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Notes of a Tenured Professor

By Dante Dapolonia © 2010

I find it useful to keep a record of my proceedings. Or


progress. Should I say progress? Progress is a more aggressive
word than proceed. Perhaps more optimistic. Though of course
it is a matter of agreement. Words mean nothing without
agreement. Or disagreement, which is merely not to, agree that
is, which is in itself an agreement.
I am prevaricating. Intentionally, I think. I try to
notice these things. I am proceeding in a psycho-social
experiment of some significance, or interest at least, not
earth shattering but of interest sufficient for funding and
publication. What more can I ask? Or want? Success is measured
by funding and publication, one leading to the other and back
again, as in a lucrative circle of professional endeavor. A
caucus run. A circle jerk. A mild joke. A bit of crudity. This
is the work I've chosen, the field in which I have had some
success, leading to a lifestyle of certain accoutrements and
emollients without which I would be loth to continue. ‘Loth to
continue’, like a Victorian maiden, at least in literature,
prepared to vaporize at the mere mention of her virginity
wandering astray. I mean only that sometimes my work bores me
to distraction, quite literally, as trite as the phrase may
be. I allow myself to be distracted, wandering from the path
into the underbrush where the trees are fallen and the ground
uneven, wet perhaps, damp with fetid growth and creatures
unknown to me. Well, if I would know them, that would be my
field, as would the stars if that, dark matter and the
beginning of time but then, you see, those things would be the
path and I, would I then, bored with them, turn into the
jungle of the human psyche in hopes of distracting play? You
see where this leads, another circle. Though I am mixing and
matching here, like a young woman in a discount clothing
store, bright, soft fabrics against the youthful, nearly
luminescent flesh, for the circle is hard and precise and
leads no where while the path progresses and the damp jungle,
the forest, well, who knows.
I mean to say that it would be churlish to denigrate the
structure and requirements of my profession because I
sometimes find the process (progress, proceedings) less than
as completely enthralling as I would like. I remind myself
thusly as I drive my relatively new and surprisingly fast car
or turn on my enormous, flat-screened television to watch an
admittedly overpaid athlete do whatever he does, kick a ball,
or bounce one with absurdly large hands. Envy is equally
unwelcome. Or useless. And useless. I am fat and slow and ever
was. We must make do with what we have. Which doesn't belie
progress. Not at all.
I am a professional, to put it simply. If I don't
publish, I perish. That is the cliché and whether true or not
doesn't matter. For it is true that I make a fine living at
what I do and ought to be grateful, which I am, most
certainly. That I am occasionally bored is not cause to insult
the profession or the process. There is always a price, isn't
there? For a car, for a fine dinner, for the company of an
interesting companion, and I do not mean a prostitute, clear
your mind of such nonsense, but time for time, perhaps, even a
student and I do have students, young, beautifully flowered
women are fond of the social sciences, unless I listen or
pretend to listen, time for time, and price then for a life,
we all pay for the life we choose. Or fate chooses. How can
'fate' choose if it is already chosen, the life I mean? I will
not continue with such questions. I am not a philosopher and
choose not to. Did you notice 'choose' not to? That is
sufficient to that question. Whether necessary or not is
another matter.
My project has to do with choice. It is really a question
of choice. Who will make what choice and what does that tell
us about them and therefore about us, about humans in the
environment we've created, amidst our current thoughts,
expectations, beliefs, values, perhaps about humans at any
time. That is the intention. The universal is my intention.
There would finally be no point otherwise and I will not, at
least here, in this record, shy away from the grandeur of my
intention. Where once religion and art might have sought this
role, they can no longer, weakened, circumscribed, peripheral
as they've become, and do not quibble, do not ask if the
periphery can be circumscribed, for the meaning is quite clear
that only science remains to explain ourselves to the universe
and the universe to us.
The subject then is choice and the chosen subjects are
prisoners, or more specifically men who have been convicted of
a crime and are about to be sentenced to prison. I have
attempted to make this group as large as feasible and
homogenous in some respects though maintaining a hopefully
informative diversity. While the subjects form a group in
terms of the study, as being then of the study, and as within
the parameters of the study, I did not want them otherwise
grouped. This limited the size. I wanted personal contact and
did not want the members of the group to know one another or
to interact. I have, through the Federal Prosecutors Office,
obtained access to nine hundred such prisoners. While all are
post conviction and pre sentence the extent of the sentence in
each instance is known to the individual prisoner. This is
important, and equally important that they are pre sentence.
After sentencing the individuals in question become the
parvenu of the Bureau of Prisons, an altogether different and
I have heard, a much less cooperative bureaucratic entity. My
contact with these prisoners is on their part completely
voluntary. The only reward to be offered is possible
participation in a special program while incarcerated that may
affect the nature of that incarceration but will not diminish
or prolong it. I can't offer them that which I don't control.
