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The next Words at the Wise will be March 4th 2015. Find out more about Words at the Wise, including who will be reading here.
It’s not true about lightning never striking the same place twice. Most people know that, but the thing is, it’s not supposed to strike the same place twice, and it didn’t used to, which is why the saying.
The guy who’s responsible for lightning strikes was quite young still when he got the job and he was concerned with making a good impression, so he was very careful to make sure that lightning never struck the same place twice. He recorded the exact location of each lightning strike, and before allowing a new bolt of lightning to be released he cross-referenced its end point with his records.
Obviously as the list got longer it became harder and more time consuming for the guy to cross-reference each new strike, so that by the late Crustacean Period the number of lightning strikes was reduced to between four and six strikes per year worldwide.
A committee was assembled to look into the matter, and they contemplated permitting lightning to strike in the same location more than once, but instead they hired extra staff so that lightning strikes could be processed more quickly, and officially lightning is still not supposed to strike in the same place twice.
You can see how from the late Crustacean Period until about the 1980s things would’ve been hard for the department, but the speed with which computers can calculate these things could surely permit a robust program of lightning strikes without any overlap.
That’s true, and there’s even a computer logging system in place. The thing is that the guy in charge just doesn’t give a shit anymore. It’s true that back when he got the job he was on the young side for it, but it’s been several million years and he’s still doing it. He started to find the work dull around the time the dinosaurs disappeared, and he put in for promotion thousands of times over the years, but this other guy, who was six millennia younger than our guy and happened to have become the boss of the guy in charge of lightning strikes, had it in for our guy.
By the end of the last ice age, the guy figured he was stuck for good. So now he full on doesn’t give a shit. He shows up late for work and he leaves early and he targets whatever he feels like, but he’s been doing the job for so long now that nobody dares to challenge him, and besides, the position’s unionized, so they’d never get him out anyway. Which is why, after Jesse made some disparaging comments about our guy and said that in this day and age a monkey could ensure the integrity of lightning strikes, he got struck seven times in forty-six seconds.
Archimedes, who is supposedly the greatest mathematician since Pythagoras, recently “discovered” that humans displace water. Archimedes was so excited by his “discovery” that he went running naked through the streets shouting Eureka, as though he were a boy of fifteen who had just received his first lesson in dialectics, bent over Socrates dining table after having consumed an entire amphora of wine.
We are to believe that it has never occurred to anyone else in the history of humanity that people displace water. The time Perseus, Hyrrus, Aristobulous and I dumped our aunt Penelope in the cistern on the western edge of the agora and water went everywhere, we clearly thought it was just the force of her hitting the water. Otherwise we would have written a two hundred page treatise on the subject as Archimedes has done.
Never mind. Now that Archimedes has “discovered” displacement, we can find out who the largest person in Syracuse is by volume, instead of by such crude measurements as height and weight and breadth.
Just yesterday I saw my cousin Aristobulous in the street pulling an ox-drawn cart with thirteen buckets and a goblet, all filled to the brim with water. I asked him what the hell, and Aristobulous told me that the water in the buckets and the goblet represented his volume as measured by displacement.
Maybe this can become a trend. Aristobulous always was the trendsetter of the family. Maybe when the Romans and the Carthaginians reach the walls of Syracuse we can ring the city round with bathtubs and tell them that there’s limited space and the only way to figure out how many of them will fit is by measuring their volume, and by this ruse drown them all.
I can’t imagine either the Romans or the Carthaginians being that dumb, though. Personally, I can’t wait for Archimedes to fall out of favour with Heiro. Hopefully it happens before he finishes that goddamned treaty on levers, as if nobody knows that you can do shit with a long flexible stick. One thing that you can do with a long, flexible stick is shove it up Archimedes ass. Then by applying force to the opposite end, you can flip him into a bathtub and measure his displacement. If you then weigh him, you’ll find out just how dense Archimedes really is.
Raoul got Mel’s goat. When the guy came to drop it off, Mel wasn’t home. Raoul, who lived next door, came out and said Mel was his neighbour and his friend and the guy let Raoul sign for it.
Anyone in the neighbourhood could have told the guy that Mel and Raoul weren’t friends, and that Raoul wasn’t friends with anyone on the street, and that he was always trying to get our goats, but Mrs Li was the only person who saw what was happening and she had to get back to the store, because there was a customer.
Mel didn’t even realize until Raoul came over with a kid on a leash and told her what had happened. Mel said thanks for signing for the goat, and she reached for the leash, but Raoul pulled the goat away.
Raoul said Mel wasn’t home when the goat was dropped off and why was that? Mel said she had to work, and Raoul said she worked a lot, and she went out a lot of evenings, and he didn’t think she was fit to own a goat, so he was keeping it. Mel said she’d paid good money for the goat and her life was her business, and Raoul shrugged and said he had her goat and good luck getting it back.
