Bluto Pippy found Minerva "Sizzler" Plankton in a booth at the Raspy Puppet and plopped down opposite her. "I did it, Minerva!" Minerva tapped her cigarette against the ashtray excitedly. "Isn't Storch the greatest? I knew that program would be a real shot in the arm for you." Bluto said, "Those were some of the greatest PowerPoint presentations. Ever." He pulled some folded-up pamphlets from his back pocket. "I learned all about if you master your mind, you don't have to mind the masters, and all kinds of arcane hints like that. I didn't realize that the first step to overcoming the Nice Guy Syndrome was to master the self!" Minerva said, "You're so full of enthusiasm about this, Bluto!" Bluto pointed to some bullet points on one of the pamphlet. "Step one is to master the art of concentration. I never thought it would be so...mystical! All those other gurus just teach you ghost-written, canned joke material--Storch, he looks deep into your soul and tells you how to become a kind of mystical expert. Listen to this, Minerva: 'To become a master in the art of concentration, choose a simple household object. This could be a length of wire or chain, a cake of soap, a clock, a sponge, a screwdriver, or a pencil. Go into a dark, pleasant room and sit with the object. Direct an incandescent lightbulb's shine upon the object. Stare at the object for exactly one hour. Look at it as though you had never seen an object of any kind before in your life. Now, before you--'" Minerva grabbed Bluto's arm. "You're not going to read that whole brochure to me, Bluto." Bluto blushed. "I got a little carried away. The information in these pamphlets is so different that I know it's going to make a difference." Minerva smiled. "Now remember, you can't just read the pamphlets. You've got to take action, too. If that booklet tells you to sit in a dark, pleasant room with a common household object and stare at it for an hour, you've got to do just that, Bluto. This isn't like beach reading, it's more like reading a car manual. Or a recipe." Bluto picked up Minerva's cigarette lighter. Minerva said, "You don't smoke." Bluto held the lighter in his palm and stared at the ducks depicted on it. "I'll start with your lighter. The Raspy Puppet is a dark, pleasant place. I'll just sit here and stare at your lighter for the next hour." "Give me that!" Minerva grabbed her lighter. "You're not going to sit in this booth for an hour burning holes with your eyes in my cigarette lighter. You should do step one in the privacy of your own home." Bluto said, "Come on, Minerva. I just got out of the seminar, I'm excited. I can't wait to go home and start the program. How is staring at your lighter for an hour any different from what I usually do in here?" Minerva wasn't smiling. "Bluto, if you keep acting like this, you might as well not have gone to that seminar, because no girl is going to want to go with you." "Sorry, Minerva. It's just, I've waited so long to learn these secrets. I just can't wait any longer to act on them." Minerva's face seemed to soften for a moment. She opened her purse and rummaged through it. "Well, you can't stare at my lighter, but I can give you something you can take home with you to stare at." Minerva held out her hand, showing Bluto a nude figure of a woman carved from red stone. "Take this home with you, tonight, Bluto, and you can stare at it to your little heart's content."
* * *
Bluto Pippy sat in his dark bedroom staring at the nude figurine in his palm. Every once in a while, the figure made a resonant, vibrating echo, startling Bluto. Before beginning step one, he read the pamphlet again, picking up from the point where he'd stopped reading aloud to Minerva. "Now, before you say, 'What in heaven's name could staring at a biscuit for one hour possibly do to cure me of my Nice Guy Syndrome?', you must understand that when you are beginning a spiritual initiation course, you must take certain things on trust. You will not understand at first why you are staring at a biscuit, but stare you do, knowing that this action is bringing you one step closer to your objective. So you have the biscuit. You're cradling it in your hand, staring at it. All other earthly thoughts dissolve into space. As you look at the biscuit, try to think of as many possible attributes of it as you can. Count things. Count the very flakes if you can! How many adjectives can you think of to describe the biscuit? And remember, don't use adjectives of judgment, like good, or bad, or tasty, or appetizing. Instead, use purely objective adjectives. Look at this object so closely that if your life depended on descibing it perfectly you could do so with perfect ease. Close your eyes for a moment and try to remember everything you can about the object. Then open your eyes and look at it again." There was a banging at the door. "Bluto, are you OK in there?" It was his roommate, Hydrox Spurs. Bluto sighed loudly. "No, I'm not OK. I've been abducted by aliens. They're performing some kind of weird invasive procedure on me right now." "You know it worries me when I don't hear movement. Move around a little, why don't you?" How on earth was he, Bluto, ever going to become a master of concentration when he was sharing an apartment with Hydrox? After Hydrox walked away, muttering to himself, Bluto turned his attention back to the pamphlet. "How many things did you recall? How many did you forget or not notice at all? Turn the object around in your hand. Look at it from many possible angles. Bring it up close to your eye--careful! If it's a sharp object or gives off heat or harsh fumes, you won't want to bring it to close to the eyeball. Keep staring and staring and staring for one hour. By doing this one exercise, you will have powers of concentration light years beyond that of the average human. Most people go through life briefly recognizing objects as though they were abstractions. But you, you're different--you're going to truly look, and truly see! So take that object. It really doesn't matter what it is. And stare, stare, stare. For one hour! Go! Do it! Put this pamphlet down right now and get cracking." Bluto put down the pamphlet and stared at the nude figurine. It wasn't exactly a chore staring at this object. Bluto was glad Minerva gave it to him--if she hadn't, he could have been staring at a biscuit right now. As he stared at the figure, it gave off that mysterious vibrating reverberation again. Was he imagining that? And what if Hydrox heard it--the worried and worrisome roommate would be panic-stricken. Hydrox might even really believe that Bluto had been abducted by aliens. Bluto turned the object around and around, viewing it from many angles, just as the brochure had advised. He stared and stared at the object for an hour. Strangely enough, Hydrox didn't interrupt him once. After the hour was up, Bluto kept his gaze fixed on the nude art object. Staring and staring, the nude figurine in his palm, Bluto fell asleep. The sound of the figurine hitting the floor woke Bluto. His hand must have relaxed in sleep and the figure had slipped out of his palm. "What was that? Are you OK?" Hydrox called out. He was probably out in the living room watching the Trash Channel. "No, I'm not OK," shouted Bluto. "I'm possessed by a demon!"