37, day seventeen.
I barely breathed as I carried the five gallon bucket of dirty fryer grease across the recently mopped kitchen floor. It took me half an hour to clean the fryer. My apron and my sleeves where black with the grimy remains of burnt french fries and chicken fingers. The scent of rancid oil was everywhere, and I could feel it on my arms, on my face, in my pores. It had been a fifty hour week with no backup except a whiny prep-cook. He was already gone. I just had to finish cleaning the fryer and I could go home. All I had left was to empty the dirty oil into the grease trap behind the dish pit. A five gallon bucket of oil weighs upwards of forty pounds. The metal handle was slippery. It cut into my palm. The oil was still hot, and the burns on my fingers from cleaning the fryer too fast inflamed. Just a fifteen more feet. Now just ten more. The worst possible thing I could do right now would be to drop this bucket. Oh god, why did I think that?
The handle slipped from my grip. The bucket thudded to the floor, and the oil flooded out. Some of it splashed my leg, coating my pants with thick, hot grease. In a few seconds, the oil was everywhere. I once dropped a ten gallon bucket of teriyaki sauce. It took hours to sop it all up, and days before the floor was no longer sticky. This would be much, much worse. I had done it. I was going to be here all night. I had dropped the bucket of dirty fryer oil.
Except I hadn’t.
It didn’t happen. The bucket was still in my hand. I hadn’t spilled it anywhere, except in my head. I emptied it into the grease trap, went home, and took a shower. Or two.
I have a very visceral imagination. I chose these words carefully. I do not mean a good imagination, or a powerful imagination, or even a vivid imagination. I mean visceral. When encountered with something that frightens me, or that I find disgusting, I feel it. It is rich, and sensory, and horrible. It does not happen every time, but it is frequent.
A car cuts me off. I feel it crash into me. The g-forces of deceleration distend my face. My head crashes into the driver’s side window. I hear more than see window shatter as I fly through it, and the impact as my face collides with the concrete medium in the middle of the road. I can feel it now, as I type this. It is uncomfortable.
I am sure there is a psychological condition that describes this. I have never been able to find it. This sort of thing is difficult to research, because it is difficult to describe the symptoms without examples or illustrative metaphor. I am sure there are other people who have this condition, but I have never met any of them.
It has some side effects. It makes it pretty unpleasant to be a cook. Cooks cut things with sharp knives. Cooks put sensitive body parts next to hot surfaces. They have to do it over and over and over, so quickly they don’t have time to be careful. Cooks have to carry heavy, awkward containers that are easily spilled. The contents are often expensive, or took hours to prepare. This is exacerbated by the culture in many kitchens. In one restaurant, I had to stock the downstairs kitchen every Friday; it was not used during the week. This involved carrying hundreds of pounds of food out the back door, through an alley, and down several flights of steps. I usually did it in four or five laborious trips. My senior coworkers made fun of me. They could do it in three. If it took me five trips I must not be much of a man. The whole time I carried the food, I could feel myself spilling it.
Another side effect is that I am squeamish about certain subjects. I hate scatological conversation or humor. I have to mitigate discussion of the subject with a word like “scatological” to even be able to talk about it. If someone describes a bodily function in a little too much detail, I am right there with them as they perform it. I am up to my elbows in it. My friends all know this about me. They think it is hilarious to make these kinds of jokes in my presence, sometimes with great detail and impressively evocative language. Through hours and hours of practice with a responsible subject, I’d say they’ve gotten quite good at it.
My friends are all jerks.
I do not know if this has any positive effects. Maybe it makes me a better writer. I do have an active imagination in the more usual sense. They are probably related. I am sometimes moved by music or beauty in a way that staggers me. I was once so flooded with joy at the sight of Mt. Reineer on a clear day that I had to pull my car over until the feeling subsided. Before you worry about me, this is very rare. Also, it is wonderful. It might be the same phenomenon.
I may not know the name of the psychological condition that accounts for this, but I do have the next best thing: a ridiculous theory. The way I see it, every time I encounter something risky or unpleasant, my senses are pounded by a sudden and intense awareness of my place in a multi-universe probability cloud. Like an electron in an un-collapsed waveform. I am always in a probability cloud, under this theory. All of us are. I happen to have a mental quirk that makes me aware.
Whenever I carry something that can be spilled, another me, in another universe, does spill it. It clatters to the floor and flies everywhere. He panics and shakes as his brain releases adrenaline and cortisol. Frustration and images of the immanent consequences of his blunder surge into his mind as he scrapes food matter off of his pants. Meanwhile, back in this universe, I feel what he is feeling. It is not as strong, or as real, but I feel it.
Bear in mind this is not always the same alternate me. Or at least, for his sake I sure hope that it isn’t. That would be a serious luckless bastard. Completely unemployable. Rather there is always some other Jesse in the probability cloud who spills or crashes or burns whatever it is, and I get to feel what he is feeling. Does this make me more careful, because the consequences of mistakes feel so real? I don’t know. I’ve only actually spilled things a few times, so it might.
I call it the Visceral Multi-Universe Effect, because names for things are cool. I know I can’t be the only one experiencing the Visceral Multi-Universe Effect. I would love to talk to others who do. Maybe if we combine our powers we can do something neat, like cross over into another universe. Actually, no, that’s ridiculous. I don’t know why I considered that a serious possibility.
Much more likely, we’ll be able to control our own probability clouds. At first it will be small. Flipped coins will turn up heads more often. It will stop raining just as we step outside. We will never spill anything.
Eventually, though a series of struggles and encounters during which there is bonding and estrangement and re-bonding and loads of personal growth, we will gain serious fine control. We will go to Vegas, and clean up at the roulette wheel. You will become the world’s best marksman; you never miss. I will indulge in synchronicity after synchronicity to become the world’s most interesting person. It will be great fun. The best time of our lives.
Until we are noticed.
It is only a matter of time before private interests snatch us up and tries to weaponize the phenomenon. Within a year, they will isolate the biological mechanism, and produce machines that can do it on a mass scale. In a decade, corporations will have near-total control over probability. Random chance will become as obsolete as rotary phones. The course of the future will be dictated by whoever controls this technology. They will be like unto gods among men.
Until the inevitable side effects. All of the research will be into controlling probability on a macroscopic level, with no understanding about what is happening on a quantum scale despite the pleas of one lone scientist with predictions of doom and wild hair. Soon enough, matter will begin to rip apart at a subatomic level. Because certain events that were supposed to happen in other universes are happening here, the universes will start to bleed together. Reality will shred apart, and everything in the panoply of creation will come undone.
You know what? I’m probably being paranoid. That probably won’t happen. If you have a similar psychological condition, I would love to hear from you.
I’m sure we have a lot to talk about.