Gruber-ed – Dennis Pells
November 2, 2018
The name’s Meinhof, Jack Meinhof, undercover investigative reporter. Freelance of course and that’s the way I like it, no ties to the ‘Man,’ if you know what I mean.
I wasn’t looking for a story, I had enough on my plate as it was and if this one hadn’t reached out and grabbed me, I would have missed out on Pulitzer Prize winning material. Of course the Pulitzer Prize reference is only my opinion; I will leave you to your own.
During the football season, American football, my youngest brother Bitten and I would meet to watch the game. Our pub of choice had several large screen TVs and even though the place drew a large crowd we usually found a seat with a good view. The game was into the third quarter and the Green Bay Packers were having their way with the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys just punted when this straggly looking misfit staggered past our table.
Bitten gave me a nudge.
“Do you see that guy?” He said leaning into me.
“Yeah,” I said.
“You wouldn’t know it to look at him, but he’s the smartest guy in this room. Probably the smartest guy in this whole freaking city.” The words just left Bitten’s lips when the man turned, his bloodshot eyes locking on my brother.
“Oh my God, Bitten Meinhof!” He shouted. “I’m so glad I found you!”
He pitched and swayed toward us. Bitten pushed back his stool. Taking the man’s arm, he helped him to a seat.
“Jack,” Bitten said, “I’d like you to meet my friend Angus.”
I reached across the table extending my hand; Angus ignored it, his eyes fixed on Bitten.
“I’ve been working on this idea and I wanted to run it past you,” Angus said. He hunched over speaking out the corner of his mouth, “I’ve designed a new Pogo Stick.” Angus shot a quick glance around the room, “But instead of having a spring inside, it would have a gas fired piston, you know, like a car piston except smaller.”
Bitten listen with an intensity I hadn’t expected.
“On the down stroke, instead of compressing a spring it would drive the piston into the firing position, at combustion, rather than jumping only five or six inches this would propel you ten feet in the air.”
Angus looked deep in concentration, eyeing my beer he snatched it up, drank it dry and belched into the back of his hand. “If you want to go forward all you would need to do is lean, maybe ten degrees. Think of it! You wouldn’t have to wait for traffic to cross the street, you could jump across; to hell with the Segway. You don’t see them doing that.” Angus’s grin transformed into a satisfied smile. “Is that genius or what?”
That was my introduction to Angus, and truly my first exposure to genius. After he toddled off I learned more of Angus’s intellectual prowess. Upon first gazing into Angus’s eyes I saw in their depth he was an uncommon man. But it appeared his genius wasn’t limited merely to the mechanical. Bitten explained it extended far beyond to include matters financial. At forty-five, Angus not only devised a plan to live with his parents rent-free, he was able to procure a government subsidy paying him a stipend to stay there under the guise of caretaker.
It was during this conversation that Bitten mentioned Angus belonged to Mensa. Although I knew Mensa had something to do with one’s IQ, I always thought it was a ranking like in karate— you could be a brown belt, or the higher achievers would be black. Conversely I thought it was the same with IQ. You were either really smart, or you were Mensa. Little did I know it was actually a club, an organization and to belong you had to be in the top two percent of the entire world in terms of, well… smartness. What I also didn’t know; to get in you had to pass a test.
After meeting Angus, I knew what I had to do. I had to join Mensa, no matter the cost, no matter the guile or cunning I must employ. I would infiltrate their ranks and reveal their inner workings. If this group is collectively the smartest people on earth, surely they could cure cancer, fix global warming, broker peace in the Middle East… I was sure they had a master plan in the works and I, Jack Meinhof, would have the inside scoop. The Pulitzer Prize winning story of all stories.
I Google Mensa and was surprised to see their website had a test you could do online. Not that passing this test would get you in; it was more of a warm-up to the real thing, like shadow boxing before getting into the ring. I didn’t get any answers correct, not one. I called Bitten and asked him to take the test; he didn’t do any better. The next day Bitten stopped by my place, we had a few beers and compared answers and although they were not the same wrong answers, they were nonetheless incorrect.
But there was one startling revelation; all of my answers were the exact opposite of the correct ones. If the correct answer was white, mine was black, if they wanted longitude, I gave them latitude, if the answer was dog, mine was cat. It was then I knew I was onto something.
