The Ad Hominem of Angels: A Fiction of the Octagon Multiverse

The rain fell on the grimy asphalt in torrents, like the hyperbolized purple prose in a bad hardboiled story. The storm was shedding tears like florid explication from the pen of a juvenile author who was trying too damn hard. Me? I never try hard. I’m Frank. I run a bar: the Aufklärung. It’s the kind of hole in the wall of philosophy for deadbeats with too much to say and nowhere to say it. You gotta know the password to get in, ‘cause the regulars don’t take kindly to the law.

It was clammy outside. Clammy, and wet. And cold. And damp. I gazed out at the steam issuing from the manholes, those portals into the labyrinthine underworld below this stinking city. And those tubes weren’t the only underbelly of this octagonal metropolis. The guys who come to the Aufklärung are the kinds of slimeballs who only drink Kurzweils straight from the bottle and want asian girlfriends, so a fella working in a place like this one hears all kinds of things. ‘Course the bar was empty right now. Johnny Zell was gone, maybe for good. Frankly, I don’t care for that guy, but he keeps the business going. Especially when he brings the jail bait. He’s into that kind of thing.

A knock at the door. The kind of persistent banging that reminds you of the incessant carping of a pissed-off INTJ. Yeah, guys around here get their kicks with that MBTI smack. Most of them can’t hold it, and OD. I don’t touch the shit. I stood up and walked over to the door.

“What’s the password?” I asked.

“Jesus Christ, Frank. It’s me. Open up.”

I couldn’t believe it. That could only be one guy. I looked out through the mail slot to see a man in a crimson Roman Cassock, with a shoulder cape as red as freshly spilled blood, and a cigarette burning with its Promethean spark dangling from his thin Swiss lips. Shit, I thought. He’s back. Some people said he was a Mary Sue, but I knew he was for real. They called him the Transfinite Cardinal. He’s hard as nails, and isn’t afraid of anything. Except for sunburns. And rodents. And heights. And sharp objects. Except knives. I heard he wasn’t afraid of those. But he left this town. Said he was moving on to better things.

“Look, Frank. I’m the author’s self-insertion. You open up or I’m going to walk my ass right through the fourth wall, and then you’ll be sorry,” he said. So I let him in. He walked over to the bar and sat down.

“How ya been, Aleph? It’s been a long…”

“Just give me an Observational-Theoretical distinction. Hold the theory-ladenness. You know I hate that shit,” Aleph-One said as he lit another cigarette and took off his Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses. I just made his drink and let him drink it. I don’t get many orders like that one. Not since Quine’s boys rolled into town. Hell, they’d kill a man just for ordering one. But the Transfinite Cardinal didn’t care. He came from the streets of radical empiricism, grew up in the alleyways of bundled sense-data. Rival gangs of pragmatists were his whole world. Now he was one of the big shots – some kind of hitman, we figured, for that instrumentalist mafia of anti-realist thugs.

He finished his drink, dregs of semantic conventionalism and all, then tossed his cigarette butt in. It crackled like bacon in a hot pan.

“You know why I’m here Frank. Tell me where I can find him,” he said.

Everyone knew that the radical empiricists wanted Johnny Zell to swim with the fish. Johnny Zell fought dirty, took out hits, mugged guys. And then he disappeared. So they sent Aleph to find him.

But Frank ain’t a fink. That’s why people come here.

“I don’t know who you mean,” I said.

“I grow weary of your deliberate obtuseness, and I can’t stomach disingenuity. You know who. Tell me where I can find Johnny Zell.”

“Look, even if I knew where he was, I couldn’t tell ya Aleph. You know that. You know why people come here, they don’t want me to….”

That’s when he pulled out his chrome revolver (he named it – called it Methodological Solipsism) and blew my brains out. They splattered on the bar like the smeared out rat neurons of a grad student’s sadistic experiment. It hurt.

As I laid on the floor, dead, with blood pooling around my body, Aleph just poured himself another drink, drank it, and lit another cigarette. He stood and walked out of the bar, cursing about the salt stains on his Allen Edmonds before saying, “See ya ‘round, Frank.”

To be Continued….


The Ad Hominem of Angels, Part 2

About what happened next, I only got hearsay and what I can guess. It’s hard to keep tabs on things after a guy like the Transfinite Cardinal scrambles your eggs, so you just hear what comes through the bar. But stories about everything that happens in this regular, eight-sided polygon of an apple come through here eventually. Anyway, Aleph needed some information, and it wasn’t hard to guess where he would go to find it. Now, I gotta tell ya first – there’s this thing we call “authorial-narrative distance”. Just keep in mind that what you’re about to hear is coming from a bit character who was knocked off on page one.

