Note On What I Don't Know Concerning Quantum Science

in which i discuss my quantum ignorance, free books, intuitive friends, twilight, norwegians rolling r's, more free books, apocalypse meat, l'accordioniste and my play-in-progress

dammit! last night, i found an awesome-looking grove press edition on the history of quantum theory from 1900-31. it was in one of several boxes of free books being unloaded by this gallery on the bowery between bleecker and patricia fields. the gallery has no small degree of cachet, but it's name and proprietors escape me. the artist apparently used this trove of books—trade paperbacks, hardcovers, galleys, vintage pulp dime novels, literary and scholarly journals—to "frame" the artworks (so i was told by a gentleman who briefly rummaged through the boxes while loudly proclaiming that he had seen the show, which seemed to be his main purpose, i.e., attaching himself to the show). i cannot remember the title or the author nor the personalities discussed, other than that were three of them (one of whom was einstein, naturally). i know very little about the subject, though i did read and actually save the cover article from the science times of two or three weeks ago discussing certain “new” assessments of quantum physics arrived at by researchers from santa barbara and stanford to switzerland via a premier supercollider in the midwest, as well as mit (i think). the bit about the edge of the universe stuck with me, too. as did several other points. the main thing i came away with, of course, was the various scientists’ willingness not only to agree to disagree, and to admit that they had erred, but that they had actually reversed their thinking in agreement with those with whom they disagreed. hawking lost a bet in ’99, an error he copped to in ’04. einstein, they all hinted at (though it seemed none wanted to state openly), was way off the mark. in the end, all of them concluded—regardless of the positions maintained. “we don’t know jack,” they all seemed to say, the favored inconclusive evidence of each having enjoyed recent publication. “therefore, it’s back to the drawing board for all of us...” this amounted to indications of their progress and confirmed—to a man (one canadian[?] woman was also consulted by the times’ writer)—their aptitude. somehow, i can’t shake the notion that new equipment remains in development, or that modifications to the metrics of existing machinery are called for. and, ultimately, whether at the atomic or multiversal scale, each theory incorporated some degree of either randomness or outright opposition in order to carry through (or, at least inasmuch as a given theory remains hampered by the inherent setbacks endemic in the sciences’ reliance on imprecise models, as well as the unpredictable errata arising from the act of observation)...

what happened was that after i found the book, i decided to visit a couple of friends i haven't seen in a long time. the reason i wanted to see them is that i feel they are the only friends i have who intuitively understand the emotional wreck that i remain, despite the fact that i am the cause of this wreck. the cause, at this point, no longer attributes to what i have done wrong. rather, it (this wreckage) arises from what i have not done to supersede this impasse. or, worse, that what i have done in the aftermath of the wreckage amounts to little more than wallow in it. intuiting this much, they generally allow me to engage in discussions that focus my thoughts elsewhere, as if the wreckage didn't persist. fortified, i leave them, convinced that i have other things to do. alas, to date, i do not do other things. instead, i relocate the wreck and curl up in it, as if it offered me succor from its rigid, cul-de-sac confine.

well, with only 39 cents in my pockets, i had to walk the fourteen blocks to the couple's normally welcoming office. heading north on the bowery, i noted the color of the twilight sky divided laterally through the comparatively low buildings (by manhattan standards; still downtown, only the rare rooftop reaches higher than thirteen flights—if that). above this divide, the bowl of night (a metaphor derived from mythology the ancient egyptians perceived as fact), drenched in persian blue, hid every star. below, a browned magenta bade farewell to the shining, gilt disc tethered to apollo's chariot. two blocks north, i ducked into a subway franchise outlet to ask the lone worker for a couple of plastic bags with which to tote the several light tomes that filled both my hands, my fingers stretched to their limit. while he initially looked upon me and heard my plea through suspect eyes and ears, my hurried explanation—"someone threw out a bunch of books and these are all the ones i found i wanted and could carry—it's a good thing i don't have more hands, since i'd have gotten more books instead of dividing these into stacks it would be easier to carry—i can't control myself sometimes when it comes to books..."—my confession lightened his expression until a bemused smile gave way to amusement.

"you like to read," he told me.

"i like the way you roll your r's," i told him back. "it's practically norwegian."

"i am hindi," he corrected me. i guess he thought that i was guessing.

