The Im/Im Podcast


THE IM/IM PODCAST


 

1.

– Arthur Havens?

– On the line.

– Pardon me. He’s on another line?

– Sorry. It’s what my father always said. You know, when the call was for him and he answered it. What do you say?

– When?

– When you pick up and somebody says your name as if it were a question.

– Oh, I see. I say speaking or that’s me or you got her or, if it’s my super-religious aunt, I say here am I.

– Never on the line?

– Never. Nope.

– Okay. Well, are we making progress?

– Not really.

– I’m still on the line. That’s progress. For you, anyway. I don’t care for telephones. In fact, pretty often I don’t even pick up.

– Bet you really like Caller ID.

– Right up there with air conditioning and instant replay.

– You’re one of those people who prefer email, right?

– Barely.

– What about texting?

– Email’s bad, texting’s worse, phones are the worst of all.

– So, you screen your calls but didn’t screen me out?

– No. And, so far, I’m glad. By the way, not to be discourteous, but who are you?

– I’m Crystal. Crystal Green. What did Caller ID say?

– DDK Show.

– You were intrigued?

– That’s a little strong. But maybe. A little.

– I’m an assistant producer for the Dr. David Kimmel Show.

The Dr. David Kimmel? The Virtually Actual billionaire?

– Yep. That one. You know the show, then?

– Why does he call himself doctor?

– Because he’s got a doctorate.

– Half the people I know have got a doctorate. Even I’ve got one.

– I know. I googled you. From University of Chicago, no less.

– Where fun went to die.

– What?

– It’s what people used to say about the place. But I don’t call myself doctor.

– Well, Dr. Kimmel says that if Henry Kissinger and Ruth Westheimer can call themselves doctors, so can he. He says it’s easier to get reservations at five-star hotels and three-star restaurants.

– Really? I don’t travel much or go out to eat but maybe next time I do, I’ll give it a shot. Mind you, I wouldn’t want to be taken for a dermatologist or an ear, nose, and throat guy. People might ask me questions.

– Questions?

– It actually happened once. Could you just look at this mole, Doc? There was hair growing out of it.

– Yuck. Well, anyways.

– Anyways?

– We want you on the show.

– You do? Little ol’ me?

– Yep. Dr. Kimmel would like to interview you. Now, tell me you’re not thrilled.

– I’m not thrilled.

– Shy, are you?

– Blind terrified of microphones, petrified of cameras.

– No cameras on radio shows.

– But microphones.

– I see I’m going to have to talk you into it.

– Did you just sigh?

– Did I?

– I’m pretty sure you sighed.

– Sorry.

– No. I am.

– What for?

– Making your job harder. Making you sigh.

– Anyways, how about I tell you what Dr. Kimmel wants to talk to you about? That’s all it is, really. Just talking about things you know about. And there isn’t a live audience or anything. Just two smart guys in a studio.

– Chewing the fat?

– Right. The fat. Chewing it.

– And the gristle. Okay. So, what have I done to snag the eye of the celebrated Dr. Kimmel?

– It’s about your essay—one of your essays. It seems there are a lot of them.

– Have you read this essay, Crystal?

– As a matter of fact, I have, Arthur.

– That’s Doctor Arthur.

– Ooh, I’m impressed.

– Well, I hope you don’t have any suspicious moles.

– Nope. Mole-less. At least none with hairs. So. . . anyways?

– I really like the way you say anyways.

 

 

2.

Dr. David Kimmel, super-rich and spa-handsome at thirty from the sale of his tech business to Microsoft. Ph.D. in electrical engineering. Polymath. Got bored, got married twice. Two children from the first, so far zero from the second. His unexpectedly popular radio show, Virtually Actual, is only one of many early-retirement avocations, causes, diversions. Travels extensively, not always with his wife, seldom with his kids, engages in laudable, if quirky, philanthropy. He supports a group dedicated to turning abandoned rights-of-way into bike paths, a repertory company in Oslo, a project in Austin to perfect a poker-playing robot (“one capable not only of bluffing but kibitzing,” as he puts it), schizophrenia research, and two university media labs. He has a busy mind that seems to lack focus only because it has a superfluity of them. Still plays ice hockey and is trying to like golf. His exciting, apocalyptic TED talk on Artificial Intelligence went viral and led to the syndicated radio show. He discovered that he liked having an audience. The TED talk was about how jobs requiring basic skills are more likely to survive than those calling for high IQs. “Plumbers and hospital orderlies, yes, hedge-fund managers and brain surgeons, no. In fifteen years, employment’s going to be regarded as a privilege.” The radio show is a mixture of Kimmel sounding off and interviewing people he thinks have either promising ideas or bone-headed ones; that is, a provocative mixture of rhapsody, pronunciamentos, agreement, and public humiliation—irresistible to denizens of all the big and little Silicon Valleys. He hired a senior producer who makes fun of him and an assistant producer who adores him. One despises her job, better paying but a step down from her former network gig, the other loves her job and dreams of it propelling her into a future in front of microphones and, because she is charismatic and attractive, cameras.

