The Gummoe Project (short story)

Dear Bernard,

You were virtually an infant when we last met in Washington State.  I’ve been awaiting this day for a while; let me explain.  My name is Dr. Ebin S—, world-renowned supernatural guru and the best man at your parents’ wedding.  If my calculations haven’t failed me, you are currently 17 ¾ years old.  On May 11, when you are one day past eighteen, come to the Grange House on the corner of Fairview and Longview Avenues.  I am preparing a project never envisioned by mankind.

Basically, you must convince two acquaintances to come with you.  Carefully choose two students at Gummoe High School, who share no interests with you.  The three of you will be subject to harmless and temporary experimentations which literally will change your lives.  Though at the moment you personally may be involuntarily isolated (I know your condition, Bernard), you soon will be surprisingly ideal when you begin enrolling at Santa Cruz (trust me, you’ll get in), and you will have gained much knowledge.  In a perfect experimentation, the first player would be a self-proclaimed “drama princess” who partakes in every theatre class a high school has to offer.  The second player would have to be a promiscuous football jock.  The third player, of course, is you, an Aspie (a youth diagnosed with mild Asperger Syndrome).  This is not a mandatory experiment, but I would strongly recommend it.  Once again, you’ll be safe.

Sincerely, Dr. Ebin S—                                                                      4/31/09

Dear Dr. Ebin S—,

As before, this is Leslie Leonard, the valedictorian-to-be of Gummoe High School and supposed “drama princess.”  Dr. S—, of all people I would want to switch minds with, why the hell did you choose this disgusting quarterback, Jeff Greenfield?  When I arrived on campus last Monday, not only was I idolized by every junior varsity linebacker, but I had to put up with their crude humor and cheating girlfriends!  What were you thinking, Dr. S—?  It really hurts to have two core classes in my schedule, one of which I was already listed as flunking, and to spend five hours a day playing football, a terrible sport I know little about!  Every day this week I’ve researched the game, and I still disappoint the coach.  How great it would be to perform something more creative than a pass or a field goal.  I occasionally see myself as portrayed by Bernard, and I am jealous that he is continually able to have the fun in theatre I once had.  I even gave up a chance to drink Grey Goose at Spira’s house party.  Though I will usually have a drink or two, I don’t feel ecstatic about being the life of the party anymore.  Sure, I’m much more popular as Jeff than I was as Leslie, but if I no longer don the helmet, I will be just another face in the crowd.

But I’m not finished yet.  Dr. S—, shame on you.  You think you can deceive an innocent partially-autistic teenager into your little “experimentations,” but you also deceived me.  No longer am I the precocious Ivy League-bound student I used to be!  No longer can I be myself, and you’ve taken away all my happiness.  I even tried to switch out of Athletic Training into Theatre Five, but the guidance counselor wants me to be a football legend.  You’re a piece of work, Dr. S—.

-Leslie Leonard                                                                                   5/17/09

Dear Dr. Ebin S—,

This is downright crazy, but I think I’ve learned some things.  Me, Jeff Greenfield, probably the most popular kid in the school, living as the geekiest kid I can imagine.  Bernard Wattenmaker!  He’s a geek alright, I remember giving him wedgies in elementary school, but I think he’s cooler than I gave him credit for.  He has Bay Area hyphy rap on his iPod, for one thing.  You can’t be that nerdy when you listen to “She Only Sees Me (Havin’ Hella G’s).”  He’s a weird kid though.  I can tell he’s never been with anyone, which I just don’t get.  I mean, what kind of a seventeen-year old has never had sex?  So, because Bernard seriously isn’t attractive enough to hook up with the hot chicks like Vanessa McQueen, I’ve gone mediocre.  I’m sure Bernie will thank me for this later.

Bernard writes weird too.  I can’t understand any of the poems he’s etched into my notebook.  There was this one, “The Sea-Rat,” which I seriously took three hours trying to decipher.  What’s his deal?  In a way, I don’t think it’s worth figuring the guy out.  I bet you fifteen bucks he doesn’t know who the crap he is either.  Probably one of those schizophrenics we learned about in Health class.

Dr. S—, I’d honestly rather be Leslie next time.  Or Vanessa or Spira, if they ever are sucked into your experiments.  Because that’s really what Bernard did to me.  He sucked me into his own body, and that’s just sick.  I guess it’s kind of your fault too, but you seem like a decent doctor, and not just any psychopath can be a doctor, so I forgive you for any trouble you caused me.  Bernard on the other hand is in for some huge shit.  If I wasn’t actually him, I’d kick his ass right now.

