wanta bury her
Sunday, January 1 2006
setting: Silver Spring, Maryland
Gretchen's father gave me an old pulp paperback to read, Carl Sagan's Broca's Brain. I've always liked Carl Sagan's writing, even on the occasions when it strayed into absurdist faith in technotopia. The thing that makes Sagan great is his grasp of the process of science and his ability to explain that to people who might have difficulty teasing received scientific wisdom apart from simple faith or common "sense." In approaching Broca's Brain, it seems I wasn't as aware as I should have been of the popness of his intended audience. I seem to recall a time when Carl Sagan's writings were read by the general public and their having a positive effect on average scientific literacy. Nevertheless, I wasn't expecting Sagan to find the need to spend a whole chapter critiquing such patent pseudoscience as Immanuel Velikovsky's Worlds in Collision. Velikovsky had apparently made something of a pop-"science" sensation with a multi-disciplinary approach to explaining both world mythologies and the nature of our solar system. In so doing he proposed all sorts of absurd ideas, for example that the planet Venus had somehow emerged as a comet from the body of the planet Jupiter and rained hydrocarbons down on the Isrælites during their 40 year exile in the desert, and that this explained the Biblical account of manna from heaven. These ideas are nearly as kooky as those of L. Ron Hubbard, but here he is, Carl Sagan of all people, taking time out of his busy day to rebut the "physics" and even some of the "mythology" line by moronic line.
This evening Gretchen and I met up with her old high school friend Eric at a Caribou Coffee in Silver Spring. She was telling me about Eric back when I first knew her as a 17 year old student in Oberlin. There was a lot of repressed puppy love back in those days, with Gretchen actually keeping a running tally in one of her notebooks of the three or four different shirts Eric wore to school every day. Now Eric is a lawyer with a wife and three kids, the two latest of which are a pair of screaming six month old twins. (Like the Spanish Inquisition, nobody expects twins.) They all live in a $700,000 house out in Potomac, working hard, living at the edge of their income, and willing to do anything to survive. The law firm that employs Eric does a variety of work, some of it pro-worker and some of it a euphemism for "union busting," something that horrified Gretchen (a former union organizer) when she visited their website. "You wouldn't work on a case like that?" she demanded of Eric. "Sure I would!" he said emphatically. "I'll do anything to make money. I need the money. I don't care. I DON'T CARE!!" This was the most animated he became during our entire time together. In general, Eric has the attitude of someone who has experienced an endless train of bad luck in his life. He keeps his eyes averted downward and slouches slightly, talking softly and rarely smiling. Gretchen loves tortured souls, so her high school crush on Eric makes sense.
Unlike most parents of newborns, Eric spared us sentimental gushing about his twins. He freely admitted that they drive him crazy and that for him there's just nothing interesting about raising a baby. And nothing in life prepares you for the horrendous things you end up seeing on a daily basis with every diaper change, particularly when diarrhea is the problem. "The people I know who use cloth diapers, I just don't understand," he said, "You want a barrier!" At the time I'd forgotten that all his babies are boys and I heard what he said as "You wanta bury her!"
For dinner, Gretchen and I drove down into Adams Morgan and ate Ethiopian food at our favorite Ethiopian restaurant, Meskerem. Parking was tricky, but we had the advantage of driving a smallish Honda Civic. SUVs in front of us were thwarted by the small size of the one available space.
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