Consequences Part 6

September 30th, 2011 by Wordsman

Any good lawyer knows that the ordering of your questions is crucial.  The exact same set of responses can, when arranged differently, tell a completely different story, or no story at all.  Usually you have to build it up, starting by setting the scene with mundane facts until arriving at the climax, sometimes tossing in quiet harbingers of things to come among the seemingly meaningless trivia.  Anyone who says cross-examination isn’t an art isn’t doing it properly.

But preparing this sequence of questions takes time.  Even veteran trial lawyers spend hours and days directing the flow of information like a pack of engineers preparing to set a river on a new course.  If you try to wing it, as the rookies so often do, you end up telling the wrong story, or your story doesn’t make sense.  Sometimes you even repeat yourself, which can be used as a technique to trip up a not particularly bright witness for the other side, but it’s not recommended for general use.

Peter was in no mood for a slow build-up.  He was in no state to spend time preparing.  He wanted an answer now.

“What the hell did you do to me?”

The woman, on the other hand, was quite well prepared to answer.  She had spent much of the morning thinking about what she had done, what she could have done differently, how it had affected her already bothersome existence.  She hadn’t even been asking people the Question.  It was an unusual day for her.

“I yelled at you and I hit you,” she replied calmly.  As a matter of fact, they were both calm, though one was a before-the-storm calm and the other an after-the-storm calm.  “But that doesn’t seem to explain why you’re back.”

In court, people swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  Most people assume that two out of three ain’t bad, and if they’re going to skip one, it might as well be that one in the middle.  Peter had been familiar with this popular strategy since long before he started law school; anyone who grew up with a sibling knows all about it.  He had employed it himself, and he definitely knew when it was being used on him.

“I’ve been yelled at before, and I’ve been hit before.”  Not often, but two can play at the lie of omission game.  “I’ve never been through anything like this.”

“So tell me about it.”  It was nice for once not to have to be the one trying to lead the conversation.  She found it strangely comforting, a nice reprieve in a life that had given her so many sources of discomfort lately.

Peter recounted the tale of his day thus far, trying not to think about the fact that it was only half over.  He continued to omit certain facts that other people might have considered especially relevant.  She didn’t need to know about his rude awakening.  She didn’t need to know about the Speech.  It was a tale of trials and tribulations, but he had narrowed it down to the ones that he felt he could link directly to her.  Given more time, he might have been able to come up with a way to pin the alarm clock on her as well, but he was doing this on the fly.

As he delivered his saga of woe, he kept close attention on the woman’s face.  It is a common rookie mistake to only watch witnesses when they’re responding to your questions, thinking the most important thing is to try to tell whether or not they’re lying.  An experienced lawyer, however, knows that most witnesses have practiced their speeches before coming in and have been coached about how to deliver them without showing signs of falsification.  It is in their responses to what you say—the part of the script they haven’t heard before—that they are most likely to let something slip.

Listening to the story of the maddening mystery tune, the old woman first registered shock, and then she shifted to a look of understanding.  At the end of the tale, her face showed mild bemusement.  This told Peter . . . not much of anything, actually, but keep in mind that by this point he was very tired.

The woman couldn’t help but smile.  Like everyone else, she didn’t like to admit it, but, like everyone else, she was helpless to resist the power of schadenfreude.  “You’re under the effect of the Beherrschunglied.”

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This Day in History Entry #137

September 27th, 2011 by Wordsman

Everywhere you go, you hear BEEP BEEP
Massive highways across the land sweep
Benz invented the car
More important, by far
Was ol’ Henry Ford: he made it cheap

Event: The first Model T rolls out of the Ford plant in Detroit, Michigan
Year: 1908
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #72

September 26th, 2011 by Wordsman

A. 克里夫蘭 B. 格林贝 C. 芝加哥 D. 辛辛那提 E. 底特律

F. 巴爾的摩 G. 匹兹堡 H. 明尼蘇達

This feature seems to grow more and more dangerously close to Tuesday every week, but we’ll do our best to prevent that, since we’ve already got a Tuesday thing, and one where it actually matters what day it’s on to boot.  The line, as they say, must be drawn here!