 

 

3.

 

Crystal Green Arthur Havens
24 years old 33 years old
Unmarried Divorced
Sociable, likes to dance Pretty solitary and no dancer
B.A., Syracuse,

Communications

Ph.D., Chicago, Philosophy

and Economics

Single and skeptical,

but looking

Calls himself a “curable Romantic,” not looking, not cured either
Wants to be big. Smart, ambitious, likes pop culture, but in a semi-ironic way. Likes being small; uninterested in pop culture. An intellectual, or as good as.
b. Ocala, Florida. African-American but hasn’t thought about it much after coming North.

More multigrain bagels than grits

Omnivore

A sort of Baptist

b. Devon, Pennsylvania. Non-African-American-Hispanic-Asian-Gay-American.

More oat bread than store-bought white

Vegetarian

Atheist, except when very grateful

 

 

4.

Crystal’s two sisters, Pearl May and Jewel, never considered leaving Ocala. Pearl went to community college, parties, and studied to become a paralegal. Jewel went from high school to hairdressing. Crystal looked up to her older brother, Frederick Douglass Green, who joined the Army and was making a career of it. Like him, Crystal was determined to escape, but not into a uniform. She studied hard and got into Syracuse with a scholarship. At the University, she made dozens of friends, ducked identity politics, embraced New Wave cinema, broadcast journalism, and celebrity gossip. She called her three successive boyfriends “the boyfriend,” which showed that none of the relationships was all that serious. Crystal knew just what she wanted to learn. She enrolled in the Newhouse School and majored in TV, Radio, and Film. The concentration could have been made for her. She was happy the day she arrived on campus and stayed that way for four years. Though she went home every Christmas, she found summer jobs up north, including an internship in New York City with an advertising firm. She didn’t miss Ocala a bit, not even when she was up to her hips in snow and freezing. Her lack of sophistication amused rather than embarrassed her. She laughed hard when somebody whispered that the wine she was sampling wasn’t called “Leap Frog Milk” but Liebfraumilch. The communications courses were easy and entertaining. The one philosopher she liked from her required humanities course was Epicurus. He was simple, clear, level-headed, and a materialist. The electives she chose broadened her scope, if not her interests, and some proved challenging, but she aced symbolic logic, which she took to fulfill her math requirement. It was through the New York internship that she scored the interview for Virtually Actual. Her boss at the ad agency played hockey with Dr. Kimmel and called him up. The interview lasted all of ten minutes. The Doctor asked her what her lowest grade was in and whether she’d seen any of François Truffaut’s films and did she think she could call people up and convince them to come on the show. C+, she said, in Russian history, maybe because the Russians could do drunken joy but hadn’t any talent for happiness. She loved The 400 Blows, Jules and Jim, Day for Night, Breathless, and lots of others, but she guessed her favorite was Two English Girls. Could she phone people up and inveigle them on to the show? Yes, she reckoned she could do that. But it was Two English Girls that got her the job. At least that’s what Dr. Kimmel told her.

 

 

5.

Arthur Havens’ body is that of a marathoner who’s not over particular about his diet. When he needs money, he works contract jobs as an IT consultant. He takes a lot of time off. He’s an adept troubleshooter; any number of companies keep him on speed dial. At U. Chicago, he played club soccer and decided to support Arsenal. He liked that they were good but seldom won championships. He also backed the Cubs. “I prefer loyal disappointment to inconstant joy,” he joked to a friend. For further fun, he fooled around with computers and found he was a natural. Their logic just made sense to him. He hacked into the University Registrar’s Office just to see if he could.

Arthur’s intelligence is not the kind that makes people happy, though he never envies ignorance. His conservatism isn’t doctrinaire; it’s chiefly cultural, but he also leans right economically. This derives from taking courses with Los Muchachos de Chicago, the faculty of the market-fundamentalist, quasi-Libertarian, devoutly-Friedmanic Economics department. Conservatives, he observed, make better satirists than liberals, and are generally good company, because, while they scorn humankind, they tend to like people. Arthur’s brand of individuality is less a philosophical conviction than in accord with a non-joining, introverted, contrarian personality formed in adolescence, in high school, where he told a curious English teacher that he thought of himself as “an unrugged individualist”. To his credit, Arthur recognizes the connection between his opinions and his most deplorable tendencies. He bears in mind J. S. Mill’s sweeping bon mot: that, while not all conservatives are stupid, stupid people are generally conservative.

By his late twenties, Arthur was in the perplexing position of disapproving of his way of life, which he thought of as “semi-solipsism,” without wanting to alter anything about it, from his one-bedroom apartment in the West Eighties down to the position of the toaster-oven on his kitchen counter. After an early marriage and quick divorce, he gave up the delusion that he was the Norm, likewise the wish to remarry, and hugged his bachelorhood. Asked by a date if he didn’t respect marriage, he retorted, “On the contrary, I respect it so much that I wouldn’t want to pollute it with my participation.” The date had laughed, as if he were being clever rather than sincere.

