Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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Being Simon Galen

by Joseph Thompson



I remember that first call. I had recently graduated with degrees in communication and statistics, and was reading in the hammock. Friedman, I think. I'll always love the classic economists no matter how wrong they were. How long ago was that? Let's say, long enough ago that phone calls were still solely an aural experience. Yes, we did have data streams then, just not out in the middle of nowhere.

I didn't even put the book down. It wasn't a number I recognized. "Yeah?"

"Simon Galen?" a man's voice asked.

"Yeah." It was my name after all.

"The Simon Galen?" he asked again.

"No," I said. I never found out what he wanted. The line went dead when I said no.

I'm not sure how I ended up with the same name as one of the greatest minds of the late twenty-first century. He became a household name after I was born, so I know my parents didn't name me after him. Like most people, I knew why he was famous, but that was it. In school, I read how his unorthodox application of nonlinear patterns operating at the molecular level revolutionized the concept of fuel efficiency. And who doesn't use the data streams? Galen's theories on quantum computing are still sending shock waves through the world.

Don't ask me to explain how it or any of the other hundred other ideas the Simon Galen put forth actually work. I know it's all in the public domain, free for anybody, but it's beyond me. Particle theory, electronics, economics: Galen's work covers too many disciplines for any one person to comprehend it all. If anybody who's not the Simon Galen claims to get it all, that person is full of crap.

That call opened up a world of possibilities. The Simon Galen isn't the only person who gets ideas. I didn't act on them right off. Cowardice? Probably. It wasn't until I moved to Athens, Georgia. Something about the freedom of the move made my little identity theft temptations seem too petty to really be wrong.

I didn't want to move south. Maine winters suit me, but my parents made noise about charging rent, which meant I needed a job. Looking locally, I learned there wasn't any demand for an ecochondriac analyst who still thought he could save the world. Turns out the presence of a small college in Athens created a little green incubator. I've never cared for bulldogs, but I'd cheer anything that got me a job.

I found a position by August. This was the summer where everyday a new disaster threatened some link in the global food chain. Before I moved, I read about the fungus that ripped through the Russian breadbasket destroying ninety-eight percent of the wheat crop. United States beekeepers found themselves in a similar situation. They opened their hives to find dead bees and honey covered with white mold. Right after I dropped the security deposit down on an apartment, sharp freezes in South America and throughout the Pacific Northwest destroyed all hope for a decent fruit and vegetable harvest. And there I was in Athens, fucking Athens, analyzing environmental statistics for a small non-profit.

Don't get me wrong. Athens is a fun town if drunk frat boys or starving musicians are your thing. Not mine. I've never had much time for people who buy their friends. I don't have a sense of rhythm and musicians refuse to believe me until I prove it. Parties grow awkward from there.

I missed my parent's old farm back in Byron, Maine. I missed spending rainy days reading in the hayloft, snowshoeing through the woods, and simply having silence. There is no silence in the city. Granted, Athens is no Atlanta, but it was still the densest urban environment, the only urban environment, in which I had ever lived. More people lived on my block than in my entire hometown.

It wasn't all bad though. There were coffee shops, and I don't mean air-pots at a gas station. I'm talking real coffee that won't blast through one's colon before reaching the end of the cup. I spent a lot of time that winter at Interrobang, where I fell into a microcosm of other eco-nerds and enviro-bloggers. We'd talk about the state of the world (doomed), actions by the various political leaders (misguided), and the plans of our respective organizations (futile).

I met Macklin at Interrobang. He organized for the Formal Recognition Of Glacial Sublimation. I told him about the phone call at one of his FROG sit-ins. He got this big grin and clapped me on the arm.

"Man, that's total gold," he said. "We're going out tonight."

I protested. Payday was a week away and I needed to make rent, but he wouldn't hear it. That night we walked into coolest bars in town that didn't charge a cover. As soon as we entered he'd loudly introduce me to strangers as, "this is Mr. Simon Galen." That coprophagous grin would spread across his face as people turned to stare and free drinks crowded our table.

We began going out every night hopping to a new place every couple of hours. Without fail, we left the last bar of the evening separately with hookups on our arms. I preferred something curvier like the girls back home. Macklin took care of as many of the frats he could fit onto his bed. I won't pretend it wasn't great, but the free booze and one-night fucks weren't meant for me. They were for the, I was just a.

It was also Macklin who noticed when the whole charade started to bore me. He invented a new game and introduced it to the morning crew of eco-nerds at Interrobang.

"What if a name could change the world?" he asked. I knew where this was going.

"I'm serious," he said. "Companies spend billions each year turning their names into brands. We know them all. Probably use them every day. Give me two valid reasons why it wouldn't work at the micro-level."

