Now Thomas, you do remember Thomas don’t you? Middle-aged, tending toward a paunch, the kind of hair that has made Germanic types throughout history envy corn silk for its body. I told you about him a few, perhaps several, pages back. Anyway, Thomas was in a bit of a funk. It wasn’t anything you would really be likely to notice like your rainy day, curled up on the sofa with a cup of tea and the occasional heavy sigh kind of funk. This was more of a less than friendly attitude that seemed to say, “I’m really pissed off and I think you are the reason.”
That was on the surface. If you were to delve just a little deeper you would come to those murky little layers of psyche that enable so many psychologists, priests, and other forms of witch-doctor to live so comfortably. Here you would find that what we are talking about is a full blown hang ‘em first and then maybe slap their maiden aunt around a bit kind of funk.
To find the cause of Thomas’s irritation would require delving deeper into his mind than he, or any vaguely sane person, would wish to go. If, however, you were to have enough courage, and maybe the psychiatric department of a major hospital to back you up, you might decide, like a sewer worker counting the days until his retirement, to take the plunge. Down passed the current dreams involving the various ways a certain department chair becomes suddenly unemployed among other, more messy accidents.
Then you would have to wade through some rather lurid fantasies about a certain red headed young lady, some of them involving whipped cream and a feather duster. After a quick shower and a change of clothes you would come to all of the adolescent fantasies of super-powers and daring-do that no male ever really gives up. (Your average one hundred twelve year old man will, on his death bed, be daydreaming in some hidden corner of his mind about how he saves the nurse from the unwanted attentions of that smug orderly with a few simple, but amazingly effective, punches and she then decides to show her gratitude in a way that just might utilize whipped cream and perhaps a feather duster.)
Finally, after several dead ends and one or two tantalizing but completely misleading paths that left you checking the bottom of your shoes to find the source of a very bad odor, you would come to that place where primal screams are considered unnecessarily wordy. Looking about you would decide that this was where things start getting truly nasty, and Thomas was definitely out of sorts. In fact it would probably be more accurate to say he was as pissed off as a man can get without involving the government.
The cause of these deeply hidden levels of rage, indeed they are so deep and so hidden that Thomas is only sometimes vaguely aware that they exist, are many and complex but mostly have to do with the fact that he is middle aged and still doesn’t have a clue as to why he is here or what he is supposed to be doing. It is the kind of despair that affects most males around the ages of fourteen and forty-five. (Interestingly enough, the cure at both ages is often the acquisition of a red sports car and a not too bright playmate—usually blonde. Whatever curative power this has is, of course, due to the placebo effect.) Now, while this despair can cause a person to spend many nights staring into the darkness, or a glass of scotch, Thomas had to admit it was not as existentially disconcerting as his friend Garrideb’s conviction that he was the product of a strange joke being played by some guy in Illinois.
Now Thomas is an average man. This, of course, means that his life is as totally devoid of meaning as anything can be and not be the subject of a Sylvester Stallon movie. On the other hand, its very meaninglessness makes it the perfect subject for our story, which, you may remember is militantly meaningless. To most of the universe this is exactly as it should be. “Let Humans and other spoiled little twits worry about things like existential angst. I’ve got better things to do,” is pretty much the general attitude. But to Humans, alone among all the different forms of living things in the universe, this lack of Meaning is an outrage. For them to be as important as they have decided they are to the universe there must be some kind of meaning to their existence to make them that important. The fact that it is not glaringly apparent is clearly a case of incompetence, questionable management, or at the very least is very, very impolite on somebody’s part; and this indignation has led, given the nature of the species, to the creation of the world’s oldest profession.
It is a popular belief, fostered primarily by less than sympathetic wives and one or two Biblical references, that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. This is not quite true. Even if you include the subcategory of politics, prostitution is a relatively recent, albeit climactic, specialization within the oldest profession which over the centuries has gone by the various titles of witchcraft, psychology, philosophy, religion, astrology, and, more recently, life style coach and televangelist. For when faced with the yawning reply of “So what?” to the proudly primal scream of “I exist!” mankind, with the full co-operation if not insistence of womankind, promptly set about creating the business of inventing a Meaning for Life; and from the beginning there have been countless individuals more than willing to make a rather indecent living, usually tax free, by selling one of the currently fashionable One, True Answers.
