Private: Ned Reform
From the desk of Benedict F. Reform, PhD:
My dearest Melinda,
I have found myself in a melancholic state this past fortnight.
I cannot stop ruminating on the nature of those among us who we would describe as ignorant, empty-headed, and obtuse. Granted, it is my mission to drag them – kicking and screaming (and often literally so!) – into the warm glow of enlightenment, but as my journey progresses I have no choice but to wonder: what if some simply cannot be saved? What if there are those so incredibly dim witted among us that trying to enlighten them is a fool’s errand? Am I, like a modern day Sisyphus, engaging in what will someday amount to a futile and pointless endeavor?
This is borderline bacchanalian and blasphemous blabbery from an educator. I am supposed to believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, yes? That all of my charges can succeed and reach that “light bulb moment.” That is the credo by which someone who has dedicated his life to service, to inspiring the next generation, to winding the grandfather clock of those who will someday inherit the planet for ourselves, must live.
And yet I’ve seen so much, Melinda. I’ve seen acts of pure ignorance and dare I even use the forbidden word – stupidity – that would boggle even a mind as sharp as your own. Professional wrestling, Melinda. Professional wrestling is… perhaps making me lose sight of the mission.
I must meditate on what this means.
Dr. Ned Reform
March 23, The Middle Paleolithic Era
Roughly 50,000 years ago
Seems odd, yes? For today’s adventure to start so long ago.
And yet here we are: a landscape that manages to look both so familiar and so foreign at the same time. The tall, dark pine trees suggest northern Europe. The shriek of a hawk in the distance. A mid-day sun. The fauna, the bubbling brook, the clear blue sky – nothing out of the ordinary here.
But, lo! What’s that in the distance moving ever so closer? You’re tempted to think it is a group of apes, but as they move closer, it actually appears to be a nomadic band of human beings. Naked as the day they were born, brandishing crude and primitive rocky clubs with their heads on a swivel in all directions keeping them constantly aware of their surroundings; the crowd moves slowly through the forest. Men, women, children, and the elderly all huddle together for protection and warmth.
But no – something is still not quite right. We haven’t quite pinned this one down. These people are a great deal larger than most of the humans who walk the planet today. Their brows are pronounced, bushy, rigid, and deeply lined. Their noses are flat and their very skull structure appears to be both native and alien to our senses. Their hair, while mostly human, is stringy and wild. Their nude bodies caked in dirt and grime.
Yes, children. Behold: what you see in front of you are not homo sapiens, to which we have become so very accustomed, but the ancient and mysterious Neanderthal. That’s right: in this prehistoric world, several species of human wander the Earth. We are not alone.
This particular offshoot of our own species are pure brutes: large, powerful, but ultimately dim witted. Our cousins to be sure, but still… these are not human beings in the strictest sense.
The group stops, its leader holding up a single hand and grunting to signal to his people. His fellow Neanderthals heed his warning immediately, stopping their tracks and moving into the nearby brush for cover. Suddenly, and very strangely, the head Neanderthal is no longer nude.
In fact, inexplicably, he is wearing a skin tight wrestling singlet. Multicolored – blue and pink.
The bushes in front of our Neanderthal friend begin to rustle. And from the wall of green shrubbery emerges another human figure: this one smaller, body painted in camouflage, and less hairy with a bone structure that resembles our own. He wears primitive clothing and sports a weapon in contrast to the Neanderthal’s blunt force weapon: this is stick with a sharpened rock at the end. A crudely crafted throwing spear.
The homo sapien has arrived.
This is an important moment, children! Perhaps the most important moment in human history. This is the moment when the mighty Neanderthal first encounters his cousin, the homo sapien. The entirety of human existence rests on this moment. Let us watch.
The two “men” stare each other down, with the Neanderthal clutching his club and the human brandishing his spear. The air is tense as they size each other up. They both furrow their brows as they begin to subtly circle each other, neither man’s eyes moving away from his counterpart.
Perhaps this is also the birth of the first ever drop toehold? I kid, of course. A little historical humor. Carry on.
Finally, just as this cold war of ancient proportions seems ready to pop off… the Neanderthal’s back up appear from their hiding places. The human man, who up until this point seemed to be okay with his odds, suddenly flashes a look of concern. He lets out a single grunt of defiance before back pedaling toward the tree line. He never takes his eyes off the swarm of Neanderthals as he disappears into the forest.
September 27, 2022
New Haven, Connecticut
Ned Reform… excuse me, DOCTOR Ned Reform… stands on a dimly lit stage. Behind him, a black curtain foregrounded by large red letters: NED Talks: Ideas Worth Listening To. He’s dressed in his best business casual and sports a pair of black thick-rimmed glasses. His arms are folded behind him as he stares off into the distance, seemingly at nothing. Finally, he speaks without moving his head away from whatever he is gazing at…
“And so we see the homo sapien retreat,” says Reform. “In the face of a larger, stronger, and more numerous opponent, the human tucks tail and runs. Perhaps this is disappointing you, yes? Cowardice from our shared ancestor there? As if we somehow come from a long line of the weak and spineless?”
