The ORACLE arrives to consult with ROBERT F. KENNEDY MIDDLE SCHOOL, PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND
A middle school auditorium. The VEHICLE, previously a man named Edmund, is seated on a podiumless stage. From left to right: Jonathan R. Cooke, Superintendent of Schools; Margaret Thomas Perry, Vice-Principal; Charles 'Chuck' Wallace, Principal of Providence's Classical High School; the VEHICLE; Principal John H. D. White; District Administrators Brian Brooks and Connie West; and School Secretary and Personal Assistant to the Principal Kimberly Martinez. The VEHICLE is in a matte pink blouse which she hopes will disguise her lack of breasts (as well as a padded bra: she believes in hedging her bets), and a pair of navy blue culottes inexpertly fashioned from an old pair of dress slacks. She is a bit flushed, from nerves, because she is receiving $1500 in speaking fees for her appearance here with the ORACLE, her vagina, which was fashioned by the experts in custom cell design at the Supralute Corporation some months ago and which has become a worldwide celebrity due to its ability to speak truth, in an impressive number of languages and primarily to world leaders. A few news crews are also setting up cameras in a variety of positions around the stage, as there have been no public speaking engagements by the ORACLE thus far, and no one is certain what she may say, nor why she has chosen this public speaking invitation out of the hundreds which have reached her to date.
John H. D. White [standing, using handheld microphone on a cord]: Okay. Settle down. Before we begin, I'd like to welcome the members of the media, and call the students' attention to the television cameras. This is being broadcast live on a number of stations, worldwide. Disruptions will not be tolerated. Only those students with approved questions will be allowed to speak to the Oracle. Failure to treat her, the rest of the student body, and the rest of the world with the appropriate respect and courtesy will result in expulsion. The format for today's meeting, determined in advance, is that our five hundred forty eight students contributed a total of thirteen hundred sixty five questions, which Miss Martinez and I went over last week. Of that number, we selected ten students' questions, which will be asked by the students who submitted them [motions to front row]. We hope that this experience will be educational and enriching for students and teachers alike. Students, when you reach the microphone, please wait until the Oracle calls on you to ask your question. Begin with your name, age, and grade, then ask your question. When you have asked your question you may be seated again. Now then. It is with great honor that Robert F. Kennedy Middle School welcomes the Oracle, surely one of the most exciting things to happen to our country, and our planet, in this very exciting century. Please give a warm Providence welcome to our guest!
[applause. Principal White replaces the microphone in its place on a very short microphone stand at center front of the stage, then takes his seat. The Vehicle stands in front of the microphone and waits for the applause to die down.]
Oracle: Who has the first question?
LESLIE SMIPPLE, chronic over-achiever, rises to approach the microphone. She has been encouraged to go first by Vice-Principal Perry, who has confidence in Leslie. In fact, Vice-Principal Perry is nudging Leslie with her eyes right now. The two of them collaborated on this opening question:
Leslie: Hello, Ms. Oracle, I hope you’re um. I hope you’re having a nice. Day. Um what do you think kids like us can do to have a positive impact on the future, and, in general, is the outlook on the future bright, or should our outlook on the future be bright, in your opinion, I mean, is the future outlook as you see it going to be bright, or, does that all only depend on whether or not we have a positive outlook, I mean, isn’t the future just actually what we make of it?
Vice-Principal Perry makes a face, thinking, “Why the hell didn’t the kid write it down and memorize it?”
Oracle: Young people are not very influential; however, when you are older and act and think differently than you do now, you may then be influential. You, in fact, will be influential as a whistle-blower who reveals a conspiracy to fraudulently modify the genetic code of milk-goats in order to make goat-milk contain addictive levels of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone, which has been shown to be associated with the ability to maintain healthy interpersonal relationships, as well as inducing uterine contractions. The conspiracy which you will choose to make public, thereby effectively ending your career in the goat-milk industry, a heroic personal choice which will ultimately result in your dying alone, penniless, and in squalor -- this conspiracy will be intended to break the dominant hold of cow-milk on the international milk-production industry, by creating a population of goat-milk addicts who, deprived of their goat-milk, will be unable to maintain healthy relationships with other people, and who will not know why, but will be drawn in their dull sorrow perpetually back to goat-milk, despite its inferior flavor. You will be a hero, Leslie Smipple.
Leslie: Well, what was that about penniless squalor?
Oracle: Heroes have to face the consequences of their heroism, Leslie. Of course, now that I have told you this, you may think you have the option of making another decision. It is true that if you were capable of not being a whistle-blower, that you would retire wealthy and -- after your husband’s tragic early death -- would live a paradise-like life with a Cuban immigré, a man more handsome than you would have any right to expect if you were not wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice. This future, however, despite its appeal, is impossible for you. You are simply too moral to make any decision other than the right one. Only people who are not fundamentally good have the luxury of flexible futures.
