(the 50th and final installment of the unpublished novel -except here on this blog-The Manhattan Project…thanks to those who have taken the time to check out parts of it…I’ll leave it up here a while in case anyone wants to read a little more…in this last episode, anguished reporter Jed Berman finally realizes the cognitive and affective risk of following the suggestions of a pot-smoking hippie he met outside a smoke shop in Old Town, Maine)
Yeh, I know this all probably sounds goofy. You may not buy the mirror neuron stuff at all. You may still think we’re born with an innate sense of aggression, and fortunately so because it’s a vicious world out there and we need it to survive. You may believe that nature is truly bloody in tooth and claw, but I gotta’ tell ya’ this mirror neuron stuff is pretty strong evidence that you’re wrong. But I also have to admit, if you can’t buy all of this, you are in the majority, your way of thinking still rules the world, and I’m sorry about that. It’s lonely being in the minority.
A couple of months after we ran the story [see earlier episodes] I realized the one person who might have found it really interesting and encouraging hadn’t been in touch with me and I had basically forgotten about him—Doris. The first chance I had I cruised by the smoke shop to see if he was there, and he was. I parked and walked over to him. He was right there on the bench, same flannel shirt, same jeans, same boots, same hand-rolled cigarette in his hand, slouched down in his usual smoking position. I remember wondering as I got closer to him whether the smoke shop was glad to have this pot smoker as their poster boy out front. I doubt if that thought ever occurred to Doris.
He waved to me as I came across the parking lot, but didn’t show any other emotion.
“Yo, Jed. Mr. Newsman. What’s happenin’, man?”
He patted the other half of the bench for me to sit down.
“Doris. I’m okay, how are you?”
“How do I look, man? Same old, same old, you know?”
He always made me smile. This guy gave new meaning to the word laid-back. He looked practically horizontal even when he was sitting up.
“How’s the medical supply business going?”
“Good, man, really good. It’s amazing to me how many people are ending up with glaucoma these days.”
“You’re not getting too big, are you? You wouldn’t want to start attracting too much attention, getting your name around too much, would you?”
“Not to worry, Jed. It’s under control. What brings you here this fine morning?”
“I hadn’t seen you for a while. Just wanted to let you know where my investigation into mirror neurons took me. Remember telling me about them last time we talked?”
Doris didn’t respond right away. He took a drag, held it in for a while, and then slowly let it out. He scratched his head a little, and got a quizzical look on his face.
“You know, mirror neurons. You told me to forget about the iron stirrup and dig into mirror neurons. You said it would probably change my life.”
“How did I know about mirror neurons?”
Laid-back was one thing, but Doris had never shown signs of memory loss before. He always seemed to pick right up on whatever we’d talked about.
“You told me you read about them while you were in the county jail. You said you had lots of time on your hands and did a lot of reading, and you came across mirror neurons, and thought of me.”
“Oh, did I tell you what they were and why I thought you’d want to know about ‘em?”
This was getting more than a little frustrating.
“No, you didn’t explain them to me. You just laid the term on me in that guru-like way that you do so well. It was right at the end of our conversation when you had to go hook up with a customer. Don’t you remember?”
“Oh, yeh,” he said, slowly. “I think it’s coming back to me. But I don’t recall much about them. What do they do?”
I launched into a very lengthy explanation of everything I’d learned about mirror neurons. And I told him I thought we ought to get to work launching the New Manhattan Project. I got pretty worked up telling him about it. When I finished, he didn’t ask me any questions.
“Yeh, I remember all that stuff now. I had a feeling you’d get into that. Sounded like it was right down your alley.”
“No shit. This is big stuff, man. It helps answer all those tough questions we’ve both been kicking around for so long.”
He turned toward me, sucking hard on his cigarette as he did it. The smoke drifted out as he started to speak.
“Man, I don’t know. I mean, I knew you’d get into it. But, me? I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“I mean, I’m a professional student, man. I dig thinking about stuff, learning new stuff. But you gotta’ remember that it’s all academic to me. Brain gymnastics, you know?”
He tapped his temple with his fingertips. I couldn’t believe what he was saying. All this time I’d seen him as an ally in the fight to understand the beastly behavior of human beings. He’d even helped guide my thinking. And all it ever was to him was some intellectual exercise? That was a little hard to swallow.
“Doris, I have to admit I’m a little surprised and disappointed. I thought we were in this together, man.”
“Well, I hate to disappoint you, Jed. And I’m happy to kick this stuff around anytime you stop by. But right now I need to hit the road. I’m still working off the community service they gave me with my jail time. I get to pick up trash along Main Street.”
He stood up slowly and extended his hand.
“Better get goin’, man. You take care, huh?”
I shook his hand and looked in his eyes. If there was any other feeling there, I couldn’t detect it. He pulled his hand free, turned around, and sauntered away, leaving me with the weight of the world on my shoulders, exactly where it was when I first met him.