Monday, September 7, 2020

Alex Trebek in Extremis

"Sorry," he said, distracted by the pain.  "The correct response is 'What is the specific heat capacity of a potato?... What is the specific heat capacity of a potato?'"

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Sept 3

On this day in 1998, Robert V. Howe ran his hand through a band saw in his basement and crafted a joke to tell the emergency room physician when he arrived at the hospital.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Dies Irae

I was out in the Sierra Nevada.  In late middle age, I was becoming a "hanger rat," palling around with a congenial group of glider pilots of like age.  The project of the day on this day was to try to piece together the remains of a machine that had crashed.  The pilot/owner was acting as if it could be glued back together, but he may have been joking; when the pieces came out of a very large cardboard container, the word "smithereens" came to mind.  More likely, he wanted to reconstruct the crash by reconstructing the glider.  There was a lot of banter and horsing around.

Above us, the sky was busy all morning.   Suddenly a dark blue biplane appeared and did radical aerobatics right over our heads.   Its pilot was a friend of some of my pals.  He wanted to impress and scare the beans out of us.  He pulled into a hammerhead stall, then did a tail slide.   But the plane was so powerful that he was able to stop his descent and climb straight back up, then retreat to straight and level and fly off.  Then he made a second pass and pulled into another hammerhead.   This time he turned the plane 180 degs directly towards the ground, towards us.  He pulled up and roared off at about 20 feet above the glider shop.  He was so close that I could see his face and the khaki hat he had tied under his chin.

We were returning to the task at hand when a young woman appeared out of nowhere, dressed in a long robe.  We were perched near the edge of a high plateau, from which a long and steep embankment descended into the valley far below.  The young woman, overcome with fear, pointed to the west, to the far side of the valley, and said that there were tremors there.   Then she virtually threw herself down the embankment, towards the tremors, towards the source of her fears.

One of the boys happened to have a very small seismograph on his person; it was about the size of a "matchbook" toy car.   He held it up towards the valley and it registered a significant, maybe even a world-historical, event of some kind.

Now, from all compass points from zero to 180, men and women in robes came running.  They hesitated for a bit when they got to the cliff, then threw themselves down it as the woman had.  When they got to the level of the valley, they kept running towards the west, with both hands held aloft in Rapture.

By now all of my friends were gone.  I peered over the edge of the cliff, but I knew that I was not physically able to follow the hordes even if I wanted to.   I stood alone there on the heights, witness to the Day of Wrath.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Where in the Standard Industrial Classification Manual?

The question I mean is where to put this new personal service industry that has arisen inevitably after COVID.  It's not prostitution after all; it's not massage.  Nor is it Qigong, the ancient Chinese art that uses hands at a short distance for healing.  The sentimentalists call it the "cuddling" profession, while the unsentimental bureaucrats call it "therapeutic entanglement."

You pay by the hour, for the privilege of lying on a bed with your therapist, entangled as you may wish, but often in the classic "spoon" position.  Pajamas are worn.  Quick testing virtually eliminates any possibility of spreading the disease.  Conversation is natural and generally of the sort that one might have with one's barber or hair stylist.   "How is your son's new job?" and so on.

Arousal is not permitted, rather strictly prohibited, but of course one's choices in therapist often reflect one's orientation and other physical standards of intimacy -- not just gender, but height, weight and age, often with the goal of ruling out certain sorts with respect to whom arousal will be all but guaranteed!  On the other hand, like a masseur or masseuse, the therapist has pledged, in effect, to accept all comers who come with the right spirit, regardless of body structure.  It is all, you might say, "antiseptic," anti-toxic.

And yet people sometimes reach such a level of rapport with their hair stylist that the relationship blossoms, reciprocally, and the wallet must be put away.  Thus the tradition or convention arose in therapeutic entanglement, over time, that once a year only, on Valentine's Day, the Big Ask may be articulated, in the form of one of those little pink hearts, laid on the counter after the February 14 session, carrying the words "Will you be my valentine?"  Many awkward aftermaths follow, and many professional relationships forever broken, but also sometimes love follows, in a social environment in which other paths from "here" to "there" have been blocked, semi-permanently and hopelessly.