If the nineteenth century was the age of the editorial chair, ours is the century of the psychiatrist's couch.
Marshall McLuhan

In a completely sane world, madness is the only freedom.
J. G. Ballard

Entropy Gradient Reversals

50-Minute Hour

The Doctor Is In

"Do you understand why you're here?"

"Why, where are we?"

"I'll remind you again. The Lou Gerstner Memorial Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Does that ring a bell?"

"The name is vaguely familiar. Lou who?"

"Gerstner. He was chairman of some computer company. Generous philanthropist. Took a strong interest in our work because we ended up treating so many of his senior executives."

"This was before Michael Eisner became president, right?"

"Very good. But do you know why you're here? That was the question."

"I get some kinda reptile flashes, but that's all."

slurp! "Let's go over this again. You kidnapped your last employer and fed him to Komodo Dragons you had specifically imported for the purpose. Premeditation played a rather large role in your trial. The police found six of them in that crack house you left the poor fellow tied up in. One was 10 feet long and weighed nearly 300 pounds."

"Oh that."

"Yes that. You still seem to display no remorse. But let's get back to what we were talking about last time. Do you remember?"


The doctor pushes back from the desk, tenting his fingers to pursed lips. He looks at me intently for nearly a full minute.

"Let me refresh your memory then," he finally says. "You were describing how you felt invisible, as if no one knew what was going on inside your head. So tell me, just how long have you had this feeling that no one is watching you?"

I put hand to head trying to recall. Wasn't there something about this in my EGR To-Do folder from last week? "Oh yeah!" I brighten. "It's all coming back to me now. I guess it started in the sixties when we all thought the FBI had us under surveillance -- you know, for drugs and shit -- but then I began thinking it was just because we were lonely."

"Lonely?" he pounces. "How do you mean that?"

"Well, you know, sort of wishing someone would pay attention. Take notes. Keep a file or something. You know, like: 'The subject left his apartment at 2:35pm dragging what appeared to be a bale of marijuana...' That sort of thing."

"But then...?"

"Then I got it that no one was really watching. I mean, I was dealing weight right out on the street in clear daylight and the cops never hassled me except when I forgot to feed the parking meter."

"And now?"

"Now? Same thing. It's an attention economy all right, just like they say, but everybody's broke."

"What about me?" he asks. "I'm observing you, am I not? I'm extremely interested in your situation."

"No you're not," I reply. "It's a displacement thing. I want to believe I'm being watched, that someone would care enough about what I'm thinking to do that. So I'm making you up."

"Really?" He is visibly amused by this. "How so?"

"I'm writing you into this issue of my web zine."

"Your web zine," he repeats, emphasizing the words as if they are from another language. "And what does that mean -- to you?"

"It's called Entropy Gradient Reversals," I tell him, immediately suspecting it may not help all that much.

"Ah hah," he says, and makes a quick entry in his notebook. "Then you'll know what I just wrote."

"Delusional. Increase lithium. Increase anti-psychotics."

"Well, you're a smart guy," he says, chumming up. "You could easily have inferred that much." But it's shaken him a little, I can tell.

"So tell me, what does 'Entropy Gradient Reversals' mean? That's an odd collection of words, don't you think?"

"Sorry," I tell him, "not again. We been over that too many times already. They'll never put up with another iteration."

"They?" he asks. "Who are 'they'?"

"The readers. The Valued Subscribers."

"I see," he says, trying to keep the excitement out of his voice. I can tell this is getting really interesting for him. Poor bastard. "Tell me more about these... uh, 'subscribers' you value so highly. Where are they now?"

"Oh, all over, really."

"All over. Hmmm.... Are any of them here with us now?"

"No, they haven't arrived yet. They come after we're done."

"By 'here,' do you mean here to this office? Will I see them?"

"No, you can't see them, but they're there. I mean here. Only later. It's kind of like a time travel thing."

"Time travel." He's giving me this really weird look.

"It's hard to explain, I guess. I never thought about it that much, but yeah, right now it's pretty much just you and me and then later there will be a couple thousand others. But by then, you won't be able to tell they're here. I don't usually know myself unless I look at the logs."

"Your 'readers,' as you call them? And they carry logs?"

"Well, partly right," I tell him. I'm thinking: how far should web literacy be taken? Does the guy really need to know any of this? Probably not necessary.

"OK, so say I take you at your word that you're making this all up, why would you write yourself into a mental institution? I mean, you could be anywhere, right? Why not on a beautiful beach somewhere?"

"You may be getting the hang of this after all," I say. "Fact is, I am on a beautiful beach, being served Piña Coladas by an attentive bevy of Eurasian housegirls."

"Right, OK, and where is this?"

"EGR World HQ in the Yucatan Peninsula. Lovely place. Have you ever been?"

"Forget that. Let's get back to why we're here in a mental hospital instead of having this conversation there on the beach in Mexico, or wherever you think you are right now."

"Well, I imagine that's how my readers think of me. Locked up someplace safe for crimes too heinous to contemplate. Especially after that last issue."

"Oh? And what was that about?" he wants to know.

"It's kinda vague now. I'd hafta go back and re-read it. A buncha stuff about sex and alcohol and nuclear physics I think."

"Well, that's a very neat solution, wouldn't you say? No need to take responsibility for your actions if you've just made everything up. Isn't that it?"

