A Passage from Luminous Airplanes, or Things As They Were: A Hyperromance

The Nederland School for Boys was founded by the Dutch a long time ago. How long ago, exactly, was a subject for perpetual inquiry by the school librarian, an enormous shiny man who looked very much like Thomas Nast’s caricatures of Boss Tweed, and who discovered, once or twice a decade, a document that proved the school had been founded at an earlier date than anyone had dared to guess. With due ceremony the year on the school’s coat of arms was changed and the Board of Trustees ordered new letterhead for the staff. Occasionally this led to incongruities, as when Nederland celebrated its 350th and 375th anniversaries only two years apart. My mothers were invited to both galas, and the school’s pretensions became, for a while, one of their favorite jokes. In a few years Nederland would be older than New York, older than the New World, older, probably, than the rock it was built on. I laughed with the Celestes, but with the consciousness of being wronged: they were the ones who had chosen the school for me in the first place. I think they sent me to Nederland because it was close to our apartment, only twenty blocks down West End Avenue; also, and more to the point, I started first grade at a happy moment in the seventies when Nederland’s trustees, moved by the protests of some upperclassmen and recent alumni, raised scholarship money for underprivileged students. My mothers were poor but not unsavory, I did well on the entrance exam, and the end of the story was that I went to school practically for free, provided that I kept my grades up and posed yearly for a special group photograph.

My last year there began as every year did, with an assembly in the Great Hall, which was what Nederland called its auditorium, where our principal, Mr. Van Horn, a grim homunculus who might for all we knew have been as old as the school itself, amplified for us on the motto, Recht Maakt Maakt, or Justice Is Our Strength, and on the importance of correct behavior generally. We, clean, chilly, and newly awed by the gloom of the Great Hall and the red banners that hung from the ceiling, celebrating Nederland at 375, behaved correctly for about as long as the assembly lasted, then we were released to our homerooms and began the important business of sizing each other up. Who posed a new threat? Who had something new to offer? The truth was that most of us had been at Nederland since the first grade, and we already knew more or less everything we could expect from each other. We were like characters on a long-running soap opera, who are required to display the same personalities for so long that they stop being personalities at all, and become mere functions, guidelines for the production of dialogue in the style of X or Y. August Waxman, who had been the fastest runner in the third grade, fished for something in his nose; next to him Andrew Ames, honor student, drew insane rabbits in the margins of a blank notebook. David Metzger had finally convinced his parents to let him grow his hair long, like the singer of Def Leppard, whose name I forget, but who has certainly not been forgotten by David Metzger, wherever he is now. Ronald Kaplan and Gideon Peel, indistinct, indistinguishable, had spent the summer in the Hamptons and said they’d both got laid. “Right,” sneered John De Luca, who had curly black hairs on the backs of his knuckles, “more like you fucked each other up the ass.” There it was, ass and fuck in the same sentence, a sign that the gloves were once again off. The rituals had all been observed; Mr. Fitch could yell at us to be silent and the year could begin.

Actually two things marked the year as different from the ones that had come before: we had American History with Mr. Savage, and I discovered Nederland’s computer room. The two strands which, twined each around the other, would occupy the next twenty years of my life, presented themselves almost simultaneously, maybe even on the same day, but at first I only understood the importance of one of them. The computer room was housed in the basement of the New Building, formerly a residential hotel, that the school had purchased in the sixties and renovated in a fantasia of Formica panels and fluorescent lights. The computer room was down there because no one knew, yet, how important computers would be, whether they would spread, like coeducation, or dwindle, like civics and home ec. Still the trustees had approved the purchase of a magnificent machine, an Alpha Micro with ten terminals and eighty megabytes of storage, which seemed like enough room for all the information in the world, although now you could emulate five hundred such machines at once on a cheap laptop. There was a dot-matrix printer and a staggering stack of manuals, thousands of pages of instructions, all written in a language that presupposed that you already knew how to do the thing you were trying to learn. As soon as I found my way to that low, stuffy basement, I knew that I wanted to recreate the game Adventure on a vastly larger scale, a world of words without end. But it was beyond my ability to make even the smallest part of my world appear on the other side of the terminal’s dull glass. I had typed Adventure in from a book, and although I figured out many things about how the program worked in the course of getting it to run, the ideas behind it remained completely mysterious to me. I was like a caveman who had, by dint of banging, repaired an automobile, and now set out to build himself a new car. With a great deal of effort I could make non-working replicas of some features of the original, a seat, a wheel, a grinding sound, but no matter how well I made these things they wouldn’t add up to a vehicle, or take me anywhere.

