A stranger would think I was studying for a test there in my forklift. I calmly turned the pages, soaking in everything I could. Only my eyebrows betrayed the roiling chaos of my wonder, anger, and sheer embarrassment.
I had to understand why They had put me through this. Months before my escape, I already knew who was behind it all. But I still didn’t understand why. It wasn’t enough to learn that it was a television show. There must be some reason. So I restarted at Bolt, and with the new facts in mind I finished all the articles.
“Bolt is a 2008 comedy-adventure film produced by Walt Disney Animation Studios. It features the canine star of a prime-time television show who believes he is actually a superhero. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times wrote that ‘[Bolt] also has an intriguing plot along the lines of: What if The Truman Show starred a dog? It’s a story that’ll touch your heart and remind you just how lucky Bolt and Truman are.’ ”
I had dismissed Bolt out of hand before. Now I didn’t want to miss anything…
“In the film, Bolt becomes lost from his fantasy world and finds two animal friends who help him understand his role in society. Glenn Greenwald wrote in The Intercept, ‘When Bolt is out of his element, the outside world threatens to destroy him. And though the film may appear crass and puerile, its impact is timeless. … Yes, Bolt is a great character because he empowers himself by re-taking his lost glory. … Yes, it’s better for Bolt when he returns to his Hollywood life. Yes, Bolt would have lost everything if he had pressed on peeling away the layers of the world until there was nothing to support him, selfishly unweaving the rainbow of his good fortune. Even [Tom] Markus can see those shallow facts. … The truth of Bolt’s return–why it’s good, true, honest–is that it makes the audience better. The audience can grow with him only when he is living for them.’ ”
I guess you had to have seen the film to understand that. I hadn’t seen any film made after 1989. The nearest theater that played new movies was outside of town.
But the music on the radio was always new.
“Carbon concrete, commonly called Ugly Betty from its Russian name Uglerodnyy Beton, is a building material combining carbon and concrete. The method of combining these materials is only known within the Soviet Union where it was developed. The only place Ugly Betty exists outside of the USSR is in the dome structure that protects Seahaven Island, Florida, the filming location of The Truman Show.
“The carbon structure of Ugly Betty gives it a strength which has been compared to diamond. Its true strength has not been tested in the US or reported in any publication. Russia takes measures to ensure the other countries and corporations involved with The Truman Show cannot examine it: first by covering the Ugly Betty in standard concrete, and second by keeping an oversight team in place at all times. This measure is ordinary, as the town also hosts oversight teams from the other governments that contributed secret technologies to the Florida Dome project.”
“Corporatocracy is any economic, political, and judicial system controlled by one or more corporations. The term sometimes criticizes government policies which benefit corporations. Corporatocracy is at least as old as ‘company towns’ built to house workers and serve corporate interests. In modern times, Seahaven Island, Florida is an example of a government intentionally created as a corporatocracy. It’s owned by Seahaven Island, Inc., which films The Truman Show there.”
Enclaves and Exclaves.
“An enclave is a territory that is entirely surrounded by the territory of one other state. An exclave is an enclave that is legally part of a parent state. Notable examples include: Vatican City, an enclave within Rome, Italy; Lesotho, an enclave within South Africa; Llívia, an exclave of Spain within France; and Martinez County (which hosts Seahaven Island, the filming location of The Truman Show) an exclave of Florida within Ohio in the United States.”
“The Florida Dome is a controlled environment capable of sustaining human life and large enough to house a small town. It is the site of Seahaven Island, the filming location of The Truman Show. Seahaven Island opened for occupation by residents in 1997 after five years of construction on the Florida Dome. The Florida Dome was made possible through technology provided and managed by the Big Three economies in the Union for Climate Action: weather technology provided by the United States, the Ugly Betty dome structure provided by Russia, and Lichteffekte technology provided by Germany.
“Each country carefully guards its technology from inspection by the others. Journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell claims, ‘The dependence on secret technologies makes the Florida Dome project a unique and unlikely project. But if the United States, Germany, and the Soviet Union can put aside their [scientific] secrecy once, maybe they can do it again. Maybe we could all be Truman.’ ”
I had several hypotheses now, but my first hypothesis, I Am Not The Only One, had been shrinking ever since I’d discovered The Truman Show. Now it crashed and burned, replaced by a new one, I Will Not Always Be The Only One, even though this journalist thought it was unlikely.
“Philip Glass is a prolific composer and pianist. Though his work spans the years from 1964 to the present, he is most well known for his work on the films A Brief History of Time and Transcendent Man and for his composition of the score for The Truman Show, which is filmed in Seahaven Island, Florida, where Glass lives.
“In the late 1960s Glass pioneered a minimalist style which stripped away much of orchestral composition to its bare bones which he called a consonant vocabulary.”
Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score.
“…; 1998, The Truman Show, Philip Glass; …”
“Michael Graves is a world-renowned architect whose portfolio includes the Ministry of Culture building in The Hague, several designs for The Walt Disney Company, and two New Urbanist buildings in Seahaven Island, Florida, the site of The Truman Show.”
Improvisation (Performing Arts).
“Improvisation is a category of the performing arts concerned with spontaneous performance without specific or scripted preparation. Improvisation can be part of a larger scripted performance, or it can make up the entire performance, as in the first improvisational theater in the USA, The Second City in Chicago, which teaches techniques created by Viola Spolin. Improvisation is often comedic but can be used for dramatic performances, most notably by the thousands of actors on The Truman Show. Notable improvisation performers include Steve Carell, Amy Poehler, Bill Murray, and John Candy.”
“The short-lived Lifecasting Awards Academy defined lifecasting as the continuous broadcasting of a person’s experience via television or the Internet. The term was created to describe The Truman Show, which focuses continuously on a subject who is unaware of his involvement, as different from a documentary film, which is not continuous or exclusive to a single subject. In the years since The Truman Show launched, the term has expanded to include any video feed that films continuously, even those that have multiple, fully-aware subjects or which are edited.”
Martinez, Governor Bob.
“Robert ‘Bob’ Martinez served as Governor of Florida from 1987 to 1995. In 1990, after calling upon scientists and the general public to submit solutions to Florida’s growing natural disaster problems, Martinez oversaw the purchase of 1,645 square miles of unused land from Ohio for Florida, marking the beginning of the Florida Redistricting program, which became Martinez County. Notably, Martinez County is the filming location of The Truman Show.”
Neighborhood Electric Vehicle.
“A neighborhood electric vehicle, or NEV, is a category of battery electric vehicle usually built to have a top speed of around 25 MPH and a maximum load weight of around 3000 lbs. In the United States, NEV’s are street-legal vehicles, though they are often restricted to roads with speed limits of at most 35 MPH. Several US towns were designed with NEVs in mind. Some example are: Lady Lake, Florida; The Villages, Florida; Peachtree City, Georgia; and Avalon, California. Seahaven Island, Florida, the filming location of The Truman Show, was also designed for NEVs, but they were phased out in 2002 after legislative changes.”
“New Urbanism is an architectural design movement which promotes human-friendly environments by using aesthetic and spatial techniques to create walkable neighborhoods. It arose in the United States in the 1980s and is marked by a post-modern style reminiscent of 1960s Americana.
