The Greatest Illusion Ever Made

By Benjamin Epstein:


Daniel was sitting in the park, eating a PB and J. The PB and J didn’t taste exactly “good” nor did it taste “bad”. It tasted like a PB and J. Anyways, he was sitting on a bench, “enjoying” his lunch, when a man sat down on the same bench that he was on, “Hey, Daniel,” he said, “Thanks for helping with the operation. The goods are in the warehouse. The address is on this sticky note, I need you to be there by 8:00 PM. Big Tony will be there, and I told him to do whatever you say. You got it?”


The man handed Daniel a sticky note.

Now, there was a problem. Daniel had no idea who that man was, and he had no memory of ever seeing him. However, the man seemed to recognize Daniel, and also knew his name. So, Daniel just assumed he knew him and had then forgotten his face. Obviously, he couldn’t just ask the man, that would be too embarrassing. Daniel avoided embarrassment the way a vampire avoids sunlight. So, Daniel grabbed the sticky note and said:

“Okay.”

“Good,” the man responded. “I’m glad I can count on you. These days, you’re one of the few guys I can trust not to stab us in the back. Literally, or figuratively.”

Daniel didn’t know what that referred to, but he was happy to have the compliment.

“Thanks, I’m happy to be trustable.”

“Okay, I have to scram. Bye.” the man said. He then patted Daniel on the back and left.


Daniel thought that this was all rather strange. He looked at the sticky note. He supposed that it was best if he did what the man said. After all, he didn’t want to let anyone down, that would be awful. He wasn’t sure what was at the warehouse, or what he was supposed to do, but he was sure he could figure it out. Daniel never knew what was going on. He even went to the wrong college for 3 months because its name was similar to one the one that he had been accepted into.


Daniel wondered where the man knew him from, but then he realized that it was time to go. He looked at his watches. He had two watches, because he had gotten two at the same time and he didn’t know which one to keep. It didn’t even matter, because they were both broken. One was ahead by 5 minutes and the other was slow by 17. Daniel was trying to figure out which one was which, something he often did, when a large noise came from his phone. This was his phone alarm.


The alarm meant that Daniel had to go back to his work. You see, Daniel was a professor at a university. This was a very important job, and one that he held in high esteem. After all, only smart people became college professors, so that meant that Daniel was smart by default. Daniel had always suspected that he was smart, but he could never prove for certain until he became a college professor. After that, he was certain that he was smart. However, he was never arrogant about it, because arrogant people are unreasonable and unlikable.


Anyways, Daniel walked back to the classroom where he taught.


Daniel was a man in his mid 30s, and he looked like how you would suspect most college professors to look. That means that he looked like if a library was a person. He had that jacket, the kind that looked like it smelled like old books, and the kind of pants that were made to be on the legs of someone smart.


Daniel also wore glasses. He didn’t need to, but it made him seem smart. Appearances were important to Daniel. The way that Daniel saw it, all of reality was in the mind of the beholder. If a box looked, smelled, sounded, and felt like a chicken with a chainsaw then everyone would think that it was a chicken with a chainsaw. Therefore, if Daniel made it so that he had the appearance of a smart, dignified individual then everyone would think that he was a smart, dignified individual- and then he would be a smart, dignified individual.


Daniel arrived in his classroom, which was already filling up with a herd of students. College students are a bit like wild animals because they smell disgusting. They’re also like wild animals in that they were all willingly walking towards a slaughter, much like cows stampeding into a slaughterhouse, begging to be chopped up and turned into food. However, one could say that they’re more like wild animals dressed up as humans, pretending to be productive members of society. Nevertheless, that’s not important.


Daniel found his place in front of the desk.

He placed the sticky note on it, making a note in his brain to pick it up later. He waited for everyone to settle down. They did not. So, he raised his hand, like a dictator or a king. They then all fell silent.


Everyone looked at Daniel. He was their ruler, their monarch, lording over them like a lord.

Behind Daniel was a mammoth of a black board.


In front of him were the students, gathered in their benches like Roman senators in an amphitheater. And if they were Roman senators then he was the emperor, the Augustus of knowledge, the Constatine of learning, the Julius Caesar Jr. of grading exams.


“Hello,” Daniel said. “Today, we will be continuing from our last lesson.”


And so the lesson began. You see, Daniel was the most intellectual of all college professors. He was the film studies professor.


Most other professors were teaching future businessmen and lawyers, men whose names would fade away after they were gone, and who would live under the shadow of quiet insecurity.

