My father was a hypocrite. When I turned eight, he made a big show of promising never to use physical punishment with me again. He said I was too old to be spanked like a small child. Two years later, after I broke some windows in a garage I thought was abandoned, he kicked me down a flight of stairs. I was so frightened I pissed my pants. He called me a criminal, but of course he was the one who had committed the crime of child abuse. From that point on, I despised him.
The last time I saw him was the day Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I had gone through a bitter divorce and was just out of Air Force boot camp when he invited me to visit him and his new wife, Ruth, whom I had never met. I don't know why I went. My father had spent World War II taking certain jobs that exempted him from the draft, but when I balked at the notion of going to Vietnam, he had refused to help me flee to Canada.
"If you don't want to serve your country," he had told me, "then you're no son of mine."
I soon realized the visit was a mistake. My father forced me to wear my uniform and paraded me around town like a proud patriot. I felt like a fool because I hated the Vietnam war. The night of the moon walk my father got very drunk after Ruth went to bed and started harassing me about my recent divorce.
"What happened to your marriage?" he asked. "Weren't you man enough to keep it going?"
He had been married five times, and he knew very well I divorced my wife because she was unfaithful. When he bragged about seducing a teenage neighbor girl, I couldn't take any more, and something snapped inside me. The next morning before he woke, I told Ruth about his philandering and packed my things to leave. I was backing my car out of the driveway when my father rushed out of the house to stop me.
"You stabbed me in the back," he said incredulously.
"You asked for it," I said and drove away.
After he got sick a few years later, the old hypocrite wrote to tell me he had found religion and intended to become a preacher. He hadn't seen the inside of a church in 50 years and had spent his entire life ridiculing religion, but now that he was facing his own mortality, he wanted to believe he had become a religious man. He was so deeply self-deluded it was laughable. When he died, I refused to attend his funeral. Some day I intend to return to my home town and piss on his grave. I only wish he could see me doing it.
My mother was a simple, uneducated woman who always seemed on the verge of hysteria. I loved her as much as a son can love such a mother. She lived in constant fear of what "respectable" people thought of her, not realizing they weren't any better than she was. When she was dying of cancer, she confessed to me she had never liked herself. I felt like crying when I heard this pathetic admission.
As Nietzsche wrote, what child has not had cause to weep over its parents? I'm glad I didn't have any children when I was married. In fact, I am the end of two family lines—a curious outcome I often think about. In my darker moments, I see my life as the culmination of a failed experiment in human genetics. But 98 percent of all species that ever lived on earth are extinct, and if we believe the doomsday scenario advanced by an increasing number of scientists, an asteroid or comet will likewise extinguish human existence sooner or later. It is only a matter of time.
Science has replaced religion in explaining reality, but it is leading mankind down a primrose path. It portrays the universe as unimaginably violent and essentially meaningless. This is bound to have social repercussions. In a film I saw recently, a woman on a crime rampage points a gun at her head when she's trapped by police. She remarks that the universe began with a big bang and pulls the trigger. This was fiction, but the same type of tragedy occurs daily in the real world as the hidden message of science penetrates the collective unconscious of the human race.
I think I was born a nihilist. Of course, the public image of a nihilist is a ridiculous stereotype: rebel without a cause, mad bomber, etc. I am a rebel only in my mind, and I have never purposely injured anyone. In my daily life I lead a quiet existence and conform to most of the idiotic expectations of my fellow man. As one sociologist observed, mores develop a life of their own. Few people actually agree with them, but each person thinks everyone else does. Thus, a false perception perpetuates a system of rules practically no one believes in. The origin of human society can be traced to this and other absurdities. Nihilism is the only tenable philosophy that explains the insanity of the modern world. Nihilism declares nothing has meaning because everything is a lie. This is a message the average person does not want to hear. It tends to evoke disturbing emotions like uncertainty and fear, and most are too cowardly to accept such a radical truth.
But the truth is all around us, if we only take the time to look honestly. We live in the bloodiest era of human history, and yet people still speak of progress as if they were amnesiacs. I once knew a man who had been a bombardier in World War II. I liked him because he was intelligent, possessed a lively sense of humor and appeared to be compassionate. Recalling his war experiences, he made a startling confession to me. One day his bomber was returning to base with a full bomb load since the target had been obscured by overcast cloud conditions. Landing with bombs still aboard represented an unnecessary risk, and this would also tell the commanding officer they had failed in their mission. Usually in such a circumstance, they waited until they were over open ocean to discard the bombs. But on this particular day they were flying over one of the Solomon islands when the pilot gave orders to drop the bombs on a native village. The villagers were allies who had helped Americans drive Japanese troops off of the island. Scores of Melanesian people were presumably killed when the bombs destroyed the village.