Arthur began writing oddball essays in his twenties but didn’t attempt to publish any until he turned thirty. That birthday shook him, as it has so many; it made him sore and anxious. He began to submit his essays to journals and was pleased when they were accepted. All of his essays start with a question, such as:

 

.                       – What turns a quantitative change into a qualitative one?

                        – Can there be a time outside time?

                        – Do students learn more if they have bad teachers or good ones?

                        – Does the fetish for originality make it hard to tell good art from bad?

                        – How much socialization is too much, or too little?

                        – What is the optimal ratio between watching the news and looking at trees?

                        – What is the political meaning of “the pursuit of happiness”?

 

The essay that caught the eye of Dr. David Kimmel begins, “At what point does the improbable turn into the impossible?”

 

 

6.

According to Arthur’s serious/playful essay, “The relationship between the improbable and the impossible should be considered a logical rather than an empirical question. For example, calculated from the Big Bang, the existence of my Trek hybrid is unreckonably improbable, but not impossible. On the other hand, from the beginning of time to this minute there can be no five-wheeled bicycles, not even in the imagination of Dr. Seuss. However, what can be imagined (basilisks, little green Martians, four Karamazov brothers) is possible, no matter how improbable, which isn’t quite what Sherlock Holmes remarked, but just about.” Arthur, whose father once said, or joked, that he’d been named after Conan Doyle, concludes the piece this way: “An act of imagination is a kind of actualization of potentiality, even a remote one, and—for a blocked writer, say—may be preferable to running half a mile in three minutes or hiking the treeless Faroe Islands.”

Dr. David Kimmel was stimulated by this essay or, more exactly, by the idea that got it going. His quick and practical mind began to speculate: Might a logic of the improbable-but-not-impossible have applications to VR or AI technology? Could it spawn an entirely new species of video game? Could it be applied to the military’s contingency planning?

I’ll get him on the air, thought Dr. Kimmel. He emailed the order to Jenna, his jaded, well-credentialed, effectively semi-retired producer who was, per usual, “working from home.” Jenna simply forwarded the email to Crystal with the little red “high priority” exclamation point she affixed to everything sent her assistant’s way.

 

 

7.

Crystal left Arthur a long, information-packed message scheduling the interview for a Tuesday, one of the four November days Dr. David Kimmel would be in town before departing for a lengthy Thanksgiving on Eleuthera with his wife and eight-year-old son. His thirteen-year-old daughter flatly refused to come along. “Call if you can’t make it. Otherwise we’ll see you on the tenth at 11 a.m. Okay, Dr. Arthur?”

New York had dolled itself up for the seasonal frenzy of consumption, but all the festive lights couldn’t still the cold wind or blot out the slate sky. It was an indoor day, roughly autumnal and lugubrious.

Arthur was aware that punctuality was one of his worst vices yet couldn’t help himself. He always opted for the awkwardness of being early over the anxiety about being late, and so he arrived at the West 26th studio almost an hour ahead of time.

By the heavy glass door, he briefly recollected his conversation with Crystal. On the line. A phrase from deep in the last century. With a smile, he recalled the way she said Anyways.

The building had undergone a good rehab job. It was elegantly old/new, like a Duesenberg touring car with power windows and GPS. Being early, Arthur took the three flights of stairs. He smiled at the gold lettering on the door of Suite 301. Dr. David Kimmel had named his headquarters R.U.R. Studios, which Arthur recognized as a nod to the Czech author who invented the word robot. He walked in without knocking and took in the huge Shiraz rug, the big ficus tree, the spreading, glossy spathyphyllum, the four-drawer oak filing cabinets, and Crystal Green.

Seated at a Danish desk, she was multi-tasking like mad: penning notes on a large calendar, then typing on her laptop, white earbuds in place (she’d programmed a mix of Nineties rock and Motown), elbows resting on an open copy of New York magazine. She wore a red and white dress, diagonally striped like a candy cane, and a little white cardigan that wasn’t in the least grandmotherly.

Arthur lingered by the door, just staring at Crystal until she looked up.

“Oh,” she said. “Arthur Havens?”

“That’s where I came in,” he said.

“What?”

“On the line. Remember? Now, in the flesh.”

“Oh,” she said fetchingly and then they both laughed.

Perhaps if he hadn’t been early or she hadn’t been wearing stripes or he hadn’t made her laugh or she hadn’t looked like she was created just the day before or if it had been a sunny June day rather than a dark one in November. . . but probably none of that mattered. What counted was that both liked what they saw.

 

 

8.

While Arthur found the interview interesting, most of Dr. Kimmel’s questions were of the sort lawyers object to as leading the witness.