One day I came home late and Celeste, who was home already, told me that I was looking serious, which was the highest compliment she ever paid anyone. “What are you doing?” she asked.

“Working on the computer.”

“Hm,” said Celeste. She mistrusted computers herself and had very little idea how they worked. “Well, it looks like you’re doing it seriously.”

I threw myself on my bed. I didn’t feel serious, only consumed, exhausted, permanently puzzled. At dinner Celeste asked me questions about programming, which even someone who knew more about it than I did might have found difficult to answer. “How does the computer know what you want?” I tried to explain that it wasn’t about what you wanted, you had to say things just so. “But what if you mean one thing, and the computer means another?” Impossible; all the words in computer language had fixed meanings. “The words, all right, but what about the sentences?” I dodged, I ducked, I grunted Keremishly. I was a caveman, but Celeste refused to believe it. No matter what I said, she nodded gravely and asked another question.

By the time we came to dessert, even Marie could see that I’d run out of answers, and she tried, out of pity, I think, to change the subject. “You won’t ever guess what happened at the magazine today,” she began, but Celeste interrupted, “Hold on. This computer thing is serious, and I think we should take it seriously.”

Celeste’s faith in me was steep and sharp. She gave me a book called Algorithmic Programming in Structured BASIC. “For every logical function f,” the preface began, and that was as far as I got. In retrospect it seems clear that Celeste was using me to leapfrog over her sister, who was, she feared, getting ahead of her, her sister whose new clothes she mocked because they were only a fashion uniform, her sister who was making money, her sister who was invited to media events where she made friends with media people, with sheep, with those Ivy League bitches who ran New York. At the time, I knew only that Celeste’s confidence was hard to take, almost as hard as her doubt had been. I wanted to be the person she believed in, but I was constantly afraid she would figure out that I was not that person, I was no kind of programmer, I was a caveman, banging stones together and grunting in something that wasn’t a language yet, not even to me.

In class I sat by the window, looked at the sky, and thought about my invented world. My teachers were happy to let me go. I was quiet and as long as I did well on their tests and showed no signs of abusing alcohol or drugs, unlike August Waxman, who came to school one day with pupils the width of pencil leads and his shirt buttoned askew, and said, say what? to every question, no matter how many times you asked it, Mr. Fitch didn’t mind if I slumped forward in my chair, and Mrs. Booth let my unrolled French r pass without comment. Only Mr. Savage, who taught American History, still wanted something from me. “You asleep?” he shouted when I rested my head against the wall. “Wake up, we’re making history here!” He called on me to answer questions, and embarrassed me when I didn’t know the answers, oblivious to the rolling eyes of my classmates, who had seen me embarrassed so many times that they could take only a moderate plea sure from it. Mr. Savage didn’t know this. He was a new teacher, who had come to Nederland the year before from a public school in Detroit. He was short and dark, with menacing eyebrows and five-o’clock shadow that was in full bloom by one-fifteen, and he dressed like a plumber at a funeral. Mr. Savage had made the mistake of telling last year’s American History class that he had a black belt in jujitsu, and could flip someone twice his weight. Now, when he bored us, Ronald Kaplan would raise his hand and ask, “Um, is it hard to learn jujitsu?” And when one of us misbehaved, the others would shout, “Flip him! Flip him!” Mr. Savage was not amused. “Violence is serious,” he said, the first week of American History. “If you learn only one thing this year, it should be that violence is serious.” Violence is serious, I wrote in my notebook; then I stopped listening again.

“Hey! How’s the weather?” Mr. Savage called to me.

I opened my eyes. “Partly cloudy.”

“You think it’s going to rain?”

I looked at the sky. Low lumpy clouds grazed the spire of the chapel, the black weathervane with a figure of a flame atop it, the school’s emblem. “It might.”

“No chance,” said Mr. Savage. “Those are stratocumulus clouds. You never get rain from stratocumulus.”

He continued the lesson as if this checking of the weather were an ordinary event. Gideon Peel looked at me and rolled his eyes. I couldn’t tell if he meant that I was an asshole for not knowing that stratocumulus clouds were not rain-bearing, or that Mr. Savage was crazy for telling me so. I rolled my eyes back and returned to the window.

