THE MIND GAME
Changes Productions turned out to be an old, converted porn-printing plant in the nether reaches of the San Fernando Valley, an area of trailer camps, small industry, junkyards, and used-car lots steaming in saturation smog. Weller parked his car with a certain sinking sensation in his stomach and walked in through the street entrance. He found himself in a tiny reception area facing a glassed-in booth containing a switchboard operator and a heavy, hard-faced man wearing a white shirt and black trousers. He gave his name to this bozo, who checked it against a list, and handed him an ID card sealed in plastic.
"Keep this with you at all times," be was told. "You need it to get in. I'll get someone to take you inside."
Weller waited uncomfortably in the unfurnished reception area which had all the inviting charm of a prison cell. This was already not quite what be had expected. There was something not merely tacky but greasy about the face that Changes Productions showed to the world, a strange combination of porn factory and cut-rate military-industrial complex, lightyears from the Hollywood veneer of Harry Lazlo's office.
With a loud buzz the steel door at the other end of the cubicle opened, and a short fat woman in her twenties stood there, holding the door open for him. "I'm Arlene Harris," she said, "Sara English's assistant. Come with me, and I'll take you to the set."
Weller followed her inside, directly into a large hangarlike space divided up into offices, storerooms, and cubicles by raw plywood partitions. At the other end of this maze a series of six large, totally enclosed boxlike rooms had been constructed under the high factory ceiling, like outsized dressing rooms in a real studio sound stage. "These are our sound stages," Arlene Harris said proudly, "We have six of them -- three for video and three for film. We also have two editing rooms and two sound-mixing stages." Weller was not impressed; the whole operation looked amateurish, and the waste of space seemed tremendous.
Arlene Harris opened the door to one of the sound stages and led him inside. Weller groaned inwardly, for the shooting lights were on, and the crew inside was in the middle of a take. He would have crucified anyone who barged into a shoot like that.
A young man and woman costumed in army-surplus hippie gear and caked with scrounge makeup were lying on a messy bed. The girl was nodding out, and the boy was in the process of shooting himself up with a dirty-looking needle. Behind them was a flat of a dingy bedroom wall filthied with miscellaneous graffiti. A single video camera was shooting the scene under harsh rudimentary lighting that gave no dramatic shadows or undertones. A red-bearded young man in his thirties stood by the camera, apparently directing. A script girl and two male grips stood nearby, all young, all wearing jeans and work shirts.
Against one wall stood a striking redheaded woman in a tight tan pants suit that tantalizingly displayed her superb upright breasts and erect dancer's carriage. Across the room a dark-haired balding man in black pants and a black turtleneck stood with arms folded, watching with a lidded, self-contained detachment.
"Okay," the director said, "cut. Let's get ready for the close-up." The actors sat up, and the cameraman began to reposition for the next shot, but no one bothered to kill the shooting lights. Kill those damn lights! Weller wanted to shout.
Arlene led Weller up to the redhead. "Sara, this is Jack Weller."
The redhead turned to regard Weller with big green eyes that went straight to his groin. She was in her early thirties, and quite beautiful, though there was something strangely cold even in the sexual vibrations that seemed to surround her. "Welcome aboard," she said. ''I'm Sara English." Their eyes met and something flashed between them; Weller felt the stirrings of long suppressed treasonous desires. She smiled at him. "Let's go outside and talk while they're setting up. Arlene, you keep an eye on things here."
She led him out of the sound stage, with the man in the black turtleneck tracking them all the way with cold eyes like radar antennae. Once outside she leaned up against the wall of the soundstage, thrusting the nipples of her unfettered breasts against the fabric of her jacket, a posture that seemed both deliberately enticing and coldly commanding.
"We're shooting a spot for Narcon in there," she said. "That's our narcotics-rehabilitation program, pretty important to the movement. It gets us a lot of state and federal funding." She paused and flipped through some papers on her clipboard. "I generally oversee all the shooting," she said. "All our kids are dedicated, high-consciousness people, but we're kind of short of technical expertise." She gave him a smile that would melt glass. ''I'm looking forward to working with you," she said. "Someone like you will have an opportunity to provide a great service to the movement. I'll show you around first, and then we'll pick a spot for you. You might as well get into it right away."
