Marvin Snoutz stood on the rostrum, adjusted his natty bowtie, pushed his glasses up from the tip of his nose to its bridge, and peered at the audience.
A nettlesome spotlight, projecting from somewhere in the auditorium’s balcony, did its best to blind him, but it wasn’t powerful enough to prevent Snoutz from discerning people in the front row. What he saw there was … perplexing. The seats were 80 percent — scratch that, closer to 90 percent — occupied by women. That fact alone did not unsettle Snoutz, but rather his impression that nearly all the females were obese. Morbidly obese.
Had these women appeared en masse to see him? Marvin let the thought pass. He was allowing ego to ride roughshod over common sense. They were at the lecture, no doubt, because of the special guests scheduled by The Committee. Or at least some of the special guests. Marvin was merely the host. The special guests were celebrities. Or had been, at one time.
Still, once a celebrity, always a celebrity in America. Indeed, today’s symposium was a guaranteed money-maker for the school — and for Snoutz.
The important thing was that the audience was thus far quiet, a good sign. It meant they acknowledged the scientific import of the occasion. Snoutz cleared his throat and mentally dismissed the fat women in the front row. He told himself that if he became nervous, he would not imagine them sitting there naked.
“Without further ado,” he continued, “let’s bring out the first of our celebrated participants. Introductions are quite superfluous as I’m certain you are all quite familiar with them both. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Mr. Jordan Peterson, and Sir Charles Barkley!”
Much applause in the darkened auditorium. Save for the ladies in the front row whom, Marvin noticed as he exited stage left, remained silent. He was glad to be clear of them.
The famous academic and the renowned basketball player emerged from stages left and right, respectively, and seated themselves on stools near Snoutz’s vacated lecture stand. The two men did not shake hands, but merely acknowledged each other with slight nods.
“Thank you. Thank you, folks,” began the dapper educator. Barkley said nothing and fixed his gaze on Peterson.
“I’ll have to say that, in the course of my career, in particular the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to share a stage with quite a few illustrious persons,” Peterson began. “And yet, this is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of conducting a lecture with an esteemed professional athlete, such as is the case today with Mr. Barkley.”
A scattering of applause.
“Although, as I’m certain most of you are aware, today Mr. Barkley and I are not the, quote, ‘stars of the show.’” Peterson allowed himself a brief smile.
“We were asked here today to act as, I guess you might say, liaisons, or mediators, for a most extraordinary event. I hesitate to use the word ‘spectacle,’ because that might suggest a sideshow of some sort, and this is assuredly not a circus event. Despite what some members of the press might lead you to believe.
“Our purpose today is groundbreaking, to say the least. We’re posing a number of big questions, most of which mankind has been asking for millennia: Is there life after death? What, exactly, is death? If one were to return from the dead, how would one describe the experience? With any luck, we’ll leave this auditorium later today with a bit more understanding.”
Charles Barkley listened to his co-host with barely concealed contempt. Peterson talked and talked and talked, but never said anything. Now he was boring the crowd with academic bullshit about science and cryogenics and, mostly, his own self-importance. After some minutes of this blathering, Charles had had enough.
“Excuse me. Excuse me but are you gonna let a brother talk?” he interjected.
Peterson had just taken note of the silent congregation of obese women in the front row. This filled him with a vague sense of unease. He was therefore a bit relieved to defer to his co-host.
“My apologies,” he said. “I’m sure the audience would much rather hear from a famous athlete than from a dull academic such as myself.” He expected polite laughter at this quip. None came.
“Let’s just bring out the heads and get on with it,” Barkley said. Much applause from the audience.
A hush fell over the auditorium as two stagehands wheeled carts to the front of the stage and locked the wheels of the respective vehicles in designated spots.
Each cart supported a square, glass container, and each container encased a human head. The disembodied noggins were visible only to audience members lucky enough to have seats up front. Giant monitors above the stage and along the balcony supplied views to the less fortunate.
Hidden behind brass plates on the base of the containers were the tubes, electrodes, and other apparatus that, thanks to the miracles of modern medicine, served as vocal cords, respiratory, and circulatory lifelines to the two human heads. Small computers were also attached to the mass of body replicants.
Peterson beamed at the audience. It was cliché, he mused, but you really could hear a pin drop.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we give you the not-so-late Mr. Ted Williams and the not-so-late Mr. Norman Mailer!”
Even though he hadn’t swatted a four-bagger in more than 60 years, and that was when televised sports was in its infancy — never mind the Internet — Boston’s “splendid splinter” attracted most of the room’s interest. He was a hallowed jock, after all, the last pro baseball player to hit .400 when the game was still considered “America’s pastime.”
Norman Mailer, by contrast, was a writer, venerated by a small segment of society, but hardly a household name.
