attempt to discover the culprit.
Put simply, the house was in shambles. Since his wife left him unexpectedly after six years of marriage, Charles became less inclined to take care of things in her absence. Magazines lay strewn across floors, beds in guest rooms remained unmade, and new forms of life appeared to be evolving from the mold that sprung up in the bathtubs. Still, Charles search proved fruitless. The origin of the heinous scent was not as easily accounted for as he had hoped.
Even before the separation, Charles lived in disarray. As early as junior high school, he would forget what he was doing during such elementary tasks as tying his shoes before going out. He became confused during tests, at times even blanking out completely despite having crammed for hours the night before. On into his teenage years, he got worse. After successfully obtaining a drivers license, he found himself parked in a ditch without a clue as to how he had ended up there.
Needless to say, Charles parents were concerned. They sent him to a psychiatrist in hopes of finding a quick remedy to their sons peculiar mental state. Even with a long series of psychological questionnaires, probing assessments, and informal counseling sessions, no solution could be found. According to the diagnosticians, Charles was an average teenager, easily distracted yet overall relatively functional.
Through college, the episodes lasted increasingly longer. For days at a time, Charles couldnt account for where he had been or what he had done. In denial about the potential consequences of such an ailment, Charles accepted a friends proposition that he had been blacking out during heavy bouts of binge drinking. He convinced himself he was an alcoholic regardless of the fact he only drank moderately and in social situations.
Pretending that his problem didnt exist, he graduated with a business degree and, with a love for mathematics and accounting, climbed up the corporate ladder in eight short years. At work, the bank tellers called Charles Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde behind his back. Close friends and associates described what they saw as black and white behavior. Some times Charles was a nice guy. Other times, he got downright nasty. Charles, of course, thought they were pulling his leg. One female employee even filed a lawsuit against him for threatening her with an envelope opener. Charles had no recollection of this. The case was eventually dismissed due to lack of evidence as well as Charles spotless criminal record.
Im telling you, Dave, he spoke into the master bedroom telephone. It smells like something died in here. We better not have rats again. Hang on, Dave.
Charles clicked over on call waiting.
Hello? Oh, hi Barbara...No. I havent heard from her...I know shes your sister. Shes my wife, remember? Look, Ill call you when I know something. Okay?
Charles clicked back to Dave.
Hey. I better call the exterminator. Ill see you at the office tomorrow. Of course, the Peterson file is under control. Dont worry.
Charles hated waiting. The smell became more pungent and the elevator music they were pumping through the line didnt help matters any. All he wanted to do was go back to his calculations. He felt in control with his rows of numbers, his interest reports, and his monthly summaries. All other times, he just felt insecure. He wondered if his wife left him because of his tendency to detach. Whatever the case, the last thing in the world he felt like dealing with was some flim flam bugman who would no doubt charge him for a full fumigation.
Johnson Exterminators, a well trained voice came on the line. How may I help you today?
When the bugman arrived, Charles stood idly by on the brink of full blown nausea. The bugman couldnt readily diagnose the problem. He routinely sprayed along the walls and laid traps in various nooks and crannies, but, for the life of him, had no idea how to identify the smell. He even flipped through his exterminator manual as if it had a scratch and sniff section. Though his pride had definitely been wounded, the bugman didn't give up without a fight.
You got a basement? he asked Charles. Sometimes certain species breed closer to underground.
Charles led the bugman down into the cellar. The ghosts of broken down kitchen appliances lay covered in dust. An old dilapidated couch sat conspicuously in the corner of the room. Charles had to cover his nose. They had discovered the source. The bugman lurked around, peeking up at the ceilings and along the walls for signs of life or otherwise. Charles couldnt remember the last time he had been down there. Surely, he thought to himself, I wouldnt let things get so disorderly.
We dont use this room much, Charles, now feeling a little embarrassed, told the bugman. You go about your normal business, sometimes you forget a place exists.
The bugman stopped dead in his tracks. He noticed something, that as a typical and humble exterminator, he did not see very often. Sticking out from under the couch was a human foot. Though he did not consider himself a detective by any means, he deduced by the shades of red on the toenails, that it belonged to a woman. Acting on instinct, the bugman pushed the couch aside. Lying on the floor, wrapped in a plastic bag, two mysteries were solved. The smell had been coming from Charles dead wife; she had evidently been there for some time. Both taken aback, the two men exchanged looks of shock. Charles felt his thoughts slipping.
Robert S. Burch
Road dust covered them from head to foot like a fine coat of flour. The sun had seared their exposed skin to a bright pink hue. All three wore faded shorts, ragged T-shirts, and worn flip-flops. The woman also carried a huge black leather purse over her right shoulder. They moved slowly, as if the sun had devoured their vitality. They breathed slowly through their open mouths.
Unlike them, I take pride in my appearance. Today I wore a short-sleeved blue shirt with a light blue tie, gray slacks, and black loafers. Today we had the highest temperature ever recorded for this day in July. I went without a coat, which I normally wear. Like my uncle, I have a firm belief that you can judge people by their appearance.
I work in an office across the highway from the mall as an insurance adjuster. I got started by assisting my uncle Jack, who is an insurance adjuster, while working my way through college. Three years ago, I graduated from college and went to work for him full time. My uncle likes me working in the office. However, he has encouraged me to get a full time job with a big company that has good benefits. Our office doesnt have health insurance or a retirement plan. I like what I do. Im good at it. I make good money.
No one wanted to join me for lunch, so I made my way across the highway to the Renton Shopping Mall. I hurried across the hot asphalt as fast as traffic allowed. When I reached the mall, I stood still for a moment and enjoyed the air conditioned coolness.