Weller followed at her heels as she took him on the quickie tour of the various sound stages, saying little, trying to ignore her powerful physical presence, trying to soak up and evaluate the situation. What he saw was pretty impressive on an activity level but quite appalling on a professional level. In addition to the Narcon spot, they were presently shooting commercials for Sunrise Books and a housing subdivision being put up by Carmel Properties, outfits which he recognized as being owned by Transformationalism through Utopia Industries. But they were also doing stuff for a savings and loan in East Los Angeles, a line of vegetable choppers, and a health-food company, all of which seemed to have nothing to do with Transformationalism.
This struck Weller as odd, because the level of what was being done was the pits, from what he could see. No one seemed to have the faintest idea of how to really use lighting effectively. The actors were stiffs. He saw three blown takes in the space of ten minutes, one because the damn camera ran out of film in the middle of the take. A boom mike nearly beaned one of the actors. A director tried to take the same sequence three times before he realized that a line of dialogue was missing from the script.
Why would anyone hire these jerks unless they had to, unless they were owned by Transformationalism?
"Well, what do you think?" Sara asked him as they stood outside the health-foods-commercial set. Should I tell her? Weller wondered. Should I really tell her? But she was looking at him so warmly, and her eyes were so bright and confident, that telling the truth seemed like a stupid, pointless cruelty.
"Uh ... you certainly seem very busy," he said.
Sara nodded. "We've got more work than we can handle" she said. "It comes in from everywhere. Our advertising agency uses us exclusively, and of course there's Narcon and Sunrise and all the other movement businesses, not to mention Transformationalists in outside companies who are under life directive to give us their business. TV commercials hit the public in a particularly open state, so we don't like to turn anything down. Every commercial is another chance to get the message through to hundreds of thousands of people."
Sara looked at him peculiarly. "'The Transformational message," she said. "You don't think we're doing this just for the money, do you?"
"Uh ... of course not."
"Well now, let's see, where can we fit you in?" Sara said, thumbing through the papers on her clipboard. "Hmmm ... We could use a new cameraman on the Sunrise commercial. Harrison just isn't working out. How does that sound?"
"Good as anything," Weller said. "But I don't want to come in with had vibes ..."
"Taking someone's job."
Again Sara gave him that peculiar look. "Harrison won't object," she said. "Why should he? If you can optimize the shooting over him, he'll be glad to see you take over. He's as dedicated to the movement as you or I."
"If you say so," Weller said. I've got a lot to learn about this setup, he thought. Maybe almost as much as these nerds have to learn about getting decent footage in the can.
"Come on people, get in sync, eptify yourselves, let's feel that wavefront moving through us all together now, and get this right."
Georgie Prinz, the so-called director, was hunched over in front of the set, trying to inspire the author of Land of Milk and Honey with Transformationalist jargon while Weller peered blearily through the viewfinder on the camera, waiting irritably for them to try to get their shit together one more time. The shooting day had been an infinity of contemptuous boredom, and Weller had spent most of his endless waiting time praying for it to be over.
As a Transformational lesson in humility, starting him as a cameraman was a dismal failure. Compared to this mess, Monkey Business was Citizen Kane, and he was Orson Welles. The best that could be said about the crew was that they knew their equipment well enough to turn it on and off and more or less point it in the right direction. The author, Deke Clayton, was an ex-junkie who bad been cured by Narcon and written a book about it which was published by Sunrise Books, just to keep it all in the Transformationalist family. He had a wooden nervous, uptight bearing, and spoke with a bug-brained manic fervor.
Georgie Prinz's idea of camera direction was to tell Weller "close-up" or "medium shot" as if he knew what he was talking about and then give him a lecture about the "energy dynamics" of the shot in gobbledygook about "wave forms" and "rhythms" and "transformations" like some kind of Junior Steinhardt on speed.
What should've taken an hour or two to shoot was taking all day, and to compound the agony, all these turkeys were so intensely sincere that it made his teeth ache.
"Sound okay ... I mean speed!"
"Milk and Honey, scene two, take five."
"Action, people, sync those vibes!"
Weller focused a medium shot on Clayton, a somewhat skeletal figure in a blue suit, with short-cropped hair, steel-rimmed glasses, a burned-out complexion, and eyes that glowed with such unnatural health that they seemed to be in the wrong face. Clayton had his left palm planted on his book as he spoke, as if he were swearing on the Bible.
