I’m a creative guy immersed in what has become the square peg world of the Internet academiasphere. I mean, most of us still have not moved beyond being enthralled with the fact that we can essentially look like three shades of hell and teach while pulling down a nice associate professor salary and almost never leave the bedroom.
If, of course, that’s where your server is at its best.
Anyway, the point is even I the self-described, self-anointed creative being, purveyor of more original ideas than all of the denizens of Silicon Valley and for a small fraction of the cost, completely missed on the idea of subjecting my noggin to a brain scan while reading some of my text messages, mundane as they are.
Yet, here I am, a volunteer laboratory animal, once again. It’s crazy, yet consistent with how I roll, always reaching, exploring, peering around the next corner just to see what’s up.
A tight cranial cover-all, not unlike the hair nets those in food service wear, has been placed over my head, complete with electrodes spaced around the hair net. The electrodes are connected by wires to a bank of laptops; other wires also stream from my chest and left index finger to the computers. Otherwise, I’m dressed in a light blue polo shirt, blue Levi’s 505s, and Weejuns with no socks like my buddy Don and I are headed for a West Virginia Power game.
Looking like Medusa, but going to a baseball game nonetheless.
The researcher is Lydia Johnson, Ph. D., of Charleston Area Medical Center’s General Division, a highly respected expert in the physiology and science of human emotion. May as well mention here that Dr. Johnson can also make the electrodes fry her laptops, in an acutely hot librarian way only an overly fervent yet aging fellow Doctor of Philosophy such as I can appreciate. Gray flecks color her dark locks, as the bangs with a flip tell the truth that a tallish, lean attractive woman with deep brown eyes, a smart set, and a wise grin is well into her fifth decade on the planet and loving every minute of it.
That’s late forties for the uninitiated among us.
“Dr. Bricker!” Dr. Johnson exclaims. “Your hippocampus tells me you want me right now on this examination table! Is that true?” She’s laughing.
“Dr. Johnson, in a seventies sense, yes. We, however, are years into the twenty-first century, and sex in a seventies sense is both foolhardy as well as a myth.”
“Actually,” Dr. Johnson says, “your reaction indicates you will be an awesome subject for my ongoing study, that of course being the human brain’s role in a man’s quest for the reasons he falls in love.”
“Well, may I call you Lydia?”
“Be my guest,” Lydia says. “Interestingly, your hippocampus tells me the use of my first name calms your libidinous urges. Is that true, Mason?”
“If you say so…Lydia. You are, after all, Doctor Love.”
“Okay. Find your iPad in that hip J. Crew man bag.”
Wow. She’s playful.
Calm the hell down, Dr. Bricker.
I fetch the iPad. With the cover lifted from the screen of the device, I punch in my four-digit passcode. It’s 8825 for the inquisitive, which is 2 to the power of Pi.
Go figure that one.
“Now, pull up your texts.”
“The texts are pulled up,” I say.
“With whom are the two most recent texts?”
“Rhoda, a woman whom I call Peaches — ”
“Wait,” Lydia says. “That’s a cute pet name. How did you come up wi — oh. I see.” Her cheeks turn rosy. Never would have thought that would happen to Doctor Love.
“She’s in her late sixties with a cute little frame and implants. Peaches wears them well.”
“The screens confirm she does wear them well,” Lydia says as her eyes flitter among the laptops. “But, unusually, your raphe nucleus is checking in. That’s the region of your brain that’s associated with, with longtime lovers! Mason. When did you meet Peaches, if you don’t mind me using the pet name.”
“I met her Saturday night.”
“That’s five days. But, the raphe nucleus is indeed active.” Lydia is deep in thought.
I’m still thinking about Peaches.
“You know?” she finally says. “The raphe nucleus is also associated with a sense of calm. Interesting.”
“Mason, your brain signals are scrambling. What are you thinking about?”
“I don’t know, Lydia. Peaches, still, I guess.”
“Yes.” Lydia says. “Something tells me something happened with Peaches that pisses you off.”
It hits me. “Oh, yes, Doctor Love. Yes. Yes. Yes, I had a breakup with a longtime lover. She began dating – I hate the simplistic, mindless usage of that word – anyway, began dating a guy whom I, well, you know, loathe.”
“I’m sorry, Mason,” Lydia says. “That can be brutal, especially if you’ve been replaced by someone you don’t like, but really, anytime.”
“Worse, still, the woman is younger. Well, young. Like 24 young. Like I had no business lov — ”
“It’s okay. Okay, do this. Think about Peaches. Think about her.” Doctor Love watches the screens. She does that closed-lip long-faced head nod signifying the discovery of something — interesting. At least.
“Peaches sparks activity in the raphe nucleus again. Longtime lovers is typically the call here, even though you’re a couple of days from your one week anniversary. But — wow. Mason, this could be it. Longtime lovers provide a sense of calm…much like Peaches is apparently doing for you. Activity in the raphe nucleus combined with Peaches indicates you are being held to her bosom — ”
“Oh, yeah. Spot on diagnosis, Doctor Love.”
Lydia turns rosy again. “You know what I mean, Dr. Bricker!” She reaches out and squeezes my upper right arm. Fortunately, I work out.
