SEASON 1, PART I: “The Deth Ray”
The city is in a state of frenzy; wild enthusiasm spreads from one block to the next. Cheering crowds fill the streets whenever Enlightenment Man appears. The city shuts down and people come out of their apartments, speak to neighbors they’d ignored for years. They understand each other; they tolerate each other, they like each other; they are good to each other. The hum and buzz of human kindness fills the neighborhoods. Old and young philosophize in the city parks about the democratic form of government, the future of technology, sexual diversity, climate change, capitalist monopolies and the destiny of the human race. They deplore racism, poverty, ignorance and war. They seek peaceful means of resolving conflicts, they hunger for unity and mutual understanding.
Here are some of the stories from local headlines that followed on EMan’s most recent rendez-vous-with-wrongs:
- Medicare abusers, Doctors and HMO administrators line up at the federal building to return their overcharges;
- Embezzling CEO turns ill-gotten gains over to charity, tutors disadvantaged high school youths in service to society.
- The notorious “Red Sharks” gang continue their repair work on Ballard Grammar School.
- Anti-tax initiative signers relent; advocate full state support for K-12 and public universities.
He’s a one-man solution to the ills of society, he’s a walking-talking Age-of-Reason, he’s Enlightenment Man! Some strange force that beams from him creates unity, peace, kindness and consideration, ends incivility, brings on maturity, cleans up bad language and exposes irrationality. Misers become benefactors; fascists become Quakers.
EMan’s weekly reading group has had to move from the modest venue at the public library to the Seahawks’ Safeco Field, recently renamed Human Rights Stadium. 20,000 attended the meeting last week, where Enlightenment Man read from Alexander Pope’s “Essay on Man,” a prelude to a week of dignity, self-confidence and optimism in the people of Seattle.
Police have observed a steep decline in criminal activity in the weeks after public readings. EMan’s reading assignments are proving an effective means of rehabilitating hardened felons. The criminal justice system took note when notorious gangsta rapper and hip-hop artist B.H. (Bad Habits) Flash decried a serious chivalry deficit in his preferred art form upon reading The Princess of Clèves, the classic tale of noble love and self-sacrificing courtesy by Madame de Lafayette. B.H.’s so-called “Princess Working Groups” (PWGs) now have chapters in 40 states. Mistreatment of women and domestic violence virtually disappear where the PWGs are active. Participation in a PWG is now part of the mandatory sentencing for rapists and perpetrators of domestic violence.
Morris Penningworth’s law practice specialized in funnelling the money of rich widows into shell charities to fund construction of his multi-million-dollar mansion in Aruba. The cutthroat counselor was so taken by Plato’s Republic, that he gave up law in favor of philosophy. Penningworth’s book on Plato’s idea of justice and goodness won the Parker J. Finlay prize for engaged philosophical inquiry and is now required reading in the Wharton School of Business. His correspondence with celebrity humanist Martha Nussbaum is forthcoming from Princeton University Press. He has donated his mansion built on ill-gotten gains to the Franciscan Order of Poor Clares.
With the recent election of Myron Tulkingham as first philosopher-mayor, the city seemed on track for a final stage of a utopian, humanitarian dream-city-state. But then, as if drawn by this flood tide of beneficence and good will, Dr. Deth appeared on the scene. He brought with him the Deth Ray, which has the power to counteract all EMan’s influence. In the path of the deth ray good turns to evil, kindness to malice, generosity to greed, love to hate, decorum to vulgarity. This terrifying weapon casts a purple and black ray and can compass up to four city blocks in a single blast. Its oil-slick ooze quickly hardens into a tacky scum, death to vegetation and lethal to traffic. Its ear-splitting and mind-rattling sound blasts surpass in decibels all that is currently known to the entertainment and heavy metal industries.
There’s no need to retell in any detail the story of Dr. Deth’s dramatic emergence as a counter force to EMan, since all the news media discussed little else for days after the event: briefly, while Maestro Gerard Schwarz conducted an unforgettable performance of Mozart’s Magic Flute, buoyant and enchanting, the orchestra slipped, seemingly with no cue from the conductor into the minor key in the love duet of Tamino and Pamina; its tempo sped madly out of control, the magic flute made way as the terrifying shriek of a demonic flute filled the hall, while the sound intensified until sensitive patrons clapped hands to ears and collapsed, and the Chehuli chandelier shattered, sending shards of glass down on the audience. Panic ensued, helped along by high-decibel blasts of Wagner and Max Bruch. The hideous laughter of Dr. Deth echoed through the hall and the nearby streets. He had stolen Gerard Schwarz’s tuxedo and smuggled himself onto the director’s podium while the maestro struggled with his bonds in the performers’ locker room dressed only in his underwear.
Meanwhile in the performance hall, the Deth Ray shot from Dr. Deth’s extended finger tips, while the audience burst through the exit doors in a panicked rout. [The movie script, “Deth Squad,” now in production at Lionsgate Studios, at this point inserted a spectacular sequence of the chaotic evacuation of Benaroya Hall: speeding cars flying into the air, turning flips and crashing on crowds, huge gasoline explosions, freeway overpasses collapsing, buildings toppling, random senseless gunfire.]