"Why did you do it?" I asked my friend.
"I don't know," he said. "I guess I was a little crazy."
I think he was wrong in his self-assessment. I'm convinced any psychiatrist would diagnose him as a well-adjusted individual, and therein lies the horror of our situation. In the modern world we have reached the point where a perfectly normal man can commit an unthinkable atrocity. The Germans were a normal people when they murdered millions of helpless Jews. Contrary to popular myth, war is not a special set of circumstances that alters behavior. The idea of normality is misleading since it excludes the dark side of human nature. All modern people are potential monsters precisely because they live in a condition of denial unknown in the simpler societies of the past.
I think it is necessary to lose your mind in order to grasp the truth about reality. As more than one writer has noted, modern man lives in constant fear of a future catastrophe, oblivious to the fact that the worst has already happened. We fear an unconscious memory of the fall of man. We have lost our humanity, but also the knowledge of this loss. As a result, we live like mad termites, blindly consuming the environment that makes our existence possible. In a fugue state author Philip K. Dick gained the insight that the Roman Empire never ended. It merely shifted locations in space and time and is now called America.
A symptom of our insanity can be found in our attitudes about sexuality. In the modern world sex masquerades as everything except what it really is—a natural function of the human body like eating and excretion. Sex has become a mishmash of romantic delusion, religious prohibition begging to be violated, stereotyped role playing and the basis of a war between men and women. The typical person is secretly terrified of sex and at the same time compulsively drawn to it for all the wrong reasons. Think of having such feelings about urination and you will see how absurdly far we have strayed from our roots in the animal kingdom.
Sexuality is also a mystery that once served as the foundation of a nature religion. Modern science attempts to explain away the mystery in terms of survival of the species or the glue holding society together, but this is utter nonsense. No man ever engaged in sex with posterity on his mind. In sexual matters modern people are children groping in the dark and making crude jokes to conceal their ignorance. Only a few writers of the last two centuries have shed light upon the mystery, as if it were not worthy of exploration. D. H. Lawrence understood sexuality as a bridge between people far beyond the scope of the conscious mind. His best novel was banned as pornography for portraying sexual relations with an innocent honesty.
For a nihilist like me, overcoming boredom is the supreme challenge. Suicide is always a temptation, and I invent both mental and physical games to keep myself occupied. One cerebral game I often play is called "What If?" For instance, what if reincarnation was real, but karma was not? This is an interesting question because it fits nihilist philosophy and has some rather brazen implications. The inventors of the idea of reincarnation, ancient Hindu and Buddhist thinkers, were careful to saddle it with the notion of karma: behavior had a consequence in future lives. The founders of the Judeo-Christian and Muslim religions had the same motive in creating heaven and hell.
But what if rebirth was a random process that had nothing to do with our actions? What if we could live an exemplary life and still be reborn as a cockroach? Or practice every sort of evil and enjoy a privileged human existence in our next incarnation? Even worse, what if we were doomed to endlessly return as every form of life from a virus to a human? Nietzsche envisioned such a possibility in his theory of eternal recurrence, which holds that everything that can happen has already happened an infinite number of times and will continue repeating forever.
One might wonder what kind of human society could be built on the principle of random reincarnation. Would chaos and anarchy result when people saw no future reward or punishment for actions in their present lives? Oddly enough, we inhabit such a society. Despite a widespread pretense of religious belief, the vast majority of people usually behave as if they had no concern for karma, heaven or hell. They only worry about punishment in this life since we have the police to deal with blatant acts. If it is not a prison offense, they will cheat, lie and swindle their fellow man with no regard for consequences in a future incarnation or afterlife. This is a common practice in business as well as personal relationships. In my entire life I have known only a few people who possessed the courage and intelligence to create their own morality, independent of religious dogma.
I count myself among them.
