Timely Persuasion - Online Edition - Chapter 19



The days following the breakup were spent in that all too common haze of poorly hidden depression, second guessing, what ifs, anger, and booze.  Lots and lots of booze, with a heaping helping of sour grapes on the side.

    I had given up on the fabled attempts to win back exes years ago.  When it’s over, it’s over.  No point in putting in the effort after you’ve been dumped to show you’ve changed.  You both know you haven’t, and the second set will just be one of torture that prolongs the agony.  It may have some good times, but the fissures are seldom overcome.

    Maybe new me and her were a good match, but it was becoming clear that former me and her were not.  Instead of dwelling, I wondered how different her relationship with other me had been, which led me to wondering what happened to other me when I blinked in.  Was he just a placeholder awaiting my return?  Did we meld into one person upon my arrival, causing the headaches and the scattered memory fragments that were more annoying than useful?  Or maybe he was in the waiting room being analyzed by Ziggy while Gooshie and Al tried to find where I was lost in time?  (I know, I did it again.  Shame on me.  I just can’t help it sometimes.)

    It was in the midst of one of these self-analytical dump days when I got the phone call.  My preliminary questionnaire had been approved, but the doctors running the study wanted me to undergo three days of testing before being officially accepted into the program.  They assured me it was just a routine physical exam followed by a few endurance and memory exercises.  I told them I’d be ready anytime.  They offered to send a car right away. 

    My editor was a bit of an unreasonable man from what I’d seen so far in this life, so I was glad to get his voicemail when calling in to let him know.  I told him I was following a lead on a big story and would check in when I could.  You usually have to call your boss in these situations, though I’d prefer to exclusively use email.  It’s just not accepted for some reason, especially if you’re sick.  Email looks like you’re trying to get away with something by avoiding any chance of cross-examination.  There’s never a need to add fake coughs or a nasally voice to an email message.

    I also called my Dad to let him know I may be close to fixing the trouble I’d caused.  Left a message on his end as well, though it was on an old-fashioned analog answering machine rather than more modern voicemail.  As for Dad, I would have preferred to send him a text message, but he didn’t have a cellphone and was confused by modern technology for the most part.  He still favored cassette tapes over CDs.

    A tan van came to pick me up.  I hesitated before boarding.  Something about it was familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time.  In the end I made the mistake of writing it off as nothing more than ridiculous déjà vu.

    The physical exam at the hospital wasn’t anything out of the ordinary from what I could tell, though I hadn’t been to the doctor in ages so I wasn’t quite sure.  Pee in a cup, pin prick, blood, blood pressure, eyes, ears, nose, throat, deep breath, deep breath, reflex kick, reflex kick, cough, squeeze, cough, walk this way, rubber glove, touch your toes, get dressed.

    With that out of the way, I was led to a claustrophobic little cube of a room for the memory testing.  Match the pictures under the squares, find the differences in two photos, memorize a list of words, and other fancy stuff that made me feel like a child.  Though I was making a joke of it, I admit it was a bit tougher than it probably should have been.  This body of mine had been marijuana free to the best of my knowledge, but I seemed to retain my old stoner brain.

    I had a college professor who once told our class that marijuana was actually safer than alcohol as far as the brain went.  Alcohol kills brain cells, and once a brain cell dies it ain’t coming back.  Weed, on the other hand, just coats the synapses that send the signals through your brain, making the connections a bit sluggish.  Abstinence and heavy thinking are all it takes to knock the guck free and regain your sharpness.  The concept sounded reasonable enough, although my inability to remember that professor’s name seems to be a direct contradiction of his theory.

    After memory testing came the infamous Rorschach inkblots.  I was actually kind of excited for this, as I’d never tried this type of test and considered the premise to be rather neat.  Really just a bunch of psychological/psychic interpretive bullshit, but still interesting.

    Most of the inkblots seemed to portray dragonfly type insects, aliens, circles, or sex.  Or maybe not sex, but I suppose anything can look dirty if you really want it to.  All of the imagery was intentionally vague and debatable, as the questions asked during the test seemed designed to elicit a specific response.

