This is an excerpt from Balero’s journal that had for quite a long time served as the book’s opener (it was one of the very first sections I wrote). It was later moved to near the end of the book in the form of a physical journal entry that Marcus stumbles upon while holed up at Willow’s extravagant condo around the time Balero demonstrates his newfound powers to Zeke by forcing Leah’s father to materialize from the past and then vanish again.
The 2nd and 3rd sections of this intro (“urge loop” is an anagram of prologue — I was quite obsessed with anagrams while writing this book) serve as background pieces to get the reader comfortable with the world they are about to enter.
Deleted for brevity and — let’s face it — comprehensibility.
November 6, 2001
You say potato, I say Lois Birnbaum Finds A Severed Finger In Her Salad, a short novel in three parts by Hawaiian noirist Martin Flinchjaw involving a severed finger, two Russian mafia thugs, several wardrobe changes, a bank heist, an elevator chase scene, three air conditioning repairmen, and a widowed stenographer from Corpus Christi who just wants to have a nice salad and get through the rest of her day before a documentary crew catches up with her and ruins everything forever.
Michael Jackson died filming a Pepsi commercial on January 27th, 1984. The last performance of his life was in front of a staged audience at the absolute peak of his fame. Last night I dreamt he lived well into his forties and spent his days aimlessly wandering the train yards of New Jersey, claiming to hear the voice of God. One day he happened upon a group of homeless men who were bound for a nearby shelter where free food and clothing were being administered by the Sisters Of Perpetual Motion, a performance art group and ironic charity arm of Shell Oil and Home Equity Loans. The homeless men got their food and clothes and boarded a yacht bound for Frankenscience, a mobile outdoor music festival on a military aircraft carrier just off the coast of Atlantic City where Psycho Nazi Girlfriend was about to open for Web of Sodom, a comically grotesque death metal band from Aberdeen, South Dakota. WOS’s sophomore release failed to live up to the promise of their maiden voyage HMS Petit Four, which somehow tore up the charts in Brazil the year before. Psycho Nazi Girlfriend was a scrappy grindcore outfit made up of four vegan lesbians from Brooklyn who didn’t believe in recording any of their performances and refused to take music of any form seriously. They all wore identical pink and purple Tony the Tiger T-shirts because the concert was sponsored by Frosted Flakes, and they found this too disarmingly nostalgic to resist. The Kellogg’s marketing team promised the board of directors that, in spite of its bitter taste, this was exactly the kind of winky sideways swagger that was going to be the next big thing in public relations.
I wanted to blame this dream on Flinchjaw’s confusing magnum opus, which I had finished just moments before falling asleep this morning, but I’m utterly convinced that it contains the truth of what happened. My brain was trying to tell me something it had processed and spit back out, tagged with a red IMPORTANT flag but not clear as to why. The truth I still can’t quite admit to myself must be so painful that I had to wrap it deep within a layered fruit salad of cosmic mystery, or a symbol within a symbol, which is Michael Jackson’s wasted, horrifying life in some parallel universe where things unfolded just a little bit differently than our own. And the point of departure between that timeline and ours is where God reached down from the heavens and said “never mind, actually” before taking off in a spaceship for another universe somewhere else and starting all over again. Only the people in that universe didn’t die right away—they were forced to watch as their world fell apart a little bit at a time, watching their children and grandchildren float away into a vacuum of pointlessness. But you and I and everyone else in this universe were spared that awful fate. I know this, because only in a just world would Michael Jackson be allowed to die between Thriller and whatever would have come next, which, there’s no way he could top that. I mean, come on. It’s fucking Thriller, by all accounts the best album ever recorded. It is the number one selling record in the history of music. It has sold more copies than the next two best sellers combined. The first letter of the first word of each song lyric, when spelled backwards, something-something-something, then some witches in a spaceship, and I can’t remember the rest. (You know how dreams are.) In our universe Michael Jackson died in 1984 and his glory lives on in death, un-haunted by disappointment, frozen in greatness. And so I’m pretty sure everything is going to be OK. But almost it wasn’t, I guess is the point of the dream. I guess there’s no way of knowing really how close we came to that timeline, or if it was just a fevered dream inspired by the strangest novel ever, and nothing to do with reality.
