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Orson listens to the morning radio report about Swiss physicists finding the Higgs boson particle, but he cringes when he turns on CNN and the anchor lady keeps calling it the “God particle.”
She addresses a reporter doing a stand-up outside a building in Lucerne, Switzerland, and asks, “But Bert, what does this mean to the man on the street?”
Orson sips his coffee and mouths the answer a second before the reporter says, “It’s too soon to tell, Linda.”
He feels sad for…Continue
[Note: This is the final installment of the Orson series. Thank you all so much for reading.]
Later, Orson won’t recall his three hours before the Tenure Committee. He won’t remember Provost Allwyn Steppenheim appearing briefly in the doorway, like Banquo’s ghost, to wave a blessing over the proceedings, or the chairman quizzing him on physics…Continue
Orson and his sister, Alana, rent a car to shop for monthly groceries at CostCo and SuperFoods and then, before returning the car, they tour an unknown quarter of their city. Alana recites from her favorite TV shows in a low, continuous monotone while Orson, who is a poor driver, concentrates on the road.
Recently, she seems more disconnected from him than ever, as if she's on a course through a private maze he'll never…Continue
Sheila Searcy fans out index cards on Orson’s kitchen table – his only table - and begins what they now officially call ‘Countdown To the Alien Probe.’
They have told each other that his interview with the tenure committee is not his life’s hinge, but still, it would…Continue
Orson walks into a dream conference room where a disembodied voice tells him where to sit.
He thrums with an icy nervousness that forces his features into a grimace.
Far away, at the opposite end of an impossibly long table, sits the tenure committee, and they pass a megaphone around as they take turns asking him questions.
“What do you really think of us?” shouts a balding man with a chestful of medals that reminds…Continue
Howard Crackower, a full professor of physics, sat with his back to the other diners in the faculty cafeteria. Orson, seated directly behind him and unseen, studied the man whom he privately called Committee Member Number Four.
The signs were unambiguous: the older man had taken a position that clearly discouraged anyone from joining him. He jiggled his legs, rocked almost imperceptibly as he ate, and tugged on his left sleeve…
Orson rises from the black leather Eames chair in his office to refill his mug from the department’s communal Mr. Coffee and rubs his eyes.
He has been reading articles in physics journals that were written by the chairman of the tenure committee as a means of preparing himself for his interview, just one week away.
The man's work is clumsily written, the proofs are scattershot and the…Continue
Five learned and opinionated professors sit on the Department of Science/Physics Tenure Committe at the university where Orson teaches, and he is carefully researching their dislikes and vanities.
Member Number One, a traditionalist, is suspicious of anything too newfangled in the field of physics.
Member Number Two cares nothing about Orson's competence because his only…Continue
The cuttlefish has blue-green blood, the color of the Caribbean on a sunny day, it is thought to be the most intelligent of invertebrates ( having the largest brain-to-body-size ratio of those animals), and subservient males “crossdress” to get close to females under the watchful eye of dominant males, thereupon quickly mating before the large males can stop them .
Orson put down the encyclopedia and unwrapped a nice specimen of cuttlefish from its white…
Orson walks beneath cool, granite arches along a prescribed route to a campus classroom with unsatisfactory fluorescent lights. He stows his briefcase and watches the students file in, their faces closed to him. He will never understand their expressions, never read the nuances in their gestures, never catch the subtle tones of hope, desire or admiration in their inflections.
Like the stone arches, he lives life above…
JFK once said, “We aim to go to the moon, not because it is easy but because it is hard: fuck easy.” Okay, so he didn’t say the last two words in public, in front of his archbishop and the microphones and LIFE Magazine, but you know he said it privately to those bright and gleaming boys, those astronauts, all of them brimming with that miracle endorphin that wells up when you are included in the innermost circle.
Orson and his sister Alana had enjoyed a running joke, one time, about Hawaiians hoarding all the vowels and the Serbs hoarding all the consonants. He'd make up names of Yugoslavian war criminals, like Brdyzstan Krmudgnlik, and she would reply with…Continue
Orson awoke from a bright, chaotic dream into a hardcore January day. He tried to grasp the dream’s receding smoke strands -- kites? a village square?-- but they eluded him.
He lay against his pillow nest inside a red, nylon camping tent, shucking off sleep in layers until he felt the blunt nudge of…Continue
Orson hums a long-ago song (The very thought of you, and I forget to do, the very ordinary things that everyone ought to do) but he doesn't believe the lyrics, as love has never made him forget what ought to be done.
Long ago and far away a girl gave her heart to him, but all too soon she left, saying, "Your love for me has to be more than room temperature," which Orson thought was overdramatic.
He hums while he runs the sweeper over the neutral (unassuming) Berber…Continue
A first cousin to Alana and Orson sends them feel-good emails telling them to live, love, laugh and "dance like no one's looking."
Orson just deletes everything the cousin sends, but Alana reads them and puzzles over the alien words and sentiments, trying to find some link between the greeting card emotions and her own. It is as if they use two distinct languages and need a third to translate them, a Rosetta stone or maybe an oracle.
She knows that she is missing a vital…
Orson is sitting upright in his restaurant chair as if a drill sergeant has commanded him to attention, and he is eating his meat in the British fashion, with fork tines turned down.
Alana, in a bouclé shawl and small neat tam, talks without animation about her job and new apartment. The food before them is riotously spicy, but neither reaches for water or wine.
It is as if their mouths,…
When Orson and his sister were school children, they had puzzled their teachers with white flashes of brilliance and what then was termed 'antisocial behavior.'
Had they been born 30 years later, they might have been diagnosed as having Asperger’s syndrome, based on a shared lack of interest in popularity, their photographic memories and emotionless faces.
And even though they displayed no affection for each other, Orson and Alana were attuned as if a wire…
As a Southerner, Orson knows full well the dangerous waters of a conversation about religion with anyone but immediate family.
But as a scientist down to his marrow, he wants to lobotomize the ‘Young Earth Creationists’ because, as he tells his friend and colleague Sheila Searcy over lunch, “they won’t miss brains that they’re not using.”
He then relates a recent experience he had while…Continue
Orson is halfway through a lecture about the physics of weather, reviewing the way that an object’s mass (a thunderhead, for example) ties force and acceleration together.
A student asks how much a cloud weighs, and Orson explains that mass is not the same as weight, and he gives the equation.
He moves on to open a discussion about lightning and how a magnetic field has lines that reach out…
Every January, the university president hosted a tea at his gracious home for newly-hired faculty members, and all professors were expected to attend (in semi-formal attire) to welcome them.
Orson spent probably more time than necessary selecting the right tie and socks for the occasion, and in the end he chose the same blue-gray tie and charcoal gray socks as he always wore when required to put on his one and…Continue