Jon Wesick, "Schrodinger's Hat," & "It's an Unfulfilled Life"

            A Prius with a gun rack screeched to a halt at a crime scene, where a victim in purple shirt, bow tie, and polka dot suspenders sobbed at the curb. A man with Hollywood looks excited and approached his partner.

            “What’s the situation, Sully?” Molder hitched up his pants. From the size of the bulge in front, he would need weapons-grade condoms for safe sex.

            “Male Caucasian perp, seven-foot-eight, seven-hundred-eighty pounds carjacked an ice cream truck.”

            “Did he leave a trail of fudgesicles, ice cream sandwiches, or drumsticks?”

            “Not even a Klondike Bar.”

            “Why would anyone steal an ice cream truck?”

            “Maybe he likes ice cream,” Sully offered.

            “Or maybe he’s constructing a superconducting particle accelerator to contact space aliens via neutrino beams.” Molder stroked his chin. “This mystery has more twists and turns than a pair of entangled, eleven-dimensional superstrings.”

            “It isn’t rocket science, Molder.” Sully fished a cell phone out of her skin-tight pants. “I’ll tell the highway patrol to keep their ears open for any vehicle playing ‘Turkey in the Straw.’”

            “Not so fast, Sully. Reality is not what it seems. Imagine a hat box that contains a weird superposition of homburgs, fedoras, and Greek fishermen’s caps. On opening it, you find yourself in a parallel universe where everyone wears codpieces and bowler hats.”

            “Quantum mechanics, the last refuge of a metaphysical scoundrel.”

            “Don’t take burnt umbrage with me, Sully. It’s a real theory, invented by Anthony Burgess in 1962 to explain the ultra-violent catastrophe. And it describes real-world events like how marine life compacts into neutron starfish the size of your hand. Put one on a Richter scale and you find it weighs as much as U Mass.”

            “Next you’ll tell me that Raymond Burr shot Alexander Hamiltonian.”

            “Don’t ask for whom the Bell of Amherst tolls, Sully. It tolls conspiracy.”

            “I think we’re done here.” Sully put away her notepad. “Meet you back at the station.”

            “You go ahead, Sully. I’m not ready to procrastinate yet.” Molder had several unanswered questions. Why couldn’t he buy a racist dog whistle at the pet store. Did Gilgamesh invent anti-wrinkle cream? How come there was no keto diet for hummingbirds? And most of all, why did vaginas have to come with personalities attached?

 

            After work, Molder mixed a Bebida Loca because he found goat semen, menstrual blood, and juniper berries made a refreshing cocktail. Peaches had betrayed him before so he dined on Carnegie melon and chickenpox pie. That night, clingstone peaches haunted his dreams. He woke up in a cold sweat and reached for the Colt 1911 under his pillow. Unable to sleep he poured three fingers from a fifth of Four Roses bourbon into a tumbler and listened to Coltrane on the radio. It reminded him of his first childhood psychedelic experience when he ate a piece of Silly-Cybin from its plastic egg and saw wolves in the carpet and buffalo in the ceiling tiles. He tried to explain his experience in his book report on Longfellow’s “Song of Ayahuasca” but the philistines at Bull Connor Elementary School weren’t having it. That D in fifth-grade English clouded his dreams of academia but fortunately the baking soda of law enforcement kept tarnish off their silver linings. When dawn’s rosy fingers pushed through the blinds, he returned to work as refreshed as anyone who’d consumed a fifth of whiskey the night before.

 

            “Looks like we solved the ice cream truck case,” Sully said at the precinct. “The perp was a polar bear named Kenai who’s been on the run from the Atlanta Zoo. Tried to shoplift a pack of frozen mochi from a Trader Joes in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Local police followed a trail of Haagen-Dazs wrappers back to the stolen truck. They were the vanilla, milk-chocolate-almond.”

            “Love those. Have they questioned him?” Molder asked.

            “No.” Sully looked up from typing on her laptop. “A security guard shot him thirty-two times after he mauled the cashier.”

            “Isn’t that convenient? What are you looking at?”

            “Searching online for a braised-bear-paw recipe.”

            Molder answered his cell phone.

            “This Kenai affair is a setup,” a rough voice said. “Meet me in the usual place at the usual time if you want to learn the truth.”

 

            The usual place could only mean the parking garage where the reporters met Deep Throat in All the President’s Men and the usual time had to be 11:30 PM. Unfortunately for Molder, he assumed Daylight Savings instead of Standard Time so he had to wait an hour before a corgi carrying the biggest handgun he’d seen stepped out of the inky shadows.

            “Corgis don’t have tails,” Molder said.

            “I’m a Cardigan not a Pembroke,” the canine said in the same rough voice Molder had heard over the phone. Instead of a dog license, he wore a bumper sticker that said, “Live Free or Die!”

            “Cardigan? You mean like Mr. Rogers’ sweater?”