For the past three months I have been fascinated by a particular woman who was a stranger the first time I saw her. She was sitting at a bus stop I used only occasionally, and I found myself staring at her. It was a windy day, and her auburn hair seemed to dance around her lovely face. Although she was young and attractive, she was far from the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. And yet there something special about her that intrigued me at once—an exquisite but indefinable quality I had encountered before. I experienced the mysterious force of attraction a man feels towards only a very few of the women he sees. It was not lust—she was rather flat-chested and a little too thin to inspire sexual fantasy. I was reminded of the time I saw an advertisement for jeans on television. My eyes were riveted on one of the several female models who happened to be the least sexy or beautiful of the group.
Why is a man instinctively drawn to a woman whose physical appearance is much less than perfect? Many joke about "sexual chemistry" as if men and women react to each other like laboratory rats. But I am convinced there is a kind of irresistable beauty deeper than the skin but detectable at first glance.
I decided to play one of my games, using the woman at the bus stop as my unwitting subject. In my mind I named her Miss X, after noticing she wore no wedding ring. While we waited for the bus, I examined her in brief glimpses so I wouldn't appear to be gawking. She had brown hair and blue eyes and looked to be in her mid to late 20s. She wore a dark blue skirt and white blouse and carried a leather handbag. Her makeup was minimal, and she had long slender fingers with neatly-trimmed, unpolished nails. She nervously moved her feet around inside the pumps she wore as if they didn't fit comfortably. She licked her lips and smiled at the older woman sitting next to her on the bench.
When her bus arrived, I got on and took a seat beside her, curious to learn where she was going. I detected the faint odor of a delightful perfume. As we rode in silence, her arm brushed against mine and I felt something akin to a mild electric shock. A moment later I closed my eyes and tried to picture her face. The swaying movement of the bus must have caused me to drift off, for I was suddenly awakened by her voice.
"Excuse me, this is my stop."
She had a remarkably deep voice for a young woman. I stood up and looked outside.
"Mine too," I said.
I followed her into a mall and lagged behind to see her enter a shoe store. I walked to a patio restaurant with a clear view of the shoe store and ordered a cup of coffee. From the table where I sat sipping the coffee, I could see Miss X talking to an older bald man who wore glasses. In the next few minutes, I found out what I wanted to know. Miss X was not a customer at the store. She worked there as a sales clerk in the ladies shoes department.
That was the beginning of my game with Miss X. As I mentioned before, I need such games to keep myself occupied. Otherwise, my mind seems to implode, and I sink into despair and thoughts of suicide. I have never actually tried to kill myself, but the possibility is always lurking in the background. If I ever abandoned my games, I think I might lose control. I have a recurring nightmare about tornados. In the nightmare I am standing at the window of a house, looking out over flat terrain. I see a funnel cloud form and drop to the ground, hurling trees and other debris in all directions. It starts to move in the direction of the house, and I experience stark panic. I run to the bathroom and crouch in a fetal position just as the tornado crashes into the house with a deafening sound. Walls fly outward, and I am airborn. I wake up with a gasp, my heart pounding like a hammer in my chest.
One afternoon I followed Miss X to her apartment when she walked home from the bus stop, careful to not let her notice me. The apartment building was four storeys tall and located in a pleasant neighborhood, surrounded by tree-lined parks and schools. I discovered later she lived alone in a one-bedroom apartment on the third floor. While I was playing detective, I could have learned her name, but I chose not to. I thought the game would be more fun if she remained the anonymous Miss X in my mind. I found a park bench with a good view of her apartment windows, and some evenings I sat there watching her whenever I could catch a glimpse. She seemed to follow a fairly strict routine after work. She cooked her own supper and ate at the kitchen table. Then she watched television for a couple hours. After that she read books or magazines while listening to music. When she went to bed, generally around eleven, I walked to my apartment instead of taking the bus. It was a long walk, but I always felt exhilarated, and I enjoyed the exercise.
I gradually realized Miss X lived a lonely existence similar to my own, and I began to feel a certain kinship with her. Only once did I see her go out on a date from her apartment. The fellow showed no class, picking her up in front of the apartment building in an ugly old car. I wondered why she didn't date more often. Perhaps she was divorced like me or had suffered some other romantic disappointment. Curiously, she didn't seem to have any close girlfriends, which I surmised from the fact that she seldom used her home phone. I also guessed her family either did not live in the city, or else she maintained no close ties with them. Miss X appeared to be adrift and alone, and I couldn't help but think she was unhappy.