Down on the corner you could usually find this guy, Desertopa. Big guy. Zoot suit. Frontman for a swing band at one of those clubs for the coloreds - and I don’t mean the Negroes. I mean these guys are blue. Those blue fellas? They’ll make the spicks and the wops look like they’re playing footsie with you. And Desertopa was the worst of them. He comes in here sometimes. Hangs back at the wall and mostly minds his own business. But once in a while someone will come in here and say the wrong thing and then Desertopa will just set his drink down, walk over to the fella, and plant a syllogism right in the middle of the guy’s chest. The guy usually doubles over on the floor gasping for air and screaming, but Desertopa just walks back to his table and picks up his drink like nothing happened. That’s how you get respect in a hole like this. But hanging back like that all the time, a guy’s going to hear and see a few things. So if you wanted to know something and just popped the bartender, Desertopa was the guy to see – if the price was right.

Now most people wouldn’t notice a six and a half foot tall man in bright red Roman cassock creeping up on them, but Desertopa’s quick. He could pick someone like the Transfinite Cardinal out of even the biggest crowd. So he spins around and catches the Transfinite Cardinal in the temple with a surprise modus ponens. Desertopa looks down at Aleph, sprawled on that cruddy asphalt and says, “Damn, Pops. That drape is off the cob. But hey baby, I dig it. Start communicatin’.”

So TC takes a deep breath, and sends a sharp modus tollens right at Desertopa’s achilles, bringing the hulk of zoot suit, bluefro, white wingtips, and suspenders down to the rainslick pavement.

“Johnny Zell. What happened to him?” Aleph growled as they both stood back up, brushing the gravel and greasy detritus from their clothes. Desertopa laughed, as if to say this kid’s got moxy. Then he spilled the whole sob story…. in jive.

“So Johnny Zell, he hits my frolic pad some early black with his barbeque, cop it? Then some icky lane jumps in guzzlin’ foam – stomps on Johnny Zell’s ground grippers. Johnny Zell wasn’t comin’. Blew his wig. It was a clambake, Jack, a clambake, collar? So Johnny Zell knocks his tommy gun and starts to blow. I decided to cut out – I got my boots on, dig? But then this gate in an off-time hat creeps out like shadow and nixes Johnny Zell out,” Desertopa said while tapping his white wingtips on the pavement, “Now, I always knew Johnny Zell was a jive turkey but those Bayesians? Damn.”

“Are you telling me Johnny Zell is dead?” Aleph asked, lighting a whole pack of cigarettes.

“Naw man, you ain’t no hep cat! I didn’t say the Bayesians nixed Johnny Zell out, I just said they nixed Johnny Zell out. Ain’t seen that ofay since.”

Now, if Aleph-One wasn’t already as white as a ghost, he would have gone as white as a ghost. A long time ago, back when a guy could find a good deli or butcher on every street corner and maybe go in for a cuppa and a smoke, this town was run by guys like him. Sure, some crooked politicians liked to think that the instrumentalists were just running some hypothetico-deductive racket, but they had class. Real class. They kept things in the neighborhood running smooth-like, and didn’t even try to use inductive reasoning. They’d just walk right on past it in their pinstripe suits and nice shoes – they knew they didn’t need to justify themselves from first principles to anyone. But then these Bayesians came in, and ran the old family out. Now all these kids, they want to be bigshots, you know? They see these tough Bayesians and want to be like them, so they join up. Now, rather than sidestepping induction like the old timers, these kids are drawn to it like flies to the splattered brains of a dead barkeep. They get hopped up on this minimal descriptive length and mistake if for a conclusion. But the few guys left in the town with class knew whatever it was called, it was still just a hypothesis. But wrong or not, the Bayesians were running this show now.

Sooner or later they’ll find you and make you an inference you can’t refuse. And the Transfinite Cardinal knew he was going to have to rumble with them. Rumble hard. Like the thunderous rumbling of holy crap how do hardboiled authors write like this?

“Do you know where I can find the man in the hat?” Aleph asked, cigarettes falling from his mouth as he talked.

“Word is, he flops at Le Café d’Relative State,” Desertopa said.

“Huh. I thought that place was closed. Closed like a 12-parameter Schrödinger group under function composition,” Aleph replied, “Must be a front.” He spun around on his heels and started towards at Le Café d’Relative State, reaching under his cassock for his chrome plated Methodological Solipsism.

“Hey, man,” Desertopa called after him, “You take care of yourself.”

The Transfinite Cardinal paused, looked back over his shoulder and said in a low, raspy voice, “Yeah. It’s what I do best.”

To Be Continued…

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