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Experience a Book

by James Allen Starkloff

It was at Brainecon where I had the pleasure of attending an interesting class about how to interface the human brain with a book. I don’t mean a virtual reality book or an ebook, just an old-fashioned made-of-paper type of book. It seemed a bit strange to me. How could the brain interface with the written word without the use of an electronic prosthesis and computer software? The lecturer from EAB was very excited about his company’s find...

“I’m going to be direct about why I’m standing here today. Our researchers at EAB have found that key sounds in a specific order will unlock the human brain’s ability to process written information so that the reader will experience the material with all five senses.

“As the reader sees the words, the brain processes the information faster and more vividly than ever believed possible. The eyes see words, but the brain experiences the story as it unfolds. Even technical manuals seem more dimensional.”

The lecturer paced back and forth while he spoke and he wore a suit that looked like he had just been released from prison. “Allow me to demonstrate. I’ll need a volunteer.”

“I’d be interested,” I said. I wanted to see first-hand what he was peddling.

“Well, come on up,” said the lecturer.

I sat in a seat that was more like a cushioned bar stool and the lecturer shook hands with me. “What’s your name, sir?”

“Art.” I didn’t want to be too specific.

“Thank you for volunteering, Art.” He looked back at his audience. “Is anyone else interested in experiencing a book?” he asked.

A man in the back of the room raised his hand. “I will.” He was tall, hefty, had short curly hair and spoke as slow as molasses.

“Fantastic! Please come forward and have a seat right here next to Art.”

He sat in a seat next to me.

“And what is your name, sir?”

“Uhm, you can call me John D.”

“Thank you, John D. Please rest assure that you both will have a safe experience.”

The lecturer slapped the head set over our ears. “You’ll hear a series of sounds. Some of the sounds will be above and some will be below the range of your hearing. You need not pay attention to the sounds. Your brain will understand the instructions. And now if you’re ready... I’ll press the play button.”

He barely waited for an answer from us before he hit play on his CD player. “While Art’s and John D.’s brains are being prepared, I’ll explain further. You have heard that the human brain is really a natural biological computer. We have taken advantage of this fact. The CD that our volunteers are listening to can be considered as brain software in that it is programming their brains to be more receptive to written suggestions. Oh, if anyone has any questions, please ask at any time.”

“I have one,” said a woman in the front row. “Has this been properly tested to be sure that it’s safe?”

“EAB has conducted several tests on this procedure. Absolutely no one has suffered a loss yet.” He knew that a skeptical audience sat still.

“Can this procedure be reversed if the subject is unhappy with the results?” Someone in the middle of the room asked.

“No one has ever asked us to remove this gift, so we’ve never considered developing what we would call an uninstall procedure. I can’t even imagine why anyone would want to go back after truly experiencing a book. For example: Art and John D. will have a lifetime of vivid reading once this procedure is complete.”

A small light flashed on the CD player. “Great. It looks like we’re ready.” He looked at me and asked, “What kind of reading do you enjoy?”

I thought about it for a moment. “History is my favorite, although I’m usually stuck behind technical manuals for my job. If you don’t have either, a self-help book or mystery novel will work in a pinch.”

“I was hoping you’d say science fiction or horror books, because I brought a few of each along with me.” The lecturer shrugged his shoulders.

“I have a self-help book that I just bought for my wife.” A tall, thin man pulled the book from under his armpit.

The lecturer was pleased with the man’s contribution. “Thank you.” The lecturer handed the book to me.

“John D, what kind of reading do you enjoy?” he asked.

“I’ll take whatever you got, sir.”

The lecturer handed John D. a book.

“Art and John D., I want you both to open your books to chapter one and begin reading to yourselves.”

I opened my book and so did John D. I felt the book trying to sweep my mind away, and I battled the feeling as much as I could. I didn’t want to lose control. At the same time, I couldn’t help but to notice John D.’s reaction. His eyes scanned each page as fast as his fingers could flip the pages and his hands clenched the pages of the book nearly ripping them out. His eyes were so glued to the words that he couldn’t blink. His mouth struggled to move. “Oh, my chest...” was all he could get out before collapsing to the floor. His huge awkward fingers were still intertwined with the book.

“John D., are you okay?” The lecturer shook him and made sure that he was breathing.

“I’ll have to make a note of this. Overweight readers could experience chest pains. Can someone here please call 911?” The lecturer looked toward his bewildered audience.

“In the meantime, can I interest anyone else to try this exciting new procedure? I have a great science fiction book that I’m sure you’ll enjoy.”