However, he was teaching future Kubricks, future Hitchcocks, future Spielberg's, Scorseses, Coppolas, Lucases, Gerwigs, Wiseaus. Sure, half of them were taking his class for an easy credit, and another fourth were Tarantino fanboys who at best, would have a career making youtube videos talking about film. But that last third? They would become famous (possibly). They would become celebrities, the storytellers of the next generation. Or, they could end up like Daniel. But, even that would be good. Teaching is a noble pursuit. After all, behind every great person is a great teacher. Daniel hoped to be that great teacher.


Anyways, the lesson was covering the French New Wave, a period in French cinema in which French directors focused on human stories and daily life in modern society. Before that, French films were about vegetables.


Daniel began speaking “Film is a trick. It is the greatest illusion ever made by man, a medium based solely around tricking the viewer. One such trick is the jump cut.”


“Now,” Daniel said “Which film first used a jump cut?”

Now, the answer that Daniel was expecting was The Vanishing Lady. However, instead he got The Screaming Student as one of his college students broke out into a scream.

Daniel stopped as everyone looked at the student.

There was a phone in the student's hand and tears bubbling in his eyes, like a pot overflowing with water.

“My twin brother’s just been murdered!” he exclaimed.


A gasp went through the crowd.

“Wait, which twin?” one of the other students asked. “Is it the hot one?”

“Yes.” the student replied, and broke into tears again.

Multiple people rushed over to comfort him.

After that incident, it was practically impossible to carry on with class.

The student whose twin had died went home, and it wasn’t long after that that Daniel had to stop class early. Daniel had hoped to cover the entirety of the French New Wave in the class and to move on to talking about the French Newer Wave, but the whole situation made it rather hard to talk about The French New Wave or the French Newever Wave.


Eventually, Daniel made his way to his car, with it’s blue tinted license plate, ready to go home. Daniels car was a white Mazda Mx-5 Miata, a car with more horsepower than most horses could ever dream of in their lifetime. Daniel liked his car because he and his car both compliment each other so well. They were like peanut butter and jelly, or ketchup and mustard, or mayonnaise and nothing.


He placed the sticky note on the dashboard. Then, he turned some music on, making sure that the volume was on an even number. The volume always had to be on an even number.

Daniel's drive home was completely uneventful. There were lights, some red, some green and some neon. His horseless carriage eventually deposited in front of his apartment building, and his legs eventually deposited him in his apartment.


Daniel lived alone, just he, himself and 2 sculptures of ducks. He had wanted to get rid of all the duck sculptures for a while, but he was always too tired or too busy, and he kept saying that he would deal with them tomorrow. This had been going on for 3 years.

Daniel had paperwork to do, but he didn’t do it. Instead, he sat down and watched a reality tv competition about people giving wild cats haircuts.


Once that was done, it was time for him to partake in dinner. From a cold compartment he obtained a package of macaroni and cheese and then placed it in a warm compartment. He then watched as the macaroni and cheese spun around like cartoon birds around a cartoon man who had just been hit in the head.


Once this dance of the macaroni was done, Daniel ate. The mac was a bit cold, as well as the cheese, but life is full of disappointment so Daniel ate it anyway. While he ate he thought. He thought about the mysterious man and the meeting that was 2 hours away, and he thought about the student whose twin died and he thought about if ducks would make good clarinet players. He decided that they would not, but perhaps they could play flutes.


For some reason, he had a strange sense of foreboding about the meeting, but he wouldn’t let that stop him. He wasn’t about to let the mysterious man down. Letting someone down was Daniel's worst fear. To Daniel, all of his relationships with other humans were like swimming in mayonnaise, they were always uncomfortable and he was constantly afraid of drowning.


There was still some time left, so Daniel decided to make himself busy by grading the test the students took on the French Old Wave. This was rather boring work, and it didn’t take long till Daniel found himself in front of the TV again, watching a rerun of Seinfeld.


He then proceeded to make his lunch for tomorrow. He decided on making himself a BLT sandwich. He thought it would be a bit funny if he were to ever have a BL and J sandwich, but Bacon, Lettuce, and Jelly don’t go together. That was Daniel's sandwich philosophy. All sandwich ingredients were destined to match with another sandwich ingredient, and that was the rule. If a sandwich ingredient didn’t match another sandwich ingredient, then it was useless, like mayonnaise.


Eventually, it was twenty minutes to 8, and Daniel headed out.


He plugged the address from the sticky note into his Mazda's GPS and sped off. He started to realize that the sights he was seeing looked rather familiar. This was the part of L.A. where he grew up in, the South West side. It was funny, he had been away for so long he didn’t even realize it. He hadn’t been there since he was 18, about a decade and a million memories ago. This was the “bad” part of town, and he certainly did not miss it, and yet… a faint feeling of melancholy was flickering in a part of his brain he had tried to lock away. Memories were swimming through the ocean of his head like drunk dolphins, and he wasn’t sure what to do with them.