My grant is certainly not sufficient for me to pay them. Which
I am reluctant to do anyway. I have never found paid subjects
of much use, fallen as they are into a category of such
blatant need; the sort of people who, if offered, will take
drugs of unknown side effects for cash in hand. What can that
tell me but that they are willing to do or say or be anything
to assuage their perceived need Prisoners may have challenged
society and been found wanting but they have not in most
instances abrogated their dignity. To advertise and pay, or to
offer payment for participation through the prosecutors
office, and hence through the various defense attorneys, would
be to draw from the plasma clinics, the soup kitchens, the
denizens of doorways and public libraries searching there the
internet for places willing to pay cash for their souls and
minds and perhaps body parts. Dreamers of the last resort, you
might call them, the dreams becoming nightmares, but slowly,
subtly, nightmares that seem enticing until it is too late.
I don't want to consider that. To discuss such people. To
think of them. The findings would be uncertain. If I were to
pay. Or base my understanding, the knowledge I hope to gain,
to contribute, on a source so bereft of choice or consequence.
The prisoners, wounded certainly, their world unwound, have a
vested interest yet in their sentence, in where and how they
are to spend this time excluded from society as punishment for
the violations of that society’s precepts. They have yet to
gain or lose more than the last few dollars of a day's
sustenance. They have life still, time of consequence to
themselves and their families, which open them to legitimate
decisions of meaning and value. These are the decisions I
would know from them. The program I am to offer them is, of
course, fictional. But they will not know that so the
information gleaned will be of real significance. And it will
be published. And will not have cost me anything but the time
and motion to gather the harvest, like picking corn, like
picking tomatoes, in orderly fields of careful planting.
The basic ingredient of my premise is time. It is the
sine non-qua of our lives, the essence of our being. We are
born, we live, we become aware and our most significant
awareness is of death. Our time is finite. The ultimate
cliché. I have spoken of clichés, written here of clichés.
This one, this unrelenting scarcity of time, these few years,
sixty, eighty, even a hundred, a mere nothing to our minds
that can imagine nearly to infinity and pretend to know a past
of many thousands, will not change however in our lives we
choose to ignore it, claim it of no consequence, at best an
object of quiet resignation. Time is the soul of our fanciful
and colorful religions, promising in one way or another that
eternity that we imagine but can never have. What will you do
for time when time is constrained, or at least your use of it,
to have it gone in an instant perhaps if the moments as they
pass and are to pass are not to your liking? To have it gone
quickly, unknowingly, if in going it remains. And what of
family, of relationships, what call have they absolutely on
this finite time we have?
Each of the prisoners I am to interview is to be
sentenced to at least fifteen years in prison. The sentence is
in each case a certainty. Some are confronting much longer
sentences but fifteen years is the minimum. None is to receive
a life sentence. I felt that dealing with life sentences would
be to introduce a factor that would unbalance the human
equations with which I am to calculate whatever understanding
is to be had. There is an emotional and psychological weight
to the very concept of a life sentence, especially and most
certainly if in fact an unmitigated 'life' sentence, prison
actually until death. The concept is fraught with a cold
horror greater, I think, than a capital sentence. For it is
the same, is it not, life constrained, bound, bordered,
controlled, cold steel, thick glass, unceasing demands,
commands, on where to be and what to do, what to eat, what to
read or not, to watch on television, when to wake, when to
sleep, when to work if work is to be had, until death. Finally
to death. I did not wish a life sentence to be part of the
equation, though of course it is, how can it not be. Look in
the damn mirror sometime and tell me it is not. A factor. At
least a capital sentence, if honest, would have a definite
end. A time, a place when I would know I could finally stop.
Wouldn't that be consoling? In a way? In a sense? Which is,
contrarily, nonsense, for this isn't about me, nor is it a
convoluted attempt to justify capital punishment or explain
the possible attractions of suicide. It isn't about a
particular person, however dear to my heart, but about
humanity and knowledge. And it would be absurd, really, in
terms of the study, an equation completely out of balance.
I will present to each of these individuals the
opportunity to participate in a new program begun by a private
contractor to the Justice Department. There are already in
place and operational corrections facilities owned and run by
private corporations, so the concept is not new. I mean of
privatization. I've written of words, well the word
'privatization' is one of the darlings of recent times, child
of the conservative resurrection in the latter years of the
last century. The concept was quite simply that a private
corporation would always be more efficient than a government
bureaucracy. Whether that has proved to be correct or not is
of no concern to my research. It merely provides a cover. It
is believable. My thought, personally, is that while profit is
a great motivator, any large organization of humans entails a
bureaucracy with all the concomitant strengths and weakness
inherent therein. Frankly, I don't care. I don't have need or
access to such an organization. Any difficulties I may have
will be purely imaginary and I would hope easily dealt with.
Though in that instance I would, proverbial, be the last to
know, wouldn't I?