One purpose of KYPC, it seems, is to discover whether or not it is worthwhile to trust one’s irrational impulses.  Unfortunately, the results have been inconclusive.  I am sure that there have been numerous occasions on which these baseless picks have paid off, but unfortunately for Theoman, his was not one of them.  But maybe he only thought it was baseless.  Maybe he somehow knew that that character at the end meant “to chafe,” and, realizing the winter was coming, thought of the dry skin problems that wreak havoc on those who dwell so far north.  Except . . . that doesn’t make much sense either, because F is Baltimore, which, as A Fan noted, is further south than the Mason-Dixon line (though it’s not the furthest south on this list).  In any case, he can find his native Minnesota at H, where it is referred to by a strangely religious-sounding name, with characters meaning “nun” and “rebirth.”  Perhaps this is because, as A Fan would be quick to point out, the Vikings don’t have a prayer of making the playoffs this year.

You might think that Shirley would have better odds by taking shots at all eight cities instead of just one, but her results were no better than Theoman’s.  We enjoyed her imagining of the first two characters in D as the lampposts turning back on in Detroit, but if she had thought a little longer she might have put more weight with the fact that they were the same character and looked for a city that starts with the same sound twice: D is Cincinnati.  E is Detroit, and reality is much darker than Shirley’s proposed bright future: the first character there means, roughly, “rock bottom.”

But who cares about scores?  The fun’s in the guessing.  So we wish Shirley the best of luck with her surgery anyway.

A Fan, as usual, made sure we were all up to date on which teams he likes and which he does not.  He did manage to get one correct answer, for even though Baltimore is only “the North” by NFL standards, it’s not so far out there that it can’t be identified.  Still, we would like to suggest that he pull out a map and compare Baltimore, which he describes as being not the North, and Cincinnati, which he calls barely the North.  He might be surprised.  His beloved Chicago is, appropriately enough, at C (though it would have been equally appropriate for Cleveland or Cincinnati), where the first character (“lawn”) depicts the Midway of which the Bears are Monsters.  His objects of grudging respect are at B (Green Bay) and G (Pittsburgh).  A, of course, is actually a depiction of Red Right 88, with the first character being Quarterback Brian Sipe, the last character Tight End Ozzie Newsome (who is so obviously covered!), the next-to-last a wide-open Dave Logan, and the second character poor, beat-up Don Cockroft, lying on the ground (also, you forgot “The Fumble”).

In conclusion, Ohio is a terrible place to try to watch NFL games.

But forget Ohio.  It’s starting to get cold.  Let’s go somewhere warmer . . . say, the South?  Look for Atlanta, Carolina, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, and Tennessee.

A. 亚特兰大 B. 卡羅來納 C. 休斯敦 D. 印第安纳波利斯

E. 傑克遜維爾 F. 新奥爾良 G. 坦帕湾 H. 田纳西

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Consequences Part 5

September 23rd, 2011 by Wordsman


Everyone stared at him.  Only Wachowsky, who was blessed with the considerable inertia owed to a man who consumed more tortes in a week than most people did in their entire lives, was able to take the outburst in stride.

“The kid’s right,” he grumbled in his usual, semi-comprehensible manner.  He gestured at the screen.  “This damn fool doesn’t have any idea what he’s talking about!”


At that moment a voice pierced through the rapidly hardening concrete sludge that was filling Peter’s mind.  It did not replace the music, nor was it louder than the music, yet somehow he was able to understand it.  He looked around the room to see who commanded this magical voice, but no one was talking to him; they were all arguing with Wachowsky, who was arguing with the man on the screen.

In a moment of clarity (or insanity, depending on how you look at it), Peter realized that the voice belonged to the woman who had attacked him in the subway station.

“This is it?” the voice asked.  “This is how you spend your time?  Sitting in a room listening to rich old men bickering about what words to use in a document that you don’t know anything about?  This is what’s so important that you’re too busy to help me?”

Peter, now convinced that he was losing his mind, gave up.

“Excuse me,” he said, standing up quickly and not even noticing the pain when he slammed both his knees into the thick mahogany table.  “I need to go home.”

He exited the room as quickly as possible, taking three tries to find the door handle, and pinwheeled dangerously back through the hallway to the elevator.  He hit all the buttons, unable even to guess which was which, and collapsed into the car, hanging onto the railing as if it was the only thing preventing him from plummeting into the Grand Canyon.

