Here’s what Eliza said about where the cards came from.
“These cards, these Heli0pTx, or HelioptRx, or Healy Ophtricks, whatever name you care to put on them, were given to me by one of my old college professors, someone I ran into one day on the street. He used to teach a course called PARAd0*, and yeah, it was all about paradox, but the actual name of the course was supposed to be a trick word; the prefix para, meaning besides or beyond, and an asterisked Zero, meaning more to the story than nothing, but also nothing. There were no grades in the course, it was pass/fail, as in both and neither, but I ended up having to fuck the professor to get course credits. No, not really, but I had to let him fuck my mind, which in some ways was worse, because I wouldn’t have really minded fucking him. Anyway, it left me fucked up, and when I ran into him on the street, I confronted him. He was a Viennese metaphysics professor. Or no. He was something more than that. Professor of the Aesthetics of Metasomethingsomething.”
“Why the fuck would you take a course on Paradox? Sounds utterly pointless to me.”
“Yeah, that was the point of it.”
“You know, Eliza, when people talk about college education making people stupid, you know, that it is all about elitist shit that has nothing to do with real life… you know, that it is just conditioning to reject common sense, you know—this is the kind of shit they are talking about.”
“You know, Ray, you actually have to study nonsense like PARAd0* before it makes sense.
“If you really want to know why people talk about college education making people stupid—it’s because of the shit that is really happening in colleges, right now. No wonder the public is outraged. I mean, they literally provide safe spaces where student of both sexes are allowed to publicly masticate in front of each other; and they have whole fields of study where the women are intended to matriculate with thespians, which of course produces a great deal of drama, and literal tragedies that will bring you to tears, except when you don’t find yourself unable to keep from laughing at what comes out of these classes; and there’s this implicit premise that underlies all discussions of sex that it is literally only proper with homo sapiens; and all the professors notoriously have sex with the mothers and fathers of their own children, and literally, the word ‘literally’ is used interchangeably with ‘figuratively’, as if they were the same thing. Literally, this is all out in the open.”
“Okay, Eliza, you made your elitist point.”
“Anyway, getting back to that old elitist professor. Years after I graduated, he was famous, and me, I was down and out, and sick as hell. Culp. As in blame. I confronted him about fucking up my head, and he just gave me these cards. His name was Culp. Professor Stanislaw Culp. He said the cards would make me better. They had healing power. He was willing to part with them because he was old, and wouldn’t live much longer, even with the cards, and he was heartbroken anyway, and sick of living, and he reasoned by all rights he should have been long dead anyway, and would have been, if not for the cards. If he died earlier, if he’d been dead years ago, he wouldn’t have come to unspeakable grief. He’d lost his wife, a daughter, and a granddaughter in one of those mass shootings, the kind that seems to happen all the time now, the tragedies that used to be shocking, but now we just accept as totally wrong, but you have to suck it up and just deal with it, as long as it doesn’t affect you personally.
“Among his deck of miraculous cards, there was none to mend his utterly broken heart.
“Culp told me how he’d gotten his hands on the cards. They were sent to him by an artist named Furray. It was all because of a weird chain of events, beginning, many years before, on a cold snowy night, when he brought a date to an art show in a local small gallery. Works by this painter, Archibald Furray were being displayed.
“At first glance, Culp hated the paintings, but everyone around was raving about them. He couldn’t understand why. He found the paintings dour and pretentious, absorbed in self-study, and idiosyncratic. And everyone in the crowd was using the same adjective– ‘engaging’. The same word on all their lips, like they were under a spell.
“Professor Culp turned to his date, and protested, ‘Engaging. What’s that supposed to mean? A kind of interactive work with the viewer where the artist raises questions, but fails to answer them? A work that invites the viewer’s personal conclusions, and makes accommodations for anything? Works of art that mean whatever you want that to mean. Now, that’s a response to art I find empty.’”
