Last week I was rereading a short story my best friend, Dan Wood, sent me awhile ago and thought it deserved to be added to my blog. Dan is a teacher in the Los Angeles area and has been working on a PhD in education, and, he is possibly the funniest character I personally know. Whenever Dan and I are together, we have a great time. I think he's very sensitive to all things humorous--he laughs at my jokes. I think his exposure to some of the silliness that exists in "greater" education--Dan is a pretty pragmatic conservative guy stuck in a liberal wonderland--and his natural ability to appreciate the absurd inspired this little bit. It was published earlier in a literary journal, but I asked him for permission to republish it here. I hope you enjoy it.
Breakdown in the Semiosphere
By Dan Wood
As Terrance Rex Inteligencci stood in line wearing the blue and black cap and gown, symbols of the source of his newly acquired PhD., and the academic beating he took to get it, he felt at once a sense of empowerment and resentment. "Finally!" he thought as he looked askance at the sea of mediocre faces in the audience, waiting to take a picture of their own "successful" sons or daughters, children of privilege, of money, of guarantees, of connections, of tutors, of ass wipers. Resentful of the past four years of hoop jumping, sitting up, rolling over, begging, barking, ass kissing, he inched his way toward the Dean of the School of Philosophy. Incensed that he lived in a society that validated intelligence and granted social mobility to possessors of ink-stained parchment – a necessary game society made him play--Terrance reached out to take the diploma without shaking the inferior hand of its giver. Avoiding eye contact, Terrance felt no need to smile as he continued across the stage, seemingly unaware of the momentary absence of camera flashes.
Outside, he hurried past huddled groups of parents and graduates smiling, laughing, hugging, taking pictures. They were weak people who needed other people.
On Sunset Blvd, the siren alerted the new graduate to the red flashing light in his rear-view mirror. A numbers game, it was just a matter of time before his incessant disregard for traffic laws, a small part of his overall contempt for the mindless society he lived in, was noticed by the authorities.
Seeing the youth was angry about something, "Don't your brakes work son?" asked the officer with unperceived double meaning.
"Fortunately, I don't see the resemblance" came the insult.
"Did you see anything resembling a stop sign back there? Or what about something that looked like a speed limit sign?" came the sarcastic retort, this time with a little anger rising in his voice.
Seeing his rudeness had hit its mark, Terrance, by his reckoning a real philosopher, smugly continued "If a tree fell in the forest, and no one was there to hear the sound, was there in fact a sound?"
"If a policeman gave a smart ass a ticket, and he didn't pay it, would he go to jail?"
Terrance’s respite from anger was short lived when he was asked to sign the ticket. Then, seeing an opportunity to publicly embarrass the officer, he autographed it with a sneer. "See you in court officer." This would be his debut in the real world. A chance for philosophy to meet reality. The beginning of Terrance’s contribution to altering the unalterable, of doing what Socrates only dreamed of, helping the masses to get it. Not a life of perpetuating the status quo of perceptual blindness by hiding in ivory towers, keeping the truth from the underprivileged.
Tension was mounting as Terrance not so patiently waited for his name to be called. This was his big moment, his turning point, the day of reckoning, the day that would fill the void of all those empty moments of nonrecognition. To everyone else, the common folk, the masses leading unexamined lives of quiet desperation, the light was about to shine in darkness, and by his extraordinary wit, be comprehensible.
"Docket number 013. Terrance Rex Intelligencci."
Full of confidence, Terrance rose to enlighten the unenlightened, to fool the fools, to rupture the very fabric of their social conventions. As he walked to the rostrum, he envisioned suspended in the air behind him, and smiling approvingly, the authors he had mastered from his bookshelves: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hume, Alfred E Newman…
"Mr. Intelligencci. You have entered a plea of ‘Not Guilty’ to the charge of failing to stop at a stop sign. I understand that you have chosen to, contrary to the court's advice, waive your right to counsel. Is that correct?"
"Yes, your honor. No attorney is capable of defending me at the level I can defend myself."
