I’ve thought a lot about how to handle this blog post.
Do I lay a lot of information out, beforehand? Do I lay groundwork? Do I risk tipping my hand?
Or do I just dive in?
First off, do you know the term “thought experiment”? Even if you haven’t heard it, you’re likely to be able to tell what it means. But to start, here’s the first paragraph of the “official” definition from the online “Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.”
“Thought experiments are devices of the imagination used to investigate the nature of things. Thought experimenting often takes place when the method of variation is employed in entertaining imaginative suppositions. They are used for diverse reasons in a variety of areas, including economics, history, mathematics, philosophy, and physics. Most often thought experiments are communicated in narrative form, sometimes through media like a diagram. Thought experiments should be distinguished from thinking about experiments, from merely imagining any experiments to be conducted outside the imagination, and from psychological experiments with thoughts. They should also be distinguished from counterfactual reasoning in general, as they seem to require an experimental element.”
Anyway, I think I’ll just dive in….
I have this friend, see. Good friend. Smart friend. Beloved friend.
Pretty. Sensuous. Gentle.
But this friend has an addiction. This friend of mine, smart as she is, lives in a prison because of this addiction. She gets up in the morning, and in very short order the demon of the addiction is on her. She very quickly cannot function if she doesn’t get her hit. She becomes weak, queasy, light-headed, pained, and grumpy.
And no. I am NOT talking about coffee.
Nope. This would be a FAR less interesting thought experiment if I were aiming for easy prey.
Anyway, this friend is CERTAIN that this addiction is healthy, pleasurable, and fundamental to enjoyment of life. It’s not an addiction, she says. It’s just the way things are. It’s just who she is. It’s the sensible way to be, and life would be worse if she challenged her personal status quo.
So I’m all like…
“But I’ve broken this addiction, Babycakes. And I’m much happier, healthier, clearer, stronger, flush with free time, in no danger from missing my fix, and I even smell better because my body’s not dealing with all the chemical reactions of dealing with this drug all the time. And I swear to God I was more addicted than you, and more certain than you that I couldn’t change things.”
So she’s all like….
“Well I’m just different. I’m not you. And this is what I want and who I am.”
And then I’m all like….
“Of course. Your life belongs to you. I’m not trying to change you. I’m just assuming you like to learn and think outside the box and engage in debate about facts while doing the best possible job filtering out judgment.”
And then she’s all like….
“Um, OK. But I still feel like a mother bear with you trying to step between me and my cub.”
Which makes me all like….
“That’s a good analogy. I should write that down….”
So I wrote it down. And then I started pondering this post.
Do you want to be in the position my friend is in? Doesn’t it sound terrible? Would you love to be freed of that?
I suppose I should be honest: I still do this drug once a day. I love it. But… my body handles that small dose better. And while I do need it, the addiction is gone. I can go without with ease, even for multiple days. But I wouldn’t DREAM of going back to the prison she’s in, now that I’m out…
…of being obsessed with it all day long. Too many consequences.
Before I clear up the mystery here, let me describe how I first learned about this device I’m using on you. Some years ago, I remember the process of… putting clothes in the washing machine being described with odd technical language and without reference to clothes or the washing machine. Then I was asked if I could remember this long complicated process. And I couldn’t come close. It sounded impossibly complex.
But then when I was told it was just about washing clothes in the washing machine, I was all like “wow and now it’s easy” and stuff.
What am I talking about?
I’m talking about….
Yup. Good old fashioned food. We gotta eat three meals a day, right? We gotta keep our strength up, right? We gotta do what society says, right, and spend lots of money on food?
Well, I was a bigger food junkie than you. I was FAMOUS (Amos) for how much I could eat, and how fast. I’d inhale appetizers at parties, while others goggled, and then still out eat them at the main meal. Once I ate a whole large Pizza Hut pan pizza in one sitting, though the last 2 slices took me 40 minutes: I wasn’t quitting, though I looked pregnant afterward! Yet because of metabolism and exercise, I never got heavy….
I’m trying to get you to not dismiss me. It’d be very easy to dismiss me. You’re probably violently allergic to the idea of only having one meal a day, or even one meal every other day. But I want you to finish out the thought experiment with an open mind. I’m hoping you can do that. I’m hoping you know that the best learning is often in the most uncomfortable places.