“So, would you say there’s a liminal point between the improbable and the impossible, you know, one where things could go either way?”

“I don’t think so. They’re distinct. Logically.”

“Yes, logically. I got that from your essay. But can’t you imagine that in practice—in the real world where logic only rules occasionally—it could be, let’s say, otherwise? David kills Goliath; the Browns win the Super Bowl. Or, to take your example, a bicycle with training wheels has four wheels, but it’s still a bicycle.”

“David killing Goliath or Cleveland taking the Lombardi Trophy are both possible and not even all that improbable, given what happened to Goliath and the any given Sunday principle. About the bike with trainers, well, that’s clever; but I’d say the training wheels aren’t essential to the bicycle—I mean, to the nature of the thing. In fact, they’re only there because the bicycle has only two wheels and their purpose is to be removed.”

“Okay, I take your point. My friend Leffner tells me that an electron can be in two places at once, maybe more than two. So, if its location is a matter of a probability that can’t even be properly calculated, couldn’t we say the location includes nowhere too—that situating an electron is probable but also impossible so that it could exist and also not?”

“You’d have to ask a quantum physicist. But it seems to me that while some locations are more probable than others, no position is impossible for an electron.”

“Unless it leaves the atom? Unless it moves from, say, my desk to your bicycle?”

“I don’t think that’s likely.”

“Improbable or impossible?”

“Couldn’t really say. If I have any expertise, it isn’t in quantum physics.”

“Well, here’s another example without any bicycles or valence electrons in it. Suppose the astronomers calculate a huge asteroid is coming our way but, not to worry, it’ll miss Earth by a couple of hundred thousand miles. They put the probability of its hitting us at zilch. There’s a big difference between hearing that planetary annihilation is highly improbable and entirely impossible. So everybody relaxes. But then, somewhere on the other side of the moon where we can’t see, the big asteroid happens to collide with a little one, which changes its course just enough.”

“An unhappy example, but I see what you mean. The impossible can become the improbable—if something unforeseen intervenes to change things.”

“Then what’s impossible can become probable, even inevitable?”

“Well, not quite. The improbable and impossible can seem to be a matter of timing. In the case you pose, what looked impossible turned inevitable, because nobody could see it coming, so to speak. Our blindness, our not knowing changes nothing, though”

“Doesn’t what’s impossible and improbable lie in when we consider the matter?”

“The asteroid’s hitting us was never really impossible. It’s just that the astronomers claimed to know more than they did. An asteroid passing right through us—now that would be impossible.”

“But how about people?”

“People?”

“A gorgeous twenty-year-old model walks through Tribeca, falls for a reeking seventy-year-old homeless man she sees crumpled and coughing on a park bench. Improbable? Impossible?”

“Huge long shot.”

“Like peace in the Middle East?”

 

 

9.

Crystal wasn’t sure what to make of the interview. It seemed not to go anywhere. Was it good or bad? Good usually meant Dr. Kimmel was pleased; but Crystal thought she was entitled to her own opinion and she had a hard time forming one. The discussion struck her as a little intriguing to begin with but then it turned abstract and obscure, like most of the lectures in her philosophy class. It wasn’t very useful, either. She didn’t learn whether her ambition to be known by lots of people she didn’t know was just improbable or totally impossible. How could she? But, as for Arthur, she was pleased that he acquitted himself well. Unlike most of Dr. Kimmel’s guests, he spoke fluently and held his ground. As for the ground, Arthur seemed a lot closer to it than her boss, whose thinking proceeded by improvisation and a kind of unruly experimentalism. Electrons jumping from desks to bikes. What was that?

The two men came out of the studio together. Arthur looked boyish with his hair all mussed up by the earphones. He looked relieved.

Dr. Kimmel was smiling. “Thanks for coming in. Good show, I thought.”

“I enjoyed it,” said Arthur without a lot of conviction.

“Was it okay, Crystal? Did you listen in?”

“Yep. Of course. It was very good. Cool.”

Dr. Kimmel lit up a little whenever she called something he did cool.

“There you are, then,” he said to Arthur. Then his Yellow Submarine ringtone went off and, making hand signals (important. . . have to take this. . . sorry, private matter. . . bye-bye), he vanished into his office, the only one with a window.

Arthur looked at Crystal happily and tilted his head to the side. “Well, I guess that’s it, then.”

With a boldness that surprised them both, she replied, “Doesn’t need to be.”

 

 

10.

He ordered the sautéed Parmesan polenta with heirloom-tomato corn salad. She asked for the Kansas City rib-eye, rare.

“Sorry,” he said, seeing the face she made.

“No, it’s just fine,” she giggled nervously.

“Want a taste when it gets here?”

“Want a slice of my bleeding scorched murdered cow?”

Arthur made a face.

“Oh, come on. I mean, it’s not like you’re KKK and I’m Black Lives Matter.”

