The scene: A solitary chat room, sparse, with a few chairs on the grey concrete floor. The walls aren't visible in the mist. Some wooden chairs are arranged randomly on the floor. Three austere figures scrape the floor with the chairlegs as they pull their seats closer to the examiner in the center.

She wears a clinical expression, and a legal pad lays in her lap. From time to time, she looks up, nods, adjusts her glasses, and scribbles in her pad. No one is sure what is written there. It might be a new novel. It might be Rorsach blots. It might be portraits. But it gives her an air of command. The onlookers keep silent in respect -- for the most part.

In the center, underneath the eddying grey rising in the heat of the bare incandescent that burns the immediate fog and reveals swirls of misty dust, sits Nathan, the subject to be cubed.

Cube away!
Silence please, from the peanut gallery
*throws a peanut*
It is essential that you all remain indifferent
*catches it in his mouth*
*pretends to be good*
Nice catch!
*shrinks back in mock fear*
Yes, yes.
Now then.
When you start, I'll be good
Carry on.
Nate, this is a free association game
ok, so I'm allowed to make random connections in random or thoughtful ways?
Everything that we are about to do takes place in a desert
I will ask you questions, and you will answer them
in a desert
do I have anything else?
Sahara if you like
a camel? water?
You and the desert
is it nighttime?
And sundry other items which we will get into in a moment
If you like
because it's really cold at nighttime.
Wherever and however you picture yourself, that's what it is
good. Sonora. Lots of brush.
but a desert.
In front of you there is a cube
made of?
Please describe the cube, as it appears to you in your mental picture of the desert
there is a cube
sitting atop a cactus
it is skewered on long needles
it is made of sponge
which is odd
because the sponge is alive
it is a yellow sponge
(Be good)
and I used it to wash my car
but I don't have a car
at least not in the desert
In fact, I remember once
(this sounds like cruelty to animals...)
when I was driving through the Sonoran desert
in a van
with twenty people
we forgot to take water
(peanut gallery, I'm warning you...)
well, except for one gallon
so we all took a swig
and then we ran out
it was a bare metal interior
we had to barter to get such a nice van
The AIM service could not send the message: You have sent too much data too quickly. Please wait a little while before sending more
Akkk. Too quickly. It's cutting me off.
Ugh... remind me not to try trips acorss the desert
Right, anyway...
there was barbed wire at the place
but we got a van
(This is going to be a fun one...)
(yes, isn't it?)
and we found a Golden Corral buffet in the middle of the desert
(there's one down the road btw. My dad likes it for this very reason)
and so we all went in
and it was the first time I didn't see people overeat in a buffet
because they were all so thirsty
also the first time I didn't see anyone order carbonated beverages.
So anyway, back in the desert,
the sponge is talking
(I'm jealous.)
'Why am I here? What is life about anyway?'
It's a talking sponge.
(Oh my!)
skewered on the cactus
contains some water
(I'm remaining indifferent... barely...
(Oh, me too.)
but we'll be getting to that
How big is the cube?
so the sponge is philosophizing about life
oh, the sponge cube
oh yeah. I forgot
species spongificus cubium
they sometimes grow as large as 15 feet in diameter
which is also odd
because cubes don't have diameter
but this sponge is a baby sponge
perfect for carwashes
and for faux texture painting
So it's... how big in diameter?
[on artsy walls]
It can't have diameter.
That either.
this one is perhaps 6 inches by six inches, by a half a foot.
There you go.
which is odd
(:: giving J a fixed and meaningful look :-) )
because it has no feet
(Silence, Mortal.)
(Thank you for saving her, Nate)
(Not even half of one?)
(*smiles silently*)
(Even clams have... well, a foot.)
Um. Ok. So the sponge is wondering about life...
No, no...
We're moving on from the sponge
It isn't wondering about life.
It's not doing anything
It's dead.
It died of thirst
(That's awful!)
I should think so, atop a cactus.
Wait... is your sponge cube talking and philosophizing, or is it dead?
but it will be good for painting.
"well, you said, "no
so I killed it.
I can rescussitate it
That's okay.
I pull out my pocketknife
I think I'd rather have it alive.
take a core out of the cactus
(I told you there was animal torture going on. Where's Peter Singer when you need him?)
and drain some of the juice onto the sponge
hey, that's not fair.
the woodpecker did it too, so I should be ok
I am moving on
Second question, Nate
(He's throwing paint-filled sponges at meat-eaters...)
and the sponge is rescued from the cactus and the burning heat of the nighttime sun
(Peter Singer, that is)
In the desert there is a ladder
Describe the ladder, please
it is a very tall ladder
it's actually a very long long long pole
with a ladder on it
come to think of it, I can't see the top
Is it on the ground?
the ladder is starting to spin
Or off it?
it sinks down into the ground
It is straight up?
deep, deep, deeper than I could imagine
Or does it lean on something?
nothing at all
That's... pretty deep.
the ladder is spinning
this is really interesting
It is...
I think I'm going to get on.
The AIM service could not send the message: You have sent too much data too quickly. Please wait a little while before sending more.
Oh, you have no idea...
Final question, Nate
In the desert there is a horse
Describe the horse
as I was saying, the world is spinning
The horse is spinning too
with the world.
What color is the horse?
It's a dark horse
Which axis?
But what color precisely?
a horse of a different color, of course
and, see, the horse is having trouble holding on
Did you hear that?
because, oh my!
the world is spinning
G, did you hear?
and inertia
(Yes, I did!)
He's bracing himself against the ground
but it's too much
I'm grasping the ladder
and the horse is down there
I must save it!
faster and faster
I'll let down the sponge!
G! Indifference is essential
ok. Good.
It's a very tough sponge
now that it has been fortified with cactus juice
Does the sponge rescue the horse?
the cactus has now fallen off the earth
no. I do
with the sponge.
(this is really scary)
and so the horse is now clinging to the ladder with me.
Oh, good stink! This is great!
oh no.
the ladder is rising
this is not good.
Or is the earth dropping?
The horse is holding on. I've lashed him to the ladder with my sponge
On second thought, B, maybe I will send you the poem I wrote this morning.
I think maybe it's starting to apply...
should I stop here?
Stop there.
** * **

