Ed. Note: Since I commissioned myself to edit “The Reporter” and bring it up to the public standard, this project has been fraught with an irremediable knowledge of tragedy. Not simply for the obvious — for the purported author’s disappearance in the flower of youth — but also for the loss of the so-called Blackchapel manuscript and its replacement by what appears to be a corrupt and anonymous forgery uncovered in a Montreal bookshop. Devoid of literary and artistic merit and rife with postmodern ribaldry, low-life non-sequiturs, rascally red herrings, and Trotskyist leers, the story you hold in your hands, now in edited form, is the remnant of the semi-autobiographical tale of the reputed illegitimate grand-nephew of naturalized American polymath and superhuman John von Neumann. Because we can only guess at the protagonist’s name through reconstructed family trees, I have mostly refrained from using it, except for dramatic effect. Finally, I have added to the existing footnotes, but only where a scholarly consensus exists.
–Jeremiah S. Shifflet III, Associate Professor of Mathematics, Agricultural College, Wyoming
The kid had to come up with a scheme to get ahead. His mother, Violet, was on his case and his dad was no longer around to protect him. He’d fast-tracked through to fourth-year university1 and he manned the late-night window at Burger Galaxy. He was seventeen. He’d sit mesmerized by differential equations in the lecture hall and feel the slightest tickle, the dawning of some psychic flutter, a vortex of radio waves surfing through the window — and then his phone would vibrate: “Son, get me some Camels. And where’s ur paycheque? I wanna get my nails done!”
This was his life.
His dad was at war in Eurasia; the money he wired home vanished through the hollow nothing of a smoke ring. Between Cherry, Burger Galaxy, aeronautical engineering, and selling Ecuadorian banana futures on his phone during washroom breaks to subsidize college, the kid was overstretched. He’d sent a dozen snail-mail letters to the warzone, informing his dad of the newest avionics and electrostatic ion thruster formulae2 and trying, through veiled insinuations, to get advice on how to deal with Violet.
One Friday after class, he came home to find the mail slot dilated with Cosmo, Tobacco Farmers Committee of America’s biennial newsletter, Christian Science Monitor, and a letter from his father. Chalky light bounced and hummed off the white TV-room walls as he peered in at Violet reclined on the loveseat, her coffee-black hair setting in heated rollers, her lunch-pack of Camels down to stubs. Dreams piloted by Regis Philbin reruns. He tiptoed to his room, where he tore open the letter from Dad, illuminating the darkness with his phone light:
Dear son, I hear you’ve been struggling. Your mother needs you to make money. Son, he who says money isn’t everything likely never had enough to test the theory. You’re the breadwinner and your mother knows best. Listen to me,
P.S. If things don’t go your way, there are things you can do. My own father gave me these rules, and now I give them to you.
THE RULES OF REPORTING
- Reporting is an artform involving turning your grievances to your advantage by complaining to the authorities.
- When reporting someone, act thoroughly abused / at the edge of your rocker / like the last thing you want to do is name names.
- Three types of reporting: a) Report someone for wronging a whole community. You can do this anonymously, benignly. b) Report someone for their causing you injury due to your personal circumstances. Safeguard recommended: Get a “concerned friend” to report, or do it yourself & then compliment the reported person to cover your tracks. c) Report someone openly for their real, objective affront. Paydirt, but dangerous.
- Get out while you’re ahead. DO NOT REPORT IN PERPETUITY.
“You must report,” he thought. Curious as all fuck. What was the import of these rules, what were their origins?3 The kid folded the letter, tiptoed to the hotplate in the kitchen, made linguini with clam sauce, and did Transcendental Meditation with the question sitting like plumber’s butt on his brain.
At the GunShow gym, he was warming up on the elliptical for a new-record floor glute ham raise set, splitting his attention across meditations on The Rules and a podcast on Manny Kunt’s Critique of Pure Reason, his mantra echoing through his temporal lobes, his arms working the handles like oars in a slave galley, when his attention underwent further mitosis.
