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A Psychological Crusade

Fernando Sorrentino
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A good system for revealing as yet unknown facets in man consists of placing the subject in a totally new situation and observing his reactions. For example: if I make a phone call and I hear a voice on the other end of the wire say “Hello,” the experiment will lack any scientific or informative value since the subject has done nothing more than to react in a routine manner in response to an equally routine situation. Therefore, it does not provide me with the opportunity to investigate any hidden aspects of his personality.

How can I learn, for example, if a particular storekeeper—all amiability and smiles as I make my purchase—might not be capable of strangling me over a matter of a few small coins? The best thing, then, would be to stimulate the man’s unforeseeable reactions; these can be quite instructive.

I shall propose several examples.

1. I pay for the meager amount of a half kilogram of bread with a bill of the largest denomination in circulation and I flatly refuse to accept the change. I attentively observe the baker’s covetousness, willing as he is to take advantage of my presumed insanity. I leave. Five minutes later I enter the store once more, this time accompanied by a police officer, and I accuse the baker of having refused to hand over my change. I study his anger at my bad faith, his disappointment at the foiled rip-off. Fearful, perplexed, he stammers incomprehensible excuses under the suspicious stare of the policeman, who does not believe that someone would refuse to accept that kind of change. He humbly hands me the necessary amount and I magnanimously declare that I prefer to consider the unpleasant episode closed. The officer, somewhat disappointed, says “Whatever you say.” I observe with satisfaction the immense relief on the baker’s face.*

2. I invite a friend of mine to have dinner at my home. When he arrives, I prevent him from entering with the accusation that he had—twelve or fourteen years earlier—stolen my girl with whom, of course, I was madly in love. I observe his astonishment (we’ve known each other for only a few months), his hesitation (could I possibly be the one who...), his sorrow, his rage...

3. I get on the bus and say “To such and such a place.” When the driver—who is busy keeping his eyes on the traffic—opens his hand to collect the fare, I drop a chess rook and a sprig of parsley into it. The question is: how will the busdriver—a person of habitually unstable nerves—interpret this enigmatic offering?

4. I take a trip to the resort city of Mar del Plata and check into one of the most luxurious hotels. Just as soon as the maid leaves, I put the bed out in the hallway and take a refreshing nap, particularly well deserved after such a tiring trip, right there.

5. By means of a skeleton key, I let myself into any house when the owners happen to be absent. I await them placidly seated, smoking, drinking whisky, watching television. The subjects arrive. Then I harshly rebuke them, I shake my fist at them, I say “How the devil do you have the nerve to walk into my house?,” paying no attention to their explanations, or paying attention (it makes no difference), I demand that they show me their deed to the house, I do not allow them to open the drawer in which they ridiculously claim the deed is since that drawer is an inalienable part of a piece of furniture which, in turn, is an inalienable part of my house and, consequently, in no way could possibly contain the deed to a house belonging to people who are strangers, suspicious characters and perhaps criminals and well-known members of the underworld, etc.

6. I become acquainted with a prim, rather silly and let’s say quite pretty girl. I ask her for a date, I tell her I love her, I become her fiancé and thus the date of our engagement arrives; the celebration takes place at her house. Someone makes a toast. Then there’s another toast. There’s a third toast. Finally, the long-awaited moment arrives in which the fiancé—a well-mannered boy, if such an entity can be said to exist—offers his betrothed the beautiful surprise that has been talked about so much. Smiling with love and happiness, I hand over a package of considerable dimensions. The bride-to-be tests its weight; it seems great to her. The keenest curiosity is etched on the guests’ faces. Everyone forms a circle and the women squeeze around the ecstatic bride-to-be. The fancy gift wrapping goes flying and so does the bow with which it’s adorned. Now a rich case lined in black chamois comes into view. “An expensive jewel!” my sweetheart thinks and that gleam of covetousness that I see in her eyes justifies me in advance. Her fingers rush to unsnap the automatic lock. The lid rises with a plush click and a beautiful, multi-colored, cheery extremely venomous coral snake sinuously slides, in search of freedom, along my sweetheart’s ivory arms.

7. I wait until the manager of the firm for which I work is in his impressive, carpeted office, conversing with his most important client who is about to close the deal on a purchase worth an astronomical sum. I rap timidly on the door; I hear “Come in;” I enter with discrete and modest steps; I say with a circumspect hint of a smile, “Pardon me, sir;” I walk to the imposing wooden cabinet, open it and urinate torrentially upon portfolios, books, equipment, contracts, documents and papers which may or may not be important.

Of course, there are a few simpler variants which I bequeath to those who may still lack the necessary practice and who may want to take up this psychological crusade. Here are a few:

Making passionate and even erotic remarks to members of the Salvation Army without regard to sex or age. Standing on the drugstore scale and staying there all day without allowing anyone to weigh himself. Buying two hundred grams of salami, sliced very thin, opening the package and, using the beautiful red slices, outlining a heart and writing I LOVE YOU on the delicatessen counter. Traveling on the bus, seated next to the aisle; waiting for the time your neighbor, man or woman, has to get off and says “Excuse me;” and you answer categorically, “No,” and you absolutely refuse to allow him or her to pass.

The psychological crusade can cause a certain amount of anxiety (as does any crusade), implies one is involved in serious difficulties (as does any crusade). But, what do these inconveniences mean compared with the delight of observing the reactions to which the psychological crusade gives rise?

This is, at any rate, what I imagine, for—I confess—I’m nothing more than a mere theoretician and it’s probable that I’ll never put my ideas into practice. But you can—and should—do it.

Translation: Clark M. Zlotchew
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Copyright ©Fernando Sorrentino, 1982
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Date of publicationMay 2000
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