It's a long story, but the bottom line is this: I had little choice but to agree to give a lecture about quantum mechanics to members of an Amateur Dramatics Society. I was very nervous before the lecture, partly because I knew nothing about quantum mechanics, but I would have been nervous anyway. I talk too fast when I'm nervous. I was afraid that I'd run out of things to say after a few minutes of my lecture, so I ended up preparing four times more material than I needed. To fit it all into the allotted time, I only used a quarter of each word. Most of the lecture was made up of four-letter words, so it was easy to divide them into quarters.
My speech was surprisingly well-received. Over the following weeks, I received many invitations to dinner parties and lunches, so I could expand on the ideas expressed in the lecture. To expand on my ideas I just had to double, triple or even quadruple the number of letters in my words. A woman called Monica invited me on a picnic. She took me to see a beautiful waterfall in the woods. We had our picnic on the soft grass near the bottom of the waterfall, and we listened to the music of the water's surrender to gravity. I took note of these things in my notebook. She saw some of the sketches I'd made, and she asked me to draw her. I took great care to make her look beautiful in my drawing of her as she sat on the picnic rug, but I left out the moustache. I felt that the picture was slightly imbalanced by the absence of the moustache, so I drew a dead squirrel on the rug. She was a little bit deeply offended by this. She remained violently silent for several minutes, but when she finally spoke, instead of attacking me she chose to attack my spider. "Your pet spider's legs are skinny," she said. "He needs to start eating fatter flies, or deep-fried battered butterflies, or battered caterpillars in a snail and mushroom sauce."
My vegetarian spider was horrified. He doesn't like mushrooms either. I said, "My spider's legs are skinny because he exercises three-hundred-and-sixty days a year."
"What about the other five?" she said.
"The other five what?"
"What other five days?"
"There are three-hundred-and-sixty-five days in a year."
"Since... I don't know."
"Is it something they only introduced this year?"
"No, it's been around for longer than that."
"I see... Leave me alone for a few minutes while I install these updates in my head."
She packed up the picnic basket and went home. I walked around the woods, trying to figure out what was happening to the missing days in my years. I wondered if quantum mechanics could explain this, but I didn't know enough about quantum mechanics to be able to provide an answer. I didn't know enough about quantum mechanics to answer the question 'What is quantum mechanics?'.
I asked the people who are always looking over my shoulder if they knew about the other five days. They said nothing about the missing days in my year, but one of them said, "Raindrops keep falling on my thumb." Another one complained that his dungarees had been severed. And then a woman complained that her audience were inappropriately dressed.
Before too long, word had spread that I was the man to go to if you had a complaint. I had to invest in a desk, a sign that said 'Complaints Department' and a nametag. The nametag was necessary because people could never remember my name. I'm very good at remembering names. The trick is to call everyone Eddie. Or you could call some people Eddie and some people Monica, if you're confident in your ability to tell the difference between men and women. I'm very good at this as well. But if you don't want to go to the trouble of differentiating between men and women, 'Eddie' will do fine for everyone. The more often you call them Eddie, the more convinced they'll be that you know their name, and they'll feel more re-assured in your company. It works on dogs as well.
I was spending all of my time hearing complaints. Some people made up complaints just so they could read my sign or my nametag. The people looking over my shoulder were disconcerted because they couldn't read either, and their whole reason for being people looking over my shoulder was to read things and to spread slanderous rumours about me.
I went to see a woman called Monica (not the Monica who didn't like my drawing with the dead squirrel). This Monica lived just down the road. She was known to be the wisest person in the whole county. Every day people would go to see her to ask for her advice on all sorts of problems. She had set up a desk outside her garden shed to deal with her clients.
I went to see her one evening, but I had to queue for over half an hour before I got to meet her. During that time I had to listen to the stupid problems that people brought to her. The man in front of me said, "Myself and the wife got tickets to see a singer who writes all of her own screams, but we can't go to that because we have to go to a party at my uncle's house tomorrow evening. We have to keep the uncle happy or he'll write me out of his will. It's very easy to get written out of his good books and out of his will. My brother got written out of the will because he wore a purple coat. In fairness, if you saw the coat you'd have sympathy for the uncle. So we can't go to the concert. We gave one of the tickets to the wife's sister, and I was just wondering, what do you think we should do with the other one?"
"Burn it," Monica said.
"Burn the ticket?"
"I'm not so sure about that."
"What did your wife's sister do with her ticket?"
"She burnt it."
"There y' go then."
When my turn came around I said, "I'm having a little trouble with people who keep coming to me to..."
"Burn it," Monica said.
"Whatever it is that needs to be burnt."
"Yeah, burn it."
When I thought about it, it made a lot of sense. I wondered why I hadn't come up with that idea before. As soon as I got home I went to the shed to get the petrol can. There wasn't much left in it, but I thought it would be enough to burn a desk. I poured the petrol over the desk and set it alight.
Within seconds of the fire starting, I heard the sound of a siren, or of someone making a siren noise. It was one of my neighbours, a man called Eddie. He arrived on the scene with a fire extinguisher, and he put out the fire. He was wearing a homemade fireman's uniform.
