Issue Two - October 2001

Pascal’s Shortcut

By Kenneth W. Jenks

SETTING: A stage. PASCAL is addressing the audience, is dressed in medical garb, and holds a pair of blunt end snippers, called “Listers”, often used to cut bandages. Seated center stage is SEBASTIAN, dressed in a hospital patient’s gown. In a production, their gender would be decided by the director. Here, for convenience in using pronouns, PASCAL is female and SEBASTIAN male.

PASCAL
Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished colleagues, friends. My purpose here today is to demonstrate a new surgical procedure which will change, nay, has already changed the treatment of… oh, let’s say, nervous disorders. No, let’s not say that. Messy term. Let’s call it… uncomfortable forms of thinking. Joining us in today’s demonstration is my client, Mister Sebastian, who has graciously consented to let you watch as I relieve him of all of his problems. ( SEBASTIAN smiles up at her.) That’s too broad, isn’t it? I won’t have anything to do with clearing up those nasty back taxes, will I? (SEBASTIAN is alarmed.) Just joking, Mister Sebastian. I liked that other term. What did I say?… Uncomfortable forms of thinking. Yes, snip snip, they’re gone. Hold still, Mister Sebastian. Will you please face front?… thank you. Now, a small section of his skull plate has been removed back here to allow access with these snippers.

SEBASTIAN
What snippers? Let me see them.

PASCAL
These snippers, right here, Not harmful. See? Blunt ends. Very safe.

SEBASTIAN (Nervously)
Thank you.

PASCAL
How do you feel?

SEBASTIAN
Awful. Frightened.

PASCAL
Don’t worry. There’ll be no pain to speak of.

SEBASTIAN
To speak of?

PASCAL
To speak of. That’s what I said, to speak of … this section of exposed brain tissue has in itself, right now, no feeling. Oh, there might be a small sensation … since you seem to be such an articulate person…

SEBASTIAN
Yes.

PASCAL
Why don’t you tell these people what you’re feeling?

SEBASTIAN
All right. My feelings at this moment…

(SEBASTIAN begins to speak, but PASCAL cuts him off)

PASCAL
Oh! I recognize a practitioner of the craft of psychotherapy in our audience. Excuse me if I gloat, but I bet it will be a long time before you achieve immediate results like this on any of your clients. Some of you in the audience seem to be concerned about the surgery. Afraid of pain are you? Don’t fret. I know anaesthesiology like the back of my hand. I have a degree in it… or two… This patient feels no pain … to speak of, right?

SEBASTIAN
To speak of … no.

PASCAL
I mean physical pain, of course. The other kind, well that’s why you’re here, isn’t it? I understand. Believe me, I do. That’s why we’re doing this procedure. By the way, do you know what they call this procedure? No? Then let me tell you. It is called Pascal’s Shortcut. That’s right, named for me. I see no point in being modest. Modesty is for mamby-pambies. Modesty is like measles and mumps, okay for children, but not a fit disease for us adults. So … are you ready?

SEBASTIAN
Yes, hurry up.

PASCAL
Isn’t that sweet? … Don’t rush me, Bud. Snip snip… Anxious to be rid of your discomfort, aren’t you? I don’t blame you. All right, we insert the flat end of the snipper here and … what do you feel?

SEBASTIAN
A slight pressure, a welcome pressure… to tell the truth, I was worried about the section of my brain that was exposed, but now that I see what it’s for … yes, it feels good, like a gentle metallic scratching where I itch.

PASCAL
Well put, Mister Sebastian. Now I’ll slowly close the snipper blades. Do you feel it?

SEBASTIAN
Yes, it hurts a little.

PASCAL
Slow and easy and it won’t hurt any more. Is it a bad pain?

SEBASTIAN
Not really … like cutting a toenail too close … only it’s a toenail connected to my teeth. Now it’s a twinging hurt down here under my jaw that is moving up to where the snippers are. It feels like you’re cutting a strip of celluloid that has grown out of my spine.

PASCAL
It’s something like that.

SEBASTIAN
A brittle film strip, a 16 millimeter movie of my life. You are editing my film. You’re clipping carefully through a film loop that has been endlessly repeating the same old episodes…

PASCAL
You are the articulate one, aren’t you?

SEBASTIAN
I want to see a new movie.

PASCAL
(PASCAL jerks snippers back.)

Oh, darn it!

SEBASTIAN
What was that?

PASCAL
Nothing.

SEBASTIAN
I just saw a man with a big hat walk by.

PASCAL
I told you to hold still, didn’t I?

SEBASTIAN
Why did he look at me that way? What’s wrong?

PASCAL
Relax, you’re all right. Hah! You would have known if you weren’t… Saw a man with a big hat, did you?

SEBASTIAN
Yes, he…

PASCAL
That reminds me of the results of another experiment of mine that I would like to share with this audience. I discovered that the corpus collosum in the human brain contains a fluid which, when I inject it into laboratory rats, enables them to move so skillfully and with such clarity that they appear to walk through the walls of the maze. So, naturally then, I snip!… they lill’il ole heads off. Snip!

SEBASTIAN
Why?

PASCAL
I need to extract the fluid from their brains so I can duplicate the experiment. Oh, it’s always duplicate, duplicate, duplicate. But anything for science.