"We don't have -illions," one of the bloggers said. "Bil, mil, tril: you're talking about needing macro-level proportions of resources. Shit like that's way out of reach for individuals."

It took Macklin until the next morning to answer this challenge.

"Corp-cats are out to make more money," he said. "That's their drive and purpose. Money's a resource, company name an investment, and brand recognition the big return. We have different goals therefore we can draw on different resources."

"Like what?" I asked.

"Like ideas," Macklin said. "Like our friend Simon Galen. Anybody know how much money he started off with?"

We didn't. Not one of us knew the Simon Galen's biography.

This caught the nerds' imagination. They proposed one ridiculous idea after another of how to use their name to change the world. Mostly they ego stroked. So what? Dreaming up these improbable ideas to tear them down entertained all of us. I didn't offer any of my own though. I wanted to hear Macklin's big idea. He wouldn't have suggested the game if he didn't have one already. Something told me it didn't have anything to do with his name.

####

Macklin waited three days before introducing his idea. He never actually used my name or the Simon Galen's name, but the implications were clear.

"Why not invite the most factious politicians to a secret meeting with somebody they couldn't refuse?" he asked. "But when they show up, they all get to meet each other without the interference of the civil service agenda's, diplomatic manipulations, special interest distortions and media hyperbole. You know, make these people see each other as people."

Cute idea and I said as much. The rest of the nerds loved it.

"It'd take a pristine, remote location," one suggested.

"With good but not fancy food," another offered. "Let 'em enjoy being treated like real people. Have 'em play games, kickback for an afternoon."

I got sick of this simplistic crap real fast. I always assumed we were adults not naÔve children. Resisting the temptation to list every reason why this fairytale plan couldn't work, I gave Macklin only the two his rules required.

"One: heads of state don't travel alone," I said. "There's a reason why they're subject to hidden agendas, manipulated reports, distorted logic, and exaggerated op-eds."

I waited for a rebuttal. The nerds all stared at their coffee. Macklin smiled and gestured for me to continue.

"Two: the Simon Galen changed the world and pissed off a lot of people who didn't want it to change."

Macklin nodded as if he had already thought of this. The rest of the nerds looked offended, shocked that I would offer validity to the very real anti-Simon Galen sentiments of some.

There's not much difference between a fool and a hero-worshiper. It was easy to lose touch with the global reality in our little green Interrobang bubble. When the Simon Galen offered the world freedom from fossil fuels global, petrochemical companies and oil dependent economies collapsed. Eighty percent of OPEC's member countries declared Simon Galen to be an economic-terrorist. The pope, in an effort to protect the Vatican's investments in Nigeria and Venezuela, excommunicated him. A ground swell of ultra-conservative politicians in the States painted him as a pinko hell-bent on destroying American jobs. And a group of oligarchs in Moscow published ads declaring Simon Galen to be a western ploy to destabilize Russian energy policy.

"Maybe these problems cancel each other out," said Macklin. "Nobody wants to be seen publicly with this pariah, but can they afford to ignore this one?"

####

The global retraction was in full swing by the time winter ended. The data streams flooded us with pictures of people starving in the Great African Dust Bowl and urban warfare destroying Tokyo. After the government reinstated some of the Red Laws, local cops picked up Macklin for lingering too long in the wrong section of the library. Interrobang folded due to a combination of fear and finances. Nobody wants to spend money they don't have in a place where they risk being labeled a degenerate threat to the American Way of Life.

People get weird when they don't know where the next meal is coming from. I stopped going out. I couldn't risk my reputation like Macklin. Sure, I failed at being the green guardian I pictured myself to be, but I wasn't in jail either.

Macklin never forgave me.

We each made our choices. Macklin took nine, all but four suspended, rather than sacrificing his integrity or freedom of thought. I thought things would work out if I played along and avoided getting noticed.

The government froze the funding for all unapproved nonprofits in March. In April, they started auditing major donors and directors. I knew what was coming. It didn't matter by whose rules I played. The government needed an enemy to rally public outrage against. It was only a matter of time before they began destroying educated inconveniences like me. They did it to Macklin and I was next. At least he had stood for something. I should have visited him at least once to tell him that before returning to my parents' farm in May.

I pretended to work on my novel for the first month after I got home. Truth was I had nothing without the stimulation of my little Athens coffee clique. Clucking chickens can't offer much in the way of camaraderie. Talking to the sheep only highlighted the sense of isolation. During that time so many countries declared bankruptcy, it looked like a run on the World Bank. The IMF dissolved. Starvation and riots transformed into a dozen wars crisscrossing the northern half of the African continent. Strange oily sheens worked their way down the Mississippi River killing every form of aquatic life they encountered. Outside my parents small farm, the world was imploding. Something needed to happen, something good.

