I feel stupid for writing this in a journal essentially addressed exclusively to myself...But hello. My name is James. James Oaklund. I’m writing in this journal on behalf of doctor Benjamin Alexander, who’s a shrink of some kind. I’m not seeing a shrink for some kind of mental health thing, before you get the wrong idea. See, it all started earlier today. I was having my morning espresso at my favorite local cafe when I happened to wander over and peruse their bulletin board; just about anyone could put just about anything up there, and there was always something interesting to be seen. Usually just pretentious art-house bullshit, as far as I’m concerned, but sometimes there’re more interesting postings.
That’s when I saw it-completely innocuous in almost every way, and yet I found it strangely compelling. It was a mostly blank, white business card with a question and a phone number written on it. It read:
“Call and speak with me for twenty to thirty minutes a day, once a week?”
Followed by the phone number. Not writing that here because shit, why do you need to know? You’re a notebook. Anyways.
I decided to call the number. I mean, why not? Even if it turned out to be some scam number, I could always just block it. I can spare twenty minutes. The phone rang a while before somebody on the other end picked up, answering in a surprisingly...I don’t know, pretty voice? It sounded much smoother and richer than any other voice I’d heard, and it had this sort of disarming quality to it. I can’t put my finger on it, but I just kind of felt compelled to talk to the guy.
“Hello? Who is this?”
“Hi. Uh, my name’s James, I found your business card here in the Du Monde Cafe. I guess I was just wondering...What this is about, really.”
“Oh! This is wonderful news. It’s a pleasure to hear from you, James, my name is Benjamin. I’m a psychologist with a penchant for studying more niche fields of psychology. I was hoping to gather a small base of volunteers to participate in an experiment of mine. All you’ll need to do is call me up and talk to me for a while. It can be about absolutely anything at all, really, I don’t mind. Sometimes I may ask some guiding, probing questions, but for the most part, I just want you to speak your mind naturally.”
I was kinda surprised. I couldn’t really fathom what kind of experiment would necessitate a casual phone conversation for about twenty minutes a week about just about anything I could think of, but I figured I had nothing to lose.
“Alright, Benjamin, you’ve got a deal. When’s our first session?”
He was quiet for a few moments, before piping up again with a kind of endearingly hopeful tone in his voice.
“...Well, if you’re not busy for the next twenty or so minutes, we could start today, right now. You’re still at the cafe, right? It’s a great place to relax. Perhaps the calming atmosphere might help our discussion?”
I just kind of shrugged my shoulders, figuring I wasn’t really supposed to be anywhere for another few hours, and this would take significantly less time than that.
“Yeah, I could swing today. Want to get started?”
“Absolutely! Thank you so much for your participation. Now, I’d like to ask a few questions to kick our conversation off, but feel free to introduce any number of topics after we’ve established the answers to them. Tell me, James, where do you work? What do you do for a living?”
I took a moment to think about what he’d asked, and decided to answer completely honestly.
“I work as a butcher right now, a meat cutter for a local grocery store. I don’t really like it, but it’s a job I’ve got the skills for and it pays rent and the bills, so I’m not really gonna pitch a fit.”
Ben was quiet for a few moments, as though lost in thought.
“I see. Is there a field you’d prefer to work in, James?”
“...Yeah. I’ve always wanted to get back into landscaping. I used to work with Oxenwagon, you may or may not remember them as the company that went down in flames after the owner got caught in a massive embezzlement scam, but obviously I’m out of a job now that that’s gone tits-up. I’d really like to work with Burkley’s, though they were always our fiercest competitors back in the day. No matter my old beef with the guys, they pull in easily the most high-paying gigs in town. Hell, they pull in the most gigs period. I think any schmuck in the business would wanna work for em.”
Ben chuckled softly as I spoke, and though I couldn’t see him, I got the impression somehow that he was nodding along with my words.
“I see. Have you ever spoken with a representative of Burkley’s about a position with them? It would seem you think quite highly of them.”
“I tried, once. The smug bastard just kept waving the fact that Oxenwagon went to shit in my face and wouldn’t give me the time of day without laughing at me. Put a bad taste in my mouth but he’s entirely right, that whole situation does kind of ruin my reputation.”
I let out a sigh, then, as I leaned in to take another sip of my espresso.
“That’s unfortunate, James. Perhaps sometime soon you could call them again and ask to speak with a different representative? I’m sure you can work out something, if you’re an experienced and enthusiastic landscaper. Now’s the time when the conversation becomes free-form, yay! You can feel free to tell me anything you want, or ask me questions, if you so choose.”
“Hmm. Well, I guess I do have a couple questions. What’s the purpose of this experiment? What’re you hoping to find out?”
I could hear Ben chuckle again, but not in a demeaning way, more like he was a little exasperated about having to explain it once again and allowing himself a little laugh about it.
“That’s a bit of a complex answer. I’ll put it into very simplified terms; I want to see if I can fully grasp several individuals’ wants, goals, and desires simply by inviting them to openly speak their minds over a set period of time. It’s more a study on how much we subconsciously reveal in our day-to-day chats, hence the extremely relaxed and casual nature of the experiment and our conversation so far.”
“Huh. Yeah, I guess that checks out. It’s just, y’know, usually when you hear about science experiments being conducted with the public by psychologists, they end up being really fucked up. It’s good to know this is just about a series of friendly talks.”
“Haha! Yes, unfortunately, I’m well aware of the horrific experiments performed in the past by scholars of my field, but I think they’re important stories to remember. After all, are we not doomed to repeat history if we don’t remember the mistakes made by our predecessors and work to avoid them? I can assure you, though, I mean no harm at all.”
The conversation carried on for a long time, a lot longer than twenty or thirty minutes. By the time I glanced at the clock it struck me that we’d been talking for an hour and a half, easily.
“Jesus, doc, we’ve been on the horn for almost two hours. I’m sorry to have kept you, I’m sure you’re a busy guy.”
“No need to fret! Our prolonged conversation is good, it means you’re going to be a valuable subject in this experiment. There is something I’d like to ask that you do, but purely for yourself. You won’t have to turn it in to me at the conclusion of the experiment or anything, and you can even decide to stop writing in it when we stop regularly speaking with each other. That being said, I’d like for you to start a journal. Write down the events of the day that you found memorable, or thoughts you had during the day that struck you as important. It might help you organize your mind a little better, and sometimes it helps to be able to write some feelings out.”
“Yeah, I can do that. You want me to just like, grab a notebook or something?”
“If you wish! It can be digital or physical, whichever you feel the most comfortable with. Whatever fits you the best, James. I look forward to speaking with you again next week. Same time?”
I found myself smiling and actually nodding, despite the fact he had no way of seeing or knowing.
“Yeah. See you then, doc.”
“Please, call me Ben. And I look forward to it!”
We finally hung up then, and I ended up going home to enjoy the couple of hours I had before my shift at the store started. When I got home, just a short while ago, I set about writing this journal entry. I look forward to talking to Ben again, too.