"i am norman," i teased, rolling the r like a norman, probably the only people who would know that. i stuck one bag inside the other and fit almost all the books in that one and thanked him very much and wished him well. as i made for the door, i nodded at the only customer, a skinny kid wearing glasses and a black motorcycle cut jacket, which likely made me aware that the heat of daylight had retreated from the coolness of an autumn evening so that i guessed he was a student and sighed while thinking, it's september.

i left the bowery, heading west on fourth street. past the corner at wooster, a coffee with cream colored guy, his hair all lengthy dreads neatly wound up like a turban atop his head, sat in the open sliding door of a two-toned vw bus. he had set up three long folding tables on the sidewalk, all three covered with books laid flat like shingles so that one could read the titles. to each table he had also affixed a sign announcing "FREE! pay what you can" in marker and laminated with clear packing tape. i stopped just as i was about to pass him by, as i was walking fast in order to not reach my friends' place after nine, knowing the sun now set sometime after seven and before eight. it impressed upon me that i couldn't recall ever having seen someone tending "free" book tables. i then further noted that no one had stopped there, unlike the unattended boxes of books i had just left on the bowery. that helter skelter heap attracted a steady shifting hoard of even the most genteel folk seeking plunder. there had been a young couple, for instance, the girl squealing with practiced delight as she found one gem after another that she presented to the boy, loudly qualifying her find with references to his interests or hers, or of some friend or professor. (in fact, at least two other couples had stopped to rummage there, and as with the first, the girl discovered books that might interest the boy. one of these girls somehow located a few anthologies containing texts by writers she seemed to think he—or someone he knew—might know personally. the boy in the third couple seemed somewhat embarrassed by—or impatient with—the girl's efforts to help further his literary pursuits; after twice mumbling "no" to her, he took a weathered copy of a goethe collection from her outstretched hand—one of those sixties modern library pocket paperback editions i had considered holding onto myself a few minutes before. inspecting it a moment, he started to explain rather haltingly that it's worth depended a lot on the translator since you couldn't know—the girl interjected, he spoke so slowly, as if he had to translate what he had to say. "there could be a better translation?" she guessed in an interrogative tone. he went on, disguising the hurt she caused him, the insult, muttered that it probably was not the definitive...) a few times, elder women wanted to know who was in charge. one of them asked me directly. "are you selling these books?" i had my head in a particularly large box, actually bent over at the waist with my ass in the air. i stood up and looked down at her shrunken but still spry form, then pointed at one of the many signs. she read it out loud, "these books are free. take what you want. please don't leave a mess." i dove back into the box, but she apparently hadn't gained satisfaction. "well... but, are they yours, sir?" i politely told her they weren't without pausing and heard her ask someone else, "well, who's in charge here?" a few times.

no such scene presented itself at this gentleman's stand. "i really wish i had some money," i told him, ogling the covers laid out neatly between us. "but i do have some books. i just found them," i explained, unbidden. "maybe we can trade."

"that sounds perfect," he said in a nearly disarmingly genuine voice. so i handed him the bag and perused his store. i settled on a couple of numbers of granta: "the assassin" and "dirty realism." he removed only one of my books, the history of quantum science from 1900-31. "do you mind if i take this one?" again, he spoke so warmly, i was sure he would think nothing of my refusing him and still let me make off with the magazines. for that reason, i let it go. "you're sure?" the man was so real, i wanted to trade lives with him. but i sensed my life was hardly worth his—not in that moment, at least. i said, of course i was sure. "take as many as you want." he seemed to sense my covetousness regarding his pick. i told him that the grantas were all. "i think there's another one," he revealed. i said that i had seen it, i thought i already had it at home, or had read it before. i didn't want it. "i also sell books," he said, and i saw that his bus was chock-a-block with books and boxes of books as high as the windows' bottom edges. "this, i can sell for six or seven bucks." i imagined that i was a bookseller then, sitting in a rolling fifties-era office chair near the computer, surrounded by stacks of books and boxes and tape in a grand garret with worn wood-plank floors.

when i arrived at my friends' place at half past eight, they were about to eat. i expressed my misgivings about working in a meat-centric restaurant so that they apologized for contributing to the chicken apocalypse. but they had a p&l statement to prepare. i shoved off, fortified with the $20 he slipped me, though i actually protested i had come for conversation, not cash. at any rate, it gave me a chance to jump on the subway, where i saw the lovely, dark-haired accordionist who entranced me the first time i saw her. as she packed up her instrument to continue playing elsewhere, i told he i thought it odd no had offered her a contract.

"oh, i get offers all the time," she assured me. "every one of them crazy."

i decided to say nothing of the plans i had for her. instead, i returned to the corner of east 1st street and 1st avenue and bought a $10 tropical bowl of acai and bananas and fruit. i opened my notebook and took out my pen. when i finished the first draft of act one of my play-in-progress, "the accordionist vs the qwerty keyboardist," it was one in the morning. i closed the notebook and headed for home.

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