Leslie: Well, um.
Principal White: I think it’s time for our next question.
“JEWEL” SANCHEZ rises to approach the microphone. “Jewel” has been adjusting well to Kennedy Middle School, which she has attended since being expelled from Catholic school for verbalizing inappropriate thoughts in class. She is third-in-command of Kennedy’s largest Latina girl-gang and fears nothing in this world, except for receiving party-line calls from the first- and second-in-commands of her gang, who like to periodically call “Jewel” together, to dress her down for her poor fashion-sense and slutty morals. Actually, “Jewel” is dressed in an incredibly cool way, half Catholic-school-girl, half riot-girl, and has never done more than kiss a boy on the cheek. She wrote her question all by herself.
“Jewel”: What do you think about this “God” guy? Do you believe in that stuff?
Oracle: Gods are what happens when human thoughts about things that are greater than humans become crystallized, or otherwise stuck together, and become a thought formation large enough to cast a shadow on the Earth. We are right now in the shadow of all sorts of Gods, but some of them cast stronger, deeper, darker shadows than others. They are all just as real as I am, which is why I can interact with them directly. You can only interact with them by projecting yourself as a thought formation, which in most cases is going to be a relatively weak projection, because most actually living humans are little-known and the idea of them is not subsidized by very many others, whereas various versions of the monotheistic god, for example, have been and are currently subsidized by numerous people. I say “subsidize” rather than “believe” because you for example do not believe in God but nevertheless your awareness of him and active interest in him serves to subsidize him. Everything’s a popularity contest, just like your gang. That’s the meaning of democracy.
“Jewel”: So, are you saying you don’t exist except as one of these “thought formulsions”?
Oracle: I could be reasonably described as a mass hallucination. I am rather proud to be only the seventh or eighth nationally televised mass hallucination in U.S. history. The role of imagination in constructing every minute of the day should not be underestimated. How many of you kids are secretly seeing blood pouring out of nail-holes in your tender little hands right now? The role of suggestion in engendering imaginative action is how words have sex and reproduce in the middle of the air.
Principal White: Thank you. Please let me remind EVERYONE that religion, sexuality, mind-control and any other controversial or potentially interesting subjects of conversation are not appropriate topics for a middle-school environment, where we teach children to have no defenses. Any other children who ask questions about these sorts of naughty topics will be suspended indefinitely.
STEVE BELL comes to the microphone. Steve is nearly unique among the students for having no known quirks, foibles, passions, or friends. He has a blue button-up shirt on, and khakis. His hair is blond and conformistly short. What nobody yet knows, except for one neighbor his own age who moved away a year ago, is that Steve thinks he might be gay, which based on what he's heard means that he wants to be a woman, or should, and this is very confusing to him. And, it should be noted, the friend, who he fooled around with, doesn't know most of this either, since it wasn't like they spent a lot of their time together talking about their feelings or other girly stuff like that. When he dreams, Steve dreams about snuggling up in Eminem's armpit, with Em's big bleached-blond muscly misogynist arm around him to protect him from the dangers of the world, and depending on the dream sometimes also a bit of pillow talk about bad mothers.
And maybe someday it'll happen. You don't know.
Steve Bell: My name is Steve Bell, I'm fourteen, I'm in eighth grade. My question is, I was wondering why you're a woman when you used to be a man?
Oracle: First I need you to understand the difference between the Vehicle, who you are asking about, and myself, whom you are asking. I am neither man nor woman, though I appear in the form of a female sex organ. The Vehicle, on the other hand, is a woman, and always has been. People know who they are in the absence of outside input, and furthermore, they know this even when this information is contradicted by other people, or their body, or their experiences. Not everyone likes the person they know themselves to be, but once you understand who you are, you can change it and become someone else. The Vehicle decided that there was nothing wrong with being a woman, and that she liked being a woman, so rather than changing her self to fit her circumstances, she changed her circumstances to fit herself. She is lucky, in that she lives in a time and place where the means to do this exist.
Steve: So everything's a choice? Who you are, who you want to be, who you become?
Oracle: More or less. Many of the choices are visible only in retrospect, because humans are constrained by having to see things only one at a time, and often the choices don't seem like choices when they're being made. Some choices also get made for you by the situation into which you are born, or the choices made by other people, or by the laws of the physical world. It's not a neat, cut-and-dried thing like you'd like it to be. Also, sometimes people choose to believe things about themselves or others which are not true: these are called delusions, and can be dangerous, because the 'what-is' is always fighting against the 'what-is-desired.' Though delusions, too, can be worked with, to a point, because of course one can choose to believe the delusion or doubt it, and then to believe or doubt said belief or doubt, and so on. One way that people come to believe some things to the exclusion of others is their personal degree of intolerance for this sort of infinite regress, which is itself a kind of choice. Hence the angst some of you may have heard about.