"I was ... the lowest junkie in creation," he stammered loudly, straining his memory to recall every other word in the script. "But a miracle called Narcon ... restored ... saved me from the ... pit, and I lived to tell the world about it..."
Weller found it difficult to imagine what idiot had conceived this commercial. An author talking about his own book was pure death, even if it were Norman Mailer or Gore Vidal, and this character could hardly remember the stupid script.
This thing wouldn't sell any books, and Sunrise Books was a Transformationalist company. Why were they screwing themselves this way? Just to put a testimonial to Narcon on the air? But they were already shooting an up-front Narcon commercial. It didn't make sense.
"... to find out how a junkie like ... I was ... could be standing here holding a book ... he was able to write himself ... and how anyone can find ... his own Land of Milk and Honey."
"Cut!" said Georgie Prinz. "Okay, I think we've used up whatever positive forces we had in us today, so we'll call it a wrap."
Weller turned off the camera, got it ready for storage, and slunk toward the exit, hoping to escape without having to talk to anyone. What was there to say?
But Prinz caught up to him before he made it to the door. "Hey, how about it?" he said enthusiastically. "You could really feel the energy, couldn't you?" He was a thin, slightly round-shouldered guy in his late twenties, with stringy hair, intense eyes, and a frantic conversational tone; yet somehow there was also something of the puppy dog in him which aroused in Weller a certain gentle hypocrisy.
''Yeah, there's really ... uh ... spirit here," Weller said, and kept walking.
"Bet you don't see so many eptified consciousnesses working together on network shows, huh?"
"Different kind of scene ..."
Prinz grinned at him. "And you haven't really synced in yet," he said. "Wait till you really get behind the second level stuff. We're not just making commercials, we're really transforming, we're really getting into it."
"Uh-huh," Weller said wearily. "It seems that way to me already."
He reached the sound-stage door and stepped through, with Prinz still yipping at his heels like an earnest puppy. The balding man in the black turtleneck was waiting outside, eyes like ball bearings in a bloodless face.
"A word with Mr. Weller, Georgie," he said in a firm, flat voice.
"Sure Owen." Prinz said, his voice instantly subdued, and without another word he loped off toward the front of the building, disappearing into the warren of plywood partitions.
''I'm Owen Karel," the creepy character said, staring at Weller as if that were supposed to mean something to him. Weller cocked an inquisitive eyebrow.
"I'm the Monitor representative."
"Oh." So this was one of the Monitors. What did he want? It didn't figure to be anything pleasant.
"I've made an appointment for you to begin life analysis," Karel said. "Saturday at the Center."
"Is that an order?"
Karel grimaced slightly, "You may consider it a life directive, yes," he said. "I hope it will go smoothly. We've been requested to expedite matters by Harry Lazlo's office, but that doesn't mean we'll be any less thorough."
"Of course not," Weller said. There was something positively reptilian about this guy, and he had the kind of face you instinctively wanted to punch.
''I'm glad we understand each other," Karel said. "Lazlo is very enthusiastic about you, but I want it understood that the Monitors have the last word on permanent appointments. There are some rather questionable items in your dossier, so rest assured, we'll be monitoring you closely."
''I'm sure you're just doing your job," Weller said, inching away from him.
"That's the correct attitude," Karel said. "But then, you'd know that, wouldn't you?"
"If you say so," Weller said. "Ah, is there anything else? I've had a tiring day ..."
"That will be all for now," Karel said solemnly.
"Well then, see you around ..."
"You will," Karel said, then turned and walked off, leaving Weller standing there in the cold wake of his passage. Brother! If this character were typical of the Monitors, he could see why they made even Benson Allen nervous. It was going to be some pleasure working around here. For a mad moment he felt a twinge of nostalgia for the good old days of Monkey Business.
"It's a screwed-up mess, really, it's incredible," Weller said, pacing around Garry Bailor's tacky living room, feeling tiredly superior, an emotion which gave him little satisfaction. "I've worked four different shoots now, and nobody seems to really know what they're doing. But they think they do. Oh brother, do they think they do!"
Bailor looked up at him from the couch, over the top of a can of beer. "Why does that surprise you?" he said. "You just told me that only Sara English has any real experience, and that was porn."
