The stomach and the brain process things a little differently. Consider a book you are not enjoying versus a dish that tastes awful. You could put the book down, of course, but somehow that seems wrong. You are compelled to finish it. “Maybe it will get better at the end. Maybe I just need some time to digest what’s been happening. I’ll finish it. Just another 100 pages to go. Fuck though, these characters are idiots.”
Try the same scenario with food. “My God, this stuff tastes like shit! Maybe it will get better as I go along. Should I finish? Perhaps my stomach will digest this hot garbage in such a way that I remember it more fondly afterwards…”
Sounds pretty ridiculous, huh? But that seems to be how things work. We are much more likely to finish a crappy book than a crappy meal. At least, I am.
“Why might that be,” I pondered to myself as the subway bumped beneath me. Why indeed.
I was just about to let the issue drop. “Whatever. Maybe inspiration will come to me in a dream. How many times has a solution presented itself when I wasn’t even thinking about the problem?”
And then flash! “The unconscious! That’s it!”
“What are you talking about?” I asked myself.
“It’s simple,” I responded. “Your brain has an unconscious component above which your consciousness is superimposed. Your stomach does not. It is just mechanical. There is no place for ideas to percolate and interconnect with other tidbits of crap floating around like there is in the brain. That’s why you can despise a novel when you finish it, but then a week later you realize that that nagging feeling you had upon finishing the damn thing was just the beginnings of a thought; and that that thought has now come to fruition; and that that thought is some revelation about how the book you thought you hated was actually fucking brilliant!”
“When has that ever happened to you?”
“Just last week I watched Once Upon a Time in the West and really didn’t care for it. But a feeling nagged me from the moment I finished. ‘Consider me,’ it whispered. ‘Consider me.’ It kept at it. Eventually, I relented, sat down, and rewatched the film. This time, I absolutely loved it. I’m not saying each instance of this is so extreme, but I think it’s an illustrative example.”
“But stomachs don’t do that?”
“Not at all!” I was ecstatic. “Not at all! They just accept material, break it down as they always do, and move on to the next batch of crap. There is no random connectivity. No creativity. It’s just a factory sack in the middle of your body. I fucking hate it.”
At this point I was giddy in my seat, smiling at nothing and just generally happy with the turns my mind was presently taking. I giggled incessantly.
In hindsight, I can understand why the people around me might have been a little concerned with my behavior. At the time though, I was just too preoccupied with the revelation going on inside my head. It was magical!
A shadow darkened my world. I tried to focus my eyes once more upon the external. A large, blur loomed over me. My eyes, in their haste, failed to discern what this structure could be. Then it spoke.
“Sir, my name is Officer North. Can I ask your name and where you’re headed today?”
A police officer. “Oh fuck. What did I do? What did I do? Why did he want to talk to me of all people?” My thoughts were frantic. And my eyes still couldn’t discern any features. I was talking to an amorphous entity, like all of policedom personified in one menacing avatar.
“Well, sir, I…”
“Speak up, son. Why so nervous?”
I cleared my throat. “Well, I. My name is Jerome.”
“Jerome Pillovich, sir.”
“And where are you headed today, Jerome Pillovich?”
“I am going home, sir.”
“Looking pretty suspicious for a man who’s just going home. Why were you acting so strange just now?”
“Just now. You were talking to yourself and laughing at nothing and fidgeting in your seat like you had a cockroach up your ass.”
“Oh? You mean you didn’t know what you were doing?”
I laughed a little, involuntarily. My voice cracked. It wasn’t pretty. “I was a little preoccupied, sir.”
“My own thoughts.”
“Pretty vivid thoughts you’re having, I’d say. You on anything?”
“Mind taking a blood test to confirm that, son?”
I realized this was one of those moments political science majors dream about, where a private citizen armed with just enough knowledge of his constitutional rights can tell a cop to go fuck himself and nothing will happen to him; where the cop has to begrudgingly admit that, for once in his career at least, he failed in trampling over the rights of the little guy; where the young intellectual can go home and break open his Jefferson or his Foucault or whoever and read them with pride and say to himself “Yes, I know what you mean. I was there in my own little way. I fought the good fight. And I won.” I realized that in an intellectual flare, which dissipated into black the second I remembered that I had a very good reason for getting home; that the cop was very large, or seemed so; that he probably had very menacing weapons upon his very menacing person; and that I wasn’t a poli sci major anyhow. I’d never even graduated college.
So I told him the truth. “I’d rather not sir. You see, I have to get home on time today. Otherwise my dog will shit all over the carpet. I know how he gets, you see.”
“Dog, huh. What’s his name?” He sounded like he didn’t believe me.
“What?” He couldn’t decide whether to laugh or scream. A natural response.
I smiled as friendily as I could. “You’ve heard of him?”
“I watch enough History Channel to know the name. What the hell possessed you to name your dog fucking Josef Goebbels?”
“Wasn’t me. I found the dog at the pound. He was already used to it, so I was kinda stuck.”
“And you adopted him anyway?”
“He was just so forlorn. I couldn’t say no.”
I, too, began to see. The cop finally came into focus. He was a larger man, but not so demonic as I had originally been led to believe. His hair was retreating before an annexing forehead. His belly bulged. He looked tired. He also looked like he was thinking. I had never seen a cop look like that before. I was dumbfounded. Guess you could call that irony. I sure did.
“Listen,” he said at last, “I’m going to let you off this time. I know what dogs are like when they’re from the pound, how temperamental they can be, and how much more work you have to put into them to make up for all the abuse. I get that. Just, for Christ’s sake, in the future, don’t act so damn goofy, especially not on the subway. You know how people are these days, right?”
“I guess I do, sir. It’s just, I was so excited.”
I told him about my revelation. I don’t know what I expected him to say, but I what did I care? I was just happy finally to be telling someone! It had been burning a hole in the back of my brain ever since he first approached me. When I was all done, and out of breath from all the excitement, he took a long, thorough look at me and then laughed.
“That’s all you were carrying on about?”
I frowned. He did not understand.
“You have it all wrong, bud. The stomach and the brain aren’t any different. Think about it.”
“How do you mean?” I stuttered, my eyes narrowing in suspicion.
“Did you like beer the first time you tasted it?”
“No.” I said, dragging out the syllable in obvious doubt.
“But you kept drinking it, right?”
“And eventually you learned to like it, I’d wager.”
“Not all kinds, but yeah, I like beer more now than when I first tasted it.”
“And you don’t think that that’s your stomach’s very own ‘unconscious’ doing things when you’re not looking? The brain and the stomach both percolate themselves away. They both do stuff without us even realizing it. Your distinction is total nonsense. Can’t even say the stomach has its own unconscious, really. The body’s holistic, interconnected. And it’s all run through the same processor. Leastways, that’s what I remember from the psych classes at the academy. Only interesting stuff they taught us there, matter-o-fact.”
My eyes were wide. I’d never considered that. Never considered beer. How could I have failed to consider beer?
“Plus, now I don’t do this myself mind you, but people do eat stuff they don’t like just for the nutritional value, you know, liberals and hippies and all those lovely people.”
I was heartbroken.
He put a hand on my shoulder. He could see the shattering results of his little psychology lesson. “Listen, this is how cults get started, bud. Someone gets too worked up about some half-baked idea, and they run with it right off a cliff. Stick to caring for your dog, huh?”
And with that he walked away, still laughing. I sat back in my seat and checked the time on my phone. Josef Goebbels would need to go out right when I got home.