“New Urbanism entered a boom period at the turn of the 21st century. Doug Farr, Vice Chair of the board for the Congress for the New Urbanism attributes this trend to the popularity of The Truman Show.
“In 2003, author Michael Crichton criticized the style on display in downtown Seahaven Island, Florida in his New York Times article ‘And Another Thing About The Truman Show’. ‘The whole architectural style is a throwback to an imaginary halcyon day. … At the same time it’s an experiment being run on the American people. The idea that “We know what’s best for you. Just sit back and let us have the power.” I trust you can see it’s a counter-movement against the modernists, who failed to build a better world, but in all the ways that matter it makes the same mistakes.’
“Farr said in response, ‘New Urbanism explores a classic style reoriented to make human well-being the priority. It emphasizes accessibility, ecological practices, and a sense of community.’ ”
Who knew that the author of Congo was so big on architecture?
“Marlon Pastel is a musician and former child actor. Though music critics pan his performances, Pastel regularly fills venues from concert halls to stadiums. Pastel rose to fame as part of the main cast on The Truman Show from 2002 to 2009.”
“Plato was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in ancient Greece…”
I skipped ahead to the part about me.
Plato – Allegories – Modern Relevance.
“Many of these allegories are relevant to philosophy in modernity because they grapple with enduring ethical questions. As novelist Rebecca Goldstein points out, ‘The Ring of Gyges speaks to the dangers of anonymity. Plato’s Chariot concerns the different urges–internal and external–which pull at a human soul. The Truman Show is essentially the allegory of The Cave. Truman Burbank stands in for the cave-dwelling man. He enjoys a life so idyllic that he is satisfied with mere shadows of the rest of the world.’ ”
While reading this I had to shut my eyes for a moment. Despair and anger competed for my spirit, with a promise that the winner would swallow me. So I imagined myself as the most easy-going person I could think of, a guy named David from highschool.
Then I pushed on.
“Product placement is a form of advertising in which an advertised product becomes part of the art it supports. The earliest use of product placement dates to 1873 when Jules Verne included the names of shipping companies in his novel Around the World in Eighty Days. Product placement peaked in the 20th century as an element of early television programming. It was replaced by commercial breaks as the 20th century progressed until the launch of The Truman Show in 1997. The Truman Show never breaks for commercials. Instead it features product placement and prominent billboard advertisements as well as branded business names and character names. To promote brands, characters regularly mention them and voice their slogans.”
The article on Plato’s allegories left me feeling alienated, and this redoubled it. Didn’t everyone talk about product brands and their slogans as a matter of course?
Walt Disney Company, The.
“The Walt Disney Company is a multinational entertainment and media conglomerate. Disney was originally founded…”
Walt Disney Company, The – Utilidor System.
“Disney theme parks are served by the utilidor system, a series of underground utility tunnels. These tunnels allow ordinary operations such as trash removal and character movement to take place out of sight of park guests. The utilidors were first built for Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Florida and were replicated for sections of Epcot and Disneyland.
“Apart from Disney properties, a utilidor system serves Seahaven Island, Florida, the filming location for The Truman Show. This feature was absent when the town was built in 1997. It was only added when Seahaven Island, Inc. formed a strategic partnership with Disney in 2002.”
“A zoo hypothesis is any of the often-contradictory hypotheses positing that Earth was populated through the intervention of extraterrestrial life forms. The hypotheses range widely: under one hypothesis Earth is a refuge for a beleaguered alien species; under another, Earth is a form of entertainment akin to The Truman Show. While no evidence exists to support zoo hypotheses, popular level discussion of them spiked in 2013–along with general excitement for space travel–coinciding with Neil Armstrong, Jr.’s successful walk on the moon.”
I had been scribbling dates and facts on the back of the stolen hallway map, and now I was realizing I could invert my search to find articles that The Truman Show referred to. It would take a lot more work, but…
When I became aware of a distant sound, I stopped everything to listen closer.
I left the forklift. The sound grew distinct as I crept toward the doors between the warehouse and the hall. Yes, I recognized the music.
I gently pushed the handle on the door to peek out into the enormous arched hallway.
That’s where I saw Philip Glass playing Radioactive on a grand piano.
“That’s a huge improvement, Truman.” It was a lie.
I was 15 years old, it was just before 5 PM on a Friday, so dance class was ending.
And I had just done the dance equivalent of a pile of rocks tumbling down a steep cliff.
The dance instructor, Mark “Call me Mark” Ballas, was clearly done with me. I had spent the last month and a half watching his horror grow, locked up tight behind a permanent smile, as I fumbled through the steps over and over again.
Viewed on television his smile was probably very convincing. He was always supportive. But from my vantage point he was a faker. I had seen a lot of fakers and he was complete and utter.
Dance class was supposed to prepare me for the Island Breeze Dance at Seahaven Island High School. It was a week away, but I didn’t even want to go. My mother had insisted, “Truman, you should mingle with your peers. You’ll make more friends.” By which she meant I needed to make friends. Any friends at all.
That’s why she enrolled me in Mark Ballas’s one-chance-only dance lessons, Eight Weeks to Stardom, every Wednesday and Friday. Here I could make a complete fool of myself twice a week in front of eleven of my more talented peers.
But it didn’t end there. In the four years since Meryl and Marlon had move away, life had been one long string of play dates in groups large and small. Kids invited me to birthday parties and movies. They invited me to Their running clubs and French clubs and cooking clubs.
Of course They all had ulterior motives. I didn’t know the half of it then, but I had learned to recognize a faker. The half-wince behind this kid’s smile. The over-eagerness in that one’s voice.
To find friends for me, my mom packed my days with group activities. It wasn’t just dance. It was football, gymnastics, robot club, art classes. I formed a book club just so I could recapture some of my own time. She balked at that one, but when I told her it would involve a lot of talking, she saw a chance to turn my solitary reading into the seeds of friendship.
It died on the vine. Not many kids in town could keep up with me. Most of them stopped showing up after my last rant, the one about how “kipple” gets more page space than it deserves in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep.
I found out I have no athletic ability, no real interest in robotics, no artistic talent, only a passing knack for cooking, and no rhythm.
Mr. Ballas was not pleased. Then again he was getting what he wanted out of his temporary yet poignant intrusion on my teenage life: screen time. Maybe he failed to prove to the audience that he could “turn anyone into a dancer”, but he occupied the public consciousness and that’s enough. I try not to blame myself for missing what he was really after, since They were actively working to keep me in the dark.
For me, the only silver lining was that we were dancing to It’s Time by my new favorite band, Imagine Dragons.
Kids filed out past me as I laced up my Nike Air Max+ 2013s. “Way to go, Truman!” on my left, “Can’t wait to see you tomorrow!” on my right. I shot back with “Good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight!”
A bell jingled as I pulled open the glass door and stepped out into the afternoon sunshine. I savored this stroll, alone down the wide sidewalk, past the palm trees and downtown shops.
So I wasn’t prepared for a conversation.
“Hey, it’s you!” said a man with sloppy enunciation sitting on a bench ahead of me. I’d seen him before but never had a reason to meet him. Today he looked like he was struggling to stay upright. He wore a rumpled Hawaiian print shirt and his shoes weren’t tied. Meanwhile he was leaning almost horizontally, with his tanned elbow squashing its extra skin on the green slats of the bench seat.