Jesus, Weller thought, is this guy really that dense? "But they keep getting assignments," he snapped. "They're booked solid for the next month. How can they keep getting work off the crap they turn out?"
"You told me that Transformationalism owns at least a dozen companies through fronts, including an advertising agency which funnels assignments to Changes." Bailor said. He shrugged. "One hand feeds the other..."
Weller collapsed onto the couch beside Bailor. "Obviously," he said. "But it's not all in-house work. They're doing stuff for all kinds of companies that don't seem to have anything to do with Transformationalism. Hell, they're even going to do some political spots for a mayoral candidate upstate. And it's all the same -- technically horrible and loaded down with not-very-subtle Transformationalist propaganda. How the fuck do they get away with it?"
The more he learned, the less sense it made. Every script seemed to be written on two levels. If it were a vegetable chopper commercial, the machine "transformed kitchen chores into creative cooking art." Ticky-tacky houses in a crummy development were "at the leading edge of Los Angeles's expansion into the twenty-first century." Lawrence Savings and Loan "transformed your money into the instrument of a better tomorrow." You could "eptify your bodily functions and cleanse your mind of metabolic blockages" with Walden Health Foods. If they were selling a laxative, they'd probably say that you could "ride the changes out your asshole."
What were they doing with all this? Bombarding the public with a few key Transformationalist terms over and over again so that when old John Q. came across Transformationalism itself, it would seem familiar and have positive connotations? It reminded Weller of the "sublimfual advertising" paranoia of the 1950s, when people were convinced that their television sets were sneaking secret messages into their subconscious minds. Was Transformationalism actually doing that?
For that matter where did the scripts come from? He had yet to see a writer, and a few times he had seen Owen Karel handing bound scripts to Sara. Were the Monitors making this stuff up?
If this game were only being played with companies owned by Transformationalism, he could understand it. But banks? Political candidates? Restaurants? Why were they continuing to shell out good money for bad commercials loaded with subliminal Transformationalist crap?
Bailor took a sip of beer. "Maybe they have their hooks into everyone they're making commercials for," he suggested.
Weller snorted: "Banks?" he said. "Used-car lots? Kitchenware companies? An aerospace outfit? Man, if they own everything that they are making commercials for...."
"They wouldn't have to own all their clients," Bailor said. "All they'd need would be Transformationalists in key places. An account executive ... a vice-president ... a sales manager ..."
Bailor looked at him peculiarly and shrugged.
"You're making me paranoid," Weller said. "Do you know something I don't?"
Bailor grimaced. "That kind of stuff I don't want to know," he said. "In my line of work it's very unhealthy. As long as I just take a few followers away from these outfits, I'm merely an annoyance. They tolerate my existence. But if I start getting into their corporate involvements, if they think I'm becoming a threat to them on an organizational level...." He shuddered. "Jack, if you find out anything like that, be sure not to tell me. Let's keep this strictly on a one-to-one deprogramming level, okay?"
"Thanks a lot," Weller grunted. Bailor's see-no-evil attitude frightened him more than anything else had. The son of a bitch knows more about Transformationalism than I do, and he doesn't want to know any more. What should that tell me? And with "Monitor life analysis" starting tomorrow, too, whatever that is....
"Do you mind if we talk about the Monitors, Garry?" he said sardonically. "Or is that subject taboo too?"
''I'll tell you what I know," Bailor said. "But I'll be honest with you. I've never worked with anyone that's been this far in before, not someone who's working for them and dealing with the inner organization."
"That's what the Monitors seem to be," Bailor said. "A kind of Transformationalist secret police, under Steinhardt's direct control. It's a big, complicated organization with lots of fronts, and it would seem that Steinhardt uses the Monitors to make sure the accounting stays honest, to make sure everyone who works for the movement toes the line. As I understand it, a directive from Fred Torrez, who runs the Monitors for Steinhardt, can even overrule the heavies like Allen and Lazlo. That's about all I know."
"And all you want to know," Weller said bitterly.
"You got it. I don't mess around with people like that because I don't want them messing around with me."
"Marvelous," Weller snapped. "Fucking marvelous!"
Bailor looked at him coldly. "You didn't ask my advice when you decided to go to work for them, now did you?" he said.