I expected the physical test site to be a schoolhouse type structure, or at the very least an office building but the address I was given took me to a run down shoe repair shop sandwiched between a liquor store and a twenty-four hour Laundromat. I tried the door; it was locked but pasted to the window was a yellowed note saying: Mensa applicants, please use rear cellar door.
It was about seven in the evening and the sun had already set. The narrow poorly lit cobblestone walkway between the buildings was strewn with broken bottles, used condoms, food wrappers and oddly, a rusted set of handcuffs. The weathered cellar doors had a yellow smiley face painted across them, beneath in a child-like scrawl was printed; Welcome. I bent low and knocked before lifting the handle. A sucking sound escaped and the door pulled free exposing a dank shadowy stairwell leading to the cellar. A few steps into my descent I called down, “Hello?” Seconds later a fluorescent light flickered on.
A woman stepped from the shadows, a tattered kimono hanging loosely from her thin frame. Fixed to her head was a dented Stetson with a bite taken out of its brim. She had long tangles of dyed green hair surrounding a youthful round face. Her shrewd blue eyes caught and held my attention— in them I saw wisdom far beyond her years. She took a step toward me, her calculating eyes running my length. Suddenly she screamed, “Name?”
My heels slapped together as I stood to attention. “Jack Meinhof!” I shouted back.
She pulled a checklist from beneath her kimono. Running a long fingernail down the sheet, she stopped midway. Without looking up she said, “Take your clothes off and leave them in the corner.”
“Is this protocol?” I asked.
She smiled exposing a mouth full of pearl teeth. “If you’re going to take the test it is.”
“The test for Mensa, right?” I asked.
She didn’t answer, instead she asked. “You think you have what it takes?”
“Pi-r-square, cake-r-round,” I said flashing her a grin. “But it’s sheet cake that throws off the whole equation.” She took a step back, like I just beaned her with a ninety mile per hour curveball when she fixed me with a thousand mile stare.
“Pumpernickle, Pumpernickle, chicken and fish.” She chanted, “Now take off your clothes, you got your wish.”
I was joking about the Pi thing, it was just something silly I remembered from school, but the effect it had on her was incredible. As I’m undressing she began this bizarre pagan dance, arms waving rhythmically about with a few high kicks mixed in. Then, the next thing I know she throws off her kimono and latches onto me like a Poodle screwing a football. Between all her hair pulling and biting we managed to consummate the act, but I have to say, it took a month before I could run a comb over my scalp.
After our lovemaking it appeared I passed the first part of the exam. With little formality she seated me at a table, handed me a number two pencil, the test book, and told me I have two hours to finish.
I’m not a terribly fast reader and that was a concern yet I waded in with determination and vigor. After a careful perusal of each question I would quickly come up with what I believed to be the correct answer then looked for one that appeared to be the complete opposite. Two hours later, I just finished the last question when she burst into the room and screamed.
According to my instruction, if I passed I was to be notified by post in two weeks, so you can imagine I was taken aback when I received a call from Mensa’s Grand Poobah, Jonathan Gruber after only one week. He wanted to congratulate me personally as I had scored a perfect one-hundred percent, which according to him hadn’t ever been done before. Next he said something about an induction ceremony and indicated it would be a good opportunity to mingle with the members. I wrote down the information and was thanking him for his call when he reminded me to bring a check for my membership fee.
On the way to the meeting I decided to say as little as possible; I figured a two-word phrase would do. Two words strung together that would have an ambiguous meaning. My thought was, to say more would invite conversation and sooner or later they’d realize I’m not that smart.
The meeting was held at the Pump House Tavern and I arrived early. The establishment was nearly deserted; there was no music. I pulled up a stool when in the back-bar mirror I saw the front door push open. A man wearing what looked like an adult diaper and a tattered leather vest stumbled in. His high top sneakers looked scorched and were still smoking but what most caught my attention was the mangled Pogo Stick he used as a crutch. I knew in an instant it was Angus. Hobbling up to the bar he ordered a Scotch straight up.
“Hells bells?” I said.
He turned on his stool, a surprised look on his face, “Jack Meinhof?” He asked.
“Hells bells,” I said with authority. Just then a young man with singed hair pushed through the door, a murderous look on his blackened face.
“What the hell Angus! You nearly set my head on fire.” He yelled.
Angus looked over his shoulder. With a dismissive flip of his nose he said, “You wanted to be part of history. That’s the price you pay.”
The young man gave Angus the finger, turned on his heels and stomped out the door. As he did I heard a voice call.