“Not like you’re Sitting Bull and I’m George Armstrong Custer.”

“It’s not like I’m a raging Maoist and you’re a robber baron.”

“Or I’m a Red Sox fan and you adore the Yankees.’

“I love the Yankees.”

“Okay.”

He’d chosen the restaurant—Davio’s on Lexington Avenue—picked her up in a cab, told her that she looked terrific. She said she’d been looking forward to seeing him and had dressed accordingly. None of this candor prevented their first date from being awkward.

At the restaurant, Arthur was happy to let her talk. He had so many questions, but was wary of asking too many. Crystal had no problem talking about herself but she had a lot of questions for him, too. Love, like curiosity, can begin with aggression, a wish to penetrate.

She told him the story about how she got her job with the help of Truffaut.

He told her about Devon, Pennsylvania, population around fifteen hundred, and its famous horse show.

“So, that was the big thing in town? Did you go every year?”

“Not even once, actually.”

“Well, anyways, my hometown’s thick with horse farms. Ocala, Florida. Also churches. The place’s motto is God Be With Us.”

“Were you one of those little girls obsessed with horses?”

“We weren’t exactly part of the horsey set, so no.”

“I guess we’re both city folks.”

“Subway people.”

“Taxi and Uber types.”

“Metrosexuals.”

After dinner, Crystal wanted to go to an Irish pub. She had white wine; he had a Guinness. Alcohol made things a tad less awkward and both asked questions.

“I want to know what you were like ten years ago, when you were just a kid.”

“Tell me what Chicago was like. Does fun really die there?”

He wanted to ask her about boyfriends, but couldn’t, not on one Guinness.

She wanted to know all about his ex, his marriage and divorce, but wasn’t sure about his boundaries.

When he took her home, she wanted to ask him in and was pretty sure he wanted her to, but she didn’t.

Falling asleep half an hour later, Crystal wondered: “Impossible or just improbable?”

Arthur had trouble falling asleep at all.

 

 

11.

Neither was inclined to give up. For their second date, Arthur asked Crystal to see a highly promoted English comedy featuring a film star making her Broadway debut. “Oh,” said Crystal. “What a treat!”

The celebrity entered to applause and acknowledged it with an ironic little curtsy. The play was terribly clever and the star wasn’t bad.

“It’s not easy, going on the stage,” Crystal said during the intermission. “A lot of Hollywood people flop. But she’s doing okay. Even with the accent.”

“I imagine the stars do it because of the word legitimate. Four big syllables. Maybe they think only the legitimate stage can confer legitimacy.”

“You could be right. Some of them even say that. Money from the Left Coast, respect from the Right one. Anyways, she’s shorter than I thought.”

“Smart of her to pick a comedy.”

They downed a quick Italian supper (ragù Bolognese for her, spaghetti Puttanesca for him) and then, without actually discussing it, took a cab to his apartment which she surveyed the next morning.

– These pencil drawings yours?

– I did them in high school.

– They’re good!

– I lost the knack.

– Not like bike-riding, then?

– Apparently not.

– It’s so. . .

– So what?

– Um, well, masculine.

– That bad or good?

– It’s a little sad, actually. No woman’s touch. Sorry.

Arthur liked Crystal’s height; where she came up to on him felt just right. The aroma from her neck, under her hair, made him dizzy. He liked it when she grew serious and just as much when she turned silly. He loved when she put her earbuds in and danced around his place, and her refusal to believe him when he didn’t know who some celebrity was. He liked it when she made fun of him—even when she pointed out that Hitler was a vegetarian too. He liked the way he wasn’t alone with her. In his brief marriage, and briefer relationships, he’d always be thinking of how to get away; with Crystal it was all about keeping her with him as long as he could. He never tired of hearing her say anyways. Crown to toes, she was perfect.

Arthur couldn’t feel the way he did about Crystal and hold on to his glum solipsism.

Crystal was more emotionally guarded. She fretted that, to Arthur, she was a lucky novelty, valued for being exotic and young, traits he’d have called contingent. And then she was black and from Ocala; she hadn’t read Søren Kierkegaard or Friedrich Hayek and didn’t intend to. He was from Devon and didn’t even know who Kevin Hart is. They were so different and not, she worried, in that complementary, ying-yang way. He was a little stuffy, and she liked that; but some of his opinions worried her. They avoided political talk, but there was enough.

– Well, I think the government’s stingy. I mean, the health-care system. Really?

– Single-payer?

– Why not?

– Economic freedom can’t be separated from political freedom.

– Who wants to get rid of either one?

– Anyways.

That was how he shut things down, by saying anyways. Teasing her. Crystal didn’t always care for it. But she relished the tasks of upsetting his routines, bashing his assumptions, and yanking him out of his ruts, of which there was no shortage. And she liked his lean body, his little ears.