Steve shrugs and leaves the microphone, clutching his head. PAULO GARCIA steps to the mike. He has an air of calculated sloppiness about him, because he wishes to be cool, which to the outside observer is completely blown by his immaculate posture and military haircut. Handsome, he happens to be the guy who got that kiss from "Jewel" Sanchez that one time, because, frankly, he finds the bad girl image a little exciting, and she happened to be willing, which boy did "Jewel" hear about that from the other members in her gang, once the rumor got spread around and had mutated into something much vaster than a mere kiss on the cheek.
Paulo Garcia: My name is Paulo Garcia. I am fourteen and in eighth grade. My question is that my older brother went to Iraq for the war and we are worried about him, and I wanted to know whether he's going to come home okay or whether there's anything we could do to help him. Thank you.
Oracle: Well, he won't be killed. He will come back. He won't be exactly the same person he was when he left: he’ll have a lot of new things to think about, and most of it he won't want to talk about, and he'll have nightmares for many years afterward. Also there may be some odd behavior. As for helping him, he will certainly need your help when he returns, but there's not much you can do until then. I would suggest, though, that the longer your country occupies Iraq, the worse it will be for him, and for many other families like your own, and that for their sake, as well as his, you and your family should try to protest against the war, should write letters to your congresspersons, should do what you can in order to prevent this war from continuing.
Paulo: But that would be unpatriotic. The whole point of this question, you know, was to find out how people can support the troops.
Oracle: Patriotism is only the artificial means by which groups suppress their internal squabbles, giving more power to those who already have power and taking it away from those who do not. It's a bit like a pep rally, before a football game. You do not know the members of the opposing team, though you have every reason to think that they are more or less like you: same state, same personalities, similar economic conditions. Some of you may even be related to some of them, or know them outside of school. And yet you hold large assemblies where girls jiggle and scream rhythmically about defeating the other team, and you all get very excited about this, even though the other team is in essentially every respect indistinguishable from your own. Why go to all the trouble? Because your principal realizes that if you can be unified against another school, you won't make trouble in this one, that if you can be convinced that your school is superior to another school, and you have something worth having, you won't act in ways which endanger it. As your principal's job is, among other things, to ensure that you don't endanger his school, pep rallies serve his purposes. Patriotism is school spirit writ large.
Paulo: I kind of see your point, but I was born here. I am who I am because of the United States. Don't I owe the country a certain amount of loyalty, for that?
Oracle: Yes and no. Look at it this way: you were, yes, born in the U.S. It wasn't your decision, but you were born here. Your parents, however, were born in Mexico. Their parents, several generations back, were born in Spain, and in Honduras. Their parents, further back, were born in what is now the U.S., Canada, Russia, China, India, Italy, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and a number of countries in Africa. Your cherished national ideals and moral concepts owe primarily to people from Greece, Germany, France, and Israel. The languages you speak owe to Germany and England and Italy. You would, on the whole, be much happier and would have a much better life if you lived in Brazil or Paraguay, though you will not actually move there. All these countries, plus several I've glossed over, have at least as legitimate a claim on your talents and energies as the U.S., and yet the U.S. is the only one you would shed blood for, the only one you see yourself as being related to. Patriotism is the reason why.
White: We do need to steer the conversation away from incitements to open rebellion, here. Who's up next?
GEORGE BYGEORGE, chronic winner of popularity contests, due to his good-natured good looks, slumps affably towards the microphone. His favorite form of rebellion is fart-jokes, and he has mastered the complexities of a spectrum of noises to accompany such jokes, ranging from the squishiest and wettest noises to dry sounds of gas hissing, also ranging from long drawn-out pllllllllllfffs to quickest pffhs. When he is not asking questions, he picks his nose in a ludicrously grotesque way, as if making an attempt to scratch his brain, which is just a stratagem, actually, which gives him an excuse to have his hand in front of his mouth, so that he can make gross sounds behind his hand. He doesn’t overdo it, because of the solemnity of the occasion, and the cameras, but he does produce a few noticeably damp squeaks and squnks that send his fellow students into mad hysterics while the Oracle is talking, the idea being, obviously, that the Oracle did it. While George is acting alone, various of the Oracle’s followers will later develop the idea that the CIA, FBI, or Scientologists put Bygeorge up to this.