He got so caught up in his memory that he failed to take a right turn and his GPS blared.

“You idiot!” the GPS blared “You missed the turn! You’re going to be late! You’re a failure! Take a left turn at the next stop or no one will ever love you again!”


The reason why the GPS did that was because it was a new feature, Google Asshole, a GPS that was specifically programmed to be mean. The idea was that if the GPS insulted the driver whenever they made a mistake, then the driver would make fewer mistakes. This did not work at all, and in fact had the opposite effect. However, Daniel and thousands of other Google Asshole users continued to pay the 5 dollars a month fee simply because their brains just really weren’t great at thinking well.


The belittlement of the GPS begrew Daniel's focus and he realigned his course with the one the GPS wanted him to go on.


It didn’t take long till the noise from the GPS sounded “You’ve arrived at your destination. Try not tripping and dying as you step out of the car, idiot.” Daniel then proceeded to park in front of the destination and then exit his Mazda. He did not trip and die.


Daniel then proceeded to look out at the destination that he had just reached. It was the most run-down Jamba Juice he had ever seen. At least, he thought it was a Jamba Juice. For some reason, it had a sign out front saying “Jamba Jews”. Daniel assumed that was a typo. He wished he could see inside, but the windows were tinted a dark color. This wasn’t the place that Daniel envisioned him going to, but he trusted that his GPS guided him to the correct location.


For some reason, alarms were beginning to blare in the dark crevices in the back of Daniel's brain. Foreboding and mist was looming in the night air, and both of those made it very hard to see the stars. Thankfully, Daniel didn’t need to see the stars. All he needed to do was walk up the steps to the building, open the door, and then walk inside.


He then proceeded to do this, his leather shoes clip-clopping on the granite steps. His hand briefly hesitated as it loomed over the door handle, but then he grabbed it, opened the door, and walked inside.


The sight that greeted him was an odd one. There was a large room, and in it was a large table with normal sized people standing around it. On the table was a large plate, with various foods on it. There were also multiple Jamba Juice smoothies on the table, and a box of what looked like saltines.


The people around the table all turned their eyes to look at him. The people didn’t look unusual, but some of them were wearing odd hats on their heads. One of the people was standing up, and she had a big white scarf. It looked like she had been reading from a book when Daniel walked in.


“Ah! Come in!” the woman who was standing said. This was despite the fact that Daniel had already come in. The woman continued, “Take a seat, you’re late.”

“Sorry.” Daniel said.


He then found a seat, but he didn’t take it, he sat down on it. Daniel wasn’t sure what was going on, but he decided not to say anything. The man who gave him the note was not present, which made Daniel start to suspect that the address might have been incorrect. But what was he supposed to do, tell them that he was supposed to not be there? Of course not. That would be embarrassing, and Daniel would rather be drowned in a massive vat of mayonnaise then be embarrassed. Perhaps the man was late too. However, the man did say that it was a warehouse, and this was certainly not a warehouse. After all, it had no wares and it wasn’t a house! Daniel was confused, but he didn’t know what else to do but sit politely and listen.


The person was speaking about Moses for some reason. “And then Moses spread his straw and the Great Red Beat Sea parted and the Israelites safely made it across. Now, it is time for us to say the third kaddish over the smoothies.”

Everyone nodded and then began singing a foreign language, except for Daniel who didn’t know what was going on and sort of tried to mumble along.


Eventually, the people were done singing and they all took a sip from their smoothies. Daniel then realized what was going on. It was a synagogue! And they were celebrating Passover! Daniel knew about synagogues, not because he was Jewish, but because he was a big fan of the TV show Seinfeld. However, Daniel was pretty sure there was supposed to be wine on the table, not Jamba Juice smoothies, and he was pretty sure that Moses didn’t have a straw.


The person then continued speaking. “Tonight, we remember the enslavement and the suffering of our ancestors, and we celebrate the achievement of Moses and of the beauty of Jamba Juice.”


“What?” Daniel blurted out without thinking. The woman stopped speaking and everyone turned to look at him.

“I...uhm…” Daniel stuttered. Fiery cold needles of nervousness began pricking him. “Uhhh…” Everyone was staring at him. He began panicking, his mind lurching like a horse wearing high heels, “Well, I-I was… it’s just that this- there- there’s supposed to be wine on the table… not Jamba Juice.”