This privately run facility is to offer, at a significant
financial cost to the potential inmate (this is an important
factor) the opportunity to pass the term of incarceration in a
state of suspended animation. The inmate will enter the
institution, be sedated and essentially not wake again until
the term of incarceration is at an end. On waking the inmate
will be free to leave, constrained only by the period of
probation dependent on the original sentence. It will be
explained very carefully, for after all, I shall do the
explaining, that health will be monitored and maintained,
feeding intravenous at more than optimal vitamin and
nutritional needs, exercise provided by electrical
stimulation, massage and physical therapy. Since the
environment will be completely controlled a near perfect level
of fitness and body mass will result and be consistent
throughout the term of incarceration, very likely leading, as
I shall present it, on awakening to a greater sense of well
being and longer life expectancy than otherwise might have
been attained by the individual. Of course I can't promise the
latter, as I shall readily admit. Now whether this is even
possible is quite beyond me. I suspect not, but I'm not a
medical doctor, a physiologist, a nutritionist. And frankly it
doesn't matter. The essence here is that it be believable.
It is quite possible that a person so treated physically would
after a number of years become a mental and physical
vegetable. I suspect so. There are numerous studies indicating
that human intelligence is a use it or lose it commodity. In
fact, and no one likes to speak of this with our clearly aging
population, with age we lose it mentally no matter how
assiduously we use it. There may be old mathematicians and
scientists, but none of any real use. And physically. Spend a
week in bed and you lose bone mass. What would become of a
human body after fifteen years, unconscious, in bed? I don't
know. I don't care. It doesn't matter. I am not testing or
researching methods of incarceration, whether for profit or
not. What I am considering here is human choice. Why do we
choose as we do? And what do we do with a choice that looms
quite large and won't be divided into the more easily digested
incremental? We choose constantly but rarely on such a scale
or with such finality. It is not unlike a choice of suicide.
It might be objected that these subjects, men confronting
prison, have already had experience of such irreversible
choices. They have committed crimes that have led them to
prison. How very simple is that? But however the law-abiding
citizens of a society may consider the issue I would think it
axiomatic that the criminal does not contemplate, plan and
execute a crime with the expectation foremost in mind of being
caught and sent to prison. However the issue may loom in mind
it is diminished and softened, like gauze over a harsh light,
like a mist of warm air rising from the dark water of a swamp
early in the morning, by the very incremental division I have
just mentioned. We will take this step and then the next, each
on the way to this choice we have made, but each small, nearly
incidental and easily turned from, easily revoked, while the
grander choice of which it is part, is not so readily
unburdened. It might be agreed that no choice of thought or
action is truly revocable, that cause leads to effect without
end, nothing comes unburdened or leaves unburdened. Well that
is all very well, nicely philosophical and perhaps on a cosmic
level absolutely true. On a quantum level as well, if level is
even the correct word for such things, words again, big,
little, not words but cosmic and quantum where the choices you
think to make may not be quite as they seem in a setting of
strings and bubble wrap. It hardly matters. It does not
matter. I am speaking of prisoners here. And the perception of
choice. Each will be asked to decide whether or not to
participate in this program. I did mention cost. It is a
significant factor. Money, as I have mentioned, is a great
motivator, whether as profit or loss, inlay, outlay, earned,
unearned, stolen, by us or from us, we hate to lose and love
to get it and love even more to spend it with a visceral,
atavistic pleasure as long as we value what we get in return.
That is the key, that we value what we get. A man buying a new
car always loves the car he has got and always, always thinks
he has got a rare deal. He has spent thousands and has lost
thousands merely driving from the car lot but is happy because
he gives value from his soul to that car, all with the color
of money. The subjects in question, what is the question now,
do not lose sight of the question, words, words and words and
words, would not value the program if there were no cost.
I have taken the federal poverty level for a family of four
and multiplied by half of the given sentence, both in years. A
substantial sum. Or that is the tentative figure. I suspect it
may be too low and may change the multiplier to the full
sentence. The amount does not matter except to give this
abstract sense of value.
The prisoners are not actually to pay. At least that is
my initial thought. It is open to further consideration, of
course. Until I've begun I can change whatever I like, even
after I've begun, a good plan can perhaps always be improved.
But it is important to maintain consistency in my contact with
the prisoners and in my presentation to them. I will be using
a standard script throughout though the prisoners won't know
this. I shall even wear an invariable costume. So the payment
question must be answered finally before I begin. I don't need
the funds to create and establish a facility for this
suspended animation. There is no such facility. Is such a
facility even possible? Is the process even possible, a sort
of extended winter hibernation for humans, as if they were
bears or toads, or that fish, whatever it is, that buries
itself wrapped in mucous when the creek or pond dries out?
What a shock to find such a thing, digging about in the dry
dirt and there's a slimy fish. Would it squirm and slither
about, looking for water, or merely lie still, eye unblinking,
unable to move. Do fish blink? Why would I be digging about
anyway? Perhaps to bury an ex wife. There is a word for
animals that hibernate, a good and proper scientific word
which I don't know but shall look up. It will come in handy, I
think. And there is a difference between animals that truly
hibernate and those that merely become seasonally quiescent. A
seventeen-year locust. Now there's an interesting creature.
Although is it hibernation or simply a part of the life cycle?