Speaking of allergy, this whole improving alteration reminds me of a great news story I heard on NPR. Every listen to “Radio Lab”? Google it.
Anyway, they did a show once on what it turns out is VERY often the cure for allergies. It turns out that… the elimination of a low level hookworm presence in the intestines very often causes the immune system to rebel, causing allergies. Many, many people, by cultivating a low level of hookworm presence in their gut, find their horrible allergies just vanish.
Scary? Yes. As scary as going against appetite and eating much less than we’re told? Perhaps.
For most of my adult life, I struggled with how eating often seemed to make me feel worse. I loved the food and the taste, but I’m very attentive to my body, and I felt a drop off, a distortion, a heaviness, unless I ate perfectly light and healthy stuff. The sound I always imagined my body making, after eating like that (like I felt I had to), was the sound you hear so often in the film “The Empire Strikes Back.” It’s the sound the hyperdrive makes when Han and Chewy try to activate it, but it’s broken.
I could tell certain foods were worse for me. Pigging out on, say, cheddar cheese and Wheat Thins was a dynamite that made me feel comatose for hours, for example.
Oh all right. I’ll show you the Wheat Thins too.
So I ate better, but the problem didn’t go away. My body kept hinting I should be going against the, uh, grain. But it made no sense.
Anyway, over the course of years, I started eating less often. I cut out lunch. Then I had just a smoothie for breakfast. Then I had just a bite of hummus for breakfast. Then I had just the contents of an herbal tea bag for breakfast.
Then I had nothing.
And you know what? My body got used to it. I didn’t suffer terribly. My body was all like “OK. So this is the deal? Well OK then. I guess it’s like exercise. I’ll adapt and learn to like it.”
I admit that part of my problem turned out to be sensitivities to sugar, wheat and dairy (not yogurt, which is awesome because of the beneficial bacteria), but not all of it. And BOY did I not want to admit wheat was a problem. I mean… it’s EVERYwhere. And so tasty! I mean… pizza? Sure I can cook my own using awesome white spelt flour, but who doesn’t love Pizza Hut?
I suspect that pretty much everyone has sensitivities to these things. Research is pointing that way. But MANY people, like me, refuse to consider them as culprits for physical and mental issues.
Fatigue. Digestion. Cloudy mind.
We tell ourselves “That’s just life,” or “That’s just how my body works.”
Side note: I’m wondering if I should vary where I put the images. Is it repetitive for them to be centered all the time? Let’s try a military march!
How was that?
Actually, it makes sense to me to use the military analogy. I look back on that “every four hours” craving for food, which I couldn’t function well through unless I was obsessed with something, like a hard time in the military. The relief at being free is so immense. I tell you. I just drink water all day, feeling clear, clean, great and never tired. I still love food, and the “fast” of the day helps me enjoy dinner more. It builds appreciation. And again, it’s so much cheaper, and there’s no danger of going off the rails if food isn’t available. Life get’s a lot simpler.
I suppose I really dove into i more when I happened to find some new research online about how maybe we’re evolved to eat just one meal a day, and for dinner. It makes evolutionary sense, after all. Think about it. Before “Civilization,” what creature could survive if, when hungry, it couldn’t function? Actually, what makes sense is HIGHER functionality when hungry. That’s how you’d survive hunger. And that’s just how I feel.
I don’t get tired in the afternoon. I don’t need coffee to function. And I know it’s safer to be conventionally wrong than unconventionally right, but I just want to give these facts about my experience. At least others, who have the right to live however they want, can maybe learn about new possibilities.
There are a lot of books about “the fasting state” and how good it is for you. Your body goes into a sort of defensive posture, more resistant to disease, and clearer. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that people who live like this live longer.
Let me see if I can find some books for you….
Now, I’m not out to sell anything. I just want to help.
And I didn’t come to where I am by following some fad. As much as I love food and to eat lots and often… my body, which I pay VERY close attention to… just kept telling me this was what it wanted.
And it was right. It took me years to believe it, but it was right.
Did I mention that body odor is much less of a problem? With much less chemical reactions going on in the body, there’s a lot less smell. It’s striking, really. My body being in that clear, defensive state just helps prevent odor. Strange.
I suppose I’ll wrap it up. You probably already think I’m nuts, but that’s OK as long as you go with walnuts. Walnuts are AWESOME and make my body feel so good. Tasty dry roasted peanuts? Ugh….