Mr. Savage stopped me as I was leaving class. “Why don’t you come with me?” he said. He led me to one of the small rooms, furnished with a coffee warmer, some vinyl chairs, and a strong sour smell, where the teachers lived. He asked if I wanted coffee, I said no. “You aren’t paying attention,” said Mr. Savage. “You don’t notice anything. It’s like you’re living on another planet.” How close you are to the truth, I thought. “Are you like this in all your classes?”

“Yes.” It was the truth, and besides he was a decent person and I didn’t want him to think I found his class any less interesting than the others.

“What is it? What do you think about?” I wanted to tell him about the game, but it would have been too humiliating, to confess that I was consumed by a project I didn’t have any idea how to do and would probably never figure out. The secret of it was all I had; if I told him I would have nothing. “Are you thinking about girls? I could understand that,” Mr. Savage said. “I think it’s terrible that you don’t have girls here. You’re like,” he waved his hand again, “you’re like astronauts, on some space station up in orbit.” He shifted his jacket, which was, I saw, too small for him; in another life he could have been an athlete, or a bouncer. I was afraid that he would pick me up by the lapels of my jacket, lean his stubbled face to mine, and whisper threats featuring the word youse, even though there was only one of me. I giggled. “Astronauts, it’s funny, right? But you have to learn how to live on earth.” Mr. Savage struck his knee with his fist. “Help me,” he said. “If there was one thing you wanted to learn, something you really wanted to know, what would it be?”

“I don’t know.”

“Anything,” said Mr. Savage. “Just one thing you want to know.”

I looked at the coffeepot. “Maybe the discovery of America.”

It came into my mind because of what Charles had told me.

“Really?” said Mr. Savage. “Who discovered America?”

“Columbus or Leif Eriksson,” I said. “We had it in World History last year.”

“But you’re not convinced, is that right?”

“I guess.”

“Good.” Mr. Savage tapped my breastbone with a thick finger. “That’s a good place to begin.”

The next day, Mr. Savage asked how many of us had read Plato’s Timaeus. Not a hand went up. “In that dialogue,” Mr. Savage said, “Critias tells Socrates a story that comes from the priests at Thebes, which is where? Andrew, yes. Egypt. Thebes is the oldest city in Egypt, which is quite possibly the oldest nation in the world. The priests at Thebes told a story which was already thousands of years old, about a land to the west of the western ocean, which they called Atlantis.” He wrote ATLANTIS on the blackboard. “Anyone heard of it?” So we embarked on the discovery of America, the discovery of the discovery of America. Strange facts were coming to light in Mr. Savage’s sixth-period class, stories about seafarers and prevailing winds, about the climate in Greenland and the Gulf Stream, about carved stones and burial mounds. For a week, it couldn’t have been more than a week, we studied the people who might have discovered America, not only the Vikings, but the Phoenicians, the Basques, the Chinese; there was a story that Welshmen had been the first Europeans to arrive in North America, so we learned about that. Mr. Savage spared us nothing, not even the story that the Indians were one of the Lost Tribes of Israel, the proof of which was that the Jews, like the Indians, once lived in tents, that both races had been known to anoint themselves with oil, and that the Indians did not eat pork, or at least some of them didn’t.

Our textbook had nothing to say on these subjects, so Mr. Savage photocopied the maps drawn by people who had seen much, a little, or none of the New World, the fantastic maps that show California as a peninsula the size of all the rest of North America, the maps that stocked the interior with lions, serpents, dragons, and gold. “Why gold? Matt, yes. Good, yes, so that people would keep exploring.” We kept exploring. Mr. Savage talked about cannibals, about how each tribe the Europeans met reported that there was another tribe, over there, who ate human flesh. “Anyone want to draw any conclusions? Andrew, yes.”

Reactions to the unit, which put us a week behind the other section of American History, taught by Mr. Rye, a very tall man with yellow teeth, were mixed.

“Man is crazy,” said Gideon Peel after the first class. “He smoke too much weed.”

“He is a disciple of the pipe,” Ronald Kaplan said. “His thoughts are unsound.”

David Metzger liked the idea that the Indians were from Israel. “Jews, yo!” He pumped his fist in the air. “You honkies can all get off our land!”

“Dude, even if the Indians were Jews, that doesn’t make us honkies,” said Gideon Peel.

“You are so a honky,” said Ronald Kaplan, whose father was Jewish. “And besides, we did this last year. History is repeating itself, man.”