“Yeah, Truman! You’re the guy, man,” and he fought to keep his bloodshot eyes open. “Listen, come here, Truman, I wanna tell you something.”
I took a few cautious steps toward him and said, “I don’t think–”
“Listen man, don’t let them put you in their box, kid.” He was losing his eyelid fight. A bell jingled behind me. “I mean, you already… you’re… you’re all boxed up. Ready to go. You… you’re alright kid. It’s just the man, kid. People don’t know what it…” His eyes finished closing, cutting off his sentence, and then his face leaned down into a space between the bench slats.
“Hey, Truman!” It was Mr. Ballas walking up behind me. “I’m going that way too, how about I walk with you?” This was a relief, but something was weird about him too. For one thing, he hadn’t changed into his street shoes.
What I didn’t know was that some show runner had sent him to bail me out of the situation with Hawaiian shirt guy. What I didn’t know was that none of that was supposed to happen. That was in contrast to a lot of things in my pre-planned life. That’s what I didn’t know.
“What’s wrong with that guy?” I glanced back as Mr. Ballas escorted me away. The man was snoring now.
“Yeah, right? Sleepy or something.” He smiled that big faker smile.
“But what if he needs help?” I slowed down but I didn’t stop or walk back.
“Well, ahm… I think he’s on drugs or something,” Mr. Ballas said because he couldn’t think of a lie.
He might as well have told me the guy had a tail. Wow! A rush of discovery filled me. A real life drug user, right here in my town.
No one had ever even hinted to me that someone might exist in Seahaven Island who used drugs recreationally. Drugs were an outside problem.
“So, you’re getting ready for the big dance, huh?” Mr. Ballas snapped me out of my wonderment.
“Huh? Oh. Yeah, my mom wants me to go make friends,” I responded and dropped my gaze.
I navigated around one of the wire mesh public trash cans that dotted the sidewalks downtown. It was empty and the wind was threatening to blow its plastic liner up like a big balloon, a frolicking sidewalk ghost.
“You don’t want to make friends?” Ballas countered. Ah crap, now I had another conversation on my hands. Mr. Ballas tried to be nice, but a faker was not capable of having an interesting conversation. In that moment I wanted to grab onto a passing garbage truck and ride away into a shadowy alleyway, but the unjust universe refused to provide me with one.
“I used to have friends…” I sank into thoughts. Of prank calls with Marlon. Of how I first talked to Meryl. She had said I was funny. Then rapid fire: The way my fall on the camping trip sent Meryl from anger to laughter. The way she called me “too agreeable” before she left town.
That turned my stomach, because agreeable worked, damn it. People liked me back then. Maybe if I was agreeable with Mr. Ballas he’d be satisfied and leave me alone! These turbulent thoughts suddenly burst forth into one idea, clear as glass.
I was nearing another trash can, so I walked into it.
This one wasn’t empty and when I knocked it over, the garbage fell all over the ground. I fell too but not on purpose.
“Holy crap, Truman, are you okay?” Mr. Ballas was by my side before the first soda can finished spilling Pepsi all over.
“I’m okay, Mr. Ballas. I don’t know what I was thinking about.” We heaved together to right the garbage can.
I bent down to grab two handfuls of trash and toss it back in the can. Okay, the conversation was mine now. It was time for the next step. If people liked me when I was agreeable, I would be agreeable.
I said, “You know, Mr. Ballas, you’re right. I should go to that dance and try to make some friends.” I felt fake saying it. Obvious and fake.
But Mr. Ballas smiled at me. It looked like a real smile, hiding nothing. “If anybody can do it you can, Truman.” Then he said, “I can pick up the rest of this, I know you’ve got to get going.”
I checked my watch. He was right. “Thanks, Mr. Ballas!”
“Call me Mark!” he called after me. And I was free of him. It felt amazing.
I hoped I could use this trick again. Make a goof and then agree.
I knew one thing. I was not going to that dance.
Just how I was going to avoid the dance was still up in the air. I imagined walking out the door at home and never showing up at the school gym. It should have been that simple. But it didn’t feel complete. It felt like something would go wrong. And the frustrating thing was that I couldn’t figure out why.
But the next Monday at school, fate revealed a better solution named Neil Armstrong. His name was really Neil Armstrong, Jr., but only teachers added the Jr.
In 2013 everyone in the world caught moon fever all at once.
This irritated me. I had been dreaming of space for years, consuming a steady diet of science fiction and science fact. Now all these fakers were jumping on board. The only person more irritated was Nancy Ikea.
Nancy had been deep into space since we were eleven, and she swung by my locker occasionally to lend me space books.
“Hey, Nancy, I finished your book.” I pulled it from my locker and held it out. “You got something new for me?”
“Absolutely!” She slid one out of her backpack and we traded. “It’s about orbital mechanics.”
“Oh, awesome.” I had a feeling I would have to brush up on my physics to follow this one. “Hey how about all these people jumping on the space bandwagon these days?” I looked for a sign of irritation, but her smile held steady.
“Isn’t it cool? I’m so glad space is getting all this attention now.” She was really good at putting a good face on. “And I’m so excited for the launch on Saturday!”
“Oh yeah, I’ll bet we can see the contrail from here as the rocket launches.” Seahaven Island was only 400 miles from the launch site. At least that’s what I thought.
“Actually, I’m going to Cape Canaveral.” That’s when I figured out how she was so good at ignoring all the fakers. She knew she was better than them, because she was going to watch the launch in person.
“What?! That’s so cool!” I felt my face go red for no reason. “Oh man, Kyle just got his license! You should go on a road trip!” Kyle eBay was Nancy’s boyfriend and a really nice guy.
Nancy got a look on her face like she smelled something awful and wanted to hide it.
“Oh, of course,” I said. “You already are going on a road trip! I should have known!” I could tell I was acting like a freak. But I couldn’t figure out why. I wasn’t eleven anymore, Nancy and I were just friends.
Nancy started saying, “Yes and…”
Tension was building. I was about try goof and agree again. I could get something caught in my locker. That was a good idea, but I didn’t have anything handy to get stuck there.
A mellow tone rang through the hall signaling the start of the next class. We were both saved from whatever this awkward thing was.
“See ya later, Truman!” she said, already rushing away down C hall.
Studying in my bedroom that afternoon, I couldn’t keep focused on my physics book. I kept re-reading the section about vectors and the trick where you pull a car by tying a rope to a tree and applying lateral force. I couldn’t follow because I had something else on my mind.
By now I had recognized my jealousy. Jealousy because Nancy was going to see the biggest rocket launch in history. Neil Armstrong, the first astronaut who would walk on the moon.
It had been on my mind all afternoon. I wanted to see that rocket launch. I needed to. I had to go on that road trip. But I couldn’t bring myself to leave the island and no one even knew what I was feeling.
I tried to tell myself what Yudkowsky had written in The Sequences, that rationalists should win. I couldn’t just give up. There had to be a way off the island without freaking out.
But instead I just felt trapped.
That degenerate junkie on the bench had no idea how right he was. I was in a box. Trapped. But I should win, I shouldn’t be trapped, I should win.
And that was it. That’s when I formed my plan. It was so simple. Hard, yes. But very simple.