    What do you see?  How does it make you feel?  Did you see a type of animal, machine, or insect?  Did you see anything sexual in it?  Does the image seem to be ancient, contemporary, futuristic, don’t know, or none of these?  Did it make you think of life on other planets?  Are they masculine or feminine?  Hot or cold?  Do they make you feel nostalgic?  Were you aroused?

    So far these seemed to be aimed at a time traveling repressed pervert, or maybe that’s just me.  But near the end of the process, the real question came.

    “What does this one remind you of?”

    The doctor flipped over the card and fixed his eyes on mine to gauge my reaction.  Printed in black ink was a badly drawn version of the hospital logo that inspired the cover of Local Boy Done Good, minus the LBDG lettering. 

    Did they know?  The logo practically advertised both the thievery and ability of my past.  It all happened so fast I wasn’t able to hide my perplexity, but I tried to talk my way out of it.

    “I’m not sure. Looks like the emblem of a club or an organization.  Maybe Lady Bird’s Democratic Greatness?”

    The doctor asked if I was sure, then smiled and dismissed me. 

    Next on the agenda was endurance testing.  I was mentally spent from the inkblots, but they wanted to move on immediately.  It started with doing as many pull-ups as possible until I couldn’t go anymore.  I was actually surprised at how well I did.  Pushups were a different story, primarily because my arms were still tired from the pull-ups and I didn’t have ample rest time.  Sit-ups were just as bad. My stamina was fine, but the actual strength required was lacking.  Even after weeks of recovery, my body was still out of shape from the lack of exertion during my displacement.

    The above activities took the better part of the day, so I wondered what we needed the next two days for.  When I asked the doctor he just smiled and turned away.  I asked another doctor the same question.  He said he wasn’t allowed to reveal what was next, but he would advise me strongly to have something to eat or drink and take a nap if I’d like.  It was about seven o’clock now.  Testing was to resume at midnight.  I was free to do whatever I wanted in the interim so long as I didn’t leave the premises. 

    After eating I still had about four hours to kill.  I tried to crash out on the exam table but it wasn’t particularly conducive to sleep.  I’d almost prefer a nice divan or a cot to the sterile, paper covered soft plastic.  At the moment it didn’t matter, as my unfamiliar surroundings ensured I wouldn’t sleep even if they gave me a custom fitted waterbed with lots of fluffy pillows.  The insomnia was starting to kick in, but this time it wasn’t so much thoughts in my heads but images.  One image in particular: LBDG.

    What didn’t quite fit was the absence of the logo at the hospital this time around.  Aside from the thinly veiled version on the inkblot, I hadn’t seen it anywhere else.  My current scrubs were logoless, as were those worn by the doctors.  The logo originally came from my alternate present, but my younger self also seemed to recognize it the night before the wedding, and that was before I should have ever encountered it.  Dad’s subsequent use of it for his album cover would now chronologically be its first appearance.  Did he copy it from the hospital, or did the hospital copy it from him?  Did the earlier appearance now proscribe the hospital from using it?  Shouldn’t negating the inspiration of the album cover make it cease to exist?  And taking Dad out of the equation, what did the initials LBDG really mean?  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  I ate the chicken, and then I ate his leg.

    The smiling face of the doctor popped into my head, and I realized my error.  The inkblot didn’t have any letters, but my LBJ cover story told him everything he needed to know.  He wasn’t looking for what it was so much as what was missing.  The inclusion of the logo (and the exclusion of the letters) among the inkblots wasn’t a coincidence.  This was the right place; the real deal that would hold the answer to my questions, and possibly get me home.  Maybe my slip-up wasn’t a mistake after all.

    Comforted with this glimmer of hope, I drifted off to sleep without realizing it and dreamt of the evil inkblot dragonflies smiling the doctor’s toothy grin while circling the Local Boy album like vultures investigating fresh kills.