I hadn’t heard any more about the lecturer or his company’s work and nothing about the incident had ever been on the news. I knew that not everything made the six o’clock news, but some investigative reporter missed a great story. Besides, I’d like to know what happened to John D. or whatever his real name was. The paramedics took him to the hospital so fast that I couldn’t tell if he were going to make it back to reality. There was nothing about it on the internet, either. I thought that was strange, because everything’s on the net. I even used a search engine to find something about EAB. Nothing. I wasn’t even sure what the acronym stood for. I spoke with a representative at Brainecon.

“We have no record of anyone from EAB attending Brainecon. Perhaps if you could give me a name, I could look it up on our registry.”

I knew then that I had hit a dead end. It was a real shame that I didn’t know any of the other people who sat through the class. It was as if the whole thing was born of my own imagination. It had me so concerned and eager to find some sort of closure that I was beginning to wish that it hadn’t happened.

I met with my mother at Books ’n Coffee the next day. I explained everything to her.

“Wasn’t EAB handing out brochures to advertise their service?” she asked just before taking a sip of coffee. Mom could always show logic in anything.

“I don’t think so... at least I don’t remember any. The presentation seemed more like a sideshow than a class. He had a cheap blue and red sign that read EAB and it was just taped or stapled to the material on the front of the desk. The fast-paced lecturer almost seemed strapped for time, as if expecting the next scheduled group to take over the room. I don’t think the whole thing lasted more than fifteen minutes before the paramedics hauled the guy out of the room and the lecturer did a disappearing act. He left everyone in the room confused. His act was quickly followed by a class on how to make your own virtual reality equipment.”

“Have you checked out the hospitals for the guy that had a heart attack? Or maybe 911 would have record of where the paramedics took the guy?”

“Good thinking, Mom.”

At least I thought it was good thinking. What I didn’t know until my inquiry at the hospital was that thanks to a recent law, HIPAA, I would not be able to get information regarding hospital patients. 911 recordings weren’t easy to get hold of, either.

Nearly a week went by when I thought I was starting to get over the experience when I saw a man get out of his pickup truck. He walked into Bubbaland Barbeque. He looked like the poor sap that had a heart attack while reading a book. Was my mind manifesting pieces of the experience to haunt me?

I walked into the restaurant to verify the sighting. First, I checked the bar. A man was seated with his back to me. His wide frame and short curly hair encouraged me to ask, “Hey, buddy,” I sat in the seat next to him. He turned to face me. It wasn’t him. I apologized as if it did any good through all the alcohol that he’d consumed.

“Please excuse my appearance,” said the man at the bar. “ I drink when I’m depressed. When my doctor told me today that I’d gained more weight since my last visit I became depressed and had to have a drink. It’s a vicious cycle. I gain more weight; I get depressed; I drink. I wish that I could find a way to end it.” He looked at me for a few seconds fishing for an answer then he stared back at his bottle.

I was getting ready to leave when I saw another man with his description walk into the men’s room. I whisked my way into the men’s room to intercept him. I didn’t see him right away. A couple of men were washing their hands and there was another conducting business at a urinal. That left only one other place. I didn’t want to look like I was just hanging out in the men’s room, so I washed my hands. I didn’t like the way it seemed: chasing men into restrooms. I wasn’t the homophobe type; it just wasn’t the coolest thing to do.

A couple of minutes went by when the guy in the stall and myself were the only ones left in the room. I wanted to say something, but what does a guy say to a stranger who’s sitting on the hopper? I faced one of the urinals. “Dang coffee.” I hoped that my comment would encourage him to make a remark. Nothing. Nothing but flatulence.

I decided to wash my hands one more time. While doing so, I heard the toilet flush. Finally. I was nearly ready to give up the embarrassing encounter. I heard his footsteps as he approached the restroom basin to wash his hands. I looked in the mirror to see his face. It wasn’t him. That’s it! No more will I follow possible suspects into the men’s room again.

“I heard what you said,” he piped up. “Being overweight can be the cause of many health problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, sleep apnea, heart disease and, of course, problems with the prostate gland. If you frequently feel the urge to urinate, you might want to visit your doctor.”

I didn’t know what to say to that advice.” Uhm... Okay. Thanks.”

The next day at work, I was delivering palm trees at a construction site. I walked into the trailer to get a signature on the invoice. There he was. It was him. At least it looked like him. I handed him the invoice. “I unloaded the trees in front of the clubhouse.”

“That’ll be fine,” he said as he signed the paper.

“Hey, were you at Brainecon last week?”

“Braine... what?” he chuckled.

“Brainecon. It was a show. Guess not. Thanks, anyway.” I walked out feeling like a jerk.

