by Wade Lipham
(For Tony Roberts)
The other day, I was riding with a couple of friends of mine, Ani Difranco blasting in my ears from the backseat speaker, with the sun setting in the rear view mirror and all around us red and orange. I realized as I was sitting there that I couldn't bring myself to believe in anything, and I was here: Johnny-Paul Sartre was right. Existence precedes essence.
Ani was saying, "Stop me if you've heard this one before."
I want to be a philosopher. Professionally, I mean. How exactly do you do it? Descartes was a mathematician and Locke was a doctor. Doctor Stevens is a philosopher, I guess, but then he's a philosophy professor - same thing?
I was sitting in class the other day and we got back on the subject of consciousness. We were trying to understand what made us us. He started in
on the idea of the homunculus. The homunculus is a little man that lives inside your head and interprets all your sensory data.
And so Doctor Stevens had drawn a brain on the whiteboard with a little stick figure inside. He had gone to great pains to explain how this idea works, and then he tears it down. He smiles and says, "But does this homunculus have a homunculus? And does that homunculus have a homunculus?"
About the car ride I mentioned earlier. We had gone to the bookstore, my friends and I, and we had checked out the discount records. Nobody had any
real cash so we didn't buy anything. They had the Door's 'L.A. Woman' for 2.98. One of my friends said, "I want to look at the books."
So we looked at the books. We looked at Anne Rice and looked at comic books and looked at right-to-left manga. We found our way back to the 'Spiritual/Metaphysic' section, where my friend Rikkie says, "Look at this." She's got a book called 'Who Is The Antichrist? An American Obsession'. She flips through the pages and finds a heading that says ''Antichrist as Jew'.
I said, "Antichrist as Jew, Antichrist as Muslim, Antichrist as Catholic."
And my other friend Anya says, "No, count me out. Not for me."
Rikkie said, "They need a picture of a guy in different costumes."
Does the Antichrist have a homunculus? And if the answer is yes, is the homunculus satanic as well, or merely an independent observer? These are important questions and I want to know.
I showed 'Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas' to Rikkie and Anya. I had Rikkie read the first page and she showed Anya the part where he talks about 'five sheets of high-powered blotter acid'. They both laughed.
I said, "Should I say that Hunter S. Thompson is my personal hero? Does that make me a bad person?"
We put the book back on the counterculture shelf, which is really the pot shelf. They had a book on every aspect of pot, including the 'Canabible'. I said, "Think about how much money Amsterdam makes on people who want to smoke pot and buy hookers."
Rikkie said, "You can buy hookers in Vegas."
"True," I said. "And really, you can smoke pot right here in America. Isn’t that amazing?”
There is a blonde girl who sits one seat back and to my left in philosophy class. We're half way through the semester, and half the class is gone, so we're close neighbors. She's very beautiful and she reminds of a girl I was in love with when I was fifteen. So naturally, until the other day, I had never spoken to her.
We passed each other in the hall of the library. I was coming back from the payphone toward my next class and she said, "Didn't you just go that way?"
"Yeah," I said. "I don't have a cell phone, so I use the pay one."
"Oh," she said, smiling. "That sucks. I know what that's like."
We exchanged names and talked for a minute. I can't do small talk. She smiled at me. I went to my next class and she rode the elevator upstairs.
I was waiting outside philosophy class the other day and the blonde girl came by. She said, "Hey, James," like she had known me my whole life.
I said, "Hello, Barb." We both smiled. "I usually don't do well with names," I said, "but I tried."
"I'm very proud of myself, too," she said.
I spent the whole class trying to not look over my shoulder at her. I hung around after class was over, just waiting for her to pack up so I could walk out with her. I asked her about her research paper for the class and started to get the feeling I was making a fool out of myself. We said bye.
If there is a homunculus inside my head, what is he thinking right now? Does he understand what I'm writing? Since I'm reading these words, and that's sensory data, he must be reading it too. Does he understand what all this means?
I'm talking to you, homunculus. This is my personal message to you. What are you doing in there? What am I doing? Do you have any opinions? Can I place a person to person phone call to my homunculus, please?
So the other day I caught the blonde girl in the cafeteria. I sat down across from her and opened my Coke. We talked, we exchanged our life stories, and then she got up to the part where she tells me she's getting married.
I smiled and nodded and congratulated her. I realized then there was no reason to feel upset, because this wasn't happening to me. I was just the homunculus inside some other James' head, and it was happening to him. No worries. My homunculus was laughing, I was quite sure, and his homunculus was, too. And of course the real James is just another homunculus. And the blonde girl is a homunculus of a homunculus of a homunculus of a homunculus.
I said, "Good luck. And spring wedding's are the best. Green grass."
All this made me think of the car ride again. The Ani Difranco song was over and the sunset wasn't really even visible anymore. We got on the subject of Anya's daughter, and how she had come to be named Flower.
"I don't really even know," Anya said. "It just came to me."
"And the middle name? Sun?" Rikkie asked.
"Daniel's idea," she said.
I leaned against the backseat. What was it that Anya had that I didn't, except an army of dead homunculi?
About the author:
Wade Lipham is an author currently living in Fort Worth, Texas. When he grows up he wants to be a sad professor, just like all his idols.