Hopefully you’ve at least learned of some interesting new possibilities. Have you?
Follow my lead! Wipe that all-too-common, sad, tragic “I can’t stop doing what I feel like doing even if it’s all negative….” look off your face! People usually wear that look when they know they should exercise more, not just for their benefit, but for the benefit of EVERYone who cares about them. Alas….
Then go out and find some hookworm larvae to rub on your feet and cure those allergies.
“Tote that barge, lift that bale, get a little drunk and you land in….”
Melvin took a deep breath at the lever of the money making machine before venting the chorus’ last word.
Then he pulled the lever.
The press came down on the mush with the force of a government sanction on a third world country conducting secret nuclear testing. The sound the press made, against the base, was a huge thunking clank like the sound of a port’s shipping container dropping on a great steel floor from ten feet up. And maybe, just maybe, there were a few puppies caught underneath.
Melvin wore ear protection, of course, for those moments. So did the trainee that stood beside him, all fidgety with examinational wonderings about whether or not the mint security could be broken.
Everyone thought they could steal bills, if they were smart, until they got a full whiff of the Treasury’s security systems.
Melvin took his huge orange earmuffs off.
“Take yours off, too.”
The trainee did, eye darting. He had green eyes, and Melvin took note of that. Then Melvin pointed at the fresh, steaming green dead presidents. There were a whole lot of them. It was a whole hell of a lot. Uncut, still all together in one tremendous sheet, it looked like a very rich orgy.
Melvin cleared his throat.
That was the trainee’s name.
“You wanna try?”
Max cleared his throat and nodded.
“Just wait a minute for the machine to reset. Then I’ll tell you when to pull the lever. Really, it’s as much fun as pulling the trigger of a gun. The stopping power, the killing power at your fingertips, is cleansing and orgasmic.”
Max’s eyes flicked to Melvin’s. Melvin stood there, twenty years older but with a full and ungrayed head of hair, with prideful fists on his smocked hips. The white uniform, one piece, made him look like something. Max tried to find the word for the something. He looked at the huge sheet of green and gave up.
“Sure. I… I just stand here?”
Max stepped up and planted his feet by the steel base of the lever machine.
“Right there. You’re a smart cookie. You’ll do well here, kid.”
Max put his trembling, itchy, white-gloved hands on the titanic phallic symbol of a lever that just waited to be pulled. The old sheet of Benjamins vanished.
“Hold on. Not yet. I’ll tell you when.”
Something clanked. A new assemblage of pulp settled. They heard a hiss.
With a spasmodic jerk, Max pulled the lever down. Just as before, the sound of a port’s shipping container dropping down on a great steel floor and possibly, just possibly, a brood of puppies, rang through the money printing room. Something exploded inside Max as the press came back up. Mr. Franklin stared up at him, from a thousand ports in a storm, and the explosion inside Max transmuted into a keyed up electric thrill.
“Nice. Nice job, Max. I ain’t seen such a promising trainee in years.”
Melvin shooed Max away and took the lever.
“Now: the big question. Ready?”
Blinking, Max nodded.
“Are you gonna drop your thoughts of stealing from the Treasury?”
Max’s eyes widened. He’d thought his lies to the application committee had put the question behind not just him, and not just the committee, but also the whole huge green World. He stammered.
“Calm down, Max. Calm down. It’s nothing to get excited about. Every Joe and his mother, and every Jane and her father, comes in here thinking they can find some way to steal bills when Uncle Sam ain’t lookin’ and get rich the old fashioned way. Maybe you thought the old fashioned way was to earn it?”
Max shook his head, but remained silent.
“Well, that investment motto’s is a lie. So relax.”
Max relaxed, letting his orgasm-generated emptiness fill with employment-generated respect for someone as wise and forgiving as Melvin. Some of his tension eased, and he gave Melvin a smile. Melvin clapped the boy on the shoulder with one, just one, of his clean white hands.
“Bet you don’t know what money’s made of, kid.”
Max goggled. Melvin tapped his nose with a middle finger.
“The Benjamins. Sniff the Benjamins.”
Max nodded. Stooping over the big sheet of green, still tentative and as a result a little slow, he sniffed a little, pushed his nose closer, and sniffed a lot. A smile came across his face, coming, in fact, like a wave by way of a storm front.