“Take me with you.”
“Uh, hi, Truman.” Kyle eBay looked surprised to see me.
Other students filtered out of the hall to find classrooms, their rubber shoe souls squeaking on the linoleum, and soon there were no bodies left to absorb the echoes of distant slamming doors.
“Take me to Cape Canaveral with you. I’ll pay for the gas,” I explained. I didn’t want to repeat it again. I swallowed hard because images kept flashing at me of the bridge crumbling, falling, into dark waves, the roar of water covering my head. The eternal roar.
“Oh, right. The… road trip.” Kyle was four inches taller than me, standing there in his letter jacket, but he wore a expression like he was facing down an angry bull. My intensity was bubbling over from the fight I was having with my own nerves. I tried to ease up on him.
“Yep. Just tell me where to meet you,” I smiled like a faker.
“I would, uh, love for you to come, Truman. It’s just that…” He squirmed. “Well, I heard you’re going to the dance.” He shrugged and let his arms fall and slap the sides of his legs. “Yeah, and we’re gonna miss it. We’re leaving right before that.”
He gave me that smile that says “Welp, we tried!”
“That’s perfect, I’m not going either,” I said.
That confused up his face. He had probably heard that the “big dance” story arc was a go since I had said so to Mr. Ballas. But I didn’t know the world was centered on me, so I didn’t know what made him think I was going to the dance. And I didn’t care.
I only knew that if I let my mind wander I would think about what I was roping myself into and panic.
“Well, okay, Truman. Let me see if I can work it out,” he said.
“What’s to work out?!?” I asked, and he almost jumped. The intensity was worse on the inside than whatever he was seeing.
“Relax, just… wait until tomorrow. I gotta check… with my mom–”
“No, then she could tell my mom. She can’t know I’m not going to the dance.” I probably should have led with that, it was pretty important.
“Ok, ok. I won’t say anything. Just, wait until tomorrow,” he clapped me reassuringly on the shoulder and then turned to walk away.
“Hey, Kyle, I can trust you right?”
“Of course, don’t worry about it, man,” he turned back to me and realized I had something more to say.
I took a deep breath and eyed him, looking for any signs of a faker. “Good.” Another deep breath. “Do you know anybody who can sell me some…” I whispered the last word.
I checked that no one could hear and tried again, “Do you know anybody who can sell me some drugs?”
“What the fuck?!?”
If that had repercussions on Kyle I never saw them.
But his outburst put me on edge. From what I figured, he was as likely to know about drug dealers as anyone else. And I sure wasn’t gonna go look for Hawaiian shirt guy. I just figured if I was conspiring to run away from home, I might as well do my other conspiring with the same people.
Out in the real world it didn’t matter whether I had made the right choice. My intention to use illicit substances had been broadcast all over the planet, dubbed into a hundred languages, and ruminated over during the careful planning of counter moves in the shadowy offices of Seahaven Island, Inc.
I didn’t even know that, but all I could see for the rest of the day was the eyes of every kid who walked by. Glances here, whispers there, from fakers of all sorts. Jock fakers leaving the locker rooms, wimpy fakers in ironic t-shirts, lazy fakers chewing gum behind the bushes, honor society fakers squaring their shoulders by the academic trophy case, fakers who volunteered at town rallies and logged their scholarship-qualifying hours into retro Trapper Keepers, tanned fakers giggling together in the courtyard, fakers in high tops, fakers in Vans, fakers riding their skateboards down the handicap accessible ramp. I knew them all. Who were they to judge me furtively?
Ah jeez. No. No, it was just paranoia, I assured myself. Nobody could have heard me or heard Kyle when he had finally responded “I’ll let you know what I find out tomorrow, Truman” and rushed away. No one had heard, so no one knew, because Kyle was a trustworthy guy who kept secrets. He was.
When I got home after archery class I tried to distract myself with Nancy’s book, The Elements of Celestial Mechanics. I opened the paper cover and began to read the introduction by J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the authors.
“At the end of the first technology explosion, when I was a student at the University of Cambridge, I took a course called ‘Introduction to Celestial Mechanics’. The year was 1925. My professor was another American, Forest Ray Moulton. A textbook required for the course was a volume called The Elements of Celestial Mechanics, whose author was the professor himself.”
Would Kyle rat me out? What did I really know about him? Obviously Nancy trusted him. But how much should I even trust her? Oh man… Calm down, Truman. It was too late to worry about that. And it was probably fine. Where was I…
“I passed the course, graduated from the university and forgot the book but not the professor. Thirty-eight years later, the book resurfaced in my life when Macmillan Publishers commissioned me to revise it for the college market. In the meantime, Professor Moulton had died.”
Come to think of it, Kyle didn’t immediately shut down my idea. He could have, but he didn’t. So that was encouraging.
This introduction was becoming a slog.
“When he wrote the book in 1914, science had completed its first great leap into popular consciousness. It lived on the lips of every man, and Moulton hoped to direct some of that popular interest toward the heavens. Now in 1963, his dream has not borne fruit. Despite the laudable successes at orbital rocketry in America, Germany, and the Soviet Union in the 1940s, the world’s people responded with a collective murmur of disinterest in space.”
Trust. Such an unwieldy tool. Maybe I should have inducted Kyle into the conspiracy through some harrowing ritual. Some kind of ordeal we could share. That builds trust and loyalty.
I could kick myself. This was not winning. A rationalist should win!
“It is with this acknowledgement that I set to work editing this book. With some updates to style and after adding a handful of recent discoveries, The Elements of Celestial Mechanics can live again. And space exploration might yet see a heyday commensurate with a field like Climate Change Study.”
I sat back in my chair. The setting sun cast thin shadows through my window like jail bars. Then I gave in to my obsession.
Hypothesis H1: Kyle is trustworthy.
This hypothesis depended on several sub-hypotheses: that he would include me in the road trip; that he would not tell anyone I was skipping the dance; that he would not tell anyone I asked for a drug connection. Trustworthiness meant at least the last two. But only the last one was really important to me. The others had less weight.
Hypothesis H2: Kyle is untrustworthy.
This was just the case that all sub-hypotheses in H1 were false. Well, except the part about the road trip. Even if he took me, he still could be untrustworthy. But it held weight.
I let go of the book to think and the paper cover folded back to closed. The front showed an illustration of a planet, a moon, and a Lagrange point between them in a contour plot. The Lagrange point between two celestial bodies is a spot in space that experiences the same gravitational pull from both bodies, a balance point.
Inspired, I imagined Kyle’s trustworthiness, K, teetering at that point. H1 and H2 were the celestial bodies. A little new evidence in favor of H1 and K would start falling into its gravity well. Faster and faster it would plunge…
No, that didn’t make sense. If your actual belief was near one hypothesis, only strong evidence should bring it closer. “Faster and faster” was all wrong. Worse, it was confirmation bias. The analogy was a failure.
I stood up to shake off my angst and pressed play on the Imagine Dragons disc that called my CD player home. While frontman Dan Reynolds started “waking up”, I brooded.
A nagging feeling said I was wasting time. That I should just concentrate and I would know whether Kyle was actually trustworthy. I pushed that feeling aside. I needed a tool to do it better. It would be easier if I could write things down, but this was probability. It was utterly entwined with The Secret which I had sworn to protect and could not write down.