Eventually, I decided to risk direct contact with Miss X. I went to the shoe store one afternoon and pretended I wanted to buy a pair of shoes for my sister. I was relieved when Miss X didn't seem to recognize me.
"It's a birthday gift," I told her.
"What sort of shoes are you looking for?" she asked.
Although I had never seen her smoke a cigarette, she had the husky voice of a smoker.
"I know nothing about women's shoes," I admitted. "Dress shoes I suppose."
"What size does your sister wear?"
I looked down at her feet. "The same size as you," I said.
The corners of her mouth turned up in a faint smile. "Are you sure?"
I suddenly felt very nervous. "My sister can always exchange them if they're the wrong size, can't she?"
"Yes, of course."
"Then show me something you would like in your size," I said, recovering my composure.
She left the display room and returned a minute later with a pair of dark blue high-heels.
"These are a little expensive, but I think they are very attractive," she said.
"I'll take them," I said.
This time she smiled broadly, showing perfect white teeth. "I wish I had more customers like you," she said.
"Can you gift wrap them?"
"I'm sorry, we don't do gift wrapping here. But I'll show you where you can have it done."
"That will be fine," I said. I was grateful to be able to spend a little more time with her.
After I paid for the shoes, Miss X led me out of the store. She placed one hand on my shoulder (which startled me) and pointed with the index finger of her other hand.
"You see the red sign at the end of the walkway? That store will gift wrap your package for a small charge."
"Thank you," I said, staring into her eyes. "You've been very helpful."
"You're welcome," she said, lifting her hand off my shoulder to brush her hair back.
As I walked away, I could hardly feel my feet touch the floor because I knew she was watching me. For a moment it seemed as if the game had been reversed: she was the observer and I was Mister X. When I turned at the red sign, I looked back to see her still standing outside the shoe store. I waved, and she went inside. I had the box of shoes gift wrapped and took them to my apartment.
I wished I could give her the pair of shoes as a gift, but I knew that would spoil the game. As much as I was fascinated by Miss X, I had no intention of becoming her suitor. Chasing a woman until she caught me wasn't my kind of game. I preferred to live alone and observe the absurdities of life from a safe distance.
One Sunday afternoon I followed Miss X from her apartment to a large discount store downtown. I sat in the rear of the bus, hoping she wouldn't notice me during the ride. At the store I trailed behind until she got into an elevator, and then I had to run to make it inside before the doors closed. Two other people got off on the second floor and we were suddenly alone in the elevator. Miss X cocked her head to take a close look at me.
"I remember you," she said.
Without warning, she punched the button to stop the elevator.
"What are you doing?" I asked, startled.
"Have you been following me?"
I felt dizzy when I spoke. "Yes."
"Why?" She looked puzzled, not angry or frightened.
"I'm curious about you," I said honestly.
To my surprise, I detected the hint of a smile on her face.
"What do you want to know?"
"Are you unhappy?"
"What makes you think I'm unhappy?"
"You live alone and you don't date much." The words tumbled out of my mouth before I could think.
"You seem to know a lot about me," she remarked calmly, leaning back against the wall.
"I've been studying you for quite some time."
"Because you're curious about me."
"Am I supposed to be flattered by all this attention?"
"I don't believe in flattery," I said. "The truth is you struck me as an interesting woman the first time I saw you."
"I don't know exactly why. I haven't figured it out yet."
She touched her tongue to her upper lip. "I'm not looking for a boyfriend, if that's what this is about."
"I'm not either."
She grinned at my joke and pushed the button for her floor. "This has been a very strange conversation," she said. "What's your name?"
"I don't know your name," I said.
"It's not important to me."
The door opened, and we both left the elevator. She walked a few steps, stopped and turned around.
"You're not going to follow me, are you?"
I hadn't moved since we left the elevator. "No, I'm going straight home."
"Where do you live?"
"Six-fifteen Robinson Avenue, apartment two-one-two. It's my real address in case you want to write it down."
"Why should I do that?" She had a puzzled look on her face again.
"Aren't you a little afraid of me?"
"No," she said softly.
As I watched Miss X turn and walk away, I smiled because I was impressed by her cool composure in a situation that would have rattled most women. Of course, I knew she had nothing to worry about from me, but I wondered how she had managed to convince herself I was no threat. She must have trusted her intuition, which was a rare quality in itself.