Melvin glanced at his watch.
“It’s still early, kid. Still morning. I love it too. Tell me what it smells like.”
Max stood again, facing Melvin, straight and beaming. He looked like a virile man who’d just taken a whiff of the Pacific Ocean, or the Russian boreal forest, or the supple flesh of a young and joyful beloved.
“Victory. It smells like victory.”
“Damn straight. You got yourself one of the best jobs in the whole damned World. Sure it’s against the rules to make this money the old fashioned way, but you get to be near every Washington, Lincoln, Hamilton, Jackson, Grant and Benjamin.”
A thoughtful look leaked onto his face, from some old faucet, and he reached up and scratched his chin.
“Of course you won’t start birthing the Benjamins. I’m just showing you what you can work your way up to, with a whole lotta years of good and noble work. You’ll start like everyone else. Washington. Then you get Lincoln. Then Hamilton, Jackson, Grant, and if you rise to the highest rank, old kite-flying Benjamin himself. You got the balls to work for Benjamin? It takes a lot of balls to work for Benjamin.”
“Yeah. I got the balls.”
Melvin clapped the kid on the shoulder.
“Washington beat the British, Lincoln beat the rednecks, and Jackson beat the redskins, but Benjamin smells the most like victory. And, I tell ya, if you were to press your nostrils right to the nipples of Venus, they wouldn’t smell no better.”
“It’s too bad the US don’t make ten thousand dollar bills no more.”
“I sniffed one of them once.”
“You did? Wow.”
Melvin nodded, chest puffed out like a puffer fish’s.
“That Salmon P. Chase smelled more victorious than the nipples of the good God almighty. No foolin’.”
Leaving the press that made the hundreds, Melvin led Max here and there and everywhere on the pressing floor and through the peopled din that filled it.
“Watch your step, kid.”
Melvin looked at Max, winking over a devilish grin.
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you to be extra careful around money?”
“My father was the one, actually.”
Overhead, from all angles in the clean and sterilized ceiling, camera eyes stared down at them. They shined and glowed. Every line of sight was covered.
“They don’t miss a thing. It’s like a good old American baseball game, but the pitcher is the employees tossing beach balls and the Treasury is a batter swingin’ an uprooted redwood. Those are God’s eyes. If you had a flea on you, they’d know if it was circumcised. If you had a virus of HIV, they’d know if it was gay. And if you had an atom of hydrogen, they’d know if it partook of the Hindenburg explosion.”
The elder statesman stopped walking, put his hands on Max’s shoulders, and narrowed his eyes at the eyes of the kid.
“So if you think you can hold onto even the idea of stealing from the Treasury without them seeing the firing patterns of the involved neurons, you should look for another job that’ll be safer for someone who thinks that.”
“Oh, unarmed and blindfolded shark hunting maybe. And wearing jockey shorts made out of steak.”
“Sure. Sure thing.”
They walked on.
Here and there, Melvin stopped and introduced Max to some of the other employees, all dressed in the white of either surrender or innocence. Melvin tried to decide, as he shook their steady, well-fed hands.
Every once in a while they passed big mirrors buried in the walls. In front of them, Melvin commented.
“Of course. We get to see ourselves. They got no interest in seeing themselves.”
Melvin straightened some hair.
“Damn I look good. All these years and I can still knock ‘em dead, kid.”
At one of the Washington levers, Melvin stopped.
Max had a question.
“You asked me before if I knew what money was made of.”
“Sure. Yeah. I remember.”
“But then you asked me to sniff the Benjamins and tell you what they smelled like before I could answer.”
“I figure what something smells like ain’t always what it’s made of. Those gotta be two different questions, right?”
“I always figured, you know, money was made out of just wood pulp, or whatever kind of stuff other paper is made out of. Different, maybe: tougher, but basically the same stuff. Then, you know, green dye and so on.”
“Good theory. Not bad.”
As an answer, Melvin stepped up to the nearest Washington lever.
“Here, kid. Give it a yank.”
The press was all set, and so Max, knowing the drill, stepped up and took hold with both hands. The lever was a lot more worn, and a lot less ornate than the Benjamin lever. He’d heard Washington’s were on their way out, like pennies maybe, but only to make way for dollar coins. It’d be a dilemma: Washington already filled the quarters. Would that put Sacajawea, a Native American, in everyone’s pocket?