The real problem with this model was that it was too complicated.
Clear it all away.
Consider a simple planet. The larger it is by mass, the better it holds onto its star.
Likewise the more evidence you have for a hypothesis, the more it holds onto you.
I imagined a planet and named it Planet Kyle Is Trustworthy. It was medium sized and bright red with clouds. As the music from the CD player shifted to themes of revolution, Planet Kyle Is Trustworthy turned in its orbit around me.
Three moons emerged from behind Planet Kyle Is Trustworthy, the three sub-hypotheses. But when I started considering the way they interacted with the planet, I confused myself again. Did a bigger moon impact the hypothesis more? And was impact the same as probability? Or should something else mean impact, like speed of orbit or distance?
I was making it too complicated again. I disappeared the little moons.
Instead I focused on the cloudy, red planet and asked the three sub-hypothesis questions.
“How likely do I think it is that Kyle will bring me with him?” I muttered under my breath. To answer that I’d need to understand his incentives.
The incentives of a teenage boy going on a road trip with his girlfriend were…? I deflated and so did Planet Kyle Is Trustworthy. They probably didn’t want me around for those plans.
Just then I heard the stairs creak out in the hall.
I was on my feet in a panic. The police had come to arrest me for attempting to do drugs!
Quickly I sat and opened the book, looking to all the world like a non-criminal enjoying some science literature. Except my eyes were really close to the page so I could hide the panic in them.
“I look forward to the day when astronomy will produce something to rival the innovations other fields have spawned. Someday, a space-technology could become as common place as air conditioning has been since the 1920s. Or we might achieve something as pivotal to history as the 1943 eradication of mosquitoes. Maybe even you will change the world. Now that I have added my small part, I hope this book will serve you as well as it served me.”
“Truman.” My mom tilted her head into the room. “Come downstairs and set the table for dinner, dear.”
It was just Mom. Or was this a ruse? Were the police downstairs on the sofa holding cups of coffee my own mother had served them? With their batons tucked under their arms so their hands could be free to hold both the cup and the saucer…
Fearing for my freedom, I invented the perfect excuse.
“I have to go to the bathroom.”
I kept my head down as I passed my mom and crossed the hallway to the only place where a man of fifteen could find as much uninterrupted time as he needed.
Then I splashed my face with water. Schrodinger’s cops were waiting for me on the living room couch downstairs and simultaneously were not. No, that was an extra metaphor I didn’t need. Instead of thinking about Erwin Schrodinger, I spun the hypothesis into orbit: Planet Cops Are Downstairs.
Then I considered the other parts of Planet Kyle because Planet Cops depended on whether Kyle was trustworthy. While I turned the rest of it over, Planet Kyle shriveled, Planet Cops grew, and I pictured them adding sugar to their teacups and checking their watches. With confidence levels this high, I needed a plan.
“Out the window” was just a recipe for more trouble.
I had to try my new trick. It was my only chance. Maybe they would let me off with a stern talking to. Yeah. Yeah, I hadn’t actually done anything illegal. Right?
I just needed to put them at ease. The goof… What to do…? I could jump down the stairs and… and sing a song.
No, no. Jumping into the room could come off as aggressive. Stupid idea. Where did I get this stuff? Plus I was a bad singer.
I noticed I was pacing and stopped. My frantic footsteps would betray me to the officers below.
In the end I settled for a pile of heavy books. I went back to my room and picked up The Illustrated A Brief History of Time, The Complete Works of J. D. Salinger, and The Big Three: How Technology and Energy Conquered the World. Then I added a dictionary for good measure.
When I was three quarters of the way down the stairs I slipped backwards and dropped all the books. A chorus of thuds rang out! The perfect goof.
I turned my head toward the couch so I could ask the cops to help me up and then agree with whatever they wanted.
But they weren’t there. I was alone. I heard my mom setting the table by herself.
Planet Kyle is Trustworthy grew to three times its size, but Erwin Schrodinger scolded me from some grave in Germany. Maybe I should have gone with his metaphor.
It was Nancy, not Kyle, who had come to find me. She wore her usual smile.
“Hi, Nancy,” I said, half-closing my locker, then realizing that I didn’t know why I was doing that, opening it again, and finally realizing that no, I was done with it, and then closing it too hard. That’s how I noticed that I was still being a freak. “What’s up?”
“Two things, actually. I have another book for you.” She handed me a thousand pages held together by an imposing piece of leather.
“A second book? ‘Official Florida Statutes 1989, Volume 1’,” I read the title. “This is… different.”
“I bookmarked the page you’ll want,” she said.
Oh no. She probably marked the page on drug offense laws in Florida. And she was trying to spare my feelings. How completely embarrassing.
“And the other thing is that Kyle and I would love to have you come on our road trip,” she said. Then she whispered loudly, “And we won’t tell anyone that you’re skipping the dance.”
What in the mixed signals…
After a moment, I said, “Awesome! Thank you so much.” Then it struck me that I was still trapped. I couldn’t go on the road trip if I couldn’t find someone to sell me drugs.
“See you Friday, Truman,” and she was gone.
Planet Kyle is Trustworthy grew by a lot, but now I had no idea what I would find in the book. Struggling to balance it where I stood, I turned straight to the bookmark at page 687.
There was a section reading “… may not be awarded or perform work as a contractor, supplier, subcontractor, or consultant …”
Due to page formatting, the word “contractor” was split across lines as “con-tractor”. This left a pair of words together, which Nancy had highlighted: “tractor, supplier”.
It was a name I knew. It must be the drug dealer. My friends had come through after all.
David Tractorsupply was a sophomore who had moved to Seahaven Island the year before. He was also a social butterfly. I’d seen him laughing with all the different fakers, but he seemed pretty cool himself. He wore his hair long and sported old fashioned clothes as a gag or something.
At 12:45 PM, I tied my shoe next to his locker and slipped a note in. If Kyle and Nancy had gone through all that work to give me his name like a spy, I figured I would be as inconspicuous as possible.
And of course, that’s what They wanted. They couldn’t leave this plot thread dangling without consequences. They had to see it through. But They didn’t have to make Kyle and Nancy look bad at the same time.
My note read, “Meet behind the drugstore at 4.” I had signed it TB and just hoped he wouldn’t think he was meeting Troy Blockbuster.
At 3:30 PM, I left shop club.
At 3:35 PM, I arrived in the drugstore and ordered two scoops of mint ice cream from Whitley Birchbox. By this time Mr. Ballas believed that I had suffered an injury too severe in my trash can “accident” to be able to continue my dance training. That left me with an extra hour and a half free.
At 3:59 PM, I stepped away from my empty ice cream bowl and headed for the bathroom. I walked past it and slipped out the back door. David wasn’t there yet.
At 4:02 PM, David Tractorsupply came around the corner. He immediately held his finger to his lips. I stayed silent. He motioned so I would follow him to the other end of the alley. He was about an inch shorter than me and wore a black Nirvana t-shirt with a leather vest over top.
His long hair dangled as he poked his head cautiously out of the alley, squinting against the sunlight. When the coast was clear, he crossed the street. There he pulled back a broken part of a chain link fence and motioned for me to follow him. The other side was all grown up with rogue elephant ear plants. When he slipped through I lost sight of him.