And what would be the difference? While I don't know it's
important to remember that it is irrelevant whether I know or
not. As I've said, pure suspended animation is most likely not
possible for humans. Jet would in effect be a long-term
induced coma. That certainly can't be good for you. It is
believable and that is the crux of the matter. We live in a
culture dominated by media content, television, film, even
books, where such far fetched events are presented as a
realistic norm, where cars explode gloriously from being shot
at and human bodies shot and shot again, and knifed and
exploded, heal quickly· and easily with no long term lasting
damage if the story requires that there be none, and we, each
in our own story always postulate that there be none, nor any
hindrance to, in a startling beautiful or intensely stark
setting, having invariably earth shattering sex with a newly
met male or female as the case may be, as we freely choose in
this world of diversity and free will. Hah! Free will. There
it is. The ghost at the door. Well, slam the goddamned door!
My point again is that I don't need money to start an
institute of suspended animation. I don't need a prospectus
and a business plan to present to a consortium of venture
capitalists because I don't need the capital. I have nothing
to start, except a study based entirely on the hypothetical.
Still the question remains, if I have included the use of
payment to give value to the concept from the subject's point
of view, don't I strengthen the process by actually demanding
and taking the funds, temporarily as it would be? That is an
interesting question and I must decide. Yes, I must decide.
The prisoners, after my presentation, will be given two
weeks in which to make a decision. I will have explained to
them that while their term of incarceration will pass as if in
a night's sleep and that they will awaken unaware of time's
passage, healthy, alert and ready to resume life, that time
will indeed have passed. They will be older and the world will
have continued with its attendant and often-unforeseen leaps
of progress, or what passes for progress in a culture
demanding a positive attitude. Most importantly, while they
have slept, their families will have done without them
absolutely for however long it has been. There will have been
no calls, no emails, no mail, no visits, nothing but the
passage of time for them suspended and for their families with
life continuing without them. I want this aspect of the
process most clearly understood for it is, from my point of
view, the key to the decision I have presented to them. I am
asking them a simple and direct question, though not the one I
seem to be asking, for I have no interest in their thoughts on
the varieties of experience to be encountered with suspended
animation or the cost or how to pay for it. I am asking them
if they are willing to completely abandon their connections to
family and friends in order to ameliorate their awareness of
the incarceration. It is a question of selfishness, really.
It might be said that these men have already demonstrated a
lack of regard or consideration for their social connections
by engaging in criminal behavior. I think it would be
prejudicial and erroneous to work from that assumption. There
are too many factors about which I have no information,
presuming a clear and apparent distinction between legal and
illegal work, that does not perhaps appertain. What then is
work becomes a question of structural necessity. Thence the
field seems to open in all directions at once, leaving every
question without boundary or focus. I can't have that, can I?
I'm a scientist. There is no point asking a question if I
don't suspect or imagine the answer. The question is not even
possible, or at least not meaningful, if the answer is not
inherent, hovering about like an intrusive relative. Mixing
again, mixing and matching, I know, I am aware, words upon
words, inhere and hover, as if, really. I might well present
the question as a hypothetical to non-prisoners, if you were
in prison, etc, but I suspect it would lose its edge of
pertinence, becoming rather like a love or sex or lifestyle
test in a magazine. If I need to choose to I certainly can,
flesh the entire concept into a juicy bit for a popular
science publication, perhaps with a shot of ambition into a
popular science book, with colorful charts and photographs and
glib pronouncements on the nature of selfishness in our modern
society, avarice lives, the ugly old bitch, and I might indeed
do such a thing with sufficient advance. And, of course, I
could do the talk shows. Oh, la. Wouldn't that be fun? But
I am distracting here, dancing away. The question remains that
I will have asked, of selfishness, of how completely will a
person given the choice abandon society not abstractly but
most personally to avoid the inconvenience of being
incarcerated and aware? What is the essence of loss, the loss
or the perception of loss? If the tree falls, slowly, seeming
like a dancer, dark grey in the silver shaded light, the
falling snow silently silently in the cold winter morning, the
branches, the trunk twisting, slowly, and the snow does
perhaps whisper, but no one hears, and no one hears the tree
heavily to the earth, like a giant struck, wounded now dead,
did he howl in pain before falling, when no one is there to
hear, this dancing giant, now dead, waiting to decay where in
the spring, in all the springs to come, mushrooms will grow.
