Soon: Chapter 10: Poor Tick, Poor Jae

Although the beginning of chapter 10 is meant to elicit sympathy for poor, blinded Paul, I have much more for Tick and Jae.

Paul has been blinded by the blast of the second Miracle Well, which is not surprising since the idiot removed his goggles.  What is surprising to me is that Paul’s head has been shaved, despite the fact that he was wearing a hat.  Does anyone know if baldness has anything to do with the Biblical Paul, or is this Jenkins just not knowing his medicine?  I mean, hell, I once had a Grade III concussion and a scalp laceration, and my head wasn’t shaved.

Anyway, Paul is airlifted back to Chicago, where he wakes from a drug-induced haze to find his vision gone, maybe forever.  His first visitor is Bob Koontz, who fills Paul in on the fates of Donny Johnson (found dead of smoke inhalation; presently roasting in Hell (well, we know this part, even if Bob and Paul don’t)), and Tick:

Koontz hesitated.  “Tell you the truth, Tick is catching major heat on this one.  The word leaked about the second well.  It was all over the news even before Johnson’s body was found.  And of course, a death like that couldn’t be kept quiet.  Half the country seems to think this is some kind of miracle, and the other half wants to fire the entire NPO for failing to foresee and prevent terrorism.  People upstairs believe Tick botched this.  He’s been encouraged to take a leave of absence.”

“What a mess.” [said Paul]

Boy, no good deeds go unpunished, do they?  Poor Tick wanted to avoid a rush to judgment, tried to break up the fight between Donny and St. Stephen, and suddenly this whole God-created mess is his fault?  What a crock.

Of course, our hero Paul, instead of feeling bad for Tick for being made the fall guy and all, manages to bring the subject right back to The Most Important Subject in the Universe: Paul’s feelings.

“He’s [Tick] got a daughter to visit in Australia.  But he’s really torn up about Johnson’s death and about you.  Your injuries, I mean.”

“I don’t want his pity.  Yours either.” [said Paul]

“Easy.  All I’m saying is that people care.”

“Caring won’t bring my sight back.”

Now, I am not for a moment saying that it is not natural and understandable for a person painfully injured to lash out and/or be self-absorbed.  Many people do.  But Paul was already a hostile and utterly selfish jerk when we met him.  So these hospital scenes read less like a flawed man dealing with a horrific situation than a cruel asshat finally being given “license” to be just as awful as he wants to be without fear of social restraint.  First, we have Tick, but then we have poor Jae:

…Dr. Bihari was forthright with Jae and Ranold about Paul’s prospects.  Paul heard Jae crying.

“Turn off the waterworks,” Paul said, “and stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

“Oh, Paul, this just makes me so sad.  I know you’re strong enough to cope with this, but it will be hard–”

“Hard for whom?  I’m the one who’s blind.  You’re only making me feel worse.”

“Paul, I’m not up to fighting.  I’m just overwhelmed and sorry–”

You’re overwhelmed?”

Paul heard her leave the room, sobbing.

(Please note–this is the first time the couple has even been in the same room since the accident.)

Again, I would be much more sympathetic if Paul wasn’t already an asshat who delights in emotionally abusing his wife.  (More on this in the next chapter, because it only gets worse.)  And for now, Jae is so upset that she can’t even go back to Paul’s room, and has to write a note for Ranold to read to Paul.  Poor Jae.

And finally, speaking of reading, Paul requests Ranold to get him the New Testament “on disc.”  Ooo, time for the conversion process to begin!  Because as we all know, reading the Bible is Magic.

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Posted on April 16, 2011, in Books, Soon. Bookmark the permalink. 15 Comments.

  1. Wow. I just…what’s wrong with Jenkins? All-flat characters would be one thing, but he regularly manages to elicit sympathy, just never for who he wants to elicit sympathy for.

  2. Of course, when doing his religious studies degree way back when, Paul wouldn’t have encountered the Bible.

    Um, how’s that again?

  3. I cannot even begin to comment on what a douchehat Paul is in this chapter.

    So I will discourse instead on the fascinating topic of the Apostle Paul and baldness.