Dismissing the thoughts, Max pulled downward. He heard the same noises, but bigger, because Benjamins are about as rare as the super rich. To his right, the bills formed and were revealed by the rising machinery.
“Well done, kid.”
Max let go.
“So, kid. You really think we’d make Washingtons out of wood?”
“Seems like a cheap way to do it.”
“Cheap? Washington hated his wooden teeth. You really think we’d disrespect him, or any other president, by making his children out of wood? The president is as close as American gets to having political royalty. Don’t you think we ought to show their kids more respect, kid?”
Eyes darting at the camera eyes and the reflective sides of the nearest mirrors, Melvin leaned toward Max. He wore an earnest, almost pleading look.
“Uh, n-n-no. I g-g-guess not?”
In visible relief, Melvin laughed out loud.
“Damned right. Respect. That’s what it’s all about.”
He paused, and then started the walk again.
“And value. It’s about value. Cheap and easy pulp ain’t worth that much. Of course they’re not. It’s too cheap. Yeah?”
“Dead presidents gotta have children we can value. It’s a crime to destroy US currency. You think it could be a crime to destroy cheap pulp?”
“No! Yes. I mean, yes, “no” is the correct answer.”
Wiping an open palm from forehead to chin, Melvin went on walking and talking. Max noticed that their path was leading them to a small and easily missed door in a distant corner between big machines.
White gloved hand grasping a pole for a change of direction, Melvin made the last turn toward the knob.
“Everyone who works here has to see what money’s really made of at least once, and when they start. In a place all about making money, you gotta know the brilliant price of patriotism. Regular people can stay in the dark. That’s what they say.”
He stopped and pointed at the knob.
“Go on, kid. You open it.”
“Sure I’m sure. I’m not taking this job. You are.”
Melvin squinted up at the kid between eye darts thrown at the nearest mirror and a spider large number of the high camera eyes.
Then he turned the knob, opened the door, and stepped inside with Melvin following like a logical conclusion after a logical point.
“What is it?”
Max craned his neck to look up at the gigantic, round, ladder-covered thing that towered a seeming mile above them and stretched a seeming mile to the left and right. There was a particular odor in the room. It did not quite smell like victory.
“That, new kid on my tour, is The Vat.”
His neck was also craned, to see again the cloud of steam or smoke or something rising up out of the vat. Neither of them could see into it.
That is what the myriad ladders were for.
To see above it was also what the ladders were for. The ceiling, going by the curved place where the wall meets the visible edges of it, seemed to spread out not much higher than the top of the vat. The vat obscured all but the very edges of the ceiling. The vat, and the steam or smoke or something obscured even more of the heights.
“You wanna see, you gotta work for it.”
“I might fall.”
“You losing your nerve? I hope not. I like you. I don’t wanna lose you.”
There was a worried look on Melvin’s face.
“No. No. I’ll be fine. Climb now?”
“What are you waiting for? Credit approval? This is a cash-only business.”
The worry is gone and, as if to chase it, Melvin guffaws.
The nearest ladder was straight-ahead and less than ten feet away. Max straightened up, recalling as he did so how straight he’d stood, and with ease, after smelling the pure smells of the pressing room. The smell there in the room of The Vat was an ingredient jumble.
“Go on, kid.”
“I’m going. Don’t rush me.”
Max began to climb, and Melvin climbed behind and below. Each of them, less agile than monkeys, went slow and hand over hand, foot over foot.
“Any guesses, kid?”
“That’s rich. You think I’m pulling your leg. You still think it’s just regular pulp.”
“The cameras know all.”
The climb lasted a long time. Near the top, the odors changed, and the heat increased. Max began to wish he were not wearing his white uniform. Rather, he began to wish that he were naked as the day he were born, wearing his birthday suit with an unnamable gift waiting, wrapped, on a table in front of him.
“Any guesses, kid?”
Melvin was breathing hard. Max felt sweat dribbling all down his flesh and into his underwear. The white uniform did not absorb.
“I’ll assume you’re not lying. Well, when you see the openings in the roof and what they’re dropping, rate your surprise for me, on a scale of one to ten.”
The ladder branched, left and right. Max took the left and Melvin the right.
“And the truth,” Melvin said, breathing hard, “shall set you free.”
Then Max got his head over the edge and he saw.