Told Between Puffs

In which our hero goes to class
by Verily Veritas

V.V. hurried to his 4:10 class in Fayerweather, Discrete Mathematics and Justice in the Modern European Imagination (the only class he attended now). As usual, he had overslept. His late arrival made no impression on the rock-faced man at the front of the room, who continued to intone in his godless tenor.


“The upside down V means union, which is what two sets share. The backwards E is the existential quantifier. The true meaning of justice is having a good time. Schopenhauer did not have a good time but he had at least six poodles, and suppose you were a bug-eating vegan. Vegans, it is said, are the holy men of our time. Are these sets I have drawn disjoint?”


VV crept to the back of the classroom, awkwardly folding his stiff frame into H66, his customary perch (what V liked best about it was how only the top crook of the second six remained, like the waning moon half of a frown). Patting his front pocket he found that, in his rush to class, he had forgotten his votive candles. And where were his cigarettes? He massaged his unshaven cheeks and sank lower in his seat.


“By the pigeonhole principle, we should have no poodles. No pigeons, I mean. They should all be vegetarians. Where is the meat you ask? Well, remember that the material body does not exist. The subject is produced only by discourse. Yes, Caravaggio?”


A blue-cardiganed young man had raised his hand:


“I don’t understand what you mean by assigning probabilities to outcomes. It just doesn’t seem right. Properly, only events should have them. Because they happen. Isn’t that right?”


It began to seem to VV like his classmate’s words were pieces of velvet, poorly painted to resemble horses and being pulled along the ceiling by poorly hidden ropes. Oh, how he longed to tear them down and crush them beneath his boot! Instead our hero squeezed his eyes shut and forced himself back into contemplation of his skull collection. Candace, Yorick, Derrick, Emile—and dear Elphonse with his crumbling fontanelle! To hell with Justice, Love, Art, Truth—had his dear dachshunds but known in life that their cool remains would become the last intensely meaningful thing VV had left! Grinning K-9 craniums were the only Form Verily still believed in.


“Yes, but think back to the true meaning of justice. I saw a young man the other Tuesday standing in the sun, holding a sign. Think about Bayes, son, I said to him. You a history major? You eat meat? Math tells you what’s true. Think about it.”


Oh, thought Verily, what was the point of it all! For was not man doomed to run the circle of life with no respite from toil? Verily could hear shushing coming from his lower right side and was about to respond with a most vituperative hiss, when, with a jolt, he realized he was standing on his chair, full throatedly humming the prelude to the Parsifal. Obscurely satisfied, Verily slid back into his seat, which folded his form back into its neat gesture of subservience. Perhaps his daily opium cigarette was working too well.“Verily?” she asked; “Verily,” he affirmed; Verily it was.