I kept quiet. There was no way I could have explained what I felt when I looked at the maps, how, running my finger over the big whiteness between the coasts, I went queasy with excitement, as though what Charles had told me was literally true, and my father was hidden somewhere on the map, a tiny black dot, not reproduced at this scale, but there all the same. As though, when I looked at the map, I was also, in some obscure, magical way, looking for him.

At the end of the week Mr. Savage divided us into groups, each of which had to make the case that a different people had discovered America. The group that made the most convincing argument would receive a pizza lunch. I was, with David Metzger, Andrew Ames, and Matt Bark, the Chinese, not a good assignment. We met in the school library, where we found no books on the subject of the Chinese discovery of America, no mention of it, even.

“Well, so we make it up,” said Matt Bark.

“We can’t make it up, that’s plagiarism,” said David Metzger.

We argued about whether it was plagiarism if you were just lying, and concluded that it might be all right. But I held out for facts.

“There are no facts,” said Matt Bark.

“Just rock and roll,” said David Metzger.

“It’s not fair,” Andrew Ames said. “We should have got the Vikings.”

I said that I could probably find some facts, and that afternoon I took the Broadway bus to the public library on Fifth Avenue and Forty-second Street. It was the first time I’d ever gone there, and of course I wasn’t allowed in; only adults could enter the Reading Room. My first encounter with the library was an anticlimax, I was shunted to the Mid-Manhattan Library two blocks south, where men in smelly coats coughed in the fluorescent light. I leafed through a book on the Chinese navy, and another on ancient seafarers, and learned about the Polynesian islanders who navigated by means of knotted strings, an interesting subject but not one that convinced Matt Bark to change his plan.

“String, fuck, this isn’t a report on string.”

“But imagine, if the Chinese had these string maps…”

Matt put up his hand. “Shut up, weather boy.”

“Weather boy.” David Metzger laughed.

“You shut up,” I said.

No one acknowledged me. I slumped in my chair and closed my eyes. There was no use in fighting them; the facts were all on their side. How could I argue when I didn’t know what kind of clouds rained and what kinds didn’t?

On the appointed day, Gideon Peel reported to our class that archaeologists had found Norse houses in northern Newfoundland, dating from around the year 1000. If the Vikings hadn’t discovered America, he concluded, prudently, at least they’d been here before Columbus. John De Luca stumped for the Phoenicians, the first masters of the ocean; he described the Phoenician inscriptions found on rocks in Brazil, and also certain man-sized slabs of stone found in a cave in New Hampshire, which, he said, smiling, were probably sacrificial altars left behind by the Phoenician priests. John explained that the Phoenicians sacrificed human beings to the great god Baal, whose wrath could be appeased only by blood, so probably virgins had been tied to these New Hampshire slabs, and stabbed, and stabbed, with bronze daggers, which by the way people had also found in New England. When the harvest was bad, or the wind blew the wrong way, or someone was angry, whoa, human sacrifice! The blood of the virgins steamed on the cold stone, and John’s smile grew wider and wider, and the great god Baal too was pleased, because he was a god of war and destruction and he could drink gallons of blood…

“OK, John, thanks,” Mr. Savage said.

John sat down heavily. Wayne Echeverria spoke briefly for the Basques, then Matt Bark gave our group’s report on a certain Admiral Ho, who was blown across the Pacific by a storm, and founded a Chinese colony on the California coast. The proof of it was that there was more Chinese food on the West Coast of America than there was on the East, not to mention the dish that was actually called Admiral Ho’s shrimp, which Matt Bark had eaten in Los Angeles and which was, he assured us, very tasty. And then there were the Chinese place names in America, for instance, San Francisc… ho! and San Dieg… ho! and even, even the legendary El Dorad… Ronald Kaplan began making strangled laughter noises halfway through, and before Matt Bark could finish he put his head on his desk and moaned, “Oh, my god, oh, my god,” and he wouldn’t lookup, even when Mr. Savage yelled at him to stop, and that was it, everyone was laughing, and when Mr. Savage tried to raise Ronald back to a sitting position, Gideon Peel thought we were finally going to get the jujitsu demonstration, and howled, “Flip!”

Mr. Savage took Ronald and Gideon out and stood them in the hall; he came back and told the rest of us, quietly, without anger, that it was good to laugh sometimes, and that it was true, sometimes the things you studied as history were just stories that someone had made up, but the important thing, in this case, was to make up a good story, he didn’t expect us to understand, but he would tell us anyway, that this effort was in some ways the most important thing, more important than memorizing dates or the amendments to the Constitution, and that if we learned anything from him that year, it was that we should try as hard as we could to tell a good story, if we tried hard enough we would get to the truth somehow. No one reminded him that if we learned one thing, it was supposed to be that violence was serious, but we must all have been thinking it.