Mel said that was theft, and Raoul said call the cops then. He said if she called the cops, they’d take every goat on the street, because you can’t keep goats in the city, and pretty well everybody on the street had a goat, and they’d be pretty pissed at Mel.
Mel went to Lisa’s place in tears and Lisa got some people on the street together and we decided to get Mel’s goat back and to get Raoul’s goat while we were at it, and Frank’s goat, which Raoul had gotten while everyone else was off at Frank’s funeral.
We gave Lisa’s daughter Sam a boost up to one of the upstairs windows at Raoul’s place, and she got in and snuck down and opened the door and we went in and got Mel’s goat and Raoul’s goat and Frank’s goat.
Raoul tried to stop us, but Asif, who was a head shorter than Raoul, but worked out, shoved Raoul in a closet and stopped it with a chair under the handle.
Raoul was so pissed when he finally got out that he called the cops. The cops came down and got all of our goats, because you can’t keep goats in the city, and everybody on the street is pissed at the cops in a way that they never were with Raoul.
In my performance review, my boss told me how valuable I was, and corporate obviously agreed, because I got a raise. It worried me, though, because I knew my work wasn’t that good. I talked it over with George’s dad, because George’s dad was an economist. George’s dad said that if I was worried about being overvalued I should split, so I did.
I split four ways to start. Each part got a limb, and my head got split between the two arms. The four pieces fetched a good bit more than the whole of me was worth, though, and I got worried. What if I lost my job? What if my left leg got gangrene and it was sold off for pennies, or my right arm got tendonitis and the owner decided to dump it? Wouldn’t that cause the other parts to crash as well, and then where would I be?
George’s dad said that was a legitimate worry. He said if I picked up some new skills and streamlined myself, then I could bring my worth into line with my current value on the market. I tried to, but my focus was off, especially with the left and right halves of my brain being in different hemispheres, so I decided to split again.
Human resources did a report on me. They said I couldn’t possibly be good value for money at this point, but the Wall Street Times recommended me, and the corporation had invested heavily in me, so they stuck with me. They encouraged friends to invest in me. I found myself floating around on the breezes going through the office and I knew I’d become a bubble.
I asked George’s dad about splitting again. He said he’d only heard of one person ever splitting past eight, and she’d gone under and drowned. He said the best thing I could do was to switch to paper and print lots of shares, so I did.
I sold six thousand shares of myself. People snapped them up on the advice of MSNBC, but then the quarterly results came out and I was massively under performing and the price of my shares dropped.
Investors panicked. They tried to sell off my shares, but there weren’t any takers. They suggested combining all the shares and making me whole again, but a doctor said it wasn’t realistic after the length of time I’d been split. The value of my shares dropped to zero and the creditors came and seized me, and now I’m just eight chunks of flesh in six different landfills being chewed by rats. George’s dad was in the Times talking about it. I read it when the edition landed next to my right eye. He said people are the world’s greatest assets and it was a shame when we got into devaluing them.
Humanity held a referendum on free will. The rule, according to the cosmos, was that the question had to be clear and concise, so the question was: Given the stresses of day to day life and the oppressive nature of choice, would you support the removal of your freedom to make choices for yourself.
In some jurisdictions there were other ballot initiatives. There were several about legalizing marijuana and one about gay marriage, and one about whether or not people and corporations should be able to own water.
Sixty-one percent of voters were in favour of keeping free will, but there was only eighteen percent turnout, so a law was passed compelling everyone to vote in a new referendum.
The second time around seventy-six percent of people voted to ditch free will. The result surprised a lot of people, even though not one major political or corporate figure came out in favour of free will. Consumer advocates didn’t like free will either, because which product to buy caused enormous stress on people. A lot of money went into advertising and lobbying for the removal of free will.
The twenty-four percent who wanted to maintain free will said that they should be able to keep theirs. They said that a collective vote on something like that was invalid and furthermore it was fucking stupid. They claimed that their right to free will would be trampled by the tyranny of the majority, but the judges ruled that the question was clear and the results binding.
It’s been twelve years since humanity lost free will. By every metric we have things have improved. Governments are more responsible, crime is way down and people are healthier and happier. Stress and sick leaves have dropped eighty-eight percent, and nobody agonizes over what brand of toothpaste to buy.
By law, humanity has to hold a new referendum on free will every four years. If you ask around, people are in favour of regaining free will, and all the popular politicians promise referenda and demand a return to free speech, but in three referenda so far, not a single vote has been cast for free will.