    In fact, there *is* an association; not only that, there was a huge kerfuffle about it in the Late Antique period of Church history.

    To cruelly summarize one of those fascinating arguments that Church historians adore (reams of arguments, Church councils, nay even excommunications about meaningless trivialities), dedicated ascetics (it’s a bit early to think of them as “monks” in the modern sense) would shave their heads to show their commitment (usually but not always a practice reserved for males.)

    There were three “patterns” of such tonsure, each of which claimed an apostolic precedent: the Pauline, which involved shaving the whole head; the Petrine, which was the weird circular fringe with a hole in the middle, which we are most familiar with today in the West; and the Johannine, which looked like nothing so much as a truncated arrow (like Aang’s tattoo).

    This last was most popular in the Celtic areas, and quickly became a focal point of the long running rivalry between Celtic (mostly British) and Roman Christianity, which was really more about authority and organization, and also some distinct “flavor” of practice.

    I’ll spare you the delightfully vitriolic terms which each side use to condemn the other’s preferred haircut, since it’s not really relevant, except to say that the Pauline tonsure — while it *officially* was neither condemned nor endorsed — pretty much won, due to the natural tendencies of male follicular challenges.

    At any rate, Paul was almost always depicted as emphatically bald — I can’t think of a single image off the top of my head in which he has a full head of hair. It’s one of the most distinctive elements of his iconography, along with a pointy beard, a sheaf of letters (or book) and a sword.

    I’ll eat my own hair if Jenkins knows anything about all this, of course, except possibly the last .

  4. I would think the Petrine (aka Roman) tonsure would be the one closest to typical male pattern baldness, with its “ring of hair around a bald crown” look, than the Pauline…. Nowadays the “totally bald” tonsure is more associated with Eastern monasticism, especially Buddhism.

  5. It’s not just that Paul’s previous behavior establishes his current behavior to not simply be the result of rage born of loss and fear. It’s that Jenkins has so little skill writing complex characters (good characters behaving badly, bad characters behaving virtuously) that you know he didn’t intend us to see him as anything but absolutely right.

  6. Choir of Shades

    The line that gets me in all of this is: “Turn off the waterworks,” Paul said, “and stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

    To tell anyone close to you, let alone your spouse, to stop being selfish and whiny when they encounter you for the first time after you’ve been through a near-fatal experience… That’s well beyond just scared and desperate. This character would have to have been a freaking saint before his accident (and there to be a reasonable expectation that he would become so again) for me to forgive him, especially since that would be a great way to show people who he’s helped over the years coming to help him (helping others is more than just the right thing; to do good for others in turn makes others more willing to do good for you).

    Also, I know I don’t need to ask, but do they specify medically why he went blind? Because in a world where most forms of cancer* are easily curable, and repairs on ruptured eardrums are no more significant that getting a tooth pulled, it seemed the corneal replacement and a number of other surgeries should be quite trivial.

    *Did anyone else think that the part about brain cancer was Jenkins saying, “HAHAHA! Even your science can’t compete with God’s creation of the brain since you ignore the SOUL!” Except that by the time of his second book (and possibly even his first), significant work had been done showing that we CAN interface with the brain. Oh, and that the whole linking of the soul bit seems to imply that brain cancer is soul cancer.

    • “Well, Mrs Stepola, we could cure his blindness easily enough. But we’ve had him here for three days now, during which time he’s insulted everyone who’s come close to him while trying to chat up anyone who sounds vaguely female, and we’re wondering… would you like us to tell him it’s incurable, to see if he gets any more humble?” (In Atheistopia, medical ethics are something we read about in history books.)

      • While I would be appalled at any medical professional who would say such a thing… the part of me that’s joined the Dark Side (We Have Cookies(tm), Some Of Them Have Sprinkles!(r)) really can’t think of anything more appropriate for Paul “Douchebag” Stepola.

        You know, if this were a conversion story where, eventually, somehow, Stepola says to Jae, “I am so, so sorry for treating you crap. If you want to be on your own for a time to think over our relationship, I’ll understand, and you don’t have to forgive me. But please know that I am sorry for everything I have done to you and for not loving you as I could have,” then maybe I can forgive him being a jackhat through these pages. As it is, I’m ashamed to say that I’m GLAD this jerk is blind now.