The Interpretation

This test, evidently, was meant to be interpreted to figure out my future. Rather than post the rest of the conversation, here's a wrap up from the person who administered the test and invited the mess.

Here's how an interpretation works. There's a primary interpreter, and the surrounding council is allowed to weigh in whenever, but the head interpreter's ideas stand.

The story elicited remarks like "Excuse me please while I roll about collecting dust-bunnies with my elbows, in ecstasies of laughter...", but for the most part, the interpretation was (mock) serious.

here goes...

The cube is you, Nate. It's the way you see yourself. The size of the cube represents the size of your ego. (As a sponge. On a cactus. Without a diameter)

I kept listening.

The fact that your cube is a sponge is highly revealing -- Philosophizing...Dead. Temporarily...

It indicated what we all know to be true... that you soak up knowledge. The philosophizing is likewise highly accurate. I won't comment on your being stuck at the top of a cactus... But it could indicate difficult circumstances. Perhaps the mere fact that you attend a secular college.

I remembered that I need to bring up the fact that Elizabethtown is a good college. I like it. People at religious schools sometimes assume the worst. Parties and drinking --infrequent, from what I hear-- are annoying. But I don't see it, since I stay away. Life is classes and academic buildings for me. Living at Etown actually makes studying easier. By having few friends, I'm able to focus.

The Ladder represents your friends. The fact that your ladder is deeply sunk is a good thing. That means that your friends are stable. The fact that it reaches up to Heaven is also a good thing. It indicates that your friends are bound for glory, in the old phrase. Now, about the horse...

I thought I knew what this would be. But I kept my mouth shut, hoping it wasn't.

The horse represents the person you will marry. (That was the best part) The only person I've ever cubed (and I've cubed over 100 by now) who had a "horse of a different color" was my brother Mike

And that was his exact phrase.

"horse of a different color"

Which is just bizarre.

Anyway, your horse of a different color represents your future wife.

(And then there's the theory about guys and horse color...)

The fact that your sponge saved her from being flung off a spinning hopeful.

(That was hilarious !)

the theory is that guys who have white or black horses are going to start courting soon, and guys who aren't have brown horses. Because the vast majority of guys have brown horses.

Well, hmm. Definitely a religious school -- courting -- but I didn't let the inner feminist wonder about other people calling my future wife a horse.

** * **

I'm still not entirely sure what to say. But I guess I don't need to worry about my future. Someone already has it figured out.

Even if it does involve cactus-juice soaked sponges.