A colossal swarm of sweat was squirming down his skin. The stares of the people seemed to dig into Daniel's very soul. Oh, what a fool was he! He silently cursed himself and his GPS. The silence was the worst silence to ever be, and here was Daniel, smack dab in the middle of it.


Finally, the woman shut the book tight and spoke. “He’s right.” she said “This is silly. Look at us! God, I’m such a stereotype! It’s just you know… we were behind on the payments of this lot and… the synagogue was flat out broke… I was going to have to close it when I discovered Jamba Juice's new Jamba Jews program. The money was just too good to deny! God, if only my parents could see me now! I’ve become my worst nightmare, a stereotype! How could I have let this happen? I’m so sorry everyone… I’ve failed you all… and I’ve failed myself.”


The other people at the table all let out a sigh. “Oh thank god!” one of them shouted. “We all thought it was stupid idea, but none of us wanted to tell you!” Another said. “Thank you so much!” A third said to Daniel, “We really needed someone brave who speaks their mind like you!” Someone picked up their Jamba Juice smoothie. “I hate Jamba Juice!” they roared, and then threw their container against a wall.

A sudden mood of jubilation had sprung into existence, and Daniel was flabbergasted with the turn of events. Then, one of the people, an old man, stood up “But what will we do about our money problems?!” he said.

A fog of silence enveloped the room like mayonnaise filling a recording booth, killing every member of the poor band stuck inside.

Suddenly, words burst out of Daniel's mouth. “H...have you ever seen the Muppets (2013)?”

“Isn’t that movie for kids?”

“Well, yes, but it also has a lot of deep themes and a unique visual style- but that’s not important. What’s important is that we… we could put on a variety show… and use it to raise money… to keep the s-s… to keep this place from closing down…”


There was another awful silence. Then the woman spoke. “That’s the most genius idea I’ve ever heard!”


Daniel breathed another sigh of relief.

“Oh, you really are a hero!” the woman continued, “Tell me, what’s your name!”

“Uhhh…” Daniel said, for some reason briefly blanking on his name “...Daniel… I’m new here…”

“Well,” the woman said “Let’s all give three cheers to Daniel!”

“To Daniel!” Everyone said “Hip, hip, hooray! Hip, hip hooray! Hip,hip hooray!”


People began surrounding Daniel, thanking him and telling him how great he was. Thank yous and compliments barraged Daniel from all sides and a hurricane of appreciation was shrieking viciously with Daniel, the eye of the storm, smack dab in the center. It was all too much.


Daniel broke down in tears. Everyone stopped.

“I’m not jewish!” he sobbed. “I’m just a goy! I’m a Catholic! I’m not circumcised! What the hell am I doing here? I don’t belong here! This…I entered the wrong building by mistake.”


This silence, the fourth silence, was easily the worst. It tasted as bitter as a rotten apple and felt the way nails on a chalkboard sound like.

The woman was the one to break the silence again. “Wh… why didn’t you say anything?”

“I-I didn’t want you to judge me!” he screamed. “Wh…why did you even think I was jewish? Do I look jewish?!” There were tears galloping down his face, and he joined his tears in running, his shoes shakingly sailing across the carpeted floor as he barreled his way out the door.


The door of his Mazda slammed shut. The engine coughed it’s way to life. Daniel drove the car away from that wretched synagogue of smoothies until he could drive no more. This distance was about 3 blocks.


At that point, Daniel slammed his head against the wheel of his Mazda and began to cry.

“I’m mayo…” he said. “I’m mayo… and that’s all I’ll ever be.”

The sudden realization that he still had the appointment at the warehouse suddenly crept into his head. He gasped, stuck his head up and then looked at his two watches. It was at that moment that it hit him like a falling billboard crashing onto a hapless tean. Suddenly, Daniel had it all figured out! Of course! It all made sense! The mysterious man, the student with the dead twin, the Jamba Jews, it was all so simple! He thought about the GPS, and his fake glasses, and what the woman had said.


It seemed as if he was looking up at his entire life, stretched out before him. He gazed at all of the moving pieces, the trillions of minor happenings that all lead up to where he currently was. His long fingers ran through the delicate multi-colored strings of fate all intertwined and connected in a grand symphony of time. It was dizzying, enough to give him vertigo, but the view, it was a view he had never seen before. It was like all his life had been on Google Maps street view, but at that moment he had left, and he was zooming outwards. Everything was so chaotic, so confusing and yet… it all made sense. That jumbled, messy cluttered up thing that he called his life it all made sense and he knew exactly what he had to do!


What perilous calamities shall befall our brave, brave hero next!? Tune in next time!