Peter wasn’t sure how he got out of the building without being stopped by security.  He had no memory of the process.  He wondered if this was what it was like to be on drugs.  The only comparable experience in his life—the day he got his wisdom teeth removed—patterned similarly.  His first memory was of gradually regaining awareness, accompanied by a slow realization of dull, throbbing pain, this time in his knees as opposed to the back of his mouth.

Then he heard a loud sound: “TZAMON BOG, TZAMON BOG.  EXADON YULITE.”

He was on the subway.  And he was home.

For about a second, Peter thought that having been able to get from Millbury Tower, across Dipaoli Plaza, and onto the subway without getting himself killed was the most amazing thing that had happened to him all day.  Then the ramifications of the fact that he had actually heard the subway announcement hit him.

The world was no longer simply a whirlwind of hateful noise.  The strange tune was not gone, but it was significantly softer and less menacing.  As he stepped off the subway into Simon Park Station, it grew softer still.

A wave of euphoria washed over him.  He felt like skipping all the way home—that is, until he remembered that his legs still felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to them.  Even so, as he limped through the turnstile and toward the exit, he relished the diminishing of the music that had nearly melted his brain with every step he took.  When it was gone completely, he stopped, took a deep breath, and let out a shout of pure glee.

He heard a noise to his right, presumably in response to his outburst.  Since being able to hear things again was still something of a novelty, he decided to check it out.  Then he froze like a man who has just realized he is about to step on the third rail.

Peter was staring at the old woman.  He was standing in the exact same spot where she had grabbed him several hours earlier.

A curious blend of emotions was running through the recently decongested paths inside Peter’s head, so when he said, “You did say I’d be back,” he probably looked about the same as he did when she had slapped him.

The woman stared back, looking just as shocked as he did.  “Yeah,” she finally got out, “but I didn’t believe me.”

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This Day in History Entry #136

September 20th, 2011 by Wordsman

King of Italy–most, but not all–
VE II oversaw one last brawl
See, a king needs a home
So they had to take Rome
Blow a hole in Aurelian’s wall

Event: Troops enter Rome through a hole in the city wall near the Porta Pia, completing the unification of Italy
Year: 1870
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #71

September 19th, 2011 by Wordsman

A. 丸芝努止怒 B. 方農呂應 C. 万遅所濃 D. 仕曳八阿則沼

E. 安陀武受

Let’s start with Dragon this time, because . . . hey, why not?

Clearly Dragon’s entire knowledge of the colonial period (and perhaps all of U.S. history) is based on 1776.  There’s nothing wrong with this; we at the Wordsman fully support the policy of defining history through fiction.  On the other hand, it’s apparently not a good policy for getting your KYPC guesses in line.  D is depressing?  Well, I suppose there’s a swamp in there at the end, but it’s not Washington.  A is obnoxious?  It does end with “anger,” true, but the character right before that means “stop,” and wouldn’t “stopping anger” be the opposite of obnox . . . ion?  E’s not sulking; that first character means it is tranquility itself, though the third character means it is also a warrior.

Her two random guesses, however, were perfectly correct.  B, the square farm responding to the second half of a bathtub, is Monroe, and C, the ten thousand slow, thick locations, is Madison.  Maybe if she paid more attention in history class, she would have known that instead of having to simply pull it out of thin air.

Shirley clearly did pay attention in history class, because she at least knew that Washington comes first, at A.  She also got Monroe and Madison right, despite that fact that they (almost! look closely!) start with the same character.  And she knows that we all like Jefferson at D even if there’s not all that much to like.  I mean, look at it.  Pulling?  The number eight?  A nook or corner?  Not very exciting, really.  She even got Adams at E, a connection not made by every participant, though every participant did correctly identify him as being obnoxious or prickly.

A Fan, of course, had to get technical.  You can’t get away with anything in this family.  I mean blog.  That’s right.  Blog.  Anyway, shame on me for forgetting such legendary founders as Elias Boudinot or Nathaniel Gorham, because clearly the United States under the Articles of Confederation are something to be celebrated rather than forgotten.  His identification of A with Adams-Morgan is peculiar, because as I recall the subway system in Washington D.C. is relatively easy to understand, unlike in some other places (see: New York City).  Then again, if that’s what he thought it looked like, maybe he should have guessed Washington, because that would have been correct.  At least he knows good high-stepping when he sees it, and can tell the difference between the staid dignity of Washington University in St. Louis and the madcap antics of University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Unfortunately, none of these insights led him to correct answers.