A skinny ponytailed man in ripped jeans and a baggy black Megadeth t-shirt was toiling on the EZ-Step, sweating pailfuls of nicotine ooze, his RBCs as swimming with hemoglobin as a Nepalese goatherd’s, staring at — naw, wagging his tongue like a St. Bernard in heat at a Spandex-clad woman on a treadmill. The air was fouled with this disgusting man’s immune system blooming spores, and the kid had to leave the GunShow for his ham raises, but first he tapped the PAWG woman on the shoulder and pointed to the man on the EZ-Step and filled out a complaint form at the abandoned front desk with a make-believe name and e-mail. Following 138 raises in the parking lot, he walked home, one-handedly registering the fake email address in case of any inquiries, and crept past Violet to his room. This was his first experience with reporting.
In Monday-morning chemical reaction engineering class, the kid’s pocket vibrated with a text from Cherry.4 He’d been going steady with her since they were twelve and a half years old, but lately the motorboat of their passion had hit a sandbar and floundered.
“Belousov–Zhabotinsky and other chemical-clock reactions…”
This was because the two women in his life despised each other with a virulence matched only by his love for the two of them.
“Flying in the face of Earthly abiogenesis is the theory that life formed in space, maybe on Mars…”
He feared what Cherry’d written because no news was good news from her anymore. He squinted at the periodic table: Promethium, where art thou? Professor Blackstone was distributing revised syllabi with increased lab times, to groans. Blackstone’s voice was drowned out by a choir of sedition; people were talking mutiny.
“Can’t stand the way he dresses…”
Chemical reactions was crippling the kid’s average — he’d fumbled a pop-quiz section on the Krebs cycle and his GPA’d dropped 0.2 points — so he had to listen with a squinting, migraine-inducing intensity.
“PNA, TNA, or GNA.”
“Blackstone’s breath stinks, does he use toothpaste…”
In the men’s room, the kid was scrubbing his hands while reading an Internet post, “JPMORGAN EMPLOYEE RE: INSIDER TRADES B/T TROPICDAM’S CFO AND JANITOR-CUM-BOARD-MEMBER,” when he heard aggressive banter between the stalls; someone was plunged in a stream of self-talk. There was a scattershot of beeps, horks, plops, groans and shuffles, and then a gorilla-like pounding on the inside of the stall door: “Blackstone’s going down!” Scared, the kid fled the bathroom down the hallway into the 2 p.m. sun, in all the commotion inadvertently reading Cherry’s text5:
Dear W. — I think it’s time we cooled our jets. You
can’t make up your mind and choose one woman.
I just realized I’m happier alone.
Drat! The kid’s heart throbbed as though he were lifting a piano over his head. A tear materialized in his eye and streamed down his cheek, dripping into the soil of a potted bird of paradise. I’m dirt! He turned back into the school and stormed the registrar’s office. Not grabbing a ticket and waiting along the pink stucco wall,6 he butted to the head of the line and blurted to the assistant, “I’d like to report some.”
“Give me a complaint form. Please.”
She had one ready and handed it over, amid groans in the lineup.
Dr. Blackstone… Chemical-reaction engineering…
Prof has bad breath & dress. Miniature periodic table.
Increased lab time ill received. Student insurrection
fomenting. Signed, anonymous.
The assistant read the form. Heartless to her gasps, the kid left the registrar’s office and fanned out from the campus gates like a plague of snakes. He passed cars along a crumbling ivied wall in the direction of the sun. At the first intersection, a black limo at the caboose of a funeral procession crept past, and someone rolled down their window and shouted “smile!” As the kid crossed the street, he heard a boom box and the gongs of Mass coming from his subdivision.
First he noticed her figure, then he noticed her cry. The girl on the sidewalk wore gray sweatpants and her eyes were like a foggy chlorinated pool with green and white sunflecks. She whimpered and tears wetted her face and had the effect on him of a jumbo peeled onion. Hers wasn’t an orchestrated grief: it was a welling up of the agony of the universe.
He turned and she was nearly gone.
He desperately wanted to speak to her, wanted to ask what was wrong, but it was too late, he’d noticed her too late and now the words wouldn’t come. What was wrong? He watched her disappear and then stared into a tree stump’s rings, imagining there lived a Rover the chocolate lab who she’d received as a scrunchy, wrinkled pup in a Christmas stocking as a little girl, and Rover’d come of age with her, they’d play around the block and in the laneway and had free range of the neighbourhood and he’d bound home each night to run through the door flap and upstairs to sleep at his pretty mistress’s feet in her pink, lacy room — that is, till last night. He wished he could soothe her. He could invite her into his shared backyard and play her some flamenco after massaging her feet, if she was into it.
His thoughts were potent and pure. He turned onto his boulevard and passed roiling stains of ants hoisting sugar granules and mining hot sand in their takeover of the cavities between concrete slabs. He thought about Formicadae’s descent from wasps…
“You’re about to walk into a pole.”
Fuchsia startled him.
“How’s things?” She was sucking lightly on a du Maurier in a jade holder, her nails painted the colour of her name, a sunny, haloed “F” etched on one.
“Fine,” he said, leaning on a telephone pole. “Been a while.”
“Don’t look so fine from here,” she said, stepping forward. “What is it?”
“Tell me, boy.”
“Look, I really, really don’t want to talk about it or name names.”
“Spit it out,” she said, with bubblegum breath.
“It’s Cherry, your best friend. Look, I’m really vulnerable right now. I can’t even go to the gym, can’t even do some swaps on the market, without seeing the seedy underbelly of things. My dad’s at war and I’m trying to look after Mom. Cherry loathes her. We haven’t even done, you know,” biting his two hands together like Pac-Mans, “in 104 days, and it’s giving me palpitations!”
“Aww, you poor thing,” she cooed. “You don’t have to choose any longer.”
The kid couldn’t sleep. He alternated between counting back the species in the Ovis genus to the earliest ancestor and sounding off π digits — no dice. He sipped from a triple-teabagged mug of Blackout Sleep Potion w/ hydroponic chamomile and a spike of GHB. But still he was buried in the blizzard of anxieties that swirled through his gray matter, frostbiting every synapse. So as a final resort he tried to reset his thinking by making himself extremely happy. He flicked on his phone’s Torchlight and pulled from the leaning stack of bedside books his all-time favorite novel, Mo Johnson’s Baconator: A Tragicomic Fantasia on Hegelian Themes.7 The combo of Hamlet and Hegel always gave a happy ending to his over-crammed brain and corrected malaise and logical fallacies; he had it mostly memorized and he worried the efficacy was declining. In the vein-blue glow of his phone, he read the back cover8 and began devouring once again the delectable first sentence on page 1…
The kid spun to school the next day on his Giant and locked it to the fence with a Kryptonite U-lock and a no-name D-lock. He was merciless. Any evidence of bolt-cutting, real or imagined, and he’d report like that. Even bad looks9 would get logged: he didn’t care anymore.
The weather was gorgeous. The sun was glowing like an oven through the mashed clouds.
He was wearing a mauve button-down shirt with a scarlet bow tie. He used to only dress like that at Warhammer tournaments, but now that he was single he had to look good all the time.
The kid sat in the back row of the lecture theatre for Dr. Blackstone’s class, and looked up. There was a new laminated periodic table in three languages10 covering one wall. People were streaming into their desks and a breeze of Hugo Boss came in on somebody whistling Bing Crosby’s “As Time Goes By.” Dr. Blackstone made a grandiloquent entry in a blue single-breasted Armani suit.
“Class, I’ve decided to revert back to the old syllabus, with original lab load. Plus, grades will be belled up.”
The students clapped and the professor bowed, to soaring approval ratings.
“d[C]/dt = k1[A]”
This was good news, even for a brokenhearted kid. He’d’ve more time to trade futures and support Violet.
“Chemical equilibrium in reversible reactions…”
There was a knock at the metal door. A student was dispatched to answer it.