"And what would you have told me?" Weller snapped. ''To stay unemployed? That you'd put my bill on the cuff?"
Bailor shrugged. "Maybe that you should rethink the question of whether or not all this is worth it to you," he said.
"It's a little late for that, isn't it?" Weller said. "Now what about this damned life analysis thing?"
Bailor took a long pull of beer. He squirmed on the couch. He looked really uncomfortable, "I don't think it's another process," he said. "More like a security check. I suppose what you can expect is some pretty heavy but straightforward interrogation."
"Bright lights and rubber hoses?"' Weller said. Jesus, all this was getting positively unreal. What have I gotten myself into? Bailor doesn't even want to know. Do I? Can I really handle this?
He looked at Bailor and tried very hard to suppress the hostility he felt toward the cowardly bastard. Bailor was beginning to look sleazy. weak, and not exactly a man to lean on should the going get rough. Yet there was no one else he could ask, no one else to talk to about it.
"Do you really think I'm in too deep?" he asked. "Are you saying I should pull out of this thing now, while I can?"
Bailor leaned hack and spoke softly and slowly. "You're about through with meditative deconditioning, and we seem to have pulled that much off," he said. "If you keep playing the same part, you'll probably get through life analysis too. And after that we should be home free to Annie.... Of course, it is your decision ..."
"Yeah, but what would you do in my place?"
Bailor laughed humorlessly. "I wouldn't get my ass into your position in the first place." he said. "But there is another factor. You're working for them. The Monitors have already ordered a life analysis. You know things about their operation that are not exactly public knowledge...."
A chill went through Weller. "What are you saying?"
"I guess I'm saying that it wouldn't be so easy for you to pull out now," Bailor said. "Probably nothing earthshaking, but they wouldn't like it. So if you're going to have to go through that shit anyway, you might as well go ahead for a few more weeks till you get to Annie so at least what you'll have to go through will be worth it."
"What are you talking about?" Weller hissed. "What's going to happen to me?"
"Probably just some pressure," Bailor said cavalierly. "Phone calls at all hours. Ominous letters from the Monitors. Threats. Stuff like that. Why do you think I rent this dump and make it impossible for anyone to get my home phone number?"
"Now you tell me?" Weller said. His stomach felt as if it were filled with ice. Suddenly he felt small and powerless and Bailor seemed to be talking to him across an immense and isolating distance.
"Hey, don't freak out," Bailor said. "It's not as if they were going to plant bombs in your car or send hit men after you." He frowned. "A least I've never heard of them going that far..."
"That's comforting," Weller said wanly. "That's very comforting."
Bailor seemed to be thinking some private thoughts, and from the look on his face they weren't too reassuring.
"Are yon thinking of bugging out on me, Garry," Weller asked sharply.
Bailor snapped out of his reverie. He smiled a horrid plastic smile. ''Take it easy, Jack," he said. "We'll come through it okay."
"Sure we will," Weller said sourly. It's us against them, he thought, regarding Bailor narrowly. Only them keeps getting bigger and us keeps gelling smaller. He remembered the old joke about the Lone Ranger and Tonto surrounded by a horde of hostile Indians. The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto, and he says, "Well, it looks like we've had it, Tonto." And Tonto looks at the Lone Ranger, and he says: "What do you mean we, white man?"
Weller took the elevator up to the seventh floor of the Transformation Center in the grip of a strange psychic flatness compounded of ennui, boredom, and a growing sense of superiority to the Transformationalist milieu in which he had become immersed. He couldn't even work up much of a healthy sense of paranoia about the imminent opening round of Monitor life analysis.
Working as a cameraman for Changes Productions was even more tedious and creatively non-involving than directing Monkey Business. Being a cameraman meant standing around waiting interminably for the next shot to be set up under the best of circumstances, whereas directing even the worst schlock meant attention to business at all times. Indeed the director was the guy who kept the cameraman standing around waiting for him to get his shit together, as Weller soon rediscovered when the roles were reversed.