Now our story switches to the apartment of modest and unassuming University of Washington professor of English Literature, Peter Millstein. Nothing about his appearance or his apartment reveals the true character of the man who lives here, for Peter Millstein leads a secret life as– Enlightenment Man. As we look in on him, his valet, butler and private secretary, Clyde, is cleaning Peter’s pipe and replenishing its tobacco, having just delivered materials for Peter’s upcoming lecture on Emmanuel Kant’s idea of the inevitability of an eternal middle-class city-state. The German philosopher had proven with iron logic that a democracy on the model of the American constitution must develop into a permanent, unchanging form of just government dedicated to the welfare of all citizens.
Peter had just lit his pipe and settled in to write, when a knock at the door interrupted his work. Enter his colleague Minerva Chouette, professor of ancient philosophy, who leads a double life as Owl Woman, Enlightenment Man’s loyal side-kick.
“Hey Minnie, What’s up?”
“I just had a talk with President Walcott. He and the football and basketball coaches and six deans have requested reductions in their salaries to balance the university budget.”
“Awesome,” says Peter.
“Makes sense,” says Minerva. “They recognized that the humanities courses couldn’t accommodate the huge numbers of students crowding in. The dean of the business school resisted, but they forced the issue. Enrollment has sunk so low in business administration that there was no alternative. the money saved will finance about twenty tenure-track professorships university-wide. They’ve also made big savings because faculty conflict virtually stopped and sexual harassment is a thing of the past. Those huge defense funds are now freed up for other purposes..”
“Clyde, bring us some sherry, will you. We want to celebrate. Say, Minnie, are you free tomorrow evening? Dinner and the ancient Greek read-aloud study group?”
“No can do, Peter. I’ve got tickets for Finnegan’s Wake.”
“The hip-hop musical?!! You’re kidding. How did you get them? I’m on a two-year waiting list.”
“How about lunch tomorrow?”
“Fraid not. I’m meeting with the CEOs of Nordstrom and Saks 5th Ave.”
“Reading levels of hourly workers?”
“Yup. Yesterday it was Walmart and Target. Walmart’s up to $18 per hour for Hemingway and Emily Dickinson. Then Target outbid them with Tom Sawyer and E. E. Cummings for $20 per hour.”
“Can they really get their workers to read at that level?”
“Sure. Higher wages – more reading time. More reading—higher wages. Better educated sales staff – more customers and more sales.”
“What’s the agenda for Nordstrom and Saks?” Peter asked.
“Nordstrom’s talking Dickens and T.S. Eliot @ $22 per hour, and—get this—Saks is adding Marcel Proust: vol. 1- $25 per hour. Then a two dollar rise for each later volume. Read all seven, and you’re pulling in a cool $40 per at Saks.”
“What snobs. They would go for Proust.”
“Snobs? May be, but the fact is, job applications doubled after the Proust announcement.”
“That was a great idea of yours: index the Wage scale of workers to literary accomplishment …”
Suddenly Minerva gasped, seemed to lose her balance and had to steady herself at Millstein’s reading podium.
“What’s the matter? Are you okay?” asked Peter. “What is it.”
“I just felt a great disturbance in the eco-system. I fear something terrible has happened.”
“Better check into it,” says Peter.
Before his very eyes, Minerva transformed into a large snowy owl and flew out the window. An hour later she flew back with a report: the Deth Ray had stopped all traffic and devastated all flowering trees and bushes in the city, and now it’s headed north.
“But what could have happened?” Peter exclaimed. “Didn’t we seed the area with Thoreau’s Walden and Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring?”
Restored to woman-shape, Minerva answered, “Wake up and hear the birdies sing, Peter, It’s Dr. Deth.”
“My God you’re right.”
“And you know what’s up there north of town? Thousands of acres of tulips. Stretch from Marysville to Mt. Vernon. In full blossom right now.”
“Great heavens!, an immense black and purple killer wave field threatening the entire northwest tulip crop.”
“Sounds like a job for Enlightenment Man. What’ll we do?”
“Start by deploying an emergency humanities rapid-response team. Maybe it’s not too late to save the tulips.”
“I’ll get on it EMan.”
The crop was saved. The famous Force-Field-Five set up a high-energy interference vector field that stopped the Deth Ray’s progress. Physics Professor Herbert Soloveitchik sent a sample of Deth ray goo to his lab for analysis. The results were mind-boggling.
Find out the chemical composition of the Deth Ray and of Dr. Deth’s brain, in
PART II, “Deth’s Dark Secret”
And stay tuned for
Part III: “Enlightenment Man vs. the Demon Algorithm”: the epic combat between the forces of Deth and Enlightenment Man in the Seattle Public Library.
Endnotes 1 Clyde Hickman is the reformed grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, west coast chapter. His popular poetry slams are credited with the disappearance of the white supremacist movement in Washington State. He is a winner of the prestigious MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship.