"Rawls?" asked J.S., answering the ring on his car phone.
"Jess," responded Rawls. "Where're you at?"
"At the Humane Society."
"The Humane Society! You decide you need a real friend?"
"No, I won a contest."
"Yeah, I get to turn the gas valve on the machine they use to destroy the pup --"
"Jess, you are sick. Sick. And Umberto already used that one. Where are you really?"
"On the Tim, heading to work."
"Yeah, I stopped at City Hall on my way in."
"They have terrorists at City Hall?"
"Perhaps, but that's not why I went there."
"Yeah, you know that brick walkway they're building? The buy-a-brick thing?"
"Well, I stopped to buy a paving brick."
"They just installed a bunch of bricks with Bible passages on them. I just wanted to balance things out a little."
"So, I walked up to the counter, plunked down five crisp hundred dollar bills, and told the clerk I wanted a big brick, a square yard one, that said 'GOD IS DEAD' in big capital letters."
"Oh no. What did he do?"
"First, he said he could not accept cash. But then I showed him where it said 'legal tender for all debts public and private' and that flustered him a bit so he went to get his boss."
"He said they could not make a brick like that because it would offend people of faith."
"That must have ticked you off."
"I was calm. I offered a compromise. I said, OK, no Nietzsche. What about a Bible quote?"
"The boss said, 'That's great, what verse?'"
"I said 'Deuteronomy 13, verses 6 to 10.' And he smiled and pulled out his Bible to look it up, and his smile disappeared and his face grew red. 'Wait a minute,' he says, 'I have to get the manager.' The manager…"
"Wait a sec, what's in Deuteronomy 13?"
"Shame on you Rawls, you don't know? It says, and I paraphrase: 'If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, says, "Let us go and worship other gods" show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death. Stone him to death.'"
"That must have got you in good with him."
"Well, the manager comes out and he says, 'We can't put that on a brick, it's taken out of context, people will misunderstand, it will offend people of faith.' And I say, 'Well, first of all, that passage is not really out of context, there's plenty like that in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, and all the other old ones where they lay down the laws. And besides,' I tell him, I'm getting into it now, 'all of those other passages on the bricks out there are out of context too, I mean, they're taken from a 1000 page book, of course they're out of context.' He's angry now, but still trying to appear reasonable. "That passage could be misunderstood, it could incite violence.' I say, 'OK, OK, no violence. That is bad. How about Leviticus 19:19?' I thumb through his Bible, and point it out: 'Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.' He's enraged now, the veins are bulging. He glares at me, 'You, sir, are impertinent and blasphemous.' The Bible, he says, is blasphemous! Do you believe that Rawls! Maybe he was wearing double-knits, I don't know. Anyway, he turns to the clerk, and says, 'Did you process this man's payment, check his ID?' And I can see where this is going. That's why I offered cash. No electronic trail, no ID needed. The clerk explains I presented cash. The manager harrumphs, looks at his watch. Says 'Sorry, the City Hall walkway has a New Testament theme. If you want Old Testament, you can go to the Court House, their walkway is all Old Testament.' And he walks away, just like that. So I leave, keep my money. No brick, but I made my point and left no trail."
"Except they have cameras in the lobby and they can monitor this call."
"Those cameras aren't very good and aren't linked to the T-mesh. They'd have to manually download the images, then manually upload them, going through security checks and verifications the whole time. It's a big hassle. They won't bother. And we're not monitoring this frequency today." He tried to sound confident, but, as always, he had some doubt. Maybe Rawls was right, maybe he had been careless.
"You know," sighed Rawls, "all of this anti-religious stuff is becoming an obsession for you. It's ruined your career at HSA, and it's ruining any chance you might have for a normal social life. Jess, you need a real life, and I don't mean that virtual world you always try to escape to."
Pause. True enough, thought J.S. But being a pseudo-militant atheist was at least a way to pass the time, and he felt the need to fight the machine, to rage against the governmental religious establishment.
"Look, Jess," continued Rawls, "there's this great woman at work. She's better looking than you, has a better personality than you, she's younger, great laugh…"
"And why would this Aphrodite, this flake of the sea foam, deign to go out with me?"
"Well, you're in luck there. Fortunately, she has terrible taste in men…"
"Ha, ha. And you know this…"
"Every day, at lunch, she sits with the other ladies and trashes her former boyfriend. You should hear about this loser she went out with for years. He sounds like a real ass. Drugs, alcohol, stupid, arrogant, self-obsessed, insensitive…"
"Rawls, all women talk about men that way right after they end a relationship…"
"And before a relationship, and during a relationship. I have a theory on that."
Oh, no, thought Jess; Rawls has a theory on women. "What's that?"
"Well, basically, I think the women are right."
"Yeah, most men are asses. But, here's the key: It's the women's fault."
"Back in high school, when everyone's self-image is formed, who did the really great girls go out with?"
"Jocks, alpha male types."
"Exactly. Real asses. And so all of the other guys see this. And somewhere, in the primal recesses of their minds, the part that processes everything relating to mating and reproduction these guys realize; The guys girls go out with are asses; ergo, girls must like asses; ergo, if I want to perpetuate my genes, I must be an ass, for only then will a girl consent to mate with me."
"Have you put this theory in a paper and subjected it to peer review yet?"
"Let me know when you get it printed in Nature. I'll download a copy. I'm pulling in, gotta go surf some blogs, check some chat rooms, catch some bad guys."
"Think about it, OK?"