And when the directors were as incompetent as the amateurs he was being forced to work under, the cameraman spent his whole day in a state of impatient, contemptuous boredom. Further, when the mind behind the viewfinder was that of a director, it took to second-guessing every take of every shot in advance, setting it up, instructing the actors, and shooting it over and over again mentally before the actual director on the set did it his way, and of course, nine times out of ten, the Changes Production directors did it wrong, extracting footage far inferior to what Weller was shooting inside his own head. So even the advance second guessing soon became a tedious mental ritual, a mind game that ran automatically in his head, programmed by boredom, edged by contempt.
What gave the tedium a lunatic piano-wire tension was that Weller knew he was the only person in the building who felt that way; he was surrounded by enthusiasm and dedication and people who were ecstatically convinced they were doing work of cosmic significance.
Georgie Prinz turned out to be a former dope dealer who had been in processing for two years and who lived and breathed Transformationalism twenty-four hours a day. The other two directors he had worked with were an aging pornographer filled with guilt for what he had been and a one-time New Left media freak who was now convinced that Transformationalism was the true Revolution and that the commercials he was shooting were the highest form of media guerilla warfare. Between them, Georgie Prinz, Max Silver, and Shano Moore put out enough rhetoric and useless energy to light Pasadena, but without the skill and talent to focus it, it just kept the actors and crew in a perpetual state of ideological fervor and working confusion.
When he saw Sara English, he felt that he could cut the sexual vibes with a knife, but if it were anything beyond his own horniness and her background as a one-time porno starlet, she had yet to acknowledge it with a word or gesture. So far it was just one more turn of the screw.
Weller found himself locked inside his own skull, bored, angered, confronted with his own horniness, and alienated on his mountaintop of professional disdain.
Even the meditative deconditioning sessions were losing their bite as Weller sensed the process drawing to a conclusion. Now that he was locked inside his own mind all day, double thinking his way through the life scenarios became just another automatic mind game. He knew exactly what Sylvia was looking for, and feeding it to her was as easy and mechanical as giving the directors the stupid shots they were calling for.
From the speed with which the scenarios were coming and Sylvia's attitude, he could tell that he was giving her optimized readings on the brainwave monitor almost as fast as the words came out of her mouth. Worship and trust for the Great Man? Just adjust the focus a hair. Self-sacrificing dedication to the Cause? Zoom in for a medium close-up, please. His mind was becoming as precise a mechanical instrument as his camera. It couldn't be long before he was officially declared an "optimized consciousness." The process was almost over, and that was all that kept him going. Even Annie was no more than a faceless abstraction shimmering in the distance across a desert of dull gray boredom.
So now it was time to confront Monitor life analysis, the last barrier. Satisfy these bastards, he told himself as he entered the room, and the whole horrible game would be over.
Once again he was in a small cubicle like the meditative deconditioning room, but this time the man behind the desk didn't even have a brainwave monitor in front of him, just a fat manila envelope and a ballpoint pen. The Monitor himself was a wiry, streetwise-looking Chicano in his late twenties, with short black hair and hard, uncompromising eyes.
''I'm Gomez, I'll be doing your life analysis," he said in a thick emotionless voice. "Sit down, Mr. Weller."
Automatically Weller sat down. That voice sounded as if it were used to giving orders and just as used to having them obeyed.
"Understand what this is up front, so we won't get locked into personalities," Gomez said, scanning some material in the folder as he spoke. "My job is to evaluate your life -- not just your consciousness, but how you live, what you're likely to do, where you're really at, the whole picture. Processing is for you, but this is for the movement. If you're going to be one of the people presenting Transformationalism to the world, Transformationalism has to be sure of you. Dead sure. And the movement has to come first, not your personal feelings. Got that?"
"I understand," Weller said.
"Good." Gomez looked up and his heavy lips creased in a faint smile. "Because you're gonna think I'm a pretty mean hombre before this is over. You may hate my guts. You may think I've got it in for you personally. None of that is true. I'm serving the movement as I've been directed to, and your directive is to cooperate totally. We're both working for the same thing, even if it doesn't always seem that way. Got that?"
Weller nodded, somewhat stormed by this belligerent assault, this seemingly deliberate provocation to paranoia. He hated Gomez already, and he wondered whether that was not precisely what he was being programmed to feel.
"Okay," Gomez said, "let's get moving." He paused and fingered the folder. "I hope you're not surprised to hear that this is your dossier, and that we have pretty complete data on the obvious stuff. So we won't waste time on a lot of trivial things we already know. Up front, Weller, what kind of lames do you think we are? Who do yon think you're kidding?"