People bitch about that. They say its clear that their will isn’t allowed to prevail at the ballot box, and they say the worst thing humanity ever did was give up its free will, but it’s clear that it’s the best thing we ever did, and it makes me happy that those who control us now recognize that we can’t be trusted to make the right choices for ourselves.
I was a success. Nothing huge or anything. I wasn’t president of the United States, and I didn’t win a Nobel Prize, but people said I was a success, and when my head swelled up the doctor confirmed that it was due to success. He said that success had gone to my head and that that was what was causing the swelling. He said it was a pretty common side effect of success.
The doctor said he wished I’d come to him sooner, because maybe he could have operated, but my head was fully two-and-a-half times the size it had been, and he couldn’t operate like that. He said he didn’t even dare install a shunt because it could cause my head to explode. He said all I could do was take ibuprofen and fail at a few things.
The doctor seemed like an idiot to me. I took ibuprofen because my head hurt like hell all the time, but it was obviously stress related, so I followed up on my success.
Over time, the swelling went down a little bit, but then my ego started to grow. I’d go places and it would be hard to get through the doorways. After my ego ripped out the doorjamb at my in-laws’, I had to start leaving it outside.
It was disorienting being without my ego. I’d sit in rooms and watch stuff happen and I’d have no idea why I was there or what any of it had to do with me. I took up smoking so that I could go outside to be with my ego.
I went to see a bunch of doctors, and they all said it was success. They said success affected everyone differently. They said some people couldn’t sleep and some people suffered sexual dysfunction, and some people were fine, but swelled heads and inflated egos were the most common side effects. They said that failure was the only cure.
I started a campaign to warn people about the dangers of success. I wrote a book telling my story and published pamphlets explaining the side effects of success and how to spot the symptoms. The campaign has been a total failure. I’m broke, and people think I’m nuts, including my wife who’s left me. The whole thing is a lucky break. Otherwise I’d still be dealing with blinding headaches and an ego that wouldn’t fit in rooms. I might even be dead. Instead I feel better than I’ve ever felt. My doctor says I’m in good shape for a person half my age.
Leah and I were in love, and it was amazing. People said so. People said that love was powerful, and especially ours and we should harness it. They said we could do great things if we harnessed our love.
I always said yeah, we could, but Leah took it seriously. She looked into it, and found a website that explained how to use the power of love to run your home, and maybe the homes of others. The website called it pink energy, and it said that pink was the new green. We signed up and our love was fed into the grid.
It turned out that our love was powerful. Our love was so powerful we were able to power our entire block, and hydro gave us money every month. People didn’t believe us when we told them. They said they’d never seen anything like it. Leah checked the numbers, and we had the third most powerful love in the country. There was a couple in Scarborough and another one in Jonquière.
I said I didn’t think they should be releasing those numbers, and Leah said why not. She said didn’t I want to know where our love stood? I said I didn’t really, and Leah stroked my hair and said she was glad to know. She said we had the third strongest love in the entire country and there were thirty-some million people in the country, so third was pretty amazing. I said yeah, and I said she was right, but I couldn’t help thinking about it.
It meant that the couple in Scarborough and the couple in Jonquière were more in love than we were, and the couple from Scarborough had been number one or number two in the country every year for the eight years the program had been in existence, and I felt pressure to try and maintain our position.
Also, despite heavy advertising, only thirty-two percent of lovers were harnessing the power of their love, and so that was four more couples whose love was more powerful than ours, and maybe more. Some people said not giving a shit about the grid and the environment was the sign of a really intense love.
In our second year on the grid, the power of our love faded dramatically. The Scarborough love was back on top, and Jonquière was second, but we were forty-fourth, and we were getting way less money back on our bill. In November, after delivery and debt retirement charges, we owed twelve cents.
Leah asked me what was wrong. She said she was sure that she loved me as powerfully as ever, which meant either we were blocked, or I didn’t love her as much as I had before. I said I loved her as much as ever, and I didn’t know why our output had shrunk so much. I said maybe we just needed to get away for a bit or something.
Leah thought that was a good idea. She said money was tight for a vacation, but if it got us back to producing like we had before it would be worth it, and we went to Paris and London for two weeks.
After our vacation, our production went up, but it dipped again in March, and in April we wound up owing nine dollars and seventy-one cents.
I said the bill was bullshit, and maybe we should disconnect from the grid and pay for our electricity the same as everyone else. I said it wasn’t that we weren’t in love, it was the pressure of comparing our love to other people’s. Leah said that was absurd. She said we loved each other, right? She said harnessing that love was doing good in the world, and she wanted our love to do good in the world.
We stayed on the grid, but our production kept going down. In October we only produced six kilowatt hours of energy. Leah said that that wasn’t enough. She said clearly I didn’t love her anymore, or at least not enough, and that was affecting her love for me, and how could we be together without love?
