Dinner Service with One Maid





Cecil Harder is not a presentable man. At first glance you will notice ear hair, a comb-over – a neglected sense of right or wrong as concerns the world of fashion. He also sports a certain odor, undefinable, not overpowering, yet unpleasant and immediately noticeable. His demeanor is a wall of sorts to prevent social interaction. It is unconscious and efficient. Life is no puzzle for Cecil, he has found a hole in which to hide with multiple entrances and exits, decorated just so, the temperature perfect for his constitution, and people walk by him at all times unaware of his mettle, his personal passion or desires; he is opaque.

He enjoys television, he listens to little music and hears little that appeals to him. His tastes are surprisingly spicy for a simple man and he loves to make his tongue sing with the heat of cayenne, habanero, or turmeric – no matter the meal or time of day – and because of this his breath carries the memory of curry. His social life is drab by most standards, but he will occasionally sit in a local karaoke bar and dream of singing his only favorite song, Kenny Rogers ‘Ruby.’ However, he will never find that courage, he will live 57 more years on this planet and he will die before this wish comes true.

Cecil is one-in-a-million. He is a certified, Mensa-level, top-of-the-heap genius. Graduated high school at 11 years of age, finished university at 14, began his independent study of physics and mathematical theory at the age of 19.

But what interests Cecil is dreaming. And not the brain-matter wet-ware electrical connection part of the equation, but the stuff of dreams, the beautiful vista, the veil of experience that belies tactile participation. The untouchable doppelganger reality painted with ghosts, fears and joy. He dreams only occasionally and every time this happens he comes awake thinking the same thing, “What was that? How is it that we can do that and not live in that place at will, or save it like a picture, a painting or a recording on tape? Is a dream a memory? Or is it a just random firing of neurons?” And in fourteen days, Cecil Harder will change the world forever. He will make it switch perfectly with its mirror image and no one will be the wiser.

And so, he is designing a delivery package – software, hardware, interface and accompanying drug regimen – in order to understand, construct, and then insinuate a credible false experience into the mind of a human. An injection of dream that is perfect. Not a crystal clear or verbatim re-creation, but a perfect dream – just like a real one – with a few things missing, a few things vague, an overall feeling with pictures in the mind and corresponding connections to reality.  A creation of something that has not ever occurred, complete with missing pieces that the mind would have either observed and rejected unconsciously as immaterial, or pieces that exist only as ghosts on the periphery because although they were present at the moment, were never directly acknowledged with the eyes.

Cecil is driven by a combination of biological certainty, electrical theory and intuition. Strange bedfellows that have taken him to intuitive theoretical thought. And he has concluded this can be a successful endeavor – but only by the inclusion of magic – wishes. A person saddled with a certain kind of want. A certain kind of hollowness. He searches hospital records, medical studies, and even the crowds, for something that he’s not sure of. He searches for a type – a dreamer, a person terminal with wonder-lust, the type that can’t work or find a place in society, but not necessarily harmed, someone happy and completely lost – like a fool. But a smart fool.

And how do you design the perfect memory to plant?  Plan, build, test, observe, document, re-create, build again in order to test and observe again and repeat until everything seems to work. Persevere – that’s the secret. Persevere to make sure that all the intention generated at the beginning of an idea is held and fed slowly through the tedious process until some kind of satisfaction is derived. Either from success or from education. Then gain access to a subject – gain trust, conduct interviews, cement details (payment, behavioral insurance documents and next of kin notifications, last will and testament, etc.), and finally conduct the experiment. Inject a complete memory that has never occurred into a human mind. The best place to start is with a plan, and so he takes a book from a shelf, opened to a random page and jots down some of the attributes that would in the end supply a ‘successful proof of concept’ were they to be properly implemented. Humans would expect no less than ‘this…’ A comfortable atmosphere, properly prepared, elegantly presented, considerate and easily digested, in the mind and at the table.

He reads:

Dinner Service with One Maid – from Amy Vanderbilt’s New Complete Book of Etiquette – 1967… “Pretension is so very uncomfortable…

…The best thing in a one-servant household is for the mistress to face the fact that she cannot expect too much”.

Butterballs, decorated pats, recipes – seating, serving courses, cleanup. He will need a schematic which includes each item, the items broken down into timelines, further broken out to schematics again, skeletons of ideas, possibilities, pie charts, flow charts, single stop indicators and curved lines back to a repeating surety of three or four different considerations.

The hostess point of view:

Ok. The main dish is almost done, the table is set, music on the stereo, the ashtrays are out, the house is clean, bathrooms equipped, windows open and closed where required, lights dimmed or bright as needed. Jesus – is that a spot on my dress? Grease? You can just see it if you stand right to the light. No. It’s just a shadow, thank god.

Good start. Keep going.

The maid point of view:

The plan looks good. All I have to do is follow it. This dishwasher is brilliant. I have never seen so much as a spot on a glass or a hint of deposit on the service. Do I smell something? What is that? Kitchen smell? Flower water? What the hell is that?

Yes. More of that.

A guest point of view:

I love these people, they have such nice parties. Everything is always comfortable. So well considered. You arrive, there is always something to do, good food to eat, good drink to drink and you leave feeling like you were a part of something. I hope this is ok – a bottle of wine as a hostess gift. $10.00 should be good. It is a fine wine regardless. It easily compares with something twice that. No one will comment. It’s ok I’m sure.

He decides to make this person a guest. Implant a dinner party. And he begins to design the pages – the ideas; what happens in a mind?

The first course – soup – bread – done. Check.

If the host carves – done. Check.