As the day went by, I counted at least a dozen more tall, four hundred pound plus men with curly hair. What kind of cruel joke was this? It became progressively worse as the week went by. I must have seen hundreds of tall, wide men bearing instant health tips. Maybe one of them was the right guy, maybe not. I didn’t as much as do a double take when I saw one.

It was as if everyone in the whole world was turning into six by six men. They appeared everywhere. They were walking for exercise in the mall. They were strolling along the beach. They were picking up litter along the roadway in chain gangs. They were eating subs in sandwich shops. They were even actors on television and in the movies.

To top it off, they were in my dreams at night. I couldn’t go anywhere without seeing them. Even people who I’d known to be thin had suddenly packed on pounds. I was afraid to look at myself in the mirror. I needed help — an optometrist or a psychologist. I called and made an appointment with an optometrist. I wasn’t yet prepared to accept that I had gone crazy.

The optometrist was big. When I told him about my problem he checked out my eyes, anyway.

“Eating the right foods can help keep your eyes sharp and the rest of your body healthy. Exercise is important, too,” he said right out of the blue.

“I eat right and I exercise, too. Is there anything wrong with my eyes?” I wanted to know the answer to my real question. All week long I’d been spammed with health advice from everyone that came within five feet of me and I didn’t need to hear it from the optometrist, too.

“Everything is connected. What affects one part of your body could affect another part. I see no reason why you’re seeing everything wider than normal.”

I thanked the doctor for the eye exam and his secretary was kind enough to make a copy of all of the psychologists listed in the telephone book for me.

I couldn’t believe that it finally came to calling a shrink. It was a rainy day when I arrived at Dr. Thomas’ office. I had just enough time to put down my umbrella when I was called in for my appointment. “I’m seeing uhm... big people everywhere I go.” I had a hard time saying that. Dr. Thomas was just as wide as he was tall.

He didn’t seem disturbed by my statement. “When you say big... what exactly do you mean?”

“Big. Wide. Four-hundred pounders. Call it what you wish.”

“Overweight? King size? Portly?” he probed.

“Yeah. Okay. Everyone is tall and tubby with short curly hair.”

“Come on. You can say it.”

“Say what? What more do I have to tell you?”

“The first step to healing those old scares depends on yourself. You must look at yourself and admit that you have a problem.” He pointed to a wall mirror.

I hesitated before looking at my reflection. “Oh my no... I’m not thin anymore? I’m chunky now? How did this happen so fast?” I guess I should have expected it, but still I couldn’t believe my reflection. “Is this some sort of trick mirror, like the one’s in a carnival fun house?”

“Get it off your chest, man. Say it! Call it for what it is. You’ll feel much better once you do it.”

“This is ridiculous! I was thin before I walked in here. I mean... when am I going to wake up from this nightmare?”

“As soon as you come to terms with your condition and you’re ready to make changes, you’ll be on your way to a new life,” he continued.

What was this guy talking about? I hadn’t heard such psychobabble in years. “Look, something weird is happening here. I keep telling you that I’m not really overweight, yet you continue to disagree. And to aggravate the situation you’ve cast some sort of spell on me. That’s it! You’ve hypnotized me. Haven’t you?”

“I never hypnotize my patients without their prior consent. Please believe me when I tell you that I am here to help you overcome your obstacles.”

“Well, I’m telling you that I did not look like this before I came to your office.”

“You’re fooling yourself. Your condition didn’t happen overnight. It took a while to get that way.”

“It sure seemed that way. One minute I was skinny as a rail then I was as big as a train. How did I do this to myself? Wait a minute. I didn’t do this to myself.”

“It’s not your fault. You didn’t want to become this way. The good news is: you can take back your body with just a little help from us. All you have to do is come to terms with your condition.”

“Oh, really, and how do I do that? Just look at me now. This cannot be happening. I’ve always been careful of what and how much I eat. I’m a vegetarian.”

“Scream it from the tallest building. Shout it out from the highest mountain.”

“What? What? You think I’m in denial or something?”

“It’s simple. Just say it. Don’t color it. Don’t decorate it with pretty flowery words. Just get it off your chest.”

“All right. I’m fat!” I didn’t believe it could be so simple.

“There, you see? You only had to face up to your problem. Solving this and many other life’s issues can be addressed the same way. For more information please read my other helpful books regarding smoking, alcoholism, drug abuse and marital problems.”

“The End”

Hundreds of hands were clapping as my eyes focused back to the audience in the crowded room. John D. had been sitting next to me all along.

And this is really the end.

Copyright © 2006 by James Allen Starkloff

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