The second, unrecorded inventing of a One, True Answer took place several eons ago while mankind was still hanging about the savanna wondering why the baboons got all the breaks. Baboons could run really, really fast; they had really big, sharp, pointy teeth that would come in handy when the neighborhood lion was acting out her hunger; and on top of it all, they had those really cool blue and red rumps. All the poor almost-humans had was the vague beginnings of a forehead and a sort of chin; and if they needed anything sharp and pointy they had to find the right kind of stick and rub it on a rock.
Then one day Snoog, who up to that time had somehow managed to never contribute anything to the clan’s well being, came to the leaders of the clan with a truly amazing offer. He would, he said, with very little regard for his own safety, personally intervene with the Great and Terrible Hhragch on the clan’s behalf and obtain His blessing and protection for said clan. This, he said, would guarantee good hunting, warmer nights, the clan next door being swept away in a flood, docile lions, lots of sweet fruit and honey, and co-operative wives (wink, wink). All the clan had to do was give the Great and Terrible Hhragch, through his agent Snoog, a small, almost unnoticeable portion of everything the clan ever owned, say ten per cent, and follow a few hundred simple rules the Great and Terrible Hhragch would occasionally issue—again through his agent Snoog.
The clan mulled it over and said it was a swell offer and thanks awfully, but they’d just as soon give it a miss. Nothing against the Great and Terrible Hhragch—they were sure he was a great guy and all (pity about the name though)—but they preferred to make their bargains with things they could see, hear, talk to directly and—and this was the vitally important part—poke sharp sticks into if need be. After reflecting on Snoog’s past contribution to the clan, which when they came to think of it was pretty much nothing; and how Snoog spent an awful lot of time eating those over-ripe berries that made the bears act so funny; and how he always did those disgusting winks when he mentioned their wives, they decided that Snoog might like trying to introduce the Great and Terrible Hhragch to some of the other clans on the savanna.
A few of the more likely directions he could try were pointed out to him with some of the sharper sticks the clan had at the moment, and Snoog became the Earth’s second itinerate preacher. The Earth’s first itinerate preacher made the mistake of starting with grazing animals and a herd of wildebeest stampeded over him before he could finish explaining how the Really Neat Thloydd would lead them to grass that had never been shit on if they would only make a few tiny, little sacrifices.
It should be pointed out that while One, True Answers have usually had a market value of anywhere between a dime a dozen and your entire life savings as a love offering; Questions, especially those having to do with the validity of the currently fashionable One, True Answer, have almost always gone for something a bit over prime rate. Being tied to a soon to be burning stake being the norm.
This is why if you ask a passing wildebeest, “What is your purpose in the universe?” he, or she, will snort the wildebeest equivalent to “Push off,” and get back to the truly relevant business of eating grass and dodging lions. If you persist in badgering the poor animal to justify its existence he, or she, will eventually call the authorities and have you removed—or stampede the herd over you. Having several thousand wildebeest stomp you into the savanna is a fairly effective way of ending pointless debates. This is why you rarely see Jehovah Witnesses bothering wildebeest.
If, however, you asked the next human being that comes your way, “Why are you here,” that person will have five or six answers ready and waiting. After all, they are so amazingly wonderful there must be a pretty damned good reason, and if they can’t come up with a reason right away they’ll tell you there is one, and it’s a really good one, but with aerobics, breaking in the new secretary, and other pressing matters they seem to have forgotten it. The reader should remember, however, that if you ask this question late at night in a major metropolitan alley or side street you stand a very good chance of finding out that your interviewee’s reason for being is, “To relieve fecal-cephalics,” or words to that effect, “of all their money.”
Other, even more dangerous types will tell you it’s the other way ‘round, and their existence gives meaning to the universe; but they soon go into life-style consulting, advertising, politics, or fashion design and cease to be of any concern to anyone. Those with truly swollen egos will often be found on the faculty at the local community college.