            “No time for that now! There’s a worldwide conspiracy to infiltrate transsexuals into girls’ bathrooms to impregnate them so Hillary Clinton can dine on their aborted fetuses.”

            “Then there are pullovers, crewnecks, V-necks, and turtlenecks,” Molder continued, “not to mention cashmere and cable knit.”

            “Hey! Are you listening? Black helicopters fly over the US. George Soros funds gay marriage to impose Sharia Law. Vaccines contain 5G transmitters that allow Bill Gates to read your mind. The Denver Airport stands above the headquarters of the New World Order. Unions are the work of the devil. Joe Biden is Stalin’s secret love child. Barack Obama is a Muslim. 9/11 was an inside job.”

            “Can you prove any of these allegations?”

            “Can you disprove them?”

            “Good point,” Molder said. “The truth is out there.”

END

 

It's an Unfulfilled Life

            The disembodied voices of two great physicists spoke from within the glowing, blue gas of the Crab Nebula.

            “What’s up, Einstein?”

            “Trouble on Earth, Newton. A graduate student named George Bailey is standing on a bridge ready to throw his copy of John David Jackson’s Classical Electrodynamics into Sligo Creek.”

            “My God! We have to stop him. Who’s on call?”

            “Clarence.”

            “But he hasn’t earned his platinum slide rule, yet.”

            “Things are tight after the Three Mile Island disaster. I’m afraid he’s all we have.”

            “Very well.”

            Clarence appeared as a low-mass, main-sequence star, not much larger than a brown dwarf. “You sent for me, sir?”

            “A graduate student named George Bailey is about to commit career suicide,” Newton said. “I need you to stop him.”

            “But I haven’t earned my platinum slide rule, yet.”

            “You’ll have to make do with a Casio calculator for the time being,” Newton said. “Now, look into the future and see what Bailey will accomplish as a Ph.D. physicist.”

            “Sorry, sir. I’m not very good with closed, timelike loops.”

            “I’ll help you.” Einstein bent space and time into a celluloid strip with a run time of two hours and fifteen minutes to show Clarence what Bailey’s future could hold.”

 

***

 

            Wearing jeans and a paisley shirt, George Bailey leaned against the wall in a drab hallway. He affected an outward calm, occasionally scratching his beard, but inside his heart shook like a magnitude-seven earthquake. The door opened and Bailey entered the room to hear his thesis committee’s verdict.

            “Congratulations, Dr. Bailey!”

 

            George Bailey sat in front of a computer monitor displaying a histogram of glowing, green dots. Periodically, his eyes closed and his head slumped forward until he jerked awake. The clock above the electronics racks read 3:12 AM, almost five hours until the end of his shift. George stood and did jumping jacks as the magnetic tapes filled with data from Experiment 193. Ten years in college and another eight years of this for a slim chance at an academic career!

 

            In the lab’s copier room, George fed his resume into the paper feed and pressed the start button. Pages describing his postdoctoral project and background in physics and math emerged collated and stapled. Six rejections waited for him in the mailbox outside his one-bedroom apartment. He added these to a pile as tall as his knees. Nothing worked. Cold calls ricocheted off lackey barriers and appeals to colleagues yielded plenty of bad advice but no leads. George tore the cover off his copy of What Color Is Your Parachute? and tossed the book in the trash.

 

            George could set his watch by the 10:00 AM pep talks the CEO gave after each round of layoffs on the last Friday of the month.

            “Time for the Termination Tango.” Barry the Moose did a dance step as they entered to conference room.

On the bright side, plenty of chairs were free because Zircon Electronics had eliminated three quarters of its employees in the two years since George had signed on.

            “I know it’s discouraging,” CEO Hal Birkin said, “but our business-development team is chasing down hundreds of leads, like Ambergris. Dan, why don’t you tell us a little about it.”

            George wanted to scream. Ambergris was a pipe dream. Zircon’s performance was nowhere near the diamond the customer needed.

 

            Two-dozen moving boxes, some flat, some folded, and some full sat on George Bailey’s living-room carpet. He’d packed his books but despite numerous donations to Goodwill, a mountain of belongings remained. After he wrapped the final dish in paper, numbered the box, and wrote its contents on the master list; George gave up and tossed items in boxes at random.

 

             Dwayne Hobbes, the operations manager, stood in front of the employees gathered in the warehouse.

            “Those of you who checked you bank accounts probably know we weren’t able to make payroll but don’t worry. Our business-development team is chasing down hundreds of leads and we should be back on our feet in two weeks.”

            The crowd began to murmur. Billy Gentry spoke up to quiet the complaints.

            “Hey, show some loyalty! The management team hasn’t taken their paychecks in over a year.” A month later, Billy would confess, “Those guys told me they’d pay twenty percent interest if I loaned them fifty thousand dollars for just two weeks.        Dumbest decision I ever made.”

 

            At the local Kinko’s, George fed his resume into the photocopier’s paper feed and pressed the start button. Pages describing his work experience and academic qualifications emerged collated and stapled.