The question is, will these men sacrifice their families
in order to make their incarceration easier. Will they, as a
further step, accept the void I might say, the circles
descending even from this slough of despond, since I am
demanding payment, require their significant others to make
sacrifice in aid of their abandonment? If you did love me you
would do this for me, sell your house, your car, your well
being, perhaps your life, or comfort at least, the easiness,
moments of easiness as few as they have been, so that I may
sleep awhile and awake refreshed. What would I say if I were
the prisoner? What indeed. Sign me up. Have you a brochure I
can show the wife, the lover, mom and dad, the children, young
still but they might understand. I had thought to go a step
beyond. I am not lacking in imagination. Suspended animation
is a fine idea. It has cache, a flash of modernity. Don't we
have the well heeled dying making arrangements for their
bodies to be frozen and reanimated when a cure has been found
for whatever is killing them, even if it's old age, especially
if it's old age, for old age's days are limited, Ponce de Leon
rides not again but still, or their heads at least, at a cut
rate I suppose, though what then is to be done when the moment
for the cure arrives, for a body, I mean, what to do for a
body when only the head remains, though I suspect that if the
money has held out the body found will have a stench of
poverty about it, unless we have progressed so far across the
plains of la madura, that stem cells are planted and a new
body from the old body, that of the dearly deheaded, has been
grown. A bit of induced coma, fifteen to twenty years of
suspended animation, seems jejune in comparison. And yet that
step beyond, and I do not mean offering to cut off their heads
and freeze them. After all, what if the power goes out, and
with global warming it is not the moment to make a sales pitch
based on refrigeration. Unless it is. Unless. If our earth,
blue and emerald jewel of the solar system, the galaxy,
perhaps the universe, whether six thousand years old or
slightly older, is to become in the sadly foreseeable future
Venusian, is it not, equally fair, a moment to corner the
market in air conditioners? Not my thought. Not at all. But it
does take to the realm I had considered, a step further, or
rather a leap, artistic and profound, of true imaginative
genius. Space and time. For they are the same. Of course. Of
course. The cliché of our time, or of our space. With poster
photos of Albert Einstein on the walls of the rooms where
adolescents live. The inventor, the spinner of the tale,
mathematical two step, six beats to the measure, as good a
story as any for the moment. The language is self-consistent.
Isn't that what matters? That we agree to agree and disagree.
So if I fly, if flying it can be called, be flying if called
can, Joyce is not the only one who can play with language,
making literal translation from bad Latin, high art we say, or
innovation at least, to the end of the galaxy and back again,
as fast as fast as ever I can, pushing the speed of light,
getting so close, ever so close which is fast beyond which
there is no faster, or so the story goes, Albert, remember
him, crossing his eyes and sticking out his tongue, look,
mother, he's just like us, a genius and just like us, a
regular guy, it makes me feel so good, and when I have
returned after this journey of a year or two or three or so,
returned to earth, why many years will in fact have passed,
earth facts, as the earthlings see them, the years I mean and
other facts, those six thousand years and a loving god, and
all those friends and relations will have died, unless we've
frozen them and now upon return wake them to joy and happiness
no matter how warm it is outside, eight hundred degrees
Fahrenheit but no one counts in Fahrenheit anymore. Now the
calculations are not precise, in fact they are non-existent
but I assume they can be made, time and distance and velocity,
ever so close to C, and with hard numbers, cold convincing
numbers I can present to a given prisoner his sentence, say
fifteen years, as given here, and now, by an earth bound
judge, an older man or woman I envision, somewhat lacking in
flights of fancy, and the prisoner so glum, so very glum, well
who wouldn't be, and I tell him, sincere as a hatter to a
dormouse, that those are earth years well and good, a just
sentence after all, you aren't here for having been so well
behaved, but if you sign on with me and the traveling prisoner
express, for a goodly fee, or more, I'll whisk you into the
distant corners of the universe, lickity-split, oh lickitiest
of all splits, and have you back in a year, no more, no worse
for wear, a year for you, not so bad, and lo the fifteen years
are gone and your sentence done, a free man, though your
children are grown, or grown old, and your wife a harridan,
she always had that potential, and that other husband, one or
several, is just a stop gap, and you are free and home again
home again, jiggety jog. What do you suppose that will be
worth to the sorrowful soul staring at a dime and a nickel as
they say, talk thereof for a full fifteen, and no hope for
parole, and none for commutation, for let's be honest, what
politician will risk his career on setting a con free when he
might in recompense rape the pope and sodomize Mother Teresa's
decaying corpse? Have I gone too far? Is it too soon? For
jokes about Abraham Lincoln? The point is, of course, that the
traveling prisoner express takes my concept to an altogether
more elegant place. And be advised that elegance has a place
in science, that very place I seem to have found, astride
Ockham's razor and sliding gleefully to a consummate finale.
He bows, he curtsies, gushing blood across the stage, victim,
as he smiles, of his own vaunted cleverness. The sapper as
sap. Where did I put that petard? Mixing and matching in the
bargain basement of too smart. Boom. Or silence. Does one hear
a sound when sitting on a device that flings from off the
mortal coil the self and all attendant beings? I suspect not.
Lost applause is none at all, the tree again full fallen.
I had considered the express. But it seemed too fanciful.
Not that I think convicted prisoners lacking in imagination.
