"He's just disappointed, you understand. He had his heart set on me being a physician. I tried explaining to him psychology was potentially just as lucrative, that people like Brill and Watson are making a killing on Madison Avenue with what they've learned in the lab...."
"In any case, I'm certain once he cools down he'll come around and I won't have to work as many jobs."
"No doubt he will. But in the meantime ..." McLaughlin turned in his chair, began searching through a pile of journals stacked on the radiator. "I believe I can offer you an opportunity that will help consolidate your extracurricular jobs into one better suited to your abilities." Turning back, McLaughlin slid a magazine across the desk toward me. "Are you familiar with the Scientific American?" he asked.
This was an understatement. Scientific American had been a staple of my childhood, the reading I'd graduated to after exhausting the oeuvre of Verne and Wells. Full of articles on advances in radiography and illustrations of airships and superlocomotives, its glossy pages had fueled my romantic imagination and for a brief time filled my twelve-year-old head with thoughts of being an engineer. (Or some daysan airship captain.) Until, that is, my father quashed the idea. To his way of thinking, engineering was little better than a glorified trade. I don't believe he'd ever met an actual engineer, unless it was to sell him an apple on his way to work, but this didn't prevent him from dismissing the profession. Tinkerers, that's what l'ingegneri were to my father.
Crackpot inventors whose children went hungry. And so he banned the Scientific American from our household, before it could have a further corrupting influence on his only sonwho was already exhibiting signs of being a bit of a dabbler.
"Turn to page 389," McLaughlin said now.
It had been more than a decade since I'd last held a copy of Scientific American in my hands, and as I thumbed through the pages of last month's issueNovember 1922it pleased me to see that the magazine hadn't changed significantly. Here were feature articles on "The Largest Cruising Airdrome" and "Finger Prints Via Radio," alongside brief updates on advances in civil engineering and recently patented inventions. It lifted my spirits to find that it even smelled as I remembered, like glue and linotype.
I found the page McLaughlin indicated and beneath the headline a square deal for the psychics read the following announcement from the Scientific American editors:
$5,000 For Psychic Phenomena
As a contribution toward psychic research, the Scientific American pledges the sum of $5,000 to be awarded for conclusive psychic manifestations.... The Scientific American will pay $2,500 to the first person who produces a psychic photograph under its test conditions and to the full satisfaction of the eminent men who will act as judges ... and $2,500 to the first person who produces a visible psychic manifestion of other character. Purely mental phenomena like telepathy, or purely auditory ones like rappings, will not be eligible for this award. The contest does not revolve about the psychological or religious aspects of the phenomena, but has to do only with genuineness and objective reality.
I couldn't help stating the obvious: "That's a lot of money."
"Indeed," McLaughlin said, "which is why the editors of the Scientific American have asked me to head the panel of judges who will evaluate the candidates. As you might imagine, a cash award that size is drawing all sorts of questionable characters out of the woodwork."
Who could blame them? With twenty-five hundred dollars, I could have lived in high style, with enough left over to purchase a carand not just any secondhand flivver, but a sporty new Pierce- Arrow with velour upholstery and an electric starter. The type of automobile that got one invited to the petting parties our campus chaplain was always sermonizing against. Pity, then, that my attitude regarding supernatural phenomena was highly skeptical; otherwise I might have immediately borrowed a Ouija board and had a crack at the prize money myself. But at least I might still profit from the contest.
Copyright Joseph Gangemi 2004. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Viking Publishing.
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