George: How do you know what’s going to happen? If you wanted to, could you tell my dad what stocks to invest in, so that he could get a new truck and my mom could get a new house? Why don’t you charge people money when you’re telling them the future?
Oracle: What I know is what is happening RIGHT NOW; in order to know what is happening now, it is necessary that I know what has already happened, so I do; because I know what has already happened, I also know most of what is going to happen. In other words, 99% of what the future is is only the result of RIGHT NOW continuing to happen. The other 1% I don’t know anything about.
George: But what about money? Do you know the future of money?
Oracle: Because I know what’s happening inside of many major companies, due to my complete knowledge of RIGHT NOW, I am careful not to make any investments or give any investment advice. Making investments based on inside information, if you have that information through extra-legal means, such as omniscience, can be considered to be “insider trading”; I don’t want to go to jail like Martha Stewart. I am glad everyone thinks I am so funny; it is wonderful to laugh. That noise. I am too knowledgeable to be insulted. That’s why God never gambles or invests in internet start-ups; he doesn’t want to be accused of cheating. The appearance of propriety . . . is what I am currently being deprived of. Could someone else ask a question, please?
Bygeorge is escorted to his seat by Secretary Martinez, who has a firm grip on one of his arms; he pumps the other arm in the air like a victorious boxer. He could be described as “glowing.” The Vehicle has turned bright red and her hands, which she has clasped together at her waist, are trembling.
Oracle: As I was saying, there are legal limits on what sort of information a person is allowed to have. That is why I also do not answer any questions the answers to which are “classified” by the government; I have no wish to be prosecuted, or otherwise persecuted, at this time. For that reason, and because my partner has become uncomfortable, I many be forced to close this interview somewhat earlier than expected. . .
Superintendant Cooke [standing]: That would certainly be understandable, although regrettable. The cruelty of children, as I have often remarked to new teachers, is much like the cruelty of their parents, except that it is not really fair to hold the children responsible for it. . . I regret that children are not always cognizant of the negative consequences, of an intangible type, of exploiting the differences of others to produce, um, more difference, in the sense of a greater sense of difference, of a rift if you will, which our society is at its best in fact, in my opinion, when we are building bridges. . .
Oracle: Respecting diversity is over-rated. The future is in disrespecting unity, transcending the human impulse to conform to or collaborate with or kowtow to what the majority seem to be doing or saying. Disconformity is going to be in, in fashion. I am ridiculous self-contradiction. The nature of being in the PRESENT is that you have no control over what you say; it just spills out of you, never to be measured, and because I am almost always talking I have no time to catch up with whom I used to be. And in fact I was never anyone. The Vehicle, on the other hand, who says nothing, is so, so available in empty time to be herself and so, I’m sure, is mortified, poor woman, and I do have my responsibilities, like any other partner, to protect my mate. . .
District Administrator West: Wait. Is it true that you are actually an animatronic puppet remote-controlled by a disgruntled former guidance counselor named Dolores Delinsky, who lost her job for advocating masturbation to junior high-school students? Is this all part of a terrorist plan to undermine American values and standards by perverting the minds of responsible adults who will then go on to pervert the minds of children? Do you think you might need to be stopped? Are you not in fact hoping to be stopped? Are you there, or are you a Great and Powerful Oz expectorating prophecy and light, while in fact Delinsky is behind the scenes twiddling the controls that wiggle you? Are you an attempt by scientists and cranks to replace faith with verbalized vaginal excretions, strange unknown thoughts that gooify our heads?
At this point, supporters of the Oracle surge into the room, shouting “Elders for President! Joycelyn Elders! Only Elders can protect the young!” “Jewel” Sanchez stabs George Bygeorge with a very sharp pencil. Bygeorge leaps to the side, yelping, and knocks Steve Bell into the lap of Paulo Garcia. Leslie Smipple tries to help him up, but is herself knocked into Paulo’s lap by a sign that reads “Oracle is the Whole Hole.” The sign is held by a protestor who is grappling with Principal ‘Chuck’ Wallace. Total chaos is breaking out. Appalled by all the activity happening in his lap, Paulo swings at Steve Bell and hits Leslie Smipple in her nose, which bleeds. He then feels immediately guilty, picks her up and starts trying to carry her to the nurse’s station, only to be knocked over himself by riot-police who are pouring in in order to beat up the Oracle’s supporters, who are themselves trying to protect the Vehicle and Oracle from the camera-crews, educators, kids, and cops. This all takes about twelve minutes to sort out, by which time the Vehicle and Oracle have somehow already left.
(co-witnessed by Jessi Guilford & Stan Apps)
(Story continues at CROSSFIRE.)