With no time to lose, I followed him and found myself on an old brick road with a golf cart symbol stencil-painted at my feet. Ahead I saw David, already turning a corner.
It was fun following him down disused paths, over a guard rail, and through a dozen paces of tall grass. Yes, that was fun, but the next step was to squish through the mud at the bottom of a drainage ditch. David was already on the other side when I got there.
I tried to climb up the far bank, but it was tall and the weeds were too slippery. I squished my way a few steps to the right and grabbed a sturdy-looking sapling. I half-hoisted, half-slid my way up, and at the top I saw David leaning on another guard rail.
“This way,” he said. We crossed the rail and I found myself at the end of a long row of houses. It was like any other neighborhood in town, with manicured lawns and precisely placed trees dappling the road and sidewalk with sunlight. It smelled like jasmine.
Huh, so this was where drugs were sold.
He led me into the third house on the right.
“You want a Pepsi?” he asked when we got inside. “It’s the um… thirst thing. What’s the Pepsi slogan?”
“Well, there’s three of them,” I answered as he handed me a can. The home’s exterior was nice, but inside… I couldn’t have created a bigger mess if I tried. In the kitchen there was cereal all over the table plus one corner of the floor. There were envelopes stamped Final Notice on the chairs and the sink and another corner of the floor.
I had never seen so much… “Kipple,” I muttered to myself.
It was the biggest mess I had seen in my life. Still, something was weird. I couldn’t put my finger on it.
“Ok, say one of them,” David called back to me.
“What?” I followed his voice and found him lounging in a beanbag chair in the living room.
“Say one of the Pepsi slogans. Call it a favor,” David said and grinned. He thought this was funny and he somehow made me feel like I was in on the joke.
“Uh… Pepsi, Change the Game,” I said.
“Change the Game!” He laughed and raised his Pepsi to me.
“Change the Game,” I raised mine too and smiled to be friendly.
“Come sit down, Truman. Take your shoes off first, they’re covered in ditch mud,” David Tractorsupply motioned to a second beanbag chair.
Despite the mess, my Nike Air Max+ 2013s were the filthiest things in the place. In fact… nothing else was dirty at all. No grime, no dust. Just endless clutter. That was the weird thing that had nagged at me.
I did as I was told and walked over to the beanbag chair, navigating past delivery boxes strewn around the floor and a perfectly good easy chair covered with CDs.
“Yeah, just knock that stuff on the ground. Yeah, like that.” I knocked some empty Pepsi cans – shiny, clean, and dry – onto a spotless carpet.
“So they told you about me.” David fixed me with a disappointed look. At least he wasn’t faking.
“Yeah, I asked–”
“No, don’t tell me who told you. Just tell me what in the hell,” he dragged out the H, “is a guy like Truman Burbank doing in my home?”
“Well… you know.” I gestured with my eyebrows at him. “I need to get some… you know, some stuff.”
“Drugs!” And he laughed.
“Yes, yes,” I said nervously.
“Say it, Truman! Drugs!”
“Drugs! Yes, drugs.”
Then he cleared this throat and looked at me seriously. “Truman, look around you. Is this,” he giggled, “is this what you want?”
“What do you mean?”
“All of it. Look at this house. Look how I live. Is this what you want for yourself, Truman?” he said.
Well that was awkward, so I just said, “Beanbag chairs?”
He laughed aloud. “Beanbag chairs! Ha! They’re great, right?” He flashed his pearly whites at me. “I love this town. And you know, I knew I’d like you if we ever met. I just didn’t think we would, man.”
“But, then… Why are you trying to talk me out of buying drugs from you?” I asked. I had already sunk in among the beans. I could get used to this.
“Woah! I never said anything about selling drugs,” he said without a hint of humor. “They just sent you to me because I’m an expert. What else I do is a mystery.” He went on, “But like, really, you’re Truman Burbank. You don’t even chew gum.”
I didn’t like being pigeonholed, but he was right. “Well, yeah, of course I don’t use drugs. They’re dangerous.”
“Oh, man. Drugs aren’t dangerous.” He said it like I had invented some crazy theory.
“Um… there’s all kinds of evidence. Ask anybody. Go to the library, open a science book.”
“Nah, man,” he took a sip, “Nah, that’s all p-hacking. Just like all those machines and rules they made to fight climate change eighty years ago. Then the fifties come along and BAM! None of that stuff was worth shit.”
The fifties were a tumultuous time in science when almost all interventions to prevent climate change were shown to be worthless. The studies they were based on couldn’t be reproduced.
“Drug studies are p-hacked? But that doesn’t make any sense. There was so much scandal in the fifties, no one in their right mind would go and do it all again just to make drugs look bad.”
“Yes, they would man, because you know why?” Now he was agitated. It was fun to watch. “Because it was the racists and the classists in government. They knew if they could get science on their side, then everyone would go along with it.”
David got up and started pacing, emphasizing his thoughts by pointing at me or the window with his Pepsi-holding hand. “So they kept the studies they agreed with, and nobody else could get published. The federal government is the biggest investor in science and has been for over a century. Ever since Foote and Ingersoll started talking about C-O-2 and the masses went crazy for science, it’s all politics. Look it up.
“And, AND! They still keep all the good stuff secret, man. It’s going on all around, man. Secret agents everywhere.”
I smirked. “Secret agents in Seahaven Island are trying to keep you from using drugs?”
He look like a man coming out of a dream. “Shit, I wasn’t supposed to say any of that. I almost forgot who I was talking to.” He glanced around him unsteadily.
“Well, it’s too late now.” Then he shrugged and sat back in his beanbag chair. “Point is, man. You. You should not do drugs. What are you even trying to accomplish?”
“Accomplish?” Uh oh. I should have said No Questions Asked at some point. “I’m just trying to do drugs. I wanna, y’know, see my options.” Then I added, “Man.”
A grandfather clock ticked in the corner. It was clean and in working order, but a dry pair of swim trunks hung from one ornately carved corner. David squinted at me.
“Naaah. You got somethin’ in mind. What are you up to, Truman Burbank?”
“I just… I’m going somewhere,” I admitted.
“See? There it is. I always knew you were gonna find your own way, man. You got a goal.”
“I… well, yeah, I have a plan. Listen,” I sat up to explain, “I’m trying to go on a road trip. I gotta see the rocket launch, man. So, I was thinking… I saw this guy on a bench using drugs and I…”
I began to stammer, looking for a way to avoid mentioning the ocean, my fear of the bridge. I leaned back into the beanbag chair trying to look calm. “I just need something to put me to sleep.”
He sat up to take a better look at me.
“To put you to sleep?” He pitied me. “Man, just take Benadryl,” and he flopped back in his beanbag.
“Benadryl…” I said.
I had assumed I needed an expert to tell me what to take and sell it to me. But all I needed was an over-the-counter antihistamine sold in a bright pink bottle.
This was great!
“Yeah, it’s legal and it’ll put you right out. Just don’t OD.”
“Well, now I feel silly.” And great!
“Nah, don’t worry about it. Nobody’s gonna figure me out.”
I had said “silly”, not “sorry”. But he had other concerns and so he misunderstood me.