The whole underlying premise of my study is that whatever the
result these prisoners are reflective of society as a whole,
or the male half at least, leaving the female to another time
and place, though I do not initially think the results there
will vary much. These prisoners are the society, after all,
there are so very many of them, more than enough, more than an
adequate sample, the caveat being that they've been caught and
convicted and thus the sample is weighted toward the less
affluent. Not the destitute. I haven't, or don't plan to sweep
the shelters and soup kitchens, though again I doubt the
result would change, poverty alone does not addle the mind or
scramble the human genome, but the sample would be less tidy
and more difficult to manipulate and I mean by that arrange to
test and interview without implication of anything more
sinister. Science is not the enemy here. Science is knowledge,
look it up, it is intrinsic, philology at its best, and our
hope and future, all the very goody things god used to be in a
simpler age, with, may I remind those dreaming, new age, new
wonder, of lost elysian fields, the same poverty and economic
disparity and a great deal more infectious disease. The sample
is the key and the sample is pure, like hens in a coop, rats
in a cage and no vivisection required. But finally the
express, the Einsteinian fillip, seemed, while clever and very
pretty, a step beyond, onto the black ice, to where the water
might yet wash, though solid, cold, hollow ringing beneath my
feet, a song for the dance of my imagining, I could dance as
well more safely though with less reverb to my tingling ears
close into shore where the ice white with scarring would thunk
and clunk and bear my turning safely. It is a matter of
belief. Faith. In the scientific method. Would the prisoners
believe the more fanciful express? I do not doubt that they
would, that with a slightly greater effort the process could
be sold. But the end desired here is an agreement to
separation as an absolute, or the question as to whether or
not that will be chosen. How many? What percentage will choose
selfishness? To burden the consideration of that choice with
thoughts and concerns of a near science fictional nature, with
additional questions of safety and feasibility seemed to
invite confusion and uncertainty into what should remain a
simple process. I admit the choice becomes more stark, more
blatantly selfish with the space time variation, the prisoners
then choosing to abandon their significant others not only for
a given time, but for a final complete correspondence of life.
If you leave your loved ones at twenty-five and return at
twenty-six and yet have left them for twenty years and they,
having waited and aged, are twenty years older and you are
not, then you have most absolutely left them. When the
prisoner returns there is no return, he has died and comes
back a memory, a ghost. One further caveat that I did
contemplate, I admit. The cost I might charge, the fee to add
meaning and importance to the choice, would be more readily
accepted, I assumed, in the purchase of something as
extravagant as space travel. Finally it seems just too
extravagant. Had our space program advanced at all beyond the
moon and a space station, or simply returned to the moon and
stayed there, with longer excursions, more deep space imagery
with man involved, humans there, it would have made the sale
of a fictional space trip more readily acceptable as a
challenge to my study. Let me not forget that this is about
the study. So I choose to keep the process simple, less
fanciful, apple pie a la mode rather than peaches melba, a
sitcom, a play, a standard television drama with strict
intervals and carefully gratified expectations, not modern
opera of dissonant music, odd music, and confused imagery. It
does not matter if the chairman dances if no one will watch
him or listen or dance or leave whistling a happy tune.
Knowledge is the key. Again. Still. I am a research scientist
after all, not an impresario of ornate real life dramas for
those of criminal convictions.
What shall I make of this cost then? I have thought of it
more carefully, convinced as I am that for the process to be
taken seriously the prisoners must believe that they will be
required to pay for it. Money gives a hard edge to the concept
that it might otherwise lack. And if that is true for the
belief that they must pay, how much strength is added if they
indeed are actually required to pay? The expectation of
payment and actual payment are not equal factors. I begin to
believe that it is essential for actual payment to be made,
which will require an addition to the process, a means of
billing and receiving payment, an escrow account to hold the
funds while the study is underway, a means of disbursement
when it is complete. It has occurred to me that there might be
a certain degree of resentment attendant upon the completion
of the study. These prisoners will have expected an
amelioration of their sentence for which they have imposed on
their families and paid the fee, whether exorbitant or not for
I haven't really set it yet, have I? While funds are returned
the resentment may well accrue not solely from a return each
to his sentence unmitigated but also from the clear exposure
of the choice in each instance that will have been made. This
suggests a follow up inquiry to perhaps determine the effect
of that choice on the nature of the relationships involved.
More problematic would be vestiges of anger directed at the
study and at myself as originator. It is something to be
considered. The quest for knowledge is often fraught with
danger though certainly we have come far from Galileo and the
Inquisition. Far, indeed, but not completely away. The patrons
and protectors are different, where once kings and queens and
lords of the realm, we now have universities and tenure. God
bless tenure. But the university I rely on, all the
universities upon which any of us rely for funds, for
protection, for our very lives, whether public or private, are
dependent on public funds and therefore susceptible to
political suasion. God bless tenure indeed. It is in reality
only as secure as any passing political event, safest in the
shadows of obscurity and most fragile in the glaring light,
the ice melting then, you see, not black and hard, but soft
and easily crumbled. These are not violent criminals with whom
I shall be dealing. Such resentment as there is should not
manifest itself in any sort of physical danger but the
political aspects are to be acknowledged. Although it is true
that such a grouping does not elicit a strong sympathy from
the society as a whole. Out of sight, out of mind, and if they
are there they very likely deserve to be so and why should we,
the body politic, give a damn, a thought, even a glance of
interest. Still only the wealthy, the truly rich, are free of
such concerns. This is my living, the car, the condo, three ex
wives who never seem to grow beyond the need of support.
Publish or perish, another thought, another study,
manipulating people and numbers in the pursuit of knowledge.
And what is that? What is knowledge? Well, I won't consider
that. I know. You know. We all know. More and more. And the
more we know, the more carefully we can consider and decide.