“I’m sure that’s true” thought the judge, looking at him with a mixture of amusement and pity. The judge gave his consent, but for reasons other than what Terrance would have wanted.
"Very well, we have a busy day, let's proceed."
A freshly sworn in Rex, erect before his accuser, eagerly awaited the judge's first question.
Irritated for having to waste time in the first place with such an open-and-shut case, the judge began. "So, Mr. Intelligencci, it's your contention that you are in fact not guilty of passing the plane of the stop sign at the intersection of Charles Young and Royce on August 30th?"
"Would you care to share with the court why your testimony of that event does not corroborate Officer Ben Thrutbfor’s, and why the officer’s video also contradicts your version of events?"
Glancing smugly and condescendingly at the officer, "Of course your honor, but I don't think it's necessarily the officer's fault that he has a different version of the facts."
"Oh, how so?"
Terrance began to wax eloquent. "Well, no disrespect your honor, but he's just part of the system - an unconscious cog in the thoughtless machinery of our conventional social paradigm. He had no real sense of the underlying reality of the situation."
"And you did" intoned the judge with mild sarcasm.
"If I may be permitted to explain, your honor."
Continuing the sarcasm, "The court is on the edge of its bench."
"If the officer had only been aware of the writings of Hoffmeyer, this whole situation could have been avoided?"
"Well, for one thing boundaries don't really exist. They’re simply mental constructs."
"Oh, they may seem to on the macro-level, but certainly are not on the micro-level. It’s just an illusion."
"Just imagine you suddenly began to shrink. You get smaller and smaller until you're the size of an atom."
"Yes, you begin to shrink until you are the size of an atom. If you were standing on the gavel plate you would eventually notice that instead of a clear distinction between the plate and the atmosphere, there would exist a random mixture of air and wood molecules on either side of you, completely eroding any notion you would have of a boundary."
"I assume you're trying to make a point here regarding your traffic ticket, Mr. Intelligencci?"
"Ok your honor, which should really be my honor technically speaking, just another example of our system of archaic relics of inequality."
"About the traffic ticket..."
"Well, even if I were to concede that boundaries did exist, which I don't, the court would still find it necessary to declare my innocence based on the writings of Aristotle. We know that the unaided human eye only has the ability to perceive matter at or larger than 0.5mm, hence the apparent need for the video. But, undermining that is Aristotle’s observation, if you’ll pardon the pun, that an object in motion is continually passing through space in increasingly smaller increments, rendering it impossible to actually observe the moment a plane is broken, assuming such a thing could ever occur."
The judge, looking at his watch interjected, "Please make this brief, Mr. Inteligencci."
"Ok, let's say that I was asked to approach the bench."
"Heaven forbid" thought the judge.
"Imagine I first get to the half way mark."
The judge is trying not to roll his eyes.
"I then cover the distance half way to the bench again."
"Uh, huh" knowing where this is going.
"Well, your honor can see that by this reckoning, I would never reach the bench."
"So you're still approaching the stop sign?"
"It's all a matter of perspective, your honor. You're assuming that that boundary existed in the first place!"
"Ok, Mr. Inteligencci, you've made your point. The court finds you guilty of not making a lawful stop at the aforesaid intersection on the aforesaid date, and orders you to pay a fine of $300.00 dollars and court costs of $100.00 dollars. How much time do you need to take care of this?"
Terrance, incensed, shouted,” I refuse to be a party to this gross injustice; I will not pay one cent toward either charge! You’re squandering an opportunity to make some meaningful changes here!"
Getting up and leaving, officer Ben Thrutbfor smiles and winks at Rex as he passes him on his way out.
Full of rage, Terrance grabs a law text from the table and hurls it towards the judge. As it ricochets from the judge’s forehead, Terrance screams rhetorically, “Did anyone see the exact point of impact, or when the plane of his forehead was broken?”
"Fools" thought Terrance as he heard the lock catch on the door of his cell. "The idiots actually think these bars are boundaries. They'll never get it!"