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Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2005 - 1:30 a.m.

Each boy is tested with a museum before she allows any relationship to proceed. She has only a mild interest in archaeology and modern art, and the only artifact under real scrutiny - is him. Of course, the boy in question is unaware of the academic nature of these museum visits; there are a few multiple choice questions, a few open-ended questions, and it is not a test of what he knows but of how he thinks. She thinks up the questions and marks him on the spot, announcing the result via a well-timed phone-call the next day.

The first part of the test, like the SATs, is getting your name on the answer sheet. She will suggest - hey why don't we skip Math lecture and go to the museum? To decline is to demonstrate a lack of adventure or a love of math, one that is greater than the love of her. Some fall here, but many others trip themselves by suggesting the new Stephen Chow movie, or just bumming at some coffee place. She has nothing against Stephen Chow or coffee; it is just that nothing can be learned from these two alternatives, least of all, anything about the boy.

Like all girls, she wants to be lied to sometimes. Do you still think about your ex-girlfriend? Is she better looking than me? But for the most part, she prefers honesty because relationships are healthier without lies (though this has never been proven true). When they enter a museum, she will pick a painting at random, maybe Mark Rothko's Blue and Grey and ask him what he thinks of it. Like the question, the painting is also highly abstract, consisting of a morass of whitish-grey on the top two-thirds of a vertical blue canvas. She watches him as he formulates an answer. It does not matter if he dislikes the painting and its lack of direct meaning; the meaning of his answer is in whether or not he will lie about his response. The painting is a simple enough polygraph because seventeen-year old boys are the worst liars in the world.

With the same painting, she might ask a more specific question. That grey-white mass - is it smoke, a piece of wool floating on water, or a cloud against the sky? Choice A, B or C? She has noted that the most interesting boys invent answer D, but she still prefers those who choose C because that would have been her answer. She does not believe that the boy must see things her way, but it would be nice if they had some retinal connection in the way they visualize things. 'C' is the line of that connection and the others are merely false roads.

The last part of the test is the most subtle, because it is not asked at all. She keeps silent while they both stare at the painting. If he starts to walk away before she does, he immediately fails the test. To pass, he must of his own accord tell her what he sees beyond the painting. It is a test of his imagination and its absence is something that she cannot forgive. The grey mass is a cloud, and behind the cloud is another cloud, and in it are floating islands, you and me, and angels resting their tired wings.


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