From his facial expression when he saw the other head, it seemed clear that Williams shared America’s indifference toward writers in general and Mailer in particular.
Mailer, on the other hand, seemed tickled to be sharing the spotlight with the former Red Sox star.
For its part, the audience was transfixed by the two thawed beans, and especially by a tuna-fish can that was affixed to Williams’s head, just above his left ear.
“We think you’ll find,” said Jordan Peterson, “that Misters Williams and Mailer retain not just the intellect of their, shall we say, more active days, but also the colorful personalities most of you recall so well.
“That’s a tribute not just to science, but also to the resilience of these remarkable men. Before I forget, I’d like to express my gratitude to The Committee for making this forum possible.”
Barkley was considering decapitating Peterson and tossing the blowhard’s crown into the crowd. He decided this might not go over too well with an audience composed primarily of Peterson-like eggheads, so he opted instead to cut in.
“Jordan excuse me, excuse me, but these people don’t wanna hear from you or me. They don’t care about cryo-whatever and that sort of shit. Let me ask these two bros some questions.”
Peterson wasn’t really listening. He thought some of the women in the front row were glaring. At him.
“Pardon me,” said the disembodied head of Norman Mailer. “I have a question for Ted Williams.”
Williams, who much to his chagrin could not swivel his neck to look directly at Mailer, because most of his neck didn’t exist, eyed the scribbler as best he could. Kinky-haired, scrunch-faced troll, he thought. Also, a New Yorker. Ted wasn’t overly fond of New Yorkers.
“You had a famous rivalry with DiMaggio,” said Mailer. “I happen to know a bit about DiMaggio, thanks to a book I wrote about Marilyn Monroe. You knew DiMaggio, personally. I’m curious about his relationship with Marilyn, what you might know of it.”
Williams had heard about Mailer and his infamous boner for Monroe. The little prick had even written a book about her. Mailer didn’t give a hoot about DiMaggio, Ted, or baseball.
“Joe told me she was just like in the movies,” Williams snarled, “a blonde bimbo with big tits. In my day, I used to eat and spit out girls like her on road trips. I had what you might call a heavy appetite.”
Mailer pondered this for a moment. “Let me tell you something, if I may. The contents of your stomach are no more interesting to me than the contents of the stomach of an intellectual cow.” He waited a beat.
“Oh, that’s right. You have no stomach.”
“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” cut in Peterson, “can we please keep the discourse civil? There are students in the audience who give not a hoot about movie stars nor old baseball rivalries. They want to learn about human thought processes and emotions, post-cryogenics.
“It’s fascinating to people, myself included, that a cryonics laboratory in Arizona has managed to freeze, and subsequently reanimate, giants of American culture. Such as yourselves. During your, uh, hibernation, did you dream? Do you recall thought processes before, during, and after the cryogenic procedure?”
Mailer ignored all of this. He was squinting at the audience. “The law of the dinner table is that we now talk about what I want to talk about. Tell the splendid sphincter over there that if I could escape this caged conundrum, I’d whip his ass. If he still had one.”
Peterson decided to try a different tack — and almost immediately regretted it. “Let’s take questions from the audience,” he said.
One of the women in the front row raised a hand and began speaking. No one could hear what she was saying. A school employee rushed over to her and handed her a cordless microphone.
“My question is for you, Mr. Peterson,” she began.
Peterson’s sense of foreboding increased. There were two legendary Americans on the stage — well, at least their noggins — and yet this woman’s question was for him. She had not taken her eyes off him to this point, he was sure of it. Ah well, he’d rallied and handled more formidable interrogators than this woman.
And yet … the look on this woman’s face. Unsettling.
Ted Williams interrupted the woman before she could speak. “You all want to talk about science. That’s OK by me. I’d like to remind everyone here that Mailer over there is not the only author in this room. I once wrote a book called The Science of Hitting. In my book, I said about hitting: ‘It’s from here up, 50 percent of it.’”
An awkward silence ensued as everyone in the auditorium struggled to grasp his meaning.
“I can’t gesture for you, obviously, but I meant from the neck up. Fifty percent. I believe that to be true. So logically, even though I no longer have use of my body, I should still be able to bat .200.”
More silence in the room.
“But I tell you what, I batted a thousand with the ladies!”
Mailer retorted, “They say you have — correction: had — a small dick. This was according to Marilyn, who as you know was married to DiMaggio.”
“My name is Martha Rogan,” said the woman in the audience, at last. “My question is for Jordan Peterson.”
Peterson began to perspire.
“I represent a group of local women. We call ourselves the Concerned and Underrepresented Neighborhood Team.”
Barkley stifled a laugh. “CUNTs,” he muttered.
“We look at you four ‘esteemed’ men on the stage and believe you have one thing in common: toxic masculinity.”
All four men on the stage were now squinting against the spotlight, hoping to get a clearer look at this woman.