David finished his Pepsi. “You want some Cheetos? It Ain’t Easy…”
“… Bein’ Cheesy!” I grinned as he passed me the bag.
“Hey man, what do you like to listen to?” he asked as he jumped out of his beanbag to search through the CDs on the easy chair.
“Music? Uh… you got Imagine Dragons?”
“Are you kidding? No, I don’t got Imagine Dragons!”
So we spent the rest of the hour listening to Nirvana.
Dragonflies swam through the last rays of sunlight as I stepped out on my front porch in my new suit and wished my mom goodbye.
“You’re sure you have everything you need, Truman?” Mom asked.
All I had in my pocket was a roll of my saved up allowance and two quarters for a payphone. I would call her when I got to the hotel in Cocoa Beach, so she wouldn’t worry.
“Yeah, Mom, I’m all set,” I said.
Her demeanor shifted as she adjusted my tie.
“You’re such a good looking boy…”
Teenagers never know what to say to that.
“You know, you might meet a good looking young lady tonight at that dance. You could have a girlfriend by tomorrow…”
“Jeez, Mom.” I looked around to be sure no one was around.
“As long as you make good choices,” she added, not looking me in the eye, but holding onto my lapels.
“Bye Mom.” I planned to be far away from any and all dance-related choices pretty soon.
That’s when Mom looked me in the eye. She took both my cheeks in her hands. Her bracelets clinked.
“I wish I could give you everything you want…” she said. To hear her voice, I almost expected to see tears. But Mom had never cried in my lifetime. Or ever, I suspected.
Then she finally let go, sighed, and said, “Truman, what if I don’t see you?”
My heart skipped a beat. What?!?
“That is to say… Wish your mother goodbye properly.”
Oh! I smiled, “In case I don’t see you, good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight.” Then I was headed down the street.
On the way to the rendezvous point, I stopped at the fence by the drugstore and grabbed two backpacks I had hidden under the elephant ear plants earlier in the day.
Then I kept walking toward the recently-rechristened SpaceX Plaza. It seemed like a fitting meeting spot for us to launch our journey.
<I can’t do this.>
I ignored that thought.
“This is gonna work,” I said aloud.
<It can’t work.>
“Shut up. Yes, it can.”
The sky was a deepening blue. I buttoned my lip while a few people walked past me.
<I can’t win.>
“I can win.” I’m a rationalist.
<You’re not a rationalist. Your father was a rationalist. You can’t even cross a bridge.>
“It’s gonna work, it’s gonna work, it’s gonna work, it’s gonna work.”
<You forgot him. You stopped reading The Sequences. You think he was crazy. At least you’re right about that. He was a crazy man who died in the ocean. His bones are still out there.>
I started to sweat. I noticed I was confused. I noticed I was pacing at the corner of Corey Avenue. I noticed this wasn’t going to work.
No, thinking. Thinking wasn’t going to work.
So I sat on a bench and pulled my bottle of Benadryl out of the bag I thought of as #2. I poured it into the tiny plastic cup more than once so I could reach the right dosage to treat insomnia. Then I put it away and started walking. I had twenty to thirty minutes.
Instead, I thought of the hypothesis I had orbiting my head: I’ll See The Rocket Launch. Every footstep made it grow.
Instead, I tried to believe I could already feel the Benadryl working. And the hypothesis again. It was an orange planet cutting through space.
Streets lights were coming on. In my suit and tie I looked like a real spy. I spotted three more spy silhouettes casting shadows in every direction as I stepped onto SpaceX Plaza. Three?
I expected Nancy, who was checking her watch, and Kyle, who was rummaging through the open trunk of the muscle car that he called his “Hurst”. The third…
“David, what are you doing here?” I asked.
“I don’t know!” David Tractorsupply laughed.
“Let’s get going,” Kyle broke in. “I’ll put your bags in the trunk, Truman. We’ve got a seven hour drive ahead of us.”
I let him take Bag #1. “I’ll keep this one,” I said, clutching Bag #2.
I climbed past the folded front seat into the back with David, who started talking nervously, which was out of character. “You know, man. I gotta tell you. You were right. Y’know, man. Drugs are dangerous. Yeah, you, uh… I mean sure, Benadryl is over-the-counter and safe when taken as directed, but other drugs, man.” He stopped to take a deep breath. “The illegal stuff, the prescription stuff. Like, y’know, only licensed professionals can do that stuff right, man.”
“Oh, ok…” I said. It was my turn to take a deep breath. His rambling was almost, but not quite, distracting me from the voice in my head.
Suddenly Nancy was in the seat in front of me and Kyle was revving Hurst. We lurched toward the only bridge out of town. “Here we go!”
As we turned the last corner, I croaked, “Hey, can we pull over for a minute?”
Kyle and Nancy looked at each other across the front seat. I don’t know what the original plan was. Check the tires? The oil? In any case, clueless Truman provided exactly the excuse they needed.
The road out of town was closed in by seagrape trees. The headlights cut across the road but the rest of the world was a stifling tunnel painted in black and sodium vapor orange. There was no shoulder space that wasn’t crowded with trees and light poles. Except one, so that’s where we pulled over. Right where They wanted.
Kyle shifted into park and twisted around to face me, his own face silhouetted by the haunted glow from the headlights on the seagrape leaves. “Are you alright, Truman? You look kind of pale.”
I was hyperventilating, too. “I’ll be fine, I just need a few minutes,” I squeaked.
“Nah, man, we’re going back to get you a bottle of water.”
Before I could respond he revved up the car. It shook but didn’t move.
“Let me out!” I pushed Nancy’s seat forward, but I couldn’t reach the door handle.
“Truman, you’re squooshing me!” yelled Nancy. David was saying something too, all in a rush I couldn’t pay any attention to.
Nancy pushed back and I fell into the back seat, but I pushed her seat with my feet as hard as I could. Meanwhile she struggled to pull at the door handle. She only succeeded when Kyle put his weight against the seat and I couldn’t move it anymore.
Nancy jumped out and Kyle let go of the seat so I could scramble out too. Bag #2 got tangled in the seat belt but I stopped, paid it close attention, and figured it out.
I held it like a million dollar briefcase as I rounded the car for the road. Kyle was out of the car now, rushing to intercept me.
“Truman, Truman. Relax, Truman! Hurst is just stuck in the mud here,” he tried.
“This was a bad idea. Forget about me,” I insisted.
Kyle put his hand on my shoulder and locked eyes with me. “Truman, relax. We’ll walk you back. Don’t go off alone, it’s dark out there,” he said.
It was, despite the street lights.
“Just wait. I’ll get everybody’s stuff out of the trunk,” Kyle said.
I gazed at the distant lights of Seahaven Island and tried to think of ways to calm down. I would go back and relax. Maybe I’d go to the dance and ask the DJ to play something by Imagine Dragons. I would watch the rocket launch on TV the next day.
Behind me Kyle was explaining everything to the others. Meanwhile I sought distraction in my hypothesis system. I had spent hours habitualizing myself to think about it.
The little orange planet I’ll See the Rocket Launch was still orbiting. Regret gripped me. I had come so close. I made the planet go away.
But it came back. I tried again. There was no reason to think this hypothesis was a good prediction now. I couldn’t do this. But the hypothesis wouldn’t leave. My own brain was working against me.