I decided to continue the game in spite of her knowing about me. I wasn't prepared to call it quits yet. The rules would have to be adjusted, but I could imagine certain new twists to keep the game amusing. My first move was to buy a pair of binoculars so I could watch Miss X more closely in her apartment. I didn't intend to spy on her while she was undressing or taking a shower since my interest was strictly non-sexual. I only wanted to know more about this fascinating young woman and perhaps form a Platonic relationship if possible.
Oscar Wilde observed the only thing worse than not getting what you want is getting what you want. One evening as I sat on the park bench, watching Miss X with the binoculars, I noticed her peer out of the apartment window in my direction. A few minutes later she emerged from the front door of the building and crossed the street to the park. She was dressed in cutoff jeans and a loose-fitting blouse and I hid the binoculars in my pocket before she took a seat at the far end of the bench.
"It's hot tonight, isn't it?" she said, trying to appear casual.
"You have air conditioning in your apartment," I pointed out.
"I forgot, you know everything about me."
"Do you come here often?"
"It's a nice park, especially at night."
"Aren't there any parks in your neighborhood?"
"I like this one," I said.
"I assume those shoes you bought weren't really for your sister."
"I don't have a sister."
"Were they for your girlfriend?"
I turned to face her. "As a matter of fact, I was thinking of giving them to you as a gift."
She leaned forward and stared at the ground. "I can't accept a gift from you," she said.
She looked up at me. "I don't even know your name."
"Names don't matter," I said. "You could think of me as Mister X, your anonymous shoe benefactor."
She smiled for the first time. "You're a very strange man."
"I know I am."
"I'm not sure what to make of you. Can you give me a little help?"
"If I told you where I was born, what high school I attended, how I got along with my parents and so forth—would that make you feel more comfortable?"
"Yes, I think it would."
"Well, it's all very boring," I said. "You'll have to take my word for it."
"Don't you think your past is important?"
"The past is an illusion and the future is a dream. Here and now is the only reality."
"I wish I could believe that," she said wistfully.
I slid closer to her on the park bench. "What happened to you?"
The question obviously disturbed her. "I don't know what you mean."
"Why does an attractive, intelligent young woman live alone, work at a dead-end job and date crass men when she dates at all?"
She leaned back and folded her arms. "You want me to explain my life when you won't tell me anything about yourself? That doesn't seem fair."
"Sometimes it's easier to talk to a stranger," I argued.
She looked at me and hesitated for a moment before she spoke. "You might be right, come to think of it."
"Let me guess. Your husband divorced you for another woman and now you hate all men." I was being smug on purpose.
"I'm divorced, but that's not the problem."
"Then what is it?"
"I have terminal cancer," she blurted out.
"The doctors say I have less than a year left."
"I see." It was a feeble acknowledgement, but I couldn't think of anything else to say.
She brushed a tear away. "I wish I had the courage to kill myself," she sighed.
I wanted to tell her nothing ever dies, that we all come back to life in one form or another, but I couldn't speak. I felt paralyzed as a strange fear crept over me.
Miss X noticed the look on my face. "This isn't what you expected to hear, is it?"
"I don't know what I expected," I muttered.
"Let me ask you one question. Are you in love with me?"
"Yes." I couldn't bear to tell her the truth.
"I thought so," she said. "It looks like you chose the wrong girl."
She stood up and excused herself to leave.
"Don't you want to talk awhile longer?"
"No, I'm sleepy. The only time I can forget is when I sleep."
"I wish there was something I could say."
She looked at me and smiled sadly. "You don't have to say anything."
I watched her walk to the apartment building and go inside. A few minutes later the lights in her apartment went out.
On the long walk home I was lost in thought. I laughed bitterly at myself when I recognized the quality in Miss X that had fascinated me on an unconscious level. It was the looming presence of death, my old nemesis. Fate had played a cruel joke on both of us, and I realized the game was over.
A week or so later I was shocked when Miss X showed up at my apartment. I had been staying away from her deliberately, unable to deal with her tragic revelation.
"How did you find me?" I asked.
"You gave me your address," she said. "Don't you remember?"
I felt like an animal trapped in its lair, but I forced myself to be polite. "How are you?"
"I wanted to see where you lived," she said, looking around my apartment. "You're very neat for a man."
"It's a bad habit," I said.
"You haven't been following me lately, have you?"