“Go wild,” she said. “Have something other than a bagel and a banana for breakfast. Anyways, on Sunday morning I’m making us blueberry pancakes and you’d better eat a stack of ‘em, Mister. I’ll bring the syrup.”

Then there was the sex.

 

 

12.

Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat (she used them all), none of Crystal’s many and far-flung friendships had to die. Arthur had only two friends he considered close and both were academics in the Midwest. They occasionally emailed one another, just checking in, updating, but they hardly ever spoke. Arthur wasn’t on any social media, not even LinkedIn, surprising for a consultant.

After their third date, Crystal let her fifteen closest friends know about Arthur; but, of course, the news spread, so that by the time Arthur confided to his married, tenure-track pals in Ann Arbor and Saint Louis that he was “seeing someone special,” scores of mostly young women knew he and Crystal were an item. Her in-box was crammed with emails and texts from people needing updates, wanting details. Crystal replied candidly, within limits.

– He old is he?

– So, what is he? Ethnicity, please.

– You think he actually voted for a Republican?

– Kisser? Scale of 1 to 10.

Her sisters checked Crystal’s Facebook page, told their mother who told their father. Ocala was alarmed and phoned repeatedly. Ocala wasn’t rooting for Crystal and Arthur.

– A white man, Crystal?

– Do you know the divorce rate for interracial marriages?

– Just how reliable is this consultant thing?

When her mother asked her if she was crazy, Crystal replied, “Maybe a little.”

Questions poured in from all quarters. Some people sounded aghast, but others were intrigued, curious, eager for gossip. There was so much correspondence that Crystal compiled a mailing list and used Listserv to post regular updates. She thought it best not include her sisters, parents, and Master Sergeant Frederick Green among the addressees.

Arthur knew Crystal was on social media; she was checking her phone all the time and often shared news from her friends of whose names he couldn’t keep track. He assumed a few would know that he and Crystal were dating but hadn’t any idea of the number of people following their relationship. This made Crystal uneasy and, after she began posting her updates, she sat Arthur down and told him that they’d become a focus of interest. Then she pulled Listserv up on her phone and showed him the mailing list.

“Wow,” he said and frowned. Seeing all those names didn’t please Arthur, and he was still less pleased to see how the numbers pleased Crystal.

“I know you’re a private person. I get that,” she said. “I didn’t plan it. I’m sorry if you’re upset.”

“What can I do?”

“Well, you could try not to get mad at me. You could try not to resent it, anyways.”

Anyways.” He said it almost bitterly.

Crystal kissed him on the cheek. “It’s not something you have to think about. It’s really just girl stuff.”

“But why are all these people interested? Do they all like you that much, or are we just entertaining?”

Crystal was relieved that he was asking questions and not yelling at her. She took a deep breath. “They focus a lot on our differences.”

“You mean that I’m old and white and you’re young and black.”

She scoffed. “You’re not old. Older. But you’ve got to admit we are something of a long-shot. I suppose you could say they want to find out if it’s improbable or impossible—if we are. The relationship. We’re a love story, Arthur.”

“A story?”

“Good one, too,” Crystal sighed, then climbed onto his lap and nuzzled his ear.

That calling their relationship an entertaining story might suggest to Arthur that she held it at an emotional distance—the space between the jeweler’s evaluating eye and a dubious diamond—simply didn’t occur to Crystal. But Arthur took note of it. He could accept that some of Crystal’s bored girlfriends might cast him as a character in a soap opera, but he wasn’t keen on having his life deformed into a reality show that might be called either Virtually Actual or Actually Virtual. Nevertheless, if it made Crystal happy to share their story for the delectation of her friends, and this didn’t impinge on him, Arthur decided he could deal with it, if under protest. He would stoically repress his annoyance. He had one condition. No pictures.

 

 

13.

Two days later, Crystal was on the A train, scrolling through her messages. Brenda, Kyoko, Marina, Lizzy, Carol, Kiamesha, Jackson, Amani. . .

– Have you met his family?

– Seriously, Crystal? A Republican geek?

– How about posting some snaps. What’s he look like?

– Ring?

– Have your first fight yet? Dish.”

There was also a text from somebody whose name she didn’t recognize. Karen said she was a bi-racial friend of a friend who had been forwarding her posts. She wanted to know if Crystal thought she was doing enough to enlighten this Arthur or whether she liked it when they argued about politics and then had make-up sex.

A notion tickled at Crystal’s nose, seized her by the ears, spread through her like a burst of light or a virus. Then, in the way of such ideas, she couldn’t think about anything else.

Fame was being known by people you didn’t know, people like Karen.

She had an audience.

 

 

14.

Dr. Kimmel helped her set things up, no problem. She didn’t tell him the subject but he smiled when she told him the name she’d chosen for the podcast.

In the first installment of “The Improbable/Impossible Podcast,” Crystal explained the name, how she and Arthur met, that the attraction had been electric and immediate, how their first date went, then the second and third. She laid out their differences, each of which, she admitted, added to the improbability of things working out and drawing them closer to the cusp of impossibility.