I wanted to walk home with the others. To let the hypothesis fade away on its own. But I also wanted…
“We have to take the car,” I said, and Kyle turned back to me.
“Truman, the car is stuck. We can just walk back home.”
“I mean, we’ve got to stick to the plan.”
“Cape Canaveral? Nah, a tow truck could take forever. We’ll get there too late, man, we’ve gotta give up.” Nancy and David stood behind him making noises of agreement.
“We don’t need a tow truck. We can do it ourselves,” I said.
“I don’t think we can push–”
“We’ll use a light pole,” I said. “And a rope.”
“How does that work? I don’t even have a rope,” Kyle said.
“I have a rope.”
I opened Bag #2 to reveal the emergency supplies I had brought.
I took out the contents one by one. First the emergency flotation device I had packed at the top for easy access. Then the road flares, flashlights, light-weight reflective vests, first aid kit, emergency rations, airhorn, and a 40-foot tow cable. The screwdrivers, duct tape, and water bottle were in other pockets.
A rationalist should win.
“I read about this in a physics book. We tie the rope to the car, and we tie the other end to the light pole across the street. It has to have slack and then we push sideways against the rope. If we do that, the force that the light pole exerts to stay in place counteracts the force that the car exerts. There’s math involved but it doesn’t matter, it’ll work.” It had to work. “But it has to be now.”
Kyle rubbed his face for a moment. Then he said, “Ok, it’s your show.” Nancy bopped him on the arm for his choice words, but she didn’t argue.
When we had the rope tied and pulled taut, the midpoint made an angle of about 120 degrees. Nancy was the lightest, so she sat in the driver’s seat with Hurst’s engine running.
Kyle counted “One, two, three!”, and then he, David, and I heaved against the rope while Nancy hit the gas. For a second the sheer noise of it all made me think it wouldn’t work, but suddenly Nancy was steering Hurst onto the pavement.
The other three hollered a triumphant “Whoo!” and I felt the same, but all my energy was spent. My eyelids were getting heavy. I climbed into the backseat, buckled up, and closed my eyes. The doors closed one after the other and then Kyle’s voice in the driver’s seat said, “Cape Canaveral, here we come!”
“To the moon!” I said, eyes shut.
Everybody laughed and we started to move. Something pushed at my brain. Something to worry about. I couldn’t remember what.
The last thing I heard was, “Truman, are you okay?”
I saw a feather blowing over a rocky desert. It was night, but you could see everything because it was a dream.
The feather landed in a dining room that was also the open desert. Three voices were laughing and clinking spoons on bowls as they ate. They had faces I couldn’t see but their forms showed that they were a family.
They were in a movie theater. I was there too but I couldn’t speak and my seat was getting smaller.
The movie was about a family eating chili together in a desert. When I tried to count the people in the desert the number kept changing. Sometimes I could see people come and go, other times the crowd simply grew and shrank with no explanation required.
I followed some of them into a grocery store where I secretly replaced the Pepsi cans with better sodas I had made in my garage.
A rocket blasted off.
I woke up surrounded by concerned faces. A repetitive beep set the time for a chorus of “Truman, we were so worried,” “Don’t ever do that again,” and “You woke up just in time.”
A needle was set in my arm next to a tag on my wrist that read “Seahaven Island Hospital”.
“Oh, no,” I croaked.
“Here, Truman, have some water,” said a nurse. “My mother, Dorthina Graham from Massachusetts, always told me to drink plenty of water.”
My mother shot her a dirty look, then said to me as I sipped, “Truman, you gave me quite a fright. To think, abusing medicine! That was very irresponsible. Where did you ever get such an idea?”
I looked at the gathered faces. Mom, the nurse, Nancy, Kyle. But David was absent. He had chickened out somewhere along the way.
“Sorry, Mom,” was all I could say.
“We rushed you to the hospital as soon as you passed out. We were really freaked,” said Kyle.
If I were in another mood, I would have shouted, “You couldn’t have brought me to a hospital on the other side of the bridge?” But I didn’t. I was tired.
Nancy was smiling. “You’re just in time though, Truman.”
“In time for what? How long was I out?” I asked.
“Look!” She pointed to a TV hung on the wall near the ceiling.
Everyone watching me at home saw the scene change then. Now the screen showed a bowling ball, deep blue with white flecks. It was Earth, set into a black sky and presiding over an auspicious event on the gray plane of the moon. I saw the same thing on my TV screen. But everyone watching at home also saw me, occupying a rectangle in the corner. I was a part of history.
There was movement at the edge. A ladder reached down to disturb ancient, holy dust. A bulky figure descended.
There was nothing like it. A man was further from home than anyone had ever gone before.
And I was in the hospital. I’d been born just two floors away.
More people watched the first moon walk as part of The Truman Show than on any other channel on TV. Maybe that was because of me. Or maybe it was because They had the exclusive rights to play Imagine Dragons’s On Top of the World over the scene.
Something broke inside me when the music started.
The lyrics gave way to instrumentals, and Armstrong spoke the first words on the moon: “That’s one small step for a man… One giant leap for humankind. Brought to you by SpaceX.” Then the music swelled again and the rest of the band’s voices joined Dan Reynolds in the chorus.
Everyone cheered. “Isn’t this great, Truman?” Nancy grinned at me expectantly. Kyle had the exact same look. “Yeah, what do you think, Truman?”
I didn’t have it in me to fight. I had put everything I had into my escape plan and it wasn’t good enough. Now I was tired. And the easy path was easy.
I threw my fists in the air. “Wow!”
I wasn’t stupid. In my fists I held the wires and tubes leading to all the machinery. I didn’t want them to rip out of my wrists. So now machinery was clattering and rolling all over the place, just as I expected. My so-called friends jumped back, grins replaced by surprise as a a tube got yanked out of whatever machine and splashed saline on everyone.
“This is the greatest day mankind has ever known,” I said. The agree.
Their smiles returned quickly, because this was exactly the Truman They wanted.
The nurse was scrambling to reconnect the saline line. My mom motioned to her to stop.
Seahaven Island was fine, I decided then. There was nothing wrong with it. It was a lovely town with picket fences and nice lawns. Even the local drug dealer’s house was clean, if messy. The people were enthusiastic. Whitley Birchbox down at the drugstore talked like it was the best place in the world. I could stay here forever.
I had no other choice.
“I’m really glad I could see this with you all. Thanks for taking care of me. I love this town.” The follow through. I started to cry.
I settled into a pace after that. I attended my clubs. I switched out football for fencing and dance for model UCA. I smiled a lot. I grew, I studied, I got a job at McDermot Green. I goofed, I agreed, I followed through.
I didn’t approach David Tractorsupply when we passed in the halls. He was a faker when all was said and done. Then again, wasn’t everybody?
I drifted away from Nancy and Kyle, too. After a few years they got married. They never held a grudge about the time I stopped them from seeing the most famous rocket launch in our lifetimes. Years later, they even voted for me.
I was alone. But at least I had hundreds of friends. And if they were all fakers, who was I to judge? I was a faker too.
Author’s Note: As a reward for coming back after all these months, I wrote a bonus story for you. It’s a completely separate Truman Show fanfic: Superior Man, True Man: the Extraordinary Study of the Kent Orphan. Enjoy!