“Uh, oh! There goes the hippocampus one more time, Dr. Johnson!”
“And, Mason,” a crimson-faced Lydia says as she watches the screens, “you’re firing your brain’s ventral tegmental temporal regions. That’s the new love, passionate love segment. Why, I did not know you cared!”
“I fall in love once daily, Lydia,” I say with gravel in my voice. “Today, it’s you. Tomorrow? Who’s to say?”
She looks at me with a researcher’s smile, whatever that is, nodding in approval.
“My God, your brain is an open book,” Lydia says. “Everyone’s is, to a point. Yet, you’re easy, Mason. Easy. Now, who’s the other woman you’ve been texting?”
“Ana. An old high school friend. We’ve been in touch since just before Thanksgiving last year. Don’t tell me I just blew out your computers.”
“Almost,” says Doctor Love. “That’s the strongest signal from the ventral temporal I’ve seen in a long while. What did Ana do to you? Or, not do to you?”
I squirm nervously, trying to avoid any answer because I don’t have a good answer.
“Actually, Lydia, I haven’t seen Ana in 40 years. We had high school romantic encounters. I dumped her once for no reason except I was becoming as frightened as a red-blooded American 17 year old can get. You know, commitment.
“So, she found me on Facebook and we used Messenger until Facebook made me angry. That’s when she sent me her cell number. We don’t talk, though, for some strange reason. I mean, we’re both widowed and not involved with any others.”
Dr. Johnson is silent, mesmerized by the screens. I decide to stop talking.
“Mason, my friend,” she says. “Your ventral temporal is about to blow out of your head. Keep talking. Or, better still, read aloud some of Ana’s texts. Go.”
I scroll through to find one recent text.
“Here’s one, Doc. Our last text, from Good Friday. Ana says, ‘It’s okay.’ Ana’s texts are almost always brief. When she texts multi-lines, it’s usually after an epiphany. Once she texted, ‘You know me all too well. Of course I grew silent. March is not a good month for me. Thanks sincerely for bringing that out in me. You know me too well.'”
“That was an epiphany,” says Lydia. “How are your texts to her?”
“Multisyllabic. Lots of words. I’m a philosophy professor. Brevity is not my strong suit. In the beginning, her texts were funny and rapid-fire. Lately, however…”
“Something’s changed, Mason,” Lydia says with a concerned tone. “And, it’s not you. How does that make you feel?”
“Like…lousy. My ventral tegmental area or whatever is break dancing in my skull. All the while, Ana’s interest is waning, if there was any interest at all.”
“Your ventral tegmental temporal is still firing on all neurons, Professor. Even though Ana is not reciprocating, you’re still indicating passionate love.” Lydia punches on the keyboard as she concludes the sentence.
“Passion, sure,” I say with disdain. “Ana and I never were passionate. We’d fool around, but we were teens. We all fooled around. Her name wasn’t even Ana then. She was Deborah . She hated Deborah, I discovered at Thanksgiving.”
“Deborah. Ana. Doesn’t matter. The ventral tegmental is smoking hot,” says Lydia. “You’re packing a moon-sized jones for this woman, Mason. Like, right now, it’s screaming, just screaming, ‘Deliver Ana! Give me Ana!'”
“I like Ana with one ‘n’, like Ana Ivanovic, the Serbian tennis player. Won the French Open once. Easy on the eyes.”
“What about Deborah/Ana?” Lydia asks. “Is she easy on the eyes, as you are wont to say?”
“Deborah was pretty, albeit with very low meat mass on her bones,” I reply. “Ana tells me she’s fat. Difficult to say, Doc. Most women think they’re fat.”
“Whoa!” Lydia says. “Your brain got a charge out of the ‘fat’ remark! Now, that’s interesting!”
“Yeah. Nothing is going according to the book today, Dr. Johnson.”
“Hippocampus, Mason,” she says with a laugh.
“Well, at least something is working correctly,” I say. “After all this, Lydia,” I say with a pause, “after all I’ve told you, then combine it exponentially by your electrical data, what do you think?”
Lydia takes time to think as she records data in her iPhone 6. She stops punching on the device, then places an ink pen ink first between her lips and rolls it around. Right about the time I’m ready to emit a mad shriek, Doctor Love prepares to deliver her prognosis. Something tells me I’m not going to like it.
“Mason, you are a troubled spirit, and Ana has picked up on that, and that has scared her silent. Like when you were seventeen. Trouble is, this brain scan of yours today tells me in your heart of hearts that you have placed Peaches on the bench and will play Ana until it all explodes in your face. I would tell you to forget Ana and continue your relationship with Peaches, but you risk burning out Peaches all the while because your body says Peaches, but your heart will jump on a grenade for Ana.
“My prescription for this mess your brain has gotten you into? Cold turkey. Forget Ana. Make passionate love with Peaches, this afternoon. Weekday afternoon sex, Mason. Make Peaches the new love, the passionate love. Your iPhone is in your hip J. Crew man bag. I hear the timbas. Maybe Peaches is calling you!”
I grab my iPhone in mid-vibrate.
“What do I do now, Lydia? It’s Ana.”