Scaling Infinity (Episode 5)

higgs07“Focus, that’s what I am, not a real person. What about you, what situation are you grown out of?”

“Hmm, my accent doesn’t give me away?”

“I wouldn’t call myself an expert on American accents except Daddy’s; he’s from New Jersey.”

“Houston, Texas. Land of oil barons and heart surgeons and extreme Republicans; maybe you’ve heard of the Tea Partiers,” he apologized. “My parents planned on me studying engineering in the land of the Aggies. When I told them that my intended was the University of Texas, boy did they shit bricks and refused to pay for it. No surprise there. I already had my scholarship nailed down, through the Explorers no less. Texas Hill Country, a pretty great place to live for a flatlander, but one day I said to myself: ‘Where are the real mountains? That’s the whole short story.”

“What are Explorers?”

“It’s part of the Boy Scouts. We were a high adventure troop: canoeing, caving, some climbing, hiking.”

“That sounds amazing. Did you have any adventures?”

“A few. There is one that rises to the top. We put into the Guadalupe for a 4 day trip over spring break:12 canoes, 1 kayak, 22 members, 3 advisors. Two of the members were total nubes. Someone thought it would be a good joke to put them together. The water was running high and swift, spring rains you know, and there was a shit ton of river furniture out there.”

“Texans throw furniture in the river?”

“Mostly not; we had a Brit in the troop. He coined the term after street furniture which is all the stuff installed around roadways like traffic lights and barriers and hydrants and street signs. Get it?”

“Got it.”

“River furniture is pretty much anything that wants to obstruct the waterway such as rocks or trees or sofas. I warned the nubes to stay well away from everything except water, but when you don’t know the bow from the stern, then it’s just a question of time before the Old Madam—Fate—comes knocking. You can probably guess what happened next: the nubes got caught in the undertow of a massive downed tree. It’s a weird thing to watch, Vermillion. First the canoe gets reeled in and smacks up against the tree, broadside. A second later, it’s sucked right out from under the nubes leaving them clinging to branches for dear life. One of them managed to climb over; the other purposely opted for the undertow, like a stupidity mission. I was counting seconds: 5,10, 15; dove in on 20.”

“Wait, you’ll get tangled up as well!”

“Teenage boys don’t stop to consider personal peril when a hot chick is in the water. You can congratulate me for having the sense to go in downriver. Good news: it was deep enough for me to get under the high speed stream. She was flailing around, her legs kicking back and forth like propellers. I grabbed on and yanked—kinda hard to do in the water—it worked; the extra weight probably did the trick. That night, the troop made camp in a draw. It had been pretty warm during the day, but the temperature was falling, so we built a roaring fire. Poor little Michelle: she lost all of her food—water logged, so I gave her one of my MREs. Turns out she was a very well brought up young lady and knew exactly how to thank a guy for makin’ her dinner and savin’ her life.”

“How old were you?”

“Sixteen.”

“Was she your first girlfriend?” I asked wistfully.

“Are you freakin’ kidding? My first girlfriend was back in kindergarten, and Michelle, she was never any girlfriend of mine because I cannot stand people who sit on their ass and let someone else do all the paddling.”

I imbibed everything Tom said and would have been happy to remain there forever enjoying the refreshingly open way he expressed himself. “You’re so lucky to have had adventures. I’ve never done anything. Just call me Higgs Boson, living my death, stuck in an infinitely tall tower.”

Tom chuckled: “Don’t you mean Rapunzel?”

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, Rapunzel, what a bizarre name; nope, never heard of her,” I replied. “Higgs lived in a tower that was both short and tall and everything in between. From his high/low perch, he had a four dimensional view of the universe. Oh yes, yes, yes, life for him was merely a proposal upon which he couldn’t seem to act. Maybe that was because he was in love with the unchanging symmetry of an unimaginable grandeur; maybe asymmetry incited in him a terror so profound that he couldn’t even contemplate it until one day a princess climbed into this womb of a tower and flung the boson off the edge, and time was born; existence was born; randomness was born. Although we may not be able to imagine the perfect symmetry lost that day, we hold within us a special feeling for circles and voids and infinities.”

“Someone had a pretty weird upbringing,” he mentioned; “Happen to have any data on the walls of your tower?”

“Huh?”

“Infinity doesn’t worry me much; as long as the tower wall is rough cut with the occasional toehold, I figure I could do it, but I’m not a princess, not a prince either, just the best damned mountain climber you ever saw. Would you be thankful, like Michelle, if I rescued you?”

I would love to paddle your canoe. That’s what I wanted to say; instead, I responded: “Do you really think it’s possible?” Apparently, I’m a wistful drunk.

“Absolutely. So China girl, let’s hear all about your path to green architecture.”

“Yeah, I came looking for skyscrapers and found sustain . . . sustainability instead; uh huh, that’s the new me; the old me studied physics at Princeton, finished up in 3 years.”

“Whew, I’m in the presence of genius! I bet you could have explained to Michelle all about sucking action.”

“There is no force of sucking in physics.”

“Ah ha, so that’s why you decided to dump it.”

“No, I originally shelved architecture to make my father happy.”

“Now I’m getting the picture in Imax. You’re a daddy’s girl.”

“Something like that. Princeton was his alma mater. For some reason, he didn’t want me to go there. Wouldn’t explain why, just kept insisting on Oxford, Edinburgh, Heidelberg. I was dutiful and applied to the whole list; I was terrible and applied to Princeton on the sly, even came up with scholarships because when I focus, nothing can keep me from my objective.” My head felt so heavy at this point that I had to put it down on my arm.

“He must have been very proud.”

“Yes,” I sat back up. “In the final diagnosis, he was quite proud. My Mustang GT, red enough to draw notice from every trooper from New Jersey to Oregon, can testify to that fact.”

Marcia Letaw

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