        You know, you were right. Stepola is far, far more hateable than Joshua Jordan in Edge of Apocalypse.

        • Choir of Shades

          “Jae Steopla?”

          “Yes? What is it?” Jae struggled to get the words out through her sobs.

          “I just wanted to inform you that your husband briefly woke up. He didn’t speak to anyone but he did respond to audio stimuli. We suspected as much from his condition, but he’s gone blind.”

          “Is he awake now? Is there anything you can do?” Jae asked frantically.

          “He’s currently unconscious and for his own safety we’re keeping him that way for now. As for what we could do, we’ve already treated him for the worst of his injuries. He’s lucky to be alive after inhaling all of that smoke. We’ve already operated to cleanse his lungs (and, by the way, you should tell your husband to stop smoking, because that stuff is hard to get out of one’s lungs), and his skin has been repaired from the burns. All that remains is replacing his eyes, and we’re currently growing a new pair of eyes for him since his current pair are inoperable. Do you have any preference for his new iris color?”

          Jae weakly smiled as the weight of the news that Paul would be all right crashed down on her. “Lavender.” He hated purple of any shade. Thought it wasn’t manly enough. I love him and don’t want him to be hurt. But this will be a nice little present for his cheating. “Also, if he asks, could you please inform him that that color was chosen at random?”

          The nurse looked confused for a moment, then grinned slightly with his eyebrow arched and nodded, then turned around and headed into the lab.

          With the nurse gone, Jae collapsed back into the chair she’d been napping in before he came.

          ***
          I just can’t wait until he starts working again. Up till now, he’s just been a prick (the execution might have been a bit more than that, but not too much). Once he starts working again? That’s when he gets truly monstrous. But I’ll leave that for Ruby to discuss.

          • MEANWHILE, in the parallel universe where the socialist-humanist nightmare of Soon was averted:

            “I’m sorry, Mr. and Mrs. Stepola, but your insurance company has denied coverage on your accident, and the Senate just filibustered a bill to provide benefits to injured government employees. We’re sending you home because we need the bed back, and you’ll be receiving our bill for $200,000 in about three weeks, assuming you still have a home by then. You might want to look into private and religious charities for assistance. My advice is to start filling out the paperwork now; so when you start selling pens on the street, remember to save one for yourself. Oh, and happy Easter!”

  7. Have we really gone this far without a “My eyes! The goggles do nothing!” joke? There’s no fruit like low-hanging fruit, you know!

    The off-putting thing about this scene, to me, isn’t so much that Paul is a jerk — it’s that he’s not being a jerk in the way a human being would be in this situation. He’s not the right kind of jerk. He’s been traumatically blinded; we ought to be seeing some sort of extreme mood from him: rage, depression, self-pity. Instead it’s as if he breezed through the whole Kubler-Ross grieving process off-camera and has now discovered a sixth stage, Peevishness. He’s not in denial, and claims to be “overwhelmed”, but nothing in his dialogue suggests that he’s feeling anything more than mild irritation — i.e. Paul classic. The scene reads more like somebody who’s grumpy about his computer crashing. If you go into the dialogue and replace “sight” with “hard drive”, and “blind” with “just lost eight years’ worth of hard-earned porn”, everything fits a lot smoother.

    tl,dr – What Ruby said in her post.

    Also: This is the future, can’t they grow him new eyes from stem cells ripped from aborted Christian fetuses? I’m starting to become a bit disillusioned with this Atheistopia place.

    • Choir of Shades

      Having been in almost this exact situation within the past couple months (5 years, not 8), I’d have to say he’s acting even more petulant. Er, I mean, I never look at porn…

    • it’s as if he breezed through the whole Kubler-Ross grieving process off-camera and has now discovered a sixth stage, Peevishness

      Great line.

      Of course, Paul seems to have been born peevish.

  8. Thing is there’s no real sign in Jae’s line’s that it’s herself rather than Paul she feels sorry for yet that’s what he automatically assumes. Why is this? Gee, it wouldn’t be because this would be his automatic reaction, would it?

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