I told Leah I still loved her. I said maybe I was just feeble. I said how could any love stay that powerful for that long, and Leah said the couple in Scarborough managed it.
Leah left me in January. She found a new boyfriend in June. Leah and her new boyfriend have the most powerful love in the country. They’ve produced more energy than any other love in the country five years running.
I’ve dated a few women since Leah. I always insist that we stay off the grid, because it ruins relationships, but it’s because I haven’t been that in love with any of them. If I was ever so in love that I thought I could challenge Leah and her boyfriend, I’d plug into the grid in a heartbeat, so Leah could know how it feels.
I woke up in the middle of the night and my heart was on the floor in the bedroom doorway. I looked at my heart and wondered what the hell it was doing outside of my chest and on the floor, and my heart said never mind, just follow it.
I looked over at Mark, and my heart said never mind him either. My heart said that Mark was even worse than Noel, and if things had been up to my heart, I never would’ve gotten involved with Mark in the first place.
I threw on some jeans and a top and followed my heart. My heart slid down the hallway to the stairs and then it rolled down them. I yawned and said it was two in the morning and where were we going? My heart said Jesus I was repressed, complaining already when we hadn’t even gone anywhere. It said I was nearly forty and I’d never once listened to it, and we weren’t either of us going to live forever.
Downstairs I grabbed a pair of flats and my keys. My heart said I’d better grab my wallet and a purse too, because we were going to be gone awhile, so I did and then my heart opened the door and led me down the street.
We weaved through a bunch of side streets in the Annex and then into Little Italy and then into Kensington. I asked several times where we were going, and my heart said it wanted to wander for a bit. Eventually it stopped outside this one house on Augusta just the other side of Dundas.
The house looked familiar. My heart said of course the house looked familiar. It said we’d been to a party there a few months ago. My heart said it was where the cute guy, Francesco lived. My heart led me up to the door and then it banged on the door until Francesco came down.
Francesco was groggy. It took him a minute to figure out who I was, and he seemed confused by my heart lying on his front stoop, but he let me in.
He asked if I’d had a fight with Mark, and I said I hadn’t. I said it was just that I was finally following my heart after all these years and my heart had led me to him. Francesco seemed okay with that. He didn’t seem weirded out by it, and he didn’t try to take advantage of me. We were together for two weeks before we had sex.
Mark came looking for me, but my heart always went the other way when it saw him coming, and I felt compelled to follow it. Francesco and Mark got into a fight over the whole thing. Francesco came out on top and Mark said fine, but I wasn’t getting any of my stuff, and he was changing the locks.
Two months after I moved in with Francesco, I found my heart on the floor in the bedroom doorway in the middle of the night again. I said what now, and my heart said Francesco was hot, sure, but he was kind of an idiot, even more than Mark was, and what was it with me and always having to be with a man?
I said men were easier for me to attract than other women, and I liked them better than other women, and my heart said I was missing the point entirely. My heart said to follow it, and to bring my wallet again and maybe a few clothes. It said I was hopeless, and it should have done this a long time ago.
I followed my heart down to the water and over to the Island Airport. From there I followed my heart to New York and then on to Europe. My money started to run thin in Europe. My heart said not to worry about that. My heart said I was following it, and that was worth more than anything else I could be doing with my life.
The money ran out in Istanbul, and I got stuck on the street. My heart shrugged and said it was doing its best. It said it bet I’d never felt so free as I did now, and it was true.
My heart and I found a woman who offered to put us up for the night. She gave me food and wine and she didn’t cut me off when I’d drunk too much, and my heart got all nostalgic and wanted to go home.
The woman helped me to get a job working in one of the markets, but the pay wasn’t very good and my heart got impatient and led me to a brothel where I could make way better money and get us home sooner.
It took three months to save up the money to get home. I followed my heart to the airport in Ottawa and into a cab, and then to the park by my parents’ place. My heart led me to the swings and then the slide and then we dropped in on my parents.
A few nights later, when I saw my heart on the floor in the bedroom doorway, I went and scooped it up. My heart said what was I doing? It said it was good to visit home sometimes, but surely I didn’t want to be stuck there with my parents for the rest of my life.
I threw my heart in a dresser drawer and sat with my back against the drawer until morning. My heart banged on the drawer all night and begged me to let it out.
In the morning, I went out to the mall and bought a box for my heart, and mostly I keep the box locked. I moved back to Toronto and got a job and except for Mark and Francesco, I’ve gone back to my old life.
I even let my heart out now and then to keep it happy. I keep it on a leash when I do though, just in case, because I may not be able to live without my heart, but I can’t be wasting my time following it.