"Okay, let's get rid of that one right now. Your wife gets a life directive to split because of your hostility to the movement, and you run in here and do an apeshit act, and then suddenly you join Transformationalism and bullshit your way into working for Changes. You think the Monitors are that stupid? You think we've never seen this number run before? You're here to con us into letting you see your wife. Don't call me an asshole by denying it, man!"
Weller reeled, totally unprepared for Gomez's instant, contemptuous, and sure insight into the true nature of the game. Watch it! he told himself. This is a new bad game, and this guy is sharp. But it seemed to him that if they had let him come this far, the game was still on, and this must be a tactic. He wants me to react. What kind of reaction would the convert Jack Weller have? Anger is too obvious....
Instead, Weller slumped in his chair and issued a mournful sigh. "How can I deny that that's what brought me to Transformationalism," he said. "But don't you have enough faith in the movement to believe that it could've Transformed me, even against my will? Don't insult my intelligence. The movement wouldn't have had anything to do with me if you didn't think that were possible."
Gomez's face became neutrally blank. "Explain," he said evenly. It seemed like an encouraging sign.
"Explain what?" Weller said, "That meditative deconditioning showed me where I was coming from? That the guy who came in here to get his wife back had his face rubbed in his own smallness? That Transformationalism gave me the balls to quit a lousy job that was turning me into a zombie? That I finally want to do something meaningful with my life?"
"'Yeah," Gomez said. "You've got to convince me that what you just said is true. That's what your life analysis is all about. It ends when I'm convinced you're telling the truth or when I'm convinced you're lying. So convince me."
"How am I supposed to do that?"
"Don't worry about that," Gomez said with a feral smile, "It's my job to get it out of you. You just answer the questions. Now, what do you think of Changes Productions?"
"Uh ... it's a pretty impressive outfit ..." Weller said cautiously "Pretty high energy people ... and it seems to have a lot of potential...."
"Don't hand me that bullshit, Weller!" Gomez roared. ''I'm a Monitor, not one of your dingbat co-workers! We don't wear rose-colored shades! The truth, Weller, not patronizing crap!"
Once again Weller was stunned and disoriented by Gomez's blunt and contemptuous honesty. None of his previous experiences with Transformationalism had prepared him for this. He couldn't game it through, he couldn't come up with the correct response to program. He was left with only an edited version of the truth.
"Okay, so professionally speaking, it's a mess. A lot of rank amateurs who have no idea of what they're doing." Weller paused, made his voice soft and plaintive. "But I meant what I said about potential. The work you've got lined up, the facilities, the capital...."
"We'd really have something if we had the right people in the creative end?"
"Such as yourself?" Gomez said sardonically.
"Such as myself," Weller shot back automatically. Then, backing it up softly: "Harry Lazlo knows where it's at."
"Harry Lazlo ..." Gomez muttered peculiarly under his breath. Then, louder: "Harry Lazlo knows where Harry Lazlo is at. John knows where Transformationalism is at. Never forget that, Weller. You talk about you being the right kind of person for the creative end -- but what do you conceive the creative end to be?"
"Huh?" Gomez mimicked. "Not whatever Lazlo told you. What do you think the movement really wants to do with Changes Productions? Why are we into something like that? And no superficial bullshit, please!"
Once more Weller couldn't guess what the right response was supposed to be; once more he chose a guarded version of what he imagined was the truth. "Aside from making money, it would seem that the idea is to get the Transformational message on the tube, to plant the terminology and some of the feeling in the public consciousness when people think they're watching something else. 'Subliminal advertising' they used to call it."
Gomez smiled faintly; for once he seemed to be pleased. "Very good, Weller. The true goal is to promote Transformationalism, and everything else is a means to that end. Thank God you didn't try to hand me any bullshit about Art. So the question is, if you were in a creative position, could you really optimize yourself behind those parameters?"
"I think so," Weller said. For once the right answer seemed obvious.
But not to Gomez. "Come on Weller, don't jive me," he said. "You're an ambitious professional director. You expect me to believe that you'd be functioning at optimum churning out Transformationalist propaganda?"