This and that. Knowledge is power. Knowledge will set you
free. And in this instance lead to yet another grant and new
car next year and college for the children who will not cease
growing to college age where they can begin the minuet and
seek knowledge in their turn. But not the glare. It is best to
avoid the glare. And why, even in the shadows, safe as I am in
the shadows, do I not feel free?
It has occurred to me that if I were less than a
scrupulous man this study might present an entree to a very
lucrative situation. Several of them actually or two at least,
depending on my' frame of reference. Time is the determiner.
Time again. Albert. Who must surely have been an insufferable
bore in his later years, like so many of these maths and
physics people living forever off a few moments of insight in
youth, often very young, nearly children, idiot savants most
of them. The question is of term, length of time. Questions
for a tenured professor. There are now federal prisons run by
private enterprise. I have no idea how successful the field is
though it must be heavily burdened by bureaucratic resistance,
as aren't we all. It doesn't matter. That is not my thought.
This concept for the study is feasible. Not the extreme, not
whisking across the universe, squeezing time like a ripe
orange. But suspended animation is viable, or to be more
accurate, scientifically, for this is science after all, a
person so suspended remains viable, alive, revivable, like
Lazarus, and therein lies the concept. Victims of head trauma
are, when it is deemed necessary, put into induced coma. It is
then palliative. It has been done for weight loss. So it is
possible and acceptable. It's on the books. There have been
papers on it. Therefore the concept lives. Now if I were to
establish a company, a corporation, the American dream,
incorporation, this nearly more than human entity, with more
legal protections than all but the richest of humans, to
embody the concept, to give it salability, then the sluice
gates might open, the water deep and richly flowing, let the
ice melt then, let it melt. If I market the concept as a means
to satisfy the judicial system in terms of punishment as well
as to the inmates as amelioration of that sentence on a pay
per basis then I have given true value to the idea. I need
only create the beginning. Isn't that the way now? No need to
actually do it, at least not to profitability, but simply to
imagine and plan, bait the heavy money, the venture capital,
perhaps even as far as a stock offering. I may be a professor,
a salaried tenure man, but I'm no fool. I know where the money
is. It's everywhere and needs only the bait, the call, and
once there, gathered, I need only cut and be done with it. It
is the idea that matters, the imagination as value, added and
added again, and I have had the idea. What can a journal paper
mean in the face of such possibility? The field is enormous,
in this land of opportunity, of free enterprise, of easy easy
money, think of the jobs I'll create, oh yes, the payroll, the
taxes I'll pay, a few years down the sluice when there are
profits to be taxed, and most importantly as a focus for
drawing the venture money, this land of endless incarceration,
state and federal, county and town and city, there is no end
of prisoners and each prisoner is ultimately a potential
client. And then what becomes of publish or perish, of a
required class each and every godforsaken semester of dunder-
headed students without the Drains or training or interest of
a fourth grader from fifty years ago, or from France or from
Italy or England or anywhere on mother earth where it is not
considered normal and necessary to send every idiot's child to
college. The young women, now, the young women I might miss
from time to time, they are so fresh, so flowerful at that
age. But a rich man, this aging professor as a rich man would
have no lack of young women willing to console him. And no
need, in the stark glow of pure cold money, no need then to
feign a wise man's interest in their thoughts and aspirations,
ever the same, ever mundane and pathetic, devoid of
imagination, of thought. I am hateful, this rich man I could
become, with effort, a little effort, from this study in
selfishness, will the prisoners, the convicts, sacrifice
family to ease the pain. Who cares? Do I care? Does anyone
care? Should anyone in the whole history of the universe give
a damn? Frankly, Scarlet, I sure as hell don't.
Now that I have purged myself, let fly the fable of who I
pretend to be, I may as well proceed into the grater, more
darkly spinning depths of my fervid imagination. In this
study, this concept for a simple paper, a grant, perhaps two,
but nothing extravagant, is the seed of a marvelous creative
idea. All ideas are creative, aren't they, unless stolen, or
plagiarized? One of the banes of professorial existence, so
many papers, so little time, even for the vicious, the most
blatantly criminal. An imaginative mind can't help itself,
really, as life must breath, as sex drives us to process in
continuation our DNA, so such a mind must, must create.
It is an imperative. And where that creation takes one is not
always an easy or pleasant place, but to deny it is to deny
life. I wax philosophic, nearly Nietzschean and that will not
bear scrutiny, not logically, but what has logic to do with
humanity, with creativity? Or money? What has logic to do with
money? How did I even come to such a question? It is
irrelevant. Math is logic. Of a sort. And the math is quite
simple. In determining that to require an alleged payment from
the prisoners if they chose that available option in the
study, suspended animation, personal, selfish amelioration,
would add a weight of serious reality to their consideration
and thus to the study, I speculated that a reasonable amount
might be related to the federally established poverty level
for a family of four. I don't have that figure at the moment,
as I sit here in the fading light of the afternoon, my
imagination and I, rain falling softly, muting the sounds of
the world around me. But suppose, just suppose, for the sake
of interest, that the figure is given as $25,000 per year.