“Optically active isomer and its enantiomer…”
The guy answering the door almost fell on his face. Cherry stood there in a shimmering black dress, her weight shifted to her back leg, hands on her hips. She removed her hat, which had a flower and a sad little veil, and brushed her fingers through her wavy infernal hair as she surveyed the room with green-eyed gander. The kid’s chest untangled and he blushed a deep rouge and the whole universe clicked and he stood up, “Cherry!”
A guy one row below who Cherry didn’t know11 was trying to wave her over. She linked eyes with W.- and started walking towards him. Dr. Blackstone stared searchingly at her and she popped a strawberry Mentos in her mouth and winked. He smiled and wagged his finger playfully as she came up the steps and sat in Wernher’s lap.
“How are things?” she asked. “I just talked to Fuchsia.”
“Suddenly real good,” he said.
“Oh yeah? What’s your secret?”
“Good taste in women, and… well, let’s just say I’ve had some important lessons passed down to me.”
The kid could not have been in better spirits than he was buttoning his shirt outside Cherry’s bungalow12 and cycling across the suburbs to Burger Galaxy. The only low point of the reunion had been when Cherry suggested they go shopping for a new wardrobe for him. In response, he’d asked if she’d prefer he dress like the guy waving to her in class.13
He D-locked but did not U-lock his bike on the ramp outside Burger Galaxy and roved through the automatic glass doors. Waving to his colleagues, he lifted the counter and quickly eased into a flow state in his Burger Galaxy motions: the Tao of BG. The kid was chipper to ditch his dress shirt and bowtie and suit up in regal purple to flip sizzling patties on the oven conveyor belt, pour jumbo Cokes, sweep the floor, Clorox the john, toast buns and toss them in the bunkeeper, and interact with the great unwashed at the drive-thru window.14
He hadn’t felt this good in months. The speaker was playing Whigfield’s “Saturday Night.”
He opened the employee lounge door and it creaked. Instead of going to the broom closet, where, due to his generalized anxiety disorder, he usually changed, he decided to lock the lounge door instead and have the whole place to himself like a king. He pulled off his slacks and donned a pair of purple BG-branded stretchy ones, enjoying the polyester sensation. In the mirror he started to unfasten his bow tie and… Muffy DeGold, the owner of the BG franchise, was staring at him with her toned legs crossed in the corner. She wore a dust-gray skirt and jacket and held a clipboard. When their eyes met in the mirror she lowered her Ray-Bans to the snubbed part of her nose.
“Nice tie,” she said.
“Ms. DeGold!” he stammered.
“Don’t mind me. Don’t mind me at all.”
His heart was all fireworks and embarrassment and desire. He did not want Ms. DeGold to see his tightening pants; he did not want to be unfaithful to Cherry or split his allegiance three ways. His visual cortex lit up with images of Cherry, the employee charter of ethics, his mom (“You’re the breadwinner”), The Rules. Paydirt, but dangerous.
“Ms. DeGold, with all due respect, I cannot tolerate this design on my virtue. I must speak out on what just happened between us.”
She grinned. “Been doing a lot of that lately, haven’t we? People know what you did to Dr. Blackstone. Everyone knows what you’re up to. We know it was you who reported him.”
The kid swallowed in a land of imperfect justice.
Ms. DeGold continued, “People are talking about you on the Internet. Of Fred’s 30 students, 8’ve never shown up, 12 are military exchange students who’ll take anything he dishes out, and another 8 sit in the front row and would never dream of denigrating the size of his periodic table, leaving just you and a smelly boy who wears Adidas tracksuits and says he’s a communist. Dr. Blackstone confirmed it was you with the registrar. Kid, go clean the fucking toilets.”
“Ms. DeGold, you leave me no choice but to report you.”