“Jack Meinhof? Are you ‘the’ Jack Meinhof?” The man approached wearing a Sombrero with a monocle pinched between his cheek and eyebrow. On his one hip he had a canteen, the other a holstered whip. I was nearly speechless. “Hells bells?” I said rubbing my eyes into focus.
I heard a commotion and looked to see a group of the oddest people burst through the tavern door.
The man paid little attention to them, “No need to introduce yourself,” he said, “We’ve all seen the video of your exam.”
I think he saw the shock on my face because he continued, “We tape all the exams, eliminates cheats.”
“Hells bells!” Flew out of my mouth but I stopped short of cussing him.
“Hells bells?” He said rubbing his chin as if trying to attach a meaning. Looking bewildered he continued, “You scored higher than we thought possible. And as for the physical part of the exam, you passed with honors.” He ran his hand carefully over my hair, “Its beginning to grow back nicely I see. I haven’t introduced myself,” the man said. He held out a limp hand as if I were meant to kiss it. “I am the Grand Poobah, Jonathan Gruber.”
Now I began thinking, what would the correct thing be to do, when I remembered to do the opposite of whatever popped into my head; I curtsied and in that prostrate pose he placed his hand on my shoulder. With his other hand, in a grand sweeping gesture he said, “The members of Mensa welcome you.” With that said he shouted, “Hells bells, Jack Meinhof!”
I glowered at the assembled, freezing them with a sagacious stare.
“Hells bells.” I said and the room erupted in applause.
I could have been at a bazaar in Calcutta, an Eskimo fishing village, a Paris nightclub or a Political Convention for all the variety of dress, language, and odors I encountered that evening.
The meeting itself was short, perfunctory, nothing was said about any of their latest projects or experiments and I was beginning to think they had the get-together for the sole purpose of vetting me. From the malevolent eyeing I received I knew a few of the members were skeptics, I knew they believed I cheated and I knew I they would test me.
There was a raised platform in a corner and after the meeting was over an impromptu poetry reading began. I remained silent as a woman with a conical hat and boobs to match took the stage. Within seconds she lost me, she had so many dithers, where for arts and beseeches I wanted to stick my finger down my throat, or hers. After the fourth poem I couldn’t take anymore. I shuffled onto the stage and said in a soft monotone, “Hells bells?” I shrugged my shoulders, turned to leave then spun slowly back around. I opened my eyes wide as I held a finger magnificently in the air. “Hells bells?” I said and searched the members’ eyes from left to right then pumped a fist in the air as I screamed. “Hells bellssss!”
I heard a rippling of applause before it grew thunderous. “Hells bells,” I called to them, “Hells bells.”
I felt a thousand admiring eyes on me as I headed to the bar. Passing a table I saw two fellows engaged in a spirited game of Chess. One had a hand on his bishop while he considered a move. He looked up as I got closer; I shook my head dismissively and he put it down. I pretended to study the board for a second before advancing his pawn. Both sat in stunned silence as they contemplated the consequence of the move.
“Nobody could have predicted a move like that, it is so outrageous, so profound…It’s brilliant!” The one said. The other jumped to his feet and began applauding.
“Hells bells,” I said.
Giving them my back I strode up to the bar. I pointed to the bottle of Jack Daniels and the bartender poured me a drink. I raised it to him saying, “Hells bells.” He gave me a solemn nod and went on his way.
It was about this time a spectacled housewife approached wearing nothing but a housecoat, bunny slippers and hair rollers. I tipped my glass and gave her a nod.
“Hells bells.” I said.
She gave me this intense look, then chirped. That’s right, she chirped, chirped like a bird then put her hands on her hips as if waiting for a reply.
I said, “Hells bells,” but never before with more sincerity than I had at that precise moment.
She smiled coyly and let out a little tweet in response. She took off her industrial rimmed glasses and began pulling the rollers from her hair. When she shook the long curls free I nearly passed out. She was singularly the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
The woman reached for my hand, from between parted lips a series of tweets and warbles escaped, but this time I could understand her, like we were connecting on a different level. Her language came to me instinctually, as if it had been with me since the womb.
We talked into the evening, our words filling the air with beautiful music. We cuddled and danced to our sounds until the room was still and the lights dimmed. After, we walked out into the night’s cool air and talked of love, and housework, and our favorite recipes. We did not burden ourselves with cancer or global warming. That night, our night, all was right with the world, life was sublime, and good and wonderful.