Lord, but this guy is disorienting! Weller thought. I've got to steer this into an area he knows nothing about. "But it's not overt propaganda," he said. "It's subliminal stuff sneaked into commercials for other things, eventually fiction films and TV episodes. Just underlying ideology, right?"
"So what do you think doing episodic TV is like?"
Gomez looked at him perplexedly. I've finally got this guy out of his league, Weller thought. Time for a highfalutin' snow job!.
"You think there isn't an underlying ideology in network TV?" he said cynically, "You think a rash of cop shows, for example, doesn't have anything to do with subtle government pressure? Creative artists always have to work within ideological parameters. Look at the paintings that were produced during the Middle Ages and tell me they had nothing to do with Catholic ideology. Look at Socialist Realism. As long as you're free to do the best work you can within the parameters you're given, you really can't expect anything more."
Gomez leaned back. He fingered the dossier. "Now that is a nice fancy answer," he said. "I'm not sure whether it's bullshit or not, but it sure is nice and fancy." He hunched forward and glared at Weller. "If I were a commissar, I'd want to know whether you were really a dedicated Communist, though, now wouldn't I? If I were a Jesuit, I'd have to know whether you were a sincere Catholic, or just a heretic determined to get along."
"Would you?" Weller said. "Or from your point of view, wouldn't it be the end product that counted?"
"It depends, doesn't it?" Gomez said. '"The Communist Party might be satisfied with your work, but the Church wants your soul."
"And which way do you see Transformationalism?" Weller asked.
Gomez laughed. ''What a question to ask a poor simple boy from the barrio," he said. He got up. "We'll have another session in two days. Same time, same room." Clutching the dossier, he walked toward the door. He paused, extracted a white envelope from the folder, came back, handed it to Weller.
"Oh yeah," he said, "this is for you." Then be was gone. Knowing what it was going to be, Weller tore open the envelope. Inside, perfectly typed on Transformalionalist letterhead, was another letter from Annie. Or her ghost-writer.
So you're working for Transformationalism! I can't tell you how much that means to me. I can't tell you how happy it's made me. But you must know. I know you do.
Now that you're working for the movement, and now that you're in life analysis, I'm allowed to tell you that I'm working for the movement too, and in a very important project. God, how different it is from the old days! Every moment has meaning. I feel like a different person. No, not like a different person, like the real me, the me I always wanted to be. I'm dying to tell you all about it, and once you've passed your life analysis, I'll be able to tell you, not in a letter, but in the flesh. In a few short weeks we'll be together again, they've promised me. And what we'll have to share!
Until then, work well, love, think of me, and eptify yourself behind this brief period of waiting. Remember that we'll be together again before you know it.
Mechanically Weller folded the letter, put it back in the envelope, and stuffed it in a pocket. Only then was he brought up short by his own lack of any really deep reaction. Is it because it really told me nothing? he wondered. Because of the jargon? Because he wasn't even sure that Annie had actually written it? Because it seemed so impersonal, so abstract, so ... so Transformational?
Why did the words on paper conjure up neither an image of her face nor the sound of her voice nor the aura of her presence ...? Why did the letter remain an abstraction? Can it be that it's Annie that's becoming an abstraction to me? he asked himself. Like an old soldier, is the Annie I remember just fading away?
Or is it that this room just seems so empty without Gomez in it? Now that he thought about it, Weller realized that there had been so much electricity sparking between himself and Gomez during the life-analysis session that the letter from Annie had been like an afterthought. Face it, Weller, a bringdown.
For he had definitely contacted a whole new level here, a hint of vast, unplumbed depths within the Transformationalist scam. There had been more brutal honesty, more gut-level intellectual depth, more sheer psychic power in those few minutes with Gomez than in his entire previous experience with the movement. The Monitor had been really impressive, somewhat infuriating, and slightly terrifying. And he had definitely gotten off on the confrontation. There was dread here, but there was also a fascination twisted around it.
Whatever it had been, Weller found that it still held the focus of his attention, even in the face of this letter from Annie. Annie seemed so long ago and far away now, and the life analysis session, even in retrospect, seemed so hyperreal, so immediate.
Jesus, Weller thought, I kind of enjoyed that. I'm almost looking forward to the next one! Somehow Gomez had fed a hunger he hadn't even known he'd had. A hunger he still couldn't name.