I was trucking through RDU airport per usual, homeward bound. I was sweating through my shirt because I'm a paunchy, stupid American who never exercises. My navy blue ballistic-fabric carry-on luggage was following me at the end of its leash like a perky little puppy. I was scowling and carrying my suit jacket by its collar, trying to look like Ben Kingsley playing Don Logan in "Sexy Beast". Actually, I probably looked more like Don Knotts playing Don Logan. A horrible thought: "W-w-well, I-I think that you're a fucking cunt, Gil! I do!" Ugh. This was the return leg of a three-day conference in Philadelphia: almost home. My exhaustion had transmuted all self-uncertainty into a raw, animal desire for a taxi, a cold beer, and a warm bed.

"Give till it hurts!"

A safety-orange plastic cup with something printed on it was thrust in my face. It jingled. I flinched reflexively, hesitating long enough for the kid to maneuver himself in front of me. I was effectively stopped. Even in my sorry condition, I could admire his timing. With a talent like that, he could have been a dancer. Instead, he was skulking around an airport in a brown monk's robe, sporting a tonsure, and brandishing a plastic cup full of change at passers-by. Nasty work, if you can get it.

"You sure got a full head of steam there, fella! I would have been flat as a pancake!" He giggled a false, soprano cheerfulness at me, exclamation marks thrusting into my ears like pins. "It's all well and good to be your own man, but now's the time to get out the vote and show the flag! Don't let this golden opportunity pass you by!" He rattled the cup at me, waggling his eyebrows grotesquely.

Printed on the cup was the following message in large, blackletter type:

Brotherhood of Finite Conception
"You get what you give."

We accept checks.

I had heard of these guys. In fact, I had just read an article about the Brotherhood of Finite Conception on the flight back to RDU, in a glossy, heavy, much-thumbed airline magazine that had caressed my knees provocatively and with increasing desperation for an hour and a half until I plucked it from its marsupial perch, mostly out of pity.

The Brotherhood believes that when God created the world, He created only a finite number of concepts. As humans summon concepts from the Platonic Sphere (or Heavenly Pasture or whatever it is they call it—I skimmed the article) and speak them aloud, they disappear from the Platonic realm and appear in ours. Or the concepts are defiled, or some bullshit like that. Their Philosophy Changed My Life, not. In any case, the Brotherhood believes that there are a finite number of concepts, and when they're all gone, that's when Judgement Day is going to happen.

You would think that, being the good religious nuts they are, they'd be wanting that. No way. These guys want to try and save as many people as they can before Judgement Day happens. So in an effort to delay the Inevitable, they only speak using clichés, to avoid inadvertantly using up new concepts in casual conversation.

"I'm ready to laugh all the way to the bank! Ha ha! In for a penny in for a pound!" His writhing eyebrows directed persuasion beams towards my lined and skeptical forehead. Suddenly, his expression became soulful, as though a breaker had tripped in his head. "Only you can prevent forest fires."

With positively no warning, I, for once in my life, knew what I had to do next. In retrospect, I suppose the only reason I said the perfect thing at that particular moment was because I was too tired to prevent my natural genius from emerging. Or I was lucky. Either way.

I paused, gazed steadily into his eyes, and said, "Styrofoam radiator blintz?"

He blinked, confused. I smiled wearily.

"Cheese bunker, the knots eat the beans," I said, "Fill the silos with celery, Chelsea."

The kid now realized what I was doing. His eyes grew huge. His mouth flapped, but no sound came out.

I was on a roll. "Agate are the fish, cerulean is the soda, save box lids for maximum powerups." He backed away, and I pursued. "Golf on Io. No brassiere can hold my impecunity. Will you shatter twenty nose-phones under the microphone stars?"

He clapped his hands over his ears and began muttering some prayer to himself, still backing away from me. Eventually, he realized that he was never going to get away from me by backing up in a straight line, and veered off to my right. I blew past him, rolling on down the concourse with peace in my heart, feeling profoundly refreshed.

When I was fifty feet away, he got up enough courage to scream after me:

"The die is cast, you will cut the mustard or face the music!"

I didn't look back.

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