I walked her home at four in the morning. At the door I was confronted by a concerned husband and five little children. It turned out she was married and in fact did not belong to Mensa but had gone off medication and in her delirium wandered into the bar. Regardless, I will never forget that evening, our evening. I will never forget her or the intimacy we shared and by the sound of her mournful tweet farewell I know she felt the same.
I failed to get any worthwhile information on the group at the meeting but within two days another chance presented itself. Jonathan Gruber rang me up requesting my help, told me he had a project and he needed my genius. I didn’t know what to expect and was concerned he would have technical questions regarding complex mathematics or theoretical conjecture for which I was unprepared. He gave me his address. I told him I would come over the next morning.
You understand, before going I wanted to cram, like for a bar exam. My intent was to study quantum theory, botany, time travel, you get the picture, so I could gain a rudimentary knowledge on the subjects. That night I opened my laptop, email was waiting and I decided to check it before wading into the heavy stuff. Three posts were from Facebook, which I ignored, although the next email caught and held my eye.
It was from Debby SwallowsXX. Her name looked familiar. Was she someone from high school? Or possibly a neighbor from down the street?
The blurb read; I need you right now! I didn’t know if something happened to her, was she hurt? Did she need help? I had to find out so I opened it and I have to say from her pictures she was incredibly flexible. It turns out she wanted to talk on her webcam and for the next couple of hours we kibitzed until my debit card went dry.
With my plans for study derailed, I showed up at the Poobah’s house no smarter than the night before so my strategy was to do a lot of head nodding, but decided to expand my communication of two words, to include phrases like Oh yeah, or I see.
I found him waiting at the door, naked, except for the tuba around his neck and an erection painted like a barber’s pole.
“Hells bells! Jack Meinhof.” He said in greeting.
“Jonathan.” I said. He abruptly turned on his heels and marched through the cluttered foyer while trumpeting a rousing rendition of the star spangled banner. I followed side-stepping piles of debris. In the living room he halted, marching in place until he played out the remaining notes.
“I want to thank you for coming,” he said and reached over to a light switch flipping it on and off, on and off. “As you can see this is not working. For the last fifty years this light has operated faithfully and now, just a year after my mother’s death, it has abandoned me.”
He marched off blaring his tuba before I could respond. Jonathan stopped at a doorway, again marching in place until he finished the stanza.
“This is the laundry,” he said. “For years my mother would bring our clothing here.” He pointed to the washing machine door. “She would feed our clothing into that portal and the laundry service would clean and neatly hang my belongings in the closet by the next day. Since her death it has ceased operation entirely, I have made attempts to replicate the process, but it appears the connection to their establishment must be clogged. Every morning I check my closet and not one shirt, not one single pair of trousers has been returned.”
“Interesting,” I said, fighting to contain a smile. It appeared being a genius had its drawbacks. I accepted the odd dress as part of their malady but it seemed when God opened one door for them, he slammed another tightly shut. I knew, when alive, Jonathan’s mother ran the show, knew she maintained the house, and I knew there was nothing wrong with the light in the living room that changing its bulb wouldn’t fix and that she, in fact had been washing and drying his clothes for him his entire life and this poor goof, although brilliant, was no better off than a child.
I spent the rest of the day fixing odds and ends around Jonathan’s house and after each accomplishment he would hurrah and exclaim my brilliance. Along the way I gave up on the two-word limit— I realized if he couldn’t figure out it didn’t take a genius to change a light bulb he sure as hell couldn’t figure out I wasn’t one.
Afterward, we had a few cocktails and I asked him point blank if the group was working on a cure for cancer. He became rather quiet and soon tears gathered in his eyes.
“No, Jack Meinhof, we aren’t at this moment.” He said and wiped at his eyes, “But after my mothers death…” I saw a smile gather at the corners of his mouth, “We established communication with the dead.”
Seconds after Jonathan revealed what they’d accomplished, I slid my hand into my pocket and turned on my voice recorder. You remember me saying I was going to get Pulitzer material? This was going to be it, or so I thought.
I asked him to elaborate. He said, being new to the club I wasn’t privy to their scientific information, then he clammed up like he swallowed a handful of tacks.
I left that day, dejected but hopeful.
Jonathan wasn’t one to keep my genius secret. Getting home that evening my phone was ringing off the hook. In the coming week I changed more light bulbs and did more laundry than a hospital; tragically with the same end result— not one member was willing to divulge their secrets.
