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Getting That Meal Ticket

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Getting That Meal Ticket ...

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    Getting That Meal Ticket

    Roy Lisker

    Originally published in a French translation,

    Entitled:

    "Je Suis Trop Intelligent, Moi!"

    Editions Rene Julliard, 1972

    Getting That Meal Ticket

    Table of Contents

Chapter 1 ………………………….. Page 7

    I come into the world

     The narrator, Aleph Randal McNaughton Cantor, sees the light of day in 1935. Even in the incubator he shows signs of prodigious intellect. Early quarrels with his parents and siblings.

Chapter 2 ………………………….. Page 18

    My Education

     At the age of 6 he is enrolled in a special school for precocious children run by a pair of psychiatrists, Fraulein Zwicky and Karl Baumknuppel, Quakers and refugees from Nazi Germany. He submits to the horrors of this school until Baumknuppel attempts to rape him during a therapy session and he runs away.

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    Chapter 3 ………………………….. Page 41

    More Education

     Aleph skips several grades and is placed in an urban high school, typical in terms of its violence and delinquency. Somehow he manages not only to survive but, at the age of 12 he masters and writes original papers in Celestial Mechanics. This leads to his being pulled out of high school and enrolled in a graduate mathematics program at Zelosophic U.

Chapter 4 ………………………….. Page 53

     On the Disintegration of the Moons of Jupiter.

    Aleph's classic paper, in digest, on the disintegration

     of the moons of Jupiter

Chapter 5 ………………………….. Page 60

    Initiation

     An account of Aleph's introduction, in 1947, to the Zelosophic community, as campus prodigy, in the Mathematics Department‟s Graduate Lounge.

Chapter 6 ………………………….. Page 79

    The Training of a Mathematician

     In his freshman year friction develops between Aleph and Frank Kriegle, an abrasive logician.

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    Chapter 7 ………………………….. Page 93

    Love‟s Awakening

    Felicia Salvador , a graduate student from Argentina, is engaged to be married to Frank Kriegle. She takes Aleph into her confidence. He becomes infatuated with her.

Chapter 8 ………………………….. Page 118

    Disorder and Early Sorrow

     The bizarre twists and turns of the eternal triangle of Aleph McNaughton Cantor, Felicia Salvador and Frank Kriegle.

Chapter 9 ………………………….. Page 147

    My Acculturation

     Apart from graduate mathematics, Aleph carris a normal undergraduate‟s roster of courses. He finds himself unable to comes to terms with courses in Art History and History of Literature in English

Chapter 10 ………………………….. Page 188

    My Humanization

     Similar problems with the "Human Sciences", Sociology, Criminology and Psychology

Chapter 11 ………………………….. Page 202

    Astronomy

     A course in Cosmology brings little relief

Chapter 12 ………………………….. Page 211

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    Home Life

     The volcanic eruption of Aleph‟s adolescence

Chapter 13 ………………………….. Page 228

    I Go Mad

     Still only 14, Aleph come down with an apalling case of acne. The combination of the heroic therapy prescribed by a doctor at the university hospital, his unhappy relationship with Felicia , his social awkwardness on a conservative campus where everyone else is at least 4 years hold than he is, and his pathological obsession with mathematics, leads to a total nervous breakdown

Chapter 14 ………………………….. Page 257

    Ludis Mentalis

     Horrors and adventures in a state mental hospital. The asylum is run by behaviorist principles. The patients are used as experimental guinea pigs by Dr. Jan van Clees, its director. When it becomes clear that van Clees wants to experiment on his brain, Aleph contrives to escape.

Chapter 15 ………………………….. Page 284

    A Good Place To Stop

     The narrative jumps forward to 1972, the period in which Aleph is composing this memoir. Cast adrift from Zelosophic U, he is hired by a free lance computer agency which solicits contracts from the Pentagon. Aleph quits rather than waiting to be fired. He ships out on a tramp steamer with forged seaman's papers. He resumes writing this memoir after he jumps ship.

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Chapter 16 ………………………….. Page 317

    More of Chapter 3

     The narrative picks up again with Aleph‟s account of his 10 years as a perpetual graduate student. After coasting through several departments he ends up in Biology.

Chapter 17 ………………………….. Page 330

    Evolutionary Ethics

     A discourse on the the study of the way Evolution ought to go.

Chapter 18 ………………………….. Page 351

    Dragged back to Chapter 5

     Aleph is miraculously "rediscovered" by Zelosophic's mathematics department.

Chapter 19 ………………………….. Page 365

    Return of the Prodigal Son

     Aleph is given ample facilities to research his PhD thesis. In exchange he must produce something to justify Zelosophic‟s faith in him.

Chapter 20 ………………………….. Page 370

    Reflections and regrets.

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     With his doctorate in sight after twenty years of floundering about, Aleph reminisces on his college career.

Chapter 21 ………………………….. Page 383

    Home-Coming

    After years of exile, Aleph is welcomed to the bosom of his family.

Chapter 22 ………………………….. Page 390

    A visit to the President‟s Office

     Aleph‟s mother drags the whole family to the university to pick up his diploma.

Chapter 23 ………………………….. Page 395

    Penultimate Wrap-Up

     Bob Boolean, chairman of the Mathematics Department, lets Aleph know the consequences of another fiasco.

Chapter 24 ………………………….. Page 401

    Between the Event Horizon and the Big Crunch

     Most of the principal characters of the novel are assembled in the auditorium of the Math-Physics building to attend the oral presentation of Aleph's PhD thesis. The much heralded event ends in catastrophe.