“The Vikings win,” Mr. Savage said.

I tried to catch his eye, to communicate that it hadn’t been my fault, but he wouldn’t look at me. The Vikings went out to pizza and American History picked up where it had left off. The Puritans were making treaties with the Indians, the French were up to no good in the woods, the Dutch founded schools, among them Nederland, glory, glory be. The story about Admiral Ho got back to Mr. Rye, who was the head of the History Department, and Mr. Rye talked to Mr. Savage, and that was it, there were no more deviations from the textbook. Oh, but I got my revenge: with the help of something the middle-school principal let slip, I figured out how to log in to the school’s accounting system, where I gave Matt Bark and David Metzger each a five thousand-dollar charge for athletic equipment.

Soon afterward we had Christmas vacation. I spent most of it in my room, avoiding my mothers, who were embroiled in a series of small but bitter arguments about the holiday parties to which Marie was invited and Celeste was not. On New Year’s Eve, I went with Celeste to a party in a SoHo loft that belonged to a famous art critic in her sixties. When we arrived, the critic was sitting on a black leather sofa, her legs folded under her, like the stone image of a primitive god.

“You’re early!” she shouted at Celeste. “Why did you come so early?”

“The invitation said ten o’clock,” said Celeste hesitantly. I’d never heard her hesitate before.

“How stupid of you,” said the critic. “Now you’ve interrupted my meditation.”

“I’m sorry. We can go.”

“Too late! I’ve already come out of it. You’ll have to sit down and endure my displeasure. Well, sit!” The critic lit a cigarillo and poured herself a glass of bourbon; the bottle stood on the table in front of her, an aid to meditation, I supposed. “What are you working on?” she asked.

This was the era when Celeste was working with fabric: she made costumes for bodies that could never be, gowns for women with no heads or arms. At home, she talked about the costumes as explorations, but now, fixed by the critic’s stare, Celeste froze.

“Clothes,” she said finally in a schoolgirl’s voice.

“Clothes!” boomed the critic. “You’re letting your sister’s job rub off on you. Celeste, my darling, when are you going to understand, it’s not an advantage to be a twin?”

Celeste blushed, but the critic’s attention had already turned elsewhere. “Is this your son? He looks interesting. What does he do?”

“Tell her,” murmured Celeste.

“I write computer games,” I said.

“Yes,” said the art critic. “And you like music?”

“I guess so.”


“Sex Pistols?”

“Ha!” said the critic. “You’re just at the beginning.” For two hours she talked about the musicians she’d known in the East Village in the seventies: Johnny and Lizzy, Debbie and Patti, Richard, Lou, and David who wore a dress everywhere. The names didn’t matter, although years later I would learn who they were, some of them.

“David in a dress?” Alex would shake his head sadly. “You are an ignorant motherfucker.”

“Why, who was that, David Byrne?”

“Haven’t you ever heard of the New York Dolls? Oh, you child.”

When I was a child, what mattered to me was the critic’s face. Her eyes were partway closed and her head turned to the door, as though one of the people she was talking about might walk in at any moment. Time didn’t work for her the way it did for me; she had her finger on the crossfader and she could slide it back and forth. Present, past, present, past. She was mixing. Of course I didn’t think of it in those terms; at most I had a dim awareness that in the notion that goes by the name of history, there might be room for more stories than even Mr. Savage had told me about. Now and then the critic interrupted herself to pull a record from a sagging shelf of records and play a song or part of a song. As she lifted the needle from the record, she poked at me with her cigar, and said, “That’s the real stuff, isn’t it?” I hadn’t ever heard anything like it, and if it had been played for me in another context, I wouldn’t have been sure that it was music at all. It was the sound of cavemen figuring out how to make cars, and I liked it immensely. Celeste was on the point of asking a question, then she turned toward the window and shrugged impatiently. In vain. The critic was lost in her own memories; she no longer saw either of us, or the apartment, or herself, as she talked on and on about basement clubs and the dead. When I came into her view again, she closed one eye, opened it, and said, “You should get a Mohawk.”