Friday night I turned on my laptop and had begun to chronicle the day’s events when I noticed Debby SwallowsXX had emailed again. I was busy but when I read the caption: Not getting what you want? Let me help you!
It was as if the stars had aligned and were lighting the path to salvation. I opened her email. A few more clicks on my keyboard and Debbie filled my screen.
She was nude and although it was distracting, with effort, I was able to message her my dilemma. I watched as she read and I saw in her expression a depth of understanding I hadn’t seen before. She quickly messaged back: You want to know their secrets? Debby got this devilish look in her eye, This will get what you want, but any more than a second or two could be fatal. She began moving into what looked like a yoga pose, her butt held high in the air. She wrapped a hand around each ankle, bent her knees and leaned forward balancing on her toes and the top of her head. She flexed her thighs and from my vantage point, the view was hypnotizing. Debby held the pose for no more than a fraction of a second and I have to admit the effect was chilling.
Debby’s image blurred. Coming back into focus her grin filled the screen as she typed. That’s my secret move. I’ve had guys give me the password to their bank accounts, the combination to their safes. I’ve had them tell me things they wouldn’t share with their shrink.
I knew if I could get Jonathan in front of Debby I could break him, I could bring him to his knees, I could crush him. I could bleed the information out of him and claim my spot in journalistic history. That was my mindset, my focus, my blind ambition as I picked up the phone. I dialed him up asking if he wouldn’t mind coming to my house as I was working on a project that would require his brilliance.
Jonathan arrived by cab, two to be exact. Shortly after stepping out the one, the second pulled up with the tuba in its back seat. I was relieved to see Jonathan had enough sense to wear pants, although his barber pole waved proudly from his open zipper. Up the front walk and through into the living room he honked out the tune ‘Zipa-Dee-Doo-Da.’
I have to confess I felt rather devious, getting him there under false pretenses. Regardless, I ushered him into my den where my laptop was connected to the television.
“I’d like to introduce Debby SwallowsXX.” I said and his eyes darted suspiciously around the room. I opened her website and in seconds her lovely face filled the screen.
I will do my best to describe this next series of events. My hope is you will not judge me too harshly for the results.
Jonathan watched the screen in wide-eyed child-like fascination as Debbie struck her pose. I could see his expression morph from curious, to dumbfounded, to slack jawed slathering mandog as I counted out the seconds. I hit him with the first question and the answer came out in a torrent. His words, his breath filling the room like rolling thunder. I could hear trees snapping, waves crashing as he poured himself into it. It was like he was brainshot and all his thoughts came gushing out. He was hemorrhaging information and there was no stopping him. He covered diseases of all sorts, peace on earth, global warming, health care, religion, foreign policy, we talked with the dead, they talked back. We could have been at it for hours, days, I’m not sure. Finally Jonathan crumpled to the floor. He wept and wailed, he pulled at his hair then his barber’s pole.
I heard a knock at the door.
I knew this couldn’t be good and I was right. Seconds later my door burst open pancaking to the wall as a swarm of Federal Agents rushed in scooping Jonathan off the floor. At the time I felt victorious, I felt like hooting and hollering, I wanted to celebrate. Until I saw his prostrate form carried out the door. They confiscated my recording and held me in detention for four days. Or at least I think it was four days; my only gauge of time was the growth of facial hair.
It’s been six months since that harrowing day. For security reasons I can’t give you all the details, but what I can say is this; we are in good hands. There are men and women throughout the nation, and they have a plan, a glorious plan. These are the finest minds mankind has to offer and they are hard at work day and night to secure a bright and bountiful future for you and I.
The making of this report came at a price. Debby SwallowsXX was arrested on a trumped up charge of attempted murder. She hired a good attorney and through intense negotiation the charges were dropped if she agreed to work for the CIA. Last I heard, she was on assignment somewhere in the Middle East.
But, no matter where you are Debby SwallowsXX, I hope you can forgive me.
I never saw Jonathan again but heard rumor he is doing better and has been asked to counsel the president on the Ebola crisis.
My most sincere apologies go out to you as well.
The cost to me?
I found I was capable of anything in the name of glory. I risked a man’s life, a woman’s career, I was willing to expose top secret information. All for the sake of personal gain.
Where do I go from here? I found a therapist on the internet, Dr. Scarlett Hyndr. I explained my situation, explained the tremendous guilt I felt. She assured me in a few sessions she’d have me whipped into shape. Actually she guaranteed it.