“To which the woman he was dating shot back, ‘the one thing I’ve noticed about you, Stan. You are hopelessly opinionated about Art. I like you, even though you are often dour and pretentious yourself. You make me laugh. You, above all people, are only interested in the meaning you assign. And you want to muscle out everyone who disagrees with you.’
“She forced him to stop and take a good look at what he had just said, and then he nodded. ‘That’s true, but that doesn’t mean I was wrong before.’
“She burst out laughing. ‘You think every great work of art leads to the same place, only one place, only one single effect– eventually spinning off into paradox. When you start analyzing a painting, you just want to cut to the chase. Paradox. You end up saying, its ultimate meaning is a paradox. There’s an art critic in town who does the same thing, almost, except he thinks every painting means something else, only one thing; only for him, the one thing is sexual frustration. But let’s cut to the chase, even though cutting to the chase is a bore, and leaves out all the stuff that makes the chase interesting. A work of art that has the ultimate message of paradox means, well, you know, it can mean whatever you want, because if it means something else, well, it can paradoxically mean that too.’”
“That was when Stanislaw Culp realized he was in love with the woman he’d brought as his date to an art show. And the night turned out to be significant in a weirdly coincidental way. Shortly thereafter, they became engaged. The paintings he once found pretentious proved to be portentous instead.
“Later, Culp was alone, preparing to mock Furray’s work in a critical review. But he changed his mind, once he started focusing on the paintings. He suddenly found them hilarious. On reflection, the artist’s intent seemed ironic, and he had missed the way the artist was making fun of dour and pretentious people who take themselves too seriously, including himself.
“That small town art show of Furray’s work inspired Culp to write a critical study that garnered wide- spread recognition, and eventually led to great success in his academic career. In that article, he started using the term PARAd0*, as a joke, which was supposed to invoke paradoxes that weren’t really paradoxical. The work that brought fame to Culp had been an elaborate version of the remarks his wife to be had made in the gallery. Had it been her ideas, after all, disguised as his? The way she phrased the basic ideas made them sound as if she were talking about his ideas, and the way he viewed Art. But it was her ideas about his ideas, and he found a way to turn them back around. Well, I guess that’s what love is all about.”
Eliza continued, “I got to talking to Culp about coincidences, what I thought about them, how I’d taken a whole college course on what they mean, but that was from a different professor, I think, probably. I told him that nature hates coincidence. He hated them, too, for his own private reasons. It was coincidences that brought he and I together, and it coincidentally was also the driving reason he gave me the cards. Maybe I shouldn’t have taken the cards, because I didn’t want the story of my life to be driven by coincidences instead of meaningful choices. Like in a book, coincidences become boring and contrived, like cutting to the chase of paradox. But if I hadn’t taken the cards, I probably wouldn’t still be alive.
“In Culp’s case, the meaning of coincidence turned from being a joke to being a horror. The shooter who murdered his wife, his daughter, and granddaughter had labelled the mass shooting as an artistic statement, a painting made with real blood, including his own. And he said he did it because he was sick of Art that didn’t have a meaning, or had obscure, elitist meanings, so here it was, a work of art with a meaning that would be clear to everyone. To Culp, who had devoted most of his life to finding meaning in art, and meaning in life, it was a grotesque joke, the most meaningless, random, pointless thing he could imagine, a horrible coincidence. Yet it seemed intended to deliver a message just to him.”
Eliza sadly shook her head. “I told Culp I looked at art the same way he did before his wife to be added her sly observations about him. I still think it’s a bullshit way to make art, to say it can mean anything, so it means whatever you decide. It’s bullshit. Or at least, bullshitish. But I do think the cards that Stanislaw Culp gave me are engaging. That is the very quality—engaging– the one I usually hate, that gives the cards their power to heal, I think.
“Culp got his first set of cards from Furray, a gift in recognition of the critical work that brought recognition to both of them. It seems that Culp had fucked with Furray’s head, and fucked with his life, and people who fuck with that kind of PARAd0* seem to end up with these healing cards.
“The package had come from Egypt.”