Your pal, Jeff Greenfield                                                                    5/17/08

Dear Dr. Ebin S—,

By the way, this is Bernard.  Sorry I didn’t write sooner, but I was pretty nervous.  So, how is it being Leslie Leonard?  It’s certainly okay.  Improv Two is a fun class, but I’m so much worse at improvisational theatre than Leslie was.  That surprised all of the other theatre kids, especially Anna, who’s very close to Leslie, or should I say, me.  The theatre teacher, Mr. Nosmi, asked if I was sick, and I didn’t exactly know what to say.  Those theatre kids, if you didn’t know already, are a bizarre clique.  Most of them are nice kids when they’re by themselves, but together they’re the poster children of groupthink.  I guess one bad apple does spoil the barrel, though I’d rather not name that bad apple.

Also, I had a talk about my upcoming valedictorian role with Principal Gummoe.  As my (or should I say Leslie’s) grades have been slipping, Gummoe is concerned that I might lose the role to the salutatorian, Shermy Neuman.  I knew Sherm was a straight-A student, but I never thought he was that smart.

At Leslie’s house, I’ve been mostly lounging around, writing poetry.  It’s a nice Victorian mansion, and they have a Nintendo Wii, which is a major plus in my book.  Leslie’s brother Ray recently visited from New Haven, and he was impressed when I beat him at Brawl.  He said that I improved, and he marveled at my creative writing.  I didn’t realize that in one way, I’m more artistic than Leslie Leonard herself.

Overall, I’m making progress, but I think psychotherapy would have been a far better solution.  Due to my Asperger’s, I’m used to being socially immature.  While I usually had a lot of catching up to do when it came to my peers, I now have to catch up with myself.

Sincerely, Bernard Wattenmaker                                                        5/19/08

Dear Bernard, Leslie, and Jeff,

Congratulations!  You’re about to return to your original bodies.  I received all three of your letters, and I apologize for any issues I may have created.  Jeff, don’t blame Bernard, blame me.  I would seriously hate to see one of my subjects mutilated.  Leslie, I give you the greatest apology I can from my soul.  Bernard, I’ve been to psychotherapy, and it’s a joke like the Green Party or the No Child Left Behind Act.

I also must apologize for one other matter.  Due to complications even I wasn’t aware of, the experimentations will last another couple weeks.  This means that you will graduate this way.  I am so sorry!  I really hope you didn’t think this was a waste of time!

I forgot to mention in my first letter (which was addressed solely to Bernard) that I kept the experimentations completely confidential.  No one but the four of us will ever hear of what I have dubbed the Gummoe Project, as all three of you are obviously seniors at Gummoe High School.

I’ve decided to retire the Gummoe Project.  I’ll admit there were prototypes of it that failed miserably, and since this one has been viewed unfavorably, I’d rather not risk any more chances.  I mean, I’d like to keep my job as a medical intern for ten more years.

You all did super well, especially considering the unnecessary consequences.  I’m very surprised no one complained about gender bending.  However, I’m even more surprised that none of you seemed to befriend one another.  Friendship was a key reason I created the Gummoe Project, and since you all seemingly avoided each other, I’m disappointed, to say the least.  But in every other way, I’m pleased with the three of you.

Like they say in Mexico, adios, amigos!  Not to mention, gracias.

Sincerely, Dr. Ebin S—                                                                      6/1/09

Dear Dr. Ebin S—,

Doctor, I’m so happy that the experimentations are over!  I waited weeks.  Unfortunately, I have two more complaints, both of which are much larger than any prior nitpickings.

First of all, I seem to have contracted VD during Jeff’s tenure in my mind.  Yuck.

Secondly, in the end, Leslie was not crowned valedictorian of Gummoe High.  The last week of school, she was unusually (and unbelievably) rude to me, and I think we both owe her apologies.  In fact, I’m not entirely sure she was accepted to the University of Penn, her top choice.  (With all of my acquired knowledge of Leslie, I feel like a serious creeper.)  Poor girl.

That is all.

Sincerely, Bernard Wattenmaker                                                        6/18/09

Dear Ebin,

I just got your text.  While you may think you screwed up the lives of three teenagers, I have nothing but praise for your work.  I mean, I spent over a decade as a mad scientist, and I never created anything close to such an experimentation!  You are a genius, Ebin.  There’s no other word.  I hope I’m not too old to say, “You rock my world.”

Also, thank you for the generous titling of your magnum opus.  When it gets around to the public, we’ll both be famous.  Soon I may never have to sit in front of a desk again.  Hurrah!

Also, you may think I care about the valedictorian incident.  It’s all good.

Yours truly, Principal John Gummoe                                                  8/4/09


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