Reform’s head snaps around, breaking his trance. His voice is sharp and accusing.
“You would be wrong!”
A mischievous grin now.
“You see, the homo sapien demonstrated his greatest strength in the face of a prehistoric world bent on destroying him.”
Reform taps his head in the tried and true “look at my big brain” motion.
“His intelligence, children… his wits! For you see, while the Neanderthal was larger, stronger, and more powerful… well…”
Reform makes a big show of looking around the stage.
“Where are they now, hmmm? They’re gone, children. Extinct. In nature’s ultimate game of skill – survival of the fittest – the monstrous humanoids found themselves wanting, yes? For in the end, the ability to thrive did not depend on the strength of their muscles, but the gray matter between their eyes. Our homo sapien friend engaged in what amounts to a tactical retreat. Sure, he could have attacked, but what would that have accomplished in the face of such odds? Instead of engaging the Neanderthal on his thuggish terms, he returns to the forest to plot his next move. And clearly, this approach worked. In the arms race of the human species, Homo sapiens were simply smarter. And… well, we know how that story goes, don’t we?”
“We quite literally took over the world.”
Reform holds his gaze. Keeps it for what becomes an almost uncomfortable amount of time. Finally, without shifting, he clears his throat loudly… a not so subtle signal.
We hear a voice from off screen. And our view shifts away from the stage on which Reform stands – to an auditorium full of empty seats. While Reform calls himself The Sage on the Stage… he appears to be quite literally talking to himself. Except for one listener: his ever loyal TA, Levi Cole. The muscled former amateur wrestler shuffles a crumble up note card frantically before unfolding it and squinting at it. He begins to read in an unnatural and stilted voice, stressing the wrong syllables.
“Yes… Doctor… Reform. But did… did all… the… Neanderthals… really just… disappear?”
Finally, Reform breaks his pose. His face lights up.
“Excellent and completely unforeseen query, my dear friend! In fact: the answer is no! Geneticists contend that many people living today still contain trace elements of Neanderthal DNA inside their genetic code. So homo sapiens did not simply destroy the Neanderthals… they conquered them. Assimilated them. Made them disappear yes, but also brought them along via their genetic code into a more civilized world. Without human beings, the Neanderthals would never have achieved culture. Achieved art. So while some may claim the Neanderthal was brutally wiped out, I contend that we in fact simply… made them better. In a way, we did them a favor, yes?”
Reform shakes his head regretfully.
“Sadly… well, it is my personal belief (this is still a matter of contested debate, mind you) that some of us have more Neanderthal in us than others. For you see, that powerful but oafish brute archetype still exists in the world today, doesn’t it? Sadly, there are still some remnants of that ancient and barbaric world… remnants that should have been weeded out many, many centuries ago.”
Back to the smirk.
“And that’s my job.”
The sound of TA Cole – the sole person in the room – applauding vigorously.
This is the part where I’m supposed to talk directly to Great Scott, yes? As if this entire piece of business hasn’t secretly been about him the whole time. I’m sure you didn’t realize that… I know many of you struggle with subtext. Even though I put a singlet on the caveman, for goodness sake.
But the fact is: I’m not sure I’m truly capable of speaking to Mr. Scott. Or would it be Mr. Great? Let’s go with Mr. Scott. This may shock you to hear, but my usual impeccable faith in my orator abilities has been shaken here. Now, understand this, children: I pride myself on being able to reach anyone. I’ve always felt that I could reach down to the dimmest of bulbs and bring them up with me into the light.
But I falter here. I take no pleasure in saying this, but Mr. Scott may in fact be so cognitively beneath me that it is impossible for me to lower my rhetoric to communicate with him. This is humbling to be sure. But we must also admit that Mr. Scott is a special case… the rare combination of nincompoop, dimwit, oaf, weak-minded, dense, doltish, simple… and slow. This truly is the perfect storm, children, and I fear that I may need a bigger boat.
That’s a Jaws reference, you see. Let it never be said that Dr. Reform is not hip with the pop culture.
Regardless, I am at an impasse. The usual – and by the way, this is a reductive and gaudy term – “trash talk” simply does not seem appropriate here.
No, no, no. Dr. Ned Reform is many things, but never an absconder. I cannot let this situation defeat me. I WILL not, in fact.
I will give it my best attempt. Let’s go:
Great Scott! I… that is, me… am going to defeat you. No! Beat you. Win? Me am going to win! Yes, that should do nicely. You simply cannot compare… that is, you is bad wrestler. I is good wrestler. Yes?
Children – I believe that wasn’t half bad! In fact, that was borderline fun! I should intellectually slum it with the bottom feeders more often! What a rush!
This will be my greatest challenge to date, children. The unstoppable scholar vs the immovable moron. A clash of titanic proportions! An age old battle, as the craft and wily homo sapien continues his ancient dance against a more thuggish and crude opponent. Only one way of life can succeed here – and I assure you, it will be mine.
It is always mine.
Harari, Yuval Noah. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. NY: Harper, 2015.
Grant, Michael. Myths of the Greeks and Romans. NY: Penguin Books, 1962.
Spielberg, Steven. JAWS. USA, 1975. Film.