Flinchjaw had a thing or two to say about the unknown, even if it was said to a relatively small audience. He said humans fear the unknown the way we fear our own future, a cascading n-dimensional matrix of near-infinite possibilities that short-circuit our tiny brains after like ten seconds of thinking about it. This terror outweighs even our confusions about the Reason Things Are, like thunderstorms and luck, burdens traditionally assigned to gods. There are no such analogs for the prism of the unknown, Flinchjaw explains (via subtext, of course), leaving us utterly and terrifyingly on our own. Instead of turning to gods, we turn against each other.
Which brings us to what happened last year. Marcus was a smart guy, in spite of his UFO shit. I mean, whatever. I guess there are worse things to obsess over. He’d never give Flinchjaw a try because exactly 100% of his free time was dedicated to crawling as far up this Holcomb guy’s ass as possible. I looked him up once out of curiosity, and whatever. The man’s a washed up ex-military hack trying to pay for his retirement by whipping up conspiracy tropes from a half a century ago. Actually, I kind of respected the guy for this. I raise my glass to you, oh UFO conspiracy theorist, for getting paid to fleece the American public by selling us a story we’ve already bought and swallowed a thousand times over. America deserves modern intellectuals like you.
Flinchjaw was right about something else, too. Humanity, as obsessed with itself as it is, doesn’t know itself for shit. This was the thinly-veiled theme behind the book’s untitled fourth chapter: know thyself or bust. Which is misleading, since are we supposed to know ourselves as individuals, or as a species? Because we do some pretty dumb shit as a species in deep spite of the presence of more than a few truly levelheaded cats. On this point of distinction Flinchjaw is not clear, probably purposefully so. In a way he’s hinting that it’s not possible for us to know ourselves, that we are the products of an impossible-to-comprehend universe. This interpretation makes sense when seen in the light of his thinly veiled allusions to Camus and Kierkegaard, although I usually prefer a more lighthearted approach to the absurd ala the brothers Marx and Warner.
I remember even thinking this stuff out loud and sort of not, back in what now is the past, I want to say 1.7 years ago. A not yet dead Marcus stopped reacting to my odes and fell even deeper into his world of techno-animatronic renderings of dragons and wizards, not realizing that he was kind of making my point for me, that we attempt to extrapolate out into the impossible and the bizarre just as lazy grad students lose themselves in the impossibly endless worlds of fantasy video games. It’s a form of “relaxation”, but of course we’re obsessed with it; we try to explore every one of the million-trillion possible pre-programmed permutations of our lives in an effort to make sense of the senselessness that surrounds us every day all day until we die. I insisted on confronting this absurdity head-on; Marcus preferred to lose himself in beer and weed. (Well, OK—I liked beer and weed too.)
There was a love between us, but it was a dirty love, the kind that exists between most men. When we were in the tenth grade he riddled me with endless teases and insults over my proclaimed adoration of Flinchjaw, but I didn’t care. Something about his work vibrated on my frequency, and I made no apologies for this. Still don’t. I did however make the mistake of sharing my love of Flinchjaw’s first novel with Marcus around the time we both entered high school. He made cracks about delusional self-help mafias, self-absorbed philosophy grad student dropouts, and rich divorcées with too much time and ennui on their hands. It was so much better, he went on, to read books with purpose and meaning, books about politics or culture or science, not “leftover nonsense from the Dadaists, who clearly lost.” Grow up, in essence, was what he was telling the then fifteen year-old me. I think he even used the word “potential”, or something unpleasantly akin to it.
But I didn’t mind. I loved the guy. Wouldn’t have traded situations for all the whatever. The only reason I wanted to go back to community college—pray you never have to use that phrase to describe your life, “go back to community college”—was to lock down my associate’s degree in math and get my own place and some fucking privacy for the first time in my life. I knew a guy who did the same thing a couple years ago, and now he’s thirty and making six figures doing actuarials for a big financial firm in Boston. I don’t really care where my career goes, honestly. I’m like my cat, Professor Waffles—I have a laughably low threshold of happiness and contentment, and I feel exactly no pressure to race any rats. The biggest adventure of my teen years was taking Marcus to my dealer’s house in Wynnewood, dropping acid, then taking a city bus to go sit in the Basilica for hours where we watched the spirits swirl around the inside of the dome before going to a midnight screening of Undead Nurses at the Trocadero. That morning I went home, announced to my mother that I had the flu, and stayed in bed for two days, during which time I wrote the outline to a backwards novella and tried to imagine what a four-dimensional sphere looked like. So yeah. I couldn’t care less about six-figure salaries or fancy cars, but I love the idea of getting out from under my parents’ fucking thumbs. I guess I was hoping there’d be a middle ground somewhere. My real talent, being able to see clearly into the true nature of things, would never land me a job, of course other than shift supervisor at Discount Video.