Two-dozen moving boxes sat on George Bailey’s living-room carpet. Despite numerous donations to Goodwill, a mountain of belongings remained to pack.

 

            The brown, wrist splints held together with Velcro straps did little to help. George Bailey typed at his computer for only fifteen minutes before the pain became unbearable. The fill the time, he read a RAND study that said that injured workers typically lost sixty percent of their income for five years. When he got home from work, he found a letter from the insurance company. They offered him two-week’s salary for his loss.

 

            On the plus side, potential employers now accepted applications by e-mail eliminated the need for a copying machine.

 

            George Bailey read the news on NPR, Slate, The Atlantic, Daily Beast, Huffington Post, and the Guardian before settling in for a game of computer chess. When someone passed his office, George tried to look busy.

 

            The trick was to feed the maximum number of pages into the shredder without jamming it. Ten worked well but the motor stalled on eleven forcing George to hit the reverse button and rip out what remained stuck in the feeder. After his employer lost its government contract, he spent his final month destroying the reports, presentation hardcopies, and background data from his desk and filing cabinet before moving on to Ned’s office. The indicator lit. George opened the access panel and replaced the full garbage bag, spilling confetti on the blue carpet. He dragged this to the elevator, took it to the basement, and tossed twelve years of his life into the dumpster.

 

            Two-dozen moving boxes sat on George Bailey’s living-room carpet. Despite numerous donations to Goodwill, a mountain of belongings remained to pack.

 

            The bell rang and the jikido led the assembled Zen students in the Bodhisattva Vows. Meditators turned on their cushions to face the center of the zendo for Roshi Jane to address the group.

            “We’re having a small celebration in the common room to say goodbye to George, who’s leaving us after twenty-three years to take a job on the east coast.”

            George told himself he wouldn’t cry but he had to wipe his eyes on his sleeve.

 

***

 

            “Stop!” a dumpy man in a full-length, wool coat shouted.

            “Who are you?” George lowered the arm that was ready to hurl away the textbook. He could have sworn he was alone on the snowy bridge.

             Name’s Clarence. You’ve heard of Maxwell’s Demon. Well, I’m kind of like Einstein’s Angel.”

            “Einstein’s Angel? Where’s your platinum slide rule?”

            “Haven’t earned it yet. Listen. The physicists of old don’t want you to throw you studies away.”

            “I’m sick of studying!” George opened the textbook and pointed at the problems in chapter eight. “How the hell do you find the modes for a triangular waveguide, anyway.  Why, I wish I’d never gone to graduate school!”

            Clarence looked to the heavens and shrugged. “Very well. You’ve got your wish. Now, let’s go see what happens to the people you would have affected.” Clarence pulled his earlobe and transported them to a graveyard.

            “What’s this?” George asked.

            “By finding an error in some medical software you prevented cancer patients from being mistreated.” Clarence pointed to a granite headstone. “Judge Jacobs lived an extra six months.” He pointed to another. “Nana Rose got an extra two and Stan Blocker, a Detroit auto worker, even got cured.” Clarence tugged his earlobe and transported them to a studio apartment where a man with a green Mohawk fed a rat to a boa constrictor in a glass terrarium before checking job ads on a website.

            “What’s this?” George asked.

            “You were more tolerant of eccentric employees than other supervisors. Without you, Brandon Steele here would have had a tough time holding a job,” Clarence said. “So, what do you think?”   

            "Is that it?” George asked.

            “Afraid so. With or without you, the four startups would have gone bust and Congress would have canceled eight out of ten defense projects, you’d have worked on. But, would you really want the guilt of building weapons that killed people weighing on you? You’ll face challenges but manage to keep a roof over your head and meet some interesting people along the way. Oh yeah, one more thing.” Clarence tugged his earlobe, Brandon fell asleep, and physicist Sean Carroll appeared on laptop’s monitor.

            “Burakkuhōru de no dasshutsu sokudo wa kōsoku o koete imasu,” Professor Carroll said.

            “Why is he speaking Japanese?” George asked.

            “Without an advanced degree, you’d have as much chance of understanding his lectures on cosmology, quantum mechanics, and the theory of everything as you would if he were speaking a foreign language,” Clarence replied. “Now that you understand society’s loss if you don’t finish graduate school, how hitting the books for another five years so you can go out and make a difference? What do you say?”

END

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Jon Wesick edits the San Diego Poetry Annual. He has published over eighty short stories in journals such as KNOT Magazine, The Berkeley Fiction Review, Space and Time, Zahir, and Tales of the Talisman. He has also published over three hundred poems in journals such as the Atlanta Review, Pearl, and Slipstream. Wesick´s novel Hunger for Annhilation published in July 2015 (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform). 

 

John has a Ph.D. in physics and is a longtime student of Buddhism and the martial arts. One of his poems won second place in the 2007 African American Writers and Artists contest. Another had a link on the Car Talk website.