Theoman got most of them, though Jefferson is the longest not because of the “f” but because of the “j” (actually, it is debatable whether or not Japanese in the time when man’yogana were being used had an “f” sound, but we don’t have to get into that).  His only stumble was over Madison and Monroe.  Are they really that different?  You can ask Shirley, I suppose.

But now it’s time for something new.  Enough history.  Are you ready for some FOOTBALL??? That’s right, it’s pigskin season, the perfect time to do a quiz on football teams . . .

Oh.  You say we already did that?  Hmm . . .

I know!  We’ll do a quiz on football team locations rather than names.  Now, most U.S. geographical locations would be written in Japanese with katakana, which would be boring and way too easy for Theoman.  We could do them in man’yogana again, but I think it’s time to switch things up.  This week’s KYPC challenge will be in . . . Chinese!  Where’s your advantage now, Theoman?  The principle is similar to man’yogana; the characters are chosen based on their phonetic (sound) similarity rather than their meaning.  The main difference is that, because Chinese has actually been used within the last millennium, these names might actually mean something to someone.  And by “someone,” I mean at least several hundred million people.

First up, the North.  Look for Baltimore, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Green Bay, Minnesota, and Pittsburgh.

A. 克里夫蘭 B. 格林贝 C. 芝加哥 D. 辛辛那提 E. 底特律

F. 巴爾的摩 G. 匹兹堡 H. 明尼蘇達

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Consequences Part 4

September 16th, 2011 by Wordsman

Some time later, Mr. Victorino got off the elevator.  At first it seemed like he might have simply pushed the wrong button; other than Mr. Abrahamson, the only partner who ever came to the clerk cage was Mr. Brandon, who used to have an office on the 12th floor and had trouble remembering that he was now on 10.

But Mr. Victorino, it seemed, was in the right place after all.  Rather than staring around in bewilderment for a few seconds before turning right around and hitting the elevator button, he began examining the cubicles, hunting for whatever clerks might happen to be around.  There was only one for him to find.

“Peter!” he exclaimed, trying to look as much like Santa Claus holding a sackful of toys as a lawyer can.  “How would you like to sit in on a drafting meeting?”

Bum ba da da dee ba buuum

Actually, Peter understood him perfectly well.  Having failed in every attempt to rid his mind of the offensive noise, he had spent the previous hour or so watching subtitled videos on YouTube in the hope of teaching himself how to read lips.  He was pleased—and, frankly, a little startled—at his success, but his excitement was significantly dampened by the fact that, unless he could find some way to get the tune out of his head, this could be the only way he would ever be able to understand anyone again.

Speaking of dampened spirits, a drafting meeting is not the kind of treat you would like to wake up to on Christmas morning.  It’s not even something you’d like to have at the end of a long Thanksgiving, simply as a break from watching football and eating turkey and playing football and eating more turkey and watching more football.  Every job has many aspects that may seem boring to people who don’t understand them, and every job usually has at least one thing that’s a little boring even when you know what’s going on.  Drafting meetings had been known to put to sleep people who were dosed up on speed.

Then again, Peter had already tried the interesting stuff, the things that are supposed to distract you, the things that are designed to make you forget what you’re doing, what you’re thinking about, and which decade it is.  None of it had helped to get the song out of his head.  He didn’t really think it would work, but without any better ideas, he decided to give extreme tedium a shot.

“Sure,” he said, lying through his teeth.  “Sounds like fun.”

Bum ba da da dee ba buuum

The elevator ride was awkward, but only a bit.  Peter’s newfound lip-reading talent was next to useless when he wasn’t looking at the person head-on, so Victorino’s explanation of the brief they were going to be drafting was lost on him.  But Mr. Victorino, like most of the partners, was perfectly capable of carrying on a conversation all by himself, so at least it was only awkward for one of them.

For Peter it was just painful.  He didn’t care much for the elevator music.