Going back to school was financially tricky. All but the last dregs of my allotted education money set aside by my parents had been used up the last time I spent two-thirds of a year at winner-city community college while simultaneously renting a one-bedroom I had absolutely no business renting, forcing me to apply for financial aid, a paltry mix of loans and scholarships that only covered a little over 60% of college financial life. Rent suddenly became a problem. Two sulking phone calls later it became clear that my parents were threatening to drop kick me into the new millennium and see if I could fly. I got a second job at a print shop, which solved the rent problem. My father freed up a little of my grandfather’s inheritance at my aunt’s insistence, which solved the drug problem (and by that, I mean the drug money problem). Marcus invited me to be his roommate, and that brings us up to last year. Him saving princesses in a digital world, me destroying bowls of weed and waxing philosophical about anything that has the misfortune of capturing my fancy. And so that was our life. Imperfectly, implausibly, deliciously, wonderfully, horribly good. That was our last summer together. But I’m not whatever. I had exactly no illusions that something so perfect could last.
Teenage ‘Digital Einstein’ May Have Cracked Million Dollar Math Problem
By Clarissa Atwood
The Capital Times
December 18, 1998
Vamsi Paruchuri loves Carl Sagan. His favorite movie is Contact, and last month his parents gave him the Cosmos VHS box set for his eighteenth birthday. He was looking forward to enjoying it over winter break, but fate may have different plans. One of his recent homework assignments, if proven correct, may change the course of history.
Vamsi, a senior at James Madison Memorial High School, raised some academic red flags when he turned in a project for his computer science class last month.
“I had my students pair up and demonstrate their final project at the end of the fall term.” Terrence Fikes runs the high school’s math and computer science departments, and teaches Introduction to Object Oriented Programming.
“Frankly for an introductory class, it’s a bit more complex than some students are prepared for. Academic dishonesty is not unheard of.”
Now a staunch supporter of his star pupil’s talent, Mr. Fikes admits that it took him a while to consider Vamsi’s work as anything other than plagiarism. “Vamsi, well, you could say he went far beyond what we expected. More than anyone could have expected, really.”
Before taking any disciplinary action, Mr. Fikes invited Vamsi and his lab partner to meet with the principal to defend their submission. “Vamsi was able to defend and explain his work to the finest detail. Soon he was discussing ideas and concepts that college seniors wrestle with, and then eventually he was even talking over my head. I started to think, well, maybe the kid’s on to something.”
Something, indeed. If his work stands to scrutiny, Vamsi may have just solved a famously vexing thirty year-old math riddle known as the P vs NP Problem. In a nutshell, it states that no one knows for sure if relatively simple mathematical problems are theoretically connected to other, far more complex ones.
If it turns out that they are connected, mathematicians could use simple problems to solve extremely complex ones in a hurry, squeezing hundreds or even millions of years of computing time into days and weeks. Experts in the field suspect that the two are not the same, and Vamsi agrees. Either way, there are huge repercussions in fields such as game theory, cryptography, and artificial intelligence.
“It’s sort of like the question of life on other worlds, to borrow a quote from Arthur C. Clark.”
Professor Logan Simmons teaches numerical analysis and applied linear algebra for the Illinois State University Mathematics Department. He has reviewed Vamsi’s work, and he agrees with Mr. Fikes that computer whiz could be on to something.
“Either intelligent life exists outside of Earth or it does not. Either P and NP are the same, or they are not. Both possibilities are hugely important to the fields of mathematics, logic, and computer science. Anyone who definitively answers this question will secure a place in scientific history. Anyone who definitively answers this question will be on the cover of every popular scientific magazine in the world, probably Time and Newsweek, too.”
If fame isn’t enough of a draw, there’s always fortune. This spring the Clay Mathematics Institute is set to unveil their Millennium Prize Problems, a list of math puzzlers that is likely to include heavyweights such as the Poincaré Conjecture and the Riemann Hypothesis. If the P vs NP Problem makes it onto this list, as Professor Simmons and others believe it will, Vamsi could be eligible for the prize which is rumored to be a cool one million dollars.
“That’s a lot of money,” laughs Vamsi over a chai tea latte at a coffee shop just down the street from his house. “I wasn’t thinking about money when I wrote the paper. Honestly, I’m not sure what I was thinking. The answers just seemed to build on top of one another, and before I knew it, I was up to almost fifty pages. It just kept pouring out of me.”
Vamsi spent the last few days of the fall term holed up in a nearby college library, pulling graduate-level textbooks off the shelf and polishing up his paper.
“I knew the material well enough to get a running start, but the pieces really started to click into place by the time I read a book on finite automata and Turing machines. I had trouble concentrating on anything else for nearly a month. I started getting stress headaches and nosebleeds. I even had a bladder infection at one point. I think my friends really started to worry about me! I wasn’t surprised when Mr. Fikes hauled me in to his office.”
His teacher was able to rule out academic dishonesty after feeding portions of Vamsi’s paper into a computer program that uses the Internet to snoop for plagiarism (none was found). Nonetheless, some of his colleagues express skepticism.
John Polgreen, professor of theoretical computer science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, suggested that while “interesting to read”, Vamsi’s approach was “probably too clever by half,” and will “not stand to scrutiny.”
Mr. Fikes does not share this skepticism.
“I believe the approach he took was so unique, so out of left field, that serious academics will have difficulty accepting it. It’s an utterly fresh take.”
Vamsi may get the chance to have his ideas taken seriously, if Mr. Fikes has anything to say about it.
“It needs to be rewritten from the ground up in a formal fashion, and some wrinkles need to be ironed out, but all the elements of a serious academic paper are there. He’s done a really, truly remarkable job at demonstrating his proof in a methodical, logically consistent way.”
If all goes according to plan, Vamsi will be submitting a revised copy of his paper to the Journal of the Association for Computing Machinery this summer, where it will be considered for publication. Mr. Fikes is currently helping Vamsi find a well-established co-author in the field to lend credibility to his submission.
“This will be huge for Vamsi. This will change the course of his entire life, no matter what happens.” Vamsi’s mother Amala couldn’t be happier with her son’s unexpected academic celebrity.
“They call him the ‘Digital Einstein’. I love that!”
Mrs. Paruchuri fully supports her son’s new academic trajectory. “He’s going to spend half of his time on this new version of his paper during the spring term. His high school principal has agreed to extend us every courtesy. We’re so proud and so full of gratitude!”
One slight drawback to this happy news is that Vamsi won’t get much of a break this winter. “I was really looking forward to watching some episodes of Cosmos,” he said thoughtfully over his tea. “I’ll have to find a way to do both.”
April 6, 2000
ForceField Media Relations
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Gail Amundson
Awareness Publications is proud to present the 2000 Awareness Expo, a celebration of New Age celebrities and events in Philadelphia, PA (June 23-25, 2000)
Philadelphia, PA (ForceField Media) April 3, 2000
Philadelphia, PA (April 2000) – Spirit Circle newspaper, in conjunction with Glass Candle Booksellers, presents the 2000 Awareness Expo at the downtown Philadelphia Convention Center over the weekend of June 23, 2000.
Local craftspeople, authors, healers, and psychics will set up booths and tables in an open auditorium, and two separate halls will be used for speaking engagements and live demonstrations throughout the weekend.
Highlights include the following events:
* Q & A with New York Times Bestselling author Beverly Masters
* Directed group meditation with Lilly Halvorson
* Talk by author Ford Van Zorn on multidimensional beings
* Live demonstration and Q & A with spirit medium Leah Schaudt
* Creating Your Own Reality with noted author and psychic Peace Flame
Full weekend passes are $50, and daily passes are $30. Passes will be available at the door, or you may purchase them ahead of time at The Glass Candle Booksellers (229 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19147 | (221) 982-7877.
Come and be One with the Great Spirit at the dawn of the new millennium!
# # #