"Why not the fairytale plan?" I asked the sheep.

They stared at the grain bucket in my hand. I took their impatient stamping as a yes.

It was so easy. I sent letters to the capitols. No top-secret addresses, I used the public ones available to everybody. With the exception of the United Kingdom, every letter made it's way from office to office until it reached the person to whom I addressed it. I didn't even pretend to be serious when I wrote it:

Dear (whomever),

Please join me on my estate in Byron, Maine for the first week of June where we can discuss my latest invention and how it will affect your administration. Bring swim trunks and a badminton racket.

Simon Galen

They came. Macklin was right. Nobody could afford to pass up this opportunity, but they couldn't risk the publicity of a thorough security check.

I can't imagine what my parents thought when the first black Rolls turned into the driveway at two-thirty. It shocked the hell out of me. I hadn't told my parents about this beforehand. I didn't think anybody would actually come and I didn't ask for any confirmations. I remember kissing my mom on the cheek and asking if she could make a raspberry crisp to serve thirty. It wasn't until I went out to greet them that I realized the biggest eco-enemies in public office tend to be men. About twenty-eight of those men stood in my driveway looking at each other, unsure what to say. Representing the majority of the world's wealth, these men had never met each other in an unstructured setting.

They weren't impressed.

When the Nigerian president loudly demanded an explanation, I relied on the Simon Galen's reputation for eccentricity.

"Business later," I said. "Team badminton now. Northern Hemisphere versus Southern. Let's play."

It worked. Everybody picked up their rackets and played until my mom rang the dinner bell. She served buffet style. My dad opened up every bottle of dandelion wine that he had put up last year. The plan was going remarkably well.

The US and Venezuela moved beyond their media driven enmity and were teasing each other about different calls during the afternoon games. The Ukrainian president raised a toast to the Russian PM who tried to poison him a couple years back. France asked dad for his wine recipe. I thought I was going to get away with it and then the Sultan of Oman cleared his throat. He had passed on the dandelion wine, so he didn't feel the rosy glow enjoyed by the rest of us.

"My compliments to the chef that put together such a fine rustic dessert," he said.

Mom blushed. Dad and I did too. I don't think either of us could remember the last time we complimented her cooking.

The Sultan smiled and nodded at her and before continuing, "But we have been misled. Simon Galen is not here."

I stood up. "My name is Simon Galen. I invited you to my family's farm to meet each other without the interference of your politics."

"Impossible," the Sultan said. "You're too young to be the Simon Galen."

"I'm the Simon Galen who invited you here."

That broke the mood. Ukraine looked at his drink's proximity to Russia and poured it into the sink. Venezuela and the United States inched apart until they were as far from each other as they could be without actually sitting on the arms of the couch. France shrugged and asked my mom for another piece of that delicious crisp.

It was like that moment in the stories. Between the last hour of the old year and the first of the new, the lion and unicorn share the crown and cease fighting. I created that hour and then it passed. After all, we called it the fairytale plan back at Interrobang. When the lack of the Simon Galen broke the spell, everybody disappeared. The various heads of state slunk back to their cars and drove away.

Did it change anything? Not the things I expected. My parents divorced and sold the farm. Mom moved to Oman and dad works in France. The rhetoric between the US and Venezuela is still vitriolic. The last time I saw the data stream, however, there was something about a trade deal: the Simon Galen's technology used to move Venezuela away from extraction and the US towards subsidizing more South American agriculture.

My life changed. Everybody was pretty embarrassed by it all, but as long as nobody knew what had happened the politicians were willing to look away. When the story leaked and Macklin fingered me in the media, I was done for.

My lawyer managed to prevent extradition, but he couldn't do anything against the Simon Galen. Turns out the Simon Galen was a pseudonym, an umbrella name, for a collective of altruistic professionals across a variety of disciplines. Each member sued me for fraud and identity theft. Two hundred and sixty three counts, one for every professional covered under the Simon Galen name. I got ten years a pop to be served consecutively.

I can't blame Macklin for being a rat. I really should have visited him.

THE END


© 2011 Joseph Thompson

Bio: Joseph Thompson originally focused on freelance business journalism until he decided to stop writing about other peopleís money and to write something people wanted to read. He alternates between perspiring and shivering in Portland, Maine where he co-runs the Glass Jaw Fiction Company. Mr. Thompson's story Imagine Getting Away... appeared in the November 2009 edition of Aphelion. More about him can be found at Glass Jaw Fiction Company.

E-mail: Joseph Thompson

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