Bum ba da da dee ba buuum

They got off on 19, and Peter, who was starting to feel disoriented and could barely keep putting one foot in front of the other, followed Mr. Victorino to a large conference room.  All the bigwigs were there: Abrahamson and his all-penetrating gaze, Wachowsky and his prodigious mustache, Brandon and his deer-in-the-headlights look.  Fortunately they were all focused on a screen, half of which was displaying a document and the other half the just slightly too-close-for-comfort image of the face of one of their associates from another branch.  They hardly even noticed Peter and Victorino’s entrance, which Peter appreciated, especially when he tried to sit down in his chair and missed.


There was no mistaking the fact that the tune was now louder than ever.  Peter felt like his whole body was vibrating, as though he were sitting a few inches away from a speaker at a heavy metal concert.  He kept reaching up to touch his ears, certain that they were going to start bleeding at any second.  Even if the brief they were discussing had been the most fascinating document in the history of the legal profession, Peter would not have been able to pay attention; you might as well have asked him to listen to their conversation from the far side of the moon.


Eventually a sensation got through to him.  One of the lawyers was tapping him on the shoulder.  He looked up.  Victorino appeared to be asking his opinion on something.  He had no idea what.  He was too far gone to try to read lips.  He didn’t even think he could read period.

Peter tried to come up with some plausible response, but he just couldn’t overcome the noise.


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This Day in History Entry #135

September 13th, 2011 by Wordsman

I know I, even as I get old
Have an urge that cannot be controlled
When the wrapper I tear
From my chocolate, I swear
I still look for that bright flash of gold

Event: Birth of Roald Dahl, author of James and the Giant Peach, Matilda, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Year: 1916
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Know Your Picture Characters Entry #70

September 12th, 2011 by Wordsman

A. 位理英牟 B. 閉奴利怡 C. 自与於士 D. 愛梨社倍寸

E. 榎騰和足等

Hoo boy.  Theoman uses analysis of interlinguistic phonetic complexity to come up with his answers.  I think that’s a bit over all of our heads.  I’ll just give him a grade: 2/5.  Not bad.  Maybe if we understood all this technical business, we’d be better at stuff, too.

A Fan talked about movies instead, which I think I should have an easier time understanding.  That is, until he starts talking about movies I’ve never seen.  Maybe he should have stuck to more familiar titles, because then he might have gotten some answers right.  He did surpass Theoman in one area, correctly picking Elizabeth over Mary as the most common name for English queens (apparently I failed to predict any controversy over this Mary business).  In conclusion, I think Bad Dumbledore probably would have made a pretty good William the Conqueror because his primary skill is yelling, but I doubt he could have matched Laurie’s George IV.

Shirley finally provided an accurate count of all these various rulers, though nobody seemed to have any trouble with any of the boys.  Soldiers do tend to hog all the attention, but I don’t see what her problem is with the color orange.  Anyway, she clearly knows her monarchs.  She quickly spotted William, the first (Norman) King of England in the first spot, A.  Not content to rest on her laurels there, she also correctly identified C as George and E as Edward (a classic A Fan pick, though not this week. And I suppose it could have been Elizabeth as well).  If anyone out there wants to know more about English kings and queens, I suggest you talk to Shirley.  The real ones, that is.  A Fan is still the expert on their semi-fictional portrayals.

Elizabeth proved to be the most elusive of the rulers this time around, in part because Theoman wasn’t even looking for her.  Both A (William) and B (Henry) were identified by one contestant as looking “the most feminine.”  The second character in B does contain a component meaning “woman,” so I guess there’s some basis to that (Sorry, Hal).  Queen Bess herself is hiding out at D, emphasizing her stalwart defense (final character) of noble Albion and perhaps exaggerating her prowess as a lover (first character).

Also, I’d like to apologize to Colin Firth on Dragon’s behalf because she said he looked like D.  He didn’t deserve that.

So you like heads of state, eh?  I’ll give you heads of state.  Let’s try it again on the west side of the ol’ pond.  We’re not as big on repetition here in the colonies, so I’m giving you the names of the first five presidents.