Then it was midnight. We drank champagne from plastic cups and watched the fireworks rise into a bank of low cloud. At twelve-thirty the other guests began to arrive, some of them people I knew; there was Celeste’s friend Donatello DelAmbrosio, and Hugh Heap with his wife, who looked like an ornamental pillow, and Javier Provo in mirrored sunglasses and a leather vest, leaping in the air, crying out. As the guests arrived, Celeste looked more and more disappointed, as though she had been expecting something that became less likely with every body that entered the room. At one o’clock, when it was no longer possible to move from one side of the apartment to the other, she put her hand on my back and said it was time to go. I’d been drinking champagne unobserved for some time, and on the subway home I told Celeste about Kerem, the authentic punk rocker, and how I used to go to parties with him in Thebes, and met a boy whose head was partially shaved, and maybe I would get a Mohawk the way the famous critic had suggested, did Celeste think that was a good idea? “Sure,” she said, then went back to staring at her reflection in the window of the subway car. Just before we reached our stop, she did something I’d never seen her do before, she stuck her fingers in her hair and combed it forward, so that it covered her forehead and hung down over her eyes.

A couple of days later, Nederland resumed with another assembly in the Great Hall. I found myself sitting next to David Metzger, who had turned a deep orange-brown in the interval. We sang our school song,

From the shore of Noten Eylandt
To the Zuyd River’s strand,
We ne’er will forget thee,
Our old Nieuw Nederland,

et cetera, and as we filed out of the Hall, David Metzger hissed, “You’re dead.”

I went through the day waiting for someone to beat me up, and in the afternoon, puzzled but no longer frightened, I found Spencer Bartnik, he of the spiked hair and nosebleeds, in the courtyard, talking to a sophomore named John Littlejohn, who had very pale blue eyes and was reputed to have given himself a blowjob. I had just mentioned certain bands, whose names I’d learned from the famous art critic, when Mr. Geist, the middle-school principal, appeared between me and the low winter sun, looming like a rock formation with a human-shaped profile. He pointed at me and said, “Get up.”

Together we climbed the grand staircase, which was not ordinarily used by students, because it led only to the offices of the school administration, and walked down a corridor, which, I swear, if I did not remember better, I would say was lit by torches, to a heavy barred door, or rather to an ordinary door, behind which Mr. Van Horn waited. Around his office hung portraits of the former principals of Nederland, beginning with the recent ones, who wore coats and ties, like Mr. Van Horn himself, but adopting, as you looked around the room, stranger and stranger forms of dress, until, at the back of the office, behind Mr. Van Horn’s desk, they wore lace cravats and white wigs; these portraits, however, were the most recent of the lot, they had been done as a result of the head librarian’s research, which pushed the date of the school’s foundation further into the past. From what models they were painted I do not know.

“Come here,” said Mr. Van Horn.

Mr. Geist put his hand on my shoulder and guided me forward.

“We know what you’ve done,” Mr. Van Horn said. “I understand that it began with a certain,” Mr. Van Horn licked his lips, “with a certain Admiral Ho.” He told me the whole story, how I had come up with this preposterous tale about Ho, and how, when it didn’t work out the way I’d planned, I had taken revenge on my partners, who were, in fact, opposed to the Ho business from the start; how I had used my formidable computer skills to alter their financial records, alarming Mr. Metzger, who was, did I know? on the Board of Trustees, and creating an embarrassing situation for the school.


Mr. Van Horn held up his hand. “There isn’t anything for you to say. Every step of your catastrophic career has been witnessed.”


“It may surprise you to learn that men are more intelligent than machines,” Mr. Van Horn said. “You may fool machines, but men, never.” He licked his lips again. “This is my question for you. Do you understand that what you did was wrong?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Do you feel that it was wrong?”

I looked around at Mr. Geist. He nodded, but I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t feel anything. I did what I did because I had figured out how to do it, which, it seems tome, is the main reason why things like that happen, because angry, slighted people have figured out they’re possible. They open the door, they go into the next room. Who knows whether what they will find there is good or bad.

Mr. Van Horn sat up in his chair. “Let me offer you a metaphor that you will understand. In this world, there are ones and there are zeroes, just like in your computer. Only they are not perhaps in equal numbers. This is a school for the ones. What are you?”

I didn’t answer.

“I expect you will have a great deal of time to ask yourself that question,” Mr. Van Horn said. He left it to Mr. Geist to take me back to his office and explain that I had been expelled.

© 2008-2023 Paul La Farge. All rights reserved.