I asked him when he had become a fireman and he said, "My brain is a thousand owls and one of them is trying to eat the other 999 because he thinks they're all impostors. I've got to keep that one owl occupied at all times. And if possible I'd like to keep the other 999 hidden. The only way to keep him occupied all day is to be constantly on the lookout for fires. I've built a lookout tower in my garden. I spend most of my nights up there as well."
People kept coming to me to complain, and they complained about the badly singed desk as well. This gave me more of an incentive than ever to burn the desk. I went to the petrol station to fill up the can, and then I went back to Monica. I managed to say the words 'I have' before she said, "Burn it."
"I don't need any advice," I said. "I just came to make a suggestion. I get the impression that you've become disillusioned with your work, and you'd like nothing more than a ladder to climb out of your rut, but you've burnt all your ladders."
"I've burnt every ladder and bridge I had and I regret it all."
"There's one thing you haven't burnt."
"Your desk. Just burn your desk and you'll be free."
I saw her face light up and her eyes catch fire as she imagined the desk going up in flames. She went to get a can of petrol and I hurried back to my house. A few minutes later I saw smoke rising from Monica's place and I heard Eddie's siren. That's when I set my own desk on fire. While Eddie was busy dealing with Monica's fire, there was plenty time for my desk to be consumed by the flames.
Later that evening, I went back to Monica's place. I was expecting to see a badly singed desk and evidence of Eddie's fire-fighting, but the desk was a pile of ashes and Eddie was tied to a tree. Monica told me that she had seen what he was about to do with the fire-extinguisher so she had no option but to subdue him with a snooker cue and tie him to the tree. I'd never seen anyone so happy to be tied to a tree. "The owl ate all the other owls when I let my guard down," he said. "I'm much happier now. I never liked all those other owls. They should have been happy to be eaten by someone who was superior to them. I feel so free now. Being tied to a tree is a beautiful way to spend a summer evening."
I took a note of that last point, but I didn't have time to be tied to trees right then because I was busy being happy as well. The destruction of my desk put an end to the stream of idiots with stupid complaints. I had no visitors until Monica called to see me five days later. She told me she had been thinking a lot about her life -- she had plenty time to think after her desk had been burnt. She said to me, "I am outlandishly in love with myself, but I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing. It's good in some respects. It's better than hating myself. But I can't help thinking there's a happy middle ground where I'd be on first name terms with myself -- we might meet on the street every now and then and stop for a chat, and say we must meet up for a coffee sometime, but never get around to it."
"You're talking as if your self is someone else."
"You've got to be able to step out of yourself sometimes, and take stock of your life. That's what I've been doing and I've come to the conclusion that I'm madly in love with myself."
"Maybe you should spend more time dwelling on the negative side of your character."
"I'm perfectly well aware of all my faults and failings. It's not that I think I'm fantastic. I'm just in love with myself. It's like being in love with someone who's always drunk and who's constantly insulting your friends and family."
"Right. I can't really relate to that. My advice would be to step back inside yourself. Enjoy the ride -- that's my motto in life. Of course, ninety-nine percent of the time it isn't very enjoyable, but the other one percent makes it all worthwhile. You should be very wary of stepping outside of yourself. Do you know those identical twins who run the cafe?"
"They're not really twins. They're a woman called Monica. One day she got bored and she wondered if she could climb over herself. So she stepped out of herself and climbed up her right arm. She stood on top of her head and then slid down her left arm. She was delighted with this feat, but then she wondered how she'd get back inside herself. She couldn't remember how she got out. Now she keeps working because she's afraid of getting bored again and making things worse. They keep that cafe open twenty-four hours a day. My advice would be to keep busy so you don't split in two."
"What about Jack? He's doing nothing at all these days and he seems perfectly content. He says he feels whole."
"Our former fireman."
"I thought his name was Eddie."
"No, it's definitely Jack."
"Well maybe he has split in two. Jack and Eddie. He sounds like a good one-man two-piece band."
"I'm fairly sure there's just one of him. He's cleared almost all of the owls from his head and his life is much simpler now."
"Right. Well it's different for everyone, isn't it?"
"I don't know. I've always assumed it was, but... I don't know. Sometimes I think I'm better off not knowing. Not knowing anything. Clear everything away and start with a blank slate. The only thing you'd need to know would be not to write anything on the slate this time. You have a piece of chalk in your hand but for God's sake, whatever you do, don't write on the slate."
"How would you clear everything away?"
"I don't know."
"Jack had a cannibalistic owl to do that job for him. But he only had owls to clear away."
"They weren't real owls, though. They were just ideas, thoughts, figments of his imagination. What we need is one idea that will consume everything else in our heads."
"What idea would that be?"
"I haven't a clue."
"I felt much better before I started talking to you."
"I know that feeling... I could teach you how to draw dead squirrels, if that'll make you feel any better."
"Well it couldn't make me feel any worse."
"Or dead owls."
"You could get arrested for killing owls. Especially if you eat them as well."
"Not if you're an owl yourself."
"This is making me feel worse. Could you just teach me how to draw a blank page?"
"I don't think I've ever drawn a blank page before. I suppose we could try."
These are some of the blank pages we drew:
I'm still trying to figure out what happened to my missing days. I'm keeping a diary this year, and hopefully that will help. I get the impression that my spider knows, but he isn't saying anything. I'm not going to ask the people looking over my shoulder because they'll just start complaining.