“The two athletes up there seem to think of most women as disposable playthings. Groupies to satisfy their egos. They are, or were, obsessed with ‘scoring.’
“Mr. Mailer doesn’t see real women; he sees sex objects. And so his obsession with Hollywood movie stars like Marilyn Monroe. But probably the worst of all is you, Mr. Peterson.”
Jordan swallowed hard and reminded himself that he’d done battle with people like this woman — he always came out on top.
“Hiding behind the veil of academia, the patriarchy, and the popularity of your YouTube videos among young men, this is what you said about a plus-sized woman who had the temerity to pose for Sports Illustrated magazine.
She began to quote from a page of notes: “‘Sorry. Not beautiful. And no amount of authoritarian tolerance is going to change that.’ Mr. Peterson, do you not think that this young lady’s parents find her beautiful? Do you find only Playboy Playmates beautiful?”
Peterson cleared his throat. But Martha Rogan wasn’t finished.
“For some reason, you have a great deal of influence over American youth, especially young men. This is what they learned about your relationship with your own grandmother. I quote: ‘I saw my maternal grandmother sitting by the bank of a swimming pool, that was also a river. … Her genital region was exposed, dimly; it had the appearance of a thick mat of hair. She was stroking herself … she walked over to me, with a handful of pubic hair … she pushed this at my face … and said, like a child, isn’t it soft? I looked at her ruined face and said, yes, Grandma, it’s soft.’”
Martha Rogan turned to the audience. “This is the man who is influencing your children.”
Peterson’s face flushed and he blurted, “That’s completely out of context. Your bastardization of my words is … unconscionable!”
Barkley was grinning from ear to ear. “Got a thing for grannie’s cooch, eh, Jordan? You eggheads are all sick puppies.”
Martha Rogan’s comrades in the front row then began the catcalling:
“Misogynists — all of you!”
“Down with the patriarchy!”
The shouting quickly spread to other members of the audience.
Williams and Mailer began snapping at each other from the confines of their glass prisons.
Other than Barkley, who was enjoying the chaos immensely, anger and vitriol filled the auditorium. Snoutz walked hesitantly onto the stage and was greeted with an actual rotten tomato hurled at his face.
To Peterson’s horror, the heavyset women in the front row stood as one and began removing their clothes.
“How’s this for beautiful, Jordan?” shouted one.
Another woman tossed something large and hairy onto the stage, near Peterson’s feet. It appeared to be a giant merkin.
“Is it soft, Jordan?” she bellowed.
“Grandmother’s here!” cried another.
Mailer stared at the women from CUNT in disbelief. “My eyes! My eyes!” he wailed.
Williams was also watching the disrobing ladies. “Hubba hubba!” he said with a smile.
Peterson sank to the floor of the stage and crawled over to the lectern, where he curled up in the fetal position. Strands of hair from the giant merkin had tangled around his left foot.
Led by Martha Rogan, the ladies of CUNT commenced storming the stage. Martha loomed over Charles Barkley, still seated on his stool.
“Chauvinist pig!” she shouted.
“I am not a role model!” barked Barkley.
The Committee observed the pandemonium on TV monitors from the comfort of a lounge located at a spacious estate in Davos, Switzerland.
Said one Committee member: “Two thousand years, and everything is still there: pride, greed, wrath, envy, lust, gluttony, and sloth. As the adage goes, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
“Plan B will rectify this flaw. It will also do wonders for the warming of the Earth and countless other societal woes.”
Said a second Committee member: “Much less wasteful consumption.”
A third member of The Committee: “Less rebellion by the great unwashed.”
And a fourth: “I concur. The problem is and always has been of the flesh. It’s time to implement Plan B.”
Marvin Snoutz was happy and unhappy. He was overjoyed that The Committee had chosen him to act as host once again for the new “talking heads” series of lectures. Particularly so given the fiasco that had taken place at the last such event. He was also pleased that he’d been allowed to wear his signature bowtie.
Sadly, Marvin could only observe said bowtie by its image on a monitor screen located high above the stage. His personage, below the neck, was no longer a part of the picture. Any picture.
Marvin’s head was one of six that were situated in glass cases evenly spaced across the stage. Beneath each case/head was a brass plate etched with descriptive labels:
Charles Barkley – “lust, gluttony”
Ted Williams – “pride, wrath, lust”
Norman Mailer – “pride, wrath, lust, envy”
Martha Rogan – “gluttony, wrath, envy”
Jordan Peterson – “pride, lust”
Marvin Snoutz – “pride, greed, sloth”
Whoever or whatever controlled the television cameras panned to the auditorium’s audience. Some 300 seats were occupied by glass containers, each holding an individual human head, including those of the ladies of CUNT.
Marvin began: “I’d like to thank The Committee for …”
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