We’ve fallen into something of a routine. I stay at Arthur’s place on random weeknights, depending on our work schedules, but we always spend the weekends together. He’s a total homebody but I got him to take me up to this sweet B&B in Vermont last weekend and it was really great. Snow falling like confectioner’s sugar, a roaring fire, tobogganing, this huge, soft bed.

I think he loves me, though he hasn’t actually said it. I think I may love him, but I’m not sure and, anyways, I don’t want to be the first to say it.

Yesterday, he said I should think about moving in with him. When I didn’t leap at the chance, things got pretty frosty, which was confusing and definitely not nice. But I am thinking about it. . . .

The audience for the second podcast was half again as large as the first, and the third doubled that.

I believe in God. Arthur doesn’t. So, you can add theism and atheism to the list of incompatibilities. I mean, I don’t actually go to church or anything, and I’m not all that spiritual—whatever “spiritual” means—but Arthur doesn’t respect that I believe. He teases me about it, and last night he said something that really cheesed me off. He started in on Pascal’s wager, which, if you don’t know about it, you should look up on Wikipedia. Anyways, he asked if that was how I thought about God—as if pretending to believe was just the move of a nervous investor hedging her bets.

Then he asked me who the Kardashians are.

Believe me. It’s not easy. We’re not easy.

 

 

15.

Crystal came straight from work without calling. Arthur was delighted by the surprise visit. He gave her a hug and said they could stay in so long as she was willing to eat something that looked like meat but wasn’t.

She nodded, went to the refrigerator, and took out two Bass ales.

While he prepared the main course of Boca Burgers and Bush’s vegetarian beans, Crystal, not without trepidation, stood in the kitchen doorway, arms defensively crossed, and confessed to Arthur about the podcast. She was prepared to plead for absolution if it was absolutely necessary.

But Arthur already knew about the podcast. How? The wife of his friend in Saint Louis was a follower. “Also, I got an email from your boss.”

“My boss?”

“He forwarded some comments he’d gotten about our interview and added a p.s. Said he hoped I was pleased with your show.”

Crystal felt relieved and disappointed and anxious and thrilled.

“And you never mentioned it?”

Arthur shrugged, sprayed the skillet with olive oil, and laid the frozen veggie burgers in it. “Boca Burgers taste just like ketchup. Also relish and mustard. I put a little Worcestershire sauce on too. Look, you said I didn’t have to be concerned about your posts, so I assumed the same’s true of the podcast.”

“Then you haven’t listened?”

“Why? Did you want me to?”

Crystal was perplexed by this question which she’d never considered. Somehow, she couldn’t picture Arthur listening. It was as if there were intimate things she said only to him and other intimate things that she said only to everybody except him. Ridiculous, really.

“But it’s a podcast,” she mumbled.

“So?”

“It’s got a lot of listeners, Arthur. I mean, a whole lot. More every week.”

“Mazeltov,” he said in a tone that didn’t reassure her.

“People are talking about it. I can’t keep up with the emails.”

Arthur looked over at her. She couldn’t help it if her eyes were shining.

He opened the can of beans and poured them in a saucepan. “So, what? They’re laying odds on us, like Pascal?”

“You aren’t mad, are you? Just tell me you’re not mad? I can’t always tell with you.”

“Just a tiny bit horrified, maybe. But not mad.”

Crystal sighed. “Well, I guess that’s all right, then. Best I could hope for.”

Arthur took a packet of baby spinach out of the refrigerator.

Anyways,” he said.

 

 

16.

The melting pot’s genetic, Crystal said solemnly into the microphone. David and Vera, Jew and Gentile, victim and victimizer’s daughter. Just listen:

 

                        There she lies, the great Melting Pot—listen! Can’t you hear

                        the roaring and bubbling. . . the glory of America. . . where all

                        races and nations come to labor and look forward.

 

The words of Israel Zangwill, more than a century old now. I looked it up, his play. Teddy Roosevelt loved it. Of course he did. Israel’s optimism was just as over the top as Teddy’s—those glinting spectacles and humungous smile. But where everything can come together, everything can fly apart. Bear with me on this, please.

When they made me take philosophy at Syracuse, I read what this old Greek said. Can’t think of his name, but he was one of the pre-Socratics. Anyways, he said that Eros and Eris run the show, the cosmos. Love and Strife. I didn’t understand then, thought it was some sort of ancient Greek pun, but I’m beginning to get it. I mean, take the Internet? It brings us together and fragments us, unifies and shatters. It’s E Pluribus Unum and sauve qui peut at the same time. We’re recording everything and not remembering anything. That’s what Arthur says when he’s in a bad mood. He says we don’t make ties but contacts, that friend’s been cheapened to a verb—a click. Borders break down, but also boundaries, and wisdom’s inundated by distraction. He says all that unreadable French critical theory stuff is coming true, that everybody’s got their own narrative and little respect for objectivity’s left is confined to labs. We look at the same things but see them differently. It’s all spin, point of view, axe-grinding punditry. According to Arthur, history’s turning into a second-rate reality TV show. I let him go in this way. But then, I asked him, why not hope? There’s Zangwill. Why not listen to the melting pot bubble?