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    Chapter 1

    I come into the world

     Although my memory is unexceptional , it is somewhat better than one ought to expect it to be. Some of my memory faculties are even remarkable . Given that all of my life people have paid me unneeded compliments , ( one of the standard forms of self-congratulation), on several occasions my memory has even been qualified as prodigious. As I've matured I've quite lost the appetite for flattery, and it does not please me when people spout such nonsense about my endowments.

     The French philosopher of science , Pierre Maurice Marie Duhem,

    1(1861-1916) has gone on record for having worried about such matters

    more than almost anyone else. He argues that two kinds of brain are distributed throughout the human race: the broad, weak brain and the strong, narrow brain. A blending of research, experience and prejudice had convinced him that most Englishmen have broad, weak brains. The French, so he claims, have strong, narrow brains - with the exception of Napoleon, whose intellectual cast is discussed at some length.

     Distinguishing between these two types of brain is easily done: the attributes of the broad, weak brain may be likened to a strip of sticky fly-paper or a pot of book-binder's glue: facts come into its vicinity and stick to its surface. They may remain there forever, never integrating themselves into any larger synthesis, yet never quite succeeding in breaking loose. In this

    1The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory; Pierre Duhem; Atheneum 1962,pg. 55

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    way, bit by bit a vast repository of miscellaneous dead knowledge is accumulated.

     Over the course of a lifetime the surface of a broad, weak mind comes to resemble a public monument covered by an accumulation of decades of bird shit, with nothing at all in its interior. The image is fortuitous: if one strokes such a mind it emits the kind of sound one expects to hear from a hollow bronze statue. Furthermore the knowledge gathered by the broad weak mind has no more relevance to the world than does the speck of shit left behind to the bird that left it.

     The strong, narrow mind, the logical mind, the analytic-synthetic mind, the intellectual mind one might say, is the polar counterpart to the broad, weak mind. It shuns facts in the way nature abhors a vacuum. Much as repentance may suddenly wash over the heart of a sinner, it rids itself periodically of the slime-mold of deposited data. Buzzing like a bee through the sunny groves of knowledge it dallies not over each mystifying attraction, each exotic petal and leaf; rather does it spontaneous quintesse the ethereal juices which will contribute to the rich honey of theory. And if, through accident, ignorance or neglect, it may somehow accumulate a paralyzing burden of factual dross, the burden is summarily dumped in one good crap.

     Although I admit the brilliance of Pierre Duhem's bifurcated brain hypothesis, he erred greatly in relating the two kinds of brain to inherent racial characteristics. In any case his opinions on French and English brains ( with a few sour reflections on the Germans) , have little bearing on me. I am an American. One need not be anxious that I intend to unfurl the Stars and Stripes: this statement is being made merely by way of evidence. Son a Scotch-Irish mother, (with a possible admixture of Native American

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    ancestry) and a Russian-Jewish father, I was born in 1935 in the little coal-mining town of Freewash, Pennsylvania. Local legend would have one believe that Freewash got its name sometime before World War I, because it had the only public baths in the region and offered eleven baths for the price of ten. For the sake of those who take stock in such idiocy , my birth took place beneath the sign of Capricorn, on January 3rd. In the astrology I've invented for my own use, my birth placed me under the protection of the radio galaxy Mersier 87: a most potent God.

     Quite apart from my ethnic precursors, it can be categorically stated that I have a strong mind. In fact I have a very strong mind, which I'm well aware of, thank you, without the need to be continually reminded of it by everyone on every occasion ( more by my enemies, perhaps ,than by my friends.) The presence of a strong mind indicates, following Professor Duhem, the compensating handicap of narrowness. Consequently my memory cannot be very good.

     Still, my memory is not too bad either, not bad at all. I can remember events in my life right down to my earliest moments; I even remember the experience of my birth! On the other hand there are also some surprisingly large gaps, such as not being able to recall anything that happened to me between the ages of 7 and 9.

     In 1940 I astonished my mother by asking her if I'd been born prematurely. Questioning me closely she discovered that my recollections went back as far as my six months in the womb and my three months in the incubator. What made this revelation all the more astonishing was that my mother had never mentioned any of this to me; she has always exhibited a peculiar sense of shame about any feature of herself, whether in thought, body or conduct, that was not commonplace to the rock bottom level of

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    utter banality. A premature birth would certainly have led her to regard herself as a freak of nature. This subject will reoccur several times throughout this narrative.

     Given my mother's obsession with normalcy, it is remarkable that every one of her pregnancies has been accompanied with complications. Two years before I arrived she had a miscarriage. In 1942 she gave birth to twins , my siblings Sam and Aga . In 1946 the youngest child, Knut, was delivered by Cesarean section. Parenthetically Knut is an imbecile genie : at age seven he could multiply two one- hundred digit numbers in his head. He is otherwise completely unremarkable, even stupid.

     Too much weight should not be attached to my ability to remember the principal sensations of my birth. Most of them were reconstructed many years later by examining my physical characteristics in a mirror. In contrast I have always had a clear direct recollection of my life inside that incubator! It was a German model; I did not, of course, know this at the time. In 1952 a shock of recognition hit me while leafing through a catalogue of hospital equipment from the 40's. Even the initial segment of its serial number stands out in my mind: ...M ....1.....5.........5..... The rest escapes me.

     After I was taken out of the incubator my memories disappear for 6 months. I remember nothing in fact before the day when , at the age of 9 months, I began spontaneously talking in complete sentences. In all likelihood I just said things like "Goo-goo" , and "Ma-Ma", like most babies. Yet I clearly recall the circumstances in which I uttered my first complete sentence. As it happened, my father was trying to bait a mousetrap. He was having a hell of a time with it. Invariably with each new attempt he would set the trap first, then try to introduce the bit of cheese. At the last moment the trap would spring loose and grab his fingers. Unable

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