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A cautionary tale of piano abuse, fractured skulls, and impersonations gone terribly wrong in the shadow of Albert Einstein. Told to Uncle Melvin in conversation with his adolescent niece. Or with her brain. Whatever! [Her voice in italics.]


A new variety of Miracle Gro 

Uncle Melvin! Guess what!  What? I’ve taken your letters to heart. Wonderful! I’m so glad they’re useful. Very! You mentioned we have an important choice: whether to think of ourselves as minds or bodies. And why it matters. Yes. It can make a big difference. After careful consideration and much reflection, I stopped letting my body tell me who I am. Wow! That’s remarkable! I’m all mind now. No more body. You’re a role model! You could build a fantastic career out of traveling and sharing what you’ve accomplished.

Well, not exactly. Why? I don’t have a body. Huh? I’m a brain in a jar. OK. Timeout! No. I’ve been having a ball. I can’t wait to tell you all about it. But I need a favor first. (This can’t be happening. My precious niece!) What can I do for you, sweetie? Come rescue me. What happened? Where are you? Caltech. In a dumpster behind the house where Einstein’s papers are stored. How on earth. . . ?

I was intrigued by your ideas and got an operation where they preserved my brain in a jar. I didn’t mean to be taken literally! Where’s your body? Fertilizer. They’re using me to beautify Los Angeles with plants and flowers and stuff. Landscaping. Landscaping? Next time you take the Expo Line to Santa Monica you’ll be going right by me. We all wind up pushing up daisies but this is ridiculous! My darling niece – Miracle Gro!

The very best brain food

It went really great at first, being in a jar. They set my brain and the jar inside an electromagnetic force field for my protection. Anyone would be zapped like Luke was by Palpatine if they tried to grab my jar. I’m so relieved! Then they rigged my brain so its thoughts displayed on a giant monitor. With sounds too. Aren’t thoughts quiet? Sure, but emotions can get pretty loud. Brains like background music. . .  And, of course, applause. When I took over the Galaxy it was deafening! 

Don’t brains need nourishment? What did they feed your brain so it could produce stupendous thoughts and reshape the world? A steady diet of your letters. So packed with brilliance and wisdom that my brain gained weight. They had to repot me in a larger jar. Poor thing! Yes, but getting bigger with your wisdom gave me a remarkable talent. Really? For telling people where they can find a million dollars. Or anything super valuable lying around waiting to make someone Powerball rich. Whoa!

What pianos are for 

One day, the maintenance guy. . . Where was this? In a secret bunker beneath the Smithsonian College of Musical Knowledge. Of course! The maintenance guy joked that maybe if I was so smart I could tell him where he could lay his hands on a million dollars. I told him to take a shovel to the South Coast Botanic Garden and dig under the ladies’ rest room. He did and found a million dollars. Lucky guy! Not quite. He had to pay it all back to get out of jail. They thought he was digging a tunnel. 

Word got around. Next thing I know there’s a horde of people stampeding into my room like crazed Walmart shoppers on Black Friday. Wanting to have me all to themselves and make them rich. Terrifying! Actually it was fun. When the paramedics arrived the floor was stacked high with people knocked unconscious. You were loving it. Yes. Watching people get zapped by my electromagnetic force field was so entertaining! 

But the best part was when it turned into a saloon brawl like an old Western. No, really? With guys bashing each other over the head with chairs and tables? Crashing through railings and breaking stuff on the way down? Cool! Even better. There were musical instruments lying around. One guy had a piano dropped on his head from the third floor. No one was left standing. 

Payback time! 

Lucky you. What a great experience! For a little while. But the College of Musical Knowledge didn’t want me around after that. I had to take my act somewhere else. To Caltech? To Dave and Buster’s. Of course! Customers paid to guess what I was thinking. If they got it right they got a suitcase full of little yellow tickets they could exchange for worthless junk. I was in a display case where they could operate a clamshell and scoop up more worthless junk. 

How humiliating! It didn’t last long. Word about my special talent got to Dave and Buster’s. How? The guy I sent to retrieve a rock that fell out of Neil Armstrong’s pocket on the moon blabbed on cable TV when he got back. First thing in the morning here comes another crazed Black Friday mob. How awful!  Not really. Watching Dave and Buster’s worthless junk get piled up and set on fire, you know – payback time! It felt soooooo good! 

Putting Humpty-Dumpty back together again 

But I got kicked out again. To Caltech? The dudes in charge of Einstein’s papers thought having a brain in a jar around would attract more interest. Make it less boring. Yes. Definitely one of your special talents. My act went over well at first. It was fun fooling nerdy academics who thought they were communicating with Einstein. You impersonated one of history’s greatest minds?? I made principal’s honor roll, didn’t I? Dear me, I must have forgotten! I was on a roll. But a guy showed up who’d communicated with Einstein’s real brain in a jar. I was toast. 

You couldn’t talk your way out of it? I told them that it was all Uncle Melvin’s fault. I meant to project a photo of you graduating with honors at Harvard but accidentally showed you falling on your face outside the Galleria. That’s what got me into their dumpster. Where you belonged after betraying your kind Uncle.

I’ll rescue you but I want a favor too. May I have a word with your brain? Of course! What stop should I get off when I look for your body on the Expo Line?