Serve left, remove right – done. Check.

Crumbing the table – done. Check.

Demitasse – done. Check.

He continues, with facts tiny and huge. Details of such small consequence as to be nearly invisible; the direction of dust when it curls behind someone in the vacuum created by movement inside the room, but only in front of the sun-blaze standing between the curtains from the window to the floor at 4:30pm. Is the dog dish visible in the mirror if you stand in front of the easy chair, or does the edge of the counter restrict your view to a purse left hanging from hooks in the foyer? Is it necessary to make that fact incidental to the color of the opposite wall and the art hanging exactly centered and perfectly level – a draw for the eye from anywhere on the south side of the room? Consider the exact dimensions of this space, then make it elastic in aid of satisfying the kind of uncertainty attributable to an observer to whom that wouldn’t be very important. Describe the beauty of a decorative item, but only so notable as to not interfere unnaturally with the progression of an ambivalent subject through the room on the way to something more interesting perhaps.

Hours of calculation, concentration, documentation. Days, nights without rest. He conjures the very air in the building and the ether of the city through which these people are destined to move, a cauldron of ingredients volatile and thick, vibrating with the joy, anguish, the very stuff on which life is built. The hum of humanity at its most elemental, raw pulse. He builds it all, a construction so complex, so detailed and as it turns out so beautiful that with the final touches – the smoothing of icing and the painting of glitter on its immaculate façade he feels tears behind his eyes. This is a masterpiece. And through the process he begins to see that this dream must be spoken to the hypnotized soul, and the mind in a state of drugged receptive joy. Co-operative and suggestion-ready. The voice must be trustworthy. A perfect figure of authority to the subject. Then at the end of the searched path, fishing for a fool, he stumbles upon the most likely individual for the project. Someone attuned to the harmony of the idea, someone in sync with the whimsy of dreaming itself, someone knowledgeable of the magic and the power of this goliath, but also capable of holding simple happiness at his heart. Participatory joy of a child in a man’s mind and soul. Himself – of course. He is perfect. He will open his mind, swallow the pills and lie down to listen to the suggestions. His own composition of magic, a new reality, a wonderful idea of something that never was; he will be the benefactor and the beneficiary of this spore, this germ of possibility.

On a perfect morning with a perfect dawn and perfect sunlight laying against the perfect grass and trees outside his home, he lay on the bed. Beside him, a device filled with data, recordings, settings, configurations and delivery paths as wonderful as a veil of vapor rising from a river in the early morning air. Connected to his skull by wires, by string, by simple desire and by the thunder of certainty in design and intention. He takes two pills, a large one and a tiny one, turns back onto the bed, his head on the pillow and begins to drift into sleep. The machine awakens with knowledge of the proper moment, calculated and programmed and with the bedside manner of a caring old woman begins to emit ether through its tentacles – idea, calculation, flow, system analysis, awareness, and the touch of a finger at an outstretched hand.

He feels nothing in this world. But in the sunken cavern, down in the dark, at the very base of his mind there is a pinpoint of something. A speck of glitter. Pause, dark, and there it is again. He is drawn to it, walking unstable on moving air, arms outstretched at his sides he moves through swells of uncertain turbulence. He balances his fear with the pitch and yaw of his body and wonders at his ability to do so. Motion is connected as much to his wishes as it is to any articulation of limbs and he falls forward surprised and then assured. He travels directionless, without reason or method. Vistas unfold, ideas reach and disappear. Feelings beckon. And he awakens. Refreshed, puzzled, a little groggy. Then confused. There is a change, but it’s indistinct. He wants breakfast. Coffee. He is parched, a little achy and his head feels stuffed and cloudy.

“Yikes. I definitely drank too much.”

Pause. And then he screams with joy, and his head pounds with objection.

But as it turns out it broke. The dream that he made was an exact – or exact enough – replica of another that already existed in a universe on an incidental tangent so far away that God himself couldn’t have believed it possible for this mistake to manifest. And it broke everything in a big way. The dream that was another place and that is now Cecil’s alone, took with it into his soul the existence of all the thoughts possible in a parallel universe to the one he inadvertently copied, and as God abhors a vacuum, when the whole damned thing collapsed into Cecil and left nowhere for the real world to exist, it had to switch places; it had to become the other side of the looking glass. But you won’t know it.

Now, when you go to sleep and occasionally visit and remember that place – with the surreal water surface, the birds that seem to see you, the feelings that run before you in the fields, untouchable, desperate, you will sometimes be reminded by vaporous thought or whim that there is no reckoning what is real, or that this might be the place in which you were born, and this other, the one you will awaken in – is an impostor – created in minds aside from yours, imperfect, unfamiliar, and tainted with want. It has become the truth that you exist only in one of Cecil’s dreams – waiting for Cecil to become weary, perhaps after a heavy dinner of pakora and lentils, or perhaps with his eyes drooping with the tired lids of a tired reader, and you will only be realized fully when you see looking at you in a puzzled way from across the street, one of the types of people for whom you are a perfect dream.

And no one will ever know. No one can see it. Except Cecil. Cecil can, but he’s not telling: every human on the planet is encased in a particular point of view, peripherally, and from right in front of their eyes. Somewhere in that vista, distant or near, in the crevasse of a floor, written in the microscopic droplets of condensed vapor on a bathroom mirror, the weave of fabric in a couch or the markings in fur at the mouth of a cat, there is testimony to the genius that went to sleep last week on a feather pillow and created the universe. Somewhere in every person’s view at all times is the following inscription: Copyright © Cecil Harder – April 12, 1972.