Not an unreasonable figure. And suppose, as all of this shall
be, just supposition, thought, fiction, imaginative
consideration, that each prisoner opting for this choice is
required to pay that figure in advance to begin the process,
to begin say, and for the first several years, whatever number
works, one, two, three, who yet knows, and further if out of
the nine hundred prisoners to whom I have access six hundred
choose to proceed, and why not, two thirds, a 67% positive
response is not without precedence, and really is it possible
to overestimate the pure selfish ego driven soul of the
average human, from the very depths of Greek myth until, who
was it, who, an ancient, aged couple asked if either would
give a life, the last feeble remnant of life left to them to
save their child, for Hades would have a life, oh yes, and
neither would make the sacrifice, now, and nothing has
changed, we have not changed, so I do not doubt that
percentage, and then when cash must flow, real payment,
payment now, borrow it where you will but not from me, not
from your purveyor for this is science and science, knowledge,
can't be worried about non-payment, would I not have five
hundred left, cash in hand? It is not very much. Twenty-five
thousand. I have more outstanding on credit cards, that
colorful array of plastic I carry like a sacred talisman.
What have we then? In cash. But $12,500,000. A tidy sum.
Nothing to the truly, exorbitantly wealthy. A mere blink to
the government. But a tidy sum for a tenured professor, if put
into perspective. And I must, mustn't I? Perspective.
For I have eyes to see, haven't I? A life to live and
calculate, counting, always counting the years I have or may
have yet, the papers to write, the classes, oh sorrowful, sad,
boring classes I must teach with only the soft flesh of a
young friend now and then to ease the burden, and why, I ask
myself, why do they bother, I am old and fat and it is a
profoundly third rate university, but there they are, god
bless them, in the front row, Perspectives in Social
Anthropology 101, perspectives indeed, I am speaking of
perspective. With my salary, if I paid no taxes and spent no
money I would have twelve million dollars after a mere one
hundred years. Now that is a round cold perhaps inaccurate
coupling of figures. I do pay taxes. And god knows I spend.
These young female students are rarely adverse to fine dining
I have noticed, and the opera and the symphony and monstrous
coffee table art books. It is expected. I am a professor. And
to be fair, to be accurate, I am ignoring investments and the
miracle, as they tell us, always, ad infinitum, of compound
interest. Had I a simple million to begin with compound
interest would set me right, wouldn't it? How quickly, how at
all, who knows, compound away, like yeast puffing up a loaf of
bread. A hundred thousand, ten thousand, anything to start the
compound ball rolling. The problem here, quite honestly, is
that I haven't ten cents to compound into a quarter. Nothing
at whatever interest compounded by the second begets nothing,
and with debt, for I have that, with debt the ball rolling
turns quickly and the compounding of interest, capitalism's
gift to humanity, gathers and gathers until bearing down on me
unrelentingly I am crushed like a bug, like a kitten, like a
stray weed in an avalanche of hard, cold stone. Is that what I
want? Is that the chosen end of the tenured professor? For I
ought to remind myself here that no choice is a choice, that
decisions are decisions even when there are none, for silence
means nothing, means yes, means no, means all the above and
back again, like some of the ornate, overly clever
psychological tests my colleagues and I seek to fashion, for
another paper, yet another paper, so there can be another
class, another maturing child trading sex for affection, hopes
and dreams for attention and pretension. If I sit here, the
rain still falling, the light faded, and let these thoughts
pass like day dreams, like nightmares, as meaning1ess thoughts
of an afternoon, I have chosen the class, the dim
uninterested, uncaring students, the young woman, I can see
her, hear her voice, they are so alike, white bread, brown
bread, bread in a sterile wrapper, and the paper I will write
for a report, a publication devoted to my profession, that no
one will care about one way or the other, we are selfish, it
is proved now scientifically, the imprint of our current god,
revealed knowledge that I have helped reveal and therefore
partake of this god, of the flesh, of the blood, In nomine
Patris, and who will care then? Why should caring even be a
factor? It remains a choice. And nothing is chosen, emptiness
chosen. I can as easily walk out the door into the rain, it is
still falling, did I mention that the rain is still falling,
and never think of these prisoners again, ignore the grant,
the paper awaited with stifled yawns in fervid anticipation,
the students, the repetitious curriculum, the subtle lure of
suspended animation, of flights to distant stars, twelve
million dollars and the spiral of decisions on decisions that
would bring, no more than ever, no more, no less. Walk away.
Cease. Therein to choose. And I am not speaking of free will.
I am not an absolute fool, an aging pollyanna in the tattered
robes of academia. This is not a myth. Urban or otherwise.
Spontaneous combustion of the elderly. I did not burst
thoughtless, unbidden, a flame in an empty universe. Cause.
Effect. I know where the bread is buttered. I don't ignore the
young women when they so desperately want hackneyed words of
wisdom.
The question is, what shall I do? I must do something.
For nothing is something. It saddens me. Not the rain. The
rain is life. The rain is death. And perhaps the rain is
simply rain. But the choices sadden me and I am weary of them.