Sun Woman and her small fries entered the store about a minute after me. She dawdled choosing a cart and strolled slowly down the aisles, like she was stuck in slow speed. Her children gaped at her each time she picked up an item. Her girl appeared about eight and the boy about nine. They clung to one side of the Sun Womans cart and each time they whined or cried she would grab their cheek between her thumb and finger and shake their little red faces until they stopped.
I didnt see them again for nearly twenty minutes. I had a sandwich and a soft drink at the deli counter. When I finished my lunch I walked back to the front of the store and on my way chose a cold Diet Coke from a cooler to take with me.
Seven or eight shoppers lined up behind all twelve check out counters which is normal at noon. I dont mind the long lines; the wait in line gives me an excuse to rubberneck and people watch. I watched as Sun Woman and her children got into one of the lines and out of curiosity I stepped into the same line. Sun Woman had several tattoos on her arms that her sunburn and road dust nearly obscured. She had folded her sunglasses and stuck them in the neck of her t-shirt. She had short brown hair streaked blond tied up in a ponytail. Some of her hair had come loose and hung in strands. She couldnt have been more than thirty-five, but she looked like fifty. She wore silver and turquoise rings on every finger and half a dozen silver bracelets around her wrists.
Thatll be twenty six seventy five, the cashier told Sun Woman and sneered when she saw Sun Woman pick food stamp books out of her purse. She separated the purchases into two piles. Sun Woman tore the coupons from her stamp books and handed them to the cashier. How much cash do I owe you, She asked in a surprisingly husky tenor voice.
I expected a much different voice from a woman who was almost five feet tall.
Fourteen sixty seven, she said. She looked at the cashier at the next counter and gave a slight shake of her head. She then folded her arms over her chest and gave a big sigh. Sun Woman searched through her billfold. When she didnt find money in her billfold, she began frantically pawing through her purse. She found several loose dollars and some loose change. Shoppers in other lines stopped to watch. One couple walking out of the store with their purchases stopped at the end of my counter and pointed at her and laughed.
The man standing in line ahead of me shook his head and left our line. Sun Woman meticulously searched though her billfold again. While she was searching her billfold, I took a twenty-dollar bill out of my pocket and dropped it into her purse. She placed her billfold on the counter and searched through her purse again. I could actually hear her breathe a sigh of relief when she found the money.
My action surprised me. Im not the type of person who steps forward and helps anyone. In fact I dont even say, God bless you, if someone next to me sneezes. After Ive had time to think about it: I have to admit that Im not very happy with myself. I was motivated to help anonymously not for any noble reason, but by anger. I was angry with the man and woman who stopped and laughed at Sun Woman and her children.
Sun Woman left the store with her kids hanging off her two plastic bags. I never saw her again.
In a way, I feel like a fool. Did the woman pick up things that she knew she couldnt pay for? Even worse, it makes me sad to think that I may not be the good person I thought I was. I didnt set out to help a person in need, I reacted to the ridicule of another persons misfortune and thats not the same thing. Knowing this, why do I feel good when I think about what I did?
from the chapbook Slim Volume, by Ashok Niyogi
what is veganism?
A vegan (VEE-gun) is someone who does not consume any animal products. While vegetarians avoid flesh foods, vegans don't consume dairy or egg products, as well as animal products in clothing and other sources.
This cruelty-free lifestyle provides many benefits, to animals, the environment and to ourselves. The meat and dairy industry abuses billions of animals. Animal agriculture takes an enormous toll on the land. Consumtion of animal products has been linked to heart disease, colon and breast cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and a host of other conditions.
so what is vegan action?
We can succeed in shifting agriculture away from factory farming, saving millions, or even billions of chickens, cows, pigs, sheep turkeys and other animals from cruelty.
We can free up land to restore to wilderness, pollute less water and air, reduce topsoil reosion, and prevent desertification.
We can improve the health and happiness of millions by preventing numerous occurrences od breast and prostate cancer, osteoporosis, and heart attacks, among other major health problems.
A vegan, cruelty-free lifestyle may be the most important step a person can take towards creatin a more just and compassionate society. Contact us for membership information, t-shirt sales or donations.
po box 4353, berkeley, ca 94707-0353
MIT Vegetarian Support Group (VSG)
* To show the MIT Food Service that there is a large community of vegetarians at MIT (and other health-conscious people) whom they are alienating with current menus, and to give positive suggestions for change.
* To exchange recipes and names of Boston area veg restaurants
* To provide a resource to people seeking communal vegetarian cooking
* To provide an option for vegetarian freshmen
We also have a discussion group for all issues related to vegetarianism, which currently has about 150 members, many of whom are outside the Boston area. The group is focusing more toward outreach and evolving from what it has been in years past. We welcome new members, as well as the opportunity to inform people about the benefits of vegetarianism, to our health, the environment, animal welfare, and a variety of other issues.
The Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology
The Solar Energy Research & Education Foundation (SEREF), a non-profit organization based in Washington, D.C., established on Earth Day 1993 the Center for Renewable Energy and Sustainable Technology (CREST) as its central project. CREST's three principal projects are to provide:
* on-site training and education workshops on the sustainable development interconnections of energy, economics and environment;
* on-line distance learning/training resources on CREST's SOLSTICE computer, available from 144 countries through email and the Internet;
* on-disc training and educational resources through the use of interactive multimedia applications on CD-ROM computer discs - showcasing current achievements and future opportunities in sustainable energy development.
The CREST staff also does "on the road" presentations, demonstrations, and workshops showcasing its activities and available resources.
For More Information Please Contact: Deborah Anderson
email@example.com or (202) 289-0061
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