How far can I take this character, I'm wondering. One false step and his willing suspension of disbelief could be shattered beyond repair. The results are not pretty to contemplate. Maybe I'd better take another tack.

"So what made you decide to practice in Malaysia," I ask, as if we're two strangers who just struck up a friendly chat in a bar.

"Look, I'm asking the questions here. You can't throw me off that easily. Besides, this is Boston, not Malaysia."

To demonstrate this and bring a little reality principle to bear, he goes over to the window and pulls back drapes. "See?" he says -- a little too self-satisfied, I'm thinking. OK asshole, you asked for this.

"Yeah?" I reply, having gotten up and joined him at the window. "Doesn't look much like Boston to me," I say, pointing.

Across the street, a large sign on the building directly facing says First Bank of Kuala Lumpur. There are a few rickshaws in the street eight stories below. Maybe nine stories, it's getting hard to keep track. I look over and notice his face has gone ashen. Uh-oh, looks like I could be losing him.

"So hey Doc," I say cheerily, "is this your, like, diploma framed on the wall here?" I need to distract him, get him thinking about happier times.

"What's that? Oh yes, I got my degree in psychiatry from Harvard..." But he's still looking out the window, dangerously confused.

"Harvard?" I say. "That's not what it says here."

He suddenly snaps out of it, looks over at me. "What are you talking about?" He strides over and reads the plaque aloud, his tone increasingly querulous as he gets further into it: "Greater Des Moines Institute of Industrial Training. For Completion Of The Two-Year Associates Program In Welding, This Certificate Is Presented To David Weinberger..." His voice trails off.

"Zat your real name, Doc? Weinberger? Funny I never thought to ask."

He gives me a completely blank stare, then reaches into the breast pocket of his pinstripe suit and pulls out a classy looking leather billfold. He flips the little plastic card holders until he comes to a driver's license.

"Yep," I say, reading over his shoulder. "David Weinberger, that's you I guess."

He goes back to the desk and sits down heavily. Perhaps this has gone too far. But hell, I'm not sure how to get out of it now. Might as well press on and see where it goes.

"Know anything about intertextuality, Doc?" I ask, keeping the tone light, trying to coax him back from the edge. It takes a minute but he finally looks up and says "Hunh?" Not much, but it's something. Maybe I can keep him from dissociating altogether.

"Intertextuality," I repeat. "Complex references among and between written narratives. Sort of like a relational database but somebody lost all the table pointers."

The blank stare again.

"OK," I say, "I'll write this down for you. Maybe it'll come in handy later. Think of it as a Ricky-Don't-Lose-That-Number kinda deal."

"Who's Ricky?" he asks pathetically.

"Never mind about Ricky," I say. "Ricky isn't important. But this is." I go over to the desk and pick up his harpoon of a pen, an obscenely expensive Mount Blanc. In big letters on his blotter I print out:


He looks at the desktop, then back at me. His eyes are crazy. I almost feel sorry for him.

"Look, I know this doesn't make much sense to you now," I tell him consolingly, tapping the URL on the blotter, "but this is a big clue to who you really are. Maybe you can find someone to help you figure out what it means."

But he's gone. Tripping. Vacated. I shake him roughly. Slowly, he comes out of it, shudders like the devil just crossed his grave, takes out a silk handkerchief and wipes away the cold sweat that's broken out across his deeply furrowed brow.

"Listen carefully," I tell him, forming the words as clearly as I can. "You used to work at Interleaf, then at Open Text. You got into this profession because your mother was devoured by tarantulas in the Uruguayan jungle when you were only four years old and you witnessed the whole thing. Your father was an Andalusian monk..."

"But how do you know these things about me?" he interrupts.

"Don't interrupt!" I bellow, straight into his face. Then, relenting, "Well, hey, some of it's on your home page," I tell him. "You ought to read it yourself once in a while. The rest I made up five minutes ago. I've been fucking around with the paragraph to get the details right. Hmmmm, maybe it wasn't tarantulas," I muse aloud. "Maybe it was actually boa constrictors."

"Boa constrictors..." he echoes, putting his left hand to his forehead, radically unsure of everything at this point. Suddenly he snaps his fingers: "My god, that's right!"

"Albino boa constrictors," I say. "Their eyes were horrible. You remember..."

He begins to perspire profusely and his hands tremble uncontrollably, the panic setting in again. He tugs at his tie as if it's choking him, goes to the window and throws it open, gasping for air. Below, he sees only the familiar Boston traffic. Across the street there is no bank. In its place is a Legal Seafood restaurant.

"Not seafood!" he cries out, falling back from the window and tripping over a potted palm. He is rocking side to side on the floor, moaning softly when the attendants arrive to return me to my cell.

"Well, Doc, looks like that's all we got time for today," I say, not sure whether he can hear me. I reach down and give his shoulder a little nudge. "Say there, Doc... Doc?"

Oh well, no use I guess. Good session, though, I tell myself, setting the file back on his desk. I think we're finally making some progress here.

"And what about you fellas?" I ask the attendants as they lead me away, "Where do y'all hail from?"

Laugh-a while you can monkey boy!

Dr. Emilio Lizardo

Entropy Gradient Reversals
All Noise - All the Time


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