A sexual harassment suit, hinging on Ms. DeGold’s “nice tie” catcall and the ingenious courtroom pyrotechnics (based on “consent is sexy”) of the kid’s Uncle Leroy of Brownspatz & Sons LLC, was settled out of court for $8,200, with Burger Galaxy relieved to protect its employee-safety record. Violet almost squeezed her son to death in court, convinced that her prayers for his financial success had been answered. She welcomed Cherry into the fold and the two grew close, finding in infomercials a bridge between the hemispheres of Werner’s brain.15
After a miscopied folio of “The Reporter” surfaced on 4chan, Wernher von Neumann’s tactics went viral and rationalist bloggers and Austrian economists drafted their own versions of The Rules, one of which remains in heavy circulation in objectivist circles.16 Longitudinal studies show that reporting is on the rise in America, with several researchers finding an improvement in reporters’ standard of living with a confidence interval of 95%. Despite widely discredited sightings, Wernher von Neumann remains on the Missing Persons list, with some believing he entered self-imposed exile following the deleterious effects of his philosophy that we now see. Some rumors identify him as George Mathison, elegized in a blog post (since removed) by MIT theoretical physicist Dr. Rickmann-Spoff as a child prodigy who fell into the waves from a sail boat in New Mexico. Mathison, descended from a toaster-oven magnate, devoted his short life to solving the Millennial Problems and remains a prime candidate for the anonymous unlocker of the Navier-Stokes equations and disprover of the Riemann hypothesis. Whatever the provenance of “The Reporter,” it is but a small consolation for the lost prospects for human advancement resulting from the disappearance of its supposed creator.17
- [Ed. Note: Werner von Neumann is alleged to have unlocked the Navier-Stokes equations and disproved the Riemann hypothesis. See Buck (2014) for a roundup of evidence pro and contra.]
- [Ed. note: Von Neumann’s father was a technology buff. A career Caterpillar-certified mechanic, he’d outfitted his yellow demolition CAT with a modified Lamborghini engine and titanium arms and was said to be at his finest racing that thing towards ruined subway lines.]
- [Ed. note: Speculation exists as to the provenance of this von Neumann family secret allegedly passed down through generations, although there is a shortage of leads on this question.]
- She had her own special vibration that approximated the sound of him blowing on her belly.
- Her first in three weeks.
- [Ed. note: Grand Lycée de Montréal, a private college in Montréal’s Westmount neighbourhoood, is said to have a Malibu theme because the founder had a plastic flamingo empire.]
- [Ed note: Mo Johnson was the pen name of Russ D’Orangio, Professor Emeritus at Bread University and Executive Director of its Roundtable on Idealistic Technologies.]
- [Ed. note: BACK COVER: In this Hegelian re-reading of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, The Baconator’s transformation from Hamlet is a metaphor for late 20th-century consumerism. Award-winning playwright Mo Johnson digs up modern analogues from the archetypal cast of Shakespeare’s play as readers are introduced to The Baconator, King Slab, Jeet Heer, Gertrude Stein, Uncle Claudio “The Impressionist,” and Oprah. The Washington Post raves, “This is the work of a truly fragile human being,” and The Manitoba Gazette says, “Johnson’s Fantasia is subtle and not pretentious.” Readers won’t be disappointed. (STARRED REVIEW)]
- Smiles showing < ¾ of incisors.
- English, Flemish and Kurdish.
- She wouldn’t know someone who looked like that.
- [Ed. note: The Blackchapel manuscript, now lost, reportedly fills in the blanks of this episode.]
- Red striped Adidas tracksuit, chintzy dreadlocks, pierced eyebrow, sallow skin.
- Mostly Jay-Z-blaring vans of high school Soundcloud kids high on cheeba, wanting a little BG with their late-nite freestyle.
- [Ed note: In the lost Blackchapel manuscript, Wernher was reportedly pitied as a tragic figure. He eventually became mayor, although this is clearly a fabrication that has harmed the legend of Wernher von Neumann inexorably.]
- [Ed. note: See Fred Blackstone, The Rules, Dialectical Press, 2012.]
- [Ed. note: If anyone has information on the whereabouts of Wernher von Neumann, please contact law enforcement or Dr. Jeremiah Shifflet’s personal assistant at the College of Agriculture, Wyoming.]