SEBASTIAN
Are you extracting fluid from my brain?

PASCAL
No. But that’s a thought. Some of my lab assistants said that they could not see the rats walking through walls, and I’m thinking of examining the fluids in the corpus collusi of those people.

SEBASTIAN
What if you mixed fluid from my brain with fluid from yours? Then would I be able to see people walk through walls?

PASCAL
What a ridiculous idea! Nobody is going to fiddle with my corpus collusum!

SEBASTIAN
I think I can see that man coming back … no, it’s not the same man.

PASCAL
(PASCAL Fiddles with snippers, hums a little tune and looks closely at the back of Sebastian’s head, then to the audience.)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live inside a squash?… Now what was that about? Don’t know why I said that. Odd idea. Well, I’m so concentrated. Have to be. But now that I mention it, y’know, it’s not a bad image. That’s the way many of my clients seem to be living, their personalities all squooshed together, their hopes, their aspirations all pulpy and seedy, fibrous matter in their mouths. Well, that’s sort of what I envision this procedure to be, snipping you out of the squash.

SEBASTIAN
My life is a film loop, endlessly repeating the same old episodes.

PASCAL
Well, have I got news for you, Sebastian, old squasho! It ain’t endless. I’m gonna cut you out of that loop, make you free!

SEBASTIAN
Yes!

PASCAL
He wants to be free! Of course he does. We all want to be free! All I have to do is reinsert these lill’il ole snippers… easy does it… Now take a good deep breath, and here’s this last lill’il bit of celluloid… there! It’s done!… Feel better?

SEBASTIAN
I think so.

PASCAL (irritated)
You think so? He says he thinks so … Stand up! Go ahead, turn your head, walk around. Yes, arms, legs, you’re all still there. It all works … He thinks so! I don’t care what you think. What do you feel?

SEBASTIAN
I feel similar.

PASCAL
Similar?

SEBASTIAN
To what I was … who I was.

PASCAL
Of course you feel similar. We all do.

SEBASTIAN
I expected more difference. Shouldn’t I be…

PASCAL
No!… What kind of response is that? (Smiling, to audience.) Excuse me. I forget you’re not a scientist, Mister Sebastian, that your expectations are… sloppy. The differences in your thinking will be subtle, and since it’s you thinking them, you might not be able to recognize them. But we professionals will. I can already detect a difference in your stance for example. You don’t slouch as much.

SEBASTIAN
So I’m wondering…

PASCAL
What’s the problem now?

SEBASTIAN
Will you cover the hole in my skull?

PASCAL
Would you like me to?

SEBASTIAN
Wouldn’t it be wise?

PASCAL
It’s not necessary.

SEBASTIAN
Do you have the piece of bone you took out?

PASCAL
I think so.

SEBASTIAN
Could you put it back?

PASCAL
What for?

SEBASTIAN
I guess I could put a hat on.

PASCAL
And will you please do me the courtesy of addressing me as Doctor Pascal? I have more degrees, have been to more schools than anyone on this staff. Six or seven. You are my experiment and don’t you forget it!

SEBASTIAN
I can’t forget it, Doctor Pascal …. (To himself, subdued) I’m trying.

PASCAL
All right, that’s better.

SEBASTIAN (To himself)
All I wanted was to get my head glued back together.

PASCAL
Don’t sulk! … All right! All right! I’ll put the piece of skull plate back. I’ve got to find it first. Just… Oh, put on that hat for now. (SEBASTIAN puts on the hat and waits. PASCAL turns back to the audience.) You know, when I get a muddy response like this from any of my laboratory rats, I jes snip they lill’il ole heads off. Snip! (PASCAL snips at SEBASTIAN, who edges away) Aren’t you going to tell me thank you?

SEBASTIAN
Thank you … but I still feel similar.

PASCAL
I don’t give a damn if you feel similar! (A smile for the audience.) So that’s Pascal’s Similarity … I mean Shortcut! (Snipping irritatedly toward him) Shoulda jes’ left ‘im in that lill’il ole squash. Ah! Wait! Sebastian’s Similarity! There’s a thought! Yes! Sit back down here Take that damn silly hat off! I think we gonna jes’ snip us up a lill’il ole batch ‘a Mister Sebastian’s Similarity Squashy Shortcake!

(SEBASTIAN crams the hat over his head and stumbles over the chair trying to escape)

SEBASTIAN
She doesn’t give a damn if I feel similar, well, it’s all the same to me! It’s always the same! Same things happened yesterday! Now she’s going to tell me same things, stop yelling! sit down!

PASCAL
Stop that yelling. Now you jes’ pick up that ole chair and sit right on down here now.

SEBASTIAN
See, it’s all so similar!

(PASCAL seats him, takes the hat off, throws it on the floor, and stands behind him holding the snippers, a juxtaposition similar to their placement at the beginning)

PASCAL
Ladeez an’ gennelm’n! Well now, le’s see. I was gonna tell you about a procedure that I have invented. It’s called Pascal’s Shortcake. I mean shortcut. Now why did I say that? What an idee! Well, I’m s’concentrated. Have to be. So what we’re after here is to change the way us perfesh’nals treat… oh, le’s say, nervous disorders. That al’right? Better be!

THE END

© 2001 by Kenneth W. Jenks

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