A. 丸芝努止怒 B. 方農呂應 C. 万遅所濃 D. 仕曳八阿則沼

E. 安陀武受

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Consequences Part 3

September 9th, 2011 by Wordsman

He hadn’t expected sitting down in his cube to cure him, or to make him feel any more comfortable; in fact, the tune was at its loudest yet.  But in his cube there was a computer, and the computer could be used to do research.  He had expected to use it for that purpose every day, but this was his first significant online investigation at work since Wachowsky had told him to look up some information about “tortes.”  Because he had plenty of spare time, and because he thought there was at least a small chance that Wachowsky had actually meant to include the final e, Peter did the project twice, once about breaches of civil duty and once about cakes.  However, worried that the latter could be interpreted as a crack about the partner’s weight, he only turned in the former.  For whatever reason, Wachowsky had never since asked him to do research.

It was rough going.  He Wikipedia-ed “Song stuck in your head,” but it wasn’t very helpful.  He learned that the phenomenon can be called earworm, music meme, humsickness, repetunitis, or tune wedgy, and that it is more likely to seriously bother women than men, but he found these facts somewhat less than helpful.  The entire article contained only one sentence on cures: “The best way to eliminate an unwanted earworm is to simply play a different song.”

Peter had tried that.  He continued to try it, blasting random songs he found on the internet at volumes that must have pissed off his fellow clerks.  Presumably they only let him get away with it because they felt that an Abrahamson thrashing was more than enough for one person to be put through in a day.

Bum ba da da dee ba buuum

It didn’t work.

Web MD was also a bust.  He actually found an article on the topic, which was more than he had expected, since as far as he knew getting a song stuck in your head wasn’t considered a disease.  Unfortunately, the conclusion was the same as everywhere else: no known way to improve the situation, and definitely no cure.  The article did include a list of the Top Ten Most Stick-able Songs according to a 2003 study.  On any other day, reading this list would have been a nightmare and destroyed his already limited productivity.  Peter tried to use them as ammunition; surely one of these awfully invasive jingles, TV themes, and one-hit wonder hits would be strong enough to defeat the one that was currently occupying his mind.  But even the worst that the Baha Men, the Village People, and Disneyworld could offer wasn’t enough to dislodge it.

Bum ba da da dee ba buuum

After that his “research” became increasingly less directed.  He looked up several hallucinogenic drugs but was distressed to find that, by most accounts, they made music more intense.  He went back to Web MD in search of information on lobotomies, such as how much they cost and whether the aftereffects were really as bad as they seemed.  He considered contacting his old high school band director before deciding that even after giving the Speech he was not up to writing the most awkward email of his life (“Dear Ms. Lackland: How have you been?  So, there’s this song stuck in my head . . .”).

He also tried downloading some free composition software.  Listening to music had failed to solve his problem, but what about writing music?  He tossed a few notes onto the page and played back his new piece, which he had titled: “Ode to a Clear Mind.”  It sounded something like this:

Bum ba da da dee ba buuum

After that, he spent a lot of time staring at the ceiling.  He thought about sleeping, since the “Go to bed and feel better in the morning” school of medicine had often served him well in the past.  He certainly wouldn’t have been the first summer law clerk to incorporate nap time into his “busy” schedule.  But what if he dreamed?  After all, dreams reside in the subconscious, and wouldn’t it make sense to think that this is also the lair of the vile Earworm?  What if the tune took over?  What if he never woke up?

Of course, because of his severe lack of sleep the night before, even this horrifying possibility was not enough to prevent his eyelids from sliding shut.  Perhaps fortunately, the mystery song was annoying enough to keep him from ever drifting into actual sleep.  Instead he drifted into an unrestful stupor, the kind airline passengers often find themselves in when they are flying over the Pacific Ocean at 1 AM local time (not that “local time” has any meaning for them at that point).

Shortly before noon the daily baseball game ended, as usual (Pilots 3, Racers 2- a showdown between National League Central Division gutter teams).  As usual, his coworkers came over to invite Peter to lunch, though a bit more hesitantly than usual—after the way he had stood up to the wrath of Abrahamson, some of the other clerks had wondered if he was really human.  As usual, Peter did not accept.  Unlike usual, instead of providing an excuse, he simply said no and made a difficult-to-interpret head motion.  He also said, “Have lunch,” which was probably supposed to be, “Have a good lunch,” but for once in his life Peter was not paying attention to what he was saying.

Bum ba da da dee ba buuum

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