"Why? Were you put off by what I told you?"
"I thought you wanted to be left alone," I offered as an excuse.
She gave me a keen look. "Actually, it was kind of reassuring to know you were watching me. Does that seem ridiculous to you?"
"I suppose not."
"I have a strong feeling you understand my situation better than anyone."
She was dancing around the subject, attempting to put me at ease, but I was well aware of what she meant. I had begun to dread the possibility of this conversation the moment she told me she had terminal cancer.
"You shouldn't lose hope," I said. "You might have a spontaneous remission."
"I was in remission, but it didn't last very long."
"They could find a cure any time."
She shook her head. "I don't believe in miracles. And I don't want to suffer."
"Your doctors will give you something for pain."
"Morphine stops working after awhile," she said. "I could be in agony for months before I died."
I didn't want to prolong the suspense any further. "I'm sorry, I can't help you," I said bluntly.
"I was raised a Catholic," she said. "I can't do it myself."
"I'm sorry," I repeated.
She took my hand and caressed it. "Please think about it," she pleaded.
"You'll have to ask someone else."
She looked away, and I suppressed an impulse to kiss her.
"I thought you might be willing to help since you..." Her words trailed off and she stared vacantly ahead. "I'm so tired of going around in circles."
I offered her a soft drink.
"No, thank you," she said. "I have an appointment downtown. I'm sorry I bothered you."
I told her it was no bother, but in truth I was glad to see her leave.
The following Saturday I took the gift-wrapped shoes to Miss X's apartment. It wanted to give them to her as a peace offering, and I hoped that she would accept them in the spirit of friendship. I felt guilty about refusing her plea, and this irritated me because I considered guilt a pointless sentiment.
I knocked on Miss X's apartment door several times and received no response. I assumed she had gone out, and I propped the package against the door. As I was leaving, a middle-aged woman wearing hair curlers opened the door across the hall. She looked at the package and brought her hand to her mouth.
"You can't leave that here," she said.
"Excuse me?" I said.
"The girl who lived in the apartment is dead."
Hearing those words produced the strangest floating sensation in my stomach. "What did you say?"
"I found her Thursday morning," the woman recalled. "She tried to hang herself from a light fixture with a long piece of electric cord. But the fall from the chair didn't break her neck. She choked to death."
I stared at the hallway floor. I could see a distorted image of myself reflected in the polished tile squares.
"Did you know her well?" the woman asked.
I looked up at her. "Not really."
I leaned over and picked up the gift package.
"She was seriously ill, poor thing."
"Yes, I know."
"No one deserves to die like she did," the woman remarked.
In the lobby of the apartment building, I dropped the box of shoes into a trash can on my way to the street. It was a cloudy day, but I decided to risk getting wet and walk home since I was in no mood for a bus ride. For some reason I began to think of the death penalty issue. I used to be an opponent of the death penalty because I considered it a barbaric form of punishment. But eventually I realized it was more barbaric to keep a man in prison for the rest of his life. Compared to the hellish conditions of prison, execution is a humane sentence. Whether reincarnation is random or shaped by one's karma, it is best for the murderer to be sent to his next life when his present existence becomes a horror. Even if reincarnation is a myth, and there is no afterlife, he is better off turned into dust as quickly as possible. Unlike most death penalty advocates, I don't feel vindictive in the slightest. Capital crime is a fact of modern life as unavoidable as air pollution or traffic jams.
Although I supported the idea of putting murderers out of their misery, I had paradoxically condemned the innocent Miss X to a fate worse than merely dying. Suicide is a curse upon life itself, casting a gloomy pall over everything that lives and dies naturally. Miss X didn't want to leave such a curse as her legacy, and she begged me to take the responsibility out of her hands. But I refused to help her, and later I cringed with shame when I recognized my true motives—squeamishness and fear of the law: bourgeois attitudes I held in contempt. As it was, she died alone believing she had stained her soul. On sleepless nights I am haunted by a vision of her dangling by an unbroken neck, eyes bulging with terror as she choked and her face turned blue.
I try to console myself with the fickle thought that perhaps I loved her after all. In my heart I know it is a wretched lie, but there are times when it seems quite plausible and even necessary—like believing in a merciful God despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. To occupy my time I read books and watch television and take long walks. When all else fails, I invent a new game and play it as though my life hangs in the balance.