We’ve got the habit of dualism, according to Arthur. Left/Right, Male/Female, Us/Them, North/South, Red Sox/Yankees, Pooh/Eeyore. Also My Place/His Place because I can’t decide about moving in with him.

Arthur likes this joke about a resurrected Buddha popping back to life on the Lower East Side. After 2500 years of nirvana, Buddha’s famished and goes up to a hot dog stand and the vendor recognizes him at once. ‘Buddha! This is such an honor. What can I get you?’ So Buddha thinks it over for a moment and then says, “Make me one with everything.” Arthur said that if it were a Western thinker, a Plato or Kant, he’d say, “Make me two with everything.’”

Me and Arthur. Black and white. Not always tight. Best at night. Really want to get it right. Think we might?

As always, thanks a bunch for listening.

 

 

17.

People started calling the podcast simply “the Im/Im”. Crystal’s weekly updates were listened to chiefly by young women, but she had a gay following and there were straight males as well, though they may have just wanted something to talk about with women. The Washington Post published a letter to the editor from a sociology professor analyzing the podcast’s popularity. Three photos of Arthur appeared in the Post. Somebody started a fan page, and there were dedicated chat rooms. Comments ran the gamut from racial animus to love-conquers-all, from pulling for the couple to damning them both to hell. Even those who professed indifference managed to say so at length. Her notoriety caused Crystal’s parents to make their position yet clearer. Her brother went silent when he was deployed to Afghanistan. Pearl Mae and Jewel bragged to everybody that Crystal Green was their sister. Arthur’s friend in Ann Arbor wondered if people in New York knew he was the Arthur and, if so, how he was handling it. His St. Louis friend wrote, “I can’t think of anybody less interested in being famous than you. I remember how you wouldn’t even let my sister take your picture at graduation. It’s pretty ironic.”

Crystal kept putting off deciding whether or not to move in with Arthur. She went back and forth for three episodes. Fans had a lot of advice. The podcast’s hits kept going up.

When Im/Im got a mention on All Things Considered, Crystal was over the moon. A week after that, the Times called. Could they do an interview for the Sunday magazine? They wanted both Crystal and Arthur and a lot of pictures.

Crystal phoned Arthur with the terrific news that she feared he wouldn’t think was terrific at all. “It’s the Times, Arthur.”

Instead of exploding, Arthur made a lame joke.

“What if I fell for the receptionist?”

Crystal nearly begged. “Oh, please do it.”

“Nope,” Arthur said firmly.

“I guess I could do it by myself—I mean if they’ll let me fly solo.”

“You handle it. You’re a pro.”

It was Friday. Crystal rushed to Arthur’s place straight from work.

“I guess we need to talk,” she said as soon as he opened the door. She was pouting.

“Agreed.”

“Okay. The Times reporter said—”

“Bed first.”

“What?”

“Bed.”

Afterward, spent, they lay side by side, staring at the cracks in the ceiling.

“Either this is improbable or impossible,” he said. “That was your idea, wasn’t it? Im/Im?”

“It was yours first.”

“But not about this, Crystal. I just said that things are one or the other.”

“I know.”

“Good. Then it’s either/or. It really is.”

“I guess.”

“And you have to decide.”

“No, I don’t.” Crystal sat up and tried to laugh off the idea but couldn’t quite manage it. “I don’t.”

“I think you do. Now.”

“What? You mean now now?”

“Either/or, kid. I’ve had enough of the improbable. Either we get married or we never see each other again.”

Crystal answered before thinking.

“But don’t you see it all depends on the suspense? Getting married would wreck the suspense.”

It being the podcast.”

She was silent, shaking, wanting to take back her words but paralyzed by the truth in them.

Arthur rolled off the bed. “Okay. I get it.” Without another word, he pulled on his clothes.

“You’re leaving?”

“I am,” he said.

And, when he got to the door, he said again, “I am.”

 


Robert Wexelblatt

About

Robert Wexelblatt is professor of humanities at Boston University’s College of General Studies. He has published five fiction collections, Life in the Temperate Zone, The Decline of Our Neighborhood, The Artist Wears Rough Clothing, Heiberg’s Twitch, and Petites Suites; a book of essays, Professors at Play; two short novels, Losses and The Derangement of Jules Torquemal; essays, stories, and poems in a variety of scholarly and literary journals, and the novel Zublinka Among Women, awarded the Indie Book Awards first prize for fiction. A collection of essays, The Posthumous Papers of Sidney Fein, is forthcoming.