Wednesday, April 28, 2010

She Blinded Me With Science

Storytellers Unplugged, April 28th 2010

She Blinded Me With Science

Well, actually, it was a he, and it involved psychiatric craziness, but I couldn’t get a working title out of that. Last month, Dave commented on not knowing about my so-called hippie days. Well, I was even wilder than that. 

I smoke, did any of you know that? Marlboro Lights, the cigarette of the enlightened. Not often. Started in college because it cut down on my hunger pains, and I think a pack of cigarettes was cheaper than a Dunkin’ Donut in 1981. Stevenson Hall, 2nd Floor, all the writing workshops. A half-dozen vending machines filled with coffee and scalding hot chicken broth. I wish I had photos, particularly black and white film, the alcove near Room 203 filled with kids hidden by cigarette smoke, grown men shrieking from the broth spilling over their fingers. Spring outside, but bleak inside, due for the most part by the overhead lights discolored by the smokers. Now that you know that I wrote “Rapid Transit” while hopped up on coffee, broth, and nicotine, well, I bet that explains a lot, right.

I quit easily. But over the years, I’d be so pissed off at the boss or the sky that I’d buy a pack, hotbox three or four of the cursed things, and then pay the rest of the pack forward. The last time was at the printing plant, the winter of 2007. Too many guys on the night crew smelled of bachelor ass and making my clothes reek helped a bit.

Which leads me to this. As I’m ready to be off unemployment and back on food stamps, I have been looking at Craigslist every night, looking for focus studies and the like. I got a reply from my alma mater, UIC, and I’d be at the Behavioral Science Building, which I knew was behind Stevenson Hall simply because it looked...well, now I’d say it looks like a hunk of crystal meth, but back then it was this clunky, grey building that didn’t fit with the shiny, bright buildings that all seemed to be named for politicians.

$30.00 for two hours, a smoking study. With my handicapped pass, my bus ride was 75 cents each way. Most importantly, I figured I’d be able to fake smoking by not coughing my brains out. This kid came in, he reminded me of how old I am because of his resemblance to one of the characters from Animal House. I had to do a Breathalyzer thing, which was fine because I smoked two cigarettes, a little less than manly because of the wind that day, on the way across the campus. I’ll skip past the part where I typed into a computer why this and when that...let’s get to the good part. A cautionary tale, perhaps.

The kid came back in and asked if I wanted to make another $70.00. He was naked under his labcoat, so I felt safe in answering with a shrug. He then brought up a screen on the computer with a strange purple square made of smaller squares. Up and down was “Bad” and across was “Good,” but I couldn’t understand how, by moving the mouse around the other squares, I could describe a varying amount of goodness or badness. I didn’t have a chance to ask, because the guy zoomed out of there, back to the camera I was being monitored on.

The first photo was of a young black kid with his jaw missing. Then a flower vase. A can of re paint, then a severed finger. Each photo remained on the screen for five seconds, and I still couldn’t get how I could feel good AND bad about a damn severed finger. Why, because it belonged to an adult? I saw photos of people having sex, women on the bottom, women on the top, naked men against a wall that looked suspiciously like the alcove from my college days. A man being tasered, more flowers in a field, and then an honest-to-God eyeball with optic nerves attached, floating in a glass of fluid. More sex shots. The plane hitting the South Tower on 9/11. The jumpers. Tienaman Square, the guy who stood up to the mighty tanks. Back to 9/11. Girls in bikinis.

I was actually wetting my lips with the tip of my tongue, something I might do in November when I’m on a crowded street corner, just to get the sharp tang of the nicotine ever so close to my throat. The screen went blank, the kid came in and told me to smoke. I wanted some bleach for my eyes, to be honest. Then I had to smoke again, only after he handed me the money, all crisp fives and tens. We made small talk, I left, pissed that I was not dressed for the weather. Now late afternoon, it was in the 40s, and I was wearing my Polkaholics t-shirt and my leather jacket. I stopped in the food court to get something to eat, to get my body warm. $3.89 for a biscuit with cheese, bacon, and a Jimmy Dean sausage. Now I know why Jimmy Dean is so damn rich.

I started walking uphill towards the entrance to the Blue Line train, which ran between the east and westbound lanes of the Eisenhower Expressway. Maybe I ate to fast, maybe it was the taste of the tobacco, or the visuals of the truly disgusting photos I did not describe, but I suddenly walked to the railing and threw up onto I-90. Nobody swerved, so I knew I wouldn’t be making the news that night.

What is the point of telling this? Well, again I am pointing out that there’s a story in everything, I could change various parts of this story and sell it to Penthouse, Soldier of Fortune, or turn it into a manga comic of big mouths and big eyes. The lab guy could have been Pokemon.

